Tuesday, February 28, 2012

[HOT LIST] Pancakes

Red Velvet Pancakes from Hudson Cafe. Photo by Alyse Hinton.

Today is National Pancake Day! So it seems only fitting for a Pancake Hot List. For most people pancakes might come out of a box with instructions reading "just add water," but these pancake places make everything from scratch using fresh butter, cream and fruit ... and they also get a bit creative in their toppings. From the griddle to your gullet, here are the places that treat pancakes as more than just a simple starch.

The Dutch Treat. Photo by Eat 
#1 Original Pancake House (Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Woods, Southfield)
Any place with that kind of name simply has to top any good "best pancake" list, lest it fail to live up to its own moniker. That smell you smell? It's the smell of baking eggs. Despite having over 100 franchised locations of this very traditional pancake house throughout the country, this third-generation family-owned chain is still just as committed to using the highest-quality ingredients and making everything from scratch in each kitchen - no dry mixes, nothing frozen. The Original House of Pancakes is known for their signature baked pancakes - the Apple Pancake (baked with Granny Smith apple slices and cinnamon glaze), the German Pancake, the Dutch Baby (a smaller version of the bowl-shaped German pancake), and specialities like the Dutch Treat - a Dutch Baby filled with macerated strawberries and sliced bananas. They also serve a variety of other forms of pancake, from Swedish to buckwheat to sourdough.

#2 Cafe Muse (Royal Oak)
First things first: THEY SERVE DINNER. And have, for like two years now. You should totally check it out sometime, it's all the reasons you love their breakfast/lunch only better because it's dinner and there's wine and a more diverse selection of tasty animals. That being said, not a whole lot has changed on the breakfast menu over the past several years (going back to the time when it was located in half of the space What Crepe now resides in), and it hasn't needed to. These are certainly "fancy pancakes," but they're also some of the best. The Wholewheat Pancakes topped with house-made granola are terrif, but it's the Ricotta and Lemon Pancakes with house-made blueberry maple syrup that's the real knock-out.

Coffee Cake Pancakes at Mae's. Photo by Eat It Detroit.

#3 Mae's (Pleasant Ridge)
The place is as adorable as the couple that owns it, but a top-notch breakfast joint can't be all curb appeal. Mae's backs up its pinch-its-cheekiness with killer (no but seriously, pretty much every dish has a stick of butter in it) breakfast and lunch items made from scratch every single day in their tiny kitchen. Wife-owner Jessica McCarthy is particularly hardcore about her buttermilk pancake batter (she's hardcore about all of her food, but even more especially the pancake batter): made daily from scratch, her batter is thick like cement. (Once one of her cooks tried to thin it out and she made him throw it away and start over.) The result? Thick, fluffy, hearty, flavorful pancakes that don't even qualify as being in the same food group as the wibbly-wobbly rubbery discs you get at a coney island.

#4 Hudson Cafe (Detroit)
Still the new kid on the breakfast block, the Hudson Cafe on Woodward in downtown Detroit made a fast name for itself with their Red Velvet Pancakes - a huge stack of fluffy, ruby red pancakes flavored with rich cocoa and then drizzled with absolutely decadent cream cheese icing. They make everything from scratch and the in-house bakery always has some tasty temptation in the display case at the grab-and-go coffee bar (liiiiiiike Red Velvet Cupcakes), but for those of you who prefer the savory over the sweet they have a fantastic selection of Variations on a Theme by Eggs Benedict (that incorporate things like smoked ham, pulled pork and chorizo).

#5 The Pantry (Sterling Heights)
The Pantry is a long-time breakfast staple of the East Side. Like so many other favorite breakfast haunts, this place will have a line out the door on weekends of people anxiously awaiting one of their massive cream cheese-stuffed and fruit-covered crepes (the Apple Crepe is one of their most popular items, but they also serve Sour Cream Crepes and Cheesecake Crepes), or one of 12 different varieties of pancake which includes Potato, Buckwheat and Buttermilk, but also Sweet Potato and Fresh Georgia Pecan. They also serve house specialties like the German Pancake and the Banana Nut Surprise (a baked pancake stuffed with sautéed bananas and pecan pieces caramelized with brown sugar).

Bubbling under The Breakfast Club (Farmington), Clawson Grill (Clawson), Toast (Ferndale, Birmingham), The Breakfast Club (Madison Heights - no affiliation with Farmington), Gramma's House of Pancakes (Eastpointe), Whistle Stop Restaurant (Birmigham), Recipes (Troy), D'Amato's (Royal Oak), Star Diner (Allen Park)

Friday, February 24, 2012

[EID Preview] John D

Adis Celic and Eddie Farah of John D Bistro. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

If you thought last year was a big year for Ferndale, this year is ... well, it's also going to be big, anyway. Progress and development continues to barrel forward with the recently-opened One-Eyed Betty's, and will continue strong over the next few months with Woodward Imperial, Local Kitchen + Bar, and John D Bistro.

First things first: let's escort the white elephant out of the room in the interest of moving up and on. Yes, this is the former location of Club Bart. Yes, it was sad to see this longtime Ferndale staple shutter - there I will agree. But here's what failed to get reported in the scant local media coverage of the closure (or was just conveniently overlooked in all the outrage over the bar being sold): Bart Starks, the owner of Club Bart, wanted to retire. He wanted to retire! This was no nefarious overtaking; it was just a dude who had served his time and made something cool who decided it was time for him to move on and leave the place in the hands of a new generation of owners who would honor the same spirit and make something equally cool. Cool? Moving on.

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

The spirit of Club Bart is alive in John D. From the elevated stage above the bar (which doubles as a lounge space when there's no live entertainment) to the long ramp walkway leading to the back entrance, the skeleton of the space is very much the same - just updated. Owner Eddie Farah hired on architectural and interior design wundermensch Ron Rae to give the place a whole new look. It now has an understated industrial appeal but with plush tactile details like fuzzy booths ("Like Get Him to the Greek!" Eddie jokes) with a splash of leopard print, velvet drapes at both entrances, and a massive antique velvet Victorian headboard from a 19th-century bed. They ripped down the stodgy old wood paneling to reveal the exposed brick walls. The front windows are actually garage doors that will be opened to Woodward Ave. during the summer months. "JD" is carved on the outer door handles, paying homage to the "JOHN D" carved in Copperplate Gothic on the building - which is how the place got its name. (The carving, which dates back to the 1920s or '30s, was previously hidden by Club Bart's awning.)

