Thursday, January 28, 2010

Best of Metromix Detroit

One of my many (MANY) writing outlets has just released a Best Of 2009 compilation of restaurants, bars, and our favorite food stuffs. View the complete Best of Metromix Detroit here; otherwise, here is a rundown of the most important stuff (says me):

Best Local Brewery: Dragonmead Microbrewery
Best Sports Bar: Hockeytown Cafe
Best Coney Island: Lafayette Coney Island
Best Sushi Restaurant: Little Tree Sushi Bar
Best Restaurant: Slows BarBQ
Best Pizza: Buddy's Rendezvous Pizzeria
Best Burger: Red Coat Tavern
Best Brunch: Beverly Hills Grill
Best Bar: Bookies Bar & Grille
Best Irish Bar: Old Shillelagh Pub
Best Date Restaurant: La Dolce Vita
Best Dessert: Astoria Pastry Shop
Best Hangout: Goodnite Gracie
Best Wine Bar: Vinotecca (Enoteca was also nominated! <3 <3 <3)

And I happen to know (because I know such things) that this particular poll is a wholly honest and accurate reflection of the votes received by viewers...which isn't to say that not all Best Of "polls" you see are wholly honest and accurate reflections of the votes received by viewers...but merely just to imply so. That being said, I think Lafayette Coney Island, Slows BarBQ, Astoria, and the Old Shillelagh should each be issued a lifetime achievement award and be forced out of the running for all future "Best Of" lists in this and every other local publication. But maybe I'm just too much of a critic.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Romantic Evening with Some Good Girls: January Supper Club

There is hardly another hidey-hole in the city that has more classic romantic flair than Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes in Midtown. With the waitresses all dressed as English maids, the walls adorned with vintage film posters (from owner Torya’s own collection), black and white tile floors reminiscent of a timeless London ballroom, and candy heart-red walls, Good Girls exudes an aura of romance fit just as much for the silver screen as for the City of Light.

“This creperie is very me; it’s my idea of heaven,” says Torya Blanchard, owner of Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes. And she has much to be proud of: her business has recently been profiled by both the New York Times and the New York Post as one of the businesses resuscitating the city of Detroit, showing that an entrepreneurial spirit still survives here despite hard times. But such high-profile coverage hasn’t affected the quaint charm of this cute creperie.

The first Supper Club of 2010 will be held on Wednesday, January 27th at 7:00PM at Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes located at 15 E. Kirby, inside the Park Shelton building. With the day for lovers fast approaching, it seemed only appropriate that Supper Club visit the place where amore might as well be on the menu!

Feel free to sample any one (or two, or three!) of the 50 different crepes offered with a variety of sweet, savory, vegan, whole wheat, and gluten-free options to choose from! Good Girls also serves the fair trade Intelligentsia brand coffee and espresso. (Please note: Good Girls does not serve alcohol.) The menu is separated into two halves, the “Right Bank” (sweet) and “Left Bank” (savory) named for Paris’s division of arrondissements by the Seine River. Each crepe is named after one of the cherished females in Torya’s life—the “good girls.” Hence, Good Girls Go to Paris! (Which is actually the name of a classic comedy film from 1939.) You can also build your own from their list of ingredients. Crepes range from $4.50-$7.00 and are ample for one person.

Because of extremely limited capacity, this will be another non-traditional Supper Club event. There is a strict 20-person limit. You MUST RSVP to in advance.

There is no pre-payment or prix fixe menu for this event; diners will be billed individually at the restaurant.

Email with any questions. Please pass this information on to your friends, family, and coworkers, and anyone else interested in Detroit dining!

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.

Read more about metro Detroit's Crepe Expectations here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Zingerman's, I Was Wrong About You


Bloggers like to pop off at the mouth. It's kind of what we do. Guilty!

Last summer I popped off about Zingerman's. And while some points I made were valid--who can afford the $30.00 olive oil???--I failed to account for other factors, the most significant of which being a fierce committment to having the highest quality products available even if that means they're more expensive, and recognizing that the increased cost makes for an exceptional difference in taste and quality.

Yesterday I got to speak at length with managing partners for Zingerman's Creamery, Zingerman's Coffee Company, and BAKE! with Zing (baking classes presented by the Bakehouse). I received full tours of all the facilities as well as a crash-course education in the sciences of cheesemaking, coffee roasting, and baking--and make no mistake, there is a very real science behind each one, and each of these masters of their domains are well-versed and willing to share.

