Month: November 2016

208. Natalie’s Bakery – November 19, 2016 – Madison Heights, MI

20161119_124358-220161119_124522img_1255-2Hello, all! I have missed you! Over two weeks passed where I didn’t explore any new places. I was getting antsy!

With the increasingly shorter days, it’s been a struggle for me to choose what I’m going to do with my scarce and precious weekend daylight hours. I’ve had to be quite intentional. The weekend prior to this past one, I ran myself ragged using the time to cook and photograph three new recipes for my food blog, A Cookable Feast. This weekend was scheduled to be just as busy, with a first birthday party on Saturday and a family Thanksgiving event on Sunday. But I was determined to fit some exploring in! So en route to the birthday party in Royal Oak Saturday, I stopped at Natalie’s Bakery, located in a strip mall on John R. near 13 Mile Road in Madison Heights.

Natalie’s had on my list for a while. I’d stumbled across it on Yelp, where reviewers had given it high praise, and I’m a sucker for quality baked goods (who isn’t?). And what a gem it is! It was hard not to get excited in that tiny bakery storefront, with its shelves crammed with delectable-looking bakery items: caramel-laced cakes, colorful French macaroons, pumpkin mousse-filled fried croissant squares. “Pumpkin mousse-filled fried croissant squares?” Yes, for real – and soooo good; I bought one, and it was as INSANE as I’d imagined it, all fried cinnamony dough and rich pumpkin-y mousse. You can see it in the photo of the bakery case above.

And then there was the bread.

The bread! I love a solid artisan loaf of bread – but again, who doesn’t? In fact, the bread was a big part of why I was at Natalie’s Bakery. I wanted to stop and get some loaves for the Thanksgiving stuffing recipe I’m preparing to create for A Cookable Feast this week. The selection didn’t disappoint. I decided on the rosemary garlic ciabatta bread and the seven-grain bread, both shown above. Both are excellent, especially the ciabatta bread with those distinct savory flavors. After being reminded of how satisfying fresh-baked bread is, I mused, why am I not stopping and getting handmade loaves of bread every week?

Bread gets a bad rap these days. But when it’s baked with fresh ingredients such as the ones Natalie’s uses – it prides itself on using organic and local sources whenever possible – I can’t see how it can be all that bad. These breads are echelons above the sorry processed loaves that dominate grocery store shelves.

31023 John R. Rd.
Madison Heights, MI 48017

www.nataliesbakery.net

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207. Filippa’s – November 3, 2016 – Shelby Township, MI

20161103_173754I’ve been curious about Filippa’s for a long time. Several of my coworkers from my longtime serving job that I held in my late 20s had previously worked for years at that restaurant, and stories they told about the place – legends, really – piqued my curiosity. A few of my other server friends now work there, and I knew that they were happy with the place and that it was supposed to be quite a classy establishment.

(Tangent: if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’re familiar with how intertwined the server network can be – everyone works with someone who knows someone they worked with at that other place . . . the interconnections never ceases to amaze me!).

Random fact: Teen Mom aficianados may also remember Filippa’s as the restaurant where Tyler proposed to Catelynn back in like Season 1 (yes, I used to be a devotee of that show). A friend who was working there that day said they filmed their entrance through the restaurant door alone like three times. Teen Mom gossip, holla!

Last Thursday, I was definitely not at Filippa’s for a Catelynn/Tyler spotting. I was there to celebrate my friend’s upcoming nuptials. A group of us ladies had appetizers and drinks there before moving on to a wine-and-painting bachelorette soiree.

I unfortunately didn’t take any photos of the restaurant’s interior, but the bar area where we sat was quite swanky. I was told the restaurant had recently underwent renovations, and they apparently went well; the place gives off a very solid, polished vibe. The bar area was busy, most likely due to the happy hour specials; every day from 3 to 6 p.m. there are half-off appetizers, $5 glasses of wine and martinis (of the latter, I had a delightful chocolate one), and $3 draft beers and well drinks. I’m not sure whether the Cajun steak bites I ordered qualified as a half-off appetizer, to be honest; I was having so much fun, I didn’t pay attention. But damn, was that steak juicy and flavorful! Two-thumbs-up to the notion of stopping by Filippas’s for some post-work drinks and grub when you have the chance.

