Best soul food
Franklin Street Restaurant
1440 Franklin St., Detroit
There may be a wait, but it’s the place to be after church on a Sunday afternoon. It’s the same food you ate coming up: catfish, pork chops, meat loaf, fried chicken, ribs. But it all tastes so good and you don’t have to do the dishes. Two sides and cornbread come with your entrée. The greens have a kick and the yams are candied with a buttery syrup. Save room for the peach cobbler. In Detroit’s warehouse district, the building was a machine shop in a previous life, and is now beautifully restored.
Best porkless soul food
10310 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Some of the best traditional and nontraditional soul food fare around — but with a Muslim tilt. This means no pork. But if you think that takes any of the soul out of the food, then you’re oh-so-wrong. They have some of the best yams to be found in the city, and they also occasionally feature live entertainment that adds to the comfortable, no-frills atmosphere.
Bert’s Jazz Club
2727 Russell, Detroit
Bert’s Jazz Club is one of the places that make Eastern Market so wonderful. On summer Saturdays, Bert’s spills into the street. There’s live reggae, outdoor tables, and the biggest barbecue pits you’ve ever seen. The ribs are seasoned for two days. Bert Dearing scoffs at people who boil their ribs first. “The key to it is turning them,” he says. “Turn, turn, turn.” With an industrial-sized pair of tongs, the slabs are endlessly rotated over hot coals. It takes about an hour and half, then they go into a smoker. Yummy.
8027 Agnes, Detroit
When Lillie Howard wanted to deepen her knowledge of cooking, she wrote to famed Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme and volunteered to work in his New Orleans restaurant for two weeks. “I told him I was a lady who would like to cook with him, no charge,” she remembers. Prudhomme inspired her use of spices. She makes her greens with a (secret) mixture of 12 different spices, but no salt and no meat. They are dished up in a little storefront eatery in Indian Village, where chef Howard serves all kinds of home cooking.
27925 Golf Pointe Boulevard, Farmington Hills
The ribs are to die for. Chef Shawn Loving slow-smokes ’em, basting with a honey-pineapple sauce. Ribs are best when the sauce is cooked in, and that is just the way it is done here, with a little extra sauce on top. Ribs are served with corn ya-ya and a warm redskin potato salad. Chef Loving, a graduate of Schoolcraft Community College’s culinary arts program, describes his menu as “upscale comfort food, with a twist.” It’s the twist that makes it so special.
Best bistro jazz track
300 Monroe, Detroit
Considering the jarring assault of most music-while-you-dine experiences — anywhere from blaring Britney to raging machines — it’s cool to eat in a place with real intelligence. The Camillian plays a steady stream of jazz cuts by Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders et al (mixed with other sonic fare) to go with its sunny menu of sandwiches, salads, coffees, juices, sprouts and avocado. On Saturday evenings, the jazz is live and cover includes a basket of wings. As the ’50s hipsters used to say, “Tasty, man.”
New Hellas Café
583 Monroe, Detroit
The New Hellas is Greektown’s oldest — founded in 1901 and still in the family. It’s one of the few that serves rich, tangy, house-made Greek yogurt — with a pitcher of warm honey on the side. The bean and vegetable soups are superior, as is the omelet with feta. Most ordered: lamb chops and the “Hellas trio” — moussaka, pastitsio and spinach cheese pie. Be careful to ask for Greek coffee, not Turkish.
Best non-Greektown Greek
21738 W. 11 Mile Road, Southfield
Who knew that a little Greek-coney spot, long loved by Southfield lunchers, was the home of the most consistently satisfying gyros in Michigan? You can’t be blamed for missing it, it’s so cozily hidden in the corner pocket of a strip mall. Although the longtime brains behind the operation, ace gyro-master Vacili, has moved on to other things, the new management knows not to mess with a classic. It’s jammed at lunch but that lovely lamb sandwich is so very worth it. The pita is grilled to order.
Best Coney Island
Lafayette Coney Island
118 Lafayette, Detroit
Head downtown to Lafayette Coney Island when you’re looking for a Coney Island hot dog. Though not as thick as a porkophile might hope, they’re the real deal — not from the “they’ll never know the difference” school of cereal-and-filler production At many coneys, chili cheese fries come with iridescent liquid cheese. Lafayette heaps on real shredded cheese, which melts from the heat of the freshly fried fries. The waitstaff shouts your order from the front of the restaurant to the kitchen; it’s a nice touch — that way you can never get away with ordering a salad and a Diet Coke.
Inn Season Cafe
500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak
You know the restaurant syndrome — you’re really hungry, you eat too much, you feel bad afterward. Chef George Vutetakis has imbued Inn Season with his commitment to good health. “We’re not just concerned to try to present the food well, or to create nice flavors. We’re concerned with how the food sits with you afterwards, digestively and health-wise,” he says. Carnivores like the food too. Dairy-free or wheat-free is easy here. But before you feel too virtuous, the food tastes as good as it is for you.
Best healthy eating
Atom’s Juice Café
345 Fisher Road, Grosse Pointe
The bill of fare is 100 percent cholesterol-free, with as many organic ingredients as possible. “Cream” soups, like broccoli, are made with organic soymilk and organic soy creamer. Raw, organic juices go beyond the humble orange to kale, garlic and wheatgrass. It’s disorienting to eat sausage guilt-free, but the meatless Sunday brunch wannabe is a reasonable facsimile, and the whole-grain pancakes are superb. Salads are not just greens but heartier shiitake noodle with sesame seeds, pesto pasta with roasted garlic and almonds, and mjadra. Healthy garbage too — most containers and utensils are biodegrade, all others recyclable.
Maxine’s Italian Cuisine
20217 Mack, Grosse Pointe
Maxine’s has a great ambience. Chef and owner Bujar (the “j” is silent) Mamushlari, looking elegant in a tall white toque, cooks in an open kitchen, and regulars will wait for a seat at the counter where they can watch. The kitchen is remarkably calm and neat, and the food is sensational. There are specials most nights, but the regular menu items are creative and sophisticated. Lots of lemony flavors, great linguine con vongole (clams), a variation on chicken Marsala that features walnuts, hazelnuts and dried cherries.
Best Italian in Windsor’s Little Italy
854 Erie St., Windsor
It’s hard to choose in Windsor’s Little Italy, but Pasticcio’s terrace gives it a leg up. Start with garlicky calamari and bruschetta and a glass of the house red, then move to rigatoni alla boscaiola, musky with long-stemmed mushrooms. In the veal Marsala, the Marsala is just a suggestion, the veal tender. They’re not on the menu anymore, but ask anyway for sumptuous pasta carbonara, smoky, faintly sweet and rich, or penne with salmon and baby shrimp in cream sauce. You’ll spend $14-$19 for pastas, more for veal.
