437. The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms – October 5, 2019 – Ferndale, MI

October2019FifthWallEscapeRooms1 (2) In the first week of October, it was that time of year for me again: BIRTHDAY TIME! Celebration was obviously in order, and a visit with friends to The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms in Ferndale kicked off the festivities.

I’d been wanting to try out an escape room for a while, and while checking out the local options, I ran across The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms. It intrigued me right away, as it’s a locally-owned establishment with rooms that incorporate Michigan elements and with themes that seemed much more creative to me than those of the downtown-based branch of a national escape-room chain heavily advertised on Google.

The three rooms to choose from at The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms at the time (and as of the writing of this post) were The Purple Gang (billed as an “introductory escape room” on the Fifth Wall website; it gives an abbreviated escape time of 25 minutes); The Harry Houdini Trap; and Weirder Stuff, a creepy caper held in a cabin in 1980s northern Michigan.

I opted for the Weirder Stuff room and recruited five friends to join me in the one-hour escape extravaganza.

When we entered The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms at the time of our booking, we were greeted by two guys who I assumed were the owners and given an introductory explanation of the room parameters: the rules, point system, etc. We were being given one hour to crack the numerical code that would allow us to escape the room, though we had the option to stay in the room beyond that point (until the full hour was up) if we wanted to continue to solve the full puzzle and earn additional points. Our group of six would have the room to ourselves, as we were the only ones to book it during that timeslot (the Weirder Stuff room holds 10 people).

We then watched a short introductory video giving us further context on the mission we were about to embark on and were ushered into our escape-room scenario.

The configuration of the room, as well as the puzzles presented within it, were much more elaborate than I’d expected. I don’t want to give away any of the elements of the room or its storyline, so I’ll simply say that it’s obvious that a lot of care and creativity were poured into the crafting of this room by The Fifth Wall team and that they did an excellent job creating an immersive experience. Also, the spooky/supernatural elements of the Weirder Stuff room make it an ideal outing for Halloween season.

After about 52 minutes of intense sleuthing, our group cracked the code that would let us out of the cabin we’d been locked within! We, however, decided to spend the remainder of the hour attempting to crack the full puzzle of the room.

We fell short. It was a bummer to gain peak momentum in the last 15 minutes of the challenge and not be able to see the full exercise through – but that’s how the escape-room game goes!

At the end of the hour, our hosts entered the room and gave us feedback about how we did and answered some questions we had about puzzles that stumped us. They said we’d gotten a lot farther in the Weirder Stuff room than most groups did, which made us feel better about the endeavor of which it seemed we’d just started to scratch the surface.

The Fifth Wall guys had also popped in aurally via a loudspeaker during the challenge to give us hints when we’d been stuck on certain elements, which was helpful.

My takeaway from my first escape-room experience was that it was much more challenging than I’d expected (I definitely had moments of feeling like the whole thing was over my head during the Weirder Stuff room) but super entertaining. I was pleased at how well my friends and I worked together; it was fun to participate as a team in such a novel experience. The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms, thanks for helping me kick off my birthday celebration in such an enjoyable and engaging way!

1930 Hilton Rd.

Ferndale, MI 48220

www.fifthwallescape.com

Advertisements

436. Albert’s Coney Grill – October 4, 2019 – Auburn Hills, MI

October2019AlbertsConeyGrill1 (2)October2019AlbertsConeyGrill2 (2)Dining at Albert’s Coney Grill proved to be a delicious endeavor.

The Coney Island-style restaurant located in Auburn Hills presented a clean, well-lit dining room; quick, pleasant service; and tasty, affordable food during my lunchtime visit earlier this month.

Albert’s menu is extensive, featuring various culinary avenues: appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers; seafood dishes and stir-fries; Italian and Greek fare; a whole page devoted to breakfast items; and of course, Coney dogs.

