Thursday, March 29, 2012

[Curbed Detroit] Pizzeria Biga Makes Royal Oak Look, Taste Good

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

Who ever said that Royal Oak had no architectural taste? ... On Main Street just south of all the downtown chaos (but still within eyeshot of that awesome 526 signage ... because everything is within eyeshot of that 526 signage) is the old St. Clair Addison Power Station. The original building was constructed in 1907 and still stands (with its 1955 addition) to this day. And now it will be a pizzeria and beer store!

Michael Chetcuti - industrial designer and CEO of Quality Metalcraft Inc. and owner of the former power station building - and Luciano Del Signore, James Beard-nominated chef and proprietor of Bacco Ristorante and Pizzeria Biga - have partnered to bring a second Pizzeria Biga location to Royal Oak. The original Southfield location is known for serving hand-crafted Neapolitan pizzas with house-made charcuterie; Royal Oak will offer more of the same (also adding a handmade pasta station and a few roasted entree selections), but in a vastly more architecturally interesting setting.

Read more.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

[Curbed Detroit] Ferndale Gets California-fied with Woodward Imperial

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

Jeff King, owner of Woodward Imperial, likes to refer to Ferndale's newest neighborhood bar as a "community bar with a taco truck on the back." The "taco truck" is actually a full kitchen, and probably it might be better to stay away from the "t" word since Ferndale is pretty sensitive about it, but basically it's a super laid-back, sparsely-decorated space that's California dreamin' in the midst of Detroit realities ... which include a liquor license that has been delayed for the better part of nine months (to Ferndale's credit, the hold-up had nothing to do with them, but was the result of a drawn-out process of trying to buy the building's previous license out of bankruptcy which ultimately yielded nothing).

Read more.

[Curbed Detroit] The Great Ferndale Food Truck Debate 2012

Street Eats Wednesdays at the Rust Belt Market March 21, 2012. Photo from Ferndale Patch.

Last year Ferndale was lauded for being the kind of forward-thinking municipality that would allow mobile food vendors, a fairly new business concept in metro Detroit, to operate with minimal interference. But business owners are still business owners all the world over, and while they tolerated the presence of this fast-growing phenomenon, they have recently collectively drawn the line.

Now downtown Ferndale’s brick-and-mortar business owners have all seemed to catch a nasty case of the It’s-Not-Fairs, and they’re bringing their rabble rabble rabble to City Council.

Read more.

Monday, March 26, 2012

[Curbed Detroit] Derby-Style Slider Shack Green Dot Stables Now Open, Sort Of

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

The equestrian-themed restaurant on the outskirts of Corktown that inadvertently coined the term "Corktown Shores" and made it a thing is now open for lunch! Owners Jacques and Christine Driscoll are still awaiting approval for their liquor license before the Derby-ish Green Dot Stables can fully open for really-real, but they decided to open their doors today and start slinging their signature gourmet sliders for the hungry masses. There was a nice turnout for the opening (Jacques's mom even came with congratulatory flowers!), and they plan on staying open every Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until they finally get the go-ahead to start serving booze. Which they hope will be within a month. Which in Detroit terms means hopefully this year.

Read more.

An Ode to Oberon, the Gateway Beer

Temperatures are rising. (And freakishly so.) Birds are chirping. Trees are budding. In metro Detroit, that can only mean one thing: it's time for the release of Bell's Oberon.

This seasonal brew is released but once a year. Granted it's released in stupid-large quantities and is probably more widely available than Budweiser now that craft beer bars are all anti-Bud, and also you can usually find it well into October so their definition of it as a "summer seasonal" is pretty loose; but in the hearts and minds of metro Detroiters, Oberon is synonymous with summer.

And it's a pretty big deal. The official count of Oberon release parties and related events in Michigan alone is over 130; while a very small faction of the beer-drinking illuminati go batshit for Bell's Hopslam, the by and large beer drinking majority go b-a-n-a-n-a-s at the mere mention of the world "Oberon."

The reason for this is simple: Bell's Oberon is the ultimate gateway beer. Do you remember where you were when you had your first Oberon? Probably not specifically, but probably it was in college, and also probably it was your first experience with a beer that had a name beyond just that of the brewery + "lite," and that represented a brewing style that was not yellow fizzy.

Oberon is a ubiquitous brew, readily available in most dive bars, college bars, sports bars, corporate chain bars, bougie bars, snooty bars, wine bars, beer bars, and just about everywhere adult beverages are sold. At some point in our lives, all of us started out as wide-eyed, innocent, fledgling beer drinkers sneaking Natty Lights from Grandpa's stash. None of us were born with knowledge of craft beer, and probably very few of us had parents in the know; no, this knowledge had to specifically be sought out. At some point someone passed you an Oberon and said something like, "DUDE, try this - OBERON!!!" (there may have been a "woooooo" that followed) and you did. And you liked it. And it became a special thing, something you and your friends developed a devoted fandom for. It had that certain "being in the know" appeal, that little bit of an air of sophistication - while others ordered up their $2 talls of Miller Lights, you'd ask for a pint of Oberon. Impressive, right?

(Personally I remember many years ago spending endless hours playing darts and drinking ridiculously cheap 22-oz Oberon drafts at Buffalo Wild Wings on 35-cent Tuesday wing night. I was a long way off still from being indoctrinated into the world of craft beer, but this is my special Oberon memory and also how a beer nerd was born.)

Oberon is the ultimate gateway beer. Light, refreshing, summery, happy not hoppy - there are no difficult flavor profiles to overcome, no pronounced hops or funky yeasts; it's just a delightfully drinkable session beer that appeals to a wide range of palates. But Oberon is also a beginner's beer education: now beer has two names, both the name of the brewery and of the beer itself (as opposed to "Budweiser," which is nothing more and nothing less than that ... "Anheuser-Busch" is a name as meaningless to a 16-year-old 21-year-old drinker as "Sysco" is to your average restaurant customer).

