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Best of Detroit 2011

20110427_best_03.jpg

Photo: Marvin Shaouni

Nutritional Value - Staff Picks

From style to fare to special dishes, our staff picks what's best

 

Best New Indian Restaurant in the City

ZamZam
11917 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-893-9902

While it's more widely known throughout the metro region for its Polish heritage, Hamtramck is blessed with a dizzying array of cultures and cuisines. Among the culinary newcomers is ZamZam, located on Conant and serving up Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian food from lunch until late in the evenings. Just about everything on the menu is worth a try — we're particularly fond of the heaping portions of aloo gobi, the Indian-Pakistani cauliflower and potato dish, and the spicy, tender lamb karahi — but it's the exceedingly low prices that have many of their diners salivating.

 

Best Indian Buffet

Royal Indian Cuisine
3877 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-743-0223; myroyalindiancuisine.com

A pass or two at the lunch buffet at Royal Indian Cuisine yields an abundant array of north and south Indian dishes, all for less than $10, about the cost of a burger. And it's not just tandoori chicken: daily changing choices of indigenous meat and poultry dishes that will satisfy critter-eaters, as well as many vegetarian-friendly choices. Fresh naan is delivered to the table. The spice levels are geared toward the Indian palate — spicy, but not searing. Cool the burn with soothing raita before a sweet for dessert. It's a feast.

 

Best Place to Order Toast with Your Breakfast

The Fly Trap
22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150; theflytrapferndale.com

Ask anyone waiting in line for a table on a Saturday afternoon why the Fly Trap consistently makes our Best of Detroit issue. Much of their success is in attention to the details. While just about every diner offers pre-packaged, fruit-flavored corn syrup jelly, the Fly Trap serves a fresh, house-made jam that makes munching on a crunchy piece of light rye as enjoyable as the rest of the meal. We've had strawberry, blueberry and raspberry, and the fruit is usually paired with some complementary herb. Whatever the flavor, we always seem to be able to finish it all.

 

Best Chicken Wings in the Most Unlikely Place

Anita's Kitchen
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; anitaskitchenonline.com

The popular Anita's Kitchen in Ferndale has been serving up quality Lebanese dishes for a few years now. Healthy salads and vegetable-intense appetizers fill a good portion of the menu, but if your taste buds are itching for something a bit meatier, try Joe's not-so-Buffalo chicken wings. Doused in a house made zip sauce with just the right amount of heat, and served with a side of crisp vegetables and a creamy feta dressing for dipping, these wings rival any in town for sheer appeal. And they pair splendidly with the Michigan craft beers served on draft.

 

Best Sushi and Udon Soups

Ajishin Sushi & Noodles
42270 Grand River Ave., Novi; 248-380-9850

Ajishin's udon soup is extraordinary. The base broth is developed from seaweed and fish and has so much umami flavor going on it's like a black hole for hangovers or the common cold. The namesake of the soup, the udon noodle, is a thick, wheat-based noodle; along with a bit of briny seaweed, imitation crab and green onion, it makes up the basic, or plain $5 soup. You can add all sorts of other tasty stuff for a heartier bowl. If that doesn't fill you up, the sushi is just as good. The nigiri is well constructed with mildly sweet rice, prime-quality seafood and the wasabi paste already incorporated into a bite.

 

Best Bun Cha Gio Tom Cua

Thang Long
27641 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-547-6763

Thang Long makes a great pho. And what's not to like about a massive bowl of rich, slow-developed meat broth flavored with spices and filled with rice vermicelli noodles and beef? But we are truly into their combo vermicelli. It's a bowl of those same rice noodles with the addition of cucumber, fresh cabbage, daikon, pickle, carrot, fried garlic and mint. Instead of broth, you'll get a small bowl of garlic fish sauce dressing to pour over the works. There are several toppings to choose from. Our favorite is the shrimp crabmeat crispy roll. An uncomplicated dish is seldom so deeply satisfying.

 

Best Eastern Market Hangover Cure

Farmer's Restaurant
2542 Market St., Detroit; 313-259-8230

When you wake Saturday morning with a head full of screaming kittens, a massive plate of Farmer's Restaurant's corned beef hash and eight cups of coffee should get you right. Hash browns, grilled onions and thinly sliced corned beef are piled high beneath two eggs. Or try their fat, juicy and finely ground breakfast sausage that's cooked so a crisp and caramelized outer shell is the first thing to meet your teeth. Of course, they serve all the other omelets and sandwiches that any decent diner has on the menu. Get there early in the peak of the market season to avoid the line.

