The menu theme at Coriander Kitchen & Farm in Detroit is this: Keep it simple, keep it healthy, and keep it good. While running both a restaurant and a farm certainly isn’t simple, co-owners Gwen Meyer and Alison Heeres are accomplishing it all at this neighborhood eatery.
Located on a canal just a stroll from the start of the Detroit River in the city’s Jefferson Chalmers Historic Business District nestled between Mariner’s Park and
Riverfront-Lakewood East Park, this eclectic spot should be on your discovery list if you’re looking for a loving human touch in a quiet neighborhood setting. What’s more, meals feature food grown on the restaurant’s own farm, located nearby at Chene and Gratiot streets.
Meyer and Heeres began their remediated soil farm, all 12 city blocks of it, in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood in 2015. It now boasts two passive solar greenhouses that help supply the eatery.
Meyer looks after the farm’s more than 100 different types of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, while Heeres is the chef. Coriander, as the restaurant’s name suggests, is among the stars on the menu.
They wanted to create a restaurant to grow and share beautiful and vegetable-forward food with the community. The building they chose was virtually a shell, but they’ve succeeded nicely. More and more people, both nearby residents and suburbanites, have been taking notice. In fact, of you want to get in, you’d better have reservations on special days and weekends.
Restaurant work is tough, and long hours are the rule. As Meyer says, “I feel like we’re working when we’re not sleeping.”
During a recent visit, Meyer cut trimmed flowers grown at the restaurant’s farm while servers scurried to satisfy the lunch crowd at this former marina — a sign still pays it homage — which was totally rehabbed when Meyer’s husband, Alex Howbert, purchased it in 2016 to run the next-door Detroit River Sports kayak and paddleboard tours.
Coriander’s seating ranges from indoor options to funky, reclaimed garden furniture. A small restored travel trailer even is part of the eclectic mix.
From the lunch menu, my party and I sampled the veggie mezza, a combination of Calabrian chilis and citrus-marinated white beans, plus the vegetarian grape leaves as appetizers, topping out with the all-veggie falafel wrap packed with herbs, feta, romaine, and other garden goodies, and Fattoush dressing.
Meyer and Heeres came to Detroit to do nonprofit work in 2008. Meyer worked at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Earthworks Urban Farm, the first certified organic farm in the city, while Heeres did nutrition education through the University of Michigan.
After a few years, Meyer says, “We were both kind of done, (but) we believed that food would be something we should do (and) we decided to work together to start this. I was an English major and an AmeriCorps volunteer. Both Ali and I are self-taught.”
The area literally drips with Detroit and American history. Coriander Kitchen & Farm is on a canal flowing into the Detroit River and next to Fox Creek, named for the First Americans who lived here. In the 1700s, the French developed their famous ribbon farms in the same area. And when the neighborhood was developed again in the 1920s, those numerous canals crossed by arching bridges gave the area the nickname “Detroit’s Venice.”
“We want it to feel cozy and comfortable. We’re more funky. We wanted to be inspired by color and pattern, and what we’re growing. And, with it, the menu is vegetable-forward. The food is directed by what’s coming fresh out of the farm, be it herbs or vegetables. What we’re really focused on is great flavor and local produce, and the proteins come after that,” Meyer explains.
She says the most popular item is the marrow beef burger, a 5.5-ounce dry-aged treat with cheddar and anchovy-accented sauce that’s served to medium doneness. The menu clarifies that because, since it’s dry-aged, the burger may appear red.
The expanded dinner menu includes another popular item right out of a London fish-chippery: a 7-ounce beer-battered haddock fillet served with fries, lemon tartar sauce, and a lemon slice.
Another favorite is a curried red lentil crepe stuffed with farm spinach, mushrooms, maple-mustard roasted carrots, avocado crème, and shallots.
“The fish and chips and the new red lentil crepe are very popular. We have so much demand with walk-ins that it’s untenable, so (we recommend you make) reservations,” says Meyer, who adds that the upstairs patio is for private events and weddings. Libations include a twist on a margarita, with farm jalapenos and cilantro, as well as a traditional margarita.
“What’s very interesting is we weren’t surprised by business in the summer, because who doesn’t want to be on the water? We’re working to come up with creative strategies for fall, winter, and early spring, with things like live music,” Meyer says. “Our permanent space is heated and we have fire pits throughout. We generally close in January.
“What we’re trying to do is be more of a neighborhood spot. We thought about making it more of a high-end space, but that’s not where our hearts are at,” she says. “There’re so many people who have been fishing the river here for years. The neighborhood is amazing to be a part of.”