In the coming weeks you'll be able to read more about my experience at these places, but for now I just felt compelled to share a little about them and, GULP, admit that I was ohdeargoddon'tmakemesayit wrong.

In keeping with the environment of education that the Zingerman's Empire has become known for, John Loomis (cheesemaker extraordinairre), Allen Liebowitz (coffee roaster extraordinairre) and Shelby Kibler (baker extraordinairre) were more than eager to take the time to explain their trades as well show me the ins & outs and explain why they have such a committment to educating their customers through classes, tastings, and tours. As Allen remarked, "An educated customer is our best customer," alluding to the idea that an educated customer will not only be willing to pay a little more for a higher quality product, but will also understand why it costs more and how the product is better.

The Zingerman's vision is to constantly be learning as well as teaching, espousing the idea that one is never done learning and that one also has a responsibility to teach what one has learned...ah, but I'm jumping ahead of myself a bit. I'll save it for the article; you'll just have to wait.

After seeing the OBVIOUS passion, commitment, and knowledge that each of these men have for what they do--as well as their general friendliness and excitement to share--I now consider myself a card-carrying convert of the "cult," as I so glibly put it.

I couldn't quite go home empty-handed, now could I?

But oh, I do like to tease...okay, just a morsel of something I probably won't be able to work into the article. One of the Creamery's signature cheeses is the Great Lakes Cheshire, one of the oldest recorded cheeses in British history. The recipe used at Zingerman's is an old one--it is a "winter" recipe, which allows the cheese to keep for about two months (as there was less concern about milk spoilage during the cold winter months so folks weren't forced to churn out cheeses in order to avoid wasting all that spoiled milk). This particular recipe was popular until World War II when the British government was forced to ration food supplies. This more delicate recipe lasted only two months, and the government wasn't able to ration it out fast enough before IT would spoil. They then required cheesemakers to produce a heartier but less nuanced recipe that would keep for six months, and after rationing ended cheesemakers just kept producing Cheshire in this fashion.

John Loomis learned this traditional winter recipe from a Welsh cheesemaker, and since that man's retirement Zingerman's Creamery has the DISTINCT honor of being the only creamery in the world producing Cheshire cheese using this particular recipe.

Added bonus: the milk used at the Creamery all comes from local producers Calder Dairy.

How about that, eh? Well, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you had me at "cheese."

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Bone Marrow at Roast

I know you're curious. I was too. Ever since I first saw "Roasted Marrow" on the menu at Michael Symon's Roast, I had to know.

Now, I've discussed Roast before, but one good turn deserves another. Or...something. As far as ambiance, Roast is tops in the city. Plush leather meets industrial chic stainless steel and granite, all done in a warm palette of chocolate and charcoal with soft, glowing light. Every Monday-Friday from 4:30-6:30PM Roast features $3 appetizers, $4 beer and wine, and $5 pours to celebrate the return of the cocktail hour, and their bar has become the after-work hotspot of choice for those just getting out of work and prolonging the drive home as well as those who live here and just like to drink.

Roast is a place for people who like meat. And why? Because meat tastes like murder, and murder tastes f*cking good. (Denis Leary, kids.) If you feel exceptional empathy for our four-legged friends in the world, this might not be the place for you.

If, however, the thought of bone innards served on sawed bone segments appeals to you, welcome home.

I started with a glass of L. Mawby Blanc de Blanc, which I simply cannot resist every time I see it on the menu. That's a Michigan-made sparkling, folks. Take pride.

Then the Roasted Marrow arrived, much to the disgust of my dining mates (disclaimer: allow 12 minutes to cook). Prepared with sea salt, oregano, capers, and chiles, and served with oil-drenched toasted baguette rounds, the marrow is...

...yeah, it's kind of gross. But in that "mmmmm, gross" way. Like, "this is totally gross but I'm going to keep eating it until I like it" kind of way. I experienced a similar feeling when I first tried foie gras, and now I eat foie gras like another celebrity chef is about to ban it (see, that's funny because Wolfgang Puck banned it from all his restaurants and ALL of Chicago banned it, which is yet another reason for me not to move there). It's kind of...mushy/slimy. Like eating pure fat. Stringy fat that isn't easily broken apart for ease of consumption. It's also drenched--DRENCHED!--in oil. Which kind of lessens the "ohmygodgross" factor--much like the overabundance of oil and garlic that escargot is prepared with lessens THAT initial shock--but not enough to make you think any less of snot. Like raw oysters! Tasty, yet still highly reminiscent of mucus.

