Best of Detroit 2013
Nutritional Value - Staff Picks
Our staff picks for dining in Metro Detroit
Published: March 20, 2013
Best New Indian Buffet
Aahar Indian Cuisine
35564 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills
Indian food ain’t all curry. The fare of the subcontinent, and its many regional cuisines, offer dals, breads, sambar, tandoori-cooked meats, dosa and a vast array of vegetables. Sound unfamiliar? Now is the time to explore. And there may be no better place to launch your exploration than Aahar Indian Cuisine in Farmington Hills. For less than $10, you can feast on at least a dozen dishes on a lunch buffet that always includes curried goat and tandoori chicken. The staff will explain all of the items. Unlike many other buffets that cater more to non-Indians, Aahar’s spice levels are assertive, but not fiery hot. Namaste.
Best New Small Plates
The Sardine Room
340 S. Main St., Plymouth
734-416-0261 ; thesardineroom.com
Some interesting combinations, like scallops, pork belly and sweet potato, and curried rabbit, and somewhat venturesome ingredients, like foie gras and roasted bone marrow, make the Sardine Room a fun place to order a table-full of plates for sharing. Choose from a trio of country hams or find out what puréed arugula adds to gnocchi, or taste the storied Mangalista pig with stuffed cabbage. The only thing longer than the menu is the drinks list, with lots of single malts and digestifs. And if one small plate isn’t enough, you can ask for it again.
Best Half-Off Night
29110 Franklin Rd.,
711 S. Main St.,
Royal Oak; 248-544-2442
In these less-than-rosy economic times, with restaurants competing for a shrinking pool of diner dollars, many are opting to do a “half-off” night in an attempt to draw customers on a typically slow night of the week. We love a bargain, but these deals often involve warmed-over bar food that’s barely worth the discounted price. Not so at Pizzeria Biga. At both the Southfield and Royal Oak locations, Biga offers half-off delicious wood-fired pizzas with high-quality toppings and homemade pastas on Mondays until 7:30 p.m. If beverage bargains are more your speed, the restaurant offers half-off bottles of wine on Tuesdays. As always, don’t forget to tip your server on the pre-discounted amount.
Best Lunch Downtown
1300 Porter St., Detroit
The mania to make everything in-house means fabulous slaws and krauts, and mustards to top the already mile-high sandwiches, which are stuffed with meats smoked outside by the eponymous Greg Mudge. If you don’t want to waddle back to work, best bet is a half-sandwich with thick soup, or half-salad and the same — though the salads, like everything else here, are generously laden, and come with nine Mudgie dressings. Now that Michigan wine, beer and mead [honey wine] have been added, there’s nothing not to like — if your afternoon schedule allows.
Best Restaurant We're Anticipating to Open
4130 Cass Ave., Detroit
Participating in the Hatch: Detroit business competition, in which business ideas are promoted via social media and voted for online, Elias Khalil initially didn’t think he had a chance in hell. One of three partners in the Spanish tapas restaurant La Feria (a nod to Seville’s famous yearly fair), Khalil considered himself rather inept at online promotion; in the months before the vote, he pounded the pavement in his Cass Corridor neighborhood handing out fliers and telling people firsthand about his concept. But family and friends in Detroit and Spain rallied ⎯ and thousands of votes later ⎯ La Feria came out on top. The restaurant, located on Cass at Alexandrine, is currently under construction and hopes to open sometime this summer. We’ve had the pleasure of sampling some of the food in Khalil’s home and at a couple local events, and we can’t wait for the full experience. Unlike many of the upscale “small plates” concepts that have been popular in the last decade, La Feria is to offer authentic, inexpensive Spanish tapas, such as tortilla de patatas (a dense potato omelet), mushroom caps with a parsley and garlic sauce, and crunchy, creamy croquettes stuffed with chicken and béchamel.
Best Indoor Street Food
22828 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
The concept of Imperial is simple but genius: Use fresh, local ingredients to create a menu that’s unique, delicious and eminently affordable — in this case, L.A. street-food-style tacos. Serve a wide range of domestic and Mexican beers and some creative cocktails alongside. Design a cool layout that, in nice weather, blurs the boundaries of indoor and outdoor space to enhance the cantina vibe. Play good music. Put it in Ferndale, a city where people love to go out but don’t necessarily have the deep pockets of some other Oakland County burbs. Pat yourself on the back as your restaurant deservedly becomes one of the most popular spots in town.
