Antica Pizzeria Fellini 415 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-547-2751: Fellini's seating centers around its massive wood-burning oven, where pies are cooked to perfection. Among the best is the Fiocco ($15), a rich pie slathered in cream, fresh mozzarella and Romano cheese, dotted with ham and potato crocchè. Each pizza is made with fresh ingredients imported from Italy; prices range from $9 to $17.50. For dessert, try the Coppa Pistachio, a generous dish of custard, chocolate and pistachio gelatos that's topped with a praline. Service was mixed: Some tables turned quickly while others waited at length.
Astro Coffee 2124 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-638-2989; astrocoffee.us: Astro is a comfortable neighborhood café known for its superb coffee. Dishes are handmade from mostly local ingredients. Breakfast includes house-made buttermilk scones, ham and white cheddar croissants and tomato and ricotta tarts. Lunch features a variety of baguette sandwiches: roasted beets with avocado, meatballs with cheddar, roasted carrots with mint, tomato with basil and thyme-roasted chicken. Sweets include a flavorful chocolate mousse cake baked with ground Honduran coffee and served with a hand-whipped cream.
Blue Tractor 207 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4095; bluetractor.net: Part brewpub and part barbecue joint, Blue Tractor will satisfy lovers of 'cue and suds. Chile cheddar corn muffins, pork quesadillas, fried pickles and chipotle buffalo wings are among the appetizers. Entrées include catfish, mac and cheese, moist spare ribs or baby backs with fries, pulled pork with braised greens and grits, brisket with veggies, and beer-can chicken with baked beans and mashed potatoes. Desserts include a bourbon milkshake or a fried doughnut bread pudding with a butter-rum sauce.
City Wings 2896 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-871-2489; citywingsinc.com: City Wings is the opposite of a fast-food restaurant, though decor is minimal and the interior brightly lit. All the offerings except fries, onion rings and fried okra are made in-house, even the sweet potato pie. There are 14 versions of Amish wing — the mild and medium Buffalo wings are among the most-ordered — along with lemon pepper, Parmesan-garlic and varying heat levels of BBQ. Other flavors are teriyaki, teri-que, Cajun, honey mustard and curry. The staff was super-friendly.
Commonwealth 300 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-792-9766: Commonwealth is a hip addition to Birmingham's dining scene. The coffee ranks among the best in the area, the decor is handsome, and the food is prepared well to delicious results. For breakfast, consider the fried egg sandwich, featuring eggs from the local dairy farms, guacamole, and locally made whole-grain bread. Lunchgoers may want to try the tomato soup and grilled cheese ($9), which combines salty Manchego, tangy boursin and meaty haloumi cheeses on fluffy, lightly grilled ciabatta.
Fou d'Amour 15110 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-823-8425: Fou d'Amour is a sweet little shop with a pillow-strewn, coral-colored banquette. Dinners cost $11.50 and are served on Wednesdays only. The menu is always changing. Examples include: eggplant Parmesan, seafood crêpes, and orange-glazed chicken all served with a salad or a dessert with a side dish, such as cranberry rice or roasted zucchini chips. Fresh desserts include cookies, cupcakes, scones, croissants, palmiers, brownies or raspberry bars. Sugar-glazed scones are among the most popular.
Fountain Bistro Campus Martius, Detroit; 313-237-7778; fountainbistro.com: Fountain Bistro is an indoor-outdoor restaurant with a fountain view, affordable prices, and an expansive happy hour. The sorrel salmon is cooked to perfection — served with buttery haricots verts (skinny green beans) and grilled cherry tomatoes. The "BLTA" is so overstuffed it has applewood-smoked bacon falling out the sides, complemented by avocado aioli. The Bistro's extra-long happy hour is 2-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, when appetizers are half-off, domestic beers are $2.50 and the house wine goes for $3.
