540. Open Book Theatre – December 19, 2021 – Trenton, MI

Visiting Open Book Theatre – what a sweet experience!

I was introduced to the Trenton-based playhouse in December, when I attended a performance of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley. What a delight it was to experience live theater for the first time since COVID’s appearance!

Open Book Theatre Company has been putting on plays since 2014. The theater building is small in stature, nestled between a record shop and a lighting store in a suburban strip mall. But it’s got mega-watt charm! I appreciated the diversions put out for waiting guests in the lobby, including The Wickhams-themed games and a poll asking playgoers whether they’d seen the last Pride and Prejudice-oriented play put on at Open Book (2019’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley). It was also fun to learn the rules of the theater via song, in a parody of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

But the best part about visiting Open Book Theatre was, of course, experiencing live theater. The auditorium is intimate, seating maybe 75 people. Because admission is general, I got to pick my seat, smack-dab in the middle of the third row. I loved being up close to the actors, soaking in the drama and the set’s cozy ambiance (what’s more enchanting than a 19th-century English manor kitchen decorated for Christmas?). The actors were great; the play was, at turns, fun and funny and serious and scary. It had a happy ending, as holiday plays are wont to have. And it left me with warm-and-fuzzy feelings to savor on the ride home. Oh, the magic of live theater!

If you’re ready to experience live theater again, too, check out the tickets page of Open Book Theatre’s website. As of the writing of this post, the theater’s COVID protocol dictates that playgoers must be fully vaccinated and wear a mask. Playgoers are being asked to show their vaccine cards at the door. Consult the COVID Safety page on Open Book’s website for the most up-to-date protocol.

1621 West Rd.

Trenton, MI 48183

www.openbooktheatrecompany.net

539. A Serendipity Cakery – December 19, 2021 – Riverview, MI

A Serendipity Cakery and its exquisite Cake Drops! With their chocolatey outer shells and rich, truffle-like interiors, they were more than worth the trip.

The bakery was one of the earliest entries on my to-do list for 100 Places in the D. I’d read about A Serendipity Cakery years ago, when it was based in Wyandotte. It’s since moved, to a strip-mall storefront in Riverview flanked with pink signage and hanging baskets of brightly-hued artificial flowers.

This was my first trip to Riverview! It admittedly felt like the other side of the world from where I live. I’m fascinated by how large the tri-county Detroit area is – how you can drive for an hour and be somewhere you’ve never been and still be in Metro Detroit. That’s how I felt when I went to Riverview and A Serendipity Cakery.

I was thrilled to make an acquaintance of this bakery! How could I not be, with the variety of sweets that A Serendipity Cakery sells? Those include custom cakes, cupcakes, macarons, cookies, cannolis, ice cream, and various items dipped in chocolate. The latter category includes pretzel rods, potato chips, and something called Bacon Crack (I’m intrigued).

And of course, there are the Cake Drops, which I’d argue are the pièce de résistance of A Serendipity Cakery’s offerings (I believe A Serendipity Cakery would agree; its website is www.cakedropsgalore.com). I couldn’t help but order a dozen. How could I not, with compelling flavor varieties such as chocolate-peanut butter, chocolate-banana, chocolate-caramel, and mint-chocolate chip?

As you can see, I went pretty chocolate-heavy in my flavor pickings. A Serendipity Cakery is happy to accommodate chocolate lovers like me! Many of the shop’s 50 flavors of Cake Drops incorporate dark chocolate. But there are varieties that feature white chocolate shells and non-chocolatey fillings such as key lime, piña colada, and cotton candy. The carrot cake Cake Drop I bought was one of my absolute favorites. Its moist spiced-cake filling was oh-so-delicious!

The chocolate-banana was another standout favorite. Every Cake Drop I purchased from A Serendipity Cakery was a delight in its own way. How could I not love this bakery?

18100 Fort St.

Riverview, MI 48193

www.cakedropsgalore.com

538. D’Marcos Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar – December 17, 2021 – Rochester, MI

Dining at D’Marcos Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar was an absolute delight!