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.
Eddie will also stay true to what made Club Bart, for all it's shabby chic-ness, such a popular place to begin with: a wide variety of high-caliber live entertainment. "I plan on everything from jazz to blues to rock to crooners to dancers," he says. "I'm not going to label the entertainment because I want to be able to bring everything." The mentality at John D, much like the rest of Ferndale (and maybe that's why it all works so well) is "Come one, come all, and come as you are."

Eddie's whole family is a family of restaurateurs (his cousins own Anita's Kitchen just on the other side of Woodward from John D), but when Eddie decided to open John D, he wanted to do something a little different. "I come from a restaurant family so the next logical step was to own my own restaurant," he explains. "I didn't want to do what my family has always done, the Lebanese. I wanted more of a loungey kind of place. I didn't know what direction to go with the menu until I got Adis."

Executive Chef Adis Celic was the piece that was missing from John D. Most of you don't know his name yet, but you should learn it - this guy is a genius and he plays in the big leagues. He'll take John D from being "just another contemporary American bistro" and make into one of the most exceptional restaurants in metro Detroit, one that stands out heads above its competition. "This place incorporates all of my favorite places," Eddie says, listing off Ronin and Cafe Muse among them. "I hired the best team possible from design architecture to the chef. Now it's time to put up or shut up!"

If you're wondering why you've never heard the name Adis Celic before, he's relatively new to metro Detroit's dining scene. He's been cooking since 1996. His grandfather was a butcher and his father was a chef. He came to America as a Bosnian refugee in 1995 and "started working my butt off, and here I am."

John D PB+J; photo courtesy of Adis Celic.
He attended Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles and graduated at the top of his class. "My mom was very proud of that!" he smiles, then hesitates ... "I think it was top of my class. Maybe second. I had all the pretty colors on my robes, anyway." Tomayto, tomahto - the guy knows his food. After that he continued working in California, doing catering at the Langham Huntington hotel/spa in Pasadena, as the "omelette guy" for the UCLA football team, then as the Sous Chef at Aimee's Bistro in Redondo Beach. He then came to Detroit for his externship and worked with Eddie's father and brother at Alia's Catering. Considering the number of new restaurants scheduled to open in metro Detroit this year and how much in demand talented chefs are at the moment, Eddie is very much aware of how lucky he is to have snatched up Adis.

Adis's culinary training started in Italian then moved into French, and obviously there is his own family background that also informs his style. "My family is all about food," he says. "My background is about as rustic as rustic gets. My family invented rustic!" His parents still have lamb roasts in the backyard with a whole lamb on spit every two weeks; his mom still makes her own sausage. Adis would love to push some boundaries later down the line at John D: "Wouldn't it be cool to do something old school on butcher paper and sell it by the pound?" he asks excitedly ... Eddie just smiles. When writing the menu, Adis says he had "free rein but a lot of interesting judges." He teases Eddie by saying, "Some have a handicap on their palates! Just because you like it spicy doesn't mean everything has to be!" (For all the friendly ribbing, these two obviously have a great camaraderie.) Eddie admits, "When I finally trusted him my life became so much easier!"

Lamb sliders; photo courtesy of Adis Celic.
Everything at John D is made from scratch, right down to the mayonnaise. "If I have four hours of prep time I’m not going to spend it opening cans," Adis states. He wanted to construct a menu that speaks to Ferndale but is "just forward enough" - there is no molecular gastronomy here, no fumes or hydrogen. Adis describes it as being "a year or two into the future, not 20," bringing a little L.A. flare to Ferndale but in a non-pretentious, home-cooked way. "That's how I was brought up: on home-cooked food," Adis says. "We didn't ever eat out except for on special occasions. This menu is a total reflection of what I like to eat and what [Eddie] likes to eat."

They make the kind of food they want to eat when they go out, and put their own spin on it, but don't expect the same-old, same-old. Between Adis's and Eddie's cultural and culinary backgrounds alone, this place takes the concept of "fusion" to a whole new level. At 33 items, it is a relatively small menu with a lot of different influences - French, Asian, Italian, Bosnian, Mediterranean ... even Hungarian desserts. Items include a Chicken Oscar with lump crab meat and béarnaise, a vegetable Napoleon tower, lamb sliders served with pickled cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, duck confit in a puff pastry, and the John D PB+J - foie gras with truffles, dalmation fig spread and an edible flower. Down the line, Adis would love to incorporate monkfish and elk onto the menu and focus even more on Michigan's indigenous wild game (elk, deer). There will also be weekly specials (including vegetarian specials) where Adis can get really creative.

Elk carpaccio; photo courtesy of Adis Celic.
Small bites are styled after Asian cuisine and geisha style like Umami Burger in L.A. "There is not a lot of vegetation and if so it is specific to the flavor," Adis explains. Think about it: if you're a woman (or with a female companion) who got all 'did up' to go out, the last thing you want to do is make a sloppy mess of yourself trying to eat an oversized burger. Thank Adis and Eddie for keeping that in mind.

They're using Zingerman's breads and cheeses and will eventually be serving Sunday brunch. The wine list will also be relatively small, with 15 wines by the glass and an additional 10 by the bottle, but will highlight unique, interesting and affordable wines. Four beer taps will pour craft and local beers that will be updated seasonally along with the menu. The one major departure from the old Club Bart is the completely revamped kitchen with all-new equipment. "I'm so excited!" Adis beams. "I feel like a 15-year-old kid getting a new Ferrari!"

There have been a lot of new restaurants that have opened in Ferndale recently and several more to come. But Eddie isn't worried. He has found that the community spirit of Ferndale trumps all aspects of competition, and the businesses all work together towards a common goal. "We’re all going to bring different people into the city," he says. "We all want people to come into the city."

