Wayne County

523. PizzaPlex – September 19, 2021 – Detroit, MI

Is there anything better than a summer’s day in Detroit? I think not – especially when it’s spent on PizzaPlex’s patio, enjoying one of its INCREDIBLE pies!

The pizzeria is located in Southwest Detroit, in delightful proximity to Clark Park, El Club, and Mexicantown Bakery. Besides that of being located in one of my favorite Detroit neighborhoods, it holds an honorable distinction: it’s a certified maker of authentic Neapolitan pizza. This accreditation is awarded by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an organization dedicated to preserving the method of pizza-making that originated in Naples, Italy.

It’s a big deal to be certified by the AVPN, which has specific rules around what constitutes a true Neapolitan pie; see its regulations around everything from cooking temperature to dough thickness to how peeled tomatoes are crushed (by hand). There are fewer than 900 AVPN-certified pizzerias in the world, according to Pizza Plex’s most recent newsletter – and only two in Michigan.

Such a certification means nothing if the taste isn’t there. But I’m here to tell you that the taste is wholly present at PizzaPlex!

I was in the mood for an outdoor lunch on the day of my visit. So I sat at a table in PizzaPlex’s backyard seating area: a delightful little hideaway. There I listened to the breeze rustle branches while admiring a mural featuring monarch butterflies and vibrant swirls of color.

I decided to forego a drink but admired PizzaPlex’s collection of beers, craft cocktails, digestifs, and Italian wines. I started instead with its side salad, a super-fresh mix of greens and cherry tomatoes drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and deliciously pungent Parmigiano.

Then came my pie: a Margherita. PizzaPlex’s rendition of the classic pie was phenomenal. Its fresh basil leaves, tomato sauce, drizzles of olive oil, and ample chunks of mozzarella had the pizza bursting with flavor. But the real showstopper was the crust.

I’m not typically a pizza-crust person. I eat it, but it’s not why I’m there. When it comes to PizzaPlex’s pie, though, I’m most decidedly a crust person! It has to be the best I’ve ever eaten.

This Margherita’s dough was fire-kissed on the outside, yet so sumptuously doughy and chewy. It’s hard to put into words how something so seemingly simple could taste so wonderful; it begs to be experienced. The Neapolitan spirit was in full force in this pizza dough!

Another element of PizzaPlex where that Neapolitan spirit is fully alive is in its pay-it-forward program – sospeso, as it’s called in Naples. It allows patrons to pre-purchase meals for future guests. What a win-win it is to visit PizzaPlex when you can allow both yourself and a fellow human to enjoy its delicious pies!

4458 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.pizzaplex.com

517. SheWolf – August 6, 2021 – Detroit, MI

Dinner at SheWolf – what a special experience! It was a dream come true to finally visit the Detroit-based Italian restaurant – and a magical one, at that.

I dined at SheWolf on a Friday night in early August. My mom, stepdad, and I had a reservation for right when it opened, 5 p.m. We’d spent the previous hour priming ourselves for the experience in the backyard of The Old Miami; we were ready to eat! And SheWolf was ready to serve us.

I was struck by SheWolf’s gorgeous dining room: its sage-green walls, caramelly leather, dark-stained wood floors, and profusion of fresh flowers.

Another striking detail was how many employees were working that night. There was a full floor of them – I’m talking a pre-COVID-level, busy-weekend-night number of staff members. This was both surprising and incredibly heartening to me. I interpreted it to mean 1) SheWolf is a place where people love to work and 2) they are doing well enough during these COVID times to employ a full staff.

With its phenomenal food and impeccable service, how could SheWolf not be doing well? At least, I hope it is. We need restaurants this wonderful to thrive!

