Freya: The Detroit Restaurant That Lets Diners Choose The Playlist

It's not news that Detroit has been going through a renaissance of sorts. The Motor City, once known for its thriving auto industry and later for the disappearance of said industry, recreated itself from a failed city into a cultural hub in recent years. In fact in 2017, The New York Times suggested Detroit was America's "most exciting" city based on its revitalized downtown and collaborative residents.

And Detroit's restaurant scene, which goes well beyond coney dogs and Detroit-style pizza by the way, helps write an important chapter in the city's story. The Chicago Tribune referred to The Motor City a few years ago as a "foodie's paradise," noting that locally sourced New American cuisine dominated new restaurant launches in the city.

While COVID-19 did a number on Detroit's restaurant industry, Detroit Free Press says, the city's bounce-back mentality is evident in Freya ā€” a tasting menu-only joint that recently made the New York Times' list of its 50 favorite restaurants in 2022.

Freya feeds the 99%

Restaurants that only serve tasting menus tend to have a reputation not only for being snooty, but also unaffordable to the masses. In fact, when owners Sandy Levine and Doug Hewitt were doing research for Freya, they actually visited a spot that was about to be named the best restaurant in the world.

"It was obviously an incredible experience, but when we looked around the dining room, it was very clear that we didn't fit in," Levine told Tasting Table. "Everyone there was clearly extremely wealthy, [and] this was a meal we saved up for and planned for about a year."

So when Levine and Hewitt brainstormed Freya's concept, they determined they would be for the 99% (via Freya's website). As part of that, Freya's five-course prix fixe menus are priced at $85 per person. While that still represents an expensive night out, it's one that's more in reach for non-wealthy families.

"It's just a lot more fun to take care of regular folks who have more in common with us," Levine said. "Our price point of $85 per person is still definitely not cheap for a lot of Detroiters, but it's a very small fraction of most tasting menu restaurants in other markets as well as the few that exist in Detroit."

Freya's menu sourcing also highlights the restaurant's community-driven spirit. The joint uses produce from local farms, and finds ways to extend the growing season by preserving ingredients through the winter, Levine told Tasting Table.

The soundtrack to a feast

As Shakespeare once said, music is the food of love. Freya's owners clearly agree, as one unique thing about the restaurant is patrons can choose its nightly soundtrack from a collection of vinyl (per The New York Times). The available records include a lot of Detroit artists; the city is beloved for its Motown record label after all.

Co-owner Sandy Levine told Tasting Table that the idea for playing came from visiting Smyth, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago that is one of Freya's "biggest inspirations." Levine, who's opened several other restaurants in the Motor City, explains that choosing a playlist is often part of the business plan.

"Our cocktail bar started as a speakeasy (12 years ago), and that playlist was raunchy blues from the 1920sā€“1940s," says Levine. "Chartreuse is a bright, vibrant, and cheery restaurant; that playlist was centered around the Talking Heads. Dragonfly is all about R&B and hip hop from the 1990sā€“2000s."

And at Freya, it's all about whatever the clientele is craving on a given night. Though certain fan favorites are played more than others, Levine told Tasting Table, like Stevie Wonder ("Songs in the Key of Life"), Marvin Gaye ("What's Goin' On"), 2Pac ("Greatest Hits"), D'Angelo ("Voodoo"), and Earth, Wind & Fire ("Greatest Hits").

"The diversity in music matches the diversity in the dining room, and guests have been enthusiastic about celebrating that," Levine says.