John D opens to the public March 10, 2012.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

[HOT LIST] Fish fry

Photo by Chris Jones (stopherjones) on Flickr.
"You buy we fry." You'll see this sign posted in big block lettering on white cardboard or all lit up in red and blue neon everywhere you go in the city outside of the trendy central MidCorkDown districts. I love coffeehouses, creperies and craft beer bars as much as the next hipster (hey, I'll cop to wearing skinny jeans), but these places still don't represent the majority of the businesses and consumers in the other 100-and-some square miles of the city.

Take a drive down 8, 7 or 6 Mile. The Davison. Livernois. Grand River. You know what you see? Fish markets. An endless parade of fish markets. They aren't in the prettiest neighborhoods and they might not be in the prettiest buildings, but these neighborhood joints take the concept of the fish fry VERY seriously. Many are carry-out only, a lot of them also serve barbecue or chicken, and the "You buy we fry" means you can either buy the fish there and take it home to cook yourself or they'll fry it up for you while you wait. They might not be glamorous, but these places represent one of Detroit's unique regional specialties. (And a moment of silence for the old Dot and Etta's Shrimp Hut, a Detroit staple for decades.)

#1 Mr C Fish Market (Detroit)
Order a sandwich (which includes three pieces of boneless fish) or a dinner (five pieces with two sides) from their huge menu which includes whiting fillets, pickerel, orange perch fillets, crappie, crab claws, cod and smelt. They also serve fish-and-shrimp combos and sell shrimp, scallops and oysters by the pound. For those who don't like critters that swim, they have chicken wings and wing dings. For a great snack try their house specialty: perfectly breaded and seasoned catfish nuggets (and add some hush puppies).

Photo by Hane C. Lee (calamity_hane) on Flickr
#2 Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips (Detroit)
Scotty Simpson's has been in NW Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for over 60 years. It is a Detroit classic, frozen in time with its old-school wood paneling and carved wooden fish hanging on the walls. It's not a market but a dine-in and carry-out restaurant, and they specialize in one thing in particular. If you guessed that thing is fish and chips, you are exceedingly astute. Flaky snow-white cod fried up to crispy, golden brown perfection - and to be clear, the difference between carry-out and dine-in is the difference between soggy (if flavorful) batter and hot, crispy-crunchy batter fresh out of the fryer. It's worth popping a squat and soaking in the ambiance of crusty Americana.

#3 Fresh Fish House (Southfield, Highland Park, Redford)
They pride themselves on carrying fresh fish from around the world (availability may change with seasons), but the local favorites are the catfish, cod and tilapia. Get your fish as a sandwich served simply on wheat bread with plenty of Frank's Red Hot, or get a whole dinner with tasty fries and slaw. Also try their house "Gumbolaya" (a Creole/Cajun hybrid of gumbo and jambalaya, just like it sounds) and don't miss out on their okra.

#4 Detroit Shrimp and Fish (Southfield, Clinton Twp., Pontiac)
The specialty at Detroit Shrimp and Fish is their tilapia, which is responsibly-raised and sourced from Regal Springs aqua farm. They also serve non-American and genuine American Southern-raised catfish, walleye, white bass, yellow perch, and truly JUMBO shrimp. Order a sandwich or lunch special, a half-pound dinner, giant one-pound dinner, or take home the fish only. The beer-battered cod served with steak fries (aka fish and chips) and slaw is another favorite, and don't miss their thick, indulgent banana pudding (made with Nilla wafers!) or the 7UP pound cake. 

#5 Lenten Fish Frys (Detroit, Hamtramck)
Okay, so not a market or restaurant but it is appropriate to the season. You don't have to be a Christian fasting for Lent to enjoy some good fried fish, but if you are, several local churches and community organization centers host weekly Friday fish frys. In Hamtramck, check out the Moose Lodge and the P.L.A.V. Post #10 (which is taking up the mantel of the old Hamtramck Knights of Columbus Friday fish frys after the building was sold to a Bengali group). Many other local Knights of Columbus chapters host a weekly Friday fish fry; call yours to check. Detroit's St. Francis D'Assisi will have a fish fry every Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for only $8 (and that includes the fish, fries, slaw, fruit, a roll with butter, cake AND beverage). The Polish ethnic Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit always hosts a Friday fish fry during Lent which includes fried fish, baked fish, mac and cheese, pierogi and more. For more area listings, check the Archdiocese of Detroit's website (they assured the complete listings will be posted this week).

Bubbling under Mr. Fish (Detroit), Nu Wave Fish and Chicken (Detroit, Southfield, Ypsilanti), Bet and Jessie's Fish and Chips (Redford), The Original Redford Fish and Seafood Market (Redford), Miley and Miley Shrimp Shack (Highland Park), Vergotes (Detroit), O'quin's Shrimp House (Detroit), Detroit Shrimp and Fish (Detroit - separate ownership from #4)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

[Metromix] Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro

Photo by VATO for Metromix.

Mindy VanHellemont opened Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro in Birmingham in February 2010 – not exactly the most reassuring time in recent memory for a first-time restaurateur to be opening a brand-new business.

“It was a rough time to open,” she agrees. “But I really wasn’t terrified because I really felt I had something that was unique enough and special enough that people would want to come.” Tallulah is finally the restaurant she had always envisioned it to be. “I wasn’t worried about failing so much as I was worried about getting it right,” she says. “That took a year and a half and now it’s really becoming the program I wanted to see.”

Read more.

Note: Be sure to click through the image gallery for the full descriptions of each dish.

Monday, February 20, 2012

[Oakland County Prosper] Nothing Small About Peteet's Famous Cheesecakes

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.
Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes in Oak Park offers 30 different flavors of two-layer cheesecake daily (they make a total of 90 different varieties) whole or by the slice. But this isn’t just cheesecake: this is probably the best cheesecake you have ever had in your life – even the top chefs in metro Detroit think so.

