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Best Of

The Real Deals - Staff Picks

Our staff counters with our own favorite places to plunk it down

 

Published 4/22/2009

SEE ALSO
More from Metro Times staff

Metro Retro (10/6/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of MT coverage

Metro Retro (9/29/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of Metro Times

Metro Retro (9/22/2010)
Looking back on 30 years of Metro Times

BEST WAY TO SHOP FOR SEX TOYS AND AVOID BEING SEEN

Private House Party
You might be shy, so you don't want to be seen publicly trying to discern the difference between a bullet and other buzzing buddies. You might just need an excuse to get your girlfriends together for drinks and dinner. Either way, a private shopping party for sex toys fits the bill, so to speak. Sales reps and consultants join the party guests and provide expertise about their products, which range from the innocent and necessary massage oils and lubricants to the more exotic massagers and battery-powered magic wands. And if you and your friends are still a little, well, restrained, Jackie Dahn, for instance, who works with Pure Romance (prpink.com), has a few tricks for making the crowd relax. She and other consultants are part sex educators, part confidantes, part engineers, part comedians at the events, helping women get more comfortable with the idea of playing with plastic. And no, you don't get to take a test drive.


BEST GIRLFRIEND-SAFE COMIC BOOK STORE

Detroit Comics
23333 Woodward Ave. Ferndale; 248-548-COMX

Oh sure, it's still a great place to get your Green Lantern on, but the incongruously named Detroit Comics (it's actually in Ferndale) has none of the creepy mega-nerd vibe of your average android dungeon. Credit married owners Brian and Lori Kelly for creating a bright, hip and uncluttered storefront, stocked with all the graphic novels you'd expect, but also neat-o urban vinyl toys, clothing, accessories, yummy goodies from Bellyache candy and records, and the irresistible Art-O-Matic vending machine. Plus, Brian holds court with a jovial, geeky rock 'n' roll dad charm that's truly rare in a trade better known for surly clannishness.


BEST LOCAL HEAD SHOP

B.D.T. Pipe and Tobacco Shop
27419 Gratiot Ave., Roseville; 586-776-5238; 21640 John R. Rd., Hazel Park; 248-542-6110

Do some research and you'll find everyone has a fave head shop. A few might mention Ann Arbor's Foggy Bottom Bayou, a beautiful spot best known for its deluxe handmade glass pipes; others will mention Purple Haze in Birmingham (wait, B'ham has a head shop?) or In Flight, the Station, the Grove Shop and Stairway to Heaven. But when it comes to local, Detroit-area places, B.D.T. — the moniker is taken from the original owners' initials — appears to be the place. In business since 1973, it's one of the oldest such establishments still running, featuring every kind of pipe and accessory one could need. They offer body piercing ... which they probably weren't doing in 1973. On the other hand, aside from black-light rooms featuring posters of Disney characters smoking huge hookahs, not much has changed about head shops over the decades ... well, aside from "pee test" kits and gadgets. B.D.T. has most everything the happy, um, tobacco camper may be seeking.


BEST WAY TO GET HIGH

Aerial Yoga at the Detroit Flyhouse
The FD Loft Building, 3434 Russell St., #302, Detroit; 313-674-6424; detroitflyhouse.com

A growing fitness trend, aerial yoga replaces the downward facing dog with mid-air acrobatics performed using silk curtains hanging from a high ceiling. Think Cirque du Soleil and you've got the picture at the most advanced level. Founder of the Detroit Flyhouse, Micha Adams, teaches aerial yoga in her Eastern Market loft, where classes cater to both newbies seeking a workout thrill and the more experienced looking to advance their gravity-defying moves. But don't be fooled by the circus-like aspect of the whole thing — it's still a workout! Maintaining your balance using nothing but curtains will strengthen your core, improve flexibility, increase muscle tone and make you very, very sore the first few times around. Eight classes at 90 minutes each costs $140, while dropping in for a trial run (fly?) is $25.