Speaking of the impeccable service at SheWolf: here’s an example. I happened to drop my napkin twice that night. Both times I did, staff members swooped in with a fresh one. Employees consistently appeared eager to step in and deliver food, decrumb our table, check on us . . .. They did so with friendly, professional attitudes, seemingly happy to be there and serving us. As someone who served in restaurants for years, I really appreciated being in the midst of this high-vibing staff who worked seamlessly together as a team. I could see myself on a crew like that . . .. But I was a patron that night at SheWolf . . . so I’ll put my serving nostalgia aside!

The server we had that night was great and adeptly guided us through SheWolf’s menu. We all ordered her recommended cocktail, Aperol These Years, a spritz incorporating strawberry, balsamic, and basil-infused Aperol. It came garnished with a marigold and went down really easy.

We shared two appetizers, again recommended by our server: the Carpaccio and the Sformato di Zucchine.

The Carpaccio was a revelation for me! I’d previously been put off by carpaccio’s layers of paper-thin, raw beef. But SheWolf’s carpaccio was so tender and flavorful, an utter delight to eat. It was accented by capers, toasted hazelnut pieces, and an ample layer of shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

The Sformato di Zucchine also blew my taste buds wide open. I didn’t know what to expect of this dish described as a “savory zucchini custard.” But wow, was it luxuriously full of flavor!

We continued our journey through SheWolf’s menu. From the carefully curated pasta, meat, and seafood dishes, I chose the Paccheri All’Arrabbiata. The dish of house-made pasta topped with a spicy lamb neck ragu, whipped ricotta, plum tomatoes, and banana peppers was SO, SO, SO, SO GOOD. The tender lamb and flavor-rich sauce! That creamy ricotta! There was a lot to exclaim over – including the house-made pasta, which was wonderfully fresh and al dente-chewy.

SheWolf’s pasta production, by the way, includes milling its own flour. Talk about dedication! There’s a glass-walled area on the way to the restrooms where the pasta is made by hand.

While the drink, appetizers, and main course I enjoyed at SheWolf were satisfying, I couldn’t stop there. Dessert was the icing on the cake of this exquisite meal.

So I savored SheWolf’s Torta di Cioccolato, a slice of flourless chocolate cake accompanied by chantilly cream, crème anglaise, and bits of honeycomb. It was a rich, chocolatey treat. But the dessert my mother ordered, the Zeppole, REALLY blew me away. These were piping-hot, freshly fried ricotta fritters, perfectly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a drizzle of chocolate-hazelnut spread, they were exceptional.

Like those Zeppole, the entire experience of dining at SheWolf was exceptional. This is one of those meals that I find myself visiting again and again in my memory. I feel privileged to have had this special experience at this special restaurant!

438 Selden St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.shewolfdetroit.com

515. Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles – July 24, 2021 – Detroit, MI

A summer Saturday in Detroit, visiting Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles? Yes, please! As this season of sunshine and heat waves winds down, I’m more than happy to reminisce about my visit to the famed Avenue of Fashion-based restaurant.

I’d aspired to dine at Kuzzo’s for years. So it was exciting to make that dream a reality when a friend agreed to lunch with me there in late July. We weren’t the only ones with Kuzzo’s on the brain that day – the place was bustling with patrons! We waited about 40 minutes for a table before scoring seats at the bar.

While Kuzzo’s interior is fairly small, it brimmed with energy on the day of our visit. Something about the acoustics of the place (the high ceilings?) seemed to amplify sound – but hey, that added to the convivial vibe! I dug the restaurant’s bright red walls and stylish, contemporary look, its signature decorative detail: the definition of “kuzzo” painted above the bar. (That definition reads, “A term of endearment for one who is a friend or family member / A person of a kindred culture, race or nation.”)

Speaking of the bar: Kuzzo’s offers fun cocktails, including Spiked Kool-Aid (your childhood classic – adulting with Tito’s vodka!), a Pear Punch that its menu refers to as a “patio pounder,” and Mimosa Flights (which include four different flavor varieties of the classic champagne-and-juice riff).

As tempting as those cocktails were, I had my eye on the prize at Kuzzo’s that day: the chicken!

