Month: September 2018

362. Shawarma Stop – September 25, 2018 – Sterling Heights, MI

September2018ShawarmaStop1 (3)September2018ShawarmaStop3 (3)Shawarma Stop = a WIN! I’ve got all good feels about this Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant in Sterling Heights.

During my visit Tuesday night, the restaurant’s dining area was clean and welcoming, the staff on duty were warm and polite, and the food was delivered quickly and downright DELICIOUS.

I admittedly glanced over Shawarma Stop’s menu that night more than perused it, because I knew what I wanted for my dinner: a chicken shawarma pita wrap and a small fattoush salad. I’m stuck on those two when it comes to Mediterranean food (as I am crushed lentil soup, and lemon-oregano chicken, and hummus, and of course garlic sauce . . .), especially the fattoush salad. Man, is that a good salad!

But some fattoush salads are better than others – and Shawarma Stop’s is one of the best I’ve had. The lettuce, cucumber, and tomato in it were fresh, the dressing was perfectly zesty, and most critically: the pita chip pieces were fried extra crispy so they stayed crunchy when tossed in the dressing, which made my heart VERY happy (soggy pita chips make for a sad fattoush-eating experience, indeed). AND the small version of the salad was much bigger than I expected; it’s an amply-sized side salad! That made my heart even more happy.

The chicken shawarma with its tender grilled chicken, tangy pickles, juicy tomatoes, and wonderfully bold garlic sauce was tasty, too. It was also large enough that I was able to take half of it home to enjoy as leftovers.

Now that I’ve examined Shawarma Stop’s menu more closely, I feel I MUST go back and try the build-your-own-pita-or-bowl option where you get to choose from a variety of choices the protein, sauce, and four toppings you’d like in your meal. I love the build-your-own concept, and I’m already envisioning a beef shawarma bowl with hummus, white rice, feta, onion, and banana peppers . . . Mmmm.

Other options on Shawarma Stop’s menu include an assortment of salads, appetizers, sides, and pitas, plus grill items such as shish kabob, lamb chops, and a whole deboned chicken. Combination platters designed to serve two, four, seven, or 12 people are also available.

Whether you’re looking to grab carryout or have a quick and pleasant dine-in experience, Shawarma Stop is so worth the trip. I’m already craving another of its fattoush salads and pondering a revisit!

13903 19 Mile Rd.

Sterling Heights, MI 48313

www.shawarmastoponline.com

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361. Bolero – September 19, 2018 – Detroit, MI

September2018Bolero1 (3)September2018Bolero2 (2)Filet on a Wednesday night? How luxurious! Thanks to a visit last week to Bolero, I enjoyed a sumptuous meal that included that tender cut of beef.

A friend and I have gotten into a groove of trying new places on weeknights, and I’m LOVING it! Visiting downtown Detroit post-workday is especially thrilling to me; it transforms what could otherwise be a banal evening of me in my robe wrangling dinner out of leftovers and perusing my DVR for scraps (come on, fall TV line-up!) into one of adventure and excitement.

The excitement last Wednesday started with me doing one of my Favorite Things in Life (SOOO J/K): seeking parking in the crowded Midtown area of Detroit. Fortunately, there is a garage on Forest Avenue near Bolero that had reasonable rates that night (it cost $6 for under two hours of parking; I believe it’s a Wayne State University structure, but it was open to visitors).

If you plan to visit Bolero and are street-parking-phobic like me, I’d recommend parking in this garage if it’s open, as the curbs in this area are KICKING now that Wayne State’s school year is in full swing. Worth noting: this structure is a pay-at-a-kiosk-before-you-leave operation, where you have to walk to the pay station near the elevators on the first floor, insert the ticket you received when you drove into the garage, then pay the given amount with cash or credit card. You then have 15 minutes to exit the structure.

With parking shenanigans out of the way, it was on to Bolero! The Latin restaurant owned by the same proprietors who operate Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine opened last December. My visit to Vicente’s in March has been a highlight of Blog Year Five, so I was enthused about trying Bolero.

Arriving in the midst of happy hour, which touts food and drink specials Tuesdays through Fridays from 4 to 6:30 p.m., we kicked off the night with a round of $2 shots. Their selling point: the strong, light-colored liquor of which they consisted came in mini shot glasses fashioned from chocolate (YUM!).

