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Dave in Northridge came to Detroit for a conference in late March, and his visit was a great pretext to have a Motor City Kossacks meet-up. So that's what we did, on Saturday, March 22, at the Golden Fleece in Greektown, downtown Detroit.

Almost all of our Motor City Kossacks meet-ups for the next few months will be in places worth scouting for folks coming to Netroots Nation in July. Of course, we can't hope to cover them all, but along with the meet-up reports I can provide some short restaurant reviews, to provide a personal touch besides the information that is already available elsewhere, online or in print.

The core of Greektown is a block of Monroe Avenue in downtown Detroit, a little northwest of the riverfront, between St. Antoine and Beaubien Streets. Here is a nifty little map of downtown that shows the area, including the Cobo Center, Ren Cen (where the Marriott is), and the People Mover route (the red dotted line with the stations as red squares). As you can see, it's a reasonable walk from the riverfront, and accessible via the People Mover as well.

Downtown Detroit, with major landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods.  
Apart from being the site of one of the major casinos in the city, Greektown is now a National Historical District. The little squib about the area on the NPS site is worth reading, as are the descriptions for the other 38 places listed on the Detroit list, which includes about a dozen sites that are not in or near downtown. If you look closely at the top photo at the NPS webpage to which I linked for Greektown, you'll see the spire for the Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, which is at the southeast corner of Monroe and St. Antoine. Contrary to what one might expect, it's not a Greek Orthodox church, having been established when it was the Germans who dominated the local area. It's a beautiful building, worth a peek inside if you're someone who likes church architecture. I digress--though I must observe that  the juxtaposition of this old church and the new casino is indicative of the tension between activities that have long been important to Detroit.

And here's an exterior view of the Golden Fleece, one of the few older establishments still in operation on the original block:

Projecting signs are a distinctive feature of all the restaurants and bars on the block.
So, why the Golden Fleece, one might ask? The least illuminating answer is that it's the restaurant that won the informal poll that I put up when I advertised the meet-up to begin with. More importantly, the Golden Fleece was on the short list to start because it's such a classic Detroit, and Greektown, venue.

Now, I beg your indulgence as I recount in brief the story of my own very long acquaintance with the Golden Fleece, one that I did not have the chance to share with those at the meet-up.

As many of you know, I grew up in suburban Detroit, and I then moved to the city proper when I was a very young adult. Even as a teenager wild in the streets, I liked to hang out in Greektown. It was a known quantity in part, since I had a Greek-American friend in high school whose mother was a mover and shaker in the city. But it was also a funky, slightly disreputable neighborhood back then, and a place that suburbanites then didn't frequent. One of the truly distinctive and long-closed restaurants, the International, was another favorite, but it was a step up from the Golden Fleece. I'm pretty sure the first (and last) time I ever tasted ouzo was when I and a group of my friends were at the Fleece for a quick gyro dinner before heading to the river to watch the Freedom Festival Fireworks. I must have been about sixteen at the time; I don't recall being carded.

They're decidedly less seedy now, but I admit my fond memories linger. So that's why I put the Golden Fleece on the list. That, and the ratings on sites like urbanspoon where people raved about the gyros. Please join me after the jump for photos and discussion about our actual meet-up.

A visit to a Greek restaurant would not be complete without ordering saganaki, which is typically kasseri cheese flambéed, accompanied by the exclamation of "Opa!" then doused with lemon juice. It is so common that our charming server probably does this twenty times a night.

The servers do it with a bit of theater, but also with nonchalance.
This shot shows our server's lovely face better, with the backdrop behind her.
Opa! accomplished
And here is the dish itself. It's a pretty good use of cheese (with humble but delicious greek bread, as pictured below), and fun to share. Thanks to poe and toneilda for sharing theirs with the rest of us!
A good-sized serving of saganaki for sharing. Delicious!
The Greek version of white bread is not particularly healthy, but it is good. I often like to smear it with taramosalata, but there weren't any willing to share it with me on that occasion. It is an acquired taste, to be sure.
Not terribly healthy, but it is a good accompaniment to saganaki and other appetizers.
I'll add a couple more food photos in the comments, but I'd like to say a little bit more about the food, for the sake of the prospective NN14 visitor. Their portions are substantial, and their featured dishes (especially the gyros) are good. (Coffee isn't so great, however, and for dessert it's worth walking down the block to the Astoria Pastry Shop instead.) I joked about their Greek salad being the only vegetarian option, from what I could tell from the menu on a website (not their own; no restaurant site exists). But as it happens, there is a good assortment of vegetarian entrees besides the salad, such as grape leaves. I regret not snapping a photo of the salad, in fact, because it was very large and very tasty. I do hope that others who were there at the meet-up, or people who have their own recent experiences with the Golden Fleece, will also weigh in below.

