Recap of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Detroit Episode

November 11, 2013
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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.”

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  • Susan McKay

    I dont like the guy but the report was spot on truth.

  • Eva Cook

    I can’t say that it was “spot on truth”…Bourdain missed a lot of truths in this episode-but I understand too- that this is television.

  • Kate Blake

    Great recap and great episode. Detroiters will survive.

  • MTCCLE

    Horrible show. Lazy. The theme: Detroit will be saved by white hipsters. Why couldn’t they have highlighted some of the great places that folks of every sort of background come together — The Majestic Cafe, for instance. Such a disappointment.

  • ME90

    wait, do you really think the Majestic cafe, with its $15-20 entrees is more worthy of attention than anything that Bourdain featured? I live in and love Midtown, but there is a more interesting places of the city to be shown than a bougie brunch place.

  • JGSRELP

    Wait, you rail on hipsters and then name the Majestic Cafe as a spot he missed. LOL, ok then.

  • MTCCLE

    Someone who gets irony!

  • BB

    So he basically spent all episode saying, “Detroit is a fucked-up place to live in but the people deal with their problems in cool ways, how nice. Here’s more ‘ruin-porn’ THAT I JUST SAID DETROITERS HATE TO SEE. Kthxbai.”

  • m

    this episode did not accurately portray anything about the city, other than the inside of the establishments he visited. otherwise, showing the Packard Plant and Greedy Greg’s is not only reinforcing people’s skewed perceptions of the city but it supports his statement about it being fucked beyond repair and comparable to Chernobyl. notice how virtually nothing good that’s happening in the downtown area was featured — except Guns & Butter, which was clearly slathered with Grosse Pointers at the time they filmed. Bourdain saying he loves Detroit is basically a backhanded compliment; he loves it because he finds beauty in the ruin & thinks Detroiters are strong (true) – but not for any other reason. you have to have a sense of humor to live here? it’s foolhardy to take an opportunity to better one’s hometown with a locally-sourced restaurant? he should stick to what he knows instead of trying to impose his opinions on cities he knows nothing more about than what Charlie LeDuff showed him.

  • Karen Marie

    Besides showing abandoned houses , packert plant and some hole n a wall coney island; i was impressed with Bourdain’s visit. Detriot has more than that. They should of filmed him visiting “Greek Town”, “Hitsville”, the Renaissance center, Lafayette coney island, Downtown, and the casinos. Detriot is not all about only abandoned places.

  • Karen Marie

    I was Not impressed with Bourdain’s visit is what i meant. He and LeDuff only reviewed the bad and sad parts of the inner city.

  • bonobf

    Everyone knows those parts of the city, and they don’t accurately reflect what is happening in the other 95% of the city.

  • Rory Kasel

    So you’d rather they toured Oakland county?

  • Faith Allen

    I liked it…but Bourdain wants to see the underside…not well known downtown sites…he saw things many of us haven’t and we have lived here for years….

  • Ilovethed

    The episode was horrible! He could have went to 50+ restaurants in downtown Detroit. There are so many hidden treasurers that people of Detroit outside city’s go to on a weekly bases. Slows, Lafayette coney small plates majestic cafe I could go on and on. They could have showed how much the city is thriving. Fox theater filmore red wings cafe cobo joe Luis campus martius Greek town midtown ren center the casinos opera house night life ect ect. Detroit is going to be awesome I the next 5 years more and more people are moving into the city. Building are being bought up. Business are moving downtown. Detroit need to be built back up from downtown and then the suburbs. You get downtown thriving with business and housing add some busses and cabs it could turn into the next New York easily!

  • Karen Marie

    I never said that. They could of toured downdown detriot like greek town , the RenCen etc. That is all Wayne county Rory. Instead he & Leduff showed the shitty parts of ghetto.

  • Karen Marie

    I totally agree ilovethed, all they toured was the bad parts. I was surprised they were not shot at.

  • Karen Marie

    I was born in Detriot on the eastside. I left there in 72 cause our neighborhood was very bad. I watch Bourdain’s shows all the time and all of them had good views about their cultures but his visit to Detroit was not impressing. In fact, it was far worse than his visit to Africa. As for Detriot, him & Leduff did nothing but tour ghetto parts.

  • Faith Allen

    yup, thats the point…look at whats left and look hard at the ugly…so we can move forward and change.

  • Rory Kasel

    Detroit is one big shitty ghetto. The block or so that makes up Greektown is in no way a fair representation of what the residents have done to the city. If anything Bourdain did you a service by finding a handful of people that actually had their acts together. The RenCen is a private building. Going there would be like trying to show the culture of Arkansas by filming inside a Walmart.