Choosing my meal that day was easy, as I was in the mood for a salad and zeroed in on the Chicken Greek Salad on Albert’s menu. The friend who I dined with that day ordered the Chicken Strip Salad.

Our salads arrived quickly and were HUGE. They were accompanied by addictively chewy pita bread triangles; dressing came on the side in plastic squeeze bottles.

I doused that Chicken Greek Salad with ample amounts of Greek dressing and loved every bite of its crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumber and onion, pickled beets, creamy feta, zesty olives, spicy pepperoncini, and tender grilled chicken.

The salad was so big that after eating my fill at lunch that day, I had a meal-sized portion left to enjoy for dinner. Thanks, Albert’s Coney Grill, for handling two meals in one fell swoop for me!

2061 Featherstone Rd.

Auburn Hills, MI 48326

(Closes at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays)

www.albertsconey.com

435. Unburger Grill – September 24, 2019 – Dearborn, MI

September2019Unburger1 (2)September2019Unburger3 (2)September2019Unburger2 (2)Unburger Grill, you phenomenal purveyor of vegan goodness, you had my palate exclaiming “WOW!” over and over during my recent visit to you!

I’m not vegan – or vegetarian – but I enjoy eating plant-based cuisine. Impressive vegan and vegetarian establishments reside in the Metro-D, making the meatless fare taste as good as – or better than – the animal-based originals.

Unburger Grill in Dearborn is one of those impressive vegan establishments. The fast-casual restaurant serves burgers with house-made patties made from plants; Black Bean Portobello, Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini, Sweet Potato and Quinoa, and Ultimate (described on Unburger’s website menu as “using a blend of the best vegan meat alternatives available”) are the varieties offered.

Diners choose what patty and bun they’d like for the style of burger they select at Unburger: Basic, Mushroom Swiss, Southwestern, Mac Style, or Sweet BBQ. The restaurant also serves vegan sandwiches, sausages, salads, soups, nachos, air-fried French fries, and other veggie-based sides.

A fact I didn’t know before the writing of this post: Dearborn has two downtown areas, West Downtown Dearborn and East Downtown Dearborn. Unburger is located in West Downtown Dearborn.

I’d never seen any downtown area of Dearborn and was excited to discover for myself the area where Unburger is located. It’s super cute! My friend who accompanied me to Unburger and I got enthused about exploring it more in the future.

Behind Unburger and some adjacent businesses is a courtyard with tables where patrons can sit and enjoy their meals. After walking into Unburger and ordering our burgers at the counter, we sat at one of the tables outside and waited for our burgers to be brought to us. They arrived quickly.

I ordered the Mac Style burger with a Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty and whole-grain bun, plus a side of the air-fried French fries. It was A-MAZING. The Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty was SO full of flavor; it was wonderful. It was definitely the best vegan patty I’ve ever had, hands-down!

Honestly, I found myself liking that Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty better than a traditional beef patty – and that’s high praise from me, as I LOVE red meat. Unburger, look at you, making me a plant-based burger convert!

It wasn’t only the Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty on my Mac Style burger that was deliciously flavorful – the entire burger was, too. The Mac Style burger was – you guessed it – a vegan riff on McDonald’s Big Mac. It was delicious with its lettuce, onion, pickles, vegan cheese, and Thousand Island dressing – and hefty, to boot. Between eating that Big Mac and the crispy French fries, I was stuffed upon leaving Unburger!

Another thing I liked about Unburger was that the staff was really nice. How employees treat me at a place definitely makes a difference in how I recall it; excellent meals can be marred by snotty staff, and I appreciate how lovely the staff at Unburger was the night of my visit. Thanks, Unburger, for being so welcoming – and for cooking up fare that is both healthful and INCREDIBLY TASTY!

22018 Michigan Ave.

Dearborn, MI 48124

www.unburgergrill.com

434. Tou & Mai – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019TouandMai1 (4)Tou & Mai, satisfying my Thai iced tea cravings!

