Food & DrinkConspicuous consumption
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Thickening agents (10/6/2010)
Food Stuff (10/6/2010)
How's them apples? (9/29/2010)
Starting with Breakfast
Russell Street Deli
2465 Russell, Detroit
Here’s a tip on how to unwind after a hard morning of choosing raw goodies at Eastern Market: Let someone else do the cooking, at ultrafriendly Russell Street. Go for a huge omelet or scrambled egg special, and you might luck into double-smoked bacon, fontina, roasted red peppers and oregano. Or go Greek with feta, plum tomatoes, spinach and black olives. Or take the green eggs and ham — Bavarian ham with pesto and provolone. Hash browns are made from scratch. So are pancakes, served with fresh fruit and Traverse City maple syrup. Breakfast is served only on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Beverly Hills Grill
31471 Southfield Rd., Beverly Hills
Many would argue that simple bacon and eggs make a perfect breakfast, except for an occasional pass at a Denny’s monster combo special of eggs, pancakes, potatoes, multiple meats, etc. But you could start the day with something like bananas Foster French toast. The Grill, as it is known, has been serving three meals a day since 1988. But we’re here to praise the morning fare today. Check the blackboard for daily-changing specials — muffins, omelets, fresh fruit, all fresh and very civilized, and made more so by the no-smoking policy.
Best Breakfast New
317 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak
This tiny but stylish spot brings fancy ingredients to “the most important meal of the day” and combines them in ingenious ways. Mascarpone is a recurring theme; truffle oil, Gruyère, Boursin and Emmentaler all find their way into the crêpes and scrambles. For your side spud, try sweet potatoes with garam masala or garlic-fried fingerlings, and if a sugar high is called for, eat French toast stuffed with mascarpone, orange rum raisin pancakes or a vanilla bean waffle. Health food it’s not, but no less so than the “lumberjack special” at more traditional breakfast venues.
Best Corned Beef Hash
Louie’s Ham & Corned Beef Restaurant
3570 Riopelle St., Detroit (and other locations)
The “extra-trim” corned beef in this hash comes from the plant next door, so it’s as fresh as a cured meat can be. The recipe dates from 1924, when the current owner’s grandfather founded Wigley’s Cornbeef. It’s pink, rich, tangy and lean, and the hash is clearly made behind the counter, as the meat is crisp in some places — those that rested on the griddle longest before flipping — and tender in others. A moist, oniony side of hash ($3.75) is enough for three. Breakfast is served all day, but you might also like to combine Wigley’s corned beef with pastrami on grilled rye
501 S. Eton St., Birmingham; 248-647-5588
Diners actually started out in train cars when the primary method of transportation was by rail and people ate while they were traveling. Now they are about the food and the atmosphere and the price. Diner food is comfort food. Hot fluffy omelets, pancakes and cinnamon roll French toast for breakfast; sandwiches for lunch made with fresh roasted turkey and baked ham; chicken pot pie and meatloaf or pot roast with mashed potatoes for dinner, and chicken noodle soup for anytime. With a newly reopened in-house bakery and a Stucchi’s ice cream parlor, this longstanding Birmingham favorite lives on with new owner Matt Rafferty as the engineer.
31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
When a bar is busy all day, every day, for some 30-plus years, you know there’s something special going on. In this case it’s the Redcoat burger, a half-pound of meat, their signature sauce, and the burnt onions that most customers order, among the many toppings available. If there’s a better burger in town, we don’t know where. A full menu includes salads, soups, sandwiches, seafood, steaks, British-style fish and chips, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, even a laudable Key lime pie. Do not miss the Caribbean seafood chowder, as long as you eat a burger.
Best $2.50 sandwich
Eastern Market Seafood
2456 Market, Detroit
Check out this sausage-lover’s heaven. Bratwurst, knackwurst, chorizo, Cajun-andouille, two kinds of kielbasa … about 15 in all. Uncertain about what to take home? You can have ample samples of any three stuffed in a pita pocket for $1.95, plus cheese, lettuce and tomato for another 55 cents. Amenities are minimal — your goodie comes swaddled in paper toweling. You’ll be asked whether you want this “to go,” but since sausage juices quickly soak the pita, we suggest devouring posthaste.
Andre’s Louisiana Seafood
752 W. Huron, Pontiac
The Williams family was fortunate to get out of New Orleans before the levees broke. We are fortunate that they moved up here with that Creole and Cajun brand of cooking. The seafood po’ boys are the best — catfish, oyster or shrimp, or a combination. The coating is appropriately salty and spicy and fried to a crisp turn. Dorothy makes a mean jambalaya and a tasty sweet potato pie. If you need a sugar fix, gnaw on a praline. With Thanksgiving approaching, consider one of Andre’s Cajun-injected, deep-fried turkeys. Don’t sample it on the way home. You may get waylaid.
Milt’s Gourmet Barbecue
19143 Kelly Rd., Detroit
Milt Goodson spent many years smoking the savory bones that give off the tempting aroma you can smell throughout Detroit on summer days, cooking low and slow, the fat dripping out of the meat, adding even more flavor as it hits the hot coals. The sauce, slathered on at the end of the process, is the finishing touch; to the ribs, that is. The finishing touches to the meal, however, would be the German chocolate cake, the turtle cake and the peach cobbler, to name a few. Milt passed away this year, but his legacy has enabled his family to carry on his tradition.
Best New Detroit Barbecue
Grill King Smokehouse Barbecue
1200 E. State Fair, Detroit
For 25 years, Robert Felton has been building grills, starting with steel drums and graduating to custom smokers. Customers assume that he knows how use them, and he does, having done his fair share of teaching, catering and competing in a rib fest or two. He’s finally taken the plunge and opened a barbecue restaurant in Detroit, selling his soon-to-be famous ribs. His wife, the Grill Queen, is said to be a pretty good cook in her own right, so look for some soulful sides to take home with your bones. Take a look at his Web site, at detroitgrillking.com.
23141 Dequindre Rd., Hazel Park
In this fiercely contested category, Loui’s wins for its deep-dish pies, which have deftly charred crunchy-crusts and an appropriately greasy, sublime blend of cheese and tomatoes. It helps that the pies and tangy salads are served on plastic dinnerware in a quintessential pizza parlor with red-checked tablecloths, hundreds of old-fashioned Chianti bottles hanging from the walls, and colorful veteran servers. Way off the beaten track in Hazel Park (although close to the raceway), this family-friendly, boisterous institution that has been turning out the pies for 30 years also features reasonably priced boombas and wine.
Best Pizza Chain
17125 Conant St., Detroit (and other locations)
Buddy’s is the name most Detroiters associate with “Detroit pizza.” Founded in 1936, the original lives on at McNichols and Conant, with eight more stores making this crusty, cheesy, saucy, crispy — especially at the browned edges — deep-dish pie more accessible all over the area. Many home cooks have failed in their attempts to duplicate the crunch. Buddy’s antipasto salad is nearly as popular as the pizza. Pastas, sandwiches, minestrone and burgers round out the menu. While you wait for your pie, have a couple of chicken tenders. We’ve found none better.
