A Driving Tour & Riverfront Dining at Sindbad’s

So I headed off east again to locate Sindbad’s restaurant for a waterfront dining experience. Owned since 1949 by the Blancke family, the second generation of Blanckes, Marc, Denise, Linda and Brian, run this river-front restaurant as a team. I settled down at a cozy table and was waiting for a chance to talk to the owners and find out about this culinary landmark in Detroit.

The four Blancke sibilings: Brian, Denise, Linda and Marc

 

Denise and Marc sat down with me and started telling me about this venerable institution. In 1949, the siblings’ father, “Buster” Blancke together with his brother-in-law “Van” VanHollebecke opened Sindbad’s in a ramshackle building at the Detroit River. (In true Belgian tradition, the gentlemen’s real names were Prudent Octave Blancke and Hilaire VanHollebecke, but the shorter nicknames were much easier to pronounce). “Van” had worked for Hiram Walker and looked after the Detroit sales of the distillery. Grandpa Boudewyn Blancke had owned a meat market and lent the young gentlemen some money to set up their new business.

Main floor dining room at Sindbad’s

 

In the early years the restaurant served mostly hamburgers, sandwiches and steaks, but over time the restaurant developed a specialization in seafood. Marc added that he only buys the best ingredients and explained to me that the scallops come all the way from George’s Bank, a hundred miles off Cape Code. He added that they are full of nutrients and always perfectly fresh. His menu even carries a fiercely named creature called “wolf of the sea” (loup de mer). Sunday brunch is also very popular and offers a variety of eggs, made to order, as well as smoked salmon, fish, pasta and chicken dishes.

Marc points out some local celebrities

 

Sindbad’s customers mostly come from Detroit and the surrounding counties, and due to its riverside location and the fact that Sindbad’s also functions as a marina, many of the restaurant guests arrive by boat. Sindbad’s is particularly popular during special events such as the Detroit Grand Prix and the Red Bull Air Race, an exhilarating high-speed obstacle course for lightweight racing planes. Hundreds of weddings and special events are held at Sindbad’s every year.

The upstairs Sohar Room at Sindbad’s

 

Eldest brother Marc gave me a brief tour of the restaurant downstairs and the Sohar Room upstairs, a large space with a long curved bar which features a great outdoor river-front patio. The wooden bars at Sindbad’s have a nautical design; marine hardware was used on the cabinetry and over 3,000 feet of mahogany inlay were installed. The Sohar Room upstairs is a great spot for private gatherings, weddings and other events. Outside the Sohar Room is a large river-front terrace that offers great views of the Detroit River and Belle Isle.

A rivefront sunset as viewed from the Sohar Room

 

One of Sindbad’s key success factors is the loyalty of its employees: Don has been working in the kitchen for 42 years, and Cookie, the head waitress, has been with Sindbad’s for 40 years. Denise Blancke herself has been working at this restaurant for more than 30 years. Everyone, even guests, feel like family around here. Quite frequently Marc picks up a bunch of sports fans from the Canadian side and takes them to watch a Detroit Lions football game.

My seafood medley is waiting for me

 

To give me a feel for Sindbad’s expertise in seafood, Marc put together a seafood platter for me that consisted of local fish such as perch and pickerel as well as of the famous scallops which simply melted in my mouth. Campeche shrimp and coconut shrimp rounded out the seafood platter. Accompanied by deliciously spicy Jalapeno Poppers I had a very satisfying evening meal and could start to relax a little after a full day with a hugely packed schedule.

Brand-new urban elegance at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel

 

After a very filling seafood medley and a nice chat with Marc I headed off for a good night’s sleep at the just reopened luxurious Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, my abode for the next two days. After being shuttered for about 24 years, this stunning 1924 Art Deco jewel has just undergone a complete renovation at a cost of about $200 million. I was already looking forward to seeing more of this historic hotel in the next few days.

Sleek contemporary design

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