I visited Thailand in January of this year and became enchanted with one of its signature drinks, the Thai iced tea – a yummy concoction of black tea and sweetened condensed milk. I’d not had one of those delectable babies since being back in the states and had vowed all summer that I’d hunt one down here at home.

It took me until a Sunday afternoon in late September (LOL) to finally focus on this objective. At least I achieved it before summer was officially over – and at least the weather was sunny and summer-like, with a high temperature in the upper 80s.

My Thai iced tea break at Tou & Mai occurred after a browsing session of shops – including Hugh, Source Booksellers, and Nora – in the Midtown/Cass Corridor area of Detroit.

While I knew exactly what I wanted, I browsed the tea shop’s menu while waiting in line. Tou & Mai’s signature offering is boba tea (also known as bubble tea), tea drinks with chewy tapioca pearls and/or jellies added to them.

Tou & Mai’s drink menu is separated into categories: Flavoured Fruit Tea (fruity drinks with a green-tea base); Flavoured Milk Tea (dairy-infused black teas); Real Fruit Smoothie (drink blends including varieties such as Red Adzucki Bean and Creamy Avocado); Extra Special Treat (next-level goodies such as the Litchi Mohito mocktail and the Peaches & Cream slushie infused with vanilla ice cream); and Vietnamese Caffé Latté (which, like the Thai iced tea, incorporate condensed milk).

The Toppings section of Tou & Mai’s menu includes such intriguing drink add-ins as Kiwi Popping Boba, Mango Popping Boba, Coffee Jellie, and Flan Custard.

Tou & Mai isn’t simply a boba tea shop; it’s also what it refers to on its website as an “Asian Mini Mart,” offering grocery items from Southeast Asia such as candy, cookies, condiments, and noodles. It’s also a place that celebrates the owners’ Hmong heritage, selling embroidered, hand-crafted goods made by Hmong artisans.

The Hmong people comprise an ethnic group with its origins in Southeast Asia. I’d admittedly been ignorant of the Hmong’s existence until a few months ago, when I watched an episode of CNN’s United Shades of America featuring them and their story.

The Hmong were recruited by the U.S. government to aid America in the fighting of the Vietnam war. Post-war, many of them fled their homes in fear of persecution for being American allies, and some ended up in the U.S., including here in the Metro-D. According to Tou & Mai’s website, a small Hmong community still exists here today.

So Tou & Mai is much more than the place that quite deliciously satisfied my appetite for Thai iced tea on a sunny September Sunday: it’s a boba tea shop/grocer/celebrator of culture. And it’s definitely worth a visit!

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 102

Detroit, MI 48201

www.touandmai.com

433. Hugh – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019Hugh1 (3)September2019Hugh2 (2)Hugh, in a nutshell, sells pretty things!

A more accurate assessment of the shop based in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood is that it sells items that are both aesthetically pleasing AND functional: well-designed home goods such as glassware, barware, candles, clocks, coffee-table books, and furniture, plus personal care items and accessories.

Hugh’s interior is a well-organized place, pleasing to browse. The woman working the store the Sunday afternoon I visited was welcoming, and while I didn’t end up buying anything, I was especially intrigued by the Chemex coffee makers, elegant glass vessels (which remind me of beakers with their middles cinched) used to make pour-over coffee. Now that I’ve read this post on Hugh’s blog about the history of these coffee makers, I’m feeling increasingly taken with them. Maybe it’s time for a revisit?

If you aren’t in the area, you can still shop for Hugh’s pretty-slash-purposeful wares via its website (which also shows more furniture available for sale than is on display in its brick-and-mortar store).

4240 Cass Ave, Ste. 107

Detroit, MI 48201

(Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

www.thankhugh.com

432. El Club – September 8, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019ElClub1 (2)September2019ElClub2 (4)September2019ElClub3 (2)September2019ElClub4 (3)El Club! The venue in Southwest Detroit is an all-ages club that hosts musical acts on a near nightly basis. It’s also where I saw Stef Chura and Ezra Furman perform on a Sunday night in September.