While I love both chicken and waffles, I admittedly prefer to enjoy them separate from each other. This feels totally sacrilegious to admit in a post about a restaurant whose oeuvre revolves around the combo! But it’s why I bypassed the 12 chicken-and-waffles combos on Kuzzo’s menu and went with Hazel’s Southern Platter. It features three pieces of fried chicken, two sides (I opted for the Mac & Cheese and Candied Yams), and a cornbread muffin.

If you also aren’t a chicken-and-waffles devotee, you’ll find plenty of other appealing choices on Kuzzo’s menu. It showcases several omelets and a variety of breakfast combo plates, including ones featuring biscuits and gravy, salmon croquettes, and chicken and grits. There are also a couple of sandwich offerings, including the Chicken BLT and the Nashville Hot Chicken (whose menu descriptions are literally making my mouth water!).

When my order arrived, I saw there’d been a mix-up. My Hazel’s Southern Platter was supposed to feature a breast, a leg, and a thigh. But it came with two pieces of chicken – both breasts. I communicated the mix-up, and the third chicken piece arrived – and was another breast. I didn’t have the heart to tell our bartender server about the bungle; she was busy enough! So I embraced the three-breast meal. I was happy to find the white-meat chicken to be quite juicy. The breading was nice and crispy, too.

But you know what the biggest surprise was for me on that Hazel’s Southern Platter? The Candied Yams. WOW, were they DELICIOUS! Those little root veggie nuggets were loaded with flavor. They were in this cinnamon-laced syrup that was SO good. I could eat a bucket of those candied yams!

My friend had one of Kuzzo’s omelets and loved it. Both of us made an unconventional choice that day at the chicken-and-waffles restaurant. But I must say, as I peruse Kuzzo’s menu now, I feel I wouldn’t mind returning to try one of its namesake choices: maybe the Mrs. Irene (waffles and fried chicken smothered in gravy and onions) or the Big Red (red velvet waffles with a cream cheese glaze paired with three wings or chicken tenders). Enticing choices abound on that menu!

19345 Livernois Ave.

Detroit, MI 48221

www.kuzzoschickenandwaffles.com

510. The Congregation – May 22, 2021 – Detroit, MI

When I think of The Congregation, I think, “Magic!” And also, “How have I not been back there yet???”

This Detroit-based business is truly special. It’s a coffee house/bar built in a nearly-century-old restored church building. And it has these magical vibes.

Those vibes are due to the wonderfully welcoming staff, the delicious food and drink, and the killer ambiance. And also, there just seems to be a signature je ne sais quoi to the place. That’s a common sentiment among visitors to The Congregation, according to one of the baristas with whom I shared my good-vibes feels.

I visited The Congregation on a Saturday in late May – a warm, sunny Saturday that totally felt like the origination of summer. A friend and I enjoyed food and coffee drinks on the elevated deck, which overlooks The Congregation’s backyard lined with picnic tables and strung with twinkle lights. Guided yoga, a weekly farmer’s market, food trunks, and other fun happenings grace that yard regularly. The Congregation regularly hosts events such as these and others, varying from children’s ballet classes to a weekly house music night.

I was intrigued by The Congregation’s full bar. It boasts an extensive beer menu (including locally produced brews), a selection of wines by the glass and bottle, and signature cocktails.

I’m super appreciative of those signature cocktails – not only because the drinks sound amazing, but because nearly all of them currently cost $8. Can you think of the last time you paid $8 for a signature cocktail? I can’t – and both me and my wallet are admittedly fatigued from paying $14 to $16 for one drink. So I’m super excited to see accessible prices on thoughtfully crafted drinks such as The Congregation’s Burning Bush (lemon-flavored vodka, orange liquor, Campari, orange juice, jalapeño, and lime) and Blessed Bean (Baileys, Kahlúa, and milk infused with cinnamon and topped with The Congregation’s Nitro Cold Brew coffee).

