Macomb County

280. Luigi’s – October 3, 2017 – Harrison Township, MI

LuigisOct2017-1 (2)LuigisOct2017-2 (2)I’m always thrilled to discover another legit, family-owned, real-deal Italian restaurant in the Detroit area, because I am an Italian-restaurant snob. I am a quarter Italian via the bloodline of my beloved maternal grandmother, who was second-generation Italian-American (her parents’ parents were from Italy), and I always wish I was more Italian; I romanticize that part of my heritage, because what’s not to like? For one, Italian food is LIFE. All that garlic and sauce and cheese and spices and rich flavor – the BEST! OK, I know there is more to being Italian than the food, but the food does play an integral role in the culture – and for good reason, given its sky-high deliciousness factor.

Luigi’s in Harrison Township is one of those legit, family-owned, real-deal Italian restaurants peddling cuisine steeped in sky-high deliciousness. According to its website, it’s been around since 1953, which I wasn’t surprised to find out, as the restaurant interior has a real old-school vibe. It feels like a bit of a labyrinth as you wind through the low-ceilinged, multi-roomed structure – but in the coziest of ways.

The restaurant is dimly lit; red twinkle lights festoon the dining area around the bar; the tables are intimately close together and covered in red-and-white-checked tablecloths. The ladies room is hilariously tiny; the walls of its only stall are super low, where my head was sticking clear up above them while I was standing in there. A lady who was waiting in line while I was in there and I were cracking up because it felt awkwardly intimate; we’re locking eyes as I’m finishing up going to the bathroom. Not your usual restroom-stall setup in 2017! If you’re a woman and tall in heels as I am, maybe don’t wear them on the day you visit Luigi’s – or do if you want a laugh.

Anyway, enough about Luigi’s amusing bathroom proportions – let’s talk about the food! I’m on a real eggplant parmesan kick lately, so that’s what I ordered. It was perfection: crispy-fried breaded eggplant covered with mozzarella cheese, cradled on a bed of linguine doused in tomato sauce. From my recollection, eggplant parm isn’t on Luigi’s menu, but of course they’ll make it for you, because every Italian restaurant worth its salt will make you eggplant parmesan (and it will be DELICIOUS.). A quality side-salad came with meal – it was actual greens, not some sad iceberg concoction being passed off as a salad, which I much appreciated. I had a glass of pinot noir and a slice of rich, creamy tiramisu for dessert and was thoroughly stuffed by the time my bill came. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the entire meal cost just over $28 before the tip, which I found quite reasonable, especially given the generous portions.

If you’re in the area and looking to visit Luigi’s (you so should!), it’s definitely worth noting that its website currently states that it will be shut down for construction in the near future; the expected dates of closure are October 30 to November 20, 2017 (maybe the ladies’ room is getting a remodel?). Here’s hoping the renovations will retain the restaurant’s singular charm.

36691 Jefferson Ave.

Harrison Twp., Michigan 48045

www.luigisoriginal.com

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272. The Rec Bowl – September 13, 2017 – Mount Clemens, MI

20170913_18053520170913_193326 (2)The Rec Bowl is a bowling alley in Mount Clemens. But in the warm-weather months, it’s also a popular venue for live music, which I discovered firsthand during a Wednesday-night visit in mid-September.

My uncle and his girlfriend frequent The Rec Bowl regularly for its live music shows, which are held in an open-air bar area attached to the outside of the bowling alley. Cover was $5 on the night I was there, and man, did the people flock out! I’d heard that the place had a dedicated following, and it was true; people reserved tables to make sure they got spots to check out the night’s entertainment. Nearly every attendee appeared to be in the 60-plus age bracket (with the great majority looking to be solidly in their 70s), which delighted me, because come on – I want to be one of those octogenarians venturing out to see live music on a Wednesday night and twirling about on the dance floor! When I retire, I most certainly plan to double-down on exploring the Detroit area and the rest of the world, because if not then, when?

The band that night was the Dave Bennett Quartet, a jazz band led by a clarinet player named – you guessed it – Dave Bennett. Those guys were great; they played their hearts out, and the audience loved them, as did I. I am predisposed to enjoy jazz because my paternal grandfather was a jazz drummer and obsessed with it, and it reminds me of him. And also, I simply find jazz pleasant, an escape for my brain.