But you should at least try it once.

Also, it's served on big chunks of sawed bone. Leave the card-carrying members of PETA at home for this one.

After that I decided to go a bit nontraditional...forgoing the Roast Beast of the day, the Filet, and the Wild Boar Rack (and I do love wild boar), I opted for the Duck Leg Ragu (thanks to the prompting of our server).

Paparadelle pasta, caramelized vegetables, and parmesan cheese with tender, juicy, meaty chunks of pulled duck leg. The unfortunate thing about duck (like lamb) is that despite its wonderful flavor it is often so full of fat that it turns off many would-be gourmands. The brilliant thing about pulled leg meat is that it is almost entirely devoid of the hard, stringy, and grisly fat you get with other cuts of duck meat. What remains is the meat, and the wonderfully strong flavor of it permeates the dish. This was a resounding win, a standout dish I would widely recommend to just about anyone (even--and especially--those who have not tried duck before). I wouldn't call this a signature dish for Roast as it is a bit outside the meat-tastic norm, but it stands above many of those same so-called signature dishes.

I decided to have a liquid dessert, and tried the Founders Breakfast Stout. Founders Brewery is another Michigan brewery, and probably one of the best (though it's hard to pick, no doubt). If this Grand Rapids brewer wasn't on your radar before, try this beer. Oatmeal. Chocolate. Coffee. And overwhelming array of rich, malty, robust flavors, each dancing across your tongue and as prominent as the ones before it. Oatmeal. Chocolate. Coffee. Oatmeal. Chocolate. Coffee. Pure beer bliss. And further props to Roast for their wide selection of Michigan-made brews, including this inky beer with a thick toffee-colored head, liquid heroin that it is.

Roast is a great, great place to enjoy a cocktail and feel like you're in another place at another time when enjoying a cocktail was the end-all, be-all goal of the workday. It's also one of the biggest see-and-be-seen scenes in the city, if you're into that sort of thing (and who isn't when you're the one being gawked at because you wore a top no bigger than a bandaid!). They also have some exceptional--and exceptionally odd--food. I've said before that it has its hits and misses, but since then it has become the kind of place where reservations are almost impossible to come by and need to be booked weeks in advance (what are we, New York?), so clearly they're doing something right. I think we can safely overlook the misses and consider this place a hit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Na Zdrowie! Polonia Restaurant

Last we spoke I referred to Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup as being like Grandma's own industrial-sized kitchen complete with antique curio cabinets and classic Americana accents. And this is still true, but only if Grandma lives in a wealthy suburb filled with 3,000 sq. ft. new construction homes that come standard with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

If, however, Grandma is a slightly-hunched-over relic from the Old Country with hands gnarled from years of manual labor and an accent so thick that, when she does bother to speak in English, you can't understand her anyway, and she lives in a very modest pre-World War II home with peeling wallpaper and warped linoleum floors that has a certain indefinable smell to it, the smell you have come to know simply as "Grandma smell"...then welcome to Polonia.

"It smells like Grandma's house," my dining partner remarked to me as we walked through the doors. Memories of my own maternal great-grandmothers (both from Belgium) came flooding back to me...granted, the smells from a Flemish kitchen are a bit different than those coming from a Pole's, but the Old-Wordlyness and affinity for antique knick-knacks proudly displayed above forced-air radiators is the same.

The menu is packed full of traditional Polish favorites: pierogies and potato pancakes, schnitzel and sausage, kiszka and kraut, golabki and goulash. (Okay, I might be lying about the kiszka, or "blood sausage," but I did have the same "blood" soup Anthony Bourdain sampled on his visit to the restaurant last January.)

My meal began with the Duck Soup, or czernina--also known as "duck blood soup." Why? Because it's made with duck blood. Duck blood tastes like Mayan chocolate...cardamom...maybe a little nutmeg? It was rich with an overwhelming depth of flavor, reminding me in some ways of a good mole (which is a complicated sauce with many layers of hard-to-pinpoint tastes when done well...and it's hard to do well). There is a definite metalic note to the soup (ya know, from the blood and all), but it is otherwise quite robust. The fine noodles help to offset the strong flavor.