“I remember I met with a Master Chef before I ever knew what a Master Chef was or that such a thing even existed,” says Patrick Peteet, owner and baker of Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes. “So I met with [Master] Chef Kevin Gawronski at Schoolcraft College … I let him try out some of the plain cheesecake and he said, ‘This is very good,’ then I had him try the sweet potato cheesecake and he said, ‘This is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had in my life.’ Then Chef Sean Loving came in – and you know, he’s the sweet potato king – and he said, ‘This is beyond good.’”

Read more.

Friday, February 17, 2012

[EID Preview] Clubhouse BFD: It's a BFD

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

There are beer bars. And then there are beer shrines. Clubhouse BFD in Rochester is not just a beer bar; it is a juried gallery exhibit of the brewing arts.

Owner Scott LePage grew up in the restaurant industry. His parents are long-time area restaurateurs, at one point operating over two dozen different restaurants. (Currently they own Big Rock Chophouse in Birmingham, and will be opening a brewpub called Griffin Claw Brewing Company later this year ... Scott jokes it was all his mom's ploy to keep his dad, a 74-year-old with the energy of a hyperactive teenager, occupied and out of trouble.) Scott currently owns East Side Mario's, a chain of hearty Italian-American restaurants with locations in Rochester Hills and Livonia.

Next to the Rochester Hills location, a building sat empty for a long time. Scott owned the land but after he lost his previous tenant, every prospective tenant wanted half a million dollars for a build-out before signing a lease. "If I'm going to spend that kind of money, we might as well do it ourselves," Scott says. Thus the seed of Clubhouse BFD - which, to be clear, stands for "Beer Food Drink" - was planted.

The concept evolved from a sports bar to brewery (they considered moving Big Rock's brewing operations over) and then ultimately landed on craft beer bar. But not just any beer bar. "I don't want to have the same shit everyone else has," Scott states. The thing is, if you want to have a robust beer list it's pretty easy to come by. Most of the big-name local breweries have a handful of year-round beers in wide distribution so right there you can easily get a list of 50 pretty quickly, then pad it with the usual Belgian, English and French imports. And yes, an awesome beer list it makes, enough to keep even the most discriminating of connoisseurs happy (even if they've had the majority of beers on that list before).

But Clubhouse aims to be competitive not just with the best beer bars in Michigan, but the best beer bars in the country - the kind of places that get ranked by DRAFT Magazine and RateBeer in the top 100 across the nation. So Scott brought local beer guru Jason Peltier on board.

This is a beer nerd's beer bar; where most places carry Founders Porter, they carry Founders Imperial Stout. They've got the sole Michigan allotments of extremely limited releases, like Mikkeller/Three Flloyds Boogoop (they've got the only kegs in the state) and bottles of Goose Island's Kind Henry (they got four of eight available in Michigan). As a beer nerd myself, I was reduced to the vocabulary of a four-year-old watching Cars as I perused their tap handles, coolers and back inventory (there are 40 taps and over 150 bottles, plus a few off-list "goodies" for the really good customers). All I could utter was a breathless "Oh WOW!" repeatedly. After years in the industry, Jason and his team (who have worked together at places like Big Rock and Kuhnhenn) know how to properly court their distributors to get the best products. "Every night in here with the beer distributors was like the Last Supper," Scott jokes, miming them all sitting in a line at the bar studiously sampling beer. "One night we tried 97 beers!"

When Scott decided to move forward full-force with this concept, he put together a team of the area's best to make it happen. For the design, he hired Ron and Roman, a Birmingham-based design firm that has recently become the darlings of Detroit's architectural and interior design after some of Ron Rea's recent work has made him the new restaurant "It" guy (including Joe Meur Seafood in Detroit, Luxe in Birmingham, and a handful of other spots about to open including John D in Ferndale and Roadside Bar and Grill in Bloomfield Hills). Rea gave Clubhouse an open feel, incorporating design elements - and items of interest - that would be befitting of an adult man's ideal clubhouse. Stuffed deer, Rock-em Sock-em Robots, airline seats, mounted Cadillac seats, genuine WWI silk parachutes ... the kind of things a guy might want to have in his home if his wife would ever let him (but she won't). You could look around for hours and still catch new details you missed before, but at the same time it still manages to be a relatively minimalist, rustic design - sturdy wood tables, exposed brick. The sound design, with the speakers in the ceiling tiles, is equally as impressive though less likely to get noticed.

The concept of the Clubhouse evolved over the year and a half that they worked on it; in fact, that wasn't even going to be the name but as people kept calling it that, ultimately it just seemed to fit. And that is exactly what it is: a clubhouse for beer lovers. Like, REAL beer lovers. The kind who need a clubhouse. But if you're concerned that there may be too much beer snobbery, don't be - they'll have your Bud and Miller et.al. available in 16-oz. cans ... served in a brown paper bag.

There will be buckets of Little Kings bottles (a cream ale so named because the bottles are indeed little) for $9, and you can also mix your own six pack to go. There is also a small but excellent wine list with some eclectic labels (Michigan's own Left Foot Charley; Kung Fu Girl) as well as a respectable selection of brown liquors for serious consumption.

The menu at Clubhouse is going through its final adjustments, but will be a casual menu of polished bar food. Because of Scott's long background in restaurants, he is extremely particular when it comes to the food he serves and will just as soon test out 15 different versions of a dish and still not include it until he feels it's perfect. They'll have a simply Ploughman's platter (meat, cheese, bread: good), giant buffalo shrimp, mussels, Greek wings (in a lemon oregano marinade), burgers, shaved prime rib sandwiches, grilled cheese, fish and chips, etc. They'll also have something called "The Jersey Shore," modeled after the New Jersey-based Taylor Pork Roll which Scott describes as "the equal to our Coney" and "the ultimate late-night belly bomb and hangover cure." This pork roll is covered in American cheese and served with a fried egg on toasted brioche.

The same exceptionally high standards applied to the concept, design and product were also applied to the service staff. "They're all very polished servers," Jason says. "I'd say 15-25% of them were bar managers before this, but came here because they love craft beer and they love the concept." Upon hiring they were all given copies of the book Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, and are required to have completed the Master Brewer's Association Beer 101 course within 90 days of hire; already four of them have gone the extra step by becoming Certified Beer Servers (a step below Cicerone). 