I then ordered a glass of red wine as well as the aforementioned filet, the Bife de Buey a La Argentina. The eight-ounce tenderloin was excellent, cooked a perfect medium-rare and incredibly tender. It came with a side of chimichurri sauce that was BOMB (I could practically drink that stuff, it was so good!). Accompaniments of roasted potatoes and asparagus rounded out the meal.

I boxed part of the Bife de Buey to take home and scoped out Bolero’s dessert tray. When I saw the restaurant offered chocolate tres leches cake, I was sold. Being a tres leches lover AND a chocolate lover, this cake was absolute heaven to me in all its spongy, sweet-cream-saturated glory.

Not only was the meal at Bolero superb, the service we received was stellar. Our server was perfectly attentive, polite, and friendly. She also scored major points with me when, unprompted, she brought me an extra side of that life-changing chimichurri sauce to take home with my leftovers.

So thank you, Bolero, for offering a memorable dining experience on what could have otherwise been a forgettable Wednesday evening!

51 W. Forest Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.bolerodetroit.com

360. TreeRunner Adventure Park – September 13, 2018 – West Bloomfield, MI

September2018TreeRunner1 (2)September2018TreeRunner3 (4)A workday spent frolicking above the forest canopy? Sign me up!

Last week, I got to fulfill a several-years-held dream of visiting TreeRunner Adventure Park in West Bloomfield – on my employer’s dime! My department at my day job was required to attend a six-hour retreat at the park. We spent half of the day on land, completing various team-building exercises, and the other half up in the air, navigating ropes courses and zip lines.

According to its website, “over 165 exciting obstacles and zip lines, five difficulty levels, and 10 different courses” constitute TreeRunner Adventure Park. Adding to the experience is the fact that the zip lining and obstacle maneuvering occurs in a wooded area, making one feel as if she is flitting among the treetops like a human-sized squirrel.

The ground-oriented team-building exercises (working a multi-person set of wooden skis in unison; figuring out how to get from one platform to another so as to avoid imaginary lava; etc.) were fun. But I was all about the aerial obstacles, which I performed during the second half of the day.

I completed a ropes course for the first time during a vacation in Ecuador earlier this year and LOVED it. I got the same rush from it that I did as an eight-year-old climbing the pine trees in my backyard. And I’d experienced the exhilaration of zip lining during a trip to Costa Rica a decade ago, soaring along routes strung over lush expanses of rainforest.

TreeRunner Adventure Park’s obstacles don’t reside in the mountains of South America, nor a tropical rainforest. They’re in a wooded area behind a Jewish community center in the Metro-D. But the intricate networks of platforms and ropes and pulleys hung at varying height levels among the leafy green canopy are fascinating to behold – and to navigate.

The navigating was especially interesting blindfolded.

The guides at Treerunner Adventure Park don’t usually facilitate blindfolded obstacle-course runs. My employer asked for this element to be added to the experience so that those not participating in the aerial activities (due to an aversion to heights or the park-imposed weight restriction) could participate as guides, shouting instructions from the ground to blindfolded teammates in the trees. Climbers were allowed to scale vertical ladders and perform the zip lines sans blindfold, but our eyes had to be covered for the obstacle runs.

I was resistant to the blindfold at first. The aerial activities I’d been gung ho about performing became nerve-wracking to contemplate without the benefit of sight.

I ended up, however, enthusiastically enjoying the added challenge of completing the obstacle runs blindfolded. My team’s guide offered great support with his descriptive directions, while I learned to feel with my feet for evidence of each hanging plank, block, and bridge I needed to navigate. Secured as I was via harness to the sturdy wire running the length of each obstacle, I knew that even if I did falter, I’d be caught.

Ditching the blindfold for the zip-line portions of the course proved worthwhile. The zip lines on the Level 3 run my team completed were much abbreviated compared with the loping ones I rode in Costa Rica, but they still delivered the rush of barreling airborne through the trees.

Overall, my experience at TreeRunner Adventure Park was super rewarding. Not only did it help me and my colleagues hone our teamwork, leadership, and communication skills, it also helped us connect to our inner-child selves on a day when we normally would’ve been hunched over our computers in our cubicles. Here’s to traipsing among the tree branches instead!