From Oberon, it is only a matter of time before a person discovers Blue Moon. And once there, it is a slippery slope to other wheat beers, then witbiers like Hoegaarden, then other Belgian beers (and they like their strong ales over there) like Delirium Tremens - and let's just be real here, the first time you saw that pink elephant on the Tremens bottle you immediately thought of the Simpsons (or maybe Dumbo) and said, "YES, I want THAT." Before you know it, you're experimenting with all sorts of different funky Belgian beers, then investigating various German weissbiers. You're tasting notes of banana and clove, or candied sugar and coriander. And you're liking it.

You're not in Milwaukee anymore, Dorothy.

Oberon is not the best beer in the world. It is not the best American wheat beer in the world. It isn't even the best American wheat beer in Michigan. But it is responsible for popping the craft beer cherries of countless thousands of craft beer drinkers throughout the country, and for that it will always hold a special little place in our hearts. Happy Oberon Day!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

[EID Preview] The Legend of Green Dot Stables

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Local legend has it that Green Dot Stables in “Corktown Shores” was opened by a former horseracing jockey – hence the equestrian theme. But the actual history of the place is shrouded in mystery. (Ooooooooh…)

Owner Jacques Driscoll admits they haven’t actually been able to find any reliable information about the bar’s history (and why it has that unique, if entirely inexplicable, equestrian theme). There’s plenty of third-party hearsay available: Jacques heard that the original owner of the building (built in 1970) owned his own horse stables which he called Green Dot and the bar was named after them. (He heard this from a guy he met who claimed to know the original owner’s son.) Chef Les Molnar also heard that there was a guy who owned a bar in Southwest Detroit called Joey’s Green Parrot in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and that that guy was really into horses and his son originally owned the building. (This he heard from his aunt who worked at Joey’s Green Parrot when she was 17.)

Green Dot Stables seems to be a favorite focal point of local lore. Before it closed last year, people “in the know” knew that this was a popular cop hangout that regularly stayed open serving drinks well past 5 a.m.

While we may never know the true history of the Green Dot Stables – it will go down as another unsolved mystery in Detroit's history, much like where Jimmy Hoffa is buried (WHAT IF JIMMY HOFFA IS BURIED IN GREEN DOT???) – the good news is that the new owners have retained that odd equestrian motif and have stayed true to the name “Green Dot Stables.”

“When we learned about the history of the place we wanted to keep the tradition,” Jacques explains. “We wanted it to have the same look and feel with a clean, modern look to it. But we wanted to keep the history and the heritage; [the space is] so conducive [to it] and everything has that feeling already so trying to change it [didn’t make any sense]." Jacques’s wife Christine Driscoll adds, “We wanted it to have the same feel, just polished.”

The Driscolls are a very young couple originally from Detroit. They were living in California but moved back because they saw an opportunity to do something here they never would have been able to do in San Diego.

They acquired the building 8 months ago and began the extensive process of cleaning and refinishing (many years’ worth of cigarette smoke had to be scrubbed away). They kept a lot of the old materials, like the original chairs that look like they belong in a poker room and the faux-granite formica bar and phone booth (which will hold all of their beer and wine to-go). They also added a lot of their own touches to enhance the theme – the footrail of the bar is covered with old horse racing tickets they found on eBay; the hallway to the bathrooms is covered in a horse-themed mural (with newspaper clippings on old Detroit jockeys) done by local artist Jonathan Ryan Rajewski; the walls are adorned with canvas-mounted photographs taken by their friend and local photographer Ara Howrani (who was given access to the track at Northville Downs to take these photos); velvet curtains were made by Detroit designer and seamstress extraordinaire Sarah Lapinski.

“It looks like we had a grand vision that was thought out but really it just came together piece by piece,” Jacques says. “That’s a cool thing about our artwork – [it doesn’t necessarily look like it’s new], it’s just here and looks like it should be here.” They also added an electric fireplace and antique claw machine because … well, why not?

Having moved back home to Detroit after living in San Diego, Jacques got to experience what it means to open a business in the city and have the whole community rally around it. “Jacques’s vision for leaving San Diego was knowing that he couldn’t [open a restaurant there],” Les says. “And I couldn’t do it in Chicago. The community here is incredible; everybody helps. People were coming in doing physical labor; we did not expect it to go the way it did.” Les says every time they would mention that they needed something, someone knew somebody who’d be willing to do it for beer. “We just didn’t expect that. Everyone was really helpful.” Another friend did their logo, and right now an artist at OmniCorp Detroit is designing a bike rack shaped like a horse for them. “Everything in this place has a story like that,” Jacques says.

Jacques has wanted to open a restaurant ever since high school and he started to develop his concept while he and Christine were still living in California. Originally he wanted to serve California-style tacos but the concept evolved once they acquired the building (which is awfully close to Southwest and its many taquerias) and brought Les on board.

Les attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago and worked in several Chicago restaurants and as a private chef in Lake Geneva before ending up back in Detroit. He was working at Town Tavern before he connected with Jacques, then spent some of the intermittent time working at Roast waiting for Green Dot to open (the old “trying to get a liquor license in Detroit” story once again). “That was hard to leave,” he says. “I felt like, ‘This is why I went to culinary school.’ But at the end of the day doing my own food and having my own kitchen meant more to me. I really believe in Jacques and Christine as a whole and in the company; I see a lot of potential here.”

The whole team wants Green Dot to be a food place first and have great beer and liquor prices as well. One of the biggest renovations they did was completely overhauling the kitchen, and they have been planning the menu for months. They are making everything from scratch that they can with a lot of focus on maintaining low price points. Everything on the menu will be $2-3 with no additional tax. All domestic beers and well drinks will be $2; all craft beers and premium drinks $3. (And their craft beer selection will include labels like Dragonmead’s Final Absolution. “Where else can you get Final Absolution for $3?” Jacques asks. The answer, of course, is nowhere.)

They’re also very passionate about sourcing high-quality products. “It’s such a minimal price increment to buy quality food,” Jacques explains. “Just upgrade a little – that’s one of our philosophies.” They’re also using a lot of quality local products like kimchi and kraut from the Brinery in Ann Arbor and cheese curds from Oliver Farms for their poutine.