Fresco Wood Oven Pizzeria 1218 Walton Blvd., Rochester Hills; 248-841-1606; frescowoodoven.com: Fresco takes inspiration from Italy's Napoletana-style pizza, serving up thin, crispy pies in a cozy space. Pies start at $7, and customers can build their own pizzas, adding up to three typical toppings. Or they might be interested in the Margherita or salciccia; the latter comes covered in sausage, roasted pepper, onion and tomato. Hot sandwiches include prosciutto and pickled pepper, meatballs with tomato and cheese, and chicken Parmesan. The staff was prompt and polite.
Harmonie Garden 4704 Third St., Detroit; 313-638-2345; harmoniegarden.com: Low prices, huge servings, a Wayne State-area location, and top-notch falafel. Falafel stir-fry, fala-melt, falafel with Parmesan, falamankoush (za'ater pie stuffed with veggies and falafel), barbecue falafel — there's no reason to restrict yourself. The Bamya, okra stewed with peppers and onions, is rich, spicy, and satisfying — served with salad, rice and mujadra (lentils cooked with wheat and topped with caramelized onions). The Sunday buffet is $9.99 for all you can eat plus coffee — and includes a number of meat dishes.
Iridescence 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-237-7711: With entrées priced as much as $60 each, Iridescence is the MotorCity Casino's top-of-the-line restaurant. The duck is excellent, prepared boneless in a glazed ginger-orange sauce, accompanied by a slice of candied orange and mild ginger. The menu emphasizes game and fish, which change monthly. For desserts, Key lime Florentine is recommend, in which tangy lime mousse alternates with sweet, crunchy hazelnut florentines that are like a lacy peanut brittle. The atmosphere is comfortable, dark and elegant. The service was above reproach.
Kai Garden 116 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-1785; kaigarden.com: Kai Garden features a menu of more than 180 items. They include the standards — pork fried rice, sweet and sour chicken — as well as more interesting dishes such as catfish hot pot, rose scallops, and spicy pig ears. The steamed sole, a large flat fish, is worth the half-hour wait just to watch the show: Your waitress removes the flesh from the bones with a butter knife. It's steamed first, then sprinkled with matchsticks of ginger and scallions, and served with a rich brown special soy sauce.
Krishna Catering & Restaurant 28636 Ford Rd., Garden City; 734-513-3663; krishnacatering.com: Krishna is a street-food joint that serves a wide variety of vegetarian Indian food. It's a bare-bones operation with plasticware, serve-yourself water from a cooler, just eight back-to-back tables and lots of carryout. Dishes go for $3.50 and the max is $8.50. Food comes from north and south India - you'll recognize the chutneys, sambar, samosas and dosas. A unique dish is khaman dhokala — cubes that looks like cornbread but are actually steamed chickpea batter, with sprinkles of shredded coconut and cilantro on top.
La Shish 22039 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-8400: Quality is outstanding and portion control nonexistent. La Shish bread is a circle of dough that puffs up like popovers, served hot to your table and replenished indefinitely. The menu is long and includes lamb chops, quail and seafood. The baba ghanoush is especially smoky, ultra-creamy and garlicky. Kibbeh is available raw, fried, baked or mixed with tomatoes. Grape leaves, spinach pie, meat pie, shawarma, cabbage rolls, foul, hummus with pine nuts or lamb or both — it's all there.
Majestic Café 4124 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticcafe.com: Majestic Café's menu takes its inspiration from all over the map. If you order a dish whose ingredients you normally like, you're likely to be pleased. A fabulous appetizer is the pan-roasted scallops with asparagus purée and morels. Ravioli is a recurring theme. Entrées are large, and there's a shared plate charge of $2. The café is only one aspect of the Majestic entertainment complex, which offers music, bowling, pool and a pizzeria, with a bar for each and an overlapping clientele.
Michigo Pizza 255 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-439-6195; michigopizza.com: It's true Chicago-style deep-dish they're after (hence the mild pun nested in the name). The ingredients are fresh and prepared in-house. The dough is made with olive oil and a bit of honey, producing a flaky crust. The cheese is mozzarella and provolone, and the sauce is a fresh-tasting tomato with basil and a bit of wine. It takes at least a half-hour to bake a large pie - a good reason to order an antipasto salad. Monday through Thursday for eat-in diners: Pizzas are $3 cheaper, meaning an individual-size for $5.95.
