Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beer Series #2: Dragonmead Microbrewery

Most microbreweries will have about 8-12 beers on tap at any given time. Dragonmead Microbrewery has 45 or more, with about 60 different beers available in total (they have more beers than they do taps).

Dragonmead Microbrewery is tucked away in an inudstrial park right off the I-696 service drive at Groesbeck in Warren. If you're out that way, odds are pretty good you've driven by it dozens of times without ever noticing it. But inside this nondescript building is the highest-variety brewery in the world, thanks to an innovative three-barrel brewing system, which allows them to brew multiple times throughout the day in smaller batches enabling more variety as compared to most microbreweries’ 15-barrel system. Okay, for the layperson that might sound like so much mumbo-jumbo, but when co-owner Larry Channell walked me through their brewing operations and explained them to me it made PERFECT sense.

Put it this way: yes, having a three-barrel system is much more work-intensive, which isn't necessarily practical for most small breweries. A 15-barrel system yields 5x as much beer as the 3-barrel, allowing brewers to spend less time brewing (and more time focusing on other aspects of the business). However, if an ambitious brewer with a 15-barrel system tried to match Dragonmead in variety, they would end up having to dump about 5,000 barrels of wasted beer every year (keep in mind, most beers are only good for about 90 days), versus Dragonmead's 20 wasted barrels. "We designed it to be simple," Larry tells me. "With this system it takes about 6-8 hours to brew a single beer but we can overlap the brewing because of the different vessels we use, which means we can brew multiple times throughout the day."

Translation: they've got A LOT of different beers.

Larry went on to explain that their goal in opening this microbrewery was to target a niche market. They wanted to make every single style of beer in the world available at all times, and have each of those beers be excellent examples of that particular style of beer making. "We would ask ourselves, 'Why would anyone buy our beer over someone else's?' and 'Would the company last at least 50 years?'" Larry recalls. "We had been wanting to start a business for 10 years before this, but every kind of business we looked at we saw it gobbling itself up after a few years. The niche we created here is something no one else was trying to do. It's difficult to offer such variety, but it's something that can last forever, and we already knew people would pay more for superb beer."

And so, in 1997--long before craft brewing became the exponentially growing trend that it is today--Dragonmead was born. "We were all home brewers before this, and we found that we were making better beer than most breweries," Larry says. He was a chemical engineer, Bill and Earl (the other partners in the business) had backgrounds in sales & marketing and metal model making, respectively. Between the three of them, they had the trifecta for a successful brewery. Earl made the vessels, Larry made the beer, and Bill made it marketable: voila.

The rest of the story is rather simple: they chose this location in Warren because it was a central location to all of their homes and workplaces (of course they've since been able to quit their automotive jobs, and lucky for them) and because they wanted trucks to have easy access to get in and out. The name "Dragonmead" came from their background as avid Dungeons & Dragons fans. In fact, this was their whole inspiration for getting into home brewing. "We held a Medieval Wassail Feast and the only thing we didn't make or kill ourselves was the beer." So they started home brewing, and kept trying until they got it right.

And got it right they did! At the World Beer Cup, the Oscars of beer held on alternating years, they've taken home medals in the last three competitions, including a gold for the English-style mild ale Crusader Dark Mild Ale, another gold for the Belgian-style tripel Final Absolution Trippel, and a bronze for the strong Scotch ale Under the Kilt Wee Heavy.

During my visit, I got to chatting with Jack, who was himself enjoying a pint of Wee Heavy. Jack is a regular at Dragonmead and a home brewer himself. As I talked with Jack, a thought occurred to me: Jack is Michigan's beer industry. The more I spoke with various brewers, brewery owners, and beer lovers--the more I saw their passion for craft brews and the excitement they displayed when talking about different beers and the craft beer industry in general--the more I realized that this is a community unto itself. Most brewers start at home, they seek the advice of professional brewers on equipment and grain blends, the professionals in turn are more than happy to share their expertise, some even go on to open their own brewery (Dragonmead, Kuhnhenn, Sherwood, Liberty St.), and others just truly love the beer and want nothing more than to be around others who love it too. The craft beer industry is like one big extended family; if you're in one of these places enjoying a pint, then consider yourself a second cousin.

Oh, but the beer. Most of the beers at Dragonmead are high gravity and high alcohol (which also means they can store for a year or more). I've already mentioned Wee Heavy, a smooth and creamy Scotch strong with notes of toffee. I also sampled Lancelot's American Cream Ale, a light, smooth, slightly malty beer that appeals to a wide audience of beer drinkers. Nagelweiss is their Hefeweizen (a German-style wheat beer), with all that familiar hefeweiz-ian banana-clove goodness. The Crown Jewels Imperial Pale Ale starts out hoppy but mellows over time. The Russian Imperial Stout had the robust chocolate notes familiar to Imperial Stout fans. Bill's Witbier is everything Oberon could be. The Ring of Fire is brewed with hot jalapeno and habanero peppers (though the heat isn't overpowering; it mostly just lingers on your palate). Then there's Final Absolution.