BEST FLEA MARKET

Royal Oak Flea Market
316 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak; 248-246-3276

You never know what you'll discover in this wild array of cool shit. Royal Oak's indoor-outdoor flea market fills up and spills onto the porch of the Farmers Market every Sunday morning (except major holidays). Inside, the dealer tables are crammed with vintage and antique jewelry, home decor, collectibles, books, records, watches, glass, art and a variety of alluring oddities. By eight in the morning, the gourmet coffee stand is hoppin' and mirthful shoppers are streaming in. Most Sundays, the market offers live music. Normally it's this dude with a guitar — who sounds kinda like what would happen if you mixed Jeff Buckley with James Taylor (?!) — who serenades you as you spend your last finster on that rare Engelbert Humperdink LP. Easy come, easy go.


BEST WOMEN'S CONSIGNMENT ACCESSORIES & CLOTHING

Consignment Clothiers
42945 Seven Mile Rd., Northville; 248-347-4570

Consignment Clothiers is coming up on its 20th anniversary in May. And in two decades they've learned how to do fashion resale right. Loads of newer in-season clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories turn over weekly in this busy mid-sized shop. Pick up some mint condition, brand-name jeans and a pair of barely worn designer flats at a fraction of retail prices. You'll find names like Lucky, Liz Claiborne, Chico's, Levi's and more. Then explore their generous display cases that sparkle with gently used costume, silver and fine jewelry. There's always some treasure to be found on one of their sale racks of markdown items. They also offer coupons and weekly specials.


BEST USED HAUTE COUTURE

Bloomfield-Keego Resale Shop
3425 Orchard Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-681-5424

A Dior dress for a third of the retail cost? C'mon. A pair of Donald J. Pliner pumps for 20 bucks? Yes, you heard right. Just head up Orchard Lake Road till you see the little red-and-white brick building next to the diner. One of northern Oakland County's best kept thrifty fashion secrets, Bloomfield-Keego Resale is the best place around to get unheard-of deals on previously owned high-end designer label clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories. It's the small shop with all the big names. They say this is where the rich folks bring the expensive outfits they wore once then pulled from their wardrobes. Their loss is your gain. Watch for tag sales and markdowns to save even more on clothing you're gonna love. Bloomfield-Keego also gets a limited selection of used household items, authentic designer purses, and even some brand-new clothing from closed boutiques and exclusive stores. Look for Armani, St. John, Versace and more.


BEST HAUTE TEES

DSE @ Grand
202 E. Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-963-0533; dsedetroit.com

The strip of Grand River that runs through Harmonie Park is becoming something of an independent retail haven, a small but sweet walkable shopping district of boutiques selling clothing, shoes and accessories (not to mention the upscale furnishings available at Mezzanine). The brainchild of Detroiter James Morris (a designer and entrepreneur only in his mid-20s), DSE @ Grand features T-shirts from designers located throughout the country, such as Chillers Clothing, Destroy, Exact Science, King Poetic — many brands that can't be found anywhere else in the state — as well as DSE Lifestyle, Morris' own line. Many of his shirts are Detroit-centric (he even designed a limited edition T-shirt when the Final Four was in town), popular picks include a simple black shirt emblazoned with the words "Support Detroit" and another that says "A Detroit Thing," inspired by the movie Do the Right Thing. The diverse selection is sure to appeal to the urban fashionista. Online shopping is available, and dig Morris' blog for sneak peaks at new arrivals and designs.


BEST COLLECTIBLES

The Town Peddler Craft and Antique Mall
35323 Plymouth Rd., Livonia; 734-513-2577

From Victorian lampshades to vintage baseball cards, the Town Peddler offers 24,000 square feet of reasons to spend your hard-earned dough on some dusty treasure you must have but never knew you needed. With hundreds of partner dealers, this mammoth mall takes much more than an afternoon to fully explore. Some of the booths are literally packed to the ceiling with antiques and rarities that will fascinate even the quirkiest collectors. The staff's amiable, and they also offer estate appraisal services. And don't worry — if you find that perfect oversized art deco dresser, the Town Peddler will even help you get it home.