Best Pizza Canadian
769 Erie St. E., Windsor
The first thing you see when you enter La Zingara is the wood-burning oven on the back wall. You will probably see Gavino, the pizzzailo who has been making some great pie there for 11 years now. Effortlessly, he spreads the dough into a perfect round, coats it with a thin layer of sauce and a little cheese, just enough to give it a little flavor and texture and to hold on the toppings. Pepperoni is rarely ordered. Think about mushrooms, fresh basil or parsley and some fresh garlic. When you’ve had ’za a few times, think about exploring the other menu, if you can resist the pie.
Best Pizza and Wine
2595 Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-844-8899
Some pizzas do seem to call for cold beer, but the fancy thin-crusted ones here deserve pairing with the interesting wines, both Californian and Italian, that the owners have selected. You might order a spinach pizza with pine nuts, roasted garlic and tangy fontinella plus a simple Original Red (oven-roasted San Marzano tomatoes with balsamic vinegar), and then, to go with them, 2 ounces each of three different wines. Decide which is best and get the whole bottle. Build-your-own ingredients include anchovies, artichoke hearts, arugula, basil pesto, capers, Maytag blue cheese and prosciutto.
Joey’s Famous Philly Cheesesteaks
14625 Northline Rd., Southgate; 734-281-4444
Cheesesteak aficionados and exiled Philadelphians, search no more: The real deal is here. Special rolls are Fed Ex-ed from Philly and the requisite three cheeses — provolone, American and historically correct Cheez Whiz — are on offer. With the sizzling rib eye piled high, even the half-size sandwich is enough for a meal. Almost equally tempting are the hoagies with prosciutto, sopressata, salami and other imported Italian meats, but when it comes down to it, your only real decision should be: “Wit’ or wit’out?”
Best Soup Chain
Locations throughout metro Detroit and spreading
One of the newest segments in the increasingly health-conscious fast-food industry is soup. The homegrown Zoup! chain, with its 200 soups, 12 of which are served daily, strives to adhere to its motto: “Everything matters.” Many sound more like entrées and sides than soups, like the chicken and dumplings, red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese and shrimp and crawfish étouffée. There are standards as well, each served with a hunk of bread — French, sourdough or multigrain. There is also a selection of sandwiches and salads. Good stuff, especially with fall and winter approaching.
Eat around the world
37646 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills (and other locations)
The first bite of the hot fresh baked bread is a sign, a good sign, of the meal soon to follow. Start with a bowl of pasta fagioli or chicken pastina. The Antonio salad, lightly dressed tomatoes, onions, peppers, olives — no lettuce — is simple and fresh. The pastas are big enough for two, perfect for sharing, like most everything on the menu. The gnocchi Rosa is rich and creamy, a caloric splurge. Antonio’s is much more than a pizzeria, but you won’t find much better ’za around here. Don’t attempt to choose between the tiramisu and the chocolate cake. Have both.
Best Pasta Dish
Maria’s Front Room
215 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-7379
When Joan Orlando died in 2004, pasta lovers worried about the fate of Maria’s, her homey, romantic little spot in Ferndale. Fortunately, the family has carried on, offering old-fashioned Italian cuisine, complemented by the signature pizza-dough garlic bread, house-made wine and Joan’s knockout salad dressing. Although the veal and chicken dishes remain outstanding (try Maria’s riff on chicken cacciatore), it is difficult to resist ordering spinach tortellini, a lovely combination of slightly al-dente, spinach-stuffed pasta in a gentle creamy sauce.
29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield
From its tasteful and interesting decor (check out the murals), to its smooth and professional liveried servers, to its versatile and intelligent Italian wine list, to the sophisticated kitchen, Bacco is everything a refined Italian ristorante should be. Although many of the dishes seem familiar, they are designed with a creative flair that contributes to a singular dining experience. For example, while grilled eggplant or calamari and peppers for firsts and veal scallopini or pasta with clams for mains sound quite ordinary, their fresh ingredients and subtle sauces make them special. Of course, this comes at a stiff price, so for many during the Bush economic boom, Bacco remains a venue for birthdays and anniversaries.
673 Franklin St., Detroit
To be sure, British cuisine sounds oxymoronic, but Currents near the RenCen belies the notion that the U.K. must turn to its old colonies for inspiration. At Currents, they do offer satay, jasmine rice and clam chowder from the empire upon which the sun never set, but the banger and mash, fish and chips, grilled-sausage medley, and even the lowly Scotch egg all are lovingly prepared and represent traditional pub grub at its best. That’s the sort of food that calls for a Guinness or two, but the promised river view of Commonwealth member Canada does not quite materialize, except if you are standing on the second-floor deck.
1426 Bagley St., Detroit
It feels like a neighborhood place, even if the patrons, 90 percent Irish, travel from the suburbs to get to Corktown. They try 29 kinds of whisky from Ireland, including a sinus-clearing moonshine — clear “potcheen” from County Clare — that’s banned in the home country; they eat imported plaice, the fish found in Irish pubs; and they down potatoes in every form, from colcannon to scallion champ. One favorite is dingle pie, lamb stew baked in a pastry crust. On Wednesdays, jam sessions take place that might include harps, bagpipes, flutes and whistles, and on weekends, you’ll hear Irish bands or traditional music.
6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield
Its inspiration is a French brasserie, but the chef doesn’t hesitate to borrow from other cuisines around the Mediterranean. A classic French entrée is the special most nights — coq au vin Monday, cassoulet Tuesday, bouillabaisse Thursday. Take note of the sauces, such as béarnaise, various aiolis or a veal-cognac reduction on the tuna au poivre. Marvelous starters include roasted beets with ultrafresh tapenade and “salmon ménage à trois”: pastis-smoked salmon, salmon tartare and a bit of salmon caviar. Come prepared to eat frites and to choose a European beer or one of 205 wines, almost all either French or from French varietals. Zinc sponsors a wine-tasting seminar the last Monday of each month.
419 S. Main St., Royal Oak
We hate to make an award to a restaurant that does not spell its name correctly — but the bustling brewery on Main in Royal Oak delivers several Belgian specialties at high quality and moderate prices, with a nice variety of light and dark beers. Belgium’s take on bouilliabase, waterzooi, is one of the more unusual preparations, along with mussels cooked in a choice of sauces and fries with several dips. Indeed, even without the mussels, the crispy fries must be sampled, at least as an appetizer. Moving across the border a bit, the salad Nicoise, coq au vin and steak frites, with a hanger steak thicker than what you would get in Brussels or Paris, all strike a note of Gallic authenticity.
Hungarian-American Cultural Center
26257 Goddard Rd., Taylor
Chicken and veal paprikash with dumplings, stuffed cabbage and, of course, goulash (gulyas) — this is nostalgia food for those who don’t mind if it sticks to the ribs. Noodles fried in bacon drippings, egg dumplings in a sea of sour-cream gravy, pork in several forms — you’ll be lucky to have room for the delicate crêpes or the dense walnut torta. Portions are big and prices are not; the volunteer waitresses are knowledgeable and affable; everybody’s Hungarian, in effect, at this private club where everyone can feel as though they belong.