The Rochester-based restaurant offers a sleek, richly-furnished kind of cozy perfectly conducive to hunkering down on a cold December night. Its exterior being covered in white twinkle lights (as part of downtown Rochester’s annual holiday light show) only served to enhance the already magical ambiance.

Being out on a Friday night, wearing fancy shoes, sipping a glass of pinot noir at a corner table in a bustling restaurant . . . that in itself was magic! What a treat that was, a privilege – one that I don’t take for granted anymore since this age of COVID.

What a privilege it was to scan D’Marcos’ menu, its array of antipasti and pizzas and house-made pastas, meat-centric entrées and seafood dishes, and to choose the Veal Picatta, a bowl of piping-hot minestrone, and a side of sauce-laden noodles.

Is there anything better than pasta done right? I think not! That side plate of pasta was so good. I relished the perfectly al dente noodles covered in rich meat sauce.

And the Veal Picatta! Its tender slices of beef and artichoke hearts sautéed in lemon, butter, and white wine were so very excellent. I could drink a quart of that lemon-butter sauce all on its own, I think!

Wine, pasta, and picatta – what a trifecta! The night could have very well ended right there at D’Marcos, but I opted to keep a good thing going by ordering dessert. Enter one of the best slices of chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten in my life! With its to-die-for layers of ganache and overall chocolatey richness, this torte was utterly delicious. It was a fitting end to a special, satisfying meal.

The food wasn’t the only thing done right at D’Marcos. The service was excellent. Our server was kind, attentive – the kind of server who seemingly aims to curate an experience, rather than simply going through the motions. The manager checked on us several times, too during the course of that busy night.

A restaurant that values delicious food, dazzling ambiance, and distinctive service – how could I not love a restaurant like that? How could I not love D’Marcos?

401 S. Main St.

Rochester, MI 48307

www.dmarcositalian.com

537. Got Pho – December 5, 2021 – Ferndale, MI

Got Pho was a beacon of warmth on a blustery day!

The warmth came in the form of Got Pho’s Drunken Noodles with beef. The piping-hot noodles not only warmed my belly but delighted my taste buds. With their tender beef, rich sauce, fragrant Thai basil, and sautéed onion, green pepper, and bean sprouts, these Drunken Noodles were delicious! I ordered them without egg and still found them incredibly filling, with enough left over for a whole other meal.

Billing itself as Asian fusion, the Ferndale-based restaurant offers much more than those Drunken Noodles. As you may have guessed, its sells pho – seven different kinds, to be exact (including a vegan option for our plant-based friends). Got Pho’s menu also features Chinese favorites such as sesame and sweet and sour chicken; stir-frys and pad Thai; pad see ew and grilled short ribs . . . the list goes on and on! It’s a list worth checking out, and a restaurant most definitely worth a try.

172 W. Nine Mile Rd.

Ferndale, MI 48220

www.gotphoferndale.com

536. Inspire Marketplace – December 4, 2021 – Clinton Township, MI

Inspire Marketplace is a cornucopia of locally made, handcrafted goodies!

The shop based at The Mall at Partridge Creek is bursting with the fruits of artisan creativity: mugs and shirts and artwork and candles, hats and bags and barbecue sauce. Much of the work is handmade, and much of it is Michigan-centric.

There are coasters featuring Detroit landmarks, preserves made from Michigan cherries, wine bottles filled with twinkle lights, works of art lauding lake culture, and so much more.

Buying locally made, handmade holiday gifts from a locally owned business – how could you go wrong?

17420 Hall Rd.

(Inside The Mall at Partridge Creek)

Clinton Twp., MI 48038

(With an additional location at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi)

www.inspire-marketplace.art

535. Sabbath Coffee Roasters – November 28, 2021 – Clawson, MI

Sabbath Coffee Roasters made a snowy Sunday morning extra special!

I visited the coffee house based in downtown Clawson over the Thanksgiving weekend, after the first real snow of the season. I was up early that Sunday and in the mood for some coffee shop time. So I headed to the locally-owned shop that roasts its own beans and serves coffee, tea, and espresso drinks – including a very dreamy-looking frozen oat milk latte. (It’s served from a frozen drink machine: the creamy, caffeinated version of a slushie.)

