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What do we mean when we say "seasonal dining"? Well, this time of year, it means instead of leaner cuts of meat grilled for an instant, we can dig into heartier, fattier cuts that are cooked long and slow. We trade the lighter breasts of chicken for a crackling cut of duck. And not only do we anticipate fall menus, but our mouths begin to water for seasonal beers, including spiced pumpkin ales and other liquid delights. But it's not just for beer drinkers and meat eaters: A recent article in Yoga Journal points out that even vegans can benefit from switching things up in the colder months, cooking their veggies and wilting their salads to ease digestion and avoid straining the digestive system. With all this in mind, we put together a list of places that pay attention to what time of year it is. And we hope this shortlist helps keep us all in the swing of the season.
Assaggi 330 W. Nine Mile Rd. Ferndale; 248-584-3499: Assaggi's diners have long known that the restaurant starts switching things up in the fall, given its knack for incorporating fresh seasonal produce. Diners can expect the new menu to include butternut squashes, more braised meats, short ribs, osso buco and Bolognese pasta sauce, switching out basils for sages and going for a more comforting effect. Co-owner Josie Rotondo-Knapp says, "I think people want to eat a little bit heartier, so you'll see more meats on the menu, and we'll be bringing back our lentil pancakes for fall and winter. Everybody seems to anticipate that."
Avalon 422 W Willis St., Detroit; 313-832-0008: At Avalon, the policy of using garden-fresh ingredients means a decidedly seasonal tilt. Where they were incorporating pears in their brioches, they're now moving into apple season with apple pie and "Dutch" apple pies. There will also be pumpkin muffins, pies and "squares." The summery eggplant focaccia is giving way to a planned squash torta for a more savory effect. And you can expect warming pumpkin and almond lattes, chai apple cider and plenty of soups to hit the spot as things get chillier.
Bacco Ristorante 29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-356-6600: At Bacco, the fall menu has been out for several weeks already, featuring heartier but innovative choices, such as cavatelli di ricotta con polpette d'anatra (duck meatballs), francobolli alla guancia di vitello (veal cheek ravioli in a natural reduction), ravioli alla zucca (butternut squash-stuffed ravioli with butter and sage). Entrées include costoletta di maiale arrosto, a pan-roasted, all-natural pork chop made from Kurobuta, the "black pig" of Japan that's on par with Kobe beef, famous for their fat content and marbling; rounded out with shiitake mushrooms, apples, brandy and mustard sauce, this sounds rich and appealing. You can also expect choices you'd never see in summer, such as ossobuco alla Milanese (braised veal shank, natural veal demi-glace with saffron risotto, or duo di quaglia (broiled quail breast wrapped in Speck, a fattier prosciutto, with Marsala sautéed legs and thighs in a soft polenta). Owner-chef Luciano Del Signore offers praise for braising to create fall and winter dishes: "Braising makes the dish. You're using cuts of meat that take slow cooking and those cuts tend to be a bit fattier, so the dish will be heartier."
Detroit Beer Co. 1529 Broadway, Detroit; 313-962-1529: Oh, sure, the classic menu at DBC doesn't change very much, but the beers do rotate throughout the year. This past week they introduced their pumpkin ale, a spiced amber ale featuring an autumn snap all its own. If you're lucky enough to walk in while they're brewing a batch, just follow your nose. Other seasonal choices include a Belgian stout and a "milkshake" stout.
Eagle Tavern inside Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn; 313-982-6001: When food writer Michael Pollan suggested that we should eat as our grandparents did, he probably meant it slightly less literally than they do at Eagle Tavern. There, in a historic 1831 stagecoach stop, you'll find 19th century meals that do seasonal the old-fashioned way, before the advent of the 3,000-mile salad. And it's all presented with classic recipes, and dished out by costumed, accented servers.
Eve 415 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-222-0711: The slow food movement is all about using natural ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes that taste like a tomato is supposed to taste. It is about sustainable agriculture, humane methods of raising and butchering — humane to carnivores, that is — and utilizing cooking techniques that bring out the natural flavors in foods. Eve Aronoff believes in the philosophy of French cooking, making almost everything from scratch, following the seasons and savoring and caring about the food. A meal at her restaurant will illustrate the differences between slow food, fast food and ordinary food. Because the eve menu changes with the seasons, menu choices vary from week to week, but expect your mains to have appropriate seasonal accompaniments, such as French baked rice, cinnamon, rose scented quinoa, sorrel potato croquetas, autumn mushroom cream and, of course, seasonal vegetables.
Forest Grill 735 Forest Ave., Birmingham, 248-258-9400: Forest Grill's fall menu has been in effect since mid-September, and the choices are definitely heartier-sounding. Take the "Coquille St. Jacques," featuring pommes "Robuchon" and butter-poached, crab-filled gougères, or the marinated loin of lamb, with eggplant caviar, queso blanco, ratatouille, merguez sausage and more. And richer meats, such as veal cheeks, appear on the bill of fare, paired with Parisian herb and ricotta cheese gnocchi and easy-to-digest wilted spinach. Other richer, more flavorful choices include honey-glazed Indiana duck breas with sweetbread and foie gras sausage, gnocci a la Romano and tomato-and-garlic sautéed rapini. And that's without going into dishes with roasted bone marrow or the wild mushroom ragout. With a profusion of clever dining options, Brian Polcyn's Birmingham restaurant brims with things to like about winter.