Clubhouse BFD is now open Tuesday through Thursday 3 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. They also have free WiFi.

Want to see more? Check out the Flickr set here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[HOT LIST] Paczki

At Elias Donuts. Covert cell phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

Fat Tuesday is coming February 21, and that means one thing to metro Detroiters: PACZKI. Paczki are dense doughnuts filled with any number of fruit fillings (including the less-common but more traditional rose hip and hibiscus) then glazed or covered with powdered sugar, but for me, I don't even acknowledge paczki unless we're talking custard. (If I wanted a mouthful of jam I would buy a jar of jam and eat it, the end.)

Plenty of places serve their own version of this traditional Polish pastry - an extra-rich doughnut originally made in order to use up all the remaining eggs, lard and sugar in the house before Lenten fasting began - but we all know Hamtramck is the place to go for the absolute BEST. Which is why Paczki Day in Poletown is a high holy day; check out the all-day parties at Small's (home of the Paczki Bomb!), Whiskey in the Jar (easy on the Jeyzy), a limo shuttle bar crawl leaving from Polonia (can you beat 45 bars in one day?), and whatever else. Na zdrowie!

New Palace Bakery.
#1 New Palace Bakery (Hamtramck)
I usually eschew making any end-all/be-all claims here, but when it comes to paczki New Palace IS. THE. BEST. Their paczki are big and doughy and a little lumpy and heavy and dense. Plus when you order a half dozen or dozen, they put them in a standard bakery box and use twine from a dispenser mounted in the ceiling to tie it ... which I just find Old-Worldy and cool. They have an amazing selection of breads in addition to their pastries and cookies, as well as a full deli counter and homemade pierogi. And here's the tip-top secret: they have paczki all year round, every day of the week. So you could wait in line on Paczki Day just for the thrill of it, or you could just get your paczki fix, like, tomorrow.

Flavors include standards (see New Martha Washington below) as well as raisin and rose hip, and also some custom creations: the Millennium Swirl is a chocolate + custard combo created in the year 2000 to commemorate the new millennium, the United Paczki is a strawberry/custard/blueberry combination introduced in 2002, the strawberry/custard combo was first made in 1997 to commemorate Hamtramck's 75th anniversary, and the Hamtramck Boat is kind of the banana split of paczki with strawberry and pineapple filling and banana custard covered in chocolate. Looks like New Palace got my custard memo!

#2 New Martha Washington Bakery (Hamtramck)
Smaller than New Palace (and they don't serve paczki year-round), Martha Washington has its own devoted following. Their paczki are rounder and more evenly-shaped, like fat little hockey pucks covered in powdered sugar. They started carrying paczki officially today, and on Paczki Day they'll have 14 flavors available - raspberry, strawberry, blueberry cherry, apple, apricot, lemon, prune, custard, Boston cream, chocolate Bavarian, butter cream, plain sugar and pineapple.

#3 American Polish Cultural Center
Upholding Polish culture, customs and traditions over in suburban Troy (where there is a sizable population of people of Polish descent, the effect of Polish-American migration out of Hamtramck), the American Polish Cultural Center will sell thousands of dozens of paczki next Monday and Tuesday. They are taking pre-orders now; paczki are $9.50 per dozen if paid by Sunday and $10 per dozen after. They'll have prune, custard, apricot ,cherry, stawberry, raspberry, blueberry and hibiscus, all made from scratch in their own kitchen (which also does all their banquet catering and serves the on-site Wawel Restaurant, which serves hearty homemade Polish-American cuisine made properly by a group of little old Polish ladies and don't think I'm kidding). The building used to be an architecture and antique museum displaying woodwork from the homes of prominent families including the Rockefeller Estate. When the APCC acquired the building, many of the antiques and elaborate woodwork remained (including a stunning archway from the Rockefeller mansion) - the story goes that the rich guy who owned the building sold what he could and just left the rest, so the Center is not just a place that celebrates Polish culture but also a home of American history, a lived-in museum.

#4 Bartz Bakery (Dearborn)
Bartz is known specifically for their bread, but as a bakery with a Central European background, Bartz also makes their own paczki every year around Lent. As of last week they are now available every day, and they have a variety of different flavors ... including custard.

#5 Elias Donuts (Detroit)
Located in Detroit's Rosedale neighborhood, Elias Donuts has been around for 30 years. It has that old-school doughnut shop charm - a long formica counter and tiled floors with 1950's-style soda shop stools all the color of Good and Plenty's. In addition to doughnuts, they serve a variety of grilled sandwiches, fried fish dinners (catfish, perch and cod), burgers, breakfast sandwiches on their housemade bagel "thins" and flatbread, and ice cream from Hershey's Ice Cream, and it's all 24 hours. They also serve paczki all year round, but on Fat Tuesday they up the ante with additional flavors - blueberry, strawberry, regular and chocolate custard, and pineapple. FYI, they stick to the glazed varietals.

Bubbling under Supreme Baking Co. (Detroit), G M Paris Bakery (Livonia), Bozek's Meat and Groceries (Hamtramck), Srodek Deli and Bakery (Hamtramck)

New Palace Bakery on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 13, 2012

[Concentrate] Ypsilanti's in the Mix (or Vice Versa)

Recent developments over in Ann Arbor's country cousin are making Ypsilanti quite a destination for those looking to support local artisan movements. Café Ollie recently obtained a tavern license, so they now offer a selection of Michigan craft beer and wine along with their coffee and comfort food. Next door the same owners opened the MI General Store, a specialty food store that specifically caters to all things Michigan-made: craft beer, fine wine, candies, snacks, and condiments. After a little over a month of operation, many folks are claiming the Wurst Bar is actually has the best gourmet brats, burgers, and large beer selection. And then there is Mix Marketplace, a brand-new artisans' market in downtown Ypsi (think of it as a farmers market but with artisan goods instead, much like Ferndale's Rust Belt Market).

"We had this empty beautiful building across the street and a lot of people were coming up with different ideas that were not going to work," explains Leslie Leland, who owns Mix New and Used along with her husband Markel and partners Ed and Bonnie Penet. "It's owned by our landlord, so we decided to start a dialogue about doing something over there."