Miguel's Cantina 870 S. Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-453-5371; eatatmiguels.com: Miguel's delivers energetic ambience, friendly service and quality fare. The atmosphere is a mash-up of sports bar and casual family dining. Meals are served with hot corn chips and fresh roasted tomato salsa prepared tableside. Entrées range from several traditional tamales to tacos "Americanos" for the less adventurous. Authentic Mexican tacos are made with soft corn tortillas, onions and cilantro. The refried beans and Mexican rice is more flavorful than most in town. If you have room for dessert, fried ice cream is a popular choice.
Morning Glory Coffee and Pastries 85 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-647-0298: Baked goods are made fresh daily: giant cupcakes, fresh fruit tarts, croissants, scones, brownies, cannoli, muffins, beignets, lemon bars and raspberry ganache tarts. Among the best sellers is a beignet: a hunk of deep-fried dough with a cinnamon sugar or powdered-sugar dusting. Almost everything is made in-house, from pounding pesto to dicing tomato relish to slicing or pulling the meats for soups and sandwiches. Adding to the charm: a front patio with Greek-style statues, bright-red iron café furniture, a glassed-in indoor-outdoor fireplace and heated floors.
Pho Viet 3854 E. 13 Mile Rd., Warren;
586-558-8115: There are nearly 20 ways to order pho at Pho Viet. Most are some combination of proteins — rare beef, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, tripe, beef meatballs, or all of the above. The Bun cha gio thit nuong is wholly satisfying — a combination of rice vermicelli and vegetables under grilled pork and a crispy roll. With tall ceilings and a wide, open floor plan, the dining area feels enormous. It's quiet on weekday nights, but the lunch hour on a Sunday was busy. The service was superior.
Ristorante Ciao 22023 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-277-2426: Enter Ciao and emerge in a bath of cream. Of 14 pasta dishes, only five include a tomato sauce. Sun-dried are used in the linguine alla vodka e salmone, where the sweet flavor marries perfectly with that of asparagus, spinach and salmon in a "creamy, spicy vodka sauce." The mushroom and lobster bisque are sublime. There are six upscale, stone-oven-baked pizzas — tomatoes fresh or sun-dried. Desserts include bread pudding and a house-made cinnamon gelato. The service was professional; the waitstaff exclaimed in delight over our choices.
Taqueria El Nacimiento 7400 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-1790: Salsa music is pumped through the speakers and the tables are adorned with Mexican-themed decorations. The salsa tray ($1 to $3) is served with a basket of corn chips and options of Pico de gallo, guacamole or brick-red salsa. Inexpensive tacos ($1.25 to $1.75) and burritos ($4) are available with similar fillings. Dessert choices include such classics as flan ($2) and a dense tres leches ($3), the well-known sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream.
The Ravens Club 207 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-214-0400; theravensclub.com: A detailed, hand-carved bar is illumined by old iron lamp posts. This restaurant combines the ornate aesthetics of the pre-Prohibition United States with a contemporary flair. Confit of Rabbit. Savory Chicken Pastry. Prairie Game Chili. These are not standard menu items in most of today's restaurants. Nearly everything on the menu plays with one's entire palate — sweet and salty, savory and sour. Among the desserts, the flourless chocolate cake has perfect texture, and the carrot cake has a deliciously dense, abundant frosting.
Torino Espresso + Bar 201 E. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-247-1370; torinoespressobar.com: This friendly, casual restaurant is a trendy lunch stop and a vibrant nightspot. The staff is fun and chatty, their food offerings have a Mediterranean influence. Among the starters are a small bruschetta plate ($10), and a serving of hummus ($8). Torino aims to use local vegetables and meats, a principle illustrated in the apple and manchego salad ($10), which utilizes Royal Oak spinach along with apples, cheese and walnuts. They make their own pineapple- and jalapeño-infused tequila, delicious on its own and dangerous in their oversized margarita.