Best Scientifically Healthy Food
3022 Packard Rd., Ann Arbor
When an oncologist gets diabetes, he may look for a lifestyle makeover, and if he’s Indian, the result could be vegetarian and vegan street food in which baked replaces fried, sugar is outlawed in favor of dates (high-fiber), and nutrition is the goal of each dish. Skeptics will be amazed. A vegan mango-avocado-soy shake is both sweet and rich. Chaats’ wraps and pizzas create cornucopias of flavors by using dozens of ingredients. Baked flatbread is made with 15 different grains. Scoff at a carrot and red pepper pizza sauce … till you’ve tried it. Hut-K Chaats won the most votes at a competition sponsored by Mark’s Carts — with a vegan dish.
Best Breakfast Pizza
Crispelli’s Bakery & Pizzeria
28939 Woodward, Berkley
We’re seeing fried eggs atop everything these days, and a pizza is as good a place for one as anywhere. At Crispelli’s, they’re baked, actually, super-fast in a 500-degree stone oven, over traditional breakfast ingredients like ham and cheese, or an Italian version: prosciutto and mozzarella. Even better, a reconstructed New York bagel breakfast with smoked salmon, tomato, cream cheese and red onion, all on a very thin crust. Scrambled eggs on top are possible too, and then the choices multiply. If breakfast pizza doesn’t work for you, there are calzones, quiches, waffles, French toast from house-made baguettes, frittatas and pain au chocolat. And prices are a little lower than at most fancy breakfast places.
Brooklyn Street Local
1266 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Ah, poutine — that decadent mess of golden fries drenched with salty, hot gravy and finished off with cheese curds that add the final textural element to the crunchy and saucy confection. Poutine has been popping up in restaurants all over the metro area as of late, but you won’t find a better version than the one served at Brooklyn Street Local. Perhaps it’s because BSL’s owners hail from Canada, the birthplace of poutine; whatever the reason, they’ve nailed the formula. The only drawback: rather than quelling a post-bar, booze-fueled snack attack (which seems to be poutine’s raison d’être), you’ll have to indulge during daytime hours, as BSL is a breakfast-and-lunch-only joint. A late-night BSL food truck, or at least a poutine-only carryout window, would be a great public service.
Best Burger to Munch to Live Music
PJ’s Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit
To be the best, the music would be a wide variety of original local acts, from punk and heavy metal to country, blues and rockabilly; and that burger would be the Black and Blue. It’s grilled with Cajun blackening spices on one side (paprika, oregano, etc.) and blue cheese on the other, so it’s spicy but mellow, with double umami from the dairy and the ground steak. Other burgers come with onions grilled to perfection or they aren’t burgers at all, but house-made falafel.
Best Nontraditional Pizza
11608 Conant St., Hamtramck
This little Bangladeshi-American pizzeria serves some of the most unusual — and flavorful — pies in town. Amar makes round, square and deep-dish pies, and it only gets more interesting from there. They can make pies with a spicy naga sauce, which General Manager Khursed Ahmad says is commonly found in Bangladesh and eastern India. Another Bangladeshi ingredient Amar uses to great effect is bhut jolokia, the ghost pepper, once recognized by Guinness World Records as the hottest pepper in the world. The ghost pepper pizza has a pleasant burn for those who like it, although Amar’s menu warns: “Extreme heat — eat at own risk.” Other innovations include a tandoori pizza, a Philly steak pizza, a gyro pizza and a dry fish pizza. It’s all Halal, which means there’s no pork — and even the pepperoni is made from beef.
Best Kosher Pizza
26025 Greenfield Rd., Southfield
6600 West Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
JP is the granddaddy of kosher pie palaces in metro Detroit. Of course, keeping kosher need not be the driver for you to check the place out. If you are a veggie who wants the thrill of carni toppings without the guilt, you’ve hit paydirt. With pies like the cheeseburger, bar-b-cue pizza and Thai chicken, it’s as close as you dare get to the real thing. If you don’t see what you want on the menu, chart your own course among the myriad toppings. Owners Brian and Rivka Jacobs, along woth their motley crew, keep the lights on seven days a week (opening after the Sabbath on Saturdays). The Southfield location has a couple of tables but is otherwise a takeout joint. The West Bloomfield location, housed inside the Jewish Commuity Center where Matt Prentice’s Milk and Honey called home, has a much larger dining area, complete with a coffee bar. Jacobs, who can general be found behind the counter in Southfield, let’s his rotund frame testify to the quality of the food.