New Hellas Café
583 Monroe St., Detroit
Before Greektown was an entertainment district, New Hellas was there, although the ageless Gus was not present at the creation more than a century ago. Pegasus is tonier and the neighboring Cyprus Taverna offers unique dishes from that island nation, but it is New Hellas that continues to draw the largest crowds for its dependable if unspectacular renderings of skoralia, taramasalat and hummous, lamb innumerable ways, and sea bass swimming in lemon sauce — but don’t expect al dente veggies. The price is still right and the service is swift if a bit uncommunicative — but why on earth did Gus decide to stop serving his squid entrée? But come soon before the casinos and the city fathers take away all the public parking in Greektown.
2900 S. State St., Ann Arbor
John Roumanis celebrates the foods of the Mediterranean region with an unusual array of creations from the countries that border the sea. The Moroccan sea bass, Fufarran, is a fresh fillet of sea bass marinated in Morrocan spices, seared and served with a traditional charmoula sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, paprika, hot peppers, cumin and cayenne. It’s a perfect example of the complexity of one dish that is not likely to be found on local menus. Much of the menu has remained the same in name over the years, but as John pointed out, each is being constantly refined.
Best Middle Eastern
19872 Kelly Rd., Harper Woods; 313-527-5047; 24317 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores; 586-774-9337
The new Steve’s in St. Clair Shores isn’t as crowded as the old Steve’s, but the tables are closely spaced and you can still expect a wait on a Friday or Saturday night. There’s not been much tinkering with the food, thank goodness. Both locations’ house specials feature what is best about Middle Eastern food: the sprightly flavors of lemon, garlic, parsley and olive oil; vegetables used in inventive ways; meat as a minor player. That said, for meat lovers, there are grilled items that don’t skimp on the protein. And one place where Steve’s has it over other area Middle Eastern restaurants is in the desserts.
Best Middle Eastern
4082 Monroe St., Toledo (and other Toledo locations)
Despite the myriad of Middle Eastern restaurants in Detroit, you’ll have to travel to Toledo, near the university, to eat the best. Is it worth the drive through the Glass City’s perennial construction bottlenecks? You bet, if you are in the mood for near-perfect shish kafta, chicken tawook, or especially the Beirut Best, hummous with marinated fillet tips and lemon sauce. However, it is with the appetizers where the Beirut really shines whether you select fattoush, baba ghanoush, grape leaves or the more obscure specialty, kibbi aras fried.
Best Middle Eastern
New Yasmeen Bakery
13900 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn
For Lebanese cooking you won’t find on every other menu in Dearborn, this is the place. A changing array of 20 different traditional recipes is served every day. It’s a field day for vegetarians, with such dishes as eggplant and chick peas, artichoke salad and warm baklet bandoura (cracked wheat and chickpeas). More familiar dishes such as mjadra, hummous, grape leaves and kibbee are exceptional. On the meat side, spinach-lamb-pine nuts is highly recommended, and the lamb sandwiches are dirt cheap. For dessert, there’s a thorough selection of both French and Lebanese pastries.
307 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor
The only place where falafel is more popular than this tiny Ann Arbor spot would be in Jerusalem itself. Ann Arbor is a lot more convenient and the journey to the Middle East won’t get you better food. Falafel — fried patties of ground chick peas, onions, garlic, parsley and other seasonings, served wrapped in pita with baba ghanoush, hommous or refreshing tabbouleh — are as cheap ($4.75) as they are delicious. Cheap eats at their best. It’s fast, but not fast food as we know it. Splurge and have a cup of lentil soup.
Best Food in a Gas Station
3372 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley
Incongruously situated in a Sunoco station in Berkley, Mr. Kabob creates low-cost Middle Eastern favorites, primarily for takeout, from a full-service, open kitchen adjacent to the tchotchkes of the convenience store. Best bet are the beef and chicken kabob dinners that come with a mound of impeccably prepared rice and a fresh salad dressed in a lemony oil. Better yet, as a substitute for the house salad, choose the fattoush or tabbouleh, both of which are competitive with our region’s best. Even more interesting is tershi, a pickled vegetable side enlivened by a garlic dipping sauce.
545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale
221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor
The Blue Nile first introduced the metro area to Ethiopian food — and the “no forks” paradigm — 23 years ago. As if eating with your hands weren’t fun enough, the flavors are intense and the welcome is sincere. From the steaming washcloths brought to diners before and after to the honey wine and full bar, all is arranged to give guests a taste of Ethiopia in Western comfort. The one price is $18.90, or $15.90 for vegetarians, but kids are half-price, those under 5 get in free, and owner Seifu Lessanework’s policy is “all-you-care-to-eat.” Few make it past the first round.
Taste of Ethiopia
29702F Southfield, Southfield
The essence of lentils, the quintessence of collards — these are the reasons to taste Ethiopia. The long list of spices in which they’re simmered seems only to bring out the spirit of these vegetables and legumes; you may feel you’ve never truly appreciated them before. The spot is frequented by both vegetarians and omnivores, who are greeted by gracious chef and owner Meskerem Gebreyohannes. Kifto, steak tartare tossed in spiced butter and cardamom, is a special delight. And per-person cost is about $10 for either a meat or a vegetable combo.
Señor López Taqueria
7144 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Before you sit down to eat, you’ll notice that someone with an eye for design has been at work for Señor Rafael López. His walls are a sunny, warm coral, and the oblong room is lined with framed mirrors. Black, lattice-back chairs are spare and classy. Utensils come wrapped in a black paper napkin ring decorated with bright peppers. These are the sorts of small touches that indicate someone is paying attention. What’s more, the food here is as good as any other southwest-side restaurant’s, and some of it is head, shoulders and thorax above. Another reason to skip the Bagley strip and head west on Michigan is the López beans, which are whole, not mashed and refried. And here’s another example of the small touches that make a difference: The tomato-based dipping sauce that comes to the table with the tortilla chips is hotter, smokier and tastier than most — worth eating on its own, not just as a time-killer till the appetizers arrive.
Best Central American
3456 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-7753
Take a break from Mexican food; you may never look back. This summer Guatemalan owners Elda and Rafael Castellano celebrated El Comal’s 15th anniversary of bringing customers juicy tamales and the black beans that are eaten twice a day at home, best served with sweet fried plantains and the faintly sour crema. They dish up El Salvador’s national food, the quesadilla-like pupusas, and fill them with chicharrónes, cheese, beans or loroco flowers, which have a taste, some say, between squash and broccoli. Not Central American but most dazzling is the Colombian bandeja paisa: sausage, plantains, rice and beans, a corncake (arepa), yuca, empanada (meat pie), chicharrónes — and a fried egg on top.
419 S. Main, Royal Oak; 248-544-6255
The menu at the tiny Café Habana in the rear of Bastone in Royal Oak is a limited one, especially compared to the admirable Vincente’s in Detroit, but it offers a handful of well-conceived dishes, including that old standard, rope vieja, which originated as a spicy, tomato-sauced dinner stew made up of strands of beef left over from the heavy Spanish luncheon. Other winners include, pork adobo, Cuban sandwiches and carne asado, a generous portion of flank steak with a sprightly chimichurri sauce.