All right, enough food pr0n for now. Time to get down to business regarding the meet-up proper--who was there, and what we discussed.

We came at intervals, some a little early, some a little late. I think we win the prize among ALL Kossack groups however: we had not one but TWO pairs of sisters in attendance! Is that cool, or what? (Unfortunately, that didn't occur to me till later, so we don't have any group shots of the four of them together.)

The seating and the noise level in the restaurant were not terribly conducive to group-wide conversation, unfortunately. I'm hoping that the others who were there will supplement this part of the narrative in comments. At my end of the table, we tended to talk about Detroit and about the NN coming up. (Just in case you need the nudge, here's the link for NN registration. Please Note: There is a SPECIAL RATE of $195 for "locals," which they are defining as any Michigan resident. To get that rate, scroll down on the page to see the "Locals Registration" rate.) By the way: the hotel rooms at the Marriott for the convention rate are starting to disappear. I reserved ours last week, and oddly enough the rooms for Wednesday night at the convention rate were already sold out. To be clear, they do have plenty of rooms, it just means that the non-convention rate of $239 plus tax will apply for Wednesday and soon for other nights, I assume, instead of the convention room rate of $159. Word to the wise.

One of our sisterly duos, poe and toneilda, are NN veterans. If I recall correctly, they've attended all but one or two, and they are thrilled to be able to host it in their own home town. We'd talked about it at other events already, and they both have lots of ideas. Please watch this space for announcements about these ideas, and how you can help out.

That's my cue to add another request: If you are in the metro Detroit area, defined very broadly, and you'd like to take part in host committee activities for NN14, please drop me a Kosmail ASAP. Specific tasks will be listed and described in a forthcoming diary, to appear by the 15th of this month. Pre-NN duties will be relatively minimal. But, if you volunteer at the event, some or all of your convention registration fee may be waived, depending on the number of shifts you cover. Pretty good incentive, no?

The other topic of conversation I promoted that evening had to do with Detroit history, particularly in Dave's honor, since he is an historian but not necessarily familiar with Detroit history and politics. I don't tend to toot my own horn about this, partly since I am far from an expert about every neighborhood, politician, corporation, movement, or significant historical event in the city. You know that saying about the more you know, the more you realize what you don't know? I feel that keenly, despite having an extensive academic background in the history of Detroit, especially the 20th c., on top of my own lived experience there. Still, I also feel an obligation to make some recommendations when I have the opportunity to do so regarding some excellent histories and studies of various periods and events in the city. To that end, I brought several of my favorite texts about Detroit for show-and-tell. I promise that I'll write up a diary about those great resources and others of current value very soon.

Let's see some group shots, shall we? My apologies in advance for the less-than-perfect photos. The lighting was not great, and we didn't have the room for a proper photo including everyone at once.

Left to right: peregrine kate, Dave in Northridge, Mr. ICanDoThis, Amber6541. Amber's sister, ICanDoThis, ProvokingMeaning, toneilda
For NN14 attendees, it's worth keeping in mind that this is a fairly inexpensive but noisy spot to eat. Not a place to linger, either; the management clearly wanted us to move along. They turn their tables quickly. Still, we had a great time while we could.
toneilda (on right) tells a great story. ICanDoThis and Provoking Meaning (l to r) are listening intently.
The narrow aisles made it a little difficult for us to circulate, but we did our best all the same. Kossacks anywhere like to be sociable.
Amber6541, Amber's sister, poe, ICanDoThis (l to r). Such a nice group of women.
To close out the diary, here are a couple of shots of our guest of honor, Dave in Northridge. If he keeps coming back to Detroit so often, we will have to make him an honorary Motor City Kossack. It was great to have him, equally excellent to have the prompt for a meet-up.
Dave in Northridge with his dinner companion on his left, Mr. ICanDoThis
Dave in Northridge with his dinner companion on his right, yours truly, peregrine kate
I wish I could plan the next Motor City Kossack meet-up for the end of this month. But at the moment I am trying to put together a journey to the DC area for myself instead, so that I can take part in the NoKXL demonstration planned for Sat. 4/26. (Anyone else planning to attend it??) That means a tentative meet-up for the Motor City Kossacks on Saturday, May 3rd. Probably downtown again, location TBD soon.

Thanks to poe for sharing her photos with me for this diary. Thanks for all the Motor City Kossacks who were able to turn out on a rather dreary evening for this meet-up. I look forward to our next time to get together.

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