BEST PLACE TO FAKE & BAKE

European Tanning Club
15228 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-945-9220

A fresh towel, complimentary sanitized goggles and a pillow on every tanning bed. European Tanning Club is a posh place to get a summer glow. They've been in the bronzing biz for more than ten years. The Club has 23 beds and stand-up booths, including a few fancy high-pressure machines for fast tanning with reduced risks of getting burned. They stock the latest lotions and bronzers including trendy lines like Ed Hardy and Swedish Beauty. Tanning "advisors" are on hand to help seekers of bronze skin choose the right products and programs for optimum results. Best part is their hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. till 11 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. till 8 p.m. And if you want to show off some dance moves with your new tan, the Club also sells a variety of DJ, techno and house music. Their beauty salon, European Hair Design, is on the premises with a full range of services from haircuts to body waxing.


BEST BOOKSTORE TO EXPLORE

Book Beat
26010 Greenfield Rd., Oak Park; 248-968-1190

The underrated Book Beat has a magical feel. You step inside and feel like you're in another world, one that you could go exploring forever, lost in the written word. The eclectic shop is a longtime fave among writers, poets and artists. Its shelves are packed with everything from new fiction to out of print art books and obscure periodicals. Tribal art, photography and Mexican folk art give even more character to this space, which feels haunted by ghosts who are probably just as curious as we are about how owner Cary Loren amassed such a beautiful collection of stuff to read in one little storefront. The Book Beat carries plenty of local lit, and it's also a great place to catch a reading or an art exhibit. They keep a schedule and blog of happenings on their website, thebookbeat.com.


BEST INDY VIDEO

Thomas Video & DVD
4732 Rochester Rd., Royal Oak; 248-280-2833

A few film freaks have been dismayed recently by the sight of an abandoned husk where the area's greatest shrine to movie mania had been. But fear not cinephiles, Thomas Video is alive and well, and still serving up the big hits, indie gems and cult classics they're famous for, just in a spiffy new spot less than a mile from their old haunt. After more than 30 years in the business, 20-plus of it in Clawson, owners Jim Olenski and Gary Reichel decided to shuffle down 14 Mile to slightly smaller, more affordable digs. The new joint's decked in warm orange and greens hues, sports a huge portrait of John Waters, and is still the best place ever to find obscure titles and rap about flicks with a hyper smart and witty staff whose motto remains "Our rudeness means we care."


BEST VINTAGE VINYL

TIE
Peoples Records
3161 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-0864
The Record Graveyard
2926 Caniff, Hamtramck; 313-870-9647

Back in the vinyl heyday, Detroit had much more going for it than just Motown. Thousands of tiny labels sprang up in the '50s, '60s and '70s pressing small runs of soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, country, blues and rock 'n' roll records that are now the stuff of legend. Don't bother looking for them on the Internet; some of these discs are so rare that the only place you'll find them is in this pair of one-of-a-kind used record shops. And have no fear: the prices are often not only reasonable, but at times are rock-bottom, assuring a steady clientele who travel from as far away as Japan and Europe to find those long lost classics. But these wax museums have more in common than the obscure aural artifacts they unearth on a daily basis: both have recently expanded their operations into brand-new locations, and in both cases, the moves have been for the better. Peoples, run by renowned soul DJ Brad Hales, was forced out of its original Forest Arms location when the building burned down. The new storefront on Woodward Avenue boasts more square footage for vinyl treasure hunting. Likewise, the Graveyard, run by longtime local wax hound Jeffrey Garbus, used its move to fully organize its once-scattered stock for optimum browsing and buying. Start digging!


BEST OVERALL RECORD STORE

Melodies and Memories
23013 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe; 586-774-8480

Detroit's lucky because it's a city whose cultural heritage rests on shoulders of music giants, from McKinney's Cotton Pickers to Jack Scott to Marvin Gaye to Iggy Pop to Eminem. So of course there are many, many, many lovely musical things about this town, and one of them is its high number of good record stores, whose doors remain open in a crap music economy. Aside those mentioned in this issue, we offer up some lip service to Dearborn Music, Stormy Records in Dearborn, the Record Collector in Ferndale, Solo Records & Tapes in Royal Oak, Buy-Rite in Detroit, Rock of Ages in Garden City, Rock-a-Billy's in Utica, Flipside in Clawson, Encore in Ann Arbor and so on. Some of us here at MT spend gobs of paycheck coin in each of those stores.