POUTINE!! Yes, poutine, a traditional Canadian dish made of French fries covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds, perfect for comfort food cravings and the late-night drunchies. Months ago when they first announced they’d be serving poutine there was no one else in the city serving it. “We started talking about poutine – why is there no poutine; we’re so close to Canada!” Now Woodbridge Pub does their own version (though it’s a far cry from the actual thing), Mercury Burger Bar has some on the menu (but it’s a disservice to the dish), and Brooklyn Street Local will be serving it when they open (and they’re actually Canadian so it will probably be on-point). From zero to four inside of a year; Detroit, meet your new “it” food!

But the real focus at Green Dot is on sliders. Not wimpy slivers of beef patty slathered in ketchup, mustard and onions on soggy buns that you get at places like Hunter House; exciting sliders like the “Au Poivre” made with beef, peppercorns and cognac aioli; and the “Hot Brown” made with chicken, bacon and mornay sauce (inspired by a sandwich that originated with the Kentucky Derby). Because the price points are so low (seriously, $2-3 each) they hope that diners will be more willing to experiment with unfamiliar dishes, like the “Mystery Meat” slider which will be a rotating selection that might be rabbit, elk, tongue or other wild game or offal. “It’s at a price point you won’t feel bad for spending,” Jacques notes. They’re also serving seven different kinds of fries (POUTINE!), a slightly spicy mac and cheese made with mornay sauce and red pepper flakes, and venison chili on their chili cheese fries and Coney slider.

The plan is to serve food late so that this can be a place for other chefs and restaurant industry people to come after work and enjoy a good meal. “We want to cater to the industry crowd so they have some place to eat that is not a Coney,” Les says. “We want it to be kind of known as a late-night place.” Just not quite as late-night as it used to be, anyway. (According to legend, that is.)

They are ready to open but are still awaiting their liquor license approval from the city (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), but starting next week they will be open serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. “It’s a blessing we’re doing lunch first so we can work out all the kinks instead of going full force into it,” Jacques says. But people also tend to be very understanding, especially in Detroit where people are all too familiar with the obstacles involved in opening a business. “If you have good food, good service and a good atmosphere, all the other shit can hit the fan and people will understand anything else,” Les jokes. They hope to be fully open in a month.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here.

Green Dot Stables on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

[HOT LIST] Saturday brunch

The King's French Toast at One-Eyed Betty's. Covert cell phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

"Brunch is not a meal. It is an art." - Nicole Rupersburg

(Yeah, I just quoted myself.)

Sunday brunching is indeed sacred ... but why should it only be on Sundays? Do not most working adults also have Saturdays off from work? Would not most working adults enjoy a Bloody Mary or four on Saturdays, when they still have another day of weekend left to look forward to? Too often I find myself in search of SATURDAY brunch only to be disappointed by the lack of options. This week's Hot List is as much for me as it is for you.

#1 One-Eyed Betty's (Ferndale)
Sure sure, it's new and right now I'm all "Ohmygod go there right now" every five minutes because the novelty hasn't worn off yet and I totally own that. BUT. The best thing to happen to Ferndale since the year 2011, OEB is a beer drinker's bar and the kind of comfortable yet stylish neighborhood joint that really works best in Ferndale. They serve food that fits the beer drinker's demographic, asking themselves with every menu item "WWHSE?" (What Would Homer Simpson Eat?) They also serve Ferndale's most famous brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. - specifically, the Cinnamon Roll French Toast made famous at Club Bart and reborn at Betty's. Also check out the King's French Toast (a bacon, banana and peanut butter French toast sandwich with maple syrup) and the German Breakfast, a meat and cheese platter served with baguette and whole grain mustard (a traditional breakfast in - you guessed it - Germany, but totally uncommon 'round here). In addition to around 150 beer selections, they also serve proper brunch beverages: bottomless mimosas ($12) and $5 Bloody Mary bars served tableside.

The Count Of... Crepe at What Crepe? Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#2 What Crepe? (Royal Oak, Birmingham)
Because it's freakin' good, that's why, and now there's two of them. (A third in Grosse Pointe will be coming soon). Every day is brunch at What Crepe? (also the lesser-known brinner) with some of the best crepes this side of the Atlantic. Delicate crepe shells are stuffed full of exceptionally high-quality ingredients and exquisite flavor combinations, and they've got a great little wine and cocktail list to go with it. The place has a chic, somewhat dramatic European vibe (and you know that totally means it's sophisticated) and the food is top-notch. One crepe might cost you up to $14 but it is more than enough for a meal and worth every penny.

Hillbilly Benedict.
#3 Foran's Grand Trunk Pub (Detroit)
As is this case with most awesome places, people finally figured out this place was awesome (my bad) and now it is ruined. Except on Saturday mornings. Brunch is served on Saturdays AND Sundays, but while Sundays are usually a shitshow of Detroit's crusty-eyed hungover finest, on Saturdays Foran's is a secret retreat, open for brunch and slinging drinks at 9 a.m. and utterly unknown to the outside world. Enjoy it while it lasts. Order the Hillbilly Benedict (sausage, poached egg and cheese on English muffin and smothered in sausage gravy) and fill up on your choice of Bloody Marys or mimosas - $7 for the first, $1 for each additional. (As long as you drink 6 or fewer this is a better deal than most bottomless prices. And if you drink more than 6 you're a fucking champ.)

#4 Vivio's (Detroit)
Actually the breakfast food kind of sucks. Actually all of the food kind of sucks (except the mussels, which totally do NOT suck). And they like to claim an infamous Bloody Mary mix, rather generously referring to it as the "World's Best" ... it is not. BUT. There are few Saturday morning experiences in Detroit more necessary than a Bloody Mary breakfast at Vivio's. Whether observing the pre-game tailgating rituals of Lions fans or just starting out a leisurely Saturday at Eastern Market, putting in a solid Saturday morning session at Vivio's should be on every Detroiter's bucket list. They open at 8 a.m. and serve their Bloody Marys the proper way - with a shot of beer.