6600 W. Maple Rd.

West Bloomfield, MI 48322

(Open Friday through Sunday to the public;

group reservations available Monday through Thursday)

www.treerunnerwestbloomfield.com

359. Detroit Vintage – September 9, 2018 – Detroit, MI

September2018DetroitVintage1 (4)September2018DetroitVintage3 (2)September2018DetroitVintage2 (2)Detroit Vintage is MAGICAL!

This most enchanting of coffee shops is in an unlikely location, sandwiched as it is between a weed dispensary and a liquor store on Eight Mile Road in Detroit.

But does pure, magical goodness depend on prime real estate from which to derive its powers? Heck no! If anything, the disparity between Detroit Vintage and the surrounding area enhances the ethereal otherworldliness beyond the coffee shop’s threshold.

This place is STUNNING, a cozy-beyond-cozy space decorated with knick-knacks and bunting and stacks of books and twinkle lights and chandeliers and cushy leather chairs and COLOR – so much bold, bright color. Another delight of a gem in the D!

As is often the case with otherworldly realms, entering Detroit Vintage can be complicated – at least for a first-time visitor unaware of the admittance process.

While I’d read online prior to visiting the coffee shop that patrons should access it via its back entrance, when I attempted to do so, I encountered a locked metal gate obscured by colorful decorations beyond the exterior door.

Is this right? I stepped back to re-assess the building.

In the meantime, two more would-be first-time visitors to Detroit Vintage appeared. Together we puzzled over the latched gate-door – until a woman inside heard and let us in.

It turned out that this door was the proper one through which to enter; to gain admittance, we were supposed to ring a bell attached to the gate-door, which we had missed.

Once inside, I could see why Detroit Vintage is guarded so carefully. I was immediately taken with the beautiful space, as I was with the two welcoming women who ran it.

I ordered a cappuccino at the counter to the rear of the shop and was told that it would be delivered to me. I took a seat at a small wooden table decorated with a stack of books and a teapot stuffed with flowers and soaked up the enchanting ambiance, complete with classical music playing softly in the background.

My cappuccino was brought to me a few minutes later. It was piping-hot, perfect on that blustery Sunday afternoon, with a deliciously rich flavor.

I spent about an hour nestled inside Detroit Vintage on that visit, in sweet sojourn from the outside world. The charming environs captured my imagination, and I knew I would be back for a revisit. Magical spaces such as this linger long in my memory!

10335 W. 8 Mile Rd.

Detroit, MI 48221

(Open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; cash only)

www.bucky313.wixsite.com/detroit-vintage-

 

358. Ottava Via – September 6, 2018 – Detroit, MI

September2018OttavaVia1 (3)September2018OttavaVia3 (2)Ottava Via: what a delight! This restaurant exceeded my expectations, presenting an immensely enjoyable dining experience.

I didn’t hold much in the way of expectations around Ottava Via prior to going there because I didn’t know much about it. Here’s what I knew: it served Italian, was located in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, and a friend of mine had once snatched a barely-eaten appetizer off an abandoned table there and eaten it (apparently it was too enticing to pass up!). AND it was on my collected list of places to visit, so I’d likely read something good about it at some point. With that background information in mind, I recruited a pal for a dinnertime visit and motored down to Michigan Avenue.

Pulling up to the restaurant’s storefront, I realized I’d passed its nondescript black-and-white sign quite a few times. I also realized its demure appearance belies the glory that resides just behind it.

Pulling around to the rear of Ottava Via to park, I saw this gorgeous gated patio with pots of flowers, strings of twinkle lights, and wooden communal tables. A fire burned in a brick fireplace, and adjacent to the patio was a bocce court where guests could play the traditional Italian game. It was a hidden paradise!

There was no way my friend and I weren’t sitting in that garden enclave, especially during the last dregs of the warm-weather season. We plopped down at one of those communal tables and soaked up the pleasant patio-side vibes.

I perused Ottava Via’s menu and was quickly sold on the Ragout Alla Bolognese with its veal- and pork-infused sauce, though several of the small-plate and pizza options intrigued me, including the prosciutto- and cheese-stuffed fried Arancini balls and two of my fave Italian classics, Caprese salad and Margherita pizza. My friend ordered the Artichoke pizza with its namesake veggie, pecorino cheese, garlic, lemon zest, and a spinach pesto sauce.