The Cook’s Shop
The Pasta Shop
683 Ouellette, Windsor
These two little restaurants are upstairs and downstairs from each other. If you find yourself waiting in the foyer of The Pasta Shop, you’ll be sharing the space with a gigantic pasta maker, which is rolled out of the kitchen when things get busy. The egg-and-semolina pasta is made in-house, which may explain why it tastes so good no matter what sauce is on it. At The Cook’s Shop, anything that can be flambéed, is, and the pyrotechnics are fun to watch.
316 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak
Gary Ellis wanted to create a neighborhood pizza joint. Like in the old days, before chains of every description took over the world. He eschewed the conveniences that modern capitalism offers (like frozen pizza dough) and comes in every morning to begin chopping mushrooms. He makes the dough three times a day. Guess what? It tastes better that way. Also available: calzones, grinders, pasta and good salads. Eat in or carry out.
Best gourmet pizza
318 Pelissier St., Windsor
For those who’ve vowed never to eat pizza again. It’s gourmet, yes; snobby, no. The co-owners wait tables and make each thin-crust pizza to order in a wood-fired clay oven. It’s the height of sophistication to disdain tomato sauce, so try La Blonda, with roasted yellow peppers, pesto, mozzarella, artichokes and chicken. Or have your red sauce, but expect juicy cacciatore sausage instead of pepperoni. Design your own pie with housemade tapenades, asiago, calamari, feta, salami. Top-notch soups, salads, calzones, focaccia and bruschetta, a liquor license and Canadian prices. What else do you want?
Best authentic French
5880 Wyandotte E., Windsor
How can you tell if it’s really French? If horse is on the menu, look no further. At a time when any mammoth chain feels free to call itself a “bistro,” Valérie and Laurent Devin’s charming 30-seat spot serves the same traditional foods you would find in France: those tournedos de cheval (similar to beef in a red wine reduction), foie gras, salade du Périgord, confit of duck, cassoulet, Châteaubriand, duck magret, duck terrine, flamed crêpes suzettes, French cheeses and wines, crème caramel. The service, however, is not French (rude). Valérie dotes on you. Vive la France!
505 N. Center, Northville
It is hard to find a fault with this elegant spot. The setting is stylish and romantic, the rich hues on the walls underscore a sophisticated dining experience. Chef and owner Rick Halberg, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, cooks what he loves. The food is creative and elaborate, a French- and Mediterranean-inspired menu that emphasizes seasonal ingredients. The menu changes frequently, and always includes “something fantastically vegetarian.” On Saturdays, four courses are included in the price of the entrée; during the week you can order à la carte.
43180 W. Nine Mile Road, Novi
The French and the Japanese each have their own elegance, and the two cuisines are beautifully engaged here in an exquisite 1930 Greek Revival mansion. It’s not fusion; you’ll find sesame-crusted ahi tuna and salmon teriyaki alongside oysters Rockefeller, scallops with ginger-citrus aioli and rack of lamb. Essence of mushroom soup, gyoza (potstickers) and a light vegetable tempura of sweet potato, mushroom and turnip are some of the standouts. The tatami room is for those who want to sit on the floor, Japanese style.
3443 W. Bagley, Detroit
Don’t come here for chimichangas, fried ice cream and margaritas, but for down-home atmosphere (if home is Jalisco). The decor is Virgin of Guadalupe and gilt-on-velvet matador pictures. Branch out from the tacos and enchiladas you can get anywhere (though Lupita has those too). Sample posole (a pork and hominy soup); or shrimp and pulpo (octopus) cocktail, graced with cilantro; or horchata, a sweet drink based on rice. Authentic dishes include carne asada, lomo (shredded pork), cabeza (head), menudo, ceviche, hot chorizo con huevos (sausage with eggs) and the best pinto beans in town.
Best Mexican outside Mexicantown
27861 Woodward Ave., Berkely
Located right smack in the middle of the Woodward corridor suburbs is a Mexican restaurant that would never even dream of pandering to the Chi-Chi’s crowd. This is authentic Mexican cuisine that is heavy on the veggies and true to its roots. This place is right under your nose — don’t miss it a second time.
Best Mexican seafood
Mariscos, El Rincon Taraxco
1414 Junction, Detroit
Everything a chalupa is not. Start with smoky fish soup, oyster cocktails or ceviche (raw fish “cooked” in lime juice). Progress to tilapia or red snapper done in the styles of Jalisco or Sinaloa, or catfish garlic-style or devil shrimp. If you can’t conceive of Mexican food without cheese, the mozzarella in the shrimp quesadilla marinera makes a crisp crust that does not overpower the delicate cod. The Mexican mural tradition is honored with a wall-size portrait of Selena as a sultry mermaid.
Best Mexican lunch
6716 Michigan Ave., Detroit
El Cafetal, an underrecognized spot, focuses on making the second half of your day better than the first. The chips are perfection and the salsa is mild with a cool fresh tomato base. The Mexican sandwich is a construction-worker’s dream: three soft echelons of flour tortillas with layers of rice, homemade beans, veggies and cheese. You simply can’t be hungry after that. The chimichanga, best with chicken, is a luncheon special worthy of consideration if you’re up for something very filling.
Zumba Mexican Grille
121 N. Main St., Royal Oak
Zumba translates as energy or buzz. Modeled after taqerias (taco stands) popular in the Southwest, this tiny spot is a standout presence in Royal Oak. Even though the menu features only five entrées, you can mix and match and your options will increase exponentially. Everything is good, but don’t skip the guacamole. Made fresh several times a day, it is priced to encourage indulgence. A large (12 ounce) portion is $4.25.
Taqueria La Tapatia
4314 W. Vernor, Detroit
What the high-school cafeteria has done to the taco is a crime against Madre Nature. One of the simplest of foods, the taco needs only to be adorned with a sprinkling of cilantro and enfolded in a soft corn tortilla. At Taqueria la Tapatia, a buck buys one of these staples-of-life filled with carne asada, carne al pastor, brains, barbecued goat, tripe, head, tongue or chicharrones (the translation “pork rinds” doesn’t do justice to these tender morsels). The menu’s not limited — a $2 quesadilla, ceviche and golden fried trout are also outstanding. Take home a dozen tacos for $10.