#5 Cafe Muse (Royal Oak)
Admittedly their food is probably the best of all, but it gets stupid-busy and it's hard to justify waiting two hours in line for a damn omelette. (But they do open at 7:30 a.m. 7 days a week, so you could always get there stupid-early and beat the crowds. This is a great plan both for early risers and for those of you STILL awake.) Also the mimosas are not bottomless, but they are made with fresh-squeezed orange juice. However, please see once again how their food is the best of all. (Including their pancakes, but also everything else: Cafe Muse is the house that brunch built, after all.)

Bubbling under Beverly Hills Grill (Beverly Hills), the Emory (Ferndale), PJ's Lager House (Detroit), the Bronx Bar (Detroit), Inyo (Ferndale), Honest John's (Detroit), Toast (Birmingham), Atlas Global Bistro (Detroit), Cafe Habana (Royal Oak), Dino's Lounge (Ferndale)

One Eyed Betty's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

[Oakland County Prosper] A Feast for the Eyes

Torino Espresso + Bar. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

There has been a flurry of restaurant opening activity in Oakland County lately. Ferndale has seen One-Eyed Betty’s and John D Bistro both open within the last two months, with Woodward Imperial (which will serve California-style gourmet tacos) and Local Kitchen and Bar (serving contemporary American and upscale comfort food) opening soon. The Roberts Restaurant Group – which operates Streetside Seafood in Birmingham, Town Tavern in Royal Oak, and Beverly Hills Grill in Beverly Hills – recently opened Roadside B&G in Bloomfield Hills in the former Brandy’s location, and are currently working on their next concept, Bar ML in Birmingham. Craft beer lovers have a new mecca at Clubhouse BFD, which just opened in February in Rochester Hills. And there are about a dozen other upscale, big-budget concepts currently in the works in Birmingham and Royal Oak which just goes to show the restaurant industry is on an unprecedented upswing in 2012.

One thing all of these places seem to have in common is a whole new focus on interior design. Previously it seemed that design aesthetic in restaurants and bars was never anything more than an afterthought; if the bar itself was interesting (glossy polished wood perhaps, or industrial chic metal and concrete) the rest sort of fell by the wayside; the emphasis was all on the menu, the wine list and the staffing – the rest would just get covered in tablecloths anyway.

Read more.

Friday, March 16, 2012

[EID Feature] 5 Days in Dublin

There are many moments in a person's life that get perhaps prematurely described as "life-changing" experiences, particularly with travel. So often you hear of "once in a lifetime" trips and travel experiences to exotic foreign lands that are "journeys of self-discovery." While there are certainly people in the world who take humanitarian holidays, most of us just go for the food and fun.
For years I've wanted to write something about the 5 days I spent in Dublin over St. Patrick's Day in 2006. I don't know that it necessarily changed my life. I didn't leave there a better person, or any wiser for it. But, aside from the more obvious reasons, it was a significant event in my life. It was the first time I had ever traveled alone.
Nowadays I actually prefer to travel solo. More often than not I'm on a working trip, and even if it isn't a specific assignment I still treat it as a potential one. I bring my camera everywhere and take my time shooting things I think are interesting; I make schedules that are usually shot to hell within the first 15 minutes of the day and I just do everything at my own pace on my own whim. I enjoy the absolute freedom from expectations and obligations ... and not having to cater to other people.

(Now when traveling with others I just try to take the path of least resistance and do all the things that they want to do. It rarely results in a great trip for me, but it deters any useless bickering that could sour a 'good enough' getaway into a miserable one.) The best travel experiences of my life have been the ones I've done solo, and I wear that like a badge of honor. Maybe it's an only child thing; maybe it's because I've always functioned better as a lone wolf type. Regardless, I most enjoy being able to experience things for myself by myself. (Plus I meet many more interesting people that way.)

This is usually the part of the story where people look at me like I just admitted to being super-into methamphetamine and dudes on probation. Look, it's just as hard for me to wrap my head around being the kind of person who can never be alone as it is for them to understand someone like me who craves it; it's just that the former types tend to account for a much larger percentage of society than my kind. (Then again, my kind does tend to be a bit quieter.) To me, doing things alone is more than just normal; it's preferred.

But it wasn't always like that.

In early 2006 I had been dating a guy for a little over three years. It was one of those relationships that was fantastic except for when we were fighting, which was constant - you know, the kind of cripplingly insecure relationships you have in your twenties. We would break up and make up every spring for progressively longer periods of time, until finally after five years it burned itself out entirely. I understand it all now, and I admit to my fair share of crazy there. Problem was, it was one of the worst periods of my life and that had absolutely nothing to do with him; his only crime was that he was there for me to take it out on.

I was hell-bent on going to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day (contrary to popular belief, they DO indeed celebrate it there, and they do it big). We got a great deal on airfare and booked the trip. Then, two weeks before we were supposed to leave for the Emerald Isle, we had our annual knock-down, drag-out blowout breakup. And I said fuck it, it's my trip and I'm going.

And good golly molly I was scared. Me! The girl who is regularly accused by friends, family and lovers as being too independent, too guarded, too closed-off, too detached; the girl total strangers have commented on having walls to rival Fort Knox. ME. I was fucking terrified. At this point in time, I had never really done anything of any magnitude alone. An introvert by nature and also something of a social phobe (thank you alcohol for the many years you have enabled me to feign social confidence), traveling *TO ANOTHER COUNTRY* *BY MYSELF* *FOR FIVE DAYS* seemed just shy of committable insanity. And my friends all thought so too.

And that's really the story right there. It's not about what I did, what I saw, or the fact that I went for a United Nations hat trick of dudes I made out with. It's really about the people I met - from Howard, a molecular biologist I met on the plane who kept me text message-company for the duration of my trip, propping up my ego to what would ultimately be the tune of a $300 phone bill; to Column, the native Dubliner I met outside while smoking a cig who invited me along to hang with his crew for the day resulting in the best St. Patrick's Day I've ever had. Really, it was about learning to be comfortable in my own skin, on my own. I could have hidden in my hotel the whole time, ducking out only for daytime walks and tourist attractions before disappearing back inside the safety of my room before the intimidating night came alive. I could have had a nice, safe, boring trip. But I didn't.