While my cranium was immersed in a cray-cray-ba-nay-nay roller-coaster ride of jazz notes, my tummy was tripping hard on my corned beef sandwich, that delightful amalgamation of red meat, Swiss cheese, and buttery toasted rye bread – MMMM. I noticed on the Rec Bowl’s website that it showcases a more extensive menu than the one that was offered to us on the patio; inside the building it appears to offer a more expanded variety of sandwiches, salads, and appetizers such as fried cauliflower, chili fries, and Nacho Supreme (three completely valid excuses right there to round up some friends and get in some bowling!).

It doesn’t look like The Rec Bowl will feature any more live music for the rest of the year; we’ll have to wait until next year to groove out. But the indoor bowling alley – plus the darts and billiards that are also offered – are available year-round and will likely prove to be a tempting option on those long winter nights when it’s dark at 5 p.m. and there’s a foot of snow on the ground (but let me not go there yet!).

40 Crocker Blvd.

Mt. Clemens, MI 48043

www.therecreationbowl.com

270. Journey’s End Coffee Shop – September 2, 2017 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

20170902_131142 (2)20170902_131436 (2)After breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe Woods (which I’m always happy to visit because they have some of the best bacon EVER), I decided to stop into Journey’s End Coffee Shop in Saint Clair Shores to enjoy a cappuccino and catch up on some journaling. The coffee shop is small and only contains a few tables, but its staff is friendly; its golden-walled interior, welcoming. Smoothies, bagels, pastries, and a soup-of-the-day are offered in addition to a variety of coffee and tea drinks.

Worth noting: Journey’s End opens early – at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. But it closes in the afternoons (at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and 3 p.m. the rest of the week).

25109 Jefferson Ave.

St. Clair Shores, MI 48081

www.journeysendcoffee.com

267. Juan Miguel’s – August 12, 2017 – Clinton Township, MI

20170910_163706 (2)20170812_183531August 12 was a busy day for me, as I’d inadvertently overbooked my social calendar. The up side was that I got to hang out with two beloved friends and try three new places in one day, with visits to the Beverly Hills Grill and Michigan Beer Growler Co.  in the afternoon and Juan Miguel’s in Clinton Township in the evening.

Mexican food is one of the Universe’s greatest gifts to us earthlings, in my opinion. All that cheese and spice and flavor and YUMMM. So of course I was excited to check out Juan Miguel’s, crafter of many cheesy-spicy-flavorful Mexican goodies.

The restaurant’s menu is extensive, affordable, and contains all of the faves: tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos, nachos, chile rellenos, fajitas, botanas . . . you get it. It also contains a few items that you won’t generally see being peddled at the conventional U.S. Mexican restaurant, such as menudo (beef tripe soup – a.k.a. soup make from stomach tissue – a.k.a. not the average patron’s thing but a traditional dish that many do enjoy) and nopalitos, described on the menu as “Tender pieces of cactus cooked with eggs, onions, green peppers, and our special spices.” I’ve never thought of cactus as being edible, AND I’m completely intrigued by this dish!

My palate wasn’t up for beef tripe or cactus during my visit to Juan Miguel’s – because it was up for cheesy beef enchiladas with Spanish rice and beans instead. Of course, my palate is always up for cheesy beef enchiladas with Spanish rice and beans because it is LIFE. And the beef enchiladas at Juan Miguel’s certainly hold up their end of the bargain with the whole cheesy-spicy-flavorful YUMMM-factor.

21342 Hall Rd.

Clinton Twp., MI 48038

www.juanmiguels.com

264. Watermark Bar & Grille – August 11, 2017 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

20170811_21022520170811_19063120170811_190715 As with several of the current restaurants on the Nautical Mile, the Watermark Bar & Grille has a legacy: it used to be the Beach Grill and then Tin Fish. You might think those ghosts of its hard-partying past would be hard to shake. But the Watermark seems determined to carve out its own identity, with modern nautical-themed decor, an extensive menu, and regular live music out on that gorgeous lakeside patio.

