Friday, February 26, 2010

Surprise! It's a mini-Pizza Papalis

If you've never laid teeth into a Pizza Papalis pie before, you're missing out. On about 8,000 calories, I'd guess. Chock full of cheese that'll keep you bunged up for days, Pizza Papalis' pizzas are always ranked among the tops in the Detroit area. I knew about the chain's two full-size restaurants downtown; in fact, the only time I'd eaten one I was at the Rivertown store, on Jefferson just east of the RenCen.

I was surprised when I stumbled across a third downtown Pizza Papalis earlier today in the Dime Building on Griswold, an area I thought I was pretty familiar with. It shares street-level space with Rio Wraps, and while it isn't a full-blown Pizza Papalis (they only serve 6-inch juniors) it's another tasty lunch option within walking distance of work. (The Dime Building, by the way, is another cool example of a building that went from famous to sitting empty to refurbished. More on that some other time.)

Never had a Pizza Papalis and want to give it a try? I don't recommend the Dime Building location unless you happen to be downtown during the week during business hours. But for an evening or weekend feast, try the restaurants in Rivertown or Greektown. Trust me, there's no better beer-base in the world!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top comes off the Lafayette Building

It must have been a busy morning down at Lafayette and Shelby. The demolition of the Lafayette Building -chronicled here in fine detail - took a huge step forward when crews hacked the top off of the portion of the building that remained. I wasn't there to witness it firsthand, but already it feels very strange walking up Lafayette toward Campus Martius with the top handful of floors erased from the skyline.

See that small red brick building that stands between the Lafayette and the coney island restaurants? Not sure if that's going to stay or if the side of Lafayette Coney Island will be exposed. It's been vacant for quite awhile, so it seems fair to think it'll be torn down. Either way, it's going to look very different to anybody familiar with the area.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot damn, that's a lot of dogs!

After scarfing down two coneys with light chili (for easier handling) and no onions (to avoid vomiting), I asked the owner of American Coney Island how many hot dogs they rip through every day. "Not enough," he said, laughing only a little bit. I pressed further, because drudging up meaningless content for this website has become a critical part of my day.

"On average, we sell about a thousand a day," he said, adding that they've sold as many as 12,000 in a day when something big, like the SuperBowl or a Red Wings parade, is happening downtown. I left, and started thinking about how far 1,000 hot dogs would stretch if you laid them end-to-end. Six inches per dog, 1,000 dogs a day, 365 days a year. By my math, the place hawks about 34.5 miles worth of hot dogs every year. (By the way, if you look real hard at the picture above, you can see the owner through the reflection and behind the grill. He's wearing an American flag-patterned hat.)

JennFriend #6: Fake Parking Attendant Guy

Near Fort and Cass there's a small parking lot that's apparently struggling at the moment, because they've resorted to using a fake flag waver to reel in cars. I love how they even suited it up in a vest that says, "PARKING ATTENDANT".

I realize there's not a U of M logo visible on the blue and gold coat, but there was no way I could deny this thing entry into the JennFriends. In fact, I think I might nominate it president of the club.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Grosse Ile-Grand Circus Park connection

As I wandered through John King Books earlier today looking to bolster Island Girl's Danielle Steel collection (hey, everybody gets a Kage nickname - even mothers-in-law!), a book called "Grand Circus Park U.S.W." caught my eye. It wasn't the title that grabbed me, but the author's name.

Kage readers with Grosse Ile ties (there must be hundreds) will recognize the name, on account of there's a street called H.C.L. Jackson off Church Road where they probably got silly on Bartles & James back in high school. Now we know who H.C.L. Jackson was. It turns out, he lived on the island and was a well-known columnist for The Detroit News back in the 1940s. He was apparently a pretty funny writer, and readers were fond of his newspaper column, "Listening in on Detroit". It was kind of like Grosse Ile was the home of the Mitch Albom of his times. I don't believe "Grand Circus Park C.S.W." sold as well as "Tuesday's with Morrie", but still...