Sure, I did the touristy stuff: saw the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the Dublin Castle, St. Stephen's Green. I toured the Guinness Brewery and the Old Jameson Distillery. I bought T-shirts and shot glasses. But I also spent time in the Temple Bar area and in THE Temple Bar (actually, it was the very first thing I did in Dublin and promptly almost got kicked out when the first thing I did was light up a cigarette - not knowing Dublin had gone all non-smoking). I watched a soccer match at a local pub called Nancy Hand's, where I had my first-ever fried egg on a burger. (I thought it was the weirdest thing in the world. This was before Roast.) Had a few pints of Guinness at the historic Mulligan's Pub (rumored to be a James Joyce haunt ... as are most of the old bars in Dublin). Treated myself to a fancy dinner in a fancy hotel because I deserved something nice.

I was still terrified through most of it (except for when I got so stinking pissed - that's Irish for "drunk" - that I forgot to be). Coming home I didn't feel particularly empowered or accomplished; I still felt like a scared little girl who had faced the big bad and hadn't necessarily come out any stronger for it. My friends all said they were proud of me, which seemed like such a strange thing to be proud of; it's not like I cured cancer or anything, but I guess not all moments in a person's life exist on a Cured Cancer/Did Not Cure Cancer scale.

Like most things, it was only with time and reflection that the significance of the event became clear. It wasn't just about not missing out on the vacation I had been so looking forward to and going despite the breakup just to prove I could because I'm stubborn; it was about overcoming fear and tapping into an inner reserve of independence and self-reliance that, in the end, did make me a stronger person after all.

I had intended to go for the food and fun. But I learned something vastly more important over those five days: to not be afraid of being alone. There aren't a lot of major moments in a person's life that changes them forever; really it's more like an infinite number of small moments all contributing to a constant process of personal evolution. But if I had to draw a line in the sand between the person I was and the person I was to become, it would be at this moment. It wasn't the best trip of my life, but it was the most important.

"May you have food and raiment, a soft pillow for your head; may you be 40 years in heaven before the devil knows you're dead." - Irish blessing

Thursday, March 15, 2012

[Concentrate] Only in Ann Arbor: Ron's Roadside BBQ

The reviews on Yelp say it best. Between the effusive praises and complaints that their favorite dishes were sold out, folks like Peggy F of Northville describe Ron's Roadside BBQ (a.k.a. Romanoff's Catering) as "hidden off to the side of nowhere and nothing." And that just seems to fuel the passion for a family business that has been an Ann Arbor fixture for almost 40 years but mostly attracts those who are 'in-the-know.'

Roman Philipp started his business as a small catering company in the ‘60s, then built the kitchen that currently houses Romanoff's Catering and Ron's Roadside BBQ in 1973. Roman and his family ran the business for all these decades until he passed away a few years ago. At that time, Roman's son Ron was living in New York and operating his own BBQ restaurant; his father's death prompted him to come home and helm the family business.

To say Ron is an interesting character would be an understatement. He studied at LaVarenne Cooking School in France, worked in high-profile kitchens in Manhattan and the Hamptons, was a chef for the Barefoot Contessa, spent some time out in New York's wine country then decided to open his own BBQ restaurant in upstate New York.

Read more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

[HOT LIST] Corned beef

Corned beef hash at Farmers Restaurant. Covert cell phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

On July 5, 2011, EID ran a "Corned beef sandwiches" Hot List. It was our third-ever Hot List and a lot of you hadn't heard of us yet. This week, in honor of Detroit's Irish culture and our proud corned beef heritage, we're re-visiting and expanding this list. These Hot Lists are meant to be infinitely revisitable as new places open, others close, or we just decide we've changed our minds. Bloggers privilege! 

Detroit is corned beef country. From Sy Ginsberg to Wigley's to Grobbel's, from the Dinty Moore to the Reuben, you want corned beef – the brined brisket of the gods – you got it, kid. There are many places to buy it and plenty of ways to eat it; we fancy it piled between two slices of hearty homemade bread or fried up with potatoes, onions and lots of butter (a glorious thing called "hash").

#1 Hygrade Deli Detroit
Kick it way old school at this V-is-for-very-and-vintage Michigan Avenue coffee shop, located just around the way from the United plant, home of the Sy Ginsberg label. (Sy Ginsberg corned beef is, of course, served.) Get the "meal" sandwich – corned beef, swiss, coleslaw and dressing - on an onion roll. The pickles come from Detroit's own Topor's, also in the 'hood. 

#2 Louie's Ham and Corned Beef Eastern Market
Where do you get corned beef in Eastern Market, home to Wigley's and Grobbel's? You get it everydamnwhere. Or so it seems. And while we're inclined to be creatures of habit and run straight for Russell Street Deli, lately it's Louie's, out on the topside of the 'hood, that's calling our names.

#3 Stage Deli West Bloomfield
A legacy that began in Oak Park fifty or so years ago lives on in this OaCo staple, where you can order wines by the glass with your big ass platters and sandwiches. This place feels like like those famous New York delis, complete with luck-of-the-draw service, but much cleaner. Also, fewer European tourists.

#4 Mudgie's Deli Corktown
It's almost all sandwiches, almost all the time at this chill Metro Times' two-time "Best Deli in Wayne County" winner located in a sleepy corner of Corktown. Dig the Barrett sandwich – meat (Sy Ginsberg in the hizzouse), house made coleslaw, Swiss and thousand island on an onion roll, served warm. Will it snag the coveted "Best Deli" title for the third year in a row? With their current tour of the United States of Sandwiches (a new state's signature sandwich is featured every week), they definitely have our vote for innovation. 

#5 Farmers Restaurant Eastern Market 
Here's an insider's tip (and this goes for everywhere in Eastern Market): don't go on Saturday. Farmers is super-small (don't let that mirror running along the whole side of one wall fool you: that's a WALL) and very old-school. As in, go at about 2:00 on a random weekday afternoon and find yourself in the company of nothing but old men speaking Polish. It's fabulously drab but the food is fresh, all high-quality diner classics with HUGE portions. There are endless permutations of corned beef on the menu, but get the corned beef hash - a heaping mound of shredded corned beef and perfectly crispy fried potatoes served with two eggs on top AND a side of toast. Easily three full meals, all for $6.75. Eastern Market is just the BEST.