If being right on Lake St. Clair jamming to lively tunes brings out a propensity to be festive with the adult beverages (I mean, who could blame you, especially in these beautiful days of extended summer weather!), you only need to turn to the Watermark’s wide-ranging food menu to bring you back to center. It’s packed with a variety of hearty sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, signature hot dogs (such as The Southwestern, smothered in guacamole, jalapeños, cream cheese, and cilantro and wrapped in bacon – deluxe!), noodle dishes, Tex-Mex fare, and more upscale, surf- and turf-centric entrees such as filet and barramundi topped with crab meat and hollandaise sauce. I got the steak fajitas and enjoyed loading them up with grilled peppers and onions, Spanish rice, salsa, cheese, and guacamole.

Unlike some lakefront restaurants, the Watermark is open year-round. So even after the fair weather wanes, you can sit in its expansive dining room and gaze out onto the water, dreaming of the days post-thaw when you can hit that patio.

24420 Jefferson Ave.

St Clair Shores, MI 48080

www.watermarkbarandgrille.com

262. Donut Factory – August 9, 2017 – Warren, MI

20170809_13060620170809_13061620170809_143236Four words, people: CHOCOLATE HONEY-GLAZED DONUT. Those four words equal pure shining goodness and love, in my vocabulary!

Last month, I discovered that the people at the Donut Factory – a bakery/café on Mound Road just south of 12 Mile in Warren – most definitely know what the heck they are doing when they craft their namesake pastry. For a mere 95 cents, I got in return a little nugget of Heaven named CHOCOLATE HONEY-GLAZED DONUT that was delectably crispy and sweet-honey-kissed on the outside and sumptuously soft and chocolatey on the inside. YES QUEEN!

I’m thrilled that I decided to make the detour to the Donut Factory that afternoon while en route from an offsite work meeting, because discovering one more place where top-notch baked goods are crafted makes me feel that much more equipped to deal with life (donuts are an effective antidote to have in one’s back pocket when adulting gets squirrely). I stopped there because I thought it was one of two donut shops in Warren that I have on my 100 Places to-visit spreadsheet (one of my nerdiest and most beloved creations). I realized when I looked there later that it wasn’t (the shops on my list are Donut Castle and Daily Dozen. Apparently Warren is loaded with delightful independently-owned donut shops).  I guess it was Fate that brought me to the Donut Factory – so thank you for that, Universe!

According to its Yelp profile, the Donut Factory is open 24 hours Tuesdays through Fridays (so you can get your donut fix at any time of day! Imagine donuts after a visit to another Warren gem, Dragonmead Microbrewery – NEXT-LEVEL). On Saturday, it closes at 4 p.m. and is wholly closed on Sunday (good, because the saints who make these babies deserve to live a life outside of donut cobbling). It reopens on Monday at 4 a.m.

Besides donuts, the Donut Factory offers other food, too – soups and sandwiches and pasties. You can go in there and sit in one of the booths or at the counter and enjoy a meal in a pleasant, low-key, kinda quaint environment where time feels like it is standing still – in a good way. Because time moves too quickly sometimes, doesn’t it?

There’s a massively popular corporate-chain donut/coffee shop right next to the Donut Factory. I like this chain; I frequented it regularly at one point in my past. But when I see this chain store parked next to the Donut Factory, a humble, locally-owned establishment cranking out fried rings of pure deliciousness at a 24/7 pace, I feel like shaking my fist at them and screaming, “No! No! You will not threaten the Donut Factory!” I mean, not cool, corporate chain, not cool.

But the profound thing about buying power is that we can decide which place of the two we want to support with our dollars – or whether we want to support both. It’s our choice. So the next time you’re in the 12 Mile-and-Mound area and feel like doing a little experiment, give ’em both a taste test and see what you think. For the record, my vote is with the Donut Factory.