I’d been wanting to experience El Club since I read about it in Hour Detroit a year or two ago and was thrilled when I saw that one of my favorite contemporary musicians, Ezra Furman, was going to be performing there. I ordered tickets right away – and was even more psyched when I saw that closer to the show date, local artist Stef Chura and her band were added to the bill. I was familiar with her music and knew she would rock out!

I’m not familiar, in general, with the artists featured on El Club’s events calendar. I presume most of them are up-and-coming performers or those who appeal to more niche audiences. I’m admittedly not at all hip to the alt-music scene – though after my visit to El Club, I want to be!

The venue’s concert floor is relatively small, looking to accommodate no more than a couple hundred people – and that’s frankly part of its appeal. It’s what makes seeing a show at El Club exciting – you’re going to be right down there on the floor, in the action, a part of a live musical experience that is much more visceral, more alive, than being stuck up in the nosebleeds at some slickly produced yet lifeless stadium show.

The show I attended at El Club was billed as starting at 7 – but that ended up being when the doors opened for the night, which my friend and I discovered when we arrived at the club about 45 minutes early, the sole early birds in sight (LOL). Our early arrival did make parking simple; there’s a lot across the street from El Club where parking is free, so we parked there.

Killing time was easy, as beautiful Clark Park is only a few minutes’ walk away, and we sat on a hill there and watched people being led through square dances by a bluegrass band. It was a surprisingly moving experience, people of all ages and races coming together to joyfully perform these old-timey dance moves.

Back at El Club once the doors opened, I got a beer from the bar (which is a full bar serving beer, wine, and liquor), and my friend and I hung out on El Club’s picturesque patio with its garlands of lights and mural swirling with vibrant colors.

We were waiting not just for the show to start, but for the pizza to appear, because El Club serves slices of the pie. I was under the impression that El Club makes the pizza, but on that night, it arrived via outside delivery. Regardless, it was fresh and delicious.

Sometime after 8, we heard an explosion of music – the show was starting! Stef Chura and her band had boarded the stage; they played for about a half hour to 45 minutes, and they killed it!

Stef Chura’s voice mesmerized me; its got this alt-’90s vibe that I really dig, and I legit found myself thinking “I wanna be a cool rock star like her!” (Maybe in my next lifetime.)

After about a 20-minute break, Ezra Furman and his band hit the stage and also rocked out HARD. It was exciting to see a guy whose music I’ve admired for so long playing that music right in front of me. I actually found myself exclaiming a few times, “He looks the same as in his pictures!” (LOL – bless me with my obvious, fan-girling statement!)

As Ezra thanked us in the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night to support the arts, I felt a proclamation welling up inside of me: “I am going to CHANGE my life: I’m going to see live music more; I’m going to visit El Club all of the time!” I had drank the El Club Kool-Aid – and it felt good.

Flashing forward nearly a month: I haven’t been back to El Club since that night; I’ve let daily life with all of its routines and obligations pull me back into its orbit. But I’m still excited by the memory of my visit there and scan its newsletter every week, seeking the act that will make another magic moment out of my everyday life.

4114 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.elclubdetroit.com

431. Mike’s on the Water – September 4, 2019 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

September2019MikesontheWater1 (2)September2019MikesontheWater2 (2)September2019MikesontheWater3 (2)Post-Labor Day, I strove to hang on to that summer feeling by dining at Mike’s on the Water.

The Saint Clair Shores-based restaurant’s epic patio fronts Lake Saint Clair, offering up a picturesque view of the water and nearby marina. The patio itself is crowded with eye-catching knickknacks and features an outdoor bar area.

More epic features of Mike’s on the Water, because this place is seriously tricked out:

-An ice cream truck parked near its entrance proffering tasty frozen treats!