3443 W. Bagley, Detroit
Lupita’s pinto beans have nothing in common with the stiff, refried purees you find in most Mexican restaurants. They’re whole, not mashed; a pretty pink; and cooked with onion, hot peppers, and visible bacon, for a rich, comfort-food flavor. The bacon-lard content is so high, in fact, that if you don’t watch it, a forkful will slide right down your throat. The moist rice that comes with the beans is flecked with tomato. Carry out a chico-size rice-and-beans for $2 or a grande for $4.
Best Central American
3456 W. Vernor, Detroit
To branch out from Mexican, start here. Most spectacular is the Colombian bandeja paisa: sausage, a corncake, the city’s best fried plantains, beans with bacon, yucca, empanada and chicharrones. It’s a lot, and each component brings glory to the chef. The Colombian tamal, wrapped in a banana leaf, is moister than a Mexican one, the cornmeal soaked with juices from chicken, pork and bacon. Guatemalan típico is a thin, tough, tasty steak with black beans, plantains and sour cream. And El Salvador’s national food, the quesadilla-like pupusa, is exquisite served with black beans and more plantains.
273 Pierce St., Birmingham
With just 60 seats and a well-deserved reputation for great fish, this tiny eatery fills up fast every day of the week. Chef Sharon Juergens believes that fish should be simply prepared and well seasoned. The menu seems to travel the world to present the fish in its best light. Gumbo chowder, lobster and shrimp scampi, seafood jambalaya, bouillabaisse. Lots of places serve decent fish, they’re not all as fun as Streetside to be at. There’s a beautiful copper bar, and a loyal clientele that’s very happy to be there.
126 E. Main St., Northville
The menu only sports two true steaks, but Mackinnon’s has that traditional, masculine, moose heads-on-the-wall-so-it-must-be-steak kind of feel. Stalwarts like beef Wellington, duck, wild turkey and rack of lamb share space with the New York strip (peppercorn reduction sauce) and filet mignon (roasted garlic demiglace). “Scotch grill” combines salmon, duckling and lamb chop, for a meat-eater’s hat trick. All are prepared with impeccable care. Bill Clinton ate here, and he looks very cheerful in the photo.
Rangoli Indian Cuisine
3055 E. Walton Boulevard, Auburn Hills
We liked so many things at Rangoli that we felt comfortable randomly exploring the menu. This system led us to nargisi aloo, a potato stuffed with a mix of nuts, vegetables and cottage cheese. And chicken tikka masala, with chunks of breast meat roasted in a tandoor oven, then cooked in the thick and luscious sauce. If you’re new to Indian food, go for the lunch buffet. You can’t beat the price and the hooded copper chafing dishes are beautiful, lined up like a row of minarets.
Best vegetarian Indian
29210 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
Vegetarians have free rein of the menu at Udipi, which features food from chef-owner Thilagam Pandian’s native state of Madras in southern India. Carnivores will hardly miss the meat in the rich flavors of Pandian’s cooking. Dosa is fun to eat, a huge crispy crepe made of rice flour and overflowing with tomatoes, potatoes and onions. There are vegetable curries cooked in coconut and yogurt, and a savory lentil-flour donut called vada. If you are an adventurous cook, Pandian has written a cookbook which is for sale at the restaurant.
Milk and Honey
6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield
OK, it’s also the only kosher restaurant, but that should not detract from how good it is. It’s a gourmet restaurant that happens to be kosher. Seafood and vegetarian entrées are elaborate and unusual, such as pistachio-crusted sea bass with a sauce of passion fruit and black currants. Ahi tuna is seared on the outside, red and luscious inside. Great corn chowder, spiked with diced pickles. Located inside the Jewish Community Center, Milk and Honey is open to the public. Full bar.
6646 Telegraph, Bloomfield Hills
Everyone has a yardstick to measure a good deli, but nothing beats a pastrami sandwich. Served on perfect rye bread, hand-cut, brimming with meat, but not so much that you can’t get your mouth around it, mustard but none of those chi-chi garnishes, and two pickles on the side, one new, one old. With a line for tables, bright lights, hanging salamis and dishes clattering on the other side of the wall, you’ll swear you’re in New York. (Though New York delis would not put bacon the menu.)
38123 W. 10 Mile Road,
It takes a lot to transform a cavernous Holiday Inn dining room into a Spanish posada (inn), but when Mari and Lisa Montes dance the Flamenco, you can believe. It is a treat, on Friday and Saturday nights, to watch the show over a dinner of tapas and paella, with a pitcher of sangria. Tapas, the little plates that Spanish bar patrons enjoy with a glass of red wine or sherry, come in 26 varieties, with an emphasis on meat and seafood. Many ingredients are imported from Spain.
27925 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
Hands down, the best Chinese food you’ll find in the Metro area. The menu promises “Fine Chinese Dining” and that promise is fulfilled. The setting is elegant, white tablecloths set with white china. The food is authentic and out of the ordinary. Try the soup of shredded duck and mushrooms in a smoky broth or shredded meat wrapped in bean curd skins. Our favorite: spicy squid stuffed with shrimp mousse — the squid is delicate, bright white and so meticulously wrapped around the filling that it looks like a plate of shrimp.
Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro
330 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
Assaggi’s creative menu is truly Mediterranean, not just Italian and stretching it. A semiopen kitchen lets diners in on the action. Pita bread is baked in a brick oven at one end of the kitchen, and it’s so nice when a hot and puffy pita comes to the table. Your server will pour olive oil onto a pretty plate and then stir dried herbs into it. The menu is divided into sections titled “Amuse” and “Innovations.” Psst … that liquor license finally came through.
Best Middle Eastern
Steve’s Back Room
19872 Kelly Road, Harper Woods
An east side institution since 1988, Steve’s is the back room of a retail store where you can buy take-out, bulk spices, olive oil, or baklava made next door. Walk through the swinging saloon doors, and you are in the little 66-seat restaurant. You’re not going to be the first to discover Steve’s, but you will understand why it is such a popular spot. Great soups, a wide-ranging menu that includes lots of vegetarian choices, plenty of kebabs and some interesting desserts made from apricots.
43588 West Oaks Dr., Novi
The menu at Cherry Blossom, now in its 10th year, is more extensive than many area Japanese restaurants. There is a sushi bar as well as a yakatori (grill) bar, with sake, wine and beer available. All the standard entrées are offered, as well as more unusual things, such as kamonabe — sliced duck cooked in broth at your table, with vegetables, tofu and noodles. Ask about the dessert specials. One evening they had rice cake filled with sweet red beans. Interesting, different, clearly authentic.