Best Vegetarian Sandwich in a Bar
The Bronx Bar
4476 Second Ave., Detroit
There’s joy in finding something exceptional where you’d least expect it, and that something is the Veggie Machine. Every dive bar menu worth its salt offers burger and fries, which range from barely edible to serviceable, to Miller’s-level legendary. The Bronx Bar is no exception, and its burgers are more than sufficient for soaking up a few PBRs and shots of whiskey. But it’s the Veggie Machine sandwich that makes us actually go out of our way to eat there. The grilled focaccia bread is something magical; its crunchy, buttery goodness is the perfect vehicle for the always-fresh baby spinach, cucumbers and tomatoes. Swiss cheese and a special sauce seal the deal. Even die-hard carnivores of our acquaintance are known to sing the praises of this magnificent sandwich specimen.
Best Place to Eat a Fancy Low-Carb Meal
Texas de Brazil
1000 Woodward Ave., Detroit
If you’re on some version of a low-carb diet — paelo, Atkins, South Beach — it can be hard to go out for a fancy dinner without sabotaging your diet. As long as you avoid the mash potatoes and the not-so-good-anyway dinner rolls, feel free to eat pretty much anything else since most things on the menu are sword after sword of simply prepared, perfectly cooked cuts of meat. The salad bar is loaded with delicious low-carb options like Spanish cheeses, lunchmeats, grilled veggies, fish, and bacon. Mmmm … bacon.
Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Noodles & Company
Locations throughout the Detroit metro area; noodles.com
Of course, there’s a cross-section of our readers who would love to try the many eclectic suggestions above, save for one problem: kids in tow. Dining with the family can be an exercise in patience and mediocrity, depending on finnicky palates and varying degrees of table manners. Enter Noodles, the kid-friendly, notch-above fast food restaurant that caters to the Underroos crowd. From ordering to eating, there’s usually not more than five to seven minutes in between. We haven’t met too many kids who don’t like some variation on the noodles theme, whether it’s the creamy mac ’n’ cheese or the guilty-pleasure buttered noodles. However, there are many healthier, more flavorful plates to be found. Our favorites include the slightly spicy Japanese pan noodles with tofu (you may choose from three different proteins to add to any dish) and the creamy, hearty tomato bisque. Food is brought to your table, and the servers do not accept tips. Good food, quick, efficient service, and a carefree attitiude toward child antics makes Noodles our best choice for family dining.
Best Vegetarian Pop-Up Restaurant
We’ve seen a variety of new pop-up restaurants appear over the last year, but several factors put Chartreuse out in front. For one, its run by a certified raw and vegan chef, Corinne Rice. The four-course dinners are vegan, raw, organic, gluten-free, seasonal and made with local produce as much as possible, supporting local farms. What’s more, the creative menus often take classic dishes and deconstruct them, putting the ingredients together in new ways. Plus, the events usually overtake interesting surroundings, such as urban farms or art spaces, often to the accompaniment of live music. Taken together, Chartreuse hits just about every note a pop-up can, and all for just $50 per diner.
Best Nonvegetarian Pop-Up Restaurant
Pop-ups are proliferating faster than fruit flies on a rotten summer tomato these days, but they’re not all created equal. Schnäck, the roving German restaurant brought to you by Porktown Sausage and friends, is the one we look forward to with the most eager anticipation, and try never to miss. The wursts and wieners are the most delectable in town, but that’s not the only draw. In addition to meat products that are stuffed and smoked by hand, expect something pickled on the menu — herring at one dinner, tongue at another. They even ferment their own sauerkraut and make their own mustard for the full German experience. Although the meat is to die for, vegetarians need not miss out; there’s always a creative veggie option, like a celery root “schnitzel” crusted in Better Made potato chips. Best of all, the food is expertly matched with German beer and wine selections.
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