"Grand Circus Park C.S.W." (he never did divulge what the C.S.W. stood for) is a collection of brief stories that all, in some way, have a connection to the downtown Detroit park, which Jackson wrote about for The News during the days when the park was being planned and built. I didn't buy the book today, but I'm thinking about heading back over to King Books next week and grabbing it. If you're interested, his other books include "Ups and Downs", "Round Corners", and "The Paper Bag and Other Stories", and he wrote a forward for a book titled "Pot Shots from a Grosse Ile Kitchen".

Updating the Lafayette Building demolition

Progress continues on removing the Lafayette Building, but it does seem to have slowed in recent days. I'm assuming it gets a little trickier as they closer to the side of the building nearest Lafayette Coney Island and the other retailers next door. Check out how high the pile of rubble has gotten at the base of the building!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hitsville USA: the small home with a huge story

Not that we've run out of stuff downtown Detroit to see, visit and scribble about, but today the Kage stretches its boundaries a little bit and ventures out to the New Center area, for a couple of reasons. One, I had a small legal matter to tend to out that way. And two, I've always wanted to see Hitsville USA up close. It's kind of hard to believe that I hadn't at least driven past it. Until today.

Hitsville USA, for those unaware, is the founding site of Motown music, the house where Berry Gordy, Jr., lived and built a recording studio, where people like Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 recorded some of their biggest hits. I didn't stop in for the official tour, but it's definitely on my to-do list now. (Check out for details.)

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I got to Hitsville, but I guess because nearly everything that counts as a tourist attraction these days is huge, I was picturing something bigger. Instead, I turned on to West Grand Boulevard from the Lodge and drove past a row of old homes that could easily have been mistaken for a block in Wyandotte. And there it was. Hitsville USA. I almost passed it. It's just a house. No elaborate entryway. No marble statues. Not even a parking lot. Aside from the "Hitsville USA" letters stretched across the front, it's just a house, which really is one of the reasons it's so cool. What have you ever made in your home? An omelet? The bed? In this house, Marvin Gaye made "Can I Get A Witness?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Visit the Penobscot, Detroit's 47-story treasure

Named for a Native American tribe in Maine, the Penobscot Building is probably the most recognizable building in downtown Detroit not called the RenCen. Or Joe Louis. Or the Book Tower. Or Comer...OK, so maybe it only used to be one of the most recognizable buildings downtown. But it's still an awesome place, and much like the Guardian Building nearby (recently profiled on the Kage) the Penobscot is worth a quick tour if you're ever downtown with a half-hour to kill. Somewhat secretly, it offers decent (but not great) shopping that most people don't know about.

While you may be familiar with the Penobscot (it's the one at Fort and Griswold with the huge red beacon at the top that lights up at night) here are a few factoids that show just how prominent the building once was.
• When it was built in 1928, it was the eighth tallest building in the world, and the tallest anywhere outside of New York and Chicago.
• It was the tallest building in Detroit until the RenCen was built in the '70s.
• Somewhat less impressive, its lobby was used during filming of "Eight Mile". You'll see it when Eminem walks through on his way in to a radio station.
• Its huge entrance arch alone is worth checking out, and looks much better when there isn't an SUV parked in the way of what otherwise would've been a nice picture.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Detroit's other tribute to boxing great Joe Louis

On one side of Cobo Hall stands Joe Louis Arena, at least for now. A few blocks the other way, there's the widely known and often controversial Fist of a Champion sculpture. Both are Detroit's way of saluting homegrown boxing hero Joe Louis.

But in between, a lesser-known tribute to the Brown Bomber stands in the Cobo Hall concourse, an unfortunately low-traffic area unless you really like new cars, and even then you likely only set foot in the place once a year. It's a cool sculpture, and it stands just inside Cobo's main entrance.