Read more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

[EID Feature] I Dream of GC with the Sharp Gruyere: Cheese Dream Gets Ready to Open

All photos courtesy of Cheese Dream.

Are food trucks "over"? Not by a long shot. In fact, in greater metro Detroit they've only just begun. Detroit's El Guapo made headlines for its much-touted 60 trips to City Hall just to get the proper permits; recent food truck meet-ups in Eastern Market and the Royal Oak Farmers Market packed crowds to capacity with two-plus-hour wait times for tacos; and Mark's Carts in Ann Arbor was lauded for introducing a whole new kind of business model to Southeastern Michigan. (For my own little exposé series on metro Detroit's food truck scene, see here and here.)

As food truck fever hit the streets of America in the last several years, metro Detroit is finally getting up to speed. 2011 saw several high-profile ventures launch (including those listed above), and 2012 will see even more. One of which will be Cheese Dream.

Cheese Dream is a partnership between Jordan Ceresnie and Afrim Ramaxhiku. The two met while working together at Zingerman's Roadhouse, but both have equally fascinating (if drastically different) life stories. Ramaxhiku grew up in war-torn Kosovo; Ceresnie is the progeny of iconic metro Detroit furriers Ceresnie and Offen Furs. "It's funny - he's a Muslim [from Kosovo] and I'm a Jew from suburban Detroit. That we're collaborating on this is pretty cool." Both have worked in Michelin-rated restaurants - Ceresnie all over the country and Ramaxhiku all over the world.

Ceresnie always knew he wanted to be a chef. He started in his first "real" kitchen at age 17, then at 19 he moved to California and attended the Napa Valley Cooking School. He started working for Thomas Keller in Bouchon Bakery, then later moved to L.A. for an internship and worked at the now-shuttered Sona. Ceresnie was part of both teams when they received their first Michelin stars. "It's cool to cook at the top and be able to compete with the best chefs," he says.

While he was living in California he started his own garden. "You can grow anything in California," he states. "I started to become interested in where the food I cook in the kitchen comes from." When he moved back to Michigan, he enrolled in Michigan State University's organic farming program. "I really dove into organic food production and what it's all about." When he graduated, Zingerman's Roadhouse seemed like a perfect fit for him. "They have an organic farm and a restaurant where they use those products."

Despite his culinary pedigree, Ceresnie's passion has always been in comfort foods. "I grew up with the typical American comfort food, mac and cheese, nothing gourmet ... those are the kinds of foods that make me feel good." When he and Ramaxhiku were discussing their business concept they originally thought of having a wood-fired pizza cart (Ramaxhiku had opened a wood-fired pizzeria in Kosovo previously). Finally they decided, "Let's just do grilled cheese." "I guess whatever we're doing we want it to have something to do with bread and cheese," Ceresnie explains. "It's a staple of life. If you have bread and cheese, it's a meal."

"Who doesn't like it?" Ceresnie continues. "We take it from American cheese and Wonderbread and go beyond that. It was a blank canvas for us. Almost any meal or dish you can think of can be turned into a grilled cheese sandwich." They want to use artisan cheeses and local produce and products as much as possible, and also work with local food vendors and processors. The partners recognize how critical buying local is to the health of the economy and the community.

Cheese Dream is not fully functioning yet, but the cart itself (more of a trailer that can be hitched to a truck) is done and they are already signed up to be a part of Mark's Carts food cart corral when it reopens for the season in April. In the meantime, they've been doing test markets in Chicago and even visited the long-running Grilled Cheese Invitational in L.A., which they hope to compete in next year. They chose to stay in Ann Arbor because of their relationship with the community there already. "There's a tight community in Ann Arbor that's very supportive," Ceresnie says. "It has always been a progressive city ... Ann Arbor is really nurturing to new business ideas, and the idea of Mark's Carts is really cool too."

Right now, they're working on their recipes, and you bet you can expect some truly gourmet spins on this childhood classic. "Right now we have a play on French onion soup. It has rich, beefy caramelized onions with gruyere cheese; it's all the flavor components of French onion soup on a grilled cheese sandwich." (FOS!!!) They are also going to have the classic American cheese variety on challah bread from Dakota Bread Company in West Bloomfield, their bread of choice for all their GC sammies. "I chose it because being from a Jewish background I ate a lot of challah," Ceresnie says. "It's amazing by itself; on grilled cheese it can only be better."

At the Grilled Cheese Invitational 2011.

Some other grilled cheese variations include the Beastie, which is basically a BLT "with a lot of cheddar." And without even realizing it at first, they found themselves trying to approach different flavor profiles from around the world. "You can take a tour of the world through [grilled cheese] sandwiches!" An Italian-inspired sandwich features hand-pulled mozzarella which they make themselves with roasted tomato and olive tapenade. A Mexican-inspired creation features green chiles with cilantro, lime and Monterrey Jack cheese. They also want to have one based on an ingredient from where Ramaxhiku grew up called ajvar (a red pepper and eggplant spread) with feta cheese.

While a future traditional brick and mortar restaurant is not out of the question, for right now starting with the cart just makes economical sense. "There are lower overhead costs and greater ease of starting up versus a brick and mortar location," Ceresnie explains. "We also have the flexibility to not HAVE to be at one spot all the time." While Cheese Dream will primarily be at Mark's Carts this season, they have a greater vision of traveling to farmers markets and events "going to where the people already are rather than waiting for them to come to us."

Ceresnie sees a sort of renaissance happening in food trucks right now. "We're going from junky mass-produced food to artisan food," he says. "Just through watching TV and traveling, I'm seeing this trend of the classically-trained chef going back to the basics and back to comfort food, doing one thing and doing it really well."

Like grilled cheese.