-A food truck on its rooftop patio (see it in the first photo above?) serving select menu items!

I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the ice cream truck or rooftop patio/food truck during my visit to Mike’s on the Water, because the ice cream truck wasn’t open and because my friend who accompanied me and I were all about the main-level patio, where Mike’s on the Water’s full food and beverage menu are available.

Browsing the variety of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, and seafood entrée items offered on Mike’s on the Water’s menu, I opted for the Classic Corned Beef Reuben with a side of tater tots. The sandwich was delicious with its ample portions of corned beef, Swiss Cheese, sauerkraut, and creamy Thousand Island dressing on grilled rye bread; the tater tots were delectably crispy, grease-saturated goodness.

Sipping a glass of red wine while eating that Reuben and tater tots, laughing and talking to my friend and enjoying the view from Mike’s on the Water’s patio . . . it doesn’t get much better than that. Thanks, Mike’s on the Water, for helping me hang on to that summer feeling just a little bit longer!

24530 E. Jefferson Ave.

St. Clair Shores, MI 48080

www.mikesonthewater.com

430. Le Detroit Macaron – September 1, 2019 – Hamtramck, MI

September2019LeDetroitMacaron1 (2)September2019LeDetroitMacaron2 (2)Le Detroit Macaron is a virtuoso creator of its namesake French confection! Its brightly-hued, vibrantly-flavored macarons are downright delicious.

My visit to the Hamtramck-based bakery went down on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. I was seeing a friend on Labor Day and wanted to bring her a very cool (and also very belated) birthday present. Pondering things she loves, macarons popped into my head, and I knew a long-anticipated visit to Le Detroit Macaron was in order. All the bakery does is those meringue-esque, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with their rich layer of ganache sandwiched in between.

Arriving at the adorable shop with its white-and-black-striped awning and window boxes overflowing with flowers, I stepped inside and was greeted by a cornucopia of fresh-baked macarons displayed in glass cases. There were loads of varieties – macarons in every shade of the rainbow!

After speaking with the woman working the counter and pondering the options, I decided on six macarons for my friend and four for myself (because you know I couldn’t leave Le Detroit Macaron without grabbing some of its goodies for myself!).

For moi, I ordered macarons in these four flavor varieties: Hazelnut, Chocolate Malt, Rose Cardamom, and chocolate-chip espresso (I didn’t capture the exact name of that latter one). For my friend, I chose the macarons shown in the above photo: the Chocolate Malt and chocolate-chip espresso varieties I’d gotten for myself, as well as Chai, Fruity Pebbles, Lavender, and Oreo Cheesecake (aren’t those the most YUM-sounding flavors?).

The macarons that I bought for myself didn’t last more than a few minutes beyond my visit to Le Detroit Macaron. I exited the bakery, climbed into my car, and proceeded to scarf all four cookies in quick succession. I tried to savor them and make them last, but MAN! they were so delightful that I just.couldn’t.stop eating them.

The Hazelnut macaron was admittedly a little stale, though still tasty in flavor. But the Chocolate Malt, Rose Cardamom, and chocolate-chip espresso: WOW! were those so delectably fresh and soft and bursting with flavor! The rich chocolate ganache of the Chocolate Malt, the fragrant floral flavor of the Rose Cardamom, and the supreme chocolate-plus-coffee combo of the chocolate-chip espresso were SO SO SO good!

I drove away from Le Detroit Macaron sad that my allotment of macarons were gone but satisfied with getting to experience their deliciousness, however fleeting. I resisted digging into my friend’s macarons and gifted them to her the next day, and she reported back that she enjoyed them.

The next time I need a gift – whether for myself or others – I know where to go: back to Le Detroit Macaron! (Hmm, my birthday is soon; I could totally justify a repeat visit this weekend . . ..)