OJ’s Sushi Bar
29429 13 Mile Road, Farmington Hills
Sushi is something of a performance art, and at OJ’s you can sit at the sushi bar and watch the maestro at work — a blur of fingers reaching, patting, rolling, wielding the long sushi knife. Chef OJ Suzuki believes in serving traditional Japanese food. Everything here is authentic, and each piece of sushi that emerges is stunning as well as delicious.
Rexy’s Bangkok Cuisine
30923 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
Rexy’s is the newest of the Arpachinda family’s eateries, this one owned by son Rapeepat. Thai cuisine is fiery hot; at its best, it combines extremes like hot peppers with sweet sauces, creating harmony from opposites. Rexy’s relies less on fire power, more on the flavors that characterize Thai food: citrus, basil, cilantro, and, yes, chiles. Bold murals create a unified atmosphere with images of tropical leaves and stylized flamelike arches into the dining room. Painted table tops repeat the rich colors.
Annam Restaurant Vietnamien
22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
The decor is spare and elegant: wicker chairs, jasmine candles, white linens and graceful chopstick rests. The food is subtle and fresh, influenced by the cuisines of China, India, Thailand and France, but lighter than any of them. This is sometimes called “temple food.” The secret is in the delicate noodles and fresh herbs — cilantro, mint, lemongrass — stir-fried with few oils. Outstanding are Annam’s appetizer sampler, bouillabaisse and gingered chicken with eggplant. Finish with a slim warm banana rolled in sesame seeds and floating in coconut sauce.
23331 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington
Detroit is one of a handful of cities that sports a restaurant featuring the cuisine of Nepal. Chef Pradip Poudel (aka Rocky) was raised in the capital, Kathmandu. Nepalese cooking uses a rich and complex mix of spices; cilantro, coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic and lemon juice prevail. Most entrées mix chicken or lamb with interesting vegetables and grains like popped rice. Eleven vegetarian choices feature beans, chickpeas, cauliflower, or potatoes. Try chiya after your meal. It’s a tea that is mostly milk, infused with pods of cardamom.
Best Asian fusion
4771 Haggerty Road, West Bloomfield
Restaurateur David Lum explains that the concept of the Eurasian Grill is reflected in the black-and-white photographs of his nieces and nephews that line the walls. “They’re all Eurasian kids,” he says. “I told them, ‘I’m going to name the restaurant after you.’” Michael Fung is the young and adventurous chef. The menu is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Italian and French approaches. Fung says, “The idea is Asian-based, new-American cooking. It’s traditional American cooking with Asian spices to give it a new flavor.”
Best Japanese noodle house
24267 Novi Road, Novi
Oodles of noodles. Your major decision will be to choose among the many varieties offered: 16 variations of ramen (egg noodles), seven of udon (soft wheat noodles), and five of soba (buckwheat noodles). Can you read Japanese? Enjoy bound comic books. There are also Japanese TV shows (sorry, no subtitles). All will recognize that they are having an authentic experience.
New Seoul Garden
27566 Northwestern Highway, Southfield
A Korean custom that elevates a simple meal to a feast is the array of condiments that fill your table. Ten or 12 little bowls filled with tidbits like the fiery fermented napa cabbage called kimchi to silver dollar-sized pancakes studded with bits of scallions and red peppers. Table grilling adds to the fun. Shrimp, chicken or beef is marinated in a sweetened soy and garlic sauce, then grilled. You can eat it dipped in soy sauce, or wrapped in a leaf of lettuce, dabbed with a spicy ground soybean paste. It’s delicious.
121 Main St., Rochester
Hamtramck hipsters old enough to remember the Workmen’s Co-op #1 restaurant on Yemans will feel right at home in Rochester at the Two Sisters, which offers down-home Polish cooking and the no-nonsense ambience of grandma’s kitchen. Specialties include pierogi, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and naleshniki (blintzes or crepes, depending on your ethnicity), as well as Polish-American hybrids like city chicken. The sisters (yes, they are real) cook up several rich, thick soups every day; a bowl can make a meal. Comfort food, and comfortable prices in a comfortable setting.
6676 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield
If the old country were like this, our grandparents wouldn’t have left. Specialties include veal Rasputin, Siberian pelimeni, Ukrainian borscht, gefilte fish and blini garnished with caviar. Some customers come because the food is reminiscent of their childhoods. Others come because of the quality. Owner Michael Kuchersky emigrated from Russia in the 1970s. The food is made “how it’s done in Russia a long time ago.” Even the strudel dough is made on the premises. There is live music on the weekends.
26257 Goddard Road, Taylor
You don’t have to be Hungarian to feel at home; a sign over the bar says “Isten hozott” (“God brought you”). The HACC’s fare is the best kind of home cooking: rich, generous, health-take-the-hindmost. Chicken paprikas with dumplings pours on the sour cream. Meat loaf cooks with bacon on top and has a mellow, hammy flavor. Rakott kapusta, with ground pork, curly cabbage and sour cream, exemplifies the best of the casserole-maker’s art: a blend that brings out each flavor separately. Open for dinner Fridays and the first Sunday of the month. More hours possible; call.
545 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
221 E. Washington, Ann Arbor
Still the best, since 1983 and despite this year’s move to the suburbs. The chef says folks like Blue Nile because it’s authentic — and who’s to know? Everyone likes to eat with their hands, but that wouldn’t be enough if the food weren’t terrific: chicken, lamb, beef, collards, cabbage, split peas and lentils are spiced, onioned, garlicked and cooked very tender. Their juices mingle with one another as they soak into the flat bread underneath. All you care to eat, $17.90 ($14.90 vegetarian). Full bar, too. This winter, look for a new downtown location at Gratiot and Brush.
Best West African
635 W. Seven Mile Road, Detroit
The Gambian owners offer what they call “food from the Motherland, real African soul.” If superkanja with smoked turkey, smoked fish and greens is too pungent, try chicken yassa, with lemon, onions and peppery gravy. Cheb is more like fried rice, and chue with lamb or chicken comes with a spicy, slightly sweet sauce. Vegetarian dishes include plasas — greens, palm oil and raw ground nuts over rice – and cassava with black-eyed peas. Don’t be afraid to ask the very gracious owners for suggestions, explanations, a free taste, or to substitute fufu for rice. A TV plays African music videos.