45125 Mound Rd.

Shelby Twp., MI 48317

www.filippas.com

206. Gnocchi – November 2, 2016 – Clinton Township, MI

It is definitely the time of year when the heavy comfort food especially appeals to me. And last Wednesday night, it was appealing to both me and a friend I’d just went bridal dress shopping with as her maid of honor (a title that is a first for me!). After several hours of traversing Oakland and Macomb counties, scrolling through racks of heavy wedding dresses and doing try-ons with ultimately no luck, we needed some heavy sustenance. Gnocchi won out, because it was close by, Italian food appealed to the bride-to-be – and I’ve been wanting to scope it out since it opened this year. Another one checked off the list!

Located in a strip mall situated on what I think of as the main drag of town, Garfield Road, Gnocchi is relatively small and unpretentious in terms of decor. But it’s homey. Service was strong when we were there – although admittedly, it wasn’t too busy (there was one large party there and us). And the food was great.

As you may gather from its name, Gnocchi is a place that is focused on: gnocchi, those delightful Italian dumplings traditionally made from potato, flour, and egg or, as my family makes them – and in my biased opinion, the far more delicious method – ricotta cheese, flour, and egg. Apparently Gnocchi’s chef agrees with me, as the ones it makes and serves are also ricotta cheese-based, according to its website.

Unsurprisingly, much of the restaurant’s menu is devoted to dishes that incorporate the featured pasta, but not all of it; there are a few meat-centered items that do not include them. But if you are going there, you are likely going there for the gnocchi – or “lead,” as my father termed them growing up. Yes, gnocchis are rich and can be heavy in your stomach, but I can attest that they are the most delicious-tasting lead pellets in the world. And Gnocchi’s spinach-and-ricotta ones served with a Bolognese meat sauce were pretty excellent. I actually finished my leftovers of that dish while I was typing the first part of this post and was reminded of how rich and flavorful it was.

Another perk: Gnocchi’s prices are incredibly reasonable. My meal was $13.99, constituting a generously portioned entree, salad and bread service. I asked to upgrade my salad to a bowl of cheddar and broccoli soup and wasn’t charged extra for the substitution, as I would be at most places.

One bummer is the fact that Gnocchi doesn’t currently have a liquor licencse. Our server told us that they are working on obtaining it. As my friend commented, a dinner out at an Italian restaurant isn’t quite the same without a glass of wine to accompany it. But the food is solid enough to warrent giving this restaurant a try sans alcohol.

41620 Garfield Rd.

Clinton Twp., MI 48038

www.gnocchiclintontwp.com

205. Café Muse – October 30, 2016 – Royal Oak, MI

20161030_12093020161030_111002

Hello, everybody! Happy Friday! This post is going to be short and sweet today, so we can all get out there and start exploring. 🙂

Last Sunday I was back in Royal Oak for the fourth time in two and a half weeks, for brunch with the gals at Café Muse on Washington Street. I’ve been hearing good things about this joint for years, and its Short Rib and Grilled Three Cheese Sandwich did not disappoint. The pretty, peaceful ambience of this small restaurant makes it the perfect place for a lowkey breakfast date (available daily starting at 7:30 a.m.). It also offers lunch seven days a week, starting at 11 a.m. (I ordered off of the lunch menu), as well as dinner Tuesday through Saturday nights.

418 S. Washington Ave.

Royal Oak, MI 48067

www.cafemuseroyaloak.com

204. Tom’s Tavern – October 27, 2016 – Detroit, MI

20161027_22540020161027_21040320161027_21051820161027_212355After dinner at La Feria in Midtown last Thursday night, one of my friend’s friends who we were with suggested Tom’s Tavern, one of his favorite bars from his college years. His friend preceded to drive us to an area of the city that I wasn’t familiar with: roughly near the U of D campus, but seemingly not much else of note (besides a Little Caesar’s that will figure into the story later).

We drove in the dark to this deserted-looking part of town and stopped at what looked to be a literal shack on 7 Mile Road west of Wyoming. Seriously. It was a tiny building that didn’t look much bigger than the shed in my dad’s backyard, with exterior walls that appeared to be constructed of plywood coated in a worn white coat of paint.