Bubbling under Woodbridge Pub (Detroit), Jimmy Dee's (Clinton Twp.), Russell Street Deli (Eastern Market), Avalon Bakery (Detroit), Onion Roll (Royal Oak), Lou's (Detroit, Southfield), Steve's (Bloomfield Hills), Foran's Grand Trunk Pub (Detroit), Bread Basket (Livonia), Zingerman's Deli (Ann Arbor), Star Deli (Southfield), PJ's Lager House (Corktown)

Hygrade Restaurant & Deli on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 10, 2012

[Metromode] Great Neighborhood Bars

The burger at East Side Tavern. 

What defines a "neighborhood bar"? Is it that sense of belonging? The desire to go to a place "where everybody knows your name"? Is it a bar unique to its time and place in history, or is it defined by its patrons and surroundings? Is it a bar you can easily stumble home from or a place that reflects the unique identity of the neighborhood itself?

A neighborhood bar is any and all of those things. It isn't the assembly line sports bar with 50 flat screen TVs and enough flashing lights to induce an epileptic seizure. Nor is it a glammed-up joint with "see-and-be-seen" people in black flashing duck faces for Facebook photos. A neighborhood bar tends to avoids trends, is perhaps a bit off the beaten path, swarming with locals, and above all else comfortable and welcoming. There is a certain level of dive bar je ne sais pas quoi appeal. These places can be over 100 years old or barely opened a year. What defines a neighborhood bar is not the number of people who have reviewed it on Yelp but the crowd of local regulars that keep it vibrant, making it their second living room.

Neighborhood bars in the truest sense proliferate throughout Detroit. These are the bars located in predominantly residential neighborhoods, bars that existed before there was such a thing as zoning, bars that are located in houses right next to the very same houses where its patrons live.

Read more.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

[HOT LIST] Sushi

Ahi Tuna Roll at Izakaya Sanpei, Canton. All covert phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

Full disclosure: I pretty much think sushi is the most boring of all the fashionable foods and I am quite frankly relieved that it seems as if the sushi craze is finally slowing down and stepping aside for good old American MEAT. For two reasons: (a) I'm not that much of a seafood fan in the first place (except for scallops, mmmmmm num num num scallops); and (b) the base components of any sushi dish - the stripped-down bare basics of sushi that would constitute as being authentically authentic in American minds - are pretty freaking boring. Raw fish + sticky rice + seaweed wrap. Meh. I understand (and agree) that it is better when fresh. So, okay, FRESH raw fish + sticky rice + seaweed wrap. Meh. Oh and then don't forget to drown it all in liquid sodium chloride - Americans heart salt.

So this is not about boring "authentic" sushi. (And please be reminded that if you use the word authentic I will punch you in your face.) Look, this is 'Merica. Sushi here is going to be 'Merican. Even sushi joints that have for-really-real Japanese sushi chefs shouting at people from behind the sushi bar are still going to cater to 'Merican palates, out of necessity. I like rolls to have some flayva. I say give me eel sauce and avocado; give me crispy tempura-battered shrimp and asparagus and splash it all with sriracha; slather that shit in cream cheese and bake it ... just don't put any mayonnaise on it because mayonnaise is disgusting, FACT.

Mexican Roll at Kabuki Sushi, Dearborn.

This sushi list is all about freshness, affordability and creativity. Places like Crave, Sakana and Inyo have outstandingly creative (and usually quite tasty) sushi but they are a far cry from affordable. Little Tree is affordable-ish but that shit is nasty. With thanks to my like-minded artist friend Angel Busque, who craves sushi the way I crave cheese, who helped me round out a list of fresh and affordable sushi joints. She says,
All I care about at the moment is freshness and being gentle on the wallet. That's the main thing really... Forget the people who are going to scrutinize those on authenticity, if they catch me ordering a roll with spicy mayo on my rare days, or if I'm not eating nigiri with my hands and dipping it fish side down, and putting too much soy sauce and wasabi ... What I care about is the food's freshness, the portions being good and filling; I want a place where I won't feel self-conscious about what I order, and if I'm willing to try new things that the staff and chefs are hospitable and eager to share their art. Those are what makes a sushi place a hot spot for me. 
Amen sister-girl.

#1 Ronin Sushi (Royal Oak)
I think I said it best when I said, " Ronin [sushi purists] might find [themselves] singing a different tune, one that embraces this NOT bastardized but modernized breed of distinctly American sushi (a song that may resemble the sonic warbles of Morrisey, but I get ahead of myself). One taste of sushi chef Kaku Usui’s contemporary creations will make you a nu-sushi songbird in no time." They make spicy tuna tacos, BLT rolls and ahi tuna pizza. At Ronin there's no shame in westernizing the flavors so long as it is done with craft; of all the trendy sushi "lounges" all over metro Detroit, there are none other like Ronin. (Pictured to the left: Ronin's Valentine's Day special, a snow crab roll in pink soy paper with cilantro + cucumber, topped with strawberries and served with ponzu sauce for dipping.)

#2 Sala Thai (Eastern Market)
My Official Sushi Consult Angel Busque says "the sushi at the Sala Thai is AMAZING. Had my eyes rolling to the back of my head. Close proximity to Eastern Market. It's got to be the reason why? Yes?" Hell, I'll buy it. You know what else I'll buy? The Rock and Roll - eel + avocado. Yes and yes. Or the Bagel Roll - cream cheese, smoked salmon, scallions and avocado. America: FUCK YEAH.

Kiss of Fire Roll at O Sushi, Dearborn
#3 O Sushi (Dearborn, Canton)
Hey, I like it. My Korean friend likes it too and that's official enough for me. (All facetious ignorant American joking aside, this place is owned by a Korean family so there are a lot of very good Korean items on the menu as well, like kimchi and bibimbap.) They have what is probably a disproportionate number of spicy rolls on the menu, which may in all seriousness be a cultural thing (Korean food tends to be spicy). Yipee for me! Order the Kiss of Fire Roll: tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado and jalapeƱo pepper covered with crunchy tempura flakes and hot sauce on top. This would more accurately be called the "Ring of Fire Roll" IFYOUKNOWWHATI'MSAYIN.