22848 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
You could start your visit with a Cajun martini — gin and pickle juice — but there are plenty of other N’awlins-style drinks under the stamped tin ceiling. The crawdad boil appetizer is worth the work, or make it easy on yourself with crisp crawfish cakes or voodoo barbecue shrimp. Collards are spicy and loaded with pork, but you might want to ask them to up the spice level on other dishes. Finish up with bread pudding in a thick brandy sauce.
Best wine list
6430 Farmington Road, West Bloomfield
Restaurateur Jim Lark is a master sommelier of French wines. He travels to France every year to visit vineyards. He goes to trade tastings and reads a ton of wine publications. But the last thing Jim Lark wants is for customers to feel uncomfortable in his restaurant. Believing that the wine list should be a part of the menu, 100 wines are listed on the back of the fixed-price menu. Another 910 varieties are available for connoisseurs, and those are listed in one of those big, fat, intimidating wine books.
Best wines by the glass
116 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak
Ever feel resentful that the big spenders (or big drinkers) could experiment with a diversity of fine wines, while the poor by-the-glass patrons were stuck with a yucky house red? At Lepanto, house policy is to serve, by the copa, a selection of Italian and American vinos that most restaurants would offer only as full bottles; you can sample some fancier wines without breaking the bank. Lepanto is proud of its hearty Amarone Classico Superior, a ’95, at $14.25 per — elsewhere you’d be plunking down $57 or giving it a miss. Fifty-eight choices, averaging $7.50. (The creative Italian food is quite wonderful too.)
Best Detroit institution
511 W. Canfield, Detroit
Thirty-seven years ago a patron of the Dog House Bar lost an ear — to a fellow patron. The owner bellowed, “Anybody want to buy a bar?” — and TJ’s, a Detroit institution, was born. Ben Edwards and Richard Vincent served beer and burgers to Wayne State students till 1976, then turned toward quality. They made their own soups, breads, and eventually beer and cheese. Scott Lowell and Carolyn Howard, owners since 1998, have kept TJ’s comfortingly the same — which is to say, eclectic and always trying something new. The blinking traffic light and moose head will always greet you at the door.
Best top-dollar Detroit institution
The Rattlesnake Club
300 River Place, Detroit
Winner of a Gourmet magazine award; site of star sightings. This is where Jimmy Schmidt — fresh from whiz-kid status at the London Chop House — started a new approach to food in Detroit. Downtown bigwigs make deals over lunch here, overlooking the river. Schmidt’s new American dishes offer made-for-each-other couplings like silky duck foie gras wrapped in duck prosciutto with mission fig chutney. His double pork chop is enhanced by tart cherries, roasted figs and fried rosemary. A dozen finfish, shellfish, steaks and chops are simply “from the grill.” White chocolate ravioli is the signature dessert.
Best big splurge
31425 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills
Rest assured that you are spending as much as can be spent in any Metro Detroit restaurant. The silverware is gold! The over-the-top detail extends to the food. Chef Takashi Yagihashi, regarded as one of the top chefs in the United States, changes the menu constantly, as exotic ingredients ebb and flow. Yagihashi describes his cooking as “contemporary French with an Asian twist.” A special degustation menu allows you to sample small portions of many of the magical items created in this award-winning kitchen.
Fiona’s Tea House
945 Beech St., Detroit
Housed in a 19th century brick cottage, Fiona’s Tea House is a quiet respite in a sea of parking lots. Inside, the urban jungle fades away to a genteel world of tea and scones. Soft music plays. The walls are the color of raspberry sorbet, and the tables are draped with rich fabrics. Best of all is the mismatched china; it looks like you’re at someone’s summer cottage, until you notice how beautiful and delicate each piece is. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are served Tuesday-Friday, brunch on Sundays, and dinner on Fridays.
Best place to have your parents buy you dinner
McCormick & Schmick’s
2850 Coolidge, Troy
Lots of green velvet, lots of brass, lots of mahogany, terrific seafood, Coke served in the original curvy bottles, and a full bar. The fish is delivered twice a day from around the world. The crowd here is well-heeled and leans toward middle-aged and up. If you’re awkward with your parents, there’s plenty of commotion to fill the silences. If you want to hit them up for a loan, ask for one of the “snugs” where you can draw the heavy curtains and speak in privacy.
Best place to buy your parents dinner
Maria’s Front Room
215 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
This is time-warp Italian, with red-checked tablecloths and Sinatra on the stereo — or is it the hi-fi? The folks will love Maria’s time-tested dishes, the candles stuck in basketed Chianti bottles — and the homemade wine. This, you feel, is how someone decided long ago that a family-run Italian restaurant should be, and never changed her mind. Standout dish: fettucine al tutto mare (seafood), but Dad can order pasta with meatballs or one of the seven veal scaloppines and feel just as welcome.
Longest wait, but worth it
345 Victoria Ave., Windsor
Crafting dishes as superb (and as handsome) as Joseph Petrinac’s takes time, so bring someone you like — or a good book. Petrinac, trained in France, swears to use only seasonal, local and certified organic and wild ingredients, and the result is perfection. The summer menu included wild Quebec guinea hen with morel foam; wild black bass with heirloom tomato vinaigrette; wild Ontario partridge confit with mission figs; and wild mushroom strudel. Heaven. It’s worth growing old for.
Best original menu
3203 Peter St., Windsor
Where else will a vegetarian find chickpea-leek ravioli with Cyprus cheese and pomegranate honey? Alan Manor’s chef, who hails from Turkish Cyprus, doesn’t hesitate to mix cultures, pairing a filet mignon Diane with Yorkshire pudding or flambéed apples with wonton crisp. Everything from pickled onions to blackberry iced tea syrup to peach chutney is made on the premises, and often grown in the back garden. Must-tries are the Turkish appetizer platter, the Manor Delight dessert (phyllo with apricot, coconut and liqueur) and the signature eggplant dish Imam Bayildi, or “the priest fainted” — we expect he was shocked by the sensuality.
Best romantic café
8047 Agnes, Detroit
What could be more seductive than good food, wine and candlelight? Perhaps a jazz musician to lull you and your beloved. The Harlequin Café has it all. Sherman Sharpe, owner and chef of the West Village restaurant, is a virtual cupid, serving up delicious entrées such as salmon with ginger, garlic and lime or jumbo shrimp and pesto. It’s a great place for a first date or to rekindle smoldering embers. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner; call for reservations.