 

Honorary Ambassador for the New Food Synergy in Detroit

Dave Mancini

As proprietor of Supino Pizzeria, Dave Mancini crafts a scandalously tasty thin-crust pizza. Not only does he source local products, such as Porktown sausage for the San Gennaro, or filled-to-order Katie's Cannoli for dessert, he opens his kitchen for all sorts of neighborhood food projects. One Monday night a month, Neighborhood Noodle is operating there. We have even heard of folks coming in to make gelato or using a burner to warm mulled wine for a nearby charity event. Mancini is unassuming about his role in the food community. He just likes good food and drink and does what he can to support his neighbors.

 

Tastiest Way to Raise Your Cholesterol

Duck Confit Poutine at the Grange
118 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-2107; grangekitchenandbar.com

There's a lot to love at Ann Arbor's Grange Kitchen & Bar — creative cocktails, a focus on local ingredients, delicious homemade pickles — but one of the standouts is their poutine. When the heaping portion of duck fat fries, duck confit, duck and sage gravy, and local cheese curds is set down, you may wonder how any human has ever actually consumed that many fries (let alone that much duck fat). Ten minutes later, when you're licking the plate, worry not about the resulting minor myocardial infarction: Your taste buds will be thanking you for days.

 

Best Spot to Drop in for a Glass of Wine

Cork Wine Pub
23810 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-544-2675; corkwinepub.com

It took a couple of years for Cork to acquire Pleasant Ridge's first-ever liquor license, but that seems like a distant memory today. Even mid-week, the restaurant is abuzz and the wine is flowing. Despite opening only about six months ago, Cork's beverage director, Jeffrey Mar, has already rotated wines on and off the extensive lists a few times, keeping the selection interesting for customers. The focus on affordable wines (and cocktails) encourages having fun and taking chances; and Jeffrey is seemingly omnipresent, ready to answer the questions of connoisseurs and neophytes alike.

 

Best Alternative (Non-Beef) Burger

Chorizo Frita at Frita Batidos

Cuban burgers, or fritas, are traditionally made with chorizo instead of beef. At chef Eve Aronoff's Cuban-inspired joint (discussed above), your chorizo is sandwiched between two halves of a delicious, spongy brioche bun and topped with fries and a spicy mayonnaise. An all-American, all-beef patty is a wonderful thing, but one bite of a chorizo burger at Frita Batidos ought to be enough to get any U.S. president to seriously reconsider our stance on relations with Cuba.

 

Best Charcuterie Platter

Forest Grill
735 Forest Ave., Birmingham; 248-258-9400; theforestgrill.com

Executive chef David Gilbert, a 2011 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region, has become known for his upscale bistro fare — veal cheeks, root vegetable agnolotti, heritage pork, and so on. But owner-chef Brian Polcyn literally has written the book on charcuterie, and the rotating assortment of meats that Polcyn, Gilbert, and their staff put together is superb. Always a part of the selection is the "Prosciutto Birmingham," which is house-made. And the other items, ranging from cured lomo to various salumi, never disappoint. The platter is accompanied by a choice of tiny salads, olives, cornichons and house-made mustard. Grab a glass of wine from their lengthy list and savor every paper-thin slice.

 

Best Place to Get Wickedly Offensive Garlic Breath

Bucharest Grill
Inside Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3111; bucharestgrill.com

It's 11 p.m. You're starving. And possibly drunk. Wisely deciding to grab a bite before bellying up to the Park Bar for a pint, you stride up to the counter at Bucharest Grill with laser-like focus: You need a shawarma. A few minutes later, it arrives, dripping not with grease (well, maybe a little) but with garlic sauce. Lots and lots of garlic sauce. And though you're eying that special someone across the room, you care not a lick that your breath is about to reek to high heaven. It's Bucharest Grill, and it's shawarma. They'll understand.

 

Best Hot Tea

Goldfish Tea
117 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-541-5252; goldfishtea.com

Tea, like any other food or drink, is an expression of a culture and a place. No retail outlet or restaurant understands that better than Royal Oak's Goldfish Tea. With a menu emphasizing hand-selected, high quality teas directly imported to Michigan from China, Goldfish offers the most authentic, delicious teas both in the cup and to brew at home. With selections that range from delicate, grassy greens like Buddha's Eyebrow to earthy, robust aged Pu-erh, you'll be drinking well no matter your tastes. Not sure what new tea to try? Ask the well-trained staff for their opinions. And if you want our opinion, head straight for Scarlet Robe, a complex, malty, full-flavored oolong. You'll become a tea snob before you finish the first cup.