Best Ecuadoran-Puerto Rican
1312 Springwells St., Detroit; 313-843-4129
Even if the food weren’t admirable, it would still be a treat to chat with lively and vivacious Doña Lola, the chef-proprietor of her humble namesake restaurant that highlights Ecuadoran seafood specialties — and for the local community, Puerto Rican plates. From South America, the cold calamari salad is a treat as are the shrimp and red snapper dishes, accompanied by garlic sauce or salsa and gandules (Ecuadoran beans). From the Caribbean, the more familiar and considerably cheaper fare from Puerto Rico involves a variety of plantain preparations, tamales and other second cousins of the sorts of things one finds in Mexicantown.
3055 E. Walton Blvd., Auburn Hills; 248-377-3800
As Indian cuisine grows in popularity, the restaurant choices abound, dotting the landscape in and all around Detroit. Rangoli’s lunch buffet, presented in gleaming copper chafing dishes, is a perfect introduction for the uninitiated, as well as a treat for lovers of this highly seasoned — not necessarily spicy hot — food. Daily changing dishes are highlighted at detroitrangoli.com. There are always vegetarian choices, lamb and at least one chicken. You’ll also find naan — the soft pita-like bread that is cooked on the wall of the tandoor — salads, deserts, chutneys and rice dishes. If you order from the menu, do not miss the masala dosa, a thin, crisp crêpe stuffed with vegetables cooked in Southern Indian spices.
Best Tandoori Chicken
Royal Indian Cuisine
3877 Rochester Rd., Troy
Cooked inside a tandoor, a wood- or charcoal-fired clay oven, tandoori chicken is somewhat akin to barbecued chicken. Done properly, it is lightly charred on the outside and remains moist and succulent inside. It’s the perfect introduction to Indian food, especially for those who think that it is all curried. The chef at Royal Indian Cuisine is considered a tandoori master for his ability to achieve the ultimate balance of char, moisture and flavor. Marinated in a blend of spices and yogurt, this is hands-down the best.
Rexy’s Bangkok Cuisine
30923 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
Situated in a nondescript Woodward Avenue strip mall, Rexy’s will startle you when you enter. You cannot miss the multicolored tropical fish swimming in the tank behind the (nonalcoholic) bar. Just beyond is a visual treat: an ornately painted room that in part resembles a Thai palace; one wall has been painted with huge green tropical leaves. The service is friendly and quick. The menu lists many of the standard Thai dishes that are available in most of the Thai restaurants that have proliferated in recent years. The numerous vegetables that the cuisine favors are fresh, crisp and abundant. Thai curries are not to be confused with those of India.
Annam Restaurant Vietnamien
22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
“The particularity of Vietnamese food,” says Annam’s owner, Phuong Nguyen, “is that it’s sometimes spicy but it’s edible.” Both tasteful and tasty, with its subtle spicing and graceful presentation, Annam continues to be the most elegant Vietnamese restaurant around. Its serenity relaxes the loyal fans, who return at lunchtime for chicken curry and deep-fried catfish in a spicy sauce, and for dinners of grilled sea bass stir-fry or beef with oyster mushrooms and gailang cabbage. Several dishes are cooked and served in clay pots. On weekends, there’s a special: duck grilled with ginger and cabbage.
411 S. Washington, Royal Oak
Chef Rocky Poudel introduced Detroit —make that the Midwest — to Nepalese cuisine when he opened Everest Express in Farmington Hills. He gravitated to Royal Oak, providing a rare experience for adventurous foodies. Guests remove their shoes and are seated on soft cushions placed on the floor next to low-slung tables. Servers are knowledgeable, eager to describe the food, which is unfamiliar to most, perhaps best described as a cousin to Indian, using the fragrant combination of ginger, garlic and spices in most dishes. Your exploration will be rewarded with taste sensations that will bring you back as much for the atmosphere as for the food.
6407 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield
If the old adage holds true that a restaurant patronized mostly by Chinese is authentic, Shangri-La must be the real McCoy. With an extensive Hong Kong-style menu, as well as about 50 dim sum items served from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., seven nights a week, and daily for lunch, this West Bloomfield Chinese “palace” offers tasty alternatives to the usual late-night choices. At Shangri-La, seafood, fowl, beef, pork and vegetarian dishes from pea shoots to tofu are prepared in enough varieties to tempt an emperor. A frosty Tsingtao beer is the perfect counterbalance for a bowl of hot and sour soup.
Best Dim Sum
6880 12 Mile Rd., Warren
To judge by the clientele that is virtually all Asian, the dim-sun luncheon — presented in a huge space in the old Arriva — is the real deal. Servers scurry about the room with carts full of pre-tapas small plates that date to the 11th century. You can point to such delicacies as shrimp dumplings, eggplant stuffed with shrimp, spicy curried baby squid and the piece de resistance: a lotus leaf stuffed with “sticky” sweet rice in which chunks of chicken, pork and beef have been secreted. You may want to bypass the chicken feet and move on to sweets like deep-fried sesame balls and custard egg tart.
45 E.14 Mile Rd., Clawson
The old adage “The first time is the best” may still hold true in the case of Noble Fish. This Japanese grocery, seafood market and sushi bar has been around since the late 1980s, around the rise of sushi’s popularity. Sushi is all about fresh, and Noble is synonymous with fresh, even supplying other sushi bars in town. It is small, unpretentious and relatively inexpensive. On your way out get some tips on how to roll your own. For about $12, you can get started.
Best Asian Fusion
4771 Haggerty Rd., West Bloomfield
On entering this neighborhood strip-mall storefront, you’ll realize that the exterior belies the lofty ambitions of chef Michael Fung and the owner David Lum, who has been treating us to unusual Asian food for a few decades now at one venue or another. Recent specials include wild boar with a ginger cherry sauce, rack of elk with rhubarb sauce, and a more Continental baby flounder covered with beurre blanc. Ask David — he’s the guy with the hearty laugh — for a taste of the wine he’s sipping. He’s a pro. He knows his rums too.
Best World Food
Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Chef Christian Borden roams far and wide, figuratively, for a menu that mixes and matches cuisines from all over the … atlas. Consistency is no hobgoblin for him, as he encases lake perch in French pastry, or pairs a taquito with duck. His styles include Italian, Japanese, Moroccan and meat-and-potatoes (the Motown Shank), and his ingredients — which may pop up anywhere — include espresso, lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, wasabi, coconut, pancetta, caviar and black-eyed peas. Housed in a restored 1905 Beaux Arts building, this is a restaurant Detroiters can be proud of.
Best Food Science at Work
1515 Ottawa St., Windsor
Chef and co-owner Martin Atkins has a degree in food science, so he knows more than we do. That includes how to combine flavors in a single dish without fusing them, how to use different salts and vinegars to bring out each ingredient’s flavor (you “hit a different taste bud,” he says), how to evoke a series of sensations even in a pureed soup, how to take something delicious from a variety of cuisines — French, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Southwestern — while adding personal touches. The result, in each dish, is a harmony created with each ingredient living up to its full potential.
