On Saturday, a good friend suggested we go for lunch to a new bakery and restaurant near the long-abandoned Strand Lounge, a bar my father owned at Grand River and 14th Street in Detroit in the mid-1960s. I have a great affection for the area.
As a kid I used to go on Sunday mornings to stack beer bottles and help clean up. Half the time the janitor showed up late -- if at all -- after a serious night of imbibing. When the Detroit riot errupted in July 1967, my father's place was looted, but left standing. Many other businesses up and down the block were less fortunate and burned to the ground, leaving behind lots that remain vacant today. A month after the riot, my father reopened. A year later, he sold the place.
My father lived in the suburbs until he passed in 2017. When I went to visit, I'd drive from downtown on Grand River all the way to Farmington Hills before I got on the freeway.
Each time I drove down Grand River, I'd note how much of the area had been left for dead. My father's bar still stands abandoned. On one side, there's a colorful mural of Detroit's martyrs -- Malice Green, Aiyana Jones and Vincent Chin. And a former furniture store steps away is now used for events. There's not much else around.
So, it's exciting to see things happening in the area after nearly a half-century of decline. The True North Quonset huts popped up, a cool little live-work community. The developer of the huts, who owns Takoi restaurant in Corktown, began hiring this month for a restaurant called Magnet at 4848 Grand River Ave. And since April, Ochre Bakery has put down a marker at Grand River and 16th Street.
Ochre serves fresh pastries, salads and sandwiches on rustic bread, including a braised lamb shoulder sandwich with lemony yogurt, and a meatball sandwich with fennel, parsley, pecorino salad and aioli. They also serve a killer banana-chocolate chip cake.
The new place is the creation of Astro Coffee owners Jessica Hicks and Dai Hughes. They recruited breadmaker and baker Max Leonard, who operated a little underground bakery out of his Hamtramck home that had a loyal fan base -- including my friend I was having lunch with, and his wife.
Before the restaurant boom in downtown, Midtown and Corktown, Detroit was better known for having hidden treasures tucked away, often in the middle of nowhere, like Nancy Whiskey, Giovanni's, Dakota Inn Rathskeller and the Polish Yacht Club.
Ochre stands as one of those treasures off the beaten path.
Plan a visit
- Where: 4884 Grand River Ave., near West Warren Avenue
- Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday (kitchen closes at 3 p.m.)