Monday, July 9, 2012

[HOT LIST] Plymouth

Photo from the Sardine Room on Facebook.

Plymouth: that mysterious Middle Earth that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor and the rest of greater metro Detroit. For many Plymouth is merely a drive-by city, a place you pass on the way to Ann Arbor and only take note of because of the prominent water tower in plain sight of the freeway. But Plymouth is a fantastic city with a vibrant, bustling downtown filled with independently-owned shops and restaurants, flanked by historic Colonial and Cape Cod-style homes on hilly tree-lined streets. It's quiet and quaint, charming and absolutely adorbs. (There is a reason CNN Money Magazine named it one of the best small towns to live in 2009.)

In addition to being so cute you want to pinch it, the community is also committed to maintaining a rich cultural identity. Home to a variety of events including the Plymouth Ice Festival, the oldest and largest free ice carving festival in North America attracting 400,000 visitors annually, and Art in the Park, Michigan's second-largest art fair held every year in downtown Plymouth's fab Kellogg Park (which just so happens to be this weekend), Plymouth remains something of a best kept secret for the 10,000 or so people who call it home.

Photo from the Sardine Room.
#1 The Sardine Room
The name may be a bit misleading as there really aren't an abundance of sardines in the Sardine Room; just roll with it. (To their credit, they do have a Portuguese sardine snack plate.) The Sardine Room is Plymouth's newest restaurant (from the same people behind Plymouth's Fiamma and Compari's) and is already a huge hit with the locals. It's a raw bar and tapas restaurant  that focuses on shellfish with a smattering of high-end odds-and-ends items (like American Wagyu beef, Loch Duart Scottish salmon and rilettes). Mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, crab and LOTS of oysters dominate the menu, with a lot of love left over for that most magical of animals, the pig. (Porchetta sliders; pulled pork POUTINE.) They have a nice selection of Michigan and American craft beers plus some fun and funky imports (Cuvee des Jacobins all day every day please), and their Sunday brunch is like a little taste of New Orleans. But the best part of all is their buck-a-shuck happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar. $1 oysters, $2 PBR, $3 shooters, $4 cocktails, and $5 cheese plate.

#2 Zin Wine Bar
With new ownership and an ambitious young chef, Zin Wine Bar is poised to become one of metro Detroit's top dining destinations. Hyper-local, somewhat experimental (pushing the envelope of molecular gastronomy about as much as meat-and-potatoes metro Detroiters can handle, anyway), hyper-seasonal, and ridiculously affordable for what you get, Zin is a win -- right down to the wine and beer list crafted with consultation by beverage whiz kid Joseph Allerton of Roast fame.

#3 Cellar 849
As Michigan's first certified Neapolitan pizza recognized by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) -- the "pizza polizia" -- of Naples, Italy, Cellar 849 adheres to the strict regulations that respect the tradition of true Neapolitan pizza, including a custom wood-burning oven, hand-rolled dough, and fresh, all-natural ingredients. They use some of the highest-quality imported ingredients available, including Fior di Latte mozzarella, Denominazione di Origine Protteta (DOP -- the produce polizia) San Marzano tomatoes, Italian extra virgin olive oil, prosciutto di Parma and Caputo flour. Their Italian-built wood-burning oven is the same as those used at the flashier Pizzeria Biga joints, and the remainder of the menu is just as delightfully Italian, including the (somewhat predictable) wine and beer lists.

#4 5ive Restaurant
5ive, located inside the AAA four-diamond-winning Inn at St. John's overlooking a sprawling 27-hole golf course, offers the full dining experience -- breakfast, lunch and dinner (as restaurants inside hotels usually do), but also custom chef's table menus with wine pairings prepared personally by Executive Chef Jason Stoops. They've also got a beautiful outdoor terrace with fire pits and views of their impeccably landscaped gardens, and plenty of plush lounge seating inside.

Photo from EID.
#5 Plymouth Coffee Bean
Astro it ain't, but what it lacks in post-third-wave coffeehouse appeal it more than makes up for in the adorability factor. Claiming to be Michigan's longest-running independent coffee shop (open since 1993), Plymouth Coffee Bean is housed inside an historic old home. There are multiple different rooms and two spacious tree-shaded patios for lounging and/or lively discussion, with WiFi aplenty. They have a variety of homemade snacks, sandwiches and crepes made to order. In that early-'90s tradition of the coffeehouse-as-iconoclast hub, works from local artists adorn the walls and they regularly host live music, open mic nights, poetry readings and ... *cough* ... "Tweet-ups" (our early '90s forefathers are rolling over in their flannel shirts and Doc Martens). The coffee ... well, you can't win 'em all. They're still stuck in that Starbucksian sense of drowning the taste of stale beans in scalded milk and sugary syrups, but the place has enough character where that can be overlooked in favor of its other fine attributes (an Italian soda or tea works just fine, but if you absolutely must, stop first for coffee at Espresso Elevado nearby which roasts their own).

Bubbling under Liberty Street Brewing Company, Compari's on the Park, Espresso Elevado, The Box Bar, Main Street Pizza, Fiamma Grille, Crawford's Kitchen, Sweet Afton Tea Room, Sean O'Callaghan's