Yes, all of The Congregation’s signature cocktails have names inspired by church (Devil’s Marg is my favorite – though I also get a kick out of Collection Thyme and Pastor’s Swizzle). And yes, a selection of its signature cocktails involve coffee and/or tea! I’m already dreaming about cozying up with the warm version of The Day Cometh (coffee spiked with Jameson, Baileys, RumChata, coffee liquor, and cinnamon) come winter – though I could totally enjoy it iced right now!

I didn’t opt for booze during my visit to The Congregation. I was feeling caffeine. So I started with the iced version of its Lavender Latte. This was one of the BEST coffee drinks I’ve ever had! It had such a wonderfully rich espresso flavor and subtle, floral sweetness. I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

I also had The Congregation’s iced version of its London Fog Tea Latte, which was quite tasty, too. It’s Earl Grey tea infused with steamed milk and the same house-made lavender simple syrup that the Lavender Latte has.

Food-wise, I opted for The Congregation’s Turkey Sandwich, which was utterly delicious with its addictively soft sourdough bread loaded with smoked turkey, mozzarella, fresh mixed greens, fire-roasted tomatoes, and a richly flavored basil pesto. The Congregation’s food menu includes a selection of other sandwiches; salads; and breakfast items such as pancakes and its Smoked Salmon Bagel.

The coffee section of the menu is – as you’d expect – extensive. It includes traditional coffee-house offerings (cappuccino, espresso, and hot tea, for example), plus signature drinks such as the two I enjoyed. I want to return to The Congregation to try another of those signature coffee concoctions, the Spicy Mocha, which sounds fantastic with its espresso, steamed milk, cayenne-cinnamon simple syrup, and chocolate. That drink is just one of the many, many reasons I want to return to this magical place!

9321 Rosa Parks Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48206

www.thecongregationdetroit.com

509. Warda Pâtisserie – May 8, 2021 – Detroit, MI

My visit to Warda Pâtisserie was a product of happenstance – one that happily introduced me to its tasty treats!

I didn’t come to Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood on that May Saturday to visit the bakery located inside Trinosophes. I came to visit a nearby business that ended up being closed. When I saw Warda Pâtisserie’s signage, I knew the trip hadn’t been in vain.

The bakery offers thoughtfully crafted cookies, cakes, and other pastries “inspired by the seasons and influenced by our travels and previous life in Algeria, France and Asia,” according to its website. It recently opened a second location in Midtown Detroit.

I opted for three of the enticing treats showcased by Warda Pâtisserie on that day: a Chocolate & Halvah cookie, a chocolate-caramel financier, and a strawberry-matcha financier.

The desserts didn’t make it past my car. I gobbled them up, relishing the chewiness of the chocolatey, sesame-speckled cookie and the rich caramel and strawberry fillings of the spongey-caked, gluten-free financiers. May happy accidents such as this visit to Warda Pâtisserie occur more frequently!

1464 Gratiot Ave.

Detroit, MI 48207

(With an additional location in Midtown Detroit)

www.warda-patisserie.square.site

508. Milwaukee Caffe – May 8, 2021 – Detroit, MI

What a delight it was to visit Milwaukee Caffe. Out of this tiny coffee shop based in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood comes big style, friendliness, and flavor!

According to Milwaukee Caffe’s website, its shop is styled after an Italian coffee bar. Its cozy-sized interior is meant to encourage conversation between patrons and baristas.

I adored the café’s ambiance. Its sage green color palette, menu spelled out in gilt gold letters, profusion of potted plants, and vase of colorful flowers feel like a sophisticated, retro-tinged version of spring. And just like that fair season, Milwaukee Caffe is serving up beauty and possibility – not in the form of spring blooms, but carefully crafted coffee drinks.

If customers had been let inside Milwaukee Caffe the day of my visit, it would’ve meant a handful of people being able to stand comfortably inside. As it was during these COVID times, ordering was possible only from the walk-up counter facing the street.