 

Best Local Single - Origin Coffee

Great Lakes Coffee's Kenya Peaberry Kariru
greatlakescoffee.com

Labeling any one coffee as "the best" is a bit like calling a particular wine "the best." There are endless flavors, hundreds of styles, and infinite personal preferences to consider. That said, any coffee lover would be hard-pressed to find anything to dislike with this locally roasted brew. While it certainly has a big earthy flavor, it's the finish that's so memorable — bright with a potent, delicious citric punch. Some say that peaberries — the small percentage of coffee beans that form as a small, single pod instead of two half ovals — have a more concentrated flavor. Others say they're the runts of the proverbial litter. Anyone who's taken a sip of this would have a hard time accepting the latter.

 

Best Deal on Wine

Half-Off Bottles on Thursdays at Wolfgang Puck Grille
Inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1648

Chef Marc Djozlija's consistently excellent fare is reason enough to visit the Wolfgang Puck Grille in downtown's MGM Grand Casino. The prix fixe menu available three nights a week is too. But visit the restaurant on a Thursday, and you'll experience possibly the best dining deal in town: half off all bottles of wine. The extensive wine list covers all the expected New World regions, grape varieties and big names, but aficionados will be pleased to discover some cult favorites, Old World bottles with a few years on them, and some true values. Oh, and did we mention they're half-off?

 

Best Small Plates

Toasted Oak Grill and Market
27790 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-277-6000; toastedoak.com

What sets Toasted Oak apart is chef Steven Grostick's charcuterie, including terrines, pâtés and rillettes. He'll offer a plate of nearly transparent speck, chorizo and salami slices with grainy mustard and ultra-fresh pickles, a pâté of chicken livers and foie gras, smoked trout steamed in Riesling, and a terrine of the day with ginger marmalade. There's also a market cheese board, favoring American products, and a house-made kielbasa. Put them together with a flight of three red wines from Spain.

 

Best Handmade Tortillas

Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño
3149 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-899-4020

A thick, handmade corn tortilla is night-and-day different from the thin floppy kind from the factory: The dough is slapped from hand to hand to pat it into shape before frying. With black beans and crema, you've got a meal, but here they're stuffed with queso (the simplest and best), beans, ground pork, squash or loroco (a flower) to make pupusas, the Salvadoran national dish. If we had a Best Horchata category, the pupusería would win that one too, using morro seeds from El Salvador to produce a mild-chocolate, nutty effect.

 

Best Authentic Chinese

Golden Harvest
6880 E. 12 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-751-5288; goldenharvestmi.com

A 16-year favorite of those seeking the real deal, Golden Harvest specializes in seafood. The Hong Kong-born chef keeps live crabs, lobsters and tilapia — and, depending on the season, eel, sea bass, clams, oysters and scallops. "Assorted seafood with spicy salt (hot)" and soft-shell crabs both sport thin, pepper-flecked crusts and a satisfying crunch. Clams can be cooked in XO sauce (made from dried seafood, garlic and chilies), invented in Hong Kong. A hot pot, kept warm at your table, is a good way to enjoy an assortment of sea critters. If you can stand to order a fish that's frozen, the incomparable sole is on the menu too.

 

Best Makaneck and Sojouk

Amani's
13823 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-584-1890; amanilebaneserestaurant.com

Amani's cooks these little sausages in an oily and delicious sauce of tomatoes, parsley, garlic and a few slices of pickle, which add a marvelous piquancy. The halal meat — lamb and beef — is already delicious from its plethora of spices, which might be anything from mustard and cumin to coriander and cloves, plus pine nuts. Sojouk is the hotter and redder version; makaneck is pronounced "mechanic." It's called an appetizer, but add a salad and pita and you have a meal.

 

Best Halal Mexican

Fuego Grill
7040 Schaefer Rd., Dearborn; 313-581-9800

No chorizo, no lomo, no menudo, no Dos Equis — it's neither truly traditional down-home Mexican nor an Americanized cheese-fest. Fuego Grill attracts both Muslims and others with a menu that's all made in-house, using a chicken-based chorizo in cheese-stuffed mushrooms, drizzled with balsamic; outstanding tortilla chips dusted with chipotle and ancho chili powders; braised beef tips; fish tacos dressed with long shreds of cabbage and plenty of lime. Skip the lard-less beans and enjoy the slightly upscale and contemporary feel — no sombreros, but some welcome surprises.