Tapas to seafood
6041 Haggerty Rd., West Bloomfield
As the tapas concept spread from the bars of Spain to American shores, it changed, but at Tu-Can Tango the original flavors are wisely presented in all their opulence. Lots of garlic, cheese, olives, shrimp, Serrano ham — you could be in Barcelona. Many of the dishes, like chorizo with scallops and portobellos, are rich — and wonderful with Spanish wine — but the simple tortilla de patata or plates of Spanish cheeses and marinated olives are just as good. After 10 p.m., dancing reigns — but the kitchen stays open late.
Three, A Tasting Bar
63 Pitt St. E., Windsor
The menu makes use of concepts from Asia, Spain, Louisiana, France — but mostly Chef Ted Dimoglou’s mood, and he’s big on beef, lamb, duck and crustaceans. Three’s dishes are really “small plates,” meant to be shared around the table. A la carte diners can get beef carpaccio, medallion of lamb Cambozola, tapenade duck quesadillas, salmon papadum tartare or chile scallops, but wiser couples or larger parties will ask for the chef’s choice “plato,” which brings them a multitude of dishes. The sampling spirit extends to the $30 dessert plato and to the tippling, as wine drinkers order a different half-glass “taste” for each course.
Best Small Plates
Spring Wine Bar and Restaurant
900 Erie St. E., Windsor
Order a few, drink some wine, see if you want more — and leave without a doggie bag. Gino Parco, owner of Windsor’s acclaimed Porcino, has perfected the concept of small plates: “enough to share, but you gotta get more than one.” His offerings range from ribs and carpaccio to seafood (salmon tartare, scallops, mussels, squid), all in inventive combinations, such as duck with caramelized onions, mushrooms and blue cheese. Best bet: a fruit salad with tomatoes, almonds and feta. It’s a fresh, bright place with very reasonable food prices ($4-$9 Canadian) and affordable, well-organized wines.
Northern Lakes Seafood Company
39495 N. Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills
Although the menu at this star in the Matt Prentice firmament offers fussy dishes such as “Nobu-influenced tuna duo,” stick to the dozen-or-so changing options from the fresh catch of the day. They can be grilled, broiled, blackened, baked, steamed, sautéed or buttermilk-fried and are served with three sauces — salsa, buerre blanc or béarnaise. The meal is enhanced immeasurably by the chain’s remarkable sourdough bread, the “interesting whites” category on the wine list and the fact that the many of the tables are set unusually far apart from one another.
102 River St., Leland
Although many restaurants in our area serve decent Lake Superior or Michigan whitefish, you have to go to the source — Up North — to really appreciate that nutty-sweet queen of our Great Lakes. For more than 70 years, the Bluebird in Leland has been cooking up the whitefish caught by Carlson’s across the street in Fishtown. Forget the mercury and reserve a table overlooking the green-hued Carp River, lush gardens and bird feeders while you choose the Bluebird’s sautéed preparation over its broiled or blackened options. And don’t miss the old-fashioned salad bar that comes with, highlighted by a dreamy pea salad that, as the Michelin Guide would say, is at least worth a detour.
27641 John R, Madison Heights
Although one generally associates catfish with the cuisine of the South, Asians were working with it while Europeans were drawing pictures of their dinners on cave walls. Forget about the calories at Thang Long, a homey, family-run spot in a strip mall in Madison Heights, and go for the crispy, whole fried catfish with a choice of sauces — garlic, caramel and chili. The sticky crust, somehow both light and thick, peels away to expose wonderfully moist and tender morsels of catfish, the bottom-feeder that usually does not rank high on any list of aquatic delicacies. A communal bowl of pho — a traditional rice-noodle soup with a host of cooked and fresh greens — perhaps with a complement of beef balls, will make a more or less healthy and well-rounded meal with the fish.
Best place to eat and watch fish
410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak
If you want to gaze at fish while you’re grazing on them, may we suggest this establishment with its exquisite saltwater fish tanks? Where else can you ponder the evolution of aquatic craniate vertebrates and fellow swimmers while drinking beer, root beer and cream soda, all made on premises? We also feel compelled to mention the Key lime cheese cake and the creole soup crammed with seafood and andouille sausage.
422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor
Zingerman’s is more than a deli, with its huge selection of olive oils, vinegars, cheeses and sausages, many from the far corners of the world. Crusty European breads come from the Zingerman’s Bakehouse. This place is truly a gourmand’s delight. Lest we forget the deli staples, you will not find better corned beef and pastrami anywhere. The sandwiches, in numerous combinations, are expensive and worth it. They are available in “nosher size” for the “small eater,” and “fresser” for the “big eater,” sharable for all but a young, growing college student. Do not go on game day if you mind a line.
Milk & Honey
6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield
Given the stamp of approval by the Council of Orthodox Rabbis, Milk & Honey is the only full-service kosher restaurant in Michigan. Oy! Located inside the massive Jewish Community Center, this sleek and handsome room is part of the Matt Prentice chain. Kosher means you will have to do without crab cakes and munch on salmon cakes in their stead and that the crab tempura is anchored by faux Krab that has never molted. But a kosher kitchen does not have to mean a restricted one, as Milk & Honey demonstrates with such Asian specialties as Thai citrus bass stir fry, a lox club sandwich and a whitefish burger. Moreover, there is a full bar and wine selection with several Israeli wines and Baron Herzog vintages from the West Coast.
Bel Cibo Bistro & Market
220 S. Main St., Clawson
Gluten is everywhere, except at Bel Cibo. Patrons who are allergic to the wheat protein know that all the ready-to-go entrées and side dishes are made from scratch, on the premises, so there’s no chance of getting sick. They can eat pizza, pasta and panini, all made from rice, soy or tapioca flour. Some salads use quinoa, the high-protein, nutty grain from South America. A number of dishes, such as ribs, orange salad, potatoes au gratin or puréed cauliflower, involve no wheat substitutes per se and are delicious for the nonspecialty eater as well. Catering to another niche market, a quarter of Bel Cibo’s dishes are also dairy-free.
Best Slow Food
eve — The Restaurant
415 N. Fifth Ave. (Kerrytown) Ann Arbor
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. Try the slow roasted Berkshire pork shank. You will taste the difference.
Best One-Man Show
5880 Wyandotte E., Windsor
Everything that comes out of Ryan Odette’s kitchen he makes himself, using the slogan “Keep it simple, work with great ingredients.” Offering just five starters and five entrées, he gets repeat crowds by changing the inspired-from-anywhere menu every couple of months and inventing dazzling combinations: shrimp and fennel; tomato, watermelon and feta; duck breast with turnip puree. Whether he’s dropping pecans into a mixed-greens and goat cheese salad or whipping up roasted-garlic grits to accompany a pork loin, Odette is thinking fresh and seasonal. This tiny bistro shows what happens when a man loves his work.