In researching the statue a little bit, I stumbled upon some interesting facts about Joe Louis. As a child, he grew up in a section of Detroit known as "Black Bottom", an all-black neighborhood in what is now an area near the current-day ballparks. It was called "Black Bottom" not because of its all-black residents, but because of the very dark soil there. "Black Bottom" was a nationally famous area, and featured jazz clubs where people like Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie played. All of that has nothing to do with a statue in Cobo Hall, I realize. But it's pretty interesting.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's Winter Blast time - and Spongebob's back!

We haven't enjoyed a Spongebob sighting downtown in a few months, not since I stumbled upon that parking lot sign that made little to no sense. Well, the yellow and squishy one is back, except this time, he's neither yellow nor squishy. He's clear and particularly hard, and alongside his lovable (and comically superior, in my opinion) friend Patrick, he's one of many ice sculptures on display this weekend as part of the Motown Winter Blast.

All the fun happens this weekend, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. This year's Winter Blast includes all the stuff we've gotten used to over the past five years, except for the sledding hill, which has been nixed. (Good call, in my view. The hill was never big enough to be cool.) There's ice skating, marshmallow roasting, lots of food and drink, and live music all over the place. This year, they've added carousels and other rides for the kids to give the whole Campus Martius area more of a carnival midway feel.

If you make it downtown for Winter Blast but find that being cold and looking at things gets old in a hurry, the Kage's crack research team has been hard at work rounding up a list of bars very near the festival. I recommend the Grand Trunk Pub on Woodward, but to see the entire list, click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sam Riddle spotting: Part Deux

How's this for timing? A short while after posting a few words about spotting Sam Riddle on the street the other day, I happened by the federal courthouse today where a mob of media types were gathered around the front steps. In the middle of them was Riddle, who had just come out after the judge excused the still-deadlocked jury for the weekend. It's looking more and more like Riddle might skate. Not it really makes me wonder how he was standing by himself a few days ago.

As a sidebar, I will say this much: Sam Riddle has one sweet hat collection!

JennFriend #5: Notta Guy

Nowhere in the rules does it say that JennFriend club members have to be people!

Down on the corner with Sam Riddle

As I raised my camera to get an updated picture of the tumbling Lafayette Building earlier this week, a man standing on the corner of Lafayette and Shelby eyed me suspiciously. When our eyes met, I was immediately pretty certain it was Sam Riddle, the political consultant who's awaiting a jury verdict in his case on charges of bribery, extortion and assorted other things you'd never put on your resume. He looked at me as if suspicious that I planned on aiming my camera at him, which, of course, I did a few seconds later as he crossed Shelby.

Apparently the courtroom was breaking for lunch, and somehow Riddle was standing by himself just outside the federal courthouse, right across the street from news vans representing every TV news crew in town. Nobody was filming him or taking pictures or asking for quotes or anything. It was kind of like they didn't know he was there - the whole thing seemed very strange. Maybe by now, the media doesn't bother asking him anything directly, they just wait to see what his next Facebook or Twitter post says.

As for the trial, the jury appears deadlocked, and is huddling up again today to continue sorting through everything.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reading the writing on the walls at the Detroiter Bar

I was grabbing lunch last week over in Bricktown at a bar called the Detroiter Bar. You've probably seen it; it's right down the street from Greektown.

Anyway, I noticed a sign above the bar that said, "Malaka's Bar". A little while later, I saw another sign above the door into the kitchen that said, "Malaka's Bar". And then a hockey stick on the wall that said, "Malaka". And a cigarette machine that said, "Malaka's Bar & Grill". You get the picture.

I was curious what it meant, so I did a little investigating, which is technical-speak for "I asked the bartender."

To find what I learned, click here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lafayette Building falling fast

Is this getting old? It really is amazing to see up close.

I've added a "Lafayette Building" link on the right side of this page so you can see all of the posts together. You may recall the first one; it talked about "the building with the trees growing on the roof."