Friday, February 29, 2008

Harbor House in Detroit

Originally published in D-Tales here.

East-side mainstay (Macomb County represent!) Harbor House has finally opened a second location, and this one is in Detroit.

The Harbor House in Clinton Township (on what I like to refer to as the barren wasteland that is Groesbeck, nearby other mysteriously long-running and lone-standing establishments such as the Rusty Nail Saloon and Chaplin's Comedy Club) has been open for 35 years now. Detroiters who might have never once ventured to the east side might still be familiar with the Harbor House, as they tend to make an appearance at every major food-related event (like Taste Fest...sorry, CityFest) and summertime festivals in the city. This is a pretty classic seafood, chicken, and ribs kinda place. Nothing too stand-out here; your culinary senses won't be set atingle by any means, but they're good for a nice old-fashioned American-style hearty meal of meat and deep-fried, butter-soaked fish.

The Harbor House is set up in the old Cock 'n Bull location at 440 Clinton Street (it's about time something else opened there...but please, a moment of silence for the fabulous and short-lived Cock 'n Bull). 'Tis a good place to grab a burger on a lunch break or before a Tigers game (Opening Day is 39 days away! Do you have your tickets yet? Speaking of which, I'd better make sure I have mine...). They're also really big on All-You-Can-Eat Seafood, which is really a good deal if you go on an empty stomach and eat your weight in crab legs. There are also 4 different levels of "All-You-Can-Eat," so if you don't quite want to fork over the dough for King Crab you can still have a big, bottomless meal of London Broil steak, shrimp, deep-fried mushrooms, and more--and at about half the price.

Parking in that 'hood sucks, though--just figured I would warn you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Not Much "Rocks" About the Hard Rock Cafe

Originally published in D-Tales here.

This past Friday, the Detroit Guerrillas headed out to "get rocked at Hard Rock." The turnout was impressive--we had the bar area packed and the 3 bartenders hustled all night long--but the atmosphere? Bleh.

Let it be known that the Hard Rock Cafe is one of my least favorite bars in all of Detroit. Why? Well, this is Detroit's first (and please God please let it be only) foray into corporate restauranteuring. With the exception of the occassional Subway or Au Bon Pain, most restaurants in Detroit are independently owned and operated (and I cannot begin to express just how this has helped shape the dining culture of Detroit, so often underrated but so unique and creative in its own right). Hard Rock is the big glaring exception here, and it shows. Boy, does it show.

There's nothing quite like a corporate executive chef cranking out menus from his office suite in California and ensuring all food items are ordered from the same vendors around the world so as to create a a sense of consistency throughout all franchises, offering travelers a sense of security as they traipse through foreign lands, unsure of what to eat for fear of not being able to read the menus and accidentally ordering something too exotic for their palette, until they see the beacon of the neon Hard Rock guitar sign, creating a sense of familiarity and a feeling of home. Yes, there is little the (American) foreign traveler enjoys more than feeling a sense of home in their meal options. This is the ultimate in McTravel Syndrome. This is the crowd the international chain of Hard Rock Cafes panders too. And yay for Detroit for being able to share in this homogenizing experience.

First of all, by Hard Rock Cafe standards, ours just sucks. You would think the birthplace of Motown, Madonna, Eminem, techno music as a genre, rock legends such as Bob Seger and Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and garage rock as it is known today (with thanks to the White Stripes) would have a lot to show off. Yeah, you would think that. But it doesn't. No, it sure doesn't. A couple of framed publicity stills, maybe an outfit here or there, and a handful of guitars comprises the HRC Detroit collection. Oh, but there is a huge stained glass mural of KISS--who weren't even from Detroit.

Secondly, much like for the midwesterner in Taipei looking for something to eat that will agree with his meat-and-potatoes intestines, the surbanite who wanders into Detroit for a sporting event or for ice skating with the kiddies at Campus Martius will find himself comforted by the neon sign of familiarity (as he has undoubtedly dined at HRCs in Florida on family vaca or Hawaii on his honeymoon). Rather than explore the many other fine dining gems the city has to offer, he goes for what he knows: the Hard Rock Cafe. And to commemorate this experience in the (hush of awe) city, he'll even buy his daughters souvenir T-shirts.

