April 20, 2014

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Local heroes

$=$5-$10; $$=$10-$25; $$$=$25-$50; $$$$=$50+


Assaggi Bistro 330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3499; assaggibistro.com; $$$: Assaggi's diners have long known that the Mediterranean restaurant switches up its menu from season to season. But it's not just about how diners' appetites change, though that plays into it. It's because co-owner George Gize personally selects the food served at Assaggi during frequent visits to Eastern Market. We even woke up early one morning to follow Gize around the market and watch him do his stuff, selecting only the best produce from local vendors, using all the tricks of the trade to detect what's freshest. 

Grand Trunk Pub 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313 961-3043: Grand Trunk has become a bang-up success, and with good reason: the food is excellent, the beer selection kills, and the ambience is one-of-a-kind. But another reason to join the throngs that fill it every day is that they locally source everything on their menu they can. The breads come from Avalon International Breads, the produce comes from Eastern Market, the corned beef comes from Wigley's. Grand Trunk' serves chips from Better Made and its bottled sodas are Faygo classics. And the beer selection practically mirrors the food, with a variety of Michigan brews.

Grange Kitchen & Bar 118 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-2107; $$: Grange Kitchen & Bar has a systematic, passionate devotion to producing the best food that the region and season allow. Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor and open to the public for about three years now, Grange offers a genuinely different alternative to the stalwarts of Main Street's dining scene. With food sourced from more than a dozen local farms, creameries and orchards — and with details on each available on the menus and website — Chef Brandon Johns' cuisine embodies the increasingly popular locavore mantra. Bargoers and diners can enjoy classic and innovative cocktails, Michigan beers and food-appropriate wines. 

Greengos 15104 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-432-2373; urbangreengos.com; $$: Not a restaurant, but this store strives to offer the widest possible dietary options for an increasingly sophisticated public. 

Inn Season Café 500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916; theinnseasoncafe.com; $$: Frequent winner of Metro Times' Best Vegetarian honors and a pioneering institution that dates back to 1981. Amber Poupore, Inn Season's general manager, says bringing local food to the table is vital to their mission. "We have reached out to so many local food providers. We're at the farmers' market five days a week. We buy into a CSA and have it delivered to us. We're using cornmeals from Michigan. We're using tofu from soybeans grown in Michigan. The local economy supports us and, if we continue to support that, we're just going to continue to expand." All this ensures that you're eating seasonal ingredients picked at the peak of freshness, and that the meals are season-appropriate, especially their specials, which ingeniously use whatever the bounty of the week is.

Mudgie's Deli 1300 Porter St., Detroit; 313-961-2000; mudgiesdeli.com; $: Mudgie's promise is that the restaurant uses local products whenever possible. What's more, all meats are roasted in-house. The quality comes through in the dishes, of which we've never had a bad one, and the joint has a busy lunch rush that attests to the quality. Enjoy quality, Michigan-made ingredients, such as Brownwood Farms Kream Mustard, Sy Ginsberg corned beef and pastrami, Slow Jams strawberry preserves, Detroit-grown sunflower sprouts and Calder's ice cream. Mudgie's is also dedicated to recycling and composting all it can, and carryout containers are all made of compostable plant fibers. Free WiFi.

The Root 340 Town Center Blvd., White Lake; 248-698-2400; therootrestaurant.com; $$$: Chef James Rigato wants you to know how much of a locavore he is. He lists his regional purveyors on the Root's website, up to and including his recycler and his glass guy (Libbey in Toledo). The tasting menu lists Michigan sources from Kalamazoo to Detroit (though coffee isn't grown in K'zoo — and R. Hirt Jr. didn't make those cheeses himself). If you order shrimp linguine, the server will tell you the critters spent their early days in salt-water tanks in Okemos. Rigato's imaginative food is hands-down splendid. There are only seven entrées (roast chicken, trout, pork shoulder, gnocchi, shrimp, beef and pumpkin pot pie), but you'll find 11 starters and seven $4 sides, including cheese grits and corn on the cob. All those entrées are first-class, or you could just dine on an assortment of starters: pork pasties, crab cakes, baked Michigan Brie, scallops, three salads. Wine is where Rigato declines to stick close to home, choosing mostly from terroirs way west or south of here.

St. Cece's 1426 Bagley, Detroit; 313-962-2121; saintceces.com; $$: The uniformly excellent dishes at St. Cece's are the work of Adam Verville, who sums up his food philosophy as: "I'm completely against Sysco and everyone like them." In fact, Verville says that 80 percent of the menu is sourced locally, with all his pork products from Melo Farms in Yale, the vast majority of produce coming from Tantré Farm in Ann Arbor, dry grains and flours from Hampshire Farms, bread from Avalon. Some stuff can't be produced locally, but it's a mere fraction of what he serves. Verville is especially proud of the beef, which is all from Michigan-raised, free-range, grass-fed cattle. Put off by protein? Verville's fall menu is also veg-friendly, with a vegan salad, two vegetarian salads, and two vegan entrées. Having been a gardener before becoming a cook, Verville has an abiding interest in fostering the regional food economy, which he says is more advanced elsewhere. For a taste, drop in 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Tallulah 155 S. Bates St., Birmingham; 248-731-7066; tallulahwine.com; $$$: Owner Mindy Vanhellemont and her chef Jake Abraham pay as much attention to the kitchen as they do the cellar, with a creative menu of about a dozen appetizers averaging around $10 and eight or so mains, most of which are in the $15-$20 range. They are oriented around not only fresh produce but a locavore approach that leads them, for example, to an Amish farm in Indiana for their chicken, to Yoder farms in Michigan for their pork and to our justly celebrated Avalon Bakery for their crusty mini-baguettes. The wines, of course, come from farther afield, but a good number, in line with Tallulah's philosophy, are organically or sustainably farmed.

Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701: Woodbridge Pub was already a success before it announced it was going seasonal a few years ago. And the selections sound rich and creative. The lunch menu includes a mushroom ragout small plate, a butternut squash soup, a white bean and kale salad, a duck egg Caesar salad — with duck eggs from Suzanne Scoville's Laid in Detroit east side duck farm. The dinner menu offers bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, toasted pumpkin ravioli, baked macaroni and cheese and much more. All menus include vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices.

Zingerman's Roadhouse 2501 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor; 734-663-3663 (FOOD); zingermansroadhouse.com; $: Earlier this year, we gave this joint the nod as for Best Locavore Cuisine, and chef Alex Young earned the award big-time. You can't get much more local than sourcing from eight miles away on your own farm. Young's Cornman Farms grows 27 vegetables for the Roadhouse in scores of varieties, including many heirlooms, and raises old breeds of hogs and cattle for diners' barbecue glee. He says varieties are chosen for their suitability to the Michigan climate, bragging that, in the summer, vegetables are served just hours after they're picked. 


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