Final Absolution: the beer that could be a video game. As with most Belgian-style brews, it is fermented with Belgian Candi Sugar. It's a very high gravity beer with a deceptively smooth finish, but don't be fooled: this baby's 10% alcohol by volume. Three pints of this are equivalent to one full pint of Scotch. This is a serious beer. (Another bar owner recently told me that the reason they don't carry Final Absolution is because most people can only have one--"We're not trying to encourage people to get drunk, but we definitely want them to be able to have more than one beer.") There is also a dark version of Final Absolution available, called simply "Evil Twin." Final's big brother Armageddon Grand Cru comes out once a year in May to celebrate their anniversary. Like all big brothers, Armageddon makes Final Absolution look like so much child's play.

All these high-alcohol beers will probably leave you nibbly. Dragonmead does have a deep fryer and can cook up some burgers, mini tacos, fries and such. They also have a cheese plate and venison sausage, which fits with the whole Wassail feast concept the brewery was born from. Otherwise, they have menus from all the local restaurants that deliver and encourage guests to go ahead and order some food. They also make their own wines, meads, and sodas (sold only on premises).

Efforts to expand the taproom (and the number of taps in said room) continue, and there may even be a second clone location in the future (possibly Frankenmuth, but this is all very premature). In the meantime, if it's quality and variety you seek and good company to share it with, Dragonmead awaits you. Say hi to Jack for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recipe for Success

Over 27,000 diners participated in the inaugural Detroit Restaurant Week. It's official: DRW is a smashing success!

Many chefs were quoted as saying this is one of the "best promotions" they've ever been involved with and that they were at capacity "every night." Reports came back that there was not a single reservation available at any of the participating restaurants for its final weekend in September. The local buzz was tremendous.

Let's do it again!

Restaurant Week will be held twice next year in anticipation of increased growth and interest. Details will be available here as they progress, so keep checking!

In the meantime, a heartfelt congratulations to every single person involved who helped make this a success. And a big fat "nyah-nyah" to outsiders who have claimed that Detroit has no dining culture!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hop Aboard! Michigan's Best Breweries on Metromode

"Since the Stroh's Brewery opened in 1850 in Detroit, Michigan has had a booming beer industry. Beer has always had a way of keeping the economy chugging along, as it continues to do even now. Michigan is the sixth-largest state for craft breweries, a local industry that just keeps growing.

'Currently there are nearly 90 craft breweries in the state of Michigan producing hundreds of different styles of handcrafted beer. Michigan's brewing industry contributes more than $24 million in wages and has a total economic impact of over $133 million annually.

'2009 has been a big year for Michigan beers. The winners of the 2009 Great American Beer Festival (the Emmy Awards of beer) were just announced in September, with Great "Beer" State brews sweeping up seven medal competitions. October brought the inaugural Detroit Beer Week, a celebration of local brews with coordinating events held all over Metro Detroit, followed by the first-ever Harvest Beer Festival hosted by the Michigan Brewer's Guild and featuring over 40 Michigan breweries inside Detroit's Eastern Market..."

Read the rest of the article here, and be sure to check out the inaugural Harvest Festival at Eastern Market this Saturday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beer Series, #1: Sherwood Brewing Company

After doing research at several lesser-known metro Detroit breweries for a forthcoming article, I realized that each individual place has its own wholly unique and interesting story to tell. And I really wanted to be the one to tell it. For all four of them. In 1,000 words or less.

Thanks be to blogs, I can still write a somewhat-coherent article (maaaaaybe a little more than 1,000 words) and indulge my desire to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me beer with as many words and as much flowery prose as I so desire.

I've decided to do a little in-depth series for each of the breweries I visited, expanding on what I began in the aforementioned forthcoming article and taking you inside a little deeper to get to know the brewers, the people, the process, the beer. Oh good Lord, the beer. If the soon-to-be-published article is for beginners, consider this your intermediate lesson.

Particularly given the timeliness (currently being in the midst of Detroit Beer Week with the first annual Harvest Beer Festival coming up this Saturday), I think a more in-depth perspective of these award-winning breweries is in order, yes? Good, we're agreed then. Here goes.

First up: Sherwood Brewing Company.

We live in the tri-county area of metro Detroit. What many people seem to forget is that "tri" means "three." There's Wayne County ("oh Detroit, we love you so much, you're so misunderstood, gentrify! wait, no, not gentrify, that's bad") and Oakland County ("Detroit's cool but we prefer our rich, trendy, safe, clean suburbs"...unless you're north of 14 Mile then it's just "mmyessssss"). Then there's Macomb County.

Ah, Macomb County. The red-headed stepchild of metro Detroit. The MC gets no love, no attention. All the rags and mags focus on what's up-and-coming everywhere else but in Macomb County. Many use "The Clem" as a punchline to a certain kind of culture joke (much like they do with "Downriver"), and nowhere in greater Detroit is Macomb County taken seriously by anyone outside of it.

When I sat down with Lisa Sherwood at Sherwood Brewing Company, we talked about how often Macomb gets overlooked. Moreso than probably any other sector of metro Detroit, Macomb's citizens are almost entirely dependent on the auto industry. Even the "wealthy" corners of Macomb (think Moravian or Heidenreich) are still full of people who made their money in cars or construction. It's a blue-collar area with blue-collar sensibilities, and thus has been easily overlooked by its flashier sister counties. What they also then overlook is the great number of people who work had every day to give Macomb County its own unique culture and thoroughly independent vibe.

