Rooted and rising: Coriander Kitchen and Farm

Though this ongoing global pandemic of ours has rocked most of the truths I once held as institutional and unwavering, there are those select few that will never fold. 

Here’s one I’ve always adored —  spring in Michigan and rain go hand in hand. 

So, when I set out on a recent spring Sunday to visit Coriander Kitchen in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, it felt kismet to enjoy their daydream turned brick—and—mortar, fresh menu, and homegrown flower bouquets during a light shower.

The perfect balance

Much like how flowers depend on springtime rain to bloom, Coriander’s roots grow both along the water of the canals and in the soil of the East Side, where their farm is located on Scott Street. The relationship between Coriander Kitchen and The Coriander Farm is the equivalent to co-owners Alison Heeres and Gwen Meyer’s personal relationship — a symbiotic friendship

Heeres found herself energized by the food, herbs, and flowers that Meyer grows, and in turn, Meyer was inspired to grow food for Heeres who transforms the produce into “creative, delicious and super fresh food.” The pair started their project in Detroit in 2015, after both spent several years working in various agricultural and healthy food access nonprofits.

Coriander Kitchen and Farm. Photo by Nick Hagen

“Our relationship as farmer and chef is so special. In fact, the relationship is what really inspired us to work together and ultimately open,” Meyer said. “We wanted to create a restaurant that offered the food we wanted to see, foods made from local and regional raw produce that was unfussy and not small plates, meals that would fill you up.”

As a thorough believer in ditching the small plates trend in favor of meals wherein I don’t have to hit a Coney afterward to feel full, Heeres and Meyer’s vision for a robust menu is a welcomed addition to the Detroit restaurant rotation. Salads with an abundance of fresh greenery, flatbreads that incorporate Marrow beef, lentils, and everything in between  — the contrast of intentional largeness feels far away from downtown minimalist spots. 

The space

Amongst the fishing boats and kayaks that sit idle and ready behind the homes of Detroit’s canal district in spring, Coriander’s bright blue exterior is a reminder that Detroit summer is in reach. A billboard-like sign for Fisherman’s Marina and Party Store, the last tenant who left the structure more than a decade ago, still stands — emblematic of the fishermen who faithfully gather just across the street at Mariner Park. 

Inspired aesthetically by color palettes from a wide array of waterside communities, Meyer said the ultimate design model came from Miami, Florida —  a bold look for a Midwest establishment.

Coriander Kitchen and Farm. Photo by Nick Hagen

“We envisioned a space that was casual, family-friendly, and really allowed for people to connect to the beauty of the lower East Side, hence lots of windows and open-air spaces on our patio and upstairs, slips for boats to park and dine with us,” Meyer said.

As I sat and sipped a She’s Soooo (a Coriander Farm shiso—infused vodka cocktail) it was clear Heeres and Meyer had hit that nail right on the head — children laughed and played along the canal banks among the cattails — a sound I couldn’t picture coming from an abundance of Detroit’s higher-end culinary spaces. Patrons arrived by both bike and car, and as Detroit continues to warm, kayak groups will converge here too.

As kids frolicked, adults chattered around the spaced—for—COVID fire pits —  the smell of burnt wood on top of the canals’ natural marshiness was a reminder of the unparalleled places in Detroit that are so often overlooked until they are enjoyed.

The history

The hidden gem canals don’t come without their hardships — residents bail themselves out of flooding-related disasters during high—water seasons. Though the canals can be seen as reminiscent of the ribbon farms that once stretched across the city, giving water access to farmers who were not riverside and making way for continued — for better or for worse —  industrialization of Detroit’s waterfront. 

Coriander’s farm to (waterside) table approach is an ode to Detroit’s agricultural history and the continued fight to provide fresh food to residents, in areas of Detroit that have been designated “food deserts” or lacking community food-based gathering places.

Coriander Kitchen and Farm. Photo by Nick Hagen

“Detroit has a long and rich history of growing food,” Meyer said. “As our city has so much open land available for growing, it is a truly unique place to grow food and participate in the local food economy. We are humbled and honored to be a part of that larger story, to grow alongside so many who are committed to ideas of food security, food sovereignty, and local foods.”

The future

Derailed by COVID—19 and the many tolls it has had on Detroit’s people and places, Coriander’s original game plan to open last year wasn’t in the cards. Like many small business owners, Heeres and Meyer made do with improvisation, having to push their opening and cancel lucrative catering gigs.

Their safe, open-air concept that prioritized protected interactions between staff and guests came to life so successfully, it upended the expectations of both Heeres and Meyer — community support for their soft opening flourished on both social media and in real-time.

“We are proud of our guests for being open to the real physical experiences that such a venue creates. It ties in with our desire for folks to reconnect to the beauty of the outdoors, the water, and nature in the lower East Side,” Meyer said. “As the weather continues to warm, we are excited to see space continue to grow and change.”

As I left Coriander and the April drizzle continued, I was reminded that Detroiters know better than most that there is no bad weather, just a reason to bring a blanket or umbrella along with you. An homage to versatility and evolving — in both a pre and post coronavirus world.

With spring comes blooms, and Coriander — much like the plant itself — is ready to root and rise.

Chloe Seymour is a freelance writer based in Detroit. She can be found on Twitter @chloecamilllle

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