Flowers of Vietnam, the coney-turned-inspired Vietnamese eatery in Southwest Detroit, is returning to its diner roots — at least one day a week.
Chef-owner George Azar says that starting March 24, his team will switch out pho, sticky Korean wings and papaya salad for omelets and breakfast combos.
Also on the menu will be Greek salads, chicken strip pita wraps, and an unusual twist to the iconic Coney dog recipe.
Azar didn’t provide us with too many details on how he plans to tweak the recipe — which dates back over a century ago when Greek immigrants introduced Detroit factory workers to the humble, portable meal in a bun that incorporated a grilled natural casing hot dog, smothered in an all-meat chili sauce and topped with a smidgen of diced onions and yellow mustard.
“We are doing classic coney items, but done well, focusing on technique,” says Azar. We’re “trying to take out the sense of utility in our coney culture.”
Brunch will be offered 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sundays only.
The addition of the brunch menu is an ode to the former Vernor Coney Island that occupied the space before it underwent a dramatic redesign in 2017. Azar tells Tostada Magazine that back in the day the diner was a favorite spot for Detroit police and other law enforcement for meal breaks or for kids to hang out when they skipped school.
It’s also the latest evolution for the Southwest Detroit native’s culinary repertoire that will only continue to expand in the coming years.
Earlier in his career, Azar held stints outside of the Motor City in the kitchens of lauded chefs like Thomas Keller (at Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas), Grant Achatz (Alinea Group in Chicago) and René Redzepi (during the Danish chef’s Noma Mexico pop-up in 2017).
Upon returning to Detroit in 2012, he began to conceptualize how to introduce a touch of chef-driven cuisine without pretension to his barrio. Upon opening as a full-service eatery in early 2018, Flowers of Vietnam has been critically acclaimed nationally by the likes of Bon Appétit and GQ.
In the next year or year and a half, Azar plans to add a fine dining Mexican restaurant in the historic Grosfield Building on Michigan Avenue. The partially dilapidated property is supposed to undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation later this year, to include apartments on the upper floors and retail and Azar’s eatery on the ground level, according to Crain’s.
Azar hasn’t picked out a name for the restaurant yet nor has he started to research what the menu might look like, but says that he wants to introduce Detroiters to dishes that come from some of Mexico’s most celebrated culinary destinations, including Yucatán, Chiapas, Oaxaca and other states that are not often represented in Detroit’s Mexican dining scene. He’s also interested in utilizing heirloom corn and to learn the art of nixtamalization — an ancient Mesoamerican technology used to process maize for making masa.
Azar says a great deal of his world view was informed by his upbringing in predominantly Latino Southwest Detroit. In his Palestinian-American household, he and his sister and cousins ate Palestinian staples like warak dawali (stuffed grape leaves) or maqluba (an upside-down rice and meat dish). Outside, it was taquerias Detroit botana and speaking Spanglish among his school mates.
That duality is similar to other noted chefs around the country, such as Roy Choi who came to fame over a decade ago for his gourmet Kogi Korean taco trucks in Los Angeles. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Choi was raised in several LA and Orange County neighborhoods that were equal parts Asian, Latin, and American.
“It feels like a part of me already,” says Azar.
Flowers of Vietnam is at 4430 Vernor Highway.
This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.
Author: Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit. She specializes in reporting on issues that intersect food, identity, and culture.
Find her one Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!