Al Poe, aka @detroit_pig_out. Courtesy photo
Metro Detroiter Al Poe might not fit the typical mold of a social media influencer — but with mouthwatering food photos, rigorous schedule and thousands of followers, he’s certainly living the lifestyle.
Known on Instagram as Detroit Pig Out, Poe has been eating out up to 300 times a year since 2005 and posting the results. The rest of the days, he barbecues. But don’t expect the typical food-influencer fare of hipster joints and high-end restaurants. Poe is all about down-home cooking and focuses exclusively on mom-and-pop restaurants.
“I just love photographing food and eating at the local restaurants,” Poe said. “I stay away from the chains, and stay away from the high-end, what I refer to as suburban gringo, hipster restaurants that have a high-paid chef.”
As a diabetic, Poe does not eat the meals in full but saves leftovers for the next day.
Some of the areas Poe visits include Southwest Detroit, where he grew up, Midtown, Dearborn and Downriver. The great prices keep him at under-the-radar spots as well. Poe, his wife and daughter often eat a meal for under $30. He doesn’t charge the owners to be featured.
“Every once a while they might throw me a free Coca Cola or a piece of pie,” Poe said. “Other than that I’ve never charged a dime and have never taken pictures of people.”
Because, he said, it’s not about the people — it’s about the food.
Poe’s Instagram account has over 30,000 followers. The food photos he posts to Google Maps have received 260 million views, he said.
“Each photo that I post gets 30 to 40,000 views over a short period of time that drives people to these small mom-and-pop restaurants,” he said.
Consistently posting on social media daily helped him build a following. He’s also established a following on Facebook.
To adjust to the pandemic, Poe made a new system he calls “dashboard dining.” He “dined” at an estimated 250 restaurants in 2020 by eating carryout outside of restaurants and taking pictures using his dashboard as a prop.
“I go out and take a picture in front of the business and hold my styrofoam-filled plate with a picture of their sign to show that they’re open,” Poe said. “To show love, support and that, hey, you can still get great food.”
Poe faced criticism from some followers for going out and getting food during the pandemic, but he said he wanted to support the small businesses during a difficult time.
One of his favorite spots is Hygrade Deli, a corned beef restaurant that serves a famous reuben sandwich that has been at its location on Michigan Avenue since 1955.
“During the shutdown, the people would line up and get it to go, they’d bring it out and they’d still be packed,” Poe said.
Poe is resolute in his choice to seek out lesser known gems rather than the more “insta-worthy” places. It’s a path that has led him to find the best eats at the best prices.
For example, he points to Taqueria El Rey, a Southwest restaurant that’s well known for their chicken and often has lines out the door to go with the popularity.
“What I keep telling the people, is right around the corner is a place that’s been there for 40 years. Los Corrales, that makes the chicken the same way,” Poe said.
Despite his focus on the food alone, Poe said meeting the families who build their businesses and cook together makes his dining experience more enriching. Mom-and-pop eateries with little news coverage are hard to find, he said, because you have to be in the area or from the area to know about them. That’s why he likes to use his platform as a way to give those businesses a chance to get recognition.
“All the people from the suburbs have been coming down for 50, 60 years to go to an event downtown, they want some Mexican food before or after that event,” Poe said. “So they go to a dozen restaurants on Bagley Avenue that have been there forever. But all they get is really bad Mexican food smothered in heavy cheese…”
Poe recommends getting out of Mexicantown and going into the Southwest neighborhoods to find some real Mexican food made by people who represent the culture.
He also applauds some of the family-run businesses for managing to stay open during the pandemic.
“They’re all survivors, they didn’t shut down like these high-end restaurants that couldn’t find workers,” Poe said.
Poe, who is retired, now has to go further and further to find new eateries because he has covered so much ground already. But he always manages to find his next great meal.
As for his faves, he’s always down to grub on three loose burgers topped with heavy onions and heavy mustard from Duly’s Place, a late-night Coney Island in Southwest.
Once in a while, he’ll pig out on their “hidden menu item” that only locals know — aka the “Mexican omelet.”
“It comes with jalapeños, onions, peppers and a salad on a plate. It’s very rare to have a salad with an omelet,” he said.
Poe’s advice for aspiring food photographers is to remember to have fun with it.
“Enjoy yourself. take lots of food photos, leave the people out of them, support the small business owner and stay away from the chains,” Poe said.
Find you next meal: follow Poe on Instagram @detroit_pig_out.