"There are a lot of small businesses along the M-59 corridor," Lisa states. "The number of retail and restaurant businesses keep growing. It's a high-traffic area that's finally getting some attention." (Though not enough, we agreed.) There are a lot of independently-owned establishments out on the East side, and a WHOLE lot of people to support them. When I ask Lisa why those chose this particular corner on Hayes north of Hall Rd. she says, "because north Macomb County needed a place like this. And because it's close to home." "Home" for some 780,000+ metro Detroiters, too.

What Lisa and her husband (and head brewer) Ray have created is a space that is wholly welcoming, a place for local workers and beer aficionados alike to hang out and feel like they're part of the family. "We're like one big dysfunctional family around here!" Lisa laughs. "Everyone knows everything about everyone else here, including the customers!"

And that's no joke: Sherwood has been named by WDIV three years in a row as the "Best Brewpub in Metro Detroit" for a number of reasons. Yes, they've got great beer, wine, and soda, all made in-house. Their food is some of the best pub grub you'll find anywhere. But they also have an atmosphere so inviting that it makes customers want to come back again and again. Lisa tells me that customers have described the place as being like their living room, only without the kids and they don't have to get their own beer. "We're family-friendly, too. The whole building is non-smoking; we've had people come here to celebrate their anniversaries and their kids' first birthdays. Our demographic is people ages 30+, people with families and careers. This is a safe, casual place for them."

Observing the way Lisa and Ray interact with their guests on a Sunday afternoon, I see immediately what makes this place so popular. Every customer who comes through the door is greeted warmly by Lisa, whose enthusiasm is contagious. Some she knows by name and asks after their wives and kids; others are new, so she immediately takes time to get to know them. An older gentleman came in alone and sat up at the bar. Lisa brought him a few newspapers and started asking who he was, what brought him in, what kind of beer he likes. Over on the other side of the bar, three employees who had the day off work were chatting with each other and the other regulars, spending their free day from work. (And in the service industry, that means A LOT.)

"We have the best staff and the best customers in the world!" Lisa glows, and there's no doubt in my mind she means it. Even if they didn't have great been and incredible food, this would still be the kind of place locals would choose to hang out. Lucky for everyone, the food and beer are just as good as the attitude.

They usually have 8-10 different beer styles on tap with a little something for everyone. They try to appeal to the Bud Light drinkers as much as to the beer connoisseurs. The staff is well-trained to educate customers about the different styles and help transition them from their good ol' American pilsners to more robust craft brews. Here it's about quality over quantity; there are no dollar beer specials or buckets of beer, and as a designated brewpub they do not have a liquor license and can only sell what they make. They also make 4-6 different varieties of wine to appeal to the non-beer-drinkers, including styles of reds, whites, and fruit wines.

They don't bottle their beers (save for around the holidays when small batches are bottled and sold to customers), though their beer is on tap in many area bars. Their best-selling beer is the Buxom BlonDDe Ale, which is a great everyman beer (like Bud but far better). The 1492 IPA is also very popular, with a combination of hops that appeals to a wide audience, and the Production Line Red Ale is a very affable light amber with a slightly roasted (almost tea-like, I thought) character. I'm a sucker for the banana-clove notes of a good Hefeweizen, so Hell Road was a favorite of mine. I'm equally a sucker for Porters and Stouts, so the Honey Porter was a treat though I was devastated to learn that I missed their Smoked Pumpkin Porter (made with real smoked pumpkins!) by only a few weeks. The Green River Wheat IPA was also a real stand-out; fiercely aromatic and unapologetically bitter, this is a beer for hops-lovers--it may be light in color but this is a BIG beer.

As you plow through all these great beers--including seasonal treats like their Oktoberfest Lager and the festival favorite Mistress Jack's Hemp Ale--why not try a bite off their impressive pub menu? "We don't call it bar food, we call it beer food!" Lisa jokes, and it is clear that they take a tremendous amount of pride in their kitchen. "Everything is made fresh from scratch; we keep almost nothing in the freezer. We try to incorporate our beer and wine into as much of the menu as possible. We're very proud of our menu!"

Sherwood is committed to using local products and highlighting Michigan's seasonal foodstuffs. They've even hosted a couple of sold-out Slow Food Detroit dinners over the past few months. Chapter Leader Stacy Curneal Ordakowski even mentioned to me, "Sherwood is fantastic. I love how passionate Lisa Sherwood has gotten about local food." The dinner just held this week featured a Michigan fall harvest theme with buffalo steaks, pumpkin orzo, baby spinach with venison, and homemade pumpkin pie.

Other menu items include honest-to-goodness greasy beer favorites. "Burgatory" is a burger with jalapenos, mild peppers, provolone, and chipotle mayo. The aptly-named "Heartbreaker" has fried chicken strips, beer battered onions, mozzarella, bleu cheese, and 1,000 Island dressing on a soft pretzel roll. But the real winner here is the pizza: choose from three different homemade sauces: classic marinara, bold & spicy beer sauce, and garlic & wine sauce. You have your choice of white or whole wheat crust (for the carb-conscious). Then pile on your favorite toppings for a piping hot pie with wonderfully flavorful crust. I ordered garlic & wine with mozzarella and tomatoes (a makeshift Margherita, as I called it). The sauce was superb: aromatic, light with just the right amount of tanginess and chock FULL o'chopped garlic, JUST how I like it. The crust was soft and chewey (you can tell the dough is fresh), with a beautiful buttery flavor. This instantly made my top 10.

