In that simpler time we now call February, before the coronavirus pandemic hit our sliver of the world and rearranged most every aspect of our lives, the Detroit Free Press, in partnership with the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers, rolled out our annual list of Best New Restaurants and Restaurant of the Year.
It was my fifth year making the selections and producing the project as the Freep’s resident restaurant critic and I was particularly proud of the range of diversity among this year’s honorees – from Moroccan-inspired street food and Afro-Caribbean bowls in Detroit to upscale Italian in Birmingham and home-style Balkan fare in Hamtramck.
We named an iconic east side pizza institution our Restaurant of the Year Classic and a modern downtown Lebanese jewel our Restaurant of the Year. And for the first time ever, we crowned a Chef of the Year, an Algerian-born baker serving immaculate pastries inspired by her world travels.
List-making of this sort is inherently flawed, but I felt like we’d nailed it with this year’s entries, offering something appealing to as wide a variety of tastes, budgets and styles as can possibly be represented by a dozen independent restaurants from the tri-county area.
So my heart broke a little extra a scant month later when – to help stem the rising tide of COVID-19 – every restaurant had to decide between shutting down for who knows how long or scaling back its operations to takeout and delivery.
At the onset of the pandemic, those takeout options sustained many of us, traded alongside Netflix binge recommendations as one of the few markers of normalcy in an upside-down world.
In years past, publishing the annual list has been just the first step. Typically, we also dedicate one night every two weeks from roughly April through September to celebrate each restaurant in person through a special, one-night-only dinner event at every recognized establishment. The Top 10 Takeover, as the wildly popular program is called, has been a smashing success over the course of six years, with many of the dinners selling out weeks or days in advance. We even have our own Takeover “regulars,” many of whom have reached out in the months since asking what would happen to their beloved dining event.
At the height of the statewide lockdown in the spring, with in-person dining paused indefinitely, our crack marketing team , led by the inimitable Aimie Rosner, rallied the troops together and leaned on Top 10 Takeover alums to provide food for frontline workers at hospitals. Once again partnering with the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers, the Rescue Detroit Restaurants/Feed Healthcare Heroes program blew past its original fundraising goal and funneled more than $165,000 in generous reader donations to our beloved restaurants, who used the funds to provide free meals to healthcare workers.
Many of the restaurants on this year’s list were included in that program, but we wanted to do more for them still, to give them the moment in the limelight they’d earned before a virus snatched it away.
These restaurants have had to pivot hard to survive, and today we announce how the Takeover program is pivoting with them.
Introducing: The Top 10 Takeout, a new dining series from the Detroit Free Press and Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers designed for these socially distanced times.
We’ve partnered with the restaurants on our Best New Restaurants list as well as the Chef of the Year, Restaurant of the Year and Restaurant of the Year Classic to provide a specially curated multi-course meal designed to be taken and heated at home.
Here’s how it works:
Each restaurant is assigned a specific date for their Takeout and tickets for each event will go on sale at freep.com/takeout two weeks in advance. The restaurants design their own menu, and set the meal prices. After purchasing your tickets, arrive at the restaurant of your choice on the assigned date and during the predetermined time, grab your meal and take it home. Wash your hands, then follow the included instructions to build and heat your meal. Lastly, enjoy restaurant-quality food in the comfort and safety of your own home.