Sweets and breads
422 W. Willis St., Detroit
A pioneer in the Cass Corridor, the Avalon continues to fashion a wide selection of healthy and always fresh artisanal bread, scones and cookies, not only for its fortunate walk-in patrons but also for several area restaurants. From the slender baguettes to the earthier farm breads, you are certain to discover a specific crust and dough that will please your taste. An added attraction is the owners’ involvement in progressive politics in our community, a commitment that continues to be displayed each day in their choice of venue for a bakery that suburbanites would die for.
Cannella Patisserie & Crêperie
300 Hamilton Row, Birmingham
Matt Knio is one serious baker, toiling 12 or 14 hours a day, mostly at night, doing what he loves: baking all sorts of French breads and pastries. His move to Birmingham has rewarded him with throngs of passers-by who stop in to sample his delightful wares. Do not miss his personal favorite pastry, crouquant chocolat, which combines a macaroon base with a puree of almonds and hazelnuts and dark chocolate mousse. There is also a short menu of crêpes, sandwiches and salads available throughout the day and well into the evening on weekends.
Cantoro Italian Market and Bakery
19710 Middlebelt Rd., Livonia
Every day at about 11 a.m., there is a line of kids from Clarenceville High down the street waiting for a hot pizza bread — calzone, by some definition — for lunch. The ciabatta, though, gives Cantoro the nod. At once crusty and chewy, it’s good enough to eat alone, but better for a family-sized hoagie, sub or grinder, whatever you like to call it, layered with prosciutto, cappiccola, rosemary ham, Genoa salami and sopressata in any combination, with cheese — perhaps provolone or fontinella — some roasted or pickled peppers and a sprinkling of Italian herbs. If you make one at home, try warming it to bring out the flavor of the meats.
4300 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit
Brought fresh from the oven every half hour, the bolillos here sell to their fans from the neighborhood at a rate of 20,000 every week. Folks come in every day for these sandwich rolls and for conchas, a sweet breakfast bread. They can also find Cuban bread, made with lard (the owners are Cuban), and polvorones (sugar cookies in a wide array of shapes and flavorings), puercos (gingerbread cookies) and empanadas de calabaza (pumpkin-filled turnovers). Patrons’ favorite cake is the soft, bland, ultimate comfort food, tres leches (three milks). Open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. every day.
Best Restaurant Bread
Matt Prentice Restaurant Group
Many restaurants don’t try very hard with their bread. After all, it is an added expense, fills up diners who might decide to forgo a course, and often ends up having to be tossed away. Not so with Matt Prentice’s local chain and his supporting Sourdough Bread Factory. Whether you dine at a pub like the Flying Fish or the fine-dining Shiraz, you will be greeted with a welcome basket of fresh-baked sourdough. Although many prefer the simple plain white variety, you won’t know till you get there what sort of sourdough is being featured at your restaurant on a specific night. It could be dark or seasoned, but it will always be thick, moist and crusty.
Sanders Candy & Dessert Shop
16837 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe; 313-882-4966
37702 West Six Mile Rd., Laurel Park Mall, Livonia; 734-591-2147
It’s the belovedness of the old Sanders that makes this soda fountain our winner, since the new version — only two stores! not 58! — is less nostalgia-perfect than it could be. It uses paper cups and plasticware; there’s no marble counter, no tall fluted soda glasses. And one store is even in a mall! But you can twirl on the stools, and you can eat bumpy cake and hot fudge cream puffs to your heart’s content. A dozen ice cream flavors can be made into sundaes, shakes, sodas, malts or Detroit Coolers — like a root beer float but with Vernor’s, for more hometown vibes.
Josephine Crêperie and Bistro
241 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale
It’s the filling that makes the crêpe, n’est-ce pas? At this casual French-inspired place, the buckwheat-flour crêpes are delicate and the insides, both traditional and original, are concocted to please: seafood Newburg, wild mushrooms, beef Bourguignon, chicken-asparagus with mustard cream sauce. The chef knows his way around other traditional French dishes as well, such as duck confit, steak au poivre and fresh fish. All are best preceded by the house-made patés, which change often, and enhanced by the house-made wines.
Best Ice Cream
Shatila Bakery & Café
14300 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn
Can foodie magazine Saveur be wrong? Its experts placed Shatila’s $1.40-per-scoop ice cream on a national recommended list, for its super-premium, super-rich fruit flavors. Think in terms of 36 grams of fat per cup. Pureed fruit combines with butterfat to produce souped-up versions of cantaloupe, apricot, mango, pineapple and lemon, potent in color and intense in flavor. Even richer is kashta — like French vanilla only more so — and caramel, suggestive of crème brûlée. Pistachio, coconut, almond mocha, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are also on hand, as is a vast array of Mediterranean and European pastries.
Best Ice Cream and Frozen Custard
Erma’s Original Frozen Custard
6451 Auburn Rd., Utica
Frozen custard, by Erma’s definition, is a premium soft-serve ice cream with a higher butterfat content than ice cream and plenty of egg yolks. There is no Weight Watchers version here. Their motto should be “reckless abandon.” This roadside stand, which has been here since 1942, is reminiscent of an old Robert Altman film, Three Women, shot in a Western desert town. The huge, dirt-covered parking lot surrounds the flat-roofed shack and patio where you can consume your cold taste treat. There are dozens of flavors that change weekly, such as Chocolate Explosion, Pumpkin, Butterfinger Crunch, Mocafe Chip and Dreamsicle. Regrettably Erma’s closes for the season Oct. 31.
Location, location, location
Best Al Fresco
La Dolce Vita
17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Hidden by trees and bushes from Woodward Avenue, the long brick-walled patio at La Dolce Vita, with its colorful umbrellas, provides an oasis of calm from the cars that hurtle by just a few feet away. (It is also hidden from potential diners since it most curiously eschews identifying signage.) The mood is enhanced immeasurably by live music and a well-selected mix of operatic and Mediterranean pop recordings. In addition to this serene space, La Dolce Vita features noteworthy Italian standards as well as a rarely-seen-these-days, authentic Caesar salad, prepared tableside with panache (and also an egg). Of course, there are other restaurants with equally attractive patios and decks that overlook lakes and rivers in our area, but few of them boast a kitchen as solid as La Dolce Vita’s.
Best Riverside Dining
300 River Place Dr., Detroit
After 18 years, Jimmy Schmidt’s Rattlesnake Club remains one of the best restaurants in Detroit and the only one in this lofty category with a splendid river view. In fact, curiously enough, few restaurants of any stripe in Windsor or Detroit have much of a river view. Schmidt’s inventive cuisine comes at a steep price, making his celebrated establishment a very-special-occasion place for most of us. The best way to sample the fare and lower the tariff is to take lunch either in the restaurant or on the terrace where many of the same dinner plates appear at more affordable prices, albeit in smaller portions. Moreover, as we move into winter, aside from the blinking lights of Windsor, there is not much to see at dinner as the days get shorter and shorter.