#4 Kabuki Sushi (Dearborn, Farmington Hills, Canton)
The sushi is notoriously good, the service notoriously bad. Thankfully for them, this is not a Service Hot List. They make ROUSes: Rolls of Unusual Size. Their "Giant Rolls" include an American Dream Roll and Rainbow Roll; 8 pieces under $10. They also have some funky rolls, like the Mexican Roll with tempura shrimp, avocado and hot sauce. Hot sauce should be on all sushi. Skip the soy and replace it all with hot sauce. *OR* ... sriracha!

#5 Crazy Sushi (Madison Heights)
From Angel: "Now this place is not written much about. It's in Madison Heights on 12 Mile between John R. and Dequindre. It's just one guy behind the sushi counter. I've never been let down and the prices are actually cheaper than Noble Fish. I think it's better than Noble Fish. (I do love Noble Fish like everyone else though, but you are ABSOLUTELY right, totally overrated. [Editor's note: yes, I said Noble Fish is overrated.]) There are only two small tables, a small counter space, and the sushi bar to sit at.) It's tiny, cheap, and the fish is fresh. 'Nuff said.

Honorable mention: Grab and Go Sushi (Ferndale)
Sushi Chef Josh Taylor, who previously worked as the sushi chef at Oslo (a moment of silence, please) and Tom's Oyster Bar, was recently in a car accident and is currently recovering. He assures me that he is recovering well, but Grab and Go will be closed until further notice. Next to Kaku at Ronin, Josh cranks out some of the most inventive sushi I've seen. While at Oslo he created a Tandoori Roll, a baked roll made with cream cheese, salmon, crispy tempura flakes and sweet curry sauce. I wrote in Real Detroit Weekly that, "It's almost as rich as a dessert with a delicately sweet curry scent." Grab and Go was scheduled to be this week's exclusive feature; I will not be substituting somewhere else in its place and will hold off until Josh is all healed and back at work.

Bubbling under Izakaya Sanpei Restaurant (Canton), Shiro Restaurant (Novi), Noble Fish (Clawson), WOW Sushi (Troy), Sushi House (Farmington), Ajishin (Novi), Edamame Sushi (Madison Heights), Cherry Blossom (Novi), Sharaku (West Bloomfield), Sushi Ko (Farmington Hills)

Ronin Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

[Prosper] The Uptown Film Festival returns with three days of thought-provoking films

A world-premiere film and several others making their Michigan debuts are among the highlights of the second annual Uptown Film Festival (UFF), which begins Thursday at the Palladium 12 and Birmingham 8 theatres in Birmingham.

Brothers on the Line, the story of the Reuther brothers and the history of the United Auto Workers as told by Frank Reuther’s son, is making its world premiere.

Bully, a documentary that addresses the emotional and psychological tolls of bullying, is among several films premiering during the Uptown Film Festival, which celebrates both Michigan-based filmmakers (and films shot in Michigan) as well as other domestic and international films of significance.

Read more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

[EID Preview] Vinsetta Garage

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Theme restaurants are, by their very nature, horrendously gimmicky. Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe ... conjure if you will the image of waddling Midwesterners herding their hordes of bratletts through these endlessly replicable themed eateries, taking pictures next to chintzy displays then stopping by the gift shop to stock up on T-shirts and shot glasses to commemorate the experience (after dropping a minimum of $25 per person on oversized portions of mediocre fried food). These places are horrid.

Thankfully Vinsetta Garage will not be a theme restaurant.

The historic Vinsetta Garage on Woodward in Berkley was built in 1919 and served as an auto repair shop with hot-rodder appeal for 91 years. It was owned by the Kurta family until 1989; the family even used to live in a tiny apartment within the building (their kids could often be found running around the garage as if it were their personal play area). Jack Marwil, who purchased the garage from the Kurtas, decided to close it in 2010 following the death of his wife when he was no longer able to run the shop himself. Marwil then sold the building to its third owner in nearly 100 years: K.C. Crain.

The name "Crain" should be familiar to you. Perhaps you've heard of Crain Communications? Who put out Crain's Detroit and some 30-odd other publications throughout the country? Well, K.C. is the Vice President and Group Publisher. K.C.'s affiliation with the auto industry runs deep. As publisher of Crain's, K.C. also oversees its sister publication AutoWeek. As a car enthusiast himself, AutoWeek is one of his pet projects. It just launched a highly interactive website in September that already has about 2.5 million readers per month, and the brand also has a strong film and video production component. K.C. is already so entrenched in the auto industry that purchasing a historic old garage with the intention of doing something with it (though it would be several months before he figured out what exactly) just seemed like a natural fit.

K.C. purchased Vinsetta Garage at the urgent prompting of GM, which at the time wanted to overhaul it into an aftermarket parts shop. When the GM deal fell through, he wasn't quite sure what to do next. So he did what any media-savvy publisher would do: he created a TV show.

AutoWeek's Vinsetta Garagewhich airs Tuesday nights at 8:30 p.m. on the Velocity Network, is a show about cars and the love of cars. While the show itself is not filmed inside Vinsetta Garage (though it does make an appearance), the name of this historic old garage lends to the show that sense of automotive enthusiasm that the garage, and the Motor City itself, is known for. Each episode has a different focus on anything and everything to do with car culture - travel, technology, food trucks, and events like the Woodward Dream Cruise and NAIAS.

Meanwhile, in the far northwest corner of Oakland County (aka "the Shire"), Clarkston's Curt Catallo had seen the listing for the 5,400 sq.ft. building and immediately thought to himself that it would be a great space for a restaurant. Three days later, the listing was removed. Curt just hoped that whoever bought it hadn't had the same idea.