  • wdiver

    There is “nice Parts” of the ghetto. Is that not an oxymoron?

  • wdiver

    Okay…gotta say…well damn put. These people upset by that show are insane. It was fair…if anything too upbeat. No cops followed as they got call of dead body at ….

  • wdiver

    Because you have a block of Greektown and two or three other blocks out of hundreds of acres of blight that function, you want the City shown as a success? gime a break. Pig a dress on a pig…it is still a d amn pig!

  • wdiver

    Me too…because that would have shown the true mentality of what is left in that City. Exactly…you are “surprised” that another murder or attempted murder did not take place. And you want people to go down there? pfffff

  • Rory Kasel

    What I don’t like is that every time a show like this comes to Detroit they always eat chili dogs and act like they are some new found culinary masterpiece. I am however glad that they visited a shit hole like Duly’s rather than Lafayette and National. I would have sent them 2 blocks west to El Rancho before I’d let them eat BBQ cooked in those re-purposed toxic chemical barrels.

  • Rory Kasel

    You expected him to go out of his way to get raped and set on fire? You must be a purist to the fullest extent.

  • H.K.

    I was born and raised in Detroit. I moved to the west side of the state in 2005 to go to school and haven’t returned. With that said i must say that i miss Detroit very much because I haven’t found anything in west Michigan that compares; Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Kalamazoo…nothing. Detroit is an educational “Mecca”! If they focus Detroit’s rebirth on it’s educational centers outward and literally segment the city (as they are doing now with the city council districts, the neighborhoods need the better representation)–Detroit will come back faster as a whole. Overall, I think the episode was good and more helpful than hurtful.

  • RalphDaly28

    so where is Greedy Greg’s? Is that a secret too?

  • 1happycat

    Go burn a cross Rory, it’s your only skill set.

  • 1happycat

    Greek town has been bulldozed if you haven’t noticed? That place is about as Greek as Texas is. The old cooks from Hellas work in the burbs and I found them!

  • Karen Marie

    Only the parking garage is gone , still a nice place to wine n dine

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  • Karen Marie

    Still has nice places to visit. Bourdain said hes not a tour guide. What a bullshitter. Ever watch No reservations? Besides parts unknown., he goes to the nicest places in those countries and rest of america. He and leduff shiwed only the ghetto downside of Detroit.

  • Karen Marie

    They have better neighborhoods too. Not to mention those fine dinning places downtown. All he toured was ghetto and who gives a crap about that packard plant. Comerica park., the filmore theater, cobohall, ford field. None of that was shown.

  • kashigirl

    He does a nice job of visiting both sides of the tracks. I like how he can get down with eating collard greens one minute and foie gras the next. Even on No Reservations, he would often eat off food trucks and go to lesser known/humble mom and pop shops.

  • kashigirl

    I wanna know, too! That food looked so good!

  • Wendy

    I see what you’re saying, but the show is called Parts Unknown (not Parts I can find on Yelp, lol). I think he could have portrayed it in a far worse light than he did. Instead, he portrayed it exactly as he sees it–as a decaying, troubled, leadership-challenged city–but NOT a hopeless one. I loved the contrast of this show. Yes, firefighters in Detroit put out multiple fires a day, but look at how bravely awesome they are (and they can even cook!). Yes, times are tough, especially in the ghetto, but looks at people like Greedy Greg and Papusa House lady who find a way to earn an honest buck with their craft? The guys who voluntarily cut the grass so the kids can play in the park, the man who runs the subsistence gardens in the city…these are the people who make up Detroit AND THEY ARE AWESOME. Diamonds in the rough, that is what this episode showed. I loved it, personally. :-)

  • Rob Cassel

    I so want to find Greedy Greg’s

  • DJ Miznut

    I don’t understand what’s unfair about calling Detroit a food desert? It’s clearly true – are you that soft / hurt by the truth?

  • zane1

    Just saw the show yesterday. Must have been a rerun. Born there & lived there through the 50′s. A very different Detroit indeed, Thought he overdid being cool & trying to fit in & could have made better dining choices.

    “Re-purposed toxic chemical barrels”…found quite funny.

  • zane1

    Probably not within my lifetime, but I can see a Renaissance coming to Detroit within the next 20 or 30 years. Hopefully folks like the Koch Brothers will stop using Detroit as their own person toxic dump. Live in CA now, but three generations of relatives before me were all Detroiters Fascinating place & history. I remember all those beautiful buildings as a kid. Never forget Detroit won WWII.

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