If you've got a sweet tooth, check out one of the homemade ice creams: they are made with Sherwood's house-made beers, wines, and sodas. (And if you've never had a red wine or Porter ice cream, you've been missing out.)

I left Sherwood with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and not just from all the beer. This place is comfortable and comforting, from the food to the company. At one point during my visit, Lisa pointed to a father with his young son and said, "Look how cute this is! You can't have a better job!" Between her passion for people, Ray's passion for beer, and the staff's passion for food, you also can't have a better brewpub.

For more abouut Sherwood's brewing history, check Metromode for the forthcoming article.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October Supper Club at the Whitney

If you're missing Restaurant Week, this is a great opportunity to relive some of the memories (memory, all alone in the moonlight) at the Whitney, and we likey the Whitney, and with a fall harvest theme, and we really likey fall-ish harvesty themes:

The historic Whitney mansion has for decades been one of Detroit’s most prominent fine dining establishments, and Supper Club have long been fans (having visited a few years ago). But times have changed, as we all know, and the Whitney has been reimagined, thanks in large part to forward-thinking owners trying to appeal to younger crowds and an eager, energetic, and stupendously talented new chef. Thanks to his efforts, the Whitney is once again at the top of its gourmet game, and if you haven’t been back for awhile, it’s time you rediscovered what makes this place a Detroit dining institution.

Dan Maurer is young, with a long and successful culinary career still ahead of him. He has been the Executive Chef at the Whitney for only about 7 months now, but in that time has succeeded in recreating the menu to be both more creative and more accessible. Prices are lower and featured entrees include classic dishes done in ways you’ve NEVER imagined.

On Wednesday, October 28 beginning at 6:00PM, join Supper Club as we rediscover an old favorite. Maurer has created a beautiful Fall Harvest-themed four-course menu for us with a variety of hearty options which emphasize fresh, seasonal flavors.

October Supper Club Menu

1st course (choice of)

Butternut Squash Soup
-Shitake and Prosciutto Terrine, Caramelized Squash, Spiced Pecans, Apple Cider Honey
(this can also be prepared as a vegetarian dish).

Short Rib
-Braised Beef, Cheddar Bacon Grits, Spinach, Tomato Chutney.

2nd Course (choice of)

Roasted Beet
-Mixed Greens, Haricot Vert, Goat Cheese, Crispy Potatoes, Truffle-Pancetta Vinaigrette.

-Baked "En Croute," Mixed Greens, Toasted Almonds, Blueberry-Thyme Vinaigrette.

3rd Course (choice of)

-Braised Shank, Parsnip Puree, Creamed Mushrooms, Haricot Vert, Crispy Leek.

- Spinach, Bacon and Gruyere Quiche, Herb-Tomato Gallette, Beurre Blanc.

-Grilled Asparagus, Seasonal Mushrooms, Artichokes, Parmesan.

4th course (choice of)

Bread Pudding
-White Chocolate and Cherry, Butterscotch, Poached Pear, Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream.

Carmel Apple Fritter
-Carmelized Apples, Peanuts, With Housemade Cinnamon Buttermilk Ice Cream.

Tickets are $40.00 in advance at the DSG store,, and include tax and gratuity. Tickets to this event are available by online purchase only, and all purchases must be made by Tuesday, October 27th.

PLEASE NOTE: Ticket prices to this Supper Club have been increased to $40.00. This increase has been long overdue in light of rising food costs, and the decision was made in order to better benefit you, the guest, as the options the restaurants are able to provide as well as the number of courses you receive can now be increased. Going forward, this will be the pricing structure of all future Supper Club events. After 5 years at $30.00, it was time for a change. There will be some exceptions made for venues that do not have high average guest checks. If you have any questions regarding this, please feel free to email me at

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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chocolate is Sexy: Shakolad Chocolate Factory

Saturday is Sweetest Day. To all you men out there reading this who just slammed your computer desks and yelled, "[Insert expletive of choice]!" don't worry. I got you.

After I discovered Le Chocolat de Bouchard in Naperville, Illinois (I went back again in August and enjoy another Mayan Hot Cocoa with that signature kick of cayenne), I've had a bit of a fascination with chocolate lounges and cafes. A trip to Gayle's Chocolates in Royal Oak revealed many pretty-in-pink items, but a beverage counter sorely lacking in the one thing they make their trade--chocolate! (Sorry Gayle's, but if it's coffee I want then to a coffee shop I will go; what are you doing being a chocolate store with a beverage counter and not serving any chocolate drinks?!?) And after being spoiled by Le Chocolat, Godiva's Chocolixers (available at the Somerset Collection store) simply just don't cut it.

Thankfully there's Shakolad Chocolate Factory in Birmingham.

