Oakland County

467. Knapp’s Donuts – February 21, 2020 – Troy, MI

February2020Knapp'sDonuts1 (2)February2020Knapp'sDonuts2 (2)As of the writing of this post, Knapp’s Donuts is one of the many Metro-Detroit-area businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; its doors are currently closed. With any luck, both its Rochester and Troy-based locations – the latter of which I recently visited – will reopen soon, and we can all enjoy its delightful donuts again.

After years of hearing my mom rave about Knapp’s Donuts and wanting to try them myself, I finally made that happen when I stopped there on a Friday morning in February. I was on my way to my last day at a job that I’d worked at for 4.5 years, and I thought it would be nice to bring my team (and myself) some donuts.

I picked out eight donuts in a variety of flavors, including Boston crème, chocolate glazed, cinnamon-sugar, and sour cream.

I knew I had to try the sour cream, as that varietal has become a personal favorite in recent years. It was SO delicious: perfectly moist on the inside and crispy-fried on the outside, with a honey-sweet glaze. I could see from eating that sour cream donut what all the hype around Knapp’s was about!

I also got to try one of its chocolate glazed donuts, which was quite tasty, too; my coworkers who opted in on the baked goodies enjoyed them, as well.

Once Knapp’s is open again, I have a feeling its patrons are going to be rejoicing by grabbing its delectable donuts by the dozens! May that time come quickly.

6057 Rochester Rd.

Troy, MI 48085

(with an additional location in Rochester)

465. MI-Combat – February 15, 2020 – Rochester Hills, MI

February2020MI-Combat1 (3)Look at you, MI-Combat, bringing out the inner child in me!

MI-Combat doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of place that would bring out one’s inner kiddo, does it? I mean, the name has a word related to warfare in it. But it’s the service the place offers, laser-tag games, that brought out that child-like wonder in me.

I visited MI-Combat on a Saturday night in mid-February, to attend the birthday party of a friend’s husband. Because my friend booked a party package with MI-Combat, our group had access to a party room area that we were able to bring snacks into and keep our stuff in; we were also served pizza after our game session as part of the package.

For the game play, we suited up into vests and headbands that had sensors in them that made us targets for the laser guns, which were crafted to look like assault rifles and came with a strap you could wear across your chest. As part of the party package, we had 90 minutes to play various games of laser tag on MI-Combat’s two-level course that’s been designed to look like a Detroit cityscape (its website calls it “Battlefield Red Dawn,” describing it as a “Live Hollywood Movie Set”). It’s a really cool course, with plenty of elements to hide behind, such as pallets and a police car, and within (including a police station and a structure painted to look like American Coney Island. Heck yes, American Coney Island!).

We played along with others who weren’t a part of our group, breaking up into two teams to play numerous games, each with a short time range (around five minutes) and  different objectives and each led by a staff member, who was there if we had questions or needed help with our guns or reactivating into the game after we’d been “killed,” for games where that was applicable.

For one game, the other team had the objective to take out all of our team members within a certain time range; if any of our team survived until the end of that game, we won. Another game had us searching for a backpack hidden within the course (while we shot at each other); the team that found the backpack before the other won.

The games were fast-paced, and once I got the hang of using the gun and how to reset myself to get back into a challenge after I’d been shot, I had a lot of fun and got pretty competitive around the whole thing. Screens in our team base tracked the players on each team’s stats, and I was excited to see that while I certainly wasn’t one of the top players, I also wasn’t the very worst (we’d been prompted to create accounts on a stat-tracking site before the game session so that we’d have profiles where these stats could be tracked).

The games went by in a blur, and I was sad to see them be over – though very happy to dig into some pizza after the activity, which was more strenuous than I and some of my team members had expected (with lots of running and crouching involved, the challenges were a great workout!). The overall experience was a lot of fun, and I’d definitely recommend you check out MI-Combat should the inner child – and adult in you! – perk up at the idea of playing energetic laser tag games in this engaging setting.

2636 S. Adams Rd.

Rochester Hills, MI 48309

www.mi-combat.com

461. SheHive – January 21, 2020 – Ferndale, MI

January2020SheHive1 (3)I dig SheHive – and that’s no surprise to me, championing as it does values that strongly resonate with me: community, learning, and female empowerment!