Best place to pop the question
4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Face it — one of the things that makes a dinner out romantic is the idea that he (or she) is spending a lot of money on you. The Whitney, a three-story 1894 mansion, is happy to oblige, and throws in 19th century notions of elegance to nurture the fantasy: gold- and silver-washed plasterwork, Tiffany windows, crystal chandeliers. Most romantic dessert: cheese and fresh fruit. Most romantic entrée: bouillabaisse. We’ll always have Paris.
Best place to impress a date
Sweet Georgia Brown
1045 Brush St., Detroit
Two left feet but, oh, so neat has Sweet Georgia Brown. This is Southern cooking so upscale that it’s off the charts. The dining room is stunning, dominated by a raised platform with a bar and a grand piano that plays like butter. Jazz nightly. Check out the floor — a river runs through it! The food is terrific and the service will make you feel like a VIP. Sweet potatoes come as soup, fries or pie. Pralines on salad, soup, potatoes, dessert.
Best dinner theater
333 Madison, Detroit
This glorious Mission-style building has been lovingly restored and it is a pleasure to step inside. The Gem Theater and the Century Theater are housed within, as well as a lovely restaurant, the Century Club. Ask about dinner-and-theater specials. Sunday brunch and theater is a bargain at $47. The food is upscale American, with plenty of selections for meat-lovers. Attention to detail takes this restaurant over the top: pats of butter molded into two different flowers, lemons wrapped in yellow cheesecloth to strain out the seeds. Impeccable service in an exciting setting.
Russell Street Deli
2465 Russell, Detroit
After a hard morning choosing raw goodies at Eastern Market, let someone else do the cooking, at ultrafriendly Russell Street. Go for a huge omelet or scrambled egg special, and you might luck into double-smoked bacon, fontina, roasted red peppers and oregano. Or go Greek with feta, plum tomatoes, spinach and black olives. Green eggs and ham — Bavarian ham with pesto and provolone. Hash browns are made from scratch. So are pancakes, served with fresh fruit and Traverse City maple syrup. Breakfast is served only on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Best ham and cheese omelet
1219 St. Antoine, Detroit
If your life depended on your ability to obtain a ham and cheese omelet the size of a hubcap, the Ham Shop in Greektown would be your salvation. The chef slices the ham off the bone as you look on, salivating. The succulent meat is wed with fluffy eggs — apparently very big eggs — and somehow crowded onto a plate alongside a truckload of home fries and toast. Even the help is impressed, serving us one with the declaration, “Now that’s an omelet!” We couldn’t agree more.
New York Bagel Factory
23316 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
Nowhere in the metro Detroit region, and probably the state, can you find a better bagel. Biting into one of these babies is like taking a trip to Manhattan, where real bagels abound. We suggest arriving early so you can pick up a warm batch just out of the oven. It’s also a great place for lunch. Try the tuna fish on a salt bagel. The smell of the sparse joint alone is worth the trip.
Most original bagels
2847 Coolidge Highway, Berkley
A bagel is supposed to be glassy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and that’s just the way you’ll find them at Elaine’s. They’re boiled in water first, then baked, just like it’s done in the Big Apple. Brothers Andy and Steve Shifman opened their first bagel shop (named after their mom) almost seven years ago, and now have locations in Troy, Eastpointe, Clinton Township and Berkley. Fifteen varieties are available daily and two specials rotate; you might want to call ahead to see if it’s raspberry-white chocolate day.
Best French toast
535 Monroe, Detroit
Who knew that a tiny 24-hour diner in Greektown would have not only the best French toast in the city, but in the entire universe? All the food at Plaka is good, and moderately priced, but the French toast is truly inspired. A consistency that is not too eggy but not too dry. The perfect dusting of cinnamon and sugar will make you say, in the immortal words of the French, “Sacré bleu.”
Tie: Krispy Kreme Originals
and Apple Charlie’s
Krispy Kreme: Dearborn Heights, Roseville, Warren and Livonia (www.krispykreme.com).
Apple Charlie’s: 38035 S. Huron Road, New Boston
Warm is wonderful: What these two fat-and-sugar fests have in common is that you can eat them hot out of the deep fryer. Look for Krispy Kreme’s “Hot Now” sign (5-10 a.m. and 5-10 p.m.). At Apple Charlie’s — a U-pick orchard with petting zoo — watch the doughnuts float down the vegetable oil river and get flipped by the mechanical flipper. Krispy Kreme doughnuts are best because they’re lighter than air (till they get to your stomach). Apple Charlie’s are best because you’re out in the country and you eat them with fresh-squeezed cider.
511 W. Canfield, Detroit
Just to read the dessert menu is to gain five pounds. The most famous, and long-lived, selection is Carlotta Chocolatta. Is there anyone in town who hasn’t tried this union of chocolate cheesecake, coffee ice cream and bittersweet hot fudge sprinkled with ground espresso? Equally satisfying are the house-made ice creams, bread puddings (studded with chocolate chips and rum-soaked raisins, or spiked with Grand Marnier and blueberries) and the warm crisps and pies (strawberry-rhubarb or peach-raspberry), always à la mode. Weirdest combo: coffee ice cream floating in Java Porter from TJ’s brewpub.
Best chocolate dessert
Molten lava cake
The Hill Seafood & Chop House
123 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms
The ingredients aren’t that different from a brownie’s, but oh my Lord. What chef Michael Connery does to Belgian bittersweet chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar and flour is not of this world. The outside is more or less the best brownie you ever ate and the inside is a river of dark, hot liquid chocolate. He slaps it upside the head with some Wells Blue Bunny peppermint stick ice cream, and it’s better than sex.
Best upscale carryout
18441 Mack, Grosse Pointe
The food produced in this tiny kitchen is way too classy to cart home in a box, but when packed in plastic will maintain the quality if you scurry right home. You might find a special of salmon en croute with goat cheese and red peppers, or veal ragú with asparagus, mushrooms and redskins, or penne primavera with roast-garlic sauce. Just slightly lower on the culinary food chain are the grilled asparagus salad or the spinach and artichoke calzone. Dish’s east-side clientele is loyal; the regulars don’t even have to order out loud.
Best upscale comfort food
2800 Big Beaver Road, Troy
J. Alexander’s is the kind of place where chicken fingers and coleslaw get all the attention that [insert fancy food of your choice] or [another fancy food] might get at some gourmet joint. The lime chicken with garlic smashed potatoes looks like a meal that can’t be finished. But you eat all of it and leave feeling uncommonly satisfied. The blue cheese coleslaw is simply wonderful. It may look like a swank establishment, but the food is hearty and unpretentious.