Expect all the usual chocolatey treats--truffles and cherries and pretzels and Oreos and caramels and pecan clusters and the like. They also make gifts for special occasions, like wedding favors with your name or delicate chocolate roses. If you want to get really crazy, they even offer intricate chocolate sculptures, like soccer balls ($45 with decoration) and backgammon sets ($80).

Sure, an $80 solid chocolate backgammon set might not sound practical, but you have to's pretty cool.

The environment is everything I've come to expect from a chocolatier: brightly lit and carefully orchestrated, like a high-end boutique where all the items are kept behind a glass case. There's just something inexplicably sexy about chocolate. Sure, maybe it's the endorphins that chocolate releases in your brain (like heroin! no, really), but there is an aphrodisiac-like quality to chocolate. Being in a chocolate store where the items are all so carefully designed and painstakingly displayed and they all look so shiny and new, like precious jewels...sorry, that was my anal-retentiveness talking, my bad. Still...there's something sexy about chocolate. (Here, I'll let Kylie demonstrate for me.) The Aztecs thought so, anyway.

The great thing about Shakolad is that they do offer their own menu of silky, decadent chocolate beverages. Try a Shako-latte, which is the same as a classic latte though instead of steamed milk and espresso, it's steamed milk and chocolate. Or perhaps if you want to spice things up a bit, try a Mexican Cacahuatl, a hot chocolate with real heat. When I was there I tried Angelina's French Hot Chocolate, a "sipping chocolate" (thicker than the Swiss Miss hot cocoa you're used to) made with smooth dark chocolate and hazelnut. The beverage itself was reasonably priced at only $4, but this thing was strong...after a few sips it was just too rich for my blood. I decided to refrigerate the rest and go back to it later, only to find that it has solidified nicely into an PERFECT dark chocolate-hazelnut mousse...which I think I actually enjoyed even more.

Boys, it might sound cliche, but for Sweetest Day you really can't go wrong with a box of sexy, silky sweets from a top-tier chocolatier like Shakolad. Why not put that aphrodisiac theory to the test, hmmm? (Wink wink.)

In the meantime, I'd like to see metro Detroit have its own true chocolate lounge a la Le Chocolat de Bouchard, with a menu of exotic chocolate elixers made with Belgian chocolate and Venezuelan cocoa. Now doesn't that sound sexy? Belgian...Venezuelan...mmmmmm...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Detroit Beer Week Starts Tomorrow

There's a first for everything, and 2009 seems to be FULL of them. Detroit Restaurant Week was...damn those were good times! Guys, can we do it again? Soon? Please?

Well, now the beer drinkers have something all their own to look forward to. Introducing the first-ever Detroit Beer Week.

Once again, places like New York and San Francisco have the lock on this already, drawing in huge crowds from all over the country who stay in these cities for the full week to attend all the various beer events. With the craft beer and home brewing industries booming right now, it seems like there is no better time like the present to celebrate the beer being produced in one of the most well-regarded craft beer states.

Yes, Michigan (the feelings for-e-e-ver...). We rank as the sixth-largest state for craft brews, with craft beer sales having grown 31.5% over the past three years. Our craft beer industry also has a total economic impact of more than $133 million annually, and we clean HOUSE at the World Beer Cup held every other year and the annual Great American Beer Festival, with a large number of our 72 (yep--that's 72) breweries being decorated with those coveted medals. Stick that in your mug and chug it!

Yes indeed, there's no time like the present to celebrate beer. Starting tomorrow, October 16 and continuing through Saturday, October 24 is the inaugural Detroit Beer Week.

Participating venues include:
*Foran's Grand Trunk Pub
*Slow's Bar-BQ
*Park Bar
*Michael Symon's Roast
*Wolfgang Puck
*Atwater Brewery
*Motor City Brewing Works
*Detroit Beer Co
*Traffic Jam
*Fender's @ Omni Hotel

Some are breweries, some just serve great beer, and all celebrate the spirit of Michigan's brewers. There are coordinating events happening all around the metro Detroit area which include beer tastings and beer dinners, a film screening, Halloween parties, Oktoberfest celebrations, and even a lesson in beer etiquette. Don't miss the launch party tomorrow night with all the participating locations, and click here for more corresponding event details.

Also, don't forget: the inaugural Harvest Beer Festival is happening on Saturday, October 24 in Eastern Market, presented by the Michigan Brewers' Guild and the Metro Times. Over 40 local breweries are participating (including Kuhnhenn, Dragonmead, Sherwood Brewing Company, and Liberty St. Brewing Company...i.e., the places I've spent the last week of my life) and tickets are expected to sell out. $35 in advance/$40 at the door, but I recommend you don't wait that long.

One thing I've discovered in talking to brewers recently is that the world of craft beer is tight-knit, closer than even family. The shared passion they have for making the best possible brews comes through in their products...which in turn comes through in their awards and national notoriety. It's time to raise a glass and say Prost! to Michigan beers, because they are something we should truly be proud of.

No Soup For You, Two Hours! Rude Food on Metromode

Long gone are the days of uppity French restaurants that treat their customers as if they should feel privileged for being permitted the honor of eating. As the worldwide hospitality industry has come to understand that the surest way to success is through quality customer service, pompous behavior has mostly become widely unacceptable. Even in the City of Light, the snooty shtick has almost disappeared entirely. Restaurants that have a reputation for rudeness are often more popular for their patented ostentatiousness than for their food; those with delicacies worth social indignity are increasingly rare.