The soup was included as part of my Polish Combination Plate: stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce, Polish fresh sausage, pierogies, mashed potatoes with brown gravy and kraut. I swapped out the mashed potatoes for potato noodles and added a potato say potato, I say potahto. Po-tay-toe. (And the one gay male reading this who has actually seen the Jennifer Saunders/Dawn French "Jordan and Jodie" bits just laughed his arse off.)

Everything was amazing. Honest, good old-fashioned, home-cooked amazing. The pierogies: potato (POTATO! heh) with Velveeta cheese, fried onions, and bacon...honestly not my favorite pierogies ever as (and I believe I have expressed this before) I don't like bacon on anything other than the side of my eggs, but tasty despite that. It was fried so the dough was just the right amount of firmness, the filling a smooth potato/cheese/bacon/onion puree. You know those potato skins you order at bars with the cheese and the bacon and whatnot? Kind of like that, only inside-out, blended, and in a noodle.

The potato pancake: deep-fried greasy crispy diet-friendly heaven. (Part of that was a lie.) The potato noodles: very dense, and a little bland, though tasty when dipped in the tomato sauce served with.... The stuffed cabbage. Or, what was called "Pigs in a Blanket" when I was growing up. Which, come to find out later, "Pigs in a Blanket" in most American homes is actually hot dogs or sausages wrapped in some sort of bread dough. Only to find out even LATER that "Pigs in a Blanket" actually does refer to stuffed cabbage in certain cultures, particularly Slavik culture. And though I am a lot of things, Slavik is not one.

But I digress.

The "proper" Polish name for stuffed cabbage is golabki, and is made with boiled cabbage leaves wrapped around minced meat (usually pork, though sometimes beef) and served with a thin tomato sauce. It is wholly untrendy, unglamorous, and mighty satisfying. Hearty, flavorful, and filling, and also chock-full of childhood memories.

And last, the Polish fresh sausage, which--along with the stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, and pierogis--is all homemade. There is a distinct difference between pre-packaged over-processed sausage that spends months of its life in freezers and sausage that is ground and cased fresh. The casing has more of a crunch, the meat is much more tender and doesn't always keep its rigid form, and each bite tastes slightly different depending on the spices concentrated in it. This sausage had bursts of peppercorn and different spices, and was so tender it almost fell apart once cut into.
There was also the kraut but I can't tell you anything about that because I don't eat kraut. Blecky.

I think I cleared my plate save for one lone potato noodle (and that's a whole lot of potato for one meal), but I wasn't quite done shoveling food into my face yet.

I binge eat; don't judge me.

So I ordered up a lingonberry crepe for dessert. Simple yet divine. Spare the butter, spoil the eater; that's what I say. Fried up and covered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream, it was the perfect end to my 2,000 calorie meal.

The best part is: all this shameless gorging cost under $11.00. There isn't an item on the menu priced over $10.00, and that includes their generous entress. They also have daily specials, such as Tuesdays and Thursdays when you can get half a boiled chicken for $6.95. It's nice to see that the prices are as nostalgic as the decor at Polonia.

The menu is filled with other Polish and local favorites, like Goulash and City Chicken...which is apparently something of a regional rarity, which I did not know before. Thanks Mr. Bourdain! You can also pair your traditional Polish dishes with bonafide Polish beer--Zywiec, Okocim, Warka. None of it is that great, but if you're a Heineken drinker--and by that I mean, if you like Bud Light--then you'll like it just dandy. You can also sample some Polish vodkas, like Luksusowa and...Belvedere. Hm.

Polonia Restaurant has been operating in some capacity since 1927, and is truly a relic--or rather, treasure--of a former era. The murals of the Old Country, the antique plates on display lining the walls, chicken needlepoint, and all polka, all the time. (I did hear the "Pennsylvania Polka," which fans of Groundhog Day would appreciate.) Even the 20-something waitress was Polish. Not that that's terribly noteworthy but it adds to the novelty of the place.

But the bottom line is this: the food is good. Really effing good. And cheap. Really effing cheap. And much like pretty much everywhere else in Poletown, the vibe is comfortable, friendly, and welcoming, and even though you don't know everyone in the room it kind of feels like you might since its got that Old World neighborly thing going on. For the culture tourists out there, this is a great place to experience authentic Polish cuisine in an atmosphere that looks like it might have been plucked straight from the Motherland before Nazi occupation. For foodies looking for the place that has the best such and such, I guarantee you'll find such and such something here. For those who simply enjoy a good meal at a good price, this Okocim's for you. Na zdrowie!