This is the crowd you get at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The menu--good old deep-fried American fare in too-large portions, topped off with ooey-gooey decadent desserts. It's all tasty, don't get me wrong. And as tasty as it is here, it will be exactly the same wherever else in the world one might wander into an HRC. The drinks are way overpriced (2 souvenir-sized beers with 3 refills was $60.00), and the liquor/beer selection is nothing to be impressed by.

The music--okay, I like the music, and they did offer a nice mix of lesser-known metal bands (amongst the corporate rock giants). However, in the 50 years of rock-and-roll the HRC is supposed to be celebrating, they could probably mix in something pre-2002 every once in awhile. How about some Stones? Or the Smiths, that would be cool! But no. Lots of Linkin Park. The Killers. Franz Ferdinand. Sevendust. All new and hip. Nothing that revers the history of rock.

The inside is loud, the clientele irritating, the memorabilia disappointing, the food generic, the drinks expensive...there is really no reason to ever go here ever, unless you need to pander to your own suburbanite friends who need to feel "safe" (both in terms of location and parking as well as food options) when visiting the city--their own understanding of an exotic foreign land.

Tell them to buy a T-shirt to commemorate their foreign travels. It can be added to their collection, right next to the Orlando and Chicago HRC T's.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I <3 Enoteca

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Have I said I love Enoteca before on this blog? Because I do. I really do.

Detroit's newest (and ONLY) wine bar is the perfect place to duck into for an after-work beverage, a quick lunch, a first-drink destination on a first date, a night out with friends, or a night solo looking for some good company.

I love this bar.

Not only is it the only bonafide wine bar in Detroit, it is hands-down the only wine-and-cheese bar in the WHOLE tri-county region.

Vinoteca in Royal Oak? Fuck that place. It started out being really cool, with a really interesting and eclectic menu, and then quickly became all Royal-Oakified--meaning that whatever was once original and unique about the joint quickly became subsumed by generalization and overpricing.

Aside from them, most "wine" bars in the tri-county area don't even offer a cheese plate, and if they do it is lackluster at best.

But not Enoteca. At Enoteca, cheese is the culinary spotlight, and the wine is the halogen lighting it all. Not only do they offer some of the basics--Provolone, Ricotta Salata, Parmigiano Reggiano, Grafton Cheddar--but they also have some very tasty, hard-to-find "boutique" artisanal cheeses, cheeses such as Pecorino Toscana (my personal favorite), a very fine La Mancha Manchego, Idiazabal, Roquefort, Double Gloucester, and a perfectly creamy & kickin' Gorgonzola.

Cheese is indeed my chocolate, and I like to promote anything that promotes the power of cheese at every opportunity. It's no small wonder that when I first walked into Enoteca at the end of December, a mere few weeks after they opened, that I felt I had come home.

There is also a fine meat, salad, panini, and bruschetta selection; they even serve Osetra Russian Caviar (it's $120.00/oz., but what did you expect? and where else in the city can you find that?).

In addition to that, Enoteca also features a fine selection of Rabbit Lane (i.e., Michigan-made) chocolates--truffles and the like--as well as an impressive and reasonably-priced wine list with some truly knock-out selections.

And as if all that weren't enough, the staff is also incredible. You think they might be snooty since they work in a ritzy marble-lined wine bar? Shame on you for your assumptions. You couldn't hope to find a more laid-back and hospitable group of people in even the most welcoming "hood" bars, and they know their shit to boot. You want to know about wine? They'll show you. You don't know anything about wine? Well, they won't make you feel like it. Hospitality and sharing are the big practices here--there is no Royal-Oakey wine-snobbery or one-upmanship to be found. They'll share their favorites and cater to your tastes until you're satisfied--and offer good conversation in the meantime.