We've all had experiences at popular restaurants that have left a bad taste in our mouths, and for some we wave those experiences like badges of honor, a show of just how dedicated we are to good food.

"I once waited almost three hours for a table at Slows," a friend told me while we were discussing our favorite Detroit diners.

When I squawked at her proud admission and asked, "But WHY?!?", she gushed, "Because it's sooooooo good."

Read the rest of this article, written by yours truly, on metro Detroit's rude food here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The IKEA Cafe

It's a furniture store. It's a home accessories store. It's a grocery store (for those hard-to-find Swedish items no kitchen is complete without). And it's a restaurant!

Since the IKEA in Canton opened in the summer of 2006, metro Detroiters from all corners have been making the pilgrimmage for some finely-crafted, inexpensive Swiss-engineered contemporary furniture and accessories (which includes everything from carpet to drapes to picture frames to entertainment centers to complete bedroom sets to kitchen ranges and bathroom sinks). I've known many (self included) who have decorated their homes almost entirely in IKEA because it's cheap and stylish and anyone can make their Home by IKEA®, as evidenced by the sample domiciles in which the fine folks at IKEA show you just how much you can do with 377 sq. ft. of living space, etc.

And let's not forget, whole soap operas have also been filmed here (unbeknownst to the employees).

Ah, IKEA, how do we love thee? Let me count the days! A trip to IKEA is a journey that lasts from dawn 'til dusk (or 10AM-10PM, was a figure of speech) wandering amongst the many realms of decorative and functional possibilities--so much so that we may even need to take a break for some nourishment. Never fear, IKEA has that covered too!

Enter the IKEA Restaurant & Cafe, a cafeteria-style eatery with an abundance of options which include fresh soups, desserts, and favorites such as Swedish Meatballs in a cream sauce with potatoes and lingonberry jam for only $4.99 ($2.49 on Tuesdays after 4:00PM through December 29!). Much like everything else in IKEA, the food is dirt cheap; and much like everything else in IKEA, surprisingly good despite the low price.

(Also be sure to clean up after yourself; this is part of the reason why you're paying such low prices for the food, as the signs located all over the dining area so gently remind you.)

Their menu items change regularly but there are always the standards, such as those Swedish Meatballs (which you can also purchase by the bag in the grocery store downstairs), as well as Penne Pasta in Marinara Sauce for only $1.99 and a daily $0.99 breakfast which includes scrambled eggs, 2 strips of bacon, and potatoes. Wednesday is rib night at IKEA; enjoy a half rack of baby back ribs with french fries and corn bread for only $7.99 every Wednesday from 4:00PM-close.

For my dinner, I chose a Buffalo Chicken Wrap ($3.99), a Princess Torte ($1.29), a cup of coffee ($0.99) and a Milk Chocolate Bar for later ($0.99). For $7.64, I had a full meal with treats for later.

Note: The coffee is not available in to-go cups upstairs, but if you get there late enough you can go to the downstairs cafe (where they also sell ice cream) and tell them that the upstairs restaurant had already dumped their coffee and that Jenny sent you down there, and the girls will smile knowingly and hand you a fresh to-go cup which you can then fill and be on your merry way. Thanks for the tip, Jenny!

And I'll say, for seven smackers, this was a tasty meal. The Buffalo Chicken Wrap was served cold and was stuffed with grilled chicken rolled in a mild buffalo sauce, lettuce, and lots of shredded cheddar cheese. Bleu cheese dressing was served on the side, and thank God for that because as much as I love cheese I can't stand bleu cheese dressing (or really any dressing that is little more than liquified mayonnaise with added flavor). The verdict? 2 mmmm's up!

Next I had the Princess Torte, which I'm pretty sure I only picked up because it was a really pretty green color that matches my apartment. Regardless, this pastry made with sponge cake, raspberry jam, Bavarian creme, and covered in Marzipan was a tasty little treat. I usually shy away from Marzipan because it's just so damned sugary, but this was light enough to enjoy. I was a tad disappointed to find the "Bavarian creme" was the fluffy kind and not the creamy custardy kind...which I should have known by the word "creme" but I tend to see the word "Bavarian" and stop paying attention after that. This confection was enjoyable, but with custard instead of creme it would have been soooooooo much better.

The "Choklad Ljus" milk chocolate bar I saved for later, and have since enjoyed several S'ores (that would be a s'more without the marshmallow) at home. The chocolate is creamy and not at all waxy like one might expect with a "cheap" chocolate. This may even have a strong enough structure to be melted and used in fondue...though I might also just be making that up. Take from it what you will.

Downstairs in the grocery store portion you can find cakes, cookies, sparkling fruit-flavored water, Swedish meatballs, lingonberry jam, more chocolate, dried potatoes (at least I think that's what they were judging from the picture), coffee, mini cinammon rolls, chocolate and hazelnut syrups...apparently the Swedes like their sweets, anyway.

While there I also eyeballed a whole new bedroom set for me (I've had the same set since I was lacquer isn't really "in" anymore, is it?) as well as kitchen solutions and accessories that for some reason I feel compelled to own despite the fact that I don't cook. Oh well, when it's this cheap, hell...why not buy two?

