Grand Trunk Pub

Grand Trunk Pub and restaurant, August 2013

In the days before rail service was consolidated under Amtrak, different lines were run by different companies, often using different stations. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad line passed through Detroit (not to be confused with Michigan Central), and its station was located on the Detroit River at Brush and Atwater, near where the Ren Cen is now. Railroad lines used to operate a separate ticket office in the business district, and the Grand Trunk operated it rather close to the station—first, at Woodward and Jefferson (where One Woodward Avenue, formerly known as the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company building, a Minoru Yamasaki design, now stands); and then at 612 Woodward Avenue in the Traub Brothers Jewelry building.

Grand Trunk Pub

Currently, that building, and an adjoining one, houses the Grand Trunk Pub, formerly known as Foran’s Irish Pub.

Interior of pub/former ticket office

The pub has plenty of atmosphere. Its owners have done some restoration, with sensitivity to the building’s history and an interest in the railway theme.

Restaurant interior

The restaurant side is a little hole-in-the wall spot, but the good kind. “Gourmet pub grub” is what the menu says.

Veggie burger

Foreground: Veggie burger with grilled onions and a side of Better Made chips (and one fry stolen from the other plate).
Background: A shaved turkey sandwich with a side of fries.

One of my favorite things about their menu is that they source much of the food locally, and include Detroit classics and favorites, such as Better Made potato chips as a side, Faygo to drink, or Sanders Hot Fudge on the “Michigan Mud Pie.” The prices are also quite good.

As a vegetarian, I often don’t have a lot of options in this sort of place, where the fare is primarily sandwiches and burgers. However, the Grand Trunk Pub has a unique approach: you can substitute a veggie burger patty on most of their specialty burgers, or you can have a basic veggie burger with the toppings you prefer.

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.15.53 AMThis is a snapshot from the menu on their site. Click on it to visit their online menu.

For dessert, the bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce is pretty good (especially for $4.25!), but I prefer the Michigan Mud Pie (just $5). Pro tip: We ate dinner at the Grand Trunk Pub, then went over to the Riverwalk for a while, walked around there (as you do), and returned to the Grand Trunk for dessert!

Michigan Mud Pie

Michigan Mud Pie, shown here with a scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. We were given a choice.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce.

 

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Detroit’s new Meijer

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Meijer has dipped half of a pinky toe into the city. This is big news. Old news, yes, but I finally got to see it for myself.

I’m not normally a fan of big-box stores, but I do love Meijer. Maybe it’s just from growing up with it (I’m old enough to remember it as “Meijer Thrifty Acres“)—although I also grew up with K-Mart (a Detroit original, based in Troy) and could take it or leave it. Meijer did have its full one-stop shopping long before Wal-Mart and Kmart ever introduced grocery departments.

Meijer is a Michigan-based store, headquartered in Western Michigan just outside of Grand Rapids. They claim to be the original “one-stop shopping,” and many stores host smaller shops (independently run), or “services” inside, from banks to shoe repair to barber shops to dentistry. Most, if not all, of their stores are in rural or suburban locations. The Detroit store breaks that pattern, but, more importantly, it could be a show of faith in the city: that a Michigan-based company like Meijer is willing to open in Detroit is, to my mind, as big a deal as Whole Foods opening in Midtown.

I say Meijer dipped half a pinky toe into Detroit, though, because the new store is located on 8 Mile—on the Detroit side—at Woodward, and it faces 8 Mile, thus facing the northern suburbs. So it’s just barely in Detroit, and it seemingly can’t bear to look.

To be fair, though, it is the anchor for a strip mall (also not the norm for Meijer).

The layout is completely different from the old Meijer stores I grew up with, or even the slightly newer or remodeled stores. Happily, they offer pamphlet store directories when you enter:

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(Temporary note: I’ll add a picture of the inside of that pamphlet later.)

The look of the store is somewhat stark and cold, if clean—mostly white, letting the products be the color. (This is reminiscent of Farmer Jack’s “Future Store” built in Canton in 1988-89. I guess they were right about the future.) We were only there for a brief time, with a few items to pick up, so I don’t know how it would feel to shop for a long time surrounded by so much white paint (my least favorite color).

I wanted some Michigan cherry wine and some Faygo. In the wine section, there was a spot dedicated to Michigan wines of all varieties:

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Since I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is near Napa Valley, I thought the wine section overall was a bit small, but it was bigger than your average grocery store, even in California. Pictured here is just the Michigan wines. (And the bottles missing on the bottom shelf are the ones I purchased.)

I couldn’t fit all the Faygo in one photo, so here’s a side shot of the Faygo section:

FaygoI picked up some diet Rock ‘n’ Rye, Red Pop, and Creme Soda, 20-oz. bottles 2/$1.