If you're there past 4:00PM, ask for Stacey or John. Absolutely fabulous people; when I first met Stacey, I decided right then and there she was my new BFF. (And now when I go more than a week without making an appearance, she asks me where I've been.)

This isn't even my formal review of the place, but just a snapshot. It is absolutely fantastic, and I give it my highest recommendations to locals and suburbanites alike. For a wonderful glass of wine in an atmosphere that none other compares to, do check out Enoteca Campo Marzio.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Detroit Synergy Supper Club at Enoteca

Originally published in D-Tales here.

This just in (and is the second of a 3-part installment I will refer to simply as "I <3 Enoteca"):


February Supper Club at the New Enoteca Campo Marzio!

DETROIT, February 7, 2008–Detroit Synergy is very excited to announce the latest Supper Club outing at Enoteca Campo Marzio, inside the First National Building overlooking Campus Martius!On Wednesday, February 20, from 6:00-8:00PM, join Detroit Synergy as we wine and dine at Detroit’s newest (and only) bonafide wine bar. For only $20.00 per person, enjoy a wide selection of meats, cheeses, bruschetta, and a truffle of your choice. For an additional $10.00, you can also enjoy a specialty wine flight!

Night manager Stacey comments, “We’re still the new kid on the block, but we’re doing all we can boost our visibility. Between our wine tastings over Winter Blast Weekend and the Supper Club on the 20th, February is going to be great for us. We’re so excited that Detroit Synergy wanted to host this event here!” Specially for Detroit Synergy Group, Enoteca has arranged a wonderful tasting menu of their various offerings. Each Supper Club participant will receive generous tastes of all the following:

Hand-Cut Artisinal Cheeses:
~Gorgonzola (crumbly, veined, strong)
~Grafton Cheddar (hard)
~Ricotta Salata (firm, milky)
~Provolone (firm, sharp, strong)
~Double Gloucester (hard, sweet)

Imported Meats:
~Salami Casalingo (pork)
~Mortadella (pork)Bruschetteria:
~Fresh tomatoes, minced garlic and fresh basil leaves
~Goat cheese topped with roasted pepper

Choice of Truffle & Caramelized Fruit

This is an excellent sampling of what Enoteca is all about, with a variety of flavors and textures to suit any palette. With the additional selected wine flight, this makes for a fine evening of Italian-style living. Enoteca is a brand-new wine bar in Detroit, newly opened at the end of 2007. The space is very cozy, with marble floors, oak furniture and trim, and antique crystal chandeliers adorning the airy, window-lined space. From the street, patrons can peer inside to see the wide selection of artisanal cheeses and imported meats, as well as the temperature-controlled wine cellar. Inside, watch as the chef hand-prepares each dish made-to-order—from crispy paninis oozing with melted mozzarella to hand-cut cheese flights and a wide assortment of Bruschetteria. Enoteca also offers chocolate flights from Grosse Pointe-based Rabbit Lane Chocolates, made in the old European tradition of hand-rolling almost-liquid ganache in a thin coating of pure chocolate.

For February’s Supper Club, it seemed only appropriate to ask an establishment with a certain amount of amore-appeal to host. Enoteca is the perfect place for a first date, or a next date, or a night out after several years, or for an outing with friends. The warm, Euro-style atmosphere and the decadent culinary delights are enough to set the senses atingle. And the wine? Mon Dieu. Fantastic selections from around the world, grouped in a wide selection of reasonably-priced wine flights (choose by region or style); also available by the glass or well-priced bottle.

So join us on February 20 for a fantastic evening of nibbling, sipping, and mingling, and celebrate Detroit’s newest addition to culinary culture!

Detroit Synergy is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. Its mission is to generate positive perceptions and opinions about Detroit by bringing together a diverse community and building upon the City's strengths and resources to realize a common vision for a greater Detroit. Please visit for more information about the group.