Walking into the tiny shop, I realized there was no seating; it’s carryout only. I was bummed – but still excited to try one of Sabbath’s cappuccinos. I ordered one with oat milk and savored its creaminess and rich espresso flavor as I headed out into the snowy landscape. It was a picturesque scene: sparkling white and quiet – the perfect backdrop for a piping-hot beverage.

Something I really appreciated about Sabbath – besides that tasty cappuccino – was the fact that the barista who made it took the time to engage in conversation with me. She asked me what I had planned for the day, seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and shared her plans, as well. It was a refreshing moment of connection that brightened my day – and reminded me that it doesn’t take much to positively connect with others. So thank you for that, my Sabbath barista friend!

Speaking of connection and community: what a hard week this past one was in Metro Detroit. Thinking about everyone experiencing the tragedy in Oxford and sending you love. May you have a caring community of supporters around you, to walk with you through this terrible time.

24 E. 14 Mile Rd.

Clawson, MI 48017

www.sabbathcoffeeroasters.com

534. Lettuce – November 22, 2021 – Rochester, MI

A recent trip to downtown Rochester (for cronuts from The Home Bakery, naturally!) gave me an excuse to lunch at Lettuce.

As if I needed an excuse to try a new-to-me place! I know I didn’t need an excuse to try one of Lettuce’s intriguing salads, grain bowls, or wraps.

The fast-casual restaurant opened in downtown Rochester this summer. Its bright interior was a welcoming refuge from the blustery-cold clime from which I walked in. Lacquered sage-green metal chairs and an accent wall of faux greenery provide pops of colors in a predominantly white landscape (complete with white laminate wood tables accented with white Mason jars spouting sprays of baby’s breath).

Previewing the menu before my visit to Lettuce, I was caught in indecision. Should I get the Mediterranean quinoa bowl topped with chicken, feta, spinach, chickpeas, cucumber, Kalamata olives, onion, tomato, pita chips, and Lettuce’s house-made Tangy Tahini Sauce? What about the Barbacoa rice bowl with it shredded beef, romaine, pinto beans, queso fresco, guacamole, Mexican crema, corn salsa, and crispy jalapeño chips? Or how about the Lettoush, Lettuce’s take on the fattoush salad?

So caught up in those tantalizing choices was I that I didn’t delve much into the wraps section of Lettuce’s menu, which holds its own enticing options (including the Turkey Club accented with avocado and arugula and the Caesar Wrap with its chicken, romaine, bacon, and Parmesan tossed in Caesar dressing).

Standing inside Lettuce, frigid outside air still clinging to me, I ordered on impulse . . . the Barbacoa! Its hearty ingredients sounded perfect in that moment.

They tasted perfect, too! How delicious that Barbacoa was! The beef was tender and flavorful, as were the ample drizzles of crema and guacamole. The romaine was fresh and crispy, and I loved the crunch the jalapeño chips provided. I gobbled that Barbacoa up! Protein-packed as it was with the barbacoa beef, pinto beans, and queso fresco, it left me feeling full for hours after.

Fresh, flavorful, filling ingredients . . . those are the makings of Lettuce. And those are the makings of a place worth revisiting!

121 S. Main St.

Rochester, MI 48307

(With an additional location in Shelby Township)

www.letsfeedu.com

533. The Commons – November 6, 2021 – Detroit, MI

The Commons exudes community spirit! I experienced that firsthand during my visit to the East Side-based laundromat/coffee house.

The Commons is owned and operated by MACC Development, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the residents of Detroit’s 48214 zip code. It’s located on the ground floor of a pretty brown-brick building on Mack Avenue, below the MACC Development offices.

I opted to experience both the laundromat and café aspects of The Commons. I had a comforter that needed laundering, and I was excited by the prospect of sipping a cappuccino while I waited for it to be washed.

Walking into the place, I admittedly felt the nerves of a new kid walking into the first day of school. There was a lot I needed to learn. Where would I get change? What size washer would my bulky comforter fit in? Where should I put my laundry basket so it was out of the way? And where were the restrooms?