The Treehouse for Earth's Children Health and Holistic Center 22906 Mooney St., Farmington; 248-473-0624: Despite its shabby appearance, the Treehouse is a good place for some tasty, inexpensive, organic meals. It's known for its Sunday all-you-can-eat, which involves a movie, short lecture or live music. Weekdays soups, salads, sandwiches, mixed juices or smoothies, and raw dishes such as spinach lasagna, nori rolls or lentils are served. A bestseller is the Avocado Delight sandwich, served on various sautéed Avalon breads with cream cheese or zucchini hummus or cilantro pesto. House-grown wheat grass is pulped into juice.
Tria Inside the Henry Hotel, 300 Town Center Dr., Dearborn; 313-253-4475: The Tria staff aims to please. Elegant, yet approachable, Tria serves affordable small plates. The food is amazingly good. Try the lardio cheese, an Italian cured fatback — the creaminess melts into the warm toast underneath. Luscious lamb tacos were dressed up with pickled squash. Larger plates include the scallops, braised lamb and fried chicken — how often do you see that on a fancy menu? Desserts come as "small bites" or "big bites," and include a Key lime tart and a coffee-soaked tiramisu.
Sheeba Restaurant 8752 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-874-0299: Sheeba prepares Yemeni cuisine in a small building where little English is spoken. You may not receive what you ordered, but the food is good. Order the lamb Haneeth, which is succulent, deeply flavored and falling apart. The tannour is an excellent flat bread — chewy and crisp with pockets of roasted dough, excellent for dipping into a bowl of seltah, a traditional Yemeni dish of mixed vegetables topped with a fenugreek froth and a medium-hot sauce. Desserts are baklava, cream pudding and fattah with bananas or honey.
Square Lake Diner 6024 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-720-2000; squarelakediner.com: Situated in the middle of a strip mall, Square Lake Diner features an elegant, dimly lit interior with a modest bar. The menu features many of the typical diner dishes: a hani pita, Greek salads, and saganaki. A few varieties are broiled seafood, such as salmon and whitefish, and they also serve stir-fry options and cuts of beef, including a 12-ounce strip steak. For breakfast, early bird specials starts at $2.99, where homemade red velvet pancakes and sinful cinnamon raisin French toast don the menu.
Wolfgang Puck Grille Inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1648: Wolfgang Puck is the most downscale of the MGM Grand's three upscale restaurants. You can get a good meal while listening to Led Zeppelin, seated within eyeshot of the slots. Calamari circles have just the right consistency and crisp — their mild flavor is overwhelmed by a tasty hot-and-sweet Thai chili sauce. Crabcakes are small but mouth-watering. The tender almond-crusted salmon with horseradish potato purée and Port wine sauce is sweet and flecked with potatoes. The dessert menu reads like a dream.
Yemen Café 8731 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-871-4349: Yemen Café is a no-frills restaurant where little English is spoken. For $1, a flatbread round called malooga is less floury than most fresh-baked pita, and tastier. Break off a piece to scoop up your lamb, vegetables and rice. Also $1 is maraq, a dark brown lamb broth with onions and spices. Favorites include agaddah, in which pieces of fatty lamb are cooked with tomatoes, zucchini and onions and served with a Yemeni spice mix.
Zingerman's Roadhouse 2501 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-663-3663; zingermansroadhouse.com: The Roadhouse is a sprawling place with a semi-open kitchen, full bar, two dining rooms and outdoor seating. The steaks are dry-aged for five weeks, then grilled over oak (for a hot fire) and served with Tellicherry pepper jus. The beef has a depth of flavor that you'll want to savor, and not a hint of fat. Macaroni, ham and goat cheese included a taste of aged Monterey Jack cheese topped with a tomato sauce. The staff is attentive, and samples are always encouraged. The white chocolate bread pudding with Jack Daniels sauce is delicious.
Special thanks to editorial intern Rachelle Damico for her assistance compiling this column.
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