28805 Mound Rd.

Warren, MI 48092

260. Testa Barra – July 13, 2017 – Macomb, MI

20170713_20265620170713_19511220170713_195117I was admittedly primed to love Testa Barra, because when I rolled up there for dinner back in July not long after the then-new restaurant had opened, I saw working there that night not one, not two, but three people I knew from my bygone serving glory days (two former coworkers and a friend I’d met tangentially from us serving at the same place at different times). AND I was dining with a friend who I also knew from said time period. So basically, I was revving high on excitement and nostalgia and getting to catch up with four beloved people all at once; given my ecstatic state, I probably could have eaten cardboard soaked in rubbing alcohol and given it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Fortunately, the meal I partook in that night at Testa Barra, the Italian restaurant opened this year by the Baldwin Restaurant Group (owners of J. Baldwin’s in Clinton Township), was incredibly delicious in its own right – not simply rose-colored by my overzealous “Those were the days!” reminiscences about my serving shenanigans.

Sitting in the pretty glassed-in porch area of the restaurant dotted with succulent plants and festooned with strands of lights, we started with an arancini appetizer, fried balls of creamy, cheesy rice that were pure goodness. I continued on with the pasta Bolognese: handmade strozzapretti (kind of a twisty tube-noodle) topped with a rich, spicy, flavorful Cabernet-infused beef pasta sauce and ample amounts of ricotta cheese. SO GOOD and a definite far cry from cardboard soaked in rubbing alcohol! And for dessert, I savored some of my friend’s vanilla gelato garnished with crushed biscotti cookies.

My verdict, then, is that the food at Testa Barra is highly delectable in its own right – which is good, because in all seriousness, I wouldn’t return of my own volition to a restaurant with meh food no matter how many people I knew who worked there. I mean, there are far too many superior restaurants in the Metro-D for that!

48824 Romeo Plank Rd.

Macomb, MI 48044

www.testabarra.com

259. The Rustic Bluebird – July 8, 2017 – Romeo, MI

20170708_131050 (2)20170708_124731 (2)I like downtown Romeo. It’s got a homey, small-town vibe that I find comforting. And the Rustic Bluebird fits in well within that tranquil aesthetic. It’s a café with a cheery vibe and a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, and bowls (as in veggie bowls, nacho bowls, etc.) that you order from the counter.

The Power Bowl that I decided on was delicious – and HUGE! I definitely got my money’s worth here with a portion size that easily gave me two filling meals from this brown-rice bowl loaded with mixed greens, black beans, chickpeas, avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds, cranberries, cucumber, onion, and Swiss cheese.

211 N. Main St.

Romeo, MI 48065

www.therusticbluebird.com

253. Eastside Bagel – June 11, 2017 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

20170611_110033 (2)20170611_111700 (2)Good morning, all! If this morning has not been as good as you’d like it to be, there’s still time to redeem it by heading over to Eastside Bagel in Saint Clair Shores. I mean, check out that delightful Everything-bagel sandwich above with its turkey and bacon and spicy cream-cheese. Perfection! Not hard to see why this place was bustling on the weekend morning that I visited it last month, patrons crowding around the little tables to enjoy their bagels, sandwiches, salads, and soup in leisurely Sunday-morning fashion.

21601 Harper Ave.

St. Clair Shores, MI 48080

www.eastsidebagel.com

249. The GrubHouse – May 23, 2017 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

20170523_183051(1)20170523_183123 (2)May 23 was a busy day for me in visiting new places. I got a carryout lunch from the Troy location of Neehee’s, an Indian vegetarian street food joint, and enjoyed it at a picnic table overlooking the lake at Sylvan Glen Lake Park. Then I had dinner with a friend at The GrubHouse, a diner-type restaurant in Saint Clair Shores.

I appreciated that the decor at the GrubHouse was super cute and modern compared to the (non-existing) style you would see at a typical diner. It was obvious that the owners had put attention and care into its ambience. I also appreciated that the service was attentive, the food came quickly, and that the Michigan Cherry Salad I ordered, with its herb-marinated chicken, dried cherries, walnuts, feta (substituted for its usual blue cheese), red onion, cucumbers, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing was DELICIOUS.

As with any quality home-style restaurant, the GrubHouse’s menu covers a lot of ground, offering an extensive selection of appetizers; sandwiches; salads; burgers; Coney dogs; seafood dishes; and meat-centric entrees such as a chicken kabob platter, country-fried steak, and lamb chops (a steal at only $13.99!).

22230 Greater Mack Ave.

St. Clair Shores, MI 48080

www.mygrubhouse.com