One difference from most Meijer stores is that this location is only open from 6am-11pm, whereas most are 24 hours. This location offers a gas station, a pharmacy (with a drive-through pick-up window), a bakery, and deli, along with all the usual departments. In addition to the store’s own services, Huntington National Bank has a branch inside the store. Meijer’s one-stop shopping means you can buy motor oil, a bed pillow, fresh produce, and a digital camera all in one place—or whatever other odd combination of stuff you might need. And speaking of produce, Meijer usually has some of the best produce compared with local grocery stores. Meijer also normally has a great selection of products, especially in grocery, including locally made products, ethnic foods, vegetarian/vegan selections, and more. The store brand (meijer) is almost always of excellent quality. (We also picked up some store-brand Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream—theirs is, in my opinion, the best brand of that flavor.) The prices are quite good, as well.

Even though I sing the praises of this chain (and, living in California, actually dream about it from time to time), I hated working there back in the early 90s while I was in college. It wasn’t as bad as some places, and in fact can offer excellent advancement opportunities within the company, but there were definite issues you would expect to find for workers in a big-box store. We were unionized, though, which helped.

It will be interesting to see how things go with this new Detroit location. Will the store maintain its clean appearance? Will it expand or contract its hours? Will its customer base be from the city, or from Ferndale and other nearby northern suburbs? (There is a Royal Oak store which will probably continue to draw most of those northern suburbanites.)

I hope things go well for the store, and for all the stores in this (choke, gasp) strip mall. As much as I hate strip malls, it’s good to see businesses investing in Detroit, and they provide much-needed jobs as well as options for shoppers in the city.

Checkouts at Detroit MeijerThis photo, taken from just inside the main entrance, shows an overview of the 30 checkout aisles (including self-checkout).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the store’s employees were unusually friendly; even when just passing us in an aisle, they’d greet us, ask how we were doing, and wish us a good night.

So far, it seems to be a very pleasant place to shop.

Motor City Brewing Works

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Motor City Brewing Works is a brewery in Midtown, at 470 W. Canfield, across the street from TJ’s (Traffic Jam and Snug). It’s been there for years now, but I’d never been. We ate there last night.

I’m not a beer drinker, so I can’t comment on the beer. But I had a great pizza. The pizzas are about the size of your average dinner plate, and they’re perfect for one person. Since they’re not in the least bit greasy, they don’t make you feel overstuffed. I opted for the “build your own,” and had carmelized onions, roasted red peppers, and spinach on mine:

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The veggies were only 75 cents each to add to the pizza. Between the two of us, we had 2 pizzas, a beer, and a Diet Coke, and the bill was just over $20. Not bad for dinner!

MCBW has a great atmosphere and very friendly waitstaff.

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Here’s a look at their menu:

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From home to Home

I’ve arrived in Detroit. To me, Detroit is home, but not in a sentimental or nostalgic sense. In the past week when I mentioned to anyone that I was headed to Detroit, usually their response was something like, “Oh, are you going to see family?”

Well, sort of. I’ll see family next week, when I head outstate. Right now, I’m visiting Detroit (and also friends in Detroit). Detroit is home in the sense that it is where my mental map is centered, and it has formed my identity. It’s true I was born here, but I didn’t grow up in the city; I chose to live in the city as an adult, and immediately felt a sense of belonging.

It’s hard to explain—but why should I have to explain it? It’s like being in love. If you can explain why you’re in love with someone, then it’s probably not the real thing.

Othering, Eight Mile, and Original Sin

Earlier this week, a Detroit pastor was shot dead while asking his partying neighbors to keep the noise level down. I read the online article from WDIV, channel 4.

I know better, but as with any bad habit, I did it anyway: I read the comments. They rivaled the story itself as examples of heartbreaking failures of love. Some commenters brought up the Zimmerman trial, decrying the “liberal” media for playing up white-on-black violence but ignoring black-on-black violence; others called for gun control, implying that the primary issue here was someone’s possession of a gun; still others baldly asserted that this is simply how black people behave; others used the opportunity to badmouth Detroit. The politicization and racism in the comments section is as predictable as inner-city violence itself has sadly come to be. Where is the compassion for a family and a community so senselessly devastated? Where is the respect for the man of God murdered at the young age of 46?

Nevertheless, I think the comments, nasty and unhelpful as they are, stem from two very human impulses: our instinctive drive to figure things out, to solve problems by analyzing them; and our equally instinctive need to distance ourselves from tragic situations, to assure ourselves that such things happen to other people. Both these impulses are ambivalent gifts of evolution. They both serve to keep us alive and functioning.