I visited the Ferndale-based business for the first time last month, to take one of the many classes it offers – forums on topics as wide-ranging as public speaking, learning the tarot, body positivity, astrology, group coaching, burlesque, and crocheting.

According to a section titled “What we Value” on the Learn More page of SheHive’s website, it’s all about helping women “find the joy and magic in a life lived on the other side of should.” I love that! How often do we let the things we think we should be doing hold us back from the things we actually want to do?

SheHive also presents itself as a safe space for women. I think it’s important for everyone to have areas of their lives where they feel comfortable being themselves, especially for those of us who identify as female. There are too many environments in this world that can make us feel unsafe and less-than. Here’s to cultivating spaces that remind us of the warriors that we actually are!

The two classes I’ve taken thus far at SheHive have been filled with high-vibing goodness. The women I’ve met there have been lovely, and the room the classes have taken place within is a vibrantly decorated and inviting space, complete with an essential oil diffuser and complimentary snacks (including wine!).

If you are interested in scoping out the classes available at SheHive, check out the Upcoming Events section; a link to it is on the Home page of its website.

2505 Hilton Rd., Ste. 107

Ferndale, MI 48220

www.theshehive.com

460. Boston Tea Room – January 21, 2020 – Ferndale, MI

January2020BostonTeaRoom1 (2)Boston Tea Room: what an emporium of high-vibing goodness!

I’d intended to explore the shop based in downtown Ferndale for years. When I finally attempted to in late December of last year, I discovered that it’d moved to another location: still in Ferndale, but north of downtown, in a suite in a building on Woodward Heights Boulevard. I visited it several weeks later.

When I stepped inside the large, beautiful space that the Boston Tea Room is now located within, I was happy that I’d waited to visit. The friendly employee who helped me select a deck of tarot cards to purchase told me it’s about five times the size of the former space. It was a delight to walk through the airy storeroom with its well-organized displays of spiritually-centered goodies: tarot cards, books, crystals, candles, clothing, incense, jewelry and accessories, and more.

Boston Tea Room is more than a shop: it also offers tarot readings, sessions with mediums and intuitive counselors, workshops on topics such as journaling, astrology, and reading oracle cards, and Level I and Level II reiki attunement/certification classes. Like I said, it’s an emporium of goodness! And I’m glad to have finally become acquainted with it.

1220 Woodward Heights Blvd.

Ferndale, MI 48220

www.bostontearoom.com

454. The Balkan House – December 30, 2019 – Ferndale, MI

December2019BalkanHouse1 (4)December2019BalkanHouse2 (2)Look at you, The Balkan House, coming in at the 11th hour in 2019 to infuse my gastronomical-year-that-was with some WOW!

I had the first döner kebab of my life at the Ferndale-based restaurant, and I’m OBSESSED.

I hadn’t heard of this Turkish pita sandwich that’s popular in Germany until I stumbled across a Detroit Free Press article on The Balkan House last month. My mouth watered as I read about the restaurant’s signature dish, consisting of a Balkan pita bread called lepinja stuffed with gyro meat, onion, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and purple cabbage and slathered in a garlicky yogurt sauce. Yes, yes, and yes, screamed my taste buds: this was a dish I had to try!

Fortuitously, I would be in close proximity to The Balkan House’s recently-opened Ferndale storefront a few days after reading that article. The original, Hamtramck-based location opened last summer, offering classic Balkan fare such as grah (bean soup) and cevapi (Bosnian sausages), plus that döner kebab, which people apparently went crazy over (how did I miss that???) – leading The Balkan House owner to expand operations.

Stepping inside the interior of the long, narrow restaurant on the afternoon of my visit, I queued up to the counter, scoping out the menu above it. My choice was easy: I was there to try that döner kebab, which is served at The Balkan House with lamb-and-beef-based gyro meat (my choice), chicken, or falafel. It also comes with a side of fries.

I gave my order, paid, and took a seat at one of the tables in the restaurant. My food arrived quickly, a hefty pita sandwich accompanied by an ample serving of fries.

I took my first bite of that döner kebab, and O.M.G., was I greeted by EPIC DELICIOUSNESS!!!