Renaissance Center, Detroit
Naturally, the best view in Detroit has always been from the top of the Ren Cen, our tallest building. Coach Insignia is not the fellow who directs the Italian Olympic basketball team, but Matt Prentice’s upscale restaurant, the latest occupant of that lofty perch. Unlike its predecessors, Coach Insignia does not do a 360, but is quite stable looking out at Windsor and, depending upon your seat, up or down the river. Because the windows do not look out at downtown Detroit you will not have to explain to guests from out of town why there are so many parking lots where there should be buildings. To escape the hefty dinner tariff you could take the thrilling elevator ride up for a drink or, better yet, attend a wine-tasting night when, for $40, you’ll get the view, along with fine wine and quite decent, often filling, hors d’oeuvres. And without the rotation, no headache.
Best Indoor View
500 Griswold St., downtown Detroit
This tiny café sits in the middle of the magnificent arched mezzanine of the Guardian Building, an art deco splendor completed just before the crash of 1929. It’s hard to tell whether designer Wirt Rowland had the Aztecs or Byzantium in mind, with his red African marble, notched arches, and zigzagging geometric designs of turquoise, ochre, copper and burnt orange. It’s an eye-popper. Patrons sip espresso and eat sandwiches that 1930s visitors never dreamed of, on focaccia and baguettes, as well as cookies and breads from Avalon Bakery. Free tours between 10 a.m. and noon.
400 Renaissance Center, Detroit
It’s a kick to be among the seen in an expensive, good-looking, jazz supper club, the only one of its kind around. It’s a bonus that the seeing is as good as the scene: The views are of the river, the skyline and the bridge, from full-length windows, and there’s a patio too. The fact that two of the owners are celebrities — former Detroit Lion Robert Porcher III and jazz flautist Alexander Zonjic — seems to add to the buzz.
Best Place to See Hot Rods
Bakers of Milford
2025 S. Milford Rd., Milford
Every Sunday afternoon, from the beginning of May through the end of September, cruise on out to join the crowd checking out as many as 1,000 hot rods on display, watching live entertainment. The food is fine, but the rods are divine: classic T-Birds and ’Vettes, muscle cars — GTOs, 4-4-2s and Chevelles, Mustangs and Mopars — and all kinds of earlier vintage rods are chopped and channeled next to resto-rods. It’s a Woodward Dream Cruise preview. The menu is as varied as the cars. Soups, salads, sandwiches, seafood, steaks and ribs, poultry and pasta, and even nachos and fajitas assure something for everyone at this family-oriented event.
Best Place to Propose
3401 Riopelle St., Detroit
The Roma Café harks back to another era, as well it should. After all, it is Detroit’s oldest Italian restaurant, opened as a boarding house in 1890. The meals that were included soon became legendary and, 116 years later, the tradition lives on. The tuxedoed waiters and white linen tablecloths lend an air of formality and charm to the dark-wood-paneled interior, properly aged over the decades. The lounge in particular is small and intimate, a scene rarely repeated today outside images in old films. Owner Jan Sossi Belcoure knows of no proposal that has been refused. Do it on Valentine’s Day.
Best Big Splurge
6430 Farmington Rd., West Bloomfield
You will not be greeted as “you guys” at the Lark. This is a bastion of continental service that avoids pretension as much as it eschews familiarity. It is as comfortable as the food is delicious. The attention to every detail of each dish, the impeccable freshness of the ingredients, the classical preparations of each course, all combine to make the splurge — and it is a splurge — an occasion. The Chinese-oven honey-glazed crisp-roasted duck and the rack of lamb Genghis Khan are among the longstanding favorites. Consider early on the “carte blanche selection of French pastries and fresh fruit from the dessert trolley.” You’ll want to try them all.
670 Lothrop St., Detroit
Chef Paul Grosz’s elegant, French-accented food, presented in a romantic and comfortable setting in a graceful old building behind the Fisher Theatre, makes for such a pleasing experience that some diners might be tempted to skip Act One of Spamalot and linger over a Courvoisier and a luscious dessert. But after a silky lobster bisque, a salad Lyonnaise and perhaps a duck or even rabbit main course, they could move on to Monty Python with their culinary senses overwhelmed by the experience.
Grand City Grille
311 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit
Early this year, the Southern Hospitality Restaurant Group opened this eye-catching refurbishing of the massive space across the corridor from the Fisher Theatre that had been previously occupied by the Motor City Grille. Offering something for virtually everyone, the Grand City Grille’s menu lurches wildly from the classic (oysters Rockefeller and lobster Newburg) to the playful (chicken pops and paddles spiced with Faygo Rock ’n’ Rye and shrimp corn dogs). The attractive and varied buffet, with its all-the-wine-you-care-to-drink option, is a good economic and culinary deal for those planning to sleep through the play next door.
Best Food in a Sports Bar
Harry’s Detroit Bar & Grill
2482 Clifford St., Detroit
In most sports bars, food is an afterthought. Not so at Harry’s at the edge of Foxtown. You’ll find a full-service menu that includes the usual appetizer suspects — buffalo chicken bites and calamari — but also crab cakes with red chili and a cilantro-infused aioli. Where most sports bars would stop there, Harry’s turns out char-grilled salmon, sautéed shrimp with penne in Chardonnay butter and a creamy smoked-chicken pasta amid the battery of television sets tuned to ESPN and a homey Wayne State banner hanging from the rafters.
Best Food in a Swanky Bar
2233 Park Ave., Detroit
Vodka martinis (Kiwi, Apple Pie, Lemon Drop) and girly drinks may be the main attraction — or maybe it’s the three-story white glass chandelier — but the small plates in this art deco-bedecked joint are worth a visit too; they’re liberally sized and served till 2 a.m. Some are from Spain, like luscious, briny marinated olives and chorizo cooked in burgundy. Spanish or non-Spanish, everything — peppery beef tenderloin brochettes; foie gras paté; shrimp sauteed in garlic, ginger and lime; crabcakes; and French cheeses — is all prepared as if the patrons’ taste buds were in top working order.
Best Food in a Brewpub
Royal Oak Brewery
215 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak
Part of chain that also includes the Detroit Beer Company and the Rochester Mills Brewery, the Royal Oak location, like the others, flaunts a wide-ranging array of sturdy pub grub from around the world at moderate prices. There are generously proportioned and well-constructed British favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, but they also turn out quite respectable whitefish, jambalaya, Szechuan pasta and clam chowder served in a beer-grain bread bowl. Being a brewpub and not a winery, there is far more emphasis on the grain than the grape.
Best Wine Bar
417 S. Main St., Royal Oak
The Jonna family, of Merchant’s Fine Wine, starts with the premise that many of their customers may not know a lot about wine, but they can learn, at the least, their own palates. Experienced staffers can recommend a wine for anyone, or better yet, a flight of small “tastes.” The list is well-balanced among vineyards around the globe, and many good bottles — available in the cellar retail store — are priced between $20 and $30. Best yet, the many small plates, especially the cheeses and olives, bring out the wines’ best flavors.
Best Affordable Wine List
543 N. Main St., Rochester
Despite a move to the high-rent district in Rochester, chef-owner Pascal Paviani was able to maintain his practice of offering bottles of wine for either $18 or $29. Granted these are very short lists, but the pricing makes up for the lack of variety for those of us furious at 300 percent markups at some establishments. For $18 one can purchase drinkable vins ordinaire such as a Verramonte cab, an Alice White Shiraz or a Joseph Drouhin Macon Village, while the reserve list includes a Trimbach Pinot Gris, an Estancia Paso Robles cab or a Frescobaldi chianti at $29. And this is not meant to slight the Mediterranean-oriented meals, which are also at the top of anyone’s cost-benefit scale.