The meals came out promptly, and I was pumped to dig into the Ragout Alla Bolognese with its thick pappardelle egg noodles, meaty sauce, and dollops of fresh ricotta.

Dug in I did, to discover that the dish was delicious. The sauce was rich, the ricotta was creamy, the noodles were wonderfully fresh and flavorful. I enjoyed those house-made pappardelle noodles in that Ragout Alla Bolognese as much as I did the sauce, which surprised me. I guess I’m used to eating dried pasta that tastes more like the cardboard box it came in than a from-scratch culinary staple with a rich tradition. Ottava Via’s pappardelle pasta definitely tastes like the latter; it’s a prime component of the Ragout Alla Bolognese rather than simply a vessel for the sauce.

My friend raved about her pizza with its chunks of artichokes and pesto sauce, and it looked so appealing that I had to try a bite of it; it was tasty, and I would have loved to scarf the whole of it myself.

To drink wine and eat pizza and pasta while dining alfresco and enjoying good company: is there anything better than that? In the scheme of life, it’s a simple experience, and yet the unadulterated pleasure it offers makes it a magical one – especially when dining at a place that offers as much in the way of cuisine and ambiance as Ottava Via does.

1400 Michigan Ave.

Detroit, MI 48216

www.ottavaviadetroit.com

357. Pages Bookshop – August 31, 2018 – Detroit, MI

August2018Pages1 (2)August2018Pages2 (2)After enjoying a delicious cold-brew iced coffee during a visit to Always Brewing Detroit, I continued my recent afternoon in the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood of Detroit with a visit to Pages Bookshop.

This jaunt was SUPER exciting for me as a lifelong lover of books (shout-out to my fellow bookworms!). Independently-owned bookshops hold a special charm for me, especially in this day and age of online conglomerates and digital over paper. They are doing the good work, keeping physical bookstores and the curated, personal book-buying experience alive!

When I buy from indie bookshops, it feels like a total win-win: I am financially supporting a business whose mission I value, AND I have an excuse to buy new books. How great is that?

And Pages Bookshop, specifically, is a FANTASTIC indie bookstore. Its one-room shop is relatively small, but it’s loaded with thoughtfully chosen fiction and nonfiction offerings – including books by local authors – as well as cute Michigan-centric goods and other items that make great gifts, such as cards and journals.

On the day I visited, Pages was helmed by the owner, Susan, and the shop cat, Pip. Susan was a delight to share my enthusiasm around books with, and Pip melted my heart with her adorably plump frame and sprawling request to be petted (Feline Friends 4L!).

I browsed in Pages for about a half hour and found loads of books I was interested in. Like most indie bookshops, Pages affixes handwritten notecards touting staff recommendations to its shelves (I’m a sucker for those!).

Limiting myself to three purchases, I decided on two novels (The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin) and one nonfiction tome (Small Victories by Anne Lamott). My fix to the conundrum of being interested in more books than I’ll allow myself to buy, BTW: I text myself the titles and authors of the ones I don’t get so I have a record of them (bookworm hack!).

I left Pages with my purchases in a complimentary canvas tote and the warm feeling that being around books infuses in me.

Once home, I scanned the list of upcoming events that Susan had given me and plotted my next visit. Pages regularly hosts author visits, sometimes several a week; a schedule is available via the Events calendar on its website.

Whether for the purpose of attending an event there or not, a visit to Pages Bookshop is most definitely worthwhile, especially if you love books as much as I do. How fortunate we are to have this indie bookstore in Detroit!

19560 Grand River Ave.

Detroit, MI 48223

www.pagesbkshop.com

 

356. Always Brewing Detroit – August 31, 2018 – Detroit, MI

August2018AlwaysBrewing1 (2)August2018AlwaysBrewing3 (2)Independent coffee shops are my JAM, so you know I was down to visit Always Brewing Detroit last weekend!

A Detroit jaunt was the obvious choice for me last Friday after an early work dismissal in honor of Labor Day weekend. With Grandmont Rosedale fresh in my memory after a recent visit to Detroit Vegan Soul, I opted for a return to the Northwest Detroit-area neighborhood and the chance to become acquainted with another local coffee shop.