Best chocolate shop
Sydney Bogg Chocolate
18932 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Sydney Bogg’s is one of Detroit’s oldest chocolatiers. Mr. Bogg began his career as a streetcar driver and made candy as a hobby. He sold it to his passengers. Bogg apprenticed to a Highland Park candy maker, Harold Vair, who made his fortune with a patent on poppycock. In 1936, when Bogg began his business there were hundreds of candy stores in the city, each making its own chocolate. Jim McGuire bought the business in 1995, and he also has a day job. “We all have our passions,” he says. “And mine is to help this company survive.” The store has maintained its old-time feel and taste. The candies are a chocoholic’s wet dream and a dieter’s nightmare. The simple secret is a refusal to use anything but the best ingredients. One bite into a chunk of their dark chocolate tells another story. A taste this rich and delicious can’t be mass-produced. The taste comes from experience gained through perseverance and a sincere desire to make something bordering on an opiate.
Best downtown eatery
Tom’s Oyster Bar
519 E. Jefferson, Detroit
The latest outpost of Tom’s Oyster Bar, right across from the RenCen, is noisy and cheerful at lunchtime and after work. Tom’s gives a very convincing impression of a well-preserved 19th century pub with dark wood and a stamped tin ceiling. The oyster bar is prominent, and a variety is offered, identified by their beds in Wellfleet, Mass., or Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, or Chincotegue, Va. You can sit around the bar and have a drink with your oysters, or settle in at a table and enjoy a seafood dinner.
Best fast food
Baja Fresh Mexican Grill
1357 Coolidge, Troy
What’s your definition of fast food? Greasy, cheap, unhealthy? Baja Fresh expands the definition. Specializing in Tex-Mex, this is fast food that is made to order right on the premises. The motto on the wall says it: “No microwave! No can openers! No freezers! No lard! No MSG!” You can eat food that is fast and tasty, and not overwhelmed by a dunk in the deep fryer. Grilled chicken or steak are featured in most of the choices, and be sure to try the Baja salsa made of roasted tomatillos. Baja Fresh started in 1990 as a Mom-and-Pop eatery in California. It now has 169 franchises in 16 states and is coming soon to Rochester Hills, Farmington Hills and Southfield.
Third Street Saloon
701 W. Forest, Detroit
Third Street Saloon has been a low-key neighborhood staple for years. Seriously renovated on the inside, Third Street is evolving into quite a gathering spot for the hip set. It’s an intergenerational, integrated, working class, gay-friendly bar in the heart of one of Detroit’s most appealing neighborhoods. It’s great to see more and more people making time for a little Third Street. Saloon in their lives. The hidden secret? The cheeseburger, aka The Third Street Everything Burger, is unbelievable. It’s fresh and thick and goes down delicately with a Bell’s beer.
Diamond Jim Brady’s Bistro
26055 Town Center, Novi
Diamond Jim Brady was a turn-of-the-century railroad tycoon who is no relation to restaurateur Tom Brady or his wife, chef Mary Brady. A look at Diamond Jim’s portrait behind the bar shows that he liked to eat. Mary is a certified executive chef whose many awards are displayed on a wall in the back. But she isn’t above serving a great hamburger. And if you like her burgers, the menu goes off in all sorts of interesting directions, from fish and chips to shepherd’s pie. Everything is made from scratch.
McCarthy’s Pub and Pizza
1600 Fort St., Detroit
For postal employees and newspaper workers, McCarthy’s is a home away from work. It’s your basic working-class Detroit bar, but there is a catch: the french fries. Crispness without greasiness is tricky. But McCarthy’s strikes the perfect balance: these light, snappy little fries are just what you were looking for. Fresh from the deep fryer, flavorful as anything, they leave your fingers lube-free. It almost defies science.
207 S. Main St., Royal Oak
Remember the ’50s? Remember Formica with little imprinted boomerangs? Remember pink vinyl and stainless steel chairs? It’ll all come back to you at Comet Burger. The malts are worth the trip. The ice cream is whipped up with real malt and you will come across bits of malt as you slurp. They come in those huge stainless steel cups, frosty on the outside, so you can re-create that ’50s image of Archie and Veronica sipping together through his-and-hers straws.
Best all-around cheap eats
Small World Café
111 E. Kirby, Detroit
A stone’s throw from the DIA and Wayne State, Small World does lunch for dozens of discerning diners a day. They come for a real meal from several world cuisines — Indian, Middle Eastern, Italian (and vegetarian) — and they leave barely poorer than when they walked in. The most expensive item, at $6, is the Indian combo, a couple of curries. The $5 Mideast Feast combines crunchy falafel, hummus and tabbouleh. For $4, get a veggie quesadilla or pizza (pesto pizza is the best). Sadly for the impecunious gourmet, nothing can convince Small World to open for supper.
Best $2.50 sandwich
Eastern Market Seafood
2456 Market, Detroit
Check out this sausage-lover’s heaven. Bratwurst, knackwurst, chorizo, Cajun-andouille, two kinds of kielbasa … about 15 in all. Uncertain about what to take home? You can have ample samples of any three stuffed in a pita pocket for $1.95, plus cheese, lettuce and tomato for another 55 cents. Amenities are minimal — your goodie comes swaddled in paper toweling. You’ll be asked whether you want this “to go,” but since sausage juices quickly soak the pita, we suggest devouring posthaste.
6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit
You go in for those lovely little greasy cheeseburgers, you stay for the Michigan Avenue gossip and the retired eccentrics glued to the counter. Order their famous-in-the-neighborhood coffee (go for a “double-double” — a creamy, sugar-spiked caffeine bomb) or their crispy fries with “hillbilly chili.” And by the way, they fry their coneys.
Best shrimp hut
Dot & Etta’s Shrimp Hut
9100 Mack, Detroit
5207 E. Seven Mile Road, Detroit
26035 Greenfield, Southfield
The spot on Mack is Dot & Etta’s original location, and it has been there since before the ’67 riots. One regular patron had this to say: “The chicken? Oh my God. They’ll make Col. Sanders pack up their bags and go, baby.” And the Colonel — now KFC — doesn’t do shrimp. Batter-fried shrimp. Great big batter-fried shrimp. And fish too.
15250 W. Seven Mile Road, Detroit
Grills are smoking out back; you know you’re in for a treat at this soul food place. Two sides and a corn muffin or honey biscuit come with dinner at Mama’s Place. The buttermilk biscuits are light enough to float, and brushed with honey while hot. They’re suitable for strawberry shortcake. Scratch or mix? Manager Ed Sasnett assures: “Miss Pat and Miss Cora, they make the biscuits. Everything is made from scratch. We put the black-eyed peas up to soak. We cut up the yams, the greens. Everything.”