But the best store, overall, under the umbrella of most titles stocked and range of genres, Melodies and Memories cannot be topped. It's too big, too ingrained in the city, to bin-diver friendly and too important of a music institution (Em was in there recently reminiscing about how he'd come in and hang show fliers back in the day) to be topped. The stock inside this building of foxhole-like rooms is worth millions, literally, and its crammed wall-to-wall and on ceilings. Ask Dan, Bob or Gary for those albums that can make our hearts skip beats, those songs that we use for our own personal definitions and to summon memories. Just ask those guys and see what they say because it's all here.


BEST HIGH-END AUDIO DEALER

David Michael Audio
4300 Delemere Blvd., Suite 201, Royal Oak; 248-259-7017; davidmichaelaudio.com

For the second year straight, David Michael Audio snags an MT Best of Detroit, and for good reason. In a time when audio is getting worse because of poorly mastered CDs and crap-sounding downloads (but TVs look great!), and when the economy's tanking, David Michael Audio is actually growing by selling what are often considered luxury items. But they're not luxury items for those who really love music, keen to hear it as it was intended by the artist. Sure, high-end audio stuff ain't cheap, but if you're spending more time at home, what price can you put on getting the most from your prized music collections? DMA owner David Kasab is a considerate guy who'll help you cobble together a cost-effective and mind-blowing stereo, even if you've no idea what you want, or what you're looking at. He carries aesthetically and aurally pleasing hi-fi products from such vaunted manufacturers as Luxman, Bryston, Martin Logan, Rega, and the jaw-dropping UK-made Harbeth loudspeakers (considered by many to be the world's finest) in an non-elitist environment.


BEST PLACE TO FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN NYC

TIE
323 East Gallery & Boutique
323 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248- 246-954; 323east.com
Bureau of Urban Living
460 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-833-9336; bureauliving.com

A little Lower East Side and definitely a bit of Brooklyn, both 323 East and the Bureau share an uncanny transformative quality — there just aren't two shops like these anywhere near Detroit. The Bureau's historic Canfield setting, with old brick and exposed ceiling, makes for a funky foundation, and the constant play of owner Claire Nelson's iPod makes it easy to stay a while, but what really makes the place so crucially cool is the stuff on the shelves. City Bird products (soaps, lamps, pins, etc.) and other Detroit-centric home goods are found alongside clean and contemporary wares (porcelain plates, chrome pepper grinders, etc.) that can give anyone's digs more to dig. Stroll into 323 East, (the narrow, green building that looks like it belongs somewhere south of Eight Mile) on a Saturday, anytime after 4 p.m., and you'll notice a DJ spinning funk, hip-hop and techno cuts from the back of the room. The walls and shelves are chock-full of art — paintings, prints, sculpture, clothes, jewelry, books. Most of it leans toward the pop variety, and all of it is for sale. Better yet, it's all made in Detroit by Detroit artists.


BEST TRASH CULTURE TREASURE CHEST

American POP
175 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-837-2127

Stepping in American Pop is kind of like discovering the coolest garage sale that ever was, minus the chipped Hummels and smelly stacks of baby clothes. The walls of this funky little shop are packed to the rafters with all manner of kitschy memorabilia — movie posters and board games, Pee-Wee Herman toys and wind-up robots, cocktail shakers and Monster finger puppets, Hula dancer lamps and more tacky coolness than the human eye can absorb in one visit. Proprietor Wyll Lewis has been at it for years, accumulating plunder to display in his fashionable Ferndale location — now including a basement full of lovely vintage furniture — and it's only growing.


BEST MEAT COUNTER

Western Fruit & Meat Market
447 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-546-7288; westernmarket.net

We apologize in advance to all the vegans and vegetarians among us — and truth be told, we don't consume a lot of red meat ourselves. But damn if this terrific little market in the heart of downtown Ferndale doesn't make all kinds of meats look tasty and succulent in its display case, even in its raw form. We especially like the various marinated meats one can purchase there, many in kabob form — and we hate to give away the "secret," thereby making it a rarity in the future, but the roasted garlic chicken kabobs are delicious and to die for. We also like the turkey (or beef, if you eat it) meatloaf that's already prepared; all you have to do is take it home and put it in the oven. The meat-cutting staff is professional and friendly. And the fact that there is almost always a long line waiting with numbers in hand (we recently spotted Chris Handyside buying some ground round there) speaks to its popularity.