So next time you make the trek out to IKEA for some lightbulbs, power strips, a decorative vase, a shiny new showerhead, new countertops and kitchen cabinets (install yourself, DIY-ers!), a duvet cover, ceiling fans, framed art, glassware, storage boxes that require assembly, and frozen meatballs, make sure you also go there hungry because the savings don't stop 'til they hit your stomach!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Breweries, Microbreweries, and Brewpubs, Oh My!

Last night I was enjoying some brews at Liberty Street Brewing Company in Plymouth, and one of the partners, Josh Traylor, was kind enough to break down for me the difference between a brewery, a microbrewery, and a brewpub. I suspect that this is information that could be useful to many of my readers (seeing as how most of us use the terms interchangeably), so I decided to share this info with you. Ah, the things I do.

Also thanks to the Michigan Brewers Guild for putting out a publication called Michigan: The Great Beer State (published by Hour Custom Publishing, and you can totally tell), whose 2009 edition also offers a great breakdown of the differences which I am now about to copy verbatim.

A brewery can sell beer both in their own tavern as well as through retailers across the state. Breweries are limited to one tavern per company.

A microbrewery is limited to brewers under 30,000 barrels of annual production. Microbreweries can sell beer in both their own taverns or through retailers across the state. They are not limited in the number of taverns they may operate.

A brewpub can only sell its beer inside its own establishment, including beer-to-go. It also may include a liquor license and offer a full-service bar.

These defintions are based on the State of Michigan licensing qualifications, and if you ask me some of the restrictions are a bit arbitrary (a brewery can only have one tavern but a microbrewery can have a limitless number?), but no one asked me.

Now cue the music for The More You Know.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oktoberfest Menu at Grizzly Peak

Technically "Oktoberfest" really happens in September, but this isn't Munich and who's really keeping track anyway?

I've already put together a guide to Oktoberfest parties and brews, but there is one brewery in particular that is going the extra Meile (that's "mile" auf Deutsch) with their Oktoberfest-ivities.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor (A2 if you're hip) is currently offering a Deutschland-centric menu along with their seasonal brews. Enjoy Bavarian Pork Chops with fingerling potatoes and a mustard glaze, Beer-Braised Bratwurst with herb spaetzel and pan-fried cabbage, Pretzel-Crusted Salmon with horseradish potatoes and wilted spinach, or Chicken Schnitzel with horseradish potatoes, pan-fried cabbage, and raisin sauce.

I was over there a couple of weeks ago and sampled the Beer-Braised Bratwurst. I'll be honest with you--German cuisine is not one of my favorites. Maybe it was the mounds of stinking sauerkraut I would watch family members shovel into their mouths as a child (oh, that smell) or the "German" potato salad made with mustard and vinegar that my parents finally stopped trying to force me to eat when they learned I really would just opt to go hungry, but when someone says "German food" to me my stomach always turns just a little.

And so it is that I say with the utmost sincerity that the bratwurst at Grizzly Peak is actually rather good. The brats were juicy and flavorful and the pan-fried cabbage was actually quite delicious, with only a hint of the vinegar-like quality of sauerkraut and a palatable companion to the brats.

So, maybe my perception of German food was all wrong. My family isn't exactly known for being great cooks (this is why I merely eat), and surely German folks eat something other than sauerkraut, yes? Grizzly Peak, you've converted me. Next time I see bratwurst at a barbecue maybe I won't make a wretching sound (provided there is no sauerkraut nearby).

Grizzly Peak will be offering this limited-time Oktoberfest menu now through October 22, along with their seasonal brews including the classic Oktoberfest Lager, the Rotweizen (a red wheat ale made with Hefe yeast so it has some of the banana and clove tones common to a Hefeweizen), the Schwartzweizen (a black wheat ale also made with Hefe yeast but with notes of chocolate and toasted malts), and their Bear Bones Brown Porter. Their regular menu also includes a wide selection of pub favorites and hearty soups, salads, and entrees made from scratch daily. Try the Cheddar & Ale Soup--because you really just can't go wrong with putting beer and cheese together in a bowl.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In Praise of Pumpkin

What, you might ask, could possibly be enjoyable about watching the days of summer (and, apparently, fall already) wane away to usher in the long, impenetrable months of winter (a winter that will likely be full-blown by the end of this month and won't relent 'til the Tigers are back in season)?

One word: pumpkin.

I love pumpkin. Pumpkin anything. From the Pumpkin Spice and Wild Pumpkin Lattes at yours and my favorite generic chain coffee shops to pumpkin scones, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin doughnuts, and other deep-fried and sugar-soaked pumpkiny pastry treats, I love pumpkin. Pumpkin bisque? Check. Pumpkin ravioli? Check. Pumpkin risotto? Check check check. Whether it be the pumpkin pie made from scratch (i.e., Baker's Square or Big Boy) at Thanksgiving dinner or the seasonal Pumpkin Pie Blizzards at Dairy Queen, I LOVE PUMPKIN.

