Photos by Stephen Hilton.
We laughed, we cried, and we shared things we never thought we’d share, but now it’s time to go back to writing about that thing this blog was supposed to be about in the first place: food. Y’know, because food is one of those feel-good, innocent topics, which should hopefully help balance out my depressive, nihilistic tendencies. In other words, it’s OK to say the world is ending, as long as you say it in the middle of a review of a bag of potato chips. Right?
Anyway, I ended my little tour of the river with a romantic, candlelit dinner for two at Cadieux Cafe with another man. No, he wasn’t my boyfriend, just my very much broke photographer. The Cadieux Cafe is actually about 1 1/2 miles up from the Detroit River, but there was a method to my madness: we were there to try out the cafe’s famous mussels. We had to taste the water if we were going to write about it, after all, and what better way than some mussels?
So we ordered some.
One thing I have to say, despite being steamed in white wine with potatoes and carrots, the mussels at Cadieux Cafe still taste overwhelmingly like you’d expect something that spends it whole life sucking in hazy water would taste like. My friend said it reminded him of sewage or mud – I’d be more charitable and say that it tastes exactly how a lake or river (or aquarium) smells, with plenty of that classic fishy taste we all know thrown in for good measure. I’m sure if they’d just boiled the mussels in plain water, the end result would be almost the same. Only curry or an equally powerful flavor like that could make a difference.
A big part of the appeal of mussels – and what brings people back again and again to restaurants like Cadieux Cafe – is that you’re eating the whole enchilada at once. You pop the entire sucker into your mouth – organs and all – and chew. It’s oddly satisfying. At Cadieux Cafe, they serve up the mussels in a giant bowl, and patrons usually spend the next hour or so prying one open after another with a shit-eating grin on their faces. Your hands prune up, your nostrils fill with the essence of the mussel, and your gut churns in wicked delight, and you love it. There’s some drawn butter and horseradish sauce available if you want to add a little variety to the experience, but I usually like to keep it simple and forgo any sauces. You gotta go in naked, man.
It’s also worth mentioning that Cadieux Cafe has a quaint and rather ancient feather bowling spot in an adjoining room if you want a little Midwest-style exercise. The best way to describe feather bowling is to stay that it’s 1) Belgian, and 2) essentially a mix of bowling and bocce ball. And here you thought the Belgians only got innovative with waffles! To play, you roll what looks like a cheese wheel across a concave dirt lane, trying to get as close as you can to a feather stuck in the ground on the other end. The team that’s the closest gets the points. Simple, eh?
Judging by the proud portraits of past feather bowling league champions, this neighborhood used to be pretty Belgian. Now, it’s about half black and half white, and most of the Belgians are gone or have at least lost track of their ethnic heritage. Still, the Cadieux Cafe hangs on as a local institution. The place gets packed on Friday and Saturday nights.
As I reflect now on the whole river tour, I realize that the Detroit River itself was almost inconsequential to the story, just like how the mussels at Cadieux Cafe were probably shipped in from some remote Asian locale. And perhaps it should be that way – in modern-day Detroit the river is almost just a side note, a forgotten relic. Except for the big diesel trucks that go across the bridge and through the tunnel every day, we don’t really have any lasting ties to the river. You don’t see many tankers, barges, or container ships anymore. Only a few people boat or fish there, and if you tried to eat any mussels from the river, you’d probably turn neon green and die instantly from cirrhosis of the liver. The river is just sort of there, lapping gently, slowly recovering from over a century of environmental damage.
But it knows. The river knows everything.