BEST CHEAP MOVIE MATINEE

TIE
Birmingham 8
211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-FILM; uptownbirmingham8.com
Birmingham Palladium 12
250 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-FILM; uptownpalladium12.com

Time was that a "cheap" movie theater often meant a "crummy" movie theater, with sticky floors, torn-up seats, foul odors and, perhaps worst of all, second-run movies. This is true of any major city (one MT editor remembers going to see Total Recall at a "cheap" theater in Los Angeles and having to get an usher to remove the passed-out bum on the floor so his party could sit down) — and that's why Birmingham's two premier theaters are such a matinee treat. Most first-run theaters only have the first screening of the day (which can be as early as pre-noon) discounted on weekends and holidays — but the B'ham theaters feature what they term "Movie Madness," whereby every screening is $5 before 6 p.m., seven days a week. And, of course, it's all first-run flicks. And as that first great Depression proved in the '30s, people want to see movies for escape in times of economic turmoil. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not a bad deal at all, especially with as many as 20 different flicks to choose from on any given day.


BEST NEW VINTAGE SHOP

TJ's Sweet Repeats
1600 Rochester Rd., Royal Oak; 248-542-7767

The eponymous T.J. has been selling vintage clothing around town since 1999, a consistent presence at vintage shows and festivals such as Dally in the Alley. But it wasn't until December that she acquired a permanent location, celebrating the grand opening of TJ's Sweet Repeats just in time for the New Year. The store is small and jam-packed, but the racks of men and women's clothing are organized by size (from petite to a healthy selection of plus sizes, a rarity at most vintage shops), making it easier to dig out that perfect '70s jumpsuit, and the stock is continually replenished by a seemingly endless backroom supply. Thanks to frequent sales, the prices can be damn near unbelievable, especially considering the quality — on a recent shopping trip we walked out with three Jackie O.-type dresses for less than $30. The shop also features men and women's shoes, jewelry and a cabinet of lingerie, and on the first and third Saturday of every month hosts a Vintage Bazaar, with various vendors selling assorted goods in a side room.


BEST COMMUNITY THRIFT STORE

Recycled Treasures
12101 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-330-7076; recycledtreasureshamtramck.org

Started in January 2007, Recycled Treasures sells the usual mélange of goods — from the barely used to the slightly abused — found at any thrift store: coffee mugs, paperback novels, pots and pans, furniture, knickknacks and the ephemera of closets cleaned out and attics emptied. But the store also takes a larger role by helping the environment and directly servicing the local community. Donated items that, at first glance, seem unusable are rehabbed and sold. The store also provides emergency assistance to individuals who are referred by local social service organizations; gives away all beds, stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers; and offers discounts to residents of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park on purchases over $10. Recycled Treasures also features the "redo studio" an area where volunteers can restore donated items or use crafty skills to turn discarded junk into something lovely and new. Info on all programs can be found at the website.


BEST RECORD STORE FOR CHEAP VINYL

Street Corner Music Unlimited
17620 W. 13 Mile Rd., Beverly Hills; 248-644-4777

Detroit's a crate-digger's nirvana. On any day of the week you can count the British and Japanese vinyl heads — and expat Detroit DJs — scouring racks in shops around the Motor City. Short of vinyl hunting in rough, south-side Chicago hoods, there isn't a cheaper place in the country to dig through scads of classic soul, funk, hip hop, jazz and rock than here. The former arsenal of democracy had enough well-paid factory workers to turn Detroit into the arsenal of soul and classic vinyl.

Of all the sweet places for vinyl in these parts (including the spanking-new Hello Records at Bagley and Trumbull) the best place for cheap platters is Street Corner Music. On top of their extremely reasonable vinyl prices, their dollar bin is also always full with great finds. (Note: At the beginning of July, 2009 they'll be moving next door to Book Beat in Oak Park, so all that money you save on vinyl you can blow at one of Detroit's coolest book stores.