These questions were graciously answered by The Commons staff members. I could get change from the quarter machine just beyond the coffee counter. They thought my comforter would fit in a four-load washer (it did, but barely, so I opted for a six-load washer). I could put my laundry basket in one of the wheely laundry carts they provided and wheel it over to where I was sitting. And the restrooms were through the exit door at the back of the shop and required a key for entrance. (May knowing this information ease your new-kid jitters should you decide to visit!)

Those staff members were welcoming from the get-go. They greeted me right when I walked into The Commons, explaining how I got a free coffee or tea just for doing laundry (how cool is that?). If I preferred one of the specialty drinks instead, they explained, I’d receive a $2 discount on one of those.

In addition to offering a variety of coffee, tea, and espresso drinks, The Commons serves food, including delicious-looking cookies, pastries, ice creams, smoothies, and sandwiches. A drop-off laundry service is also offered.

Once I figured out how to use the washers (which was easier than I’d expected), I used the $2 discount to order that cappuccino I’d dreamed of. I sipped it in a seat at the end of the barista counter, reading as I did and listening to patrons I presumed were regulars chatting with the staff and each other. There was a convivial spirit to their interactions that I found heartwarming. According to its website, The Commons aims to act as a community space. It appears to be achieving that aim.

Did some of that community spirit rub off on me? Walking into The Commons with my laundry basket, I was stopped by a man driving by who asked if I’d like help carrying the load in. I was touched by his generosity. And a fellow patron chatted me up for several minutes while waiting for his drink. Who knows, maybe with another visit or two, I’ll be a part of the fold!

7900 Mack Ave.

Detroit, MI 48214

www.thecommonsdetroit.com

532. Ernie’s Market – October 30, 2021 – Oak Park, MI

Ernie’s Market! What a delight it was to finally experience this iconic Oak Park-based shop and its beloved sandwich.

The red-bricked convenience store/deli holds court on a corner in a residential neighborhood, looking like it’s straight out of the 1950s – because it is. Ernie’s Market opened in 1955 and is run today by the son of the original owners. He’s also named Ernie.

Maybe you’ve heard of Ernie and his big personality and big sandwiches. I was fortunate to encounter both during my visit.

The shop itself is tiny in stature, with a couple of rows of drinks, snacks, and other convenience items. At the back is the deli counter. Everywhere else is crowded with memorabilia: framed articles; Ernie’s-centric artwork; and accolades the market has won over the years (and it’s won MANY – including best-of nods from Hour Detroit and numerous WDIV Detroit Vote 4 the Best awards).

Ernie’s Market offers what it calls “Build It Your Way” sandwiches. There’s the Ernie’s Special, which includes one meat and your choice of toppings; the Ernie’s Double (which has two meats); and the Ernie’s Club with – you guessed it – three meats. And then there’s the Monster.

I think the main draw to Ernie’s Market is that Monster, which has received lots of press – and for good reason. It’s the seven-meat version of the Ernie’s Special, a compilation of turkey, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, salami, chicken, and corned beef. All that meat on a kaiser bun with cheese PLUS your choice of veggies and sauces. And that’s not all! The pièce de résistance of the sandwich is Ernie’s Love Spice, the shop’s proprietary blend of spices.

You know I had to try that Monster sandwich! The only modification I made was to nix the salami (since I don’t like it) and to add extra ham in its place. For veggies, I went with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, banana peppers, and jalapeños. I said yes to cheese, yes to mustard (but not mayo), and yes to the Love Spice (obvi!). All those ingredients were nestled in hefty layers between two halves of an uncut, onion-flecked kaiser bun.

When you’re a first-timer at Ernie’s and order the Monster, it’s requisite for them not to cut the sandwich in half for you. Initiation into the Ernie’s Market legion means taking that Monster head on!

It was such fun to be in the shop and orchestrate the build of that Monster sandwich. The staff members I interacted with were friendly and welcoming. I even got to interact with Ernie himself!