Through this experience, Ceresnie has reconnected with old friends he hasn't seen in years, people like him who have a passion and the guts to go off and start their own business. One of them owns a screenprinting business in Detroit and is making all their T-shirts; another does vinyl graphics and is making the decals for the cart. "You know you're on the right path when everything falls into place [like that]," he says. "I'm really excited about doing grilled cheese but more than that I'm really excited [to be surrounded by] like-minded entrepreneurs. We're kind of a rare breed but where there's one there's usually more."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

[HOT LIST] Grilled cheese

A build-your-own grilled cheese (sourdough, cheddar, bacon) from Mae's in Pleasant Ridge. Covert phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

Take some cheese, stick it between two slices of bread slathered in butter, grill it until the cheese is all melty-bubbly, then eat it. So simple a child can do it, which is probably why we all almost universally have fond memories of it from childhood - memories so fond that we seek to recreate them as adults, only with a certain grown-up twist. No longer is it American cheese and Wonderbread; now it's artisan sourdough with aged white cheddar, heirloom tomatoes and arugula. Grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food, not to mention something of an art (and a growing national food trend). These places take their grilled cheese seriously, and almost every single one of them adopts the mantra that everything is better with bacon.

But first, a caveat: the grilled cheese at Cafe Muse in Royal Oak has been featured in Esquire, Reader's Digest and the Oprah Winfrey Show as one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in America. Made with havarti, fontina, mozzarella, basil and tomatoes on organic bread with just a hint of honey, this delicate, refined presentation of what is often a gloppy mess may or may not be one of the best in the country, but it is hands-down the best in metro Detroit. (It is "the Grilled Cheese that Launched a Thousand Yelp Reviews," as I've noted previously.) That being said, in fairness to its subordinates, Cafe Muse stands alone here, and is not included in the top 5 rankings.

Woodbridge Pub.

#1 Woodbridge Pub (Detroit)
It resisted the "gastro pub" label when it first opened by serving good old down-home country cookin' - spare the butter, spoil the child; that sort of thing. Now, while no one would really call it a "gasto pub" nowadays - the shaggy artschool hipster crowd, college students, and neighborhood residents really don't comprise the clientele one imagines at a "gastro pub" - the Converse sneaker would certainly fit. The menu at Woodbridge has become increasingly health-conscious and sustainable over the last couple of years, though a commitment to sourcing locally has always been their raison d'être. Their original "Cheese to the Seventh Power" (with seven different kinds of cheese and lots of butter) was one of the Best Sandwiches I've Ever Had(TM); alas they ditched the gluttony in favor of gourmet, but it's still one of the best damned grilled cheese sammies in town. Pinconning cheddar, Michigan fontina, goat cheese and tomato on Avalon rustic Italian bread - flavors, textures and proportions are nailed for sublime chewy, melty grilled cheese goodness.

#2 Majestic Cafe (Detroit)
Speaking of going gastro, the Majestic Cafe underwent an overhaul in the kitchen last year, and now their focus is on classic American comfort foods with a modern, sustainable spin. They use high-quality, local, seasonal ingredients (including produce grown in their own organic community farming plot). Their grilled cheese has havarti, tomato and arugula on whole wheat and is served with soup (a timeless combination like beer and cigarettes peanut butter and jelly). Or you can take that and LOBSTERIZE it: their Lobster Grilled Cheese is their regular grilled cheese plus succulent lobster meat. Another option in the grilled cheese family is the Bacon and Apple Melt with sliced apple, Dearborn bacon, arugula, white cheddar, and Dijon mustard on whole wheat.

#3 Torino Espresso + Bar (Ferndale)
I really, really love this place. Not for any one particular thing, but for everything. It may seem banal to say that it's the kind of place where everyone feels comfortable, but after half a dozen visits over the last month  (from weekday mornings to weekend nights) and observing the crowd dynamic at all days and times, I can definitively say: it's true. They recently introduced a rotating weekly specials board so there's always something new to try, or you can stick to their standard Euro-style bistro menu which includes a grilled cheese panini. Muenster, Swiss and Irish white cheddar on Zingerman's ciabatta, and you can add pancetta for $1. And you should add pancetta for $1. This is the closest thing you'll get to a true Italian panini on this side of the Detroit River.

#4 Avalon International Breads (Detroit)
Pick two cheeses (provolone and mozzarella is a good combination, especially for fans of Avalon's old Inside Old Grilled Cheese), two add-ons (can't go wrong with tomato and basil) and your choice of their Farnsworth Family Farm or Wheaty Wheat Bread, and you've got yourself a perfectly-grilled ooey-gooey Grown Up Grilled Cheese. Parking, seating, etcetera etcetera, I can't help you with, but it certainly doesn't seem like that's stopped anyone before.

#5 Bagger Dave's (various locations)
A Michigan-owned chain with half a dozen locations including Berkley and Novi, Bagger Dave's Legendary Burgers Tavern emphasizes Michigan-made products and local/regional sourcing, and also has a handsome selection of Michigan craft beers. The burgers are decent, but the Michigan Meltdown is a star. Swiss, mozzarella, and Great Lakes mild cheddar melted together with sliced tomato, onions, and fresh basil on sourdough; once again, you can add applewood-smoked bacon for$1 and once again, you should.

Honorable mention One-Eyed Betty's (Ferndale)
It just opened two days ago but this craft beer and comfort food bar is an instant favorite. With 47 beers on tap and over 100 by the bottle, this place has huge potential to make one of those "America's Best Beer Bars" lists in the future. For now, enjoy the stripped-down atmosphere, the sizable selection of whiskey and bourbon, and the fantastic food. The menu is comprised of beer-friendly dishes like cheese and charcuterie boards, oysters (served a variety of ways), and a Ridiculously Good Grilled Cheese. (It is.) Build your own beer flight, and don't miss the Beer Cheese Soup Au Gratin.