Upon stepping into Always Brewing Detroit, I immediately liked it. The shop had a cozy, welcoming vibe with its glinting copper ceiling tiles, vintage-looking furniture, strands of exposed-bulb lighting, bookshelf available for browsing, and floor-length rose-colored curtains pulled aside to let in the sun. A chalkboard above the service counter advertised now-past events open to the community: an open mic, a game night.

I had a hankering for an iced coffee and ordered a medium-sized one from the laid-back, friendly barista. It was awesome, rich in flavor and not at all tasting diluted by the ice. I confirmed with the barista that it was a cold brew; he said that’s the only way they’ll do iced coffees there. Obviously, they take the craft of coffee brewing seriously, which I appreciate!

Hanging out at Always Brewing was a chill experience, a wind-down from my workday and an excellent start to the holiday weekend. This is definitely another indie coffee shop that I’ll be adding to my rotation!

19180 Grand River Ave.

Detroit, MI 48223

www.alwaysbrewingdetroit.com

355. Shatila Bakery – August 23, 2018 – Dearborn, MI

August2018Shatila4 (2)August2018Shatila1 (2)August2018Shatila2 (2)August2018Shatila3 (2)SHATILA BAKERY IS ON 100 PLACES IN THE D!!! [Cue official-sounding bugles and confetti!!!]

You guys, I’m super excited about this post, because visiting Shatila Bakery in Dearborn was EPIC. This bakery is amazing!

Prior to my visit, I’d assumed Shatila Bakery was awesome because I’d sampled its baklava on several occasions when a coworker at a former job brought it into the office. Baklava is one of my favorite desserts (all that rich honey, crunchy pistachios, and flaky phyllo dough . . . YES, PLEASE), and Shatila does baklava RIGHT. Needless to say, when a friend mentioned she wanted to visit the bakery’s Dearborn location, I didn’t need convincing to tag along.

Knowing how tasty Shatila’s baklava was and seeing how extensive its hours of business are (the Dearborn location is open from 7:30 a.m. to at least 11 p.m. – sometimes 12 a.m.! – daily), I knew the place had to be a big deal. But I was surprised by what I encountered when I walked into the bakery.

Cue to: a vaulted ceiling. A food-court-esque seating area surrounded by twinkle-light-strewn palm trees, supplemented by outdoor patio seating. An ice cream counter with house-made ice cream. And the pièce de résistance: a wraparound bakery counter filled with shelf after shelf of enticing cakes, cookies, and traditional Mediterranean desserts, including various varieties of baklava.

I was beside myself with delight. This was not simply a bakery: Shatila was an experience!

An experience that called for preparation. This was not the type of place where you dawdled around deliberating, my friend and I decided. We’d each picked a paper ticket designating the order we would be waited on upon our arrival but dismissed them once we realized we needed time to study the display cases and the myriad of options they encased. We did just that for a good 10 minutes before we felt confident enough to pick out numbers again – at which point, a sizable crowd had gathered inside the bakery.

Despite the crowd, it didn’t take long for our second round of numbers to be called. Shatila was amply staffed, and its staff members moved with the precision and professionalism of a well-trained army. When it was my turn, I was ready: I ordered six pieces of baklava and a chocolate bool (or boll – I’m admittedly not clear on the spelling), a round confection coated in chocolate that I was told was filled with pistachios.

When I got home, I saw an extra piece of baklava slipped in amongst the six I’d ordered – whether accidentally or intentionally, I’m not sure (I had mentioned to the staff member who served me that I was a first-time visitor and loved baklava, so thanks to him if it was intentional!).

That extra piece of baklava sweetening the deal aside, all of the goodies I got from Shatila that day were delicious. I especially enjoyed two pieces of baklava shaped like little phyllo cups nestling whole pistachios and drenched in honey. The chocolate bool was lovely, too; it appeared to be filled with nougat in addition to the nuts and was rich, chocolatey goodness.

After tasting those delectable desserts, I deemed it official: Shatila Bakery is revisit-worthy! I’m not sure if I’ll ever get past ordering loads of baklava when I return, but if I do, I have to try a slice of the knafeh (described on Shatila’s website as “a shredded dough pastry stuffed with sweet cream or cheese and topped with sugar syrup” – Mmmm) – and a slice of the chocolate mousse cake – oh, and the Jordan almonds . . ..

14300 W. Warren Ave.

Dearborn, MI 48126

(With an additional location in West Bloomfield)

www.shatila.com