BEST BITCHIN RECORD STORE EMPLOYEES

Record Time
27360 Gratiot Ave., Roseville; 586-775-1550

Have you ever stepped into a Best Buy and asked a staffer for Funkadelic on CD only to get a cockeyed return gaze followed by the word, "Who?" Well, we've made that mistake — one time. Never again. Indie record stores may appear to be dying, but they are truly vital, not only for the welfare of the city but also to pull you from the toxic blue glow of your computer screen and into some damn social intercourse about music. On Record Time's well-stocked floor you can query or verbally spar with a host of knowledgeable workers, including a schlock-music apologist, a metal deconstructionist, an up-to-the-moment hip-hop nerd, an alt-country ally, and a guy who knows more than you do about the Pretty Things and Carl Craig. Sometimes you can find all that stuff in the same person. Try that out, Mr. Big Box.


BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR VINYL RECORD PRESSED

Archer Record Pressing
7401 E. Davison, Detroit; 313-965-9545; archerrecordpressing.com

With so much negative talk in the media about Detroit lately, one wonders if the naysayers ever consider the fact that we possess at least one thriving business that many cities don't: our own record-pressing plant. One of nine left in the world, the experience of walking past the presses to deliver your master tape to Mike Archer — Senior or Junior — is a veritable rite of passage for renegade musicians in Detroit. And while the industrial neighborhood that Archer is located in tells the sad and graphic story of our country's downward manufacturing spiral, this east side institution tells another one: that quality workmanship and an unwavering commitment to community pay off. With more potential clients than they can take on and no plans for expansion, Archer is still the quickest, best and friendliest pressing plant in the world. That's pretty good for an industry that many people may not know even still exists! But they've been at it since '65, and, thanks to a steady stream of techno 12-inches, rock 'n' roll 45s and albums of all kind, they're staying right here, where they belong, in Detroit.


BEST GIFT SHOP

Shine
621 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-414-5277; shopshine.net

This Royal Oak boutique achieves a charmingly modern eclecticism, where disparate items find harmony on adjacent shelves, and the cognitive dissonance that many overwhelmingly overstocked gift shops can produce is avoided entirely. Goods for sale include high-end candles and beauty products, stylish housewares, swanky jewelry, contemporary home decor — even retro pajamas can fall into the mix. And while many of the items are high on the trend factor (read: will this polka-dot platter look stupid in one year?), just as many appeal to the aesthetic of the timelessly fashionable. It's one of the few places that makes shopping for gifts easy and enjoyable, and the kind staff's more than happy to help you find the perfect gift, whether its an $8 bar of luxurious soap or a $125 tote bag. Limited shopping is available online, but a trip to the shop shouldn't be skipped.


BEST IDEA — WORST EXECUTION (AND TIMING)

Zaccaro's Market
Formerly located at 3100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-3400; zacarrosmarket.com

It's going to take a whole hell of a lot more than fine wines, imported cheeses, garlic-infused olive oil and other gourmet oddities to kick start any real revitalization, especially in this "new economy." But it was a valiant effort. Cindy Warner, the proprietor of Zaccaro's (which you can still visit in Traverse City) should be commended for her bravery. But we have to be honest. Though Zaccaro's was a beacon of progress, there are steps that could've been taken that would've, at the very least, delayed the inevitable. The location was just OK. And keeping the quaint, Up North-y vibe didn't really feel like Detroit. And who are the Zaccaro's? One of the things we've always liked about places like Sweet Loraine's, Hiller's Market and Christine's Cuisine is that Loraine, Christine and Jim Hiller are people you see out and about in the community. All we need are the basics; a decent deli counter and a small flower department would be nice. Bring in baked goods from Avalon, stock Detroit-made products, talk to some vendors at Eastern Market. We can learn from this. Next time will be better.


BEST WAY TO SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

Penzeys Spices
17712 W. 13 Mile Rd., Beverly Hills; 248-647-6177; penzeys.com

Mark Bittman, one of our culinary go-to authorities, recommends dumping all your spices for a fresh lot once a year. That's extreme for our pocketbooks, but we heed his sniff test: if you open a jar and whiff more dust and must than savory, it's time to replace. For a generation, your best bet for intoxicating variety and low prices was Eastern Market's Rafal Spice. But, alas, Rafal is kaput. Rocky Peanut down the street has boosted its spice offerings significantly, but spice connoisseurs will want to check out Penzeys in Beverly Hills, one of the national chain's two Michigan stores. What constitutes variety here? Well, 13 varieties of chili peppers, six chili powders, eight cinnamons, nine curries, etc., etc. Compared to the old Rafal, Penzeys feels more like a boutique and less like funky bulk goods store; the prices are a notch higher, but your celery seed comes in a jar instead of a baggy. And there are all sorts of spice samplers that are handy gifts and a means to spread appreciation for the finer spices of life. Hours, we should mention, are somewhat limited: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.