 

Best Layered Cocktails

Luxe Bar & Grill
525 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-792-6051

These stratified inventions are not mixed, shaken or stirred. The gorgeous bands of jewel-like colors rest gently atop one another, allowing the sipper to taste different flavors consecutively. A Pousse Café, for example, contains five liqueurs — clear Curaçao, Blue Curaçao, clear Maraschino, green crème de menthe and caramel-colored crème de cacao — plus cognac and reddish grenadine. It's lovely to look at as well as tasty, and a decent amount of booze. Death at Dusk puts blue violette on the bottom, followed by absinthe — which turns into a dramatic cloud of white when touched by the top layer of cold Prosecco. Not on the menu but popular for birthday shots is the three-color Shooting Star, which includes pineapple Midori and Cointreau.

 

Best Ethiopian Carry-out

Addis Ababa
273 N. Main St., Plymouth; 734-414-9935; addisababaplymouth.com

Doro wat and zilzil alecha in 12-ounce polystyrene containers, instead of beautifully laid out on a huge round of injera? For those uninterested in the rituals of Ethiopian dining, seeking only the intense traditional flavors that owner Bekele Lessanework creates so well — collards squared and split peas to the nth — Addis Ababa offers a way to enjoy the vibrancy of Ethiopian dishes behind your own closed doors. At only $3.75 for mild or spicy beef and chicken dishes and $2.95 for vegetables, with free injera, Addis Ababa is a lot more fun than stopping by KFC on your way home.

 

Best Place to Eat House-made Bar Food while Listening to Local Bands

PJ's Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668; pjslagerhouse.com

The music side of the Lager House is well known, but does everyone appreciate that you can eat a remarkably house-made version of bar food there too? Burgers, onion rings, fries — the names are familiar but the results are not. Corned beef is corned in-house for a fine Reuben made with fresh cole slaw and house-made Thousand Island. A burger is grilled with blackening spices on one side and blue cheese on the other. There's a portobello sandwich, and soup, and onion rings vie with sweet potato fries for best side. At this music joint, food is not just the B side.

 

Best Neapolitan Pizza in the Suburbs

Fresco Wood Oven Pizzeria
1218 Walton Blvd., Rochester Hills; 248-841-1606; frescowoodoven.com

If a glance at the pie pictured on Fresco's home page doesn't lure you to their strip center digs, you've been eating too much mass-produced cheesy, sweetly sauced, commissary-fed pizza. The Neapolitan-style variety that you'll find here bears little resemblance to that. The dough comes out with a crunchy exterior, chewy within. The toppings are fresh, the sauce homemade, the cheese sparse, not gooey and greasy. The fennel salad, served warm, is roasted in the wood-fired oven, lightly dressed and topped with walnuts. Don't miss the meatball sandwich, which is finished in the same oven on a roll made from the pizza dough.

 

Best Macaroons

Pinwheel Bakery
220 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-398-8018; pinwheelbakery.com

Ann St. Peter believes the French macaroon, a sandwich of baked almond meringue around a butter cream filling, is the new cupcake. Not to be confused with the dense, North American coconut version, her macaroons are simultaneously crunchy and chewy and flavored with things like pistachios, apricots and blackberries. We were particularly enamored with a rose-flavored version made for Valentine's Day. One of these tasty morsels is just enough to satisfy a gourmet sweet tooth while admiring Pinwheel's creative seasonal window display.

 

Best Ice Cream Ingenuity

Treat Dreams
22965 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3440; treatdreams.com

Metro Detroit's Willy Wonka of ice cream, Scott Moloney, is dreaming up ice cream flavors that will curl your tongue. Selections like lemon-basil, spicy jalapeño, dark chocolate peanut butter curry, salty caramel, avocado-lime, bananas Foster, pistachio-wasabi, and a mixture of maple ice cream with bacon and waffles called Sunday Breakfast have folks lining up to taste something wild and new. For the most daring eaters he infuses ice cream with savory flavors such as chicken and waffles or garlic. Treat Dreams isn't just a gimmick. The plain chocolate is as good as any in the area.

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