The lepinja bread was so soft and pillowy, the gyro meat both tender and crispy and so well-seasoned – by far the best gyro meat I’ve ever had. And that garlic sauce, and those fresh, crunchy veggies . . . all I can say is WOW, WOW, and WOW! I can’t use that exclamatory word enough here – The Balkan House’s döner kebab warrants the excitement.

I practically inhaled that döner kebab and the perfectly soft-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside French fries that accompanied it. I ate the whole thing then and there and left feeling full and satisfied. It was one of those “Now THAT was a meal!” moments, a moment that I live for and love to savor afterwards.

I’m sure the other items on The Balkan House’s menu are wonderful, and I’d be curious to try them; I’m not well-versed with Balkan food (despite being of Croatian descent), and I love experiencing new-to-me cuisines. But I have a feeling The Balkan House is going to be one of those places where I return and order the same thing over and over again, because how will I be able to resist the sweet siren call of that döner kebab??? It’s a special dish indeed, and I’m glad I got to add the act of eating it to my collection of magical culinary experiences of 2019.

314 W. 9 Mile Rd.

Ferndale, MI 48220

(With an additional location in Hamtramck)

www.balkanhouse-restaurant.business.site

453. 313 Pizza Bar – December 28, 2019 – Lake Orion, MI

December2019313PizzaBar1 (2)December2019313PizzaBar2 (2)December2019313PizzaBar3 (2)Detroit-style pizza = my heart. I love that doughy, crispy, greasy, cheesy, saucy stuff! So of course I had to visit the recently opened 313 Pizza Bar in downtown Lake Orion.

Full disclosure: I’m related to one of the owners of this place. But familial bias aside, my conclusion after my visit is that 313 Pizza Bar is proffering up some very tasty pizza!

The restaurant is in downtown Lake Orion, on the site of the former Lockhart’s BBQ. The building is bringing the industrial vibes, all brick walls and bare-bulb lighting and exposed ductwork. There’s a cozy bar area on the first floor, with strands of twinkle lights strung above it. During my visit, I sat in the second-floor dining area, which has its own bar area and a wall of windows offering views of the cityscape outside.

Besides offering signature and build-your-own pizza options, 313 Pizza Bar serves appetizers such as bruschetta, cheese bread, and meatballs, plus hearty sandwiches (here’s looking at you, Muffuletta and Philly Cheesesteak!) and salads (so you can counterbalance the doughy, crispy, greasy, cheesy, saucy aspect of the meal with some greens).

While the appetizers and sandwiches sounded appealing, I was at 313 Pizza Bar for its namesake dish, so I zeroed in on that Signature Pizzas section. Many intriguing choices were showcased there: see the Spicy Sausage and Peppers with its mix of hot Italian sausage, banana peppers, green peppers, and red onion and the Tangy BBQ Chicken with its Tangy Carolina BBQ Sauce – both prime options for revisit meals for me. But it was the Chicken Pesto pizza that captured our collective attention during this meal, along with individually-sized salads (the Green Garden for me, the Antipasto for my fellow diners).

Our salads came out quickly, beds of greens loaded up with ingredients. The Antipasto salad was especially stacked with goodies: salami and ham and cheese and chickpeas, artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes and cucumber and black olives and banana peppers. I enjoyed my Green Garden salad with its crispy croutons and spicy banana peppers.

Then it was on to the main course! The Chicken Pesto pizza arrived in all of its cheesy, crispy-crusted glory. The large-sized pizza contained eight pieces and was essentially two, four-slice pizzas, meaning that every piece was one of the much-beloved corner pieces (WOO-HOO!).

With its crust that was both doughy and crispy (YEAH, Detroit-style pizza!), its flavorful pesto sauce and thick layer of mozzarella cheese studded with chunks of chicken breast and fresh garlic dusted in Parmesan and pecorino romano, this Chicken Pesto pizza was delicious! I savored several pieces of it, gorging on its rich, carb-and-dairy-laden goodness.

Oh, Detroit-style pizza, how you sustain me during these stark winter days! Thank you, 313 Pizza Bar, for being a purveyor of this much-beloved local delicacy!