But both impulses also work against us. In particular, the second—the urge to distance ourselves from danger—constantly warps our ability to analyze: if a problem belongs to other people, then surely my safety lies in disconnecting myself from (certain) others…right? (In Detroit, that’s generally symbolized by Eight Mile Road.)

The Christian doctrine of “original sin” serves as a warning against trusting those base instincts unquestioningly. Our instincts were, as far as we can tell, forged on the fly in response to certain conditions our ancestors—human and pre-human—faced. The goal, or more accurately, the mechanism, was survival. One way to think about original sin, then, is to consider that we, as individuals, but also as a species, learned to do wrong before we’d become moral agents. Just as selfishness, generally, considered a vice in most ethical systems, is necessary to a baby’s survival, behaviors we now consider morally reprehensible actually got us here, as a species, in the first place. But now, as spiritual and moral beings who ought to know better (what Bruce Cockburn called the “Angel Beast“), our task is to transcend our animal instincts, testing them and keeping what is good, but learning to control and move beyond those that actually harm us.

Central to any ethical system is the consideration of others. Our instincts will mostly serve us well if our goal is personal safety, the rest of the world be damned. But humans are social animals. As spiritual social animals, our ethical obligation, and also our health, consists in opening ourselves to each other, to the universe, and to God. Our task is to grow into greater interdependence.

Sadly, our culture itself works against that growth. Consumer capitalism, American “rugged individualism”—these forces, or, as the Bible terms them, “principalities and powers,” are bigger than any of us, and perhaps than all of us; they discourage our growth into interdependence. The market needs individual, mobile workers and consumers. Consumer culture has so pervaded our lives that we identify ourselves with our brand loyalties, including political parties and religious affiliations. The more labels we are willing to wear, the more we are drawing lines between ourselves and those like us, and others who are not like us. Even “family values” have been co-opted by this thinking, becoming a means to delineate an “us” vs. “them” and to camouflage self-interest with the patina of religiosity.

Indeed, self-interest is entirely at home in American Christianity, which, historically, has largely been moralistic and private. Our spiritual practices, like our consumer habits, are predominately individualistic. In the religious realm, our animal survival instinct concerns itself with what will get me into heaven, the rest of the world be damned. This is an exaggeration, of course; I hope very few, if any, American Christians consciously adopt that attitude! But that attitude is seen wherever “sin” is only conceived in personal terms—epitomized in our culture at the moment by sexual behavior—while ignoring social sins such as institutional racism and environmental degradation. In America, too many Christians honestly believe all is well with their soul as long as they abstain from certain individual behaviors, believe the right things about God, and ask Jesus to forgive their sins. And this is seen as perfectly compatible with, say, unquestioningly benefitting from race or gender privilege, or buying clothing made using slave labor, or making comments like those attached to the article referenced at the beginning of this post.

A father, a pastor, was murdered for asking his neighbors to keep the noise down. This wasn’t an isolated and bizarre action by a disturbed individual we can easily other. What took him wasn’t just a gun or a person’s anger, but some kind of twisted thinking where one’s own enjoyment is more important than the very life of one’s neighbor. That thinking is endemic in America, from the Koch Brothers who are in the news now for dumping their pollution on Detroit, to the food industry using cheap, unhealthy ingredients, to for-profit prisons, to corrupt politicians stealing from the People, attacking minority religions under the guise of freedom of religion and freedom of speech—why would that kind of thinking not also be at a party next door to a pastor? Until we really start to believe that our neighbor’s well-being is as important as our own, all this sickness and violence (literal and economic) is just going to escalate.

All of us are implicated in this shooter’s belief that his “right” to do what he wanted was of more value than his neighbor’s life. Ours is a culture that idolizes the weasel words “liberty” and “freedom.” And however well-meaning we try to be, our actions as consumers and as citizens of this representative democracy constantly privilege our own comfort, wealth, rights, and freedoms over whatever neighbor needs to be othered in order for our privilege to remain intact. I know this from experience; I try and I fail all the time.

It’s human instinct. It’s original sin. It’s bigger than any of us as individuals and it’s bigger than all of us lumped together, at least in our sub-cultures. And sometimes it’s how we survive. But it’s also what we’re called to struggle against.

But what if Christians really believed that their personal salvation depended upon the well-being of their neighbor? If that seems a scary prospect, don’t go asking Jesus precisely who your neighbor might be.

Chances are, they’re on the other side of Eight Mile.

MLK

Here are some questions to consider:

How often do I secure my own interests at the expense of someone else’s life, health, happiness, security?

What might repentance look like? How would it really affect my daily life, including my consumer choices?

How can I use my spheres of influence to encourage growth into interdependence in myself and those around me? How can the wider culture be transformed, and what might be my role in that?