I was happy to queue up to that counter and order based on the recommendation of the kind barista who served me. I got a Maple Rosemary latte and savored its herbal, subtly sweet flavor. Of course it tasted delicious – how could it not with Milwaukee Caffe sourcing its beans from local roasters Anthology Coffee and Sabbath Coffee Roasters?

447 E. Milwaukee St.

Detroit, MI 48202

www.milwaukeecaffe.com

503. Maty’s African Restaurant – March 20, 2021 – Detroit, MI

Mmmmm, Maty’s African Restaurant!

I had a phenomenal meal from the Detroit-based Senegalese restaurant back in March. I ordered its Mafee, an insanely delicious stew made from ground peanuts and tomatoes and spices, swimming with chunks of tender chicken and vegetables. It was everything I want in a dish: hearty, savory, spicy, and oh-SO-flavorful! The fried plantains I also ordered were addictive nuggets of caramelized goodness.

This meal from Maty’s was memorable not only because of its extreme deliciousness. I ate this carryout lunch inside my car, and Mafee is not a meal conducive to car-eating.

As I savored the stew’s luscious, peanut-buttery sauce, I also fought to keep it from oozing all over me and the confines of my car. This was no small feat! As evidenced by the above photo, Maty’s is not skimping on the portions; the Mafee was practically overflowing from its carryout container. Fortunately, I fared better than expected – and had a laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing (oh, COVID-era vehicular dining!). I’m grateful for the ample portions of Mafee and the rice that accompanied it, because they meant three mouthwatering meals for me.

Maty’s other offerings include Chicken Yassa, whole-fish dishes, and beef ribs featuring a house-made mustard-onion sauce. I’d love to return to Maty’s and try more of those meals – though I suspect I’ll be stuck on that Mafee for a while!

21611 Grand River Ave.

Detroit, MI 48219

www.matysdetroit.com

502. Yellow Light Coffee and Donuts – March 20, 2021 – Detroit, MI

The donut-shop theme continues on 100 Places in the D, with a visit to Yellow Light Coffee and Donuts!

This Detroit-based shop offers fresh-made donuts in a variety of fun flavors, including out-of-the-box varieties such as Mint Chocolate Chip, Cherry Almond, and Brown Butter Plantain. Check out the photo above to see these brightly-hued beauties!

The base of each of Yellow Light’s donut is a plain cake donut; the flavor enhancements are in the glaze and toppings. Of course, I couldn’t get just one or two of these guys; I had to try a bunch of them. I got: Cookies and Cream, Chocolate, Brown Butter Plantain, Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla Bean, Cherry Almond, Lemon Poppy, and Plain Old Fashioned.

All of the donut varieties were tasty, but my favorite was Brown Butter Plantain. I loved its rich, banana-flavored glaze! The Mint Chocolate Chip was fun to eat, too, with its mini chocolate chips and subtly mint-flavored glaze. Cherry Almond, with its deliciously fruity flavor, was another favorite.

Besides offering delectable donuts, Yellow Light has house-roasted coffee and biscuit sandwiches ranging from Hot Chicken w/ Pickles to the vegan Soysage with w/ Egg & Sauce. At the time of my visit, only its drive-through window was open to guests.

Two things I loved about this visit to Yellow Light: 1) The staff was wonderfully friendly and 2) they had daily-special donuts! These were donut varieties offered in addition to the regular menu – Cookies and Cream being an example. Check out Yellow Light’s Instagram account (yellowlightdetroit) to see more special flavors such as Coconut Macaroon, Cinnamon Cheesecake, and Mango Strawberry. The flavor creativity is inspiring – inspiring me to return to this place!

14447 E. Jefferson Ave.

Detroit, MI 48215

www.yellowlightdetroit.com

492. Taqueria Lupita’s – December 31, 2020 – Detroit, MI

2020 was woefully slim on Detroit visits for me (the whole global pandemic thing certainly didn’t help). But one blessing of the year was it ending with a visit to Taqueria Lupita’s!