37 E. Flint St.

Lake Orion, MI 48362

www.313pizza-bar.com

 

447. Berkley Common – November 14, 2019 – Berkley, MI

November2019BerkleyCommon2 (2)November2019BerkleyCommon3 (3)On a gloomy night during these, the shortest days of the year, Berkley Common was for me a beacon of warmth, conviviality, and culinary goodness!

I met a friend at the restaurant based in downtown Berkley on a weeknight in mid-November. Right away, I was captivated by its interior, which I would describe as a mix of rustic (forest-scape murals on the walls, lots of wood finishes), industrial-chic contemporary (minimalist light fixtures, exposed ductwork, earth tones), and retro (it’s got a jukebox!) all wrapped into one.

Next, I was knocked out by my drink selection. From Berkley Common’s menu of craft cocktails, I chose the server-recommended Smoke Ring for my Halo, which was FANTASTIC with its melding of blanco tequila, mezcal, lime, blueberry, jalapeño, and agave. I loved the mix of sweet, smoky, and spicy – SO perfect!

And then, I was blown away by my dinner choice. From the menu of appetizers, sliders, salads, hirata buns, burgers, tacos, and other goodies (which included various vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options), I chose spare ribs with a Thai peanut barbecue sauce. They were oh-so-tasty, tender nuggets of meaty goodness slathered with rich, flavorful sauce, sprinkled with crushed peanuts and water chestnuts, and served on a bed of roasted vegetables. My stomach definitely had the warm-and-fuzzies after eating them!

And I left Berkley Common feeling all-around full of the warm-and-fuzzies after that lovely evening of dinner, drinks, and bonding with a friend. It was dark outside, but the light of that positive experience would buoy me in that darkness!

3087 12 Mile Rd.

Berkley, MI 48072

(Closed Mondays; open for dinner Tuesdays through Fridays, brunch/lunch and dinner Saturdays and Sundays)

www.berkleycommon.com

441. Old Detroit Burger Bar – October 25, 2019 – Troy, MI

October2019OldDetroitBurgerBar1 (3)October2019OldDetroitBurgerBar2 (3)I love a big, juicy burger any day of the week, but especially on Fridays. Because burgers scream “TGIF!” to me!

Old Detroit Burger Bar is serving up the big, juicy burger goodness any day of the week, not solely Fridays. But my recent visit to the local restaurant chain’s Troy location did fall on a Friday – and I was vibing hard on its TGIF-infused aura.

The restaurant’s interior is sleek sports bar with a comfy feel: lots of browns and grays and glossy wood, accented with neon-blue fluorescent lighting. A bar with wraparound seating dominates one section; flat-screen TVs abound and are tuned in to the sport matches du jour.

Old Detroit Burger Bar’s food menu showcases much more than its namesake item: it’s got appetizers, entrée salads, sandwiches, and dishes such as Homemade Lasagna Dinner and The Lake St. Clair (fish and chips, naturally). It even serves its rendition of a Coney dog and a loose Coney burger. But my eyes were zeroed in on its burger section because: see Paragraph 1.

Names of Old Detroit Burger Bar hamburgers have a local slant to them. There’s The Ambassador, The Michigan Ave., the I-75. That last burger, by the way, is a two-pounder loaded with grilled onions, jalapeños, and American, Swiss, AND cheddar cheeses, served with Thousand Island dressing. According to Old Detroit Burger Bar’s website, if you finish one of those behemoths, you can get your picture added to a wall of fame devoted to I-75 slayers.

And there’s the burger I decided to order, The Vernor. The half-pound hamburger is bringing Southwest Detroit-inspired flair with its jalapeños, green peppers, guacamole, American and cheddar cheeses, and sour cream served on the side. I opted for tater tots to accompany mine.

My table’s food came out quickly, and I used the steak knife stabbed into my Vernor burger to cut its hefty form in half. It was everything I’d hoped it would be: juicy, beefy, cheesy, spicy, guac-laden deliciousness! The tater tots were tantalizingly crispy, greasy nuggets of spud.

My Vernor burger was so big that I was easily able to save a chunk of it to take home – though it was so tasty that I did ponder devouring the whole thing then and there (maybe if there was a wall of fame involved, I would have!).

3946 Rochester Rd.

Troy, MI 48083

(With additional locations in Lapeer, Lake Orion, and Clawson)

www.olddetroitburgerbar.com

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

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