2756 Evaline St.

Hamtramck, MI 48212

www.ledetroitmacaron.shop

429. El Taco Veloz – August 31, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019ElTacoVeloz1 (2)

August2019ElTacoVeloz2 (2)El Taco Veloz is, hands-down, the BEST visit of Blog Year Six of 100 Places in the D thus far.

I’m OBSESSED with this Detroit-based purveyor of Mexican cuisine after visiting it during Labor Day weekend. I’ve exclaimed over a lot of fantastic tacos on this blog, but I seriously think El Taco Veloz’s Al Pastor tacos are the BEST tacos I’ve ever eaten. They are PHENOMENAL!!!!

It’s hard to know how to categorize El Taco Veloz: is it a restaurant, or is it a food-truck-based business? The answer I’ve arrived at is that it’s both.

When you pull up to El Taco Veloz’s given location on Toledo Street in Southwest Detroit, you see a gated parking area. Mind the wholesale produce warehouse to the right of the lot and the semi-trucks rolling in and out of it, and look towards the rear, where you’ll see two food trucks parked. Those are the El Taco Veloz kitchens/ordering stations.

Behind the El Taco Veloz trucks is a building, which contains a dining area with tables where you can enjoy food ordered from the trucks.

From one of these food trucks, I ordered six Al Pastor tacos to go, which cost under $11 – an awesome deal, especially considering the supreme deliciousness of the tacos, which I was about to discover.

I’d ordered the Al Pastor tacos to share with my dad and brother, who I was on my way to visit. But I couldn’t resist eating my two tacos right away, while they were still super fresh (sorry, Dad and Bro!). So I hunkered down at a table in El Taco Veloz’s dining room to do just that.

Opening the foil-covered to-go container, I revealed the six steaming-hot, fresh-off-the-grill Al Pastor tacos. Grilled corn tortillas were loaded with marinated shredded pork topped with cilantro and diced raw onion and accompanied by sliced raw radishes, sautéed onion, a grilled jalapeño, a lime wedge, red salsa, and a creamy, spicy green sauce (alllll that goodness for under $11!).

The experience of biting into one of those Al Pastor tacos . . . the written word cannot do it justice. All I can say is, WOW!!!! The flavor explosion these babies are bringing is just exceptional. These are not only very probably the best tacos I’ve ever eaten – they may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, period!

Driving away from El Taco Veloz after consuming two of those magical Al Pastor tacos, I literally could not stop exclaiming to myself over how amazing they were. Every 30 or so seconds during the first several minutes of that drive, there’s me declaring “Those were SO good!” to no one but me, myself, and I. That’s how enchanting these El Taco Veloz wares are: they will make you talk out loud to yourself!

Worth noting: El Taco Veloz is a cash-only establishment (and SO worth that trip to the ATM!). AND it has a second location from which it peddles its glorious goodies: a counter inside Midtown-based convenience store Marcus Market.

6170 Toledo St.

Detroit, MI 48209

428. Nora – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019Nora1 (3)My trip to Nora was a visit-within-a-visit!

After purchasing a ticket at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August and finding myself a half-hour early for the movie I was there to see, I decided to make a quick jaunt to nearby Nora to check it out and kill some time before the show.

It took some brisk walking to and from the theater and the shop based in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit to make the visit happen, but: mission accomplished! I was able to browse Nora’s beautifully curated collection of books, home goods, beauty care, clothing, greeting cards, accessories, and other items.

A striking collection of conically-shaped taper candles in various sizes and colors caught my eye, and I opted to purchase a turquoise one in the smallest size. The woman working the shop that day (who I presume is the owner) was friendly and welcoming in her interactions with me, as she was when I returned several weeks later to select another of the candles to accompany the first one (which looked like it needed a friend to join it on its perch on my family room table).

So, the verdict is in: whether you only have a few minutes to spare or time for an expanded browsing session, Nora is worth a visit! It’s an ideal place to pick up a thoughtful gift or eye-catching item for your home.

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 109

Detroit, MI 48201

www.noramodern.com