Grand Trunk Pub 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313 961-3043: There's been a buzz building about the newly renamed (formerly Foran's) pub on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit — and with good reason: The food is good, the ambience is one-of-a-kind and the beer selection kills. Michigan seasonal brews now on tap include Arcadia Jaw Jacker, Hop Rocket and Nut Brown, Dark Horse Perkulator Coffee Doplebock and Scotty Karate, Bell's Winter White, and New Holland Icabod (with Cabin Fever on the way). And though there isn't a specific fall menu, many of the regular selections are hearty, including shepherd's pie and Jameson meatloaf, as well as Friday's special, lobster bisque, and the irregularly appearing but worth-it pork chops with stuffing and applesauce.
Inn Season Café 500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916: Frequent winner of Metro Times' Best Vegetarian honors, a pioneering institution that dates back to 1981. Amber Poupore, Inn Season's general manager, says bringing local food to the table is vital to their mission. "We have reached out to so many local food providers. We're at the farmers' market five days a week. We buy into a CSA and have it delivered to us. We're using cornmeals from Michigan. We're using tofu from soybeans grown in Michigan. The local economy supports us and, if we continue to support that, we're just going to continue to expand." All this ensures that you're eating seasonal ingredients picked at the peak of freshness, and that the meals are season-appropriate, especially their specials, which ingeniously use whatever the bounty of the week is.
Iridescence in the Motor City Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 877-777-0711: With its snazzy, penthouse-high dining room atop one of Detroit's glittering new casinos, you might think Iridescence is more about style than substance. But, by their own words, they are "committed to serving organic, natural, wild and sustainable foods from today's world marketplace." And, under the guidance of head chef Don Yamauchi and chef de cuisine Derik Watson, guests can expect a blend of French and Asian flavors that aims for affordable comfort food, sure to hit the spot in the cold months.
Jeremy Restaurant and Bar 1978 Cass Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-681-2124: Co-owner and chef Jeremy Grandon's commitment to fresh ingredients means that the fare is seasonally tuned. And even though Grandon jumped on the casual-dining bandwagon a few years ago, lowering prices and shooting for lighter fare, you'll still find sturdy mains plated with aptly autumn pleasers, such as roasted root vegetables, thicker Bolognese sauces or a spinach salad of apple, fennel, red onion and pistachios.
Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery 311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730: The lower level has dark-stained wood wainscoting and elegant glass lamps hanging from the ceiling. This is contrasted by strange chandeliers on which hang various kitchen utensils. It's like a classic pub gone shabby chic. The sandwiches are large. Heck, even the napkins are big and linen. The upper level is more intimate, smaller, darker. That's the ambience, but you're there for those seasonal beers on tap and cask, right? Oh, yeah: They're there. Try the Ale Absurd, a Belgian-style rye tripel, or Eyo, a red saison brewed with hibiscus, rose hips and rose petals.
Mind Body & Spirits 301 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-3663: Situated at the corner of Main and Third, their newly remodeled building boasts rooftop solar panels, cork flooring, a bar top constructed of reclaimed wood, rain barrels for irrigating their onsite greenhouse and a bio-digester. But all these nifty, earth-friendly measures don't mean a hill of organic beans without tasty food. No worries there. The menu plainly defines the dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free. They also put effort into creating their dishes for simple removal of any items that might be objectionable to the food-conscious or food-sensitive diner. All the food is organic and local if possible. MBS has cultivated relationships with local farmers, such as Maple Creek in Yale, to supply their seasonal produce and even the edibles growing in the luxuriant greenhouse that faces Third Street.
Modern Food & Spirits 1535 Cass Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-681-4231: To be sure, Keego Harbor is a schlep for most of us, but it is well worth the time and gas to dine at Modern Food and Spirits, across from Cass Lake. The Modern is an informal little spot with generous portions and reasonable prices — most dinners are under $20 including an unusually imaginative array of comes-with soups and salads — and a menu full of little culinary surprises from around the world. That said, much of the current menu features meaty mains that should fit well with the weather, including braised and slow-roasted beef, pan-seared buttermilk chicken breast and smoked pork chops.
Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700: Sure, the ingredients in the pizzas are fresh. And, yeah, every Wednesday night they have the very newest in affordable local art on display. And the gabby crowd that hangs at the bar on any given night is pretty fresh too. But it's the fresh brews that drew us there in the first place. Their Octoberfest promotion will last as long as the October beers do, including a new pumpkin beer, and, starting this week, hard cider.
Red Pepper Deli 116 W. Main St., Northville; 248-773-7672: Before she opened the Red Pepper Deli last September, Carolyn Simon had no idea there were so many raw food enthusiasts around. There are. They make up three-quarters of her clientele, and they instruct her on everything from recipes to the science of raw-foodism. But the way Simon does it, raw dishes are scrumptious. Your own cooking — excuse me, dish preparation — might be improved too if you distributed cashews as generously as she does, in everything from salads to pie crust.