You know what else is good? Pumpkin beer. Yep. This short-seasoned sud is available at a number of boutique-ish beer stores, perhaps most conveniently at Trader Joe's. There are also a number of local breweries that whip up a batch of pumpkin-infused goodness around this time of year...just don't bother asking who because these places are terrible about updating their websites and don't bother calling unless the beermaker happens to be in because 9 times out of 10 the freakin' manager has no idea what the beermaker is planning, but this is a rant for another time. Back to pumpkins.

I have it on fairly good authority that Great Baraboo Brewing Company, Woodward Avenue Brewers, and maaaaaaybe Black Lotus in Clawson will have pumpkin brews, but don't word-of-God-quote me on that.

For real now, back to pumpkins.

This may be a somewhat dismal time of year. The skies are perpetually gray, the winter coats and thermal underwear come back out and the heat goes back on. Macy's sets up their Christmas decorations. (Not kidding: I saw the beginning of it yesterday.) All the outdoor summer fun ends and we spend our days huddled up indoors, hoping to ride the winter out as painlessly as possible (with as little damage as possible done to our cars, skin, and psychological states).

Okay, maybe pumpkins don't make all this misery magically vanish like so many enchanted carriages at midnight, but they do help ease the transition a bit. Going to a pumpkin patch and picking out the brightest, biggest, roundest pumpkin you can find to carve into whatever silly or scary-faced jack-o-lantern your imagination (and skill level with a dull cerrated knife) can concoct may seem juvenille, but I'll be damned if it's not something I look forward to every year. Pumpkin candles and pumpkin lotion scented with the warm, comforting smells of nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon. Roasted pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin-flavored cream cheese on a pumpkin bagel. Ooh, pumpkin cheesecake! (The Cheesecake Shoppe in St. Clair Shores makes a deeeee-licious one.)

Yes, all this pumpkin madness is the hallmark of my favorite (and sadly, the shortest) season of the year. Enjoy it while you can, because it doesn't last long. After that, it's on to eggnog and gingerbread! (Followed by four more grueling months of winter.) So let's raise a glass of pumpkin ale and toast the Great Pumpkin! (He only comes to those who believe.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ode to Tribute

My, how the mighty hath fallen...

On the night of Tuesday, September 29th, Tribute in Farmington Hills served their final meals and closed their doors.

I am devastated. DEVASTATED.

Tribute was full of fond memories for me. During the days of my residence in West Bloomfield (when I lived like a West Bloomfield-er, ooooooh those were the days), Tribute was the special occasion restaurant de rigueur; it became the place of my annual celebration of the anniversary of birth with my long-term partner of the time. It was my first truly FINE dining experience, the defining moment when I started paying attention to chef's names and backgrounds and following them like a Grateful Dead fan. (My first visit there was during the reign of the inimitable Takashi Yagahashi whose food is pure art, followed later by my discovery of Takashi's replacement, Don Yamauchi.)

This was where I first discovered what 5-star-dining truly meant (trips to the Golden Mushroom at age 17 and the Whitney at 18 were profoundly lost on me at the time), and where I learned to fully embrace it. And also where I learned that I really, really like game meat. Like bunny rabbit. Nom nom nom.

Many long hours (and many hundreds and possibly probably dare I say thousands) of dollars were spent there enjoying the finest of life's gourmet pleasures. (In fact, hearsay is that the reason for the closure was ultimately their refusal to follow the restaurant recession trend and lower prices.) My favorite memory was of my 25th birthday--my significant other had rented a limo with champagne, and had set up with Tribute's management team to have two dozen roses set on the table along with a bottle of Ch√Ęteau Certan de May de Certan from my birth year, 1981, presented upon our arrival. (A gift from a very generous businessperson and friend.)

That night included lobster, foie gras, and a huge slab of Kobe beef, as well as a cheeseplate (DUH) for me, a flourless chocolate cake with "Happy Birthday" written out in chocolate on the plate, and not one but TWO "eggs."

Ah, the egg. The single greatest confectionery contribution ever made. Served in an actual egg shell, the filling was something akin to creme brulee custard with sea salt, caramel, a hint of milk chocolate...words cannot describe it. You know I am not much of a sweets person, but this was truly like a thousand angels dancing on my tounge. And I got TWO!

Oooh, the memories. Kevin. Antoine. And Rick from way before. Those were good times, guys. Best of luck to you all. Hanging out with the staff in the bar and doing tequila shots with them after we had been there for 5 hours and everyone other customer had left are among my favorite memories of the place.

Sure, maybe my memories of Tribute also happen to be fond memories of my being absolutely spoiled...don't you judge me, you don't know me.

This was a magnificent restaurant in its prime, nationally recognized and several-time award-winning, including a James Beard "Best Chef Midwest" award for Takashi.

In recent years, Tribute has undergone many transformations. After Yamauchi left and Executive Chef Rich Travis took over, I understand that the place lost some of its culinary edge. I regrettably have not been back since that landmark 25th birthday dinner and have since that time discovered countless more restaurants to rave about, but the closing of Tribute truly signifies the end of an era for metro Detroit's fine dining. Only time will tell the shape of things to come, but I can guarantee nothing will ever be the egg again.

Tribute will continue operating for private parties and catering and will also be fulfilling all of their financial obligations. Because they have class, and that's what businesses with class do.

'Tis better to have loved and lost, as they say. But still. But still...