BEST LOCAL NON-CHAIN NEIGHBORHOOD GROCERY STORE

Western Fruit & Meat Market
447 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-546-7288; westernmarket.net

If you're not near one of the local Whole Food Markets, this family-owned and -managed establishment just might fulfill your needs and wants when it comes to food. They have a great produce and fruit section, all reasonably priced; great wine selections and microbrews; and a large assortment of organic foods, among other things. In business for 25 years, Western is hardly a supermarket; in fact, it's quite small for a grocery store. We might label it a boutique market, and yet, considering its smallness, it stocks a great and wide array of foods in that space. We're especially fond of the prepared foods — great place to go if you're in the mood for a fresh salad (a nice variety on display) or soup. They have five types of the latter on sale every day. We're big fans of the white bean chicken chili — but we're also pleased they have fresh Weight Watchers Garden Vegetable Soup (it's a patented recipe and zero points for the weight-conscious calorie-counter keeping score) on sale every day of the week. And one may need it to counter those boxes of delicious brownies they try to tempt you with near the checkout lane.


BEST PLACE FOR AN ACHING BACK OR NECK

Dynamic Rehabilitation
1800 W. Big Beaver Rd.; Troy; 888-396-2642; for more locations, see dynamicrehab.com

We featured this place in our last Best of Detroit issue. But when a place actually works, we believe it can't be mentioned enough, especially given that chronic back and neck pain are one of the nation's biggest health problems. You've probably seen the ads for Dynamic on TV, the ones that argue all physical therapy isn't created equally. And they have a point. Dynamic — which is helmed by a team of doctors, physical therapists and trainers — doesn't adhere to the standard physical therapy modalities, including things like ultrasound, whirlpools, etc. Instead, they have their patients work strenuously on strengthening the muscles in their problem areas via the McKenzie Method of stretches and, most importantly, the patented Med-X machine that isolates and then builds said muscles. Sometimes you will hurt more immediately afterwards than you did when you first got there but this is one of those cases of "hurting so good." Dynamic doesn't promise to "cure" the patient but their ratio for making you feel "better" is very high (and anyone who suffers knows that "better" is often good enough).


BEST CHEAP GAS

Costco
Various locations, see costco.com

OK, you do have to pay for an annual membership — but won't that come in handy should you need new tires, a case of vino or smokes, or simply more mac 'n' cheese than you could ever down in a lifetime? Anyway, many on-lot Costco gas stations will always have gasoline that's significantly less expensive than the other regular stations. Not only that — but it's quality octane (one may not realize that even with gasoline, sometimes you get what you pay for; we know someone who once had an engine nearly destroyed by bad ethyl!). The day this item was written, our local Costco in Madison Heights was charging $1.88 a gallon, when most other stations were charging anywhere between $1.99 and $2.20. P.S. — If your budget doesn't include a Costco membership for 2009, you can also check out the website detroitgasprices.com to find the best fuel prices in your hood.


BEST LOCAL POP

Meijer Generic Brands
Various locations throughout Michigan

With all due respect to Faygo, which is forever associated with Michigan as a local institution and a brand recognized world wide (and only partly thanks to Insane Clown Posse), here's a little secret: You might like Meijer's brand better. In fact, every flavor we've tried so far (with the possible exception of orange), be it their version of Red Pop or 7-Up/Sprite, has been way better than the pop it's supposedly mimicking. The flavor is just well, brighter, and stronger. In fact, we no longer can live without the Diet Grape soda ... and Meijer's Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. M is so far superior to the Dr. Pepper original that we can no longer settle for the original ... which is why the latter soda — which, like all Meijer pop varieties, is bottled and canned in Grand Rapids — is sometimes so disappointingly hard to find in stock, especially on busy weekends. Great stuff! No kidding!

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