It made my heart so exquisitely happy to drive down to the D on New Year’s Eve – for tacos, no less! And these tacos were WELL worth the drive to Southwest (and enduring my cringey fear of being so close to the bridge to Canada – a fear I would label irrational if I hadn’t heard multiple accounts of people inadvertently ending up on it and into an impromptu meeting with border agents. Detroit problems!).

WOW, are Taqueria Lupita’s carnitas tacos delicious! I got them à la the Taco Dinner, which included rice and refried beans. The tacos, with their crispy-fried pork nestled inside soft corn tortillas and topped with diced onion and cilantro, were exceptional – as was the guacamole appetizer I ordered. Oh, the joy of fresh-made guacamole and tortilla chips! Is there anything better in life than that? Is there anything better than fresh, flavorful, authentic Mexican food in general? I think not – and this visit to Taqueria Lupita’s backs that up.

3443 Bagley St.

Detroit, MI 48216

www.taquerialupita.restaurantwebexpert.com

489. Brooklyn Street Local – November 29, 2020 – Detroit, MI

A jaunt to Brooklyn Street Local on a sunny Sunday in late November had my heart bursting with happiness!

I’m not a winter person; the transition to frigid, light-deprived days is never an easy one for me. Choosing to deliberately infuse my days with joy – à la visits to new places! – helps, as does the occasional sunny day. So when my visit to Brooklyn Street Local lined up with gorgeous blue skies, it felt especially auspicious.

The restaurant based in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit is a cozy, hipster-retro diner I would’ve loved to dine inside in normal times. And was I tempted to plunk down at a seat on its inviting brick-paved patio with its profusion of planters overflowing with still-green vines? Absolutely, even in those chilly November temps!

I’d planned on eating my carryout order at home, but as it were, I ended up scarfing part of it in my car parked behind Brooklyn Street Local. Self-discipline went right out the window with one glimpse of the Poutine I’d ordered! With its rich beef gravy and creamy organic cheese curds, it was utterly delicious – and I felt wholly justified in shoveling half of it into my mouth right then and there.

I was able to compose myself enough to wait to eat the rest of the Poutine and the main of my meal, the Pork Belly Sandwich, at home. With its fatty pork belly piled with peppery arugula, apple cabbage slaw, and spicy gochujang sauce nestled in a fresh-made brioche bun from Avalon, the sandwich was a flavorful treat.

It wasn’t solely the tasty food and sunny skies that made my heart a happy one that day. The staff I interacted with during my visit to Brooklyn Street Local were so welcoming, I felt a jolt of joy from my interactions with them. How we’re treated by a business colors our experience of it – and the good vibes of the Brooklyn Street Local staff colored my experience of that establishment in rainbow sparkles. Warmth goes a long way – especially in these days of limited in-person interaction!

Brooklyn Street Local’s menu includes an array of breakfast items (examples are the Banana Walnut Pancakes, Spinach and Feta Omelette, and Smoked Trout Benny), plus a selection of soup, salads, sandwiches, sides, and baked goodies. Many options are vegan or vegetarian, such as my almost-choice of the Kale Quinoa with its roasted beets, apple slices, shredded carrot, and toasted almonds.

While I didn’t pay attention to the Sozai Pan on Brooklyn Street Local’s menu when I perused it prior to my visit, now I’m wishing I did; it’s described as a “Japanese deli bread . . . a soft bun with sweet, savory and vegan filling options.” One of those filling options? Miso Coney. I need to know what that tastes like. And Beef Curry and Bacon and Gouda are also choices? OK, if I wasn’t already convinced, a revisit to Brooklyn Street Local is definitely in order!

1266 Michigan Ave.

Detroit, MI 48216

www.brooklynstreetlocal.com