Best Suburban Dining
For more than a decade, Royal Oak, with such gems as Lepanto and Little Tree Sushi bar, has held the laurels in this category. Recently, however, Ferndale has passed it with more high-quality, adult-dining venues, including Via Nove, Assaggi and Maria’s for Italian-Mediterranean, Starving Artist and Christine’s for eclectic, and China Ruby and Star of India for Asian, among other meritorious establishments. Although this year’s opening of Oak City Grille and the hip Metro Lounge portend a comeback for Royal Oak, it has some distance to go to before it catches up to its near neighbor.
Best Mall Food
As befits a mall that calls itself a collection, Somerset’s restaurants easily surpass those in ordinary malls. Malls tend to be constituted of chains so it is not surprising that the restaurants in Somerset are outlets of national chains. For those who can afford to shop at the top-of-the-line stores at Somerset, there is the pricey Capital Grille for steaks. For the rest of us whose pocketbooks consign us to Target for buying and Somerset for window-shopping, there is an ethnic trifecta of P.F. Chang’s, Bon Vie and Brio Tuscan Grille, all of which are solid, along with the all-American J. Alexander’s and California Pizza Kitchen.
Southern Hospitality Restaurant Group, Detroit
As the primarily suburban Matt Prentice chain contracts, the Taylor-Porcher-Nottage Detroit chain expands. With Grand City Grille in the Fisher Building and the Woodward downtown, to go along with Sweet Georgia Brown, Seldom Blues and Detroit Breakfast House & Grill, this group offers a variety of venues and cuisines to Detroiters looking to stay in town to wine and dine. Known for their restaurants’ tasteful and comfortable furnishings, the chain features kitchens that offer a mix of traditional and trendier fare. How can you not admire a chef who employs Faygo Red Pop in one of his sauces?
Best New Restaurant
16844 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe
Long a culinary wasteland compared to gourmet-friendly suburbs on the north and west sides of town, the Pointes are inching toward respectability as evidenced by the opening four months ago of City Kitchen. Though it would be a certain shoo-in for Best New Seafood restaurant, the all-around quality of this newcomer has earned it higher honors. Emphasizing inventively prepared seafood in very agreeable surroundings, the restaurant combines a cutting-edge kitchen with friendly and professional servers to create a wonderful upscale dining experience at a relatively affordable price. The City Kitchen’s takes on halibut, pickerel and whitefish, all accompanied by interesting pairings of vegetables and starch, show how much can be done with common local fish.
Best Neighborhood Picker-Upper
Slows Bar BQ
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Slows, as much bar as restaurant, could be the best thing to happen to the west of Corktown and east of Southwest area since it was deserted by the Tigers. The co-owners gutted an old building, which, like many on Michigan Avenue, has lovely bones. Now locals and visitors are enjoying an interesting list of beers and slow-cooked pork in high-ceilinged, warm-wooded semi-luxury. But, guys, you can’t just look nice; you need to act nice too. How about treating the customers better and ordering enough food so you don’t run out?
Mill Street Manor
411 Mill St., Windsor
Every sous-chef dreams of glory, does he not? Jeff Kondrat achieved it with his reincarnation of the Mason-Girardot Alan Manor, which had been a favorite on both sides of the border for 23 years. He changed the name and added some of his own dishes, such as tenderloin with Gorgonzola cream sauce and basil pesto shrimp, but kept such favorites as the meze plate of Turkish and other appetizers, including the famous imam bayaldi. He added lunch three times a week, more desserts and patio dining. The result? A place where old regulars can feel at home but still be surprised.
Best Up North
9502 Lake St., Ellsworth
Even with the price of gas what it is these days, committed Detroit foodies continue to drive almost five hours to spend the night in Ellsworth, south of Charlevoix, just to dine at Tapawingo. Set by a picturesque small lake in an otherwise nondescript inland village, the more than two-decades-old Tapawingo offers some of the most remarkable meals in the state. It is costly, with a three-course prix-fixe running about $60. But that will get you such handcrafted creations as a farm-pheasant salad that includes frisee, arugula, house-made mozzarella, baby radishes, heirloom tomatoes, poached farm egg and brioche. None of those ingredients come from Kroger. And don’t make the long pilgrimage without a reservation.
Off the menu
Best New Twist
2219 Cole St., Birmingham
With everyone working these days, there is hardly time to prepare a home-cooked meal. Though we all like to go out to eat occasionally, there is no substitute for the comfort of eating at home, enjoying family time — well, maybe the kids would rather go to Mickey D’s — with the aroma of real food, not deep-fryers, permeating the house. Jane Bonanata’s Chop Shop provides the tools. In two-hour sessions, you assemble the ingredients that have been prepped — sliced, diced and chopped — using the posted recipes, alter them to your taste, assemble and package the finished products, and pop them into your home freezer. A day ahead of serving, defrost the entrées in your fridge. When your family is enjoying the home-cooked meal, tell them that you took the afternoon off.
Best Lansing Legislation
Wine Doggie Bags
You knew we were not going to choose the repeal of the Single Business Tax. Everyone wins with the new law that permits us to bring home from restaurants unfinished bottles of wine. Restaurants can sell more wine because customers can order by the bottle instead of by the glass. For their part, patrons are not tempted to finish off every bottle they paid for, an act that often led to the crossing of the legal line between sobriety and earning a DUI. Moreover, buying by the bottle is usually cheaper than buying by the glass and, instead of being forced into selecting from a handful of vintages on tap, you may pick and choose from an entire wine list.
Best Restaurant Critic not from Metro Times
In many big cities, restaurant reviewers are super-critical culinary snobs who may even enjoy their power to make or break new establishments. Molly Abraham, the doyenne of local reviewers, has a gentle touch and a genuine respect for almost anyone who tries to make a go of it in the tough business. She will point out weaknesses in service, decor and cuisine when necessary, but rarely do her less-than-favorable comments condemn a restaurant to commercial death. Moreover, this always-interesting and smooth-writing reviewer deserves kudos after the way the Free Press kicked her around in the aftermath of the long strike in the ’90s, during which Molly had been among the more militant of her colleagues.
Best Restaurant to Mourn
Morels was always a solid restaurant with its romantic atrium garden, but it had become so predictable and maybe even stodgy that Matt Prentice changed the menu in 2005 to a small-plates concept that, at least for some diners, seem to work. Where else could you find lobster corn dogs along with a selection of sliders and a sampling of three elegant soups to go with duckling? On top of those treats, he and famed sommelier Madeline Triffon experimented with their wine pricing, offering bottles marked up no more than 50 percent. Maybe the small-plates were too hip for the older clientele, maybe business was affected by the local highway construction (Prentice temporarily closed neighboring Shiraz as well), but whatever the cause, we have lost a gem.
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