He said hi to me warmly – so warmly, I admit, that I felt sure he was confusing me with someone else he knew. Because of this, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t say hi back at first. Then I realized it was him – Ernie himself!

I didn’t know that Ernie greets all of his customers so enthusiastically. According to the shop’s website, Ernie’s customary greeting to patrons is “Hey Baby!” because he wants people to know he cares about them – even if he doesn’t know their names.

That explains the “Hey Baby!” greeting Ernie gave a father and his young daughter while I was there. I’d assumed he knew them well. Maybe he did – or maybe he was displaying his customary warmth. Regardless, once I got past my initial confusion around his reception of me, it felt wonderful to be welcomed so congenially by Ernie – who, once he heard it was my first time trying his sandwich, said he hoped I liked it.

I hoped I liked the Monster, too!

My hopes were not to be dashed. The epic sandwich was epically delicious! What a kaleidoscope of flavors that Monster sandwich was.

The sheer number of ingredients and jaw-defying height of the sandwich meant that each bite was different. My favorite bites included the hearty meat with that soft kaiser bun, those spicy jalapeños and bananas peppers, and an ample smattering of Love Spice. That’s no surprise, given that I’m a lover of all things spicy. In fact, I bought a bag of Better Made’s Hot ‘n Spicy Corn Chips from Ernie’s to accompany that Monster sandwich.

You may be wondering: did I finish that Monster in one sitting? [Drum Roll] I did not. I ate over half of it for lunch that day. That meant I got to enjoy the leftovers for dinner! They were delicious toasted in the oven.

I wonder if Ernie would find toasting his sandwich sacrilegious. I have to think he’d be all for it. “Whatever makes you happy, Baby!” I can imagine him saying.

Worth noting: Ernie’s is a cash-only establishment – but totally worth the trip to the ATM!

8500 Capital St.

Oak Park, MI 48237

www.erniessandwichshop.com

531. Tivoli’s Pizzeria – October 26, 2021 – Utica, MI

Tivoli’s Pizzeria makes one EXCEPTIONAL pizza pie! I found that out on a Tuesday night in late October, when I met a friend at the Utica-based pizzeria.

Tivoli’s is bringing the ambiance, too. I’d admittedly expected a no-frills interior from this restaurant that’s been around since the mid-’70s. Instead, I walked into a cozy brick-walled dining area decorated with vintage movie posters, black-and-white photos, and glitzy chandeliers. Our table was near the wood-fired pizza oven, a driving force behind Tivoli’s delicious pies.

Pizza is of course the focus of Tivoli’s menu, but it showcases much more than that. There are appetizers such as Bruschetta Caprese and focaccia bread stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano. There are salads, including the classic Antipasto, and sandwiches such as the Meatball Parmigiano and Super Club. Dessert means cannolis and the glorious-sounding Nutella Pizza topped with chocolate-hazelnut spread, powdered sugar, and strawberries or bananas. Beer, wine, Italian sodas, and espresso drinks are also available.

From the non-pizza section of that menu, I chose the House Salad (sans mushrooms). It was loaded with fresh and flavorful ingredients: mixed greens tossed with tomato, red onion, roasted red pepper, green olives, and a house-made Italian vinaigrette.

Pondering the pizza offerings was a more laborious task. Tivoli’s offers many enticing options, from the iconic Margherita to the Pig & Pineapple (featuring both bacon and ham for the pig component) to the Sfiziosa topped with arugula, ham, sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pizzas are available as wood-fired rounds (12-inch size only); Chicago-style; squares; and as what Tivoli’s characterizes as the New York Round.

Ultimately, it was the Lorenzo Special wood-fired pie that won out for my friend and me. Slathered with pesto, topped with grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, it was an absolute DREAM! Irresistibly rich and brimming with flavor, it was the kind of pizza pie I could sit and eat slice after slice of – until the entire thing was gone.

I reined myself in that night at Tivoli’s, though. There were leftover slices of that Lorenzo Special, which my friend graciously offered to me. Lucky me: I was able to enjoy Tivoli’s for another day!

45257 Van Dyke Ave.

Utica, MI 48317

www.tivolispizzeria.com