Some people say Detroit lacks the great, affordable restaurants that are plentiful in other major American cities. This gets my blood boiling. There are outstanding eateries all over Detroit and its suburbs — you simply must know where to find them.
I love food. I cook every day. I make pizza three or four times a week, always trying to improve it. Occasionally I cater parties. I read cookbooks like other people read novels. I pore over restaurant reviews and articles. I watch food shows. I constantly try new restaurants in search of a better hot and sour soup or chicken tikka or chiles rellenos. I love to shop for food and to explore ethnic markets selling ingredients from all over the world. Ethnic markets are my Kroger.
Most of all, I love to eat. Sly and The Family Stone sang, “Music is my life. Music is my sanctuary.” Well, food is my life. Food is my sanctuary.
For years, people have called me for restaurant recommendations. Now I’m putting some of my best finds in writing for Metro Times. Hope it will be helpful.
I look for restaurants that serve good food in a pleasant atmosphere, with a clean dining room and kitchen (if I can talk my way into it). Service should be affable. I do have a pet peeve, and that is restaurants where the servers can’t speak English. Come on, I might need some help with the menu!
Perceived value is important too. I’d rather eat great ethnic food in an unpretentious, clean, relatively unadorned storefront than a mediocre steak at a fancy-schmancy suburban palace that’s five times more expensive.
I made a great find recently when I lunched at Rangoli (detroitrangoli.com), an Indian restaurant in a strip center. I am an Indian food fanatic, and Rangoli offers some of the best in the area. Its Tandoori chicken is the best I have found. Tandoori dishes are essentially the Indian version of what Americans call barbecued or grilled; they’re among my passions.
Rangoli is an attractive place with friendly service, and the lunch buffet, served daily for $7.95, is a tremendous bargain.
Many people say they do not like Indian food. “I hate curry,” is a common remark. Indian food is a complex cuisine, well-seasoned with several ingredients common to many dishes. The same could be said for Chinese and Thai food. By changing the proportions of the spices or by adding or omitting some of them, the flavor changes.
Do not be intimidated by preconceived notions that all Indian food is spicy. It is highly seasoned, but not hotly seasoned. Hot food is available, but usually must be ordered that way. I find the spice levels akin to Thai, in which spiciness is made to order.
If you need help ordering, talk to the servers. Tell them what kinds of things you like and let them suggest what to order. Or try the buffet or a combination plate.
Indian cuisine typically includes fresh vegetables, prepared in a myriad of succulent ways. A variety of breads play a major part of most meals.
Rangoli’s buffet selection includes cauliflower pakoras, which resemble Japanese tempura with more seasoning, and samosas, a fried “dumpling” usually filled with meat or vegetables or a combination of both. The buffet has a sort of salad bar and fresh fruit, but I stick to ethnic fare.
The real buffet is served in hot copper chafing dishes. Several vegetarian selections are displayed along with a lamb dish and butter chicken — not a weak selection among them.
House of India, on the west side of Orchard Lake Road between 12 Mile and 13 Mile, is another gem. It’s got two lunch specials, one vegetarian, one non-vegetarian, both under $4. Lunch entrées include Basmati rice, naan (a tasty puffy bread used for dipping in sauces), salad, raita (yogurt sauce with vegetables such as cucumbers in it), and vegetables or dal (pureed lentils or beans), and chicken on the non-veg platter.
I recently discovered the Pad Thai Café in the Old Orchard Mall, at the southeast corner of Maple and Orchard Lake near the Babylon Market (a good source for Middle Eastern foods, with a great selection of nuts and olives and spices and rices and olive oils and cheeses and much more). At Pad Thai, I had dinner on a Saturday night and lunched on Monday and Tuesday. If I used a rating system, this place would rank at the top.
Predictably, the Pad Thai was as good as any I’ve had. Pad Kratiem with chicken and vegetables was my favorite of the dishes I tried — its garlic and pepper sauce couldn’t be any better — but I’d recommend them all.
The Thai apple salad is light, crisp and tasty. The dish consists of fresh Granny Smith apples and onions with toasted coconut, a few pieces of chicken and shrimp in a light vinegar sauce, good as an appetizer, entrée or dessert.
The restaurant is attractively decorated, spotlessly clean, and the waitress, Sue, is warm, friendly and knows the menu. The “medium” spiced entrées are Thai medium, meaning pretty hot, the way they should be served.
In other lunch spot notes, a version of the Bread Basket Deli in Oak Park is now occupying a part of The Vineyards café, deli and catering in Farmington Hills, and serving some of the biggest and best corned beef and pastrami sandwiches anywhere. They also serve what they call, "breadless sandwiches,"which use the same deli fillings on lettuce "slices" for those who eschew carbs.
Rangoli is located at 3055 E. Walton Blvd., Auburn Hills. Call 248-377-3800. House of India is located at 28841 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills. Call 248-553-7381. Pad Thai Café is located at 6601 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield. Call 248-737-5941. The Vineyards is located at 32418 Northwestern. Call 248-855-9463.
Jeff Broder is an epicure who’ll be sharing his food finds with you on a weekly basis. He’d appreciate info on new and interesting restaurants, markets and food products.Send comments to [email protected]