I like my friend’s friend, a guy she has recently started seeing. And little brings me more joy than a good dive bar. But when our car pulled onto the grassy lot behind this shack in this not-so-great-looking neighborhood, I was like, “WHERE is this guy taking us???”

We got out of the car and walked up to the back door, following other people who were entering there. The small room immediately behind that door indeed contained the kind of random flotsam you would find in somebody’s garage. We then walked through another room that was a kitchen, where the owner, an older gentleman with a long, grizzled white beard, and a woman smoking a cigarette, presumably his wife, huddled around some preparation that involved grilled mushrooms. It was probably their dinner, as I’m pretty sure Tom’s Tavern doesn’t serve food in any traditional sense – just in the ways that will be described shortly.

After walking through the kitchen, we came to the actual bar area, which was tiny and had the vibe of being in someone’s basement or family room. It was packed with people – mostly middle-aged, with a few appearing to be in their 20s and 30s. And it was chock-full of character. We found a table back toward the restrooms, to the right of the area where the musicians play.

What to describe first? To start, the floors at Tom’s Tavern slant all whimsically helter-skelter, so be mindful of that. When you approach the bar, you’ll find that standard alcohol legal age limit sign – you know, the one that states that only patrons who were born on or before today’s date in 1995 1984 will be served? I took great delight in this, as 1984 is the year of my birth, and it felt excellent to be 21 again in this time-warp reality.

I celebrated my age regression by ordering a vodka-and-soda and was happy to see that Tom’s was serving one of my favorites, Tito’s vodka (poured freehand from a jug-sized container of it) and also had lime wedges – because let’s face it, that wasn’t entirely a guaranteed amenity at a place like this. The bar is cash only, another aspect you want to bear in mind when planning a visit. It serves conventional bottled beers such as Pabst Blue Ribbon (a dive bar classic!)  – and also bottles of several local craft brews. I don’t believe there are any beers on draft. It sounds like red and white wine is generally available in addition to liquor and beer, but the owner, named Ron (who took the bar over from the eponymous Tom when he passed, I am told), couldn’t locate any red – my primary drink of choice – when I was there.

Shortly after our group sat down, the room fell into a hush. A man seated at the front of the bar started playing acoustic guitar and singing – folksy, bluesy stuff. It was like we were attending an intimate concert; people listened reverently while munching on the bowls of hard pretzels that the owner, Ron, brought to each table. After a while, a second guitarist joined the first one, and they played and sang together. A guy who we all sang happy birthday to accompanied them on the piano for one of the more raucous songs, and at one point, Ron and one of the beautiful younger patrons shared a dance.

And toward the end of our visit, Ron, who I hadn’t realized was missing, all of a sudden came through the front door bearing four Hot-and-Ready pizzas from the Little Caesar’s across the street and urged us all to eat.

I was captivated the entire time I was at Tom’s Tavern, by everything from the reverence-inspiring live music to the graffiti-strewn women’s room to this WHAT???? Free PIZZA?? OK, I’m officially obsessed.

Seriously, this place was magical. I’m in love with dive bars to begin with (see my recent post on my birthday visit to The Old Miami), and then to be in one that was so loaded with charm and good vibes and this built-in intimacy, where you feel goodwill toward your fellow bargoers simply because you are sharing this amazing common experience . . . it was special. Special is even too lame of a word to describe it. It was . . . transcendent. Hats off to Ron for curating such a transcendent place. Places like Tom’s Tavern don’t happen on accident.

I hope you catch the same feeling that I did if you decide to visit. There’s no guarantee that there will be live music or free pizza – or even that it will be open on the night you head over. Our guy who brought us here said that in his experience, Tom’s doesn’t keep consistent hours but that it generally seems to be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The bar’s Yelp account gives the hours of operation as Wednesday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., but I find it hard to believe that that is accurate, so if you are wanting to plan a trip, you can call the number given below to verify it’s open. Tom’s doesn’t have a website, but it does have a Facebook page, where it was posting regularly this summer about the musicians playing there on given nights; however, there have been no updates there since late September. Best to be safe and call – although if it’s closed, you can always hit up that Little Caesar’s across the screen for a consolation prize.

10093 W. 7 Mile Rd.

Detroit, MI 48221

313-862-9768