Curt is the owner of Clarkston Union Bar + Kitchen and the Free Press's 2011 Restaurant of the Year Union Woodshop, two restaurants that despite their far-flung location from the major population centers of metro Detroit still garner huge attention and acclaim, with wait times of up to two hours on weekends. (Basically it's NoSlo ... Northern Slows.) The Woodshop recently expanded with an upstairs waiting-room-cum-dude-lounge serving craft cocktails and cheap drinks for customers to relax as they wait for a table, but chances are if you've heard either of these restaurants' names come up in the news lately it's because of their recent featured spots on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."

In addition to being a restaurateur, Curt also has a long history in the car industry, which is also how he knew K.C. "The automotive circle is a tight one; you can't help but run in the same pack." Curt worked for AutoWeek for five years in the beginning of his advertising and marketing career before joining BBDO and overseeing their Chrysler account, then finally splitting off to form Union Adworks which currently handles a variety of design and applications work for Chrysler and Mopar (Chrysler's parts division).

So K.C. had a building ... and Curt had an idea.

"I had heard the rumor from some friends at Chrysler that K.C. had bought the building," Curt explains. As it happened, Curt had to go down to the Crain's office for a meeting with AutoWeek, where K.C. was talking about using the space as a studio for filming segments of the TV show. Curt told K.C., "the one thing about Detroit right now is that there are plenty of studios. [My wife] Ann and I always thought it would be a great restaurant." That day they drove from the Crain's office on Gratiot in Detroit's Eastern Market and up Woodward to the garage to look at the space. "I've had the keys ever since!"

After restoring an old abandoned church in 1995 into what is now the Clarkston Union and transforming his own upscale Clarkston Cafe into the more accessible, more affordable Woodshop, Curt is certainly no stranger to reinvention. Inside the old garage - which still had its car bays, air hose reels and tire rack - Curt saw a prime location for another comfortable but upscale American eatery, the style of cooking that has been the defining characteristic of his restaurants. "It's kind of a blank canvas for the craftsmen to do their trade," Curt explains. "We're just replacing the tools of the trade. It's still a stage and still about craft, it's just a different service we're providing. It's almost like a continuation of what [the garage] was born to do in a weird way."

Renovation work on Vinsetta Garage is well under way. The space has been gutted and the kitchen build-out has begun. But for Curt and K.C. both it was very important to preserve the history of the garage and allow it to maintain its structural and aesthetic integrity. “We are preserving a place that is important to the community in a different kind of way,” Curt explains.

The restaurant will pay homage to the building's history, both as a reflection of K.C.'s and Curt's automotive passion as well as their passion for historic preservation. This is not a car restaurant. There will be no neon signage out front, and nothing mentioning "restaurant." "This is not a 'theme' restaurant, it's a real restaurant," Curt says. It is a restaurant inside of a garage, but that's about as much of a theme as you'll find here. "We're basically just replacing wrenches with spatulas."

They are keeping as much of the original structure as possible - the exposed brick walls, the weathered concrete floors, the high wooden beams, the glass block windows. "All of it, all you see, is all natural and all original," says Curt. "We would rather preserve than build new." Curt and his wife Ann Stevenson are both very passionate about preservation and have always made that an integral part of their business ethic. "Our design philosophy on this one was kind of one of radical preservation. The space is going to be so honest it will tie directly to the food and craft."

Inside Vinsetta Garage is a smaller room set off to the side (which once served as the Kurta family apartment) which will serve as a secondary dining room. In it there is only one table: a massive old milliner's table that they acquired through Detroit's Senate Resale which is really just one massively long, sturdy flank of wood. Salvaged items like this have a warmth and character that can't be replicated in contemporary new designs, and the table itself reflects the character of the space overall. Honesty, integrity and sustainability are the most important considerations for them in design and execution.

Making yet another automotive reference, Curt says that he wants the restaurant to have "sort of a barn show effect" ... basically describing it as when a person goes to look at a car and sees nothing but the exterior of the weathered old barn it was stored in, only to have the barn doors open and see a beautifully restored car inside - the grand, gasp-worthy reveal of something totally unexpected.

The kitchen itself will be open and the bar will wrap around it, so that those sitting at the bar will be able to watch the kitchen staff at work. Curt describes the kitchen as the "new theatre," and diners want to be able to see what goes on behind the scenes. 

The Woodshop's Executive Chef Aaron Cozadd will be overseeing the kitchen at Vinsetta Garage. While the menu will still reflect the upscale American comfort food the Clarkston restaurants are known for, they will not be merely recreating the same concept a second time here in Berkley. There will be a wood-fired pizza oven and some smoked meats, but it won't be a replica of the Woodshop. "We don't want  to repeat ourselves and just make it the same thing all over again," Curt says. "We want to let the space dictate the food." He adds, "Besides, we don't want Aaron to get bored!" Another signature of theirs that will be carried over is their commitment to craft beer; they will have at least 22 beers on tap with an emphasis on Michigan craft brews. (K.C. jokes with Curt, "And only three of those are allowed to be Badass," referencing Curt's partnership with metro Detroit's own American Badass Kid Rock and his Badass beer.)

Vinsetta Garage will be open by May 1. This is an exclusive sneak peak of the construction process.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

[Edible Wow] Pierogi in Metro Detroit

When the Dodge brothers opened their Dodge Main automotive assembly plant in Hamtramck Township in 1914, the area was little more than a sleepy community of French and German farmers. When the call for work went out at the plant, Polish immigrants descended upon this tiny township (and later fought for it to be recognized as its own city). This two-square-mile area was built to accommodate tens of thousands of immigrant factory workers, resulting in densely packed housing with family homes crammed into 30-foot lots. At its peak in 1930, the city had 56,000 people in it, 83% of which were Polish.

The Polish immigrants brought with them their own cultural traditions, and soon Hamtramck was filled with hundreds of bars, beer gardens, Polish restaurants, Old-World bakeries and sausage shops.

Polish cuisine is rooted in the rich farming fields of Poland where potatoes, cabbage and beets thrived. Thus much of what we know as traditional Polish food is heavy with these ingredients: golabki (stuffed cabbage), cabbage soup and stew, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), beet soups, potato dumplings, potato pancakes, and potato and cheese pierogi are all staples of a traditional Polish diet.