Best fish & chips
511 Monroe, Detroit
These ain’t no fish sticks. Three fabulous flaky filets fried just crispy enough, served with fries as big as Gumby’s body. Your choice of a dinner salad or cole slaw staves off cardiac arrest. Trust us — you’ll be a fan.
112-114 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor
Crêpes are pancakes, but not really. At Café Zola you can watch the chef making paper-thin, delicate crepes one at a time, as ordered, behind glass. Management recommends that you order three: an appetizer, an entrée and a sweet crepe for dessert. Fillings for the savory crepes include the champignon (mushrooms, onions, and porcini mushroom sauce); smoked salmon with sour cream and fresh dill; ratatouille; spinach and Swiss cheese. The daintiness of the sweet crepe is perhaps compromised when you fill it with Nutella, sautéed bananas, toasted almonds, crème chantilly and raspberry sauce — but who cares?
Best place for soup nuts
2917 Trowbridge, Hamtramck
What makes a restaurateur devote himself to soup? When Soupersonic was Café Zuppa, under the previous owner, Dan Sordyl was on the call list for certain soups. When the café closed, he was heartbroken. So he reopened the place himself, serving a rotating mix of six to 10 soups per day, plus upscale sandwiches at Hamtramck prices. A wildly diverse crowd orders standards such as chili and chicken noodle (“we’re not just soup nouveau”) or one of the many vegan entries, like gazpacho, spinach-potato-leek or carrot-ginger. Get on the call list for African peanut with sweet potato.
Best fall soups
Paint Creek Cider Mill
4480 Orion Road, Rochester
The secret is to roast fall vegetables, says the chef, which magnifies their flavors. A chicken-stock base makes the soups rich. The pumpkin soup is like a perfectly spiced pie, but not as sweet, and buttery. The sweet potato with parsnips is spicy and nutty — with a few scallops to add an unexpected hint of the ocean. Butternut squash is flavored with a bit of maple syrup; ginger carrot uses fresh ginger and some pineapple juice. Paint Creek’s other dishes, like glazed pheasant and smoked trout, are just as good.
Best strange soup
30600 John R, Madison Heights
Wanda Seterlet, the chef and owner of European-style Restaurant, learned to cook from her grandmother, and she makes some unusual and tempting homemade treats. Sorrel soup is wonderful, made from the perennial weed, sorrel (Rumex acetosella), that plagues many a gardener. It has a tangy lemon flavor. In America, Wanda plants it in her backyard, but in Poland it grows everywhere. Customers are delighted to see it on the menu. “They want to find things like their grandmother cooked,” Wanda says.
Best urban coffee house
10020 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
Living proof that Hamtramck is hip. Brunch on Sunday, surrealist games and “indie jazz” various weeknights (check out the Carl Smith Trio). In its own way, Urban Break lets you know that Hamtramck is an international city. On the wall is a world map with a sign: “Where Were You Born?” Colored pins are provided for visitors to locate their motherland. The Midwest and Eastern Europe are heavily pinned-up, but so is Africa, south Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Smoker-friendly, in case you’re feeling oppressed in that department.
Best suburban coffee house
240 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
Xhedos is probably the most consistent singer-songwriter open-mic space around these days. It also has nice healthy lunches, great coffee drinks, and a commitment to live local music. If you live anywhere at all near Ferndale and you need to pick up some whole bean or ground coffee for home you should taste what Xhedos has to offer. In keeping with true coffeehouse traditions, the art on the walls is local.
945 Beech St., Detroit
Fiona Palmer has done a dandy job of converting a tiny brick house into a sweet space for a spot of tea and shepherd’s pie. The “shabby chic” decor is a treat. But due to the casino expansion downtown, Fiona’s is moving to Forest Street between Cass and Woodward. “The new place will be bigger and more beautiful,” says Palmer, who is unsure of her moving date. Till then, visit her at the Beech Street locale. The ginger cake is fab. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Friday dinner 6-10 p.m., Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis, Detroit
The biggest seller at this Cultural Center mainstay is the farm bread, a traditional French white sourdough. But if you like your sandwiches made for you, show up at lunchtime as the focaccia comes out of the oven. It might be topped with organic roasted zucchini, tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Avalon has branched out from the baguettes and crusty peasant loafs like Leelanau Cherry Walnut and Dexter Davison Rye that brought bread-starved customers flocking five years ago. Now brioche, scones and cinnamon rolls expand the meaning of “bread.” But it’s still the best. Look for “Italian month” in October.
Josef’s French Pastry Shop
21150 Mack, Grosse Pointe
Josef Bogosian began working in pastry shops just out of high school. He opened his own little storefront bakery in 1971, turning out fine pies, cookies, cakes, mousse torts, roll cakes, fruit flans, almond tea rings, and other goodies. He sells only what he likes, “though I don’t really eat pastries” (just enough to check out the competition). Cakes can be prepared any way you’d like them — he’s sculpted cakes into birds, cars, pickles, flowers and mayonnaise jars. Josef’s favorite is his chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The secret? Extra cocoa.
Best traditional bakery
Give Thanks Bakery & Cafe
225 S. Main St., Rochester
An oasis of Old World taste and ambience in downtown Rochester, the pastries are made with European butter and the breads are all cold-risen via a traditional process that takes several days. You can’t rush such pure goodness. Check out the exquisite tortes and be sure to take home a loaf or two of the seeded levain. You can munch a delectable almond croissant (be careful! — they’re addictive) and enjoy a cup of fine coffee tableside, surrounded by heavenly smells and classical music. Let us give thanks, indeed.
Best Middle Eastern bakery
6912 Schaefer, Dearborn
On Friday nights during Ramadan, this bakery is take-a-number packed with ravenous break-fasters. Other nights you can comfortably linger over coffee and pastry at one of six tables. One long series of cases carries a dozen types of baklava, burma, bassma and fingers with walnuts or pistachios. They are sold by the piece, half-tray or tray. Along another wall are highly decorated cakes with thick, sugary icing. Shatila also makes its own ice cream in 11 flavors. Decent American-style coffee is served.
Best gourmet grocery
1203 S. Main, Royal Oak
Holiday Market will have you humming this refrain from “Alice’s Restaurant”: “You can get anything you want. …” How many groceries have their own sommelier to help select the perfect wine to go with that sushi-grade tuna? How many have their own bakeries? OK, some do, but their stuff tastes like it’s made on an assembly line.