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Detroit’s Eastern Market: A Dash of Vitality
By Tom Adkinson

detroit mural
A variety of massive murals decorate the area around Detroit’s Eastern Market. Image by Tom Adkinson.

DETROIT, Mich. – Detroit has taken its share of body blows over the years, but proof of its rebound happens every Saturday at the Eastern Market when upwards of 40,000 people visit for fresh produce, handmade food items, laughter, music and camaraderie with strangers.

detroit market shed
Open-air sheds filled with fresh produce, cut flowers and an array of edible goods are the hallmark of Eastern Market. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Eastern Market is a party place with a mission to satisfy your food cravings and send you home with goodies you never intended to buy. You can explore this open-air market successfully on your own, but having an insider guide such as Linda Yellin exposes treasures you might walk right by.

linda yellin
Linda Yellin includes pre-ordered pizzas at Supino’s for her Eastern Market tour groups. Image by Tom Adkinson.
    allen love
Allen Love, whose baking heritage is in Mississippi, shows off several of his company’s specialty pies. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Yellin operates a very personalized tour company, Feet on the Street. Yellin herself is a dynamo who talks a mile a minute, barges into traffic to make cars stop so her customers can get to a food shed and offers tips on what she likes to buy herself.

Tagging along behind Yellin is an adrenalin rush. First you’re in a traditional store with specialty grocery items, next you’re zipping by beautiful freshly cut flowers, then you’re sampling Mrs. Pruitt’s Cha Cha Gourmet Salsa and then you’re scooting into a cheese shop where the cheesemonger is waiting for you with a tray of samples. A tour blazes along for a non-stop couple of hours.

Eastern Market vendors are the height of personal salesmanship, and they are great conversationalists, even if you don’t buy their wares. They know you might be back.

mike sandros
Mike Sandros’s Greek and Egyptian forbearers opened Gabriel Import Company in 1914. Image by Tom Adkinson.
    lottie the body
Local legend Lottie the Body is remembered in two murals inside Bert’s Market Place Jazz, a complex of four clubs. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The vendors I especially want to revisit are Allen and Donnie Love, husband and wife and proprietors of Love’s Custard Pies. They bake about 200 pies a week and sell every one of them at the market – peach, apple, key lime, egg custard, sweet potato and chess. The sweet potato and chess pies hint at a Southern heritage, and Allen smiles as he recalls his family roots in Mississippi.

A short walk away, but a world apart, is Gabriel Import Company, where Mike Sandros oversees a tiny space stacked floor to ceiling with packaged Greek grocery items and an array of olives, tabouli and hummus made locally. Sandros’s Greek and Egyptian forbearers opened the business in 1914.

On the other side of the market, the unmistakable aroma of grilling meat is a magnet. It’s an outdoor Saturday tradition at Bert’s Market Place Jazz. There are four clubs under Bert’s one roof, so expect good ribs and some smooth jazz at the right time of day. If you’re lucky, you’ll set to see one of Bert’s indoor murals with dozens of Detroit’s entertainment luminaries. You can’t miss the depictions of Lottie the Body.

Yellin ends her Eastern Market tours with a private seating inside Supino’s, a pizza restaurant where patrons wait in line on the sidewalk for the doors to open. You’re veritable royalty getting to enter an empty restaurant with a selection of pizzas Yellin ordered ahead of time.

There’s enough pizza to eat until you can’t see straight — which you’ll probably do – but as soon as you leave, you’re likely to start Round 2 of tasting samples in the market sheds.

The particulars: Saturday is the big day of the week all year. Sundays from June-September emphasize Michigan-made products such as artwork, clothing and jewelry. Tuesdays from June-September are a smaller version of Saturday. The restaurants, clubs and shops that surround the food sheds are always open.

Travel resources: for all-purpose information about Detroit and its renaissance, for market details, EnjoyTheD for Feet on the Street tours and for all his jazz

Published September 14, 2017

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