by Lee DeVito
Detroit-connected Facebooks went abuzz this weekend when chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain wrote a love letter to Detroit in anticipation of the season finale of his show "Anthony Boudain: Parts Unknown", set in Detroit, which aired Sunday night.
In his Tumblr post Bourdain gushed about his trip to Detroit, saying, "I love Detroit. I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in America—still." He also said, "I love Detroit. I love Detroiters. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to live in a city so relentlessly fucked. You’ve got to be tough—and occasionally even devious. And Detroiters are funny, tough—and supreme improvisers." As such, the episode's narrative focused on the more DIY and under-the-radar dining experiences in the D.
Sure, in the episode Bourdain had the first coney he ever enjoyed at Duly's Place (two, actually– calling the "delicate interplay" between the ingredients of the hot dog, chili, bun, and raw onions "symphonic"). But don't expect to see a Yelp bump at any of the places featured here, as most of them are completely off the grid. Among those featured places are "Greedy Greg's", a BBQ joint located in a neighborhood front yard (Bourdain called their pork-stuffed collard greens "luxurious"; Greedy Greg's refused to reveal their secret ingredients), a Salvadoran pupusería (pork-stuffed tortillas) operated out of neighborhood living room (the film crew would not show the cook's face), and an embattled firefighter station's kitchen (they made crab cakes, and ate them fast). Aside from Duly's, the only other place a viewer has a shot at replicating Bourdain's culinary adventure in Detroit is top chef (and Detroit area native) Craig Lieckfelt's Guns + Butter pop-up shop, but as a pop-up shop, of course, managing to make a reservation here can be an elusive pursuit. However, Lieckfelt hopes to open a brick and mortar restaurant in Detroit, using locally sourced ingredients (a move Bourdain called "foolhardy", but admirable).
There's a couple references to Detroit's perception as a food desert (however unfair they may be). There's some playful ribbing at Bourdain's guide for the episode, local TV personality Charlie LeDuff. When LeDuff pours his alcohol into his soup and scarfs down caviar-topped eggs at Guns + Butter Bourdain calls him "a Philistine" and "the customer from Hell". There's plenty of the obligatory slow-mo, high-def panning of the Packard Plant and the Heidelburg Project, all while mentioning Leptis Magna, Rome, and Macchu Picchu– yes, ruin porn. But Bourdain explains Detroiters' dislike of ruin porn as well as admitting the irresistible magnetism to the fetish and hope that he captured the city respectfully. The episode's credits roll over still shots of abandoned houses while audio of crickets chirping rolls.
But from his Tumblr letter and voice-over narration in the show, you get the impression that the world-travelled Bourdain is genuinely enamored with Detroit. In a live talk show segment that aired immediately following the episode, one of the guest hosts asked Bourdain what exactly it was about Detroit that captivated him so much. He retreaded a lot of the bullet points from his letter, and then paused– it looked like he was about to say something really thoughtful– but then one of the guests cracked a joke about combining ruin porn with actual porn and it cut to a commercial.
Ah well. "It's no longer about winning, is it?" as Bourdain says in the episode about Greedy Greg's. "It's about surviving."