Bubbling under Cass Cafe (Detroit), The Lunch Cafe (Berkley), Royal Oak Brewery (Royal Oak), Mudgie's Deli (Detroit), TRIA (Dearborn), Toast (Birmingham, Ferndale), Mae's (Pleasant Ridge), Detroit Beer Company (Detroit), Mosaic (Detroit), the Panini Press (Berkley)

Woodbridge Pub on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

[EID Feature] Amore à Detroit

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Valentine's Day. It's meant to be a day for romance (and a nice little retail push after the six-week-long post-holiday slump), not a day for neurotic meltdowns. If you're a "we," here are some swoon-worthy date ideas (or at least not the stale old dinner-at-a-fancy-restaurant formula) to impress her, him or them (hey, who am I to judge?). Ditch the impossible-to-get reservations and try out one of these alternative 100% Detroit dates* instead. (You're welcome.) If you're a "you," buck up buttercup; you answer to no one. XOXO

The ice rink at Campus Martius.
Get Outdoorsy
Take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and head over to one of the city's truest treasures, Belle Isle Park. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed New York's Central Park), it's the largest island city park in the country and home to breathtaking landmarks like the beautifully restored James Scott Memorial Fountain and the Albert Kahn-designed Belle Isle Casino, Aquarium (recently reopened for one day during the annual Shiver on the River), and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory--home to one of the largest city-owned orchid collections in the country. Wander through the Conservatory to see all the colorful flowers in bloom, then head over to the Detroit Riverwalk, a beautiful walk even in frigid weather (and maybe especially so--colder weather means fewer people and more seclusion). End it all with ice skating at Campus Martius--all the inevitable tripping over and gripping onto to each other, falling and laughing is sure to induce romantic inclinations.

Get Arty
A date at the Detroit Institute of Arts may be tres cliché, but it got that way because, quite simply, it works. Start with coffee and a casual lunch at the Rowland Cafe inside the stunning art deco Guardian Building (and hey, since you're there go visit our friends at Pure Detroit), then head over to the DIA and, as their slogan goes, "go wonder around." Afterwards have dinner and cocktails at Cliff Bell's, Detroit's premiere jazz lounge--a fully-restored 1930s art deco nightclub in an Albert Kahn-designed building, and hands-down the best live venue in Detroit for anything from jazz to techno to burlesque. It also happens to be one of the best restaurants and craft cocktail bars in the city. For a slightly different speed, check out the Raven Lounge and Nightclub for Detroit's best blues and some serious soul food. And for lovers of classical music, a box seat at the DSO has no comparison (Mozart and Mahler plays Valentine's Day weekend).

Get Dirty
Valentine's Day at the Dirty Show is a Detroit tradition, though admittedly it's not for everyone. If you don't mind the sight of some prominently-displayed no-no parts, this annual erotic art exhibition is one of the largest erotic arts exhibitions in the world. Come for the art, stay for the performances; there's always plenty of aerial acts, burlesque shows, and appearances from some of our favorite local performers (like Satori Circus). Afterwards ... well, how do you top the Dirty Show? Lucky for you it's open until 2 a.m. so you don't actually have to, but if you get your fill of ... NAKED PEOPLE??? !!! ... then the only way to go is even dirtier. Catch a metal show at Blondie's. Dance to hardcore industrial at the Leland City Club until 4 a.m. (du ... du liebst ... du liebst mich). Or perhaps you're feeling a bit more refined: have a Date With the Dames at the Park Bar (the Detroit Dizzy Dames, that is, for some classic burly-q), then enjoy a nightcap at the Valentine Vodka distillery and martini lounge and soak in the speakeasy-meets-boudoir atmosphere with dramatic red velvet drapes and a prominent painting of the brand's saucy pin-up girl in ravishing red. (Granted, Valentine Vodka is in Ferndale, but for the namesake alone it's worth looking outside of the city.) Keep with the theme of the evening by ordering a Dirty Detroit martini (made with McClure's brine).

Get Sweaty

Now now, naughty monkey ... what I mean by that is, find your inner salsero. Is there anything sexier than the salsa? (Yes, the tango, but good luck finding a regular tango night 'round here.) Check out the listings on Salsa Detroit and bachata your butt over to the nearest Latin night. When in doubt, hit up Vicente's Cuban Cuisine, where their large selection of spicy Spanish and Cuban tapas and mojitos will provide all the fuel you need to burn up the dancefloor.

Dinner and a Movie
You just can't beat the classics. Sure, it's not all wine and roses, but neither are actual relationships--for couples a little more established (or those with a mutual fondness for indulging their inner child), sometimes the most important thing is just to have a little fun together. Catch a classic film at the historic Redford Theatre (in Detroit), an arthouse flick at the Detroit Film Theatre (while patiently awaiting the days until Corktown Cinema is up and running; LONG LIVE THE BURTON!), or something big budget and flashy at the Ren Cen 4 Theatre inside the Renaissance Center. Afterwards hit up the Cadieux Cafe for strong Belgian beer, steamed mussels and feather bowling. Alternatively, you can get some gourmet sliders and have a state-of-the-art cinema experience at the Emagine Theatre in Royal Oak, then bowl at the 16-lane upscale Star Lanes, all in the same building. It's the Taj Mahal of movie theatres and I don't feel bad about including it here. It's a good theatre. And thorough.**

Take a Staycation

Book a fancy room, raid the fridge and minibar, rent a movie (what kind of movie is all up to you), order room service and stay in your PJs (or birthday suits) all day. Or, if you feel so inclined, get all fancy and have dinner at one of the hotel's renowned fine dining restaurants. The AAA four-diamond scores for 2012 were just released last month; on the list was the MGM Grand Detroit as well as Saltwater, the Michael Mina restaurant on the property; MotorCity Casino Hotel, as well as its signature restaurant Iridescence (Hour Detroit's "Restaurant of the Year" in 2011); and the Westin Book Cadillac (alas Roast was not bestowed the four diamonds, but it doesn't need them).

Stay Home
A home-cooked dinner (might I suggest lamb chops), wine (Bowers Harbor Vineyard 2008 2896 Langley for a killer example of a Michigan Merlot/Cab Franc), candles, music (Chopin is always a good go-to) -- a special night doesn't have to be spent amongst swarms of other people. Heck, some people might even be happy with pizza, beer and a sci-fi flick. (What?) Point is, quality time doesn't have to mean quality money. Happy Valentine's Day, lovelies!

*Note: some of these might not be doable on a Tuesday, but are perfect for weekend celebrations.
**Any opportunity I have to quote the Big Lebowski makes me happy.