Royal Oak Brewery 215 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-544-1141: Right now, expect their "Oktoberfest" brew to be on tap, brewed in the style of that famous lager they hoist at Bavaria's annual festival. Royal Oak Brewery says its version has a "rich, clean flavor profile," adding that the "noble hops impart a firm bitterness, but this one is certainly malt-dominated."
SaltWater inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 1-877-888-2121: The opulent interior, themes with the washing of waves, the rippling of water and the blue of the sea, helps set the stage for the contemporary seafood of Michael Mina's SaltWater. The quality ingredients include seasonal produce, giving a taste of autumn to the selections.
Shiraz 30100 Telegraph Rd., Bingham Farms; 248-645-5289: Seasonally inspired dishes and superb protein plates a wine list from award-winning sommelier Madeline Triffon. Diners will find steaks of one grade only — prime, the most expensive and fattiest — plus beef in other forms, like short ribs, veal chops and calf's liver, and lots of lobster. And that seasonal finish? It's evident in the soups (butternut squash puree), the salads (a fall harvest salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, spiced pecans, Michigan apples, maple bacon, sweet potato and apple-butter vinaigrette) and, for especially cold days, a good side (winter vegetables, with rutebega, turnips, butternut squash, parsnips and carrots).
Toast Birmingham 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278: The hype is true: Toast serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." There's a lounge called the Blue Room that's full of candles and sports a stark white deer's head over the fireplace. The menu is a mix of such firm favorites as burgers and mac-and-cheese (with Gruyere, of course) and less-common options, such as duck pie and venison sausage. The menu is mostly American, with a few ringers such as carnitas and forbidden rice, originally Chinese. Top of the line are a pair of over-the-top burgers. "The Joint" is Piedmontese beef stuffed with blue cheese and topped with basil aioli, tomato jam and skinny crisp onions. It's pungent and mellow at the same time. "Burger Madame" comprises smoked Gouda, romesco (a Catalan sauce) and a fried egg, served on toast. Open 7-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8-2 a.m. Saturday, and 8-4 p.m. Sunday.
Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9470: Traffic Jam has made a name for itself by using only the freshest ingredients, usually making everything from scratch. It has its own bakery, which turns out a new bread daily, including crusted rolls, vegetable breads, whole grain sourdoughs and cheese loaves, as well as pies, cakes and cookies. The staff makes their own fudge, beer and ice cream. They even change their menu every season to ensure they can use fresh, local produce. And then there's the singularity of the surroundings: Thick 150-year-old timbers run horizontally through the dining areas; the floor bricks once walled criminals at the Jackson State Prison; and fascinating lamps hang in every corner and overhead. That's the sort of local color that makes everything go down easy. And what's good for autumn? How about Italian-style Portobello soup, a twice-baked potato, or a Traverse City dried cherry and pecan salad? Or something heartier, such as a roast beef panini, a Madras meatloaf. Finish up with a baked bread pudding a la mode and you should be ready to face the cold.
Vinology 110 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-9841: Be intimidated by wine no more. Chatty co-owner John Jonna knows his stuff, and will happily gab you up on the subject after welcoming you into his stylish wine bar. Dedicated to wine-friendly cuisine with a local emphasis, you can count on the kitchen. After all, Jonna believes wines taste different based on where you are and what time of year it is — so imagine how he pays attention to seasonal food. True enough, the restaurant has a new autumn menu, with plates that include a Michigan mushroom tartlet, tempura tofu, mahi mahi tacos, seared sea scallops, local salads with pine nuts and dried cherries, local butternut squash ravioli, thyme-roasted chicken, duck confit and a New York strip — with a lobster-truffle risotto, glazed baby carrots, pancetta and a red wine demi glace.
The Whitney 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700: Inside what was likely the most opulent Detroit home built in the 19th century (it would cost many millions to build today), you can expect to find seasonal innovations on their new fall menu, including butternut squash soup, shitake and prosciutto terrine, satisfying crab cakes, flash-fried calamari and duck confít. The pork gets a honey mustard treatment, with pecan-encrusted medallions with sweet potato gnocchi, braised fennel, caramelized apples and sage jus. The ultimate rich fowl, duck, gets seared and plated with pearl barley risotto, grilled asparagus, roast beets and caramelized cauliflower. The lamb get braised bone-in, with a parsnip puree, creamed mushrooms and crispy leeks. And that just scratches the surface.
Wolfgang Puck Grille inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 1-877-888-2121: Lest we forget amid the glitz and overpowering design of this casino restaurant, Puck was one of the celebrity chefs who helped popularize a modern American bar-and-grill cuisine that used fresh, seasonal, all-natural and organic ingredients. How seasonal and comforting is the fare? Small plates include sweet corn (with sautéed Maine lobster), an heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella, sweet corn ravioli with white truffle oil and parmigiano reggiano. Fall-time ingredients range from wild field mushrooms, zucchini puree, honey-glazed carrots and garlic potato puree. Entrées include a veal wienerschnitzel with warm potato salad, arugula and pumpkin seed oil.
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