Wayne County

435. Unburger Grill – September 24, 2019 – Dearborn, MI

September2019Unburger1 (2)September2019Unburger3 (2)September2019Unburger2 (2)Unburger Grill, you phenomenal purveyor of vegan goodness, you had my palate exclaiming “WOW!” over and over during my recent visit to you!

I’m not vegan – or vegetarian – but I enjoy eating plant-based cuisine. Impressive vegan and vegetarian establishments reside in the Metro-D, making the meatless fare taste as good as – or better than – the animal-based originals.

Unburger Grill in Dearborn is one of those impressive vegan establishments. The fast-casual restaurant serves burgers with house-made patties made from plants; Black Bean Portobello, Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini, Sweet Potato and Quinoa, and Ultimate (described on Unburger’s website menu as “using a blend of the best vegan meat alternatives available”) are the varieties offered.

Diners choose what patty and bun they’d like for the style of burger they select at Unburger: Basic, Mushroom Swiss, Southwestern, Mac Style, or Sweet BBQ. The restaurant also serves vegan sandwiches, sausages, salads, soups, nachos, air-fried French fries, and other veggie-based sides.

A fact I didn’t know before the writing of this post: Dearborn has two downtown areas, West Downtown Dearborn and East Downtown Dearborn. Unburger is located in West Downtown Dearborn.

I’d never seen any downtown area of Dearborn and was excited to discover for myself the area where Unburger is located. It’s super cute! My friend who accompanied me to Unburger and I got enthused about exploring it more in the future.

Behind Unburger and some adjacent businesses is a courtyard with tables where patrons can sit and enjoy their meals. After walking into Unburger and ordering our burgers at the counter, we sat at one of the tables outside and waited for our burgers to be brought to us. They arrived quickly.

I ordered the Mac Style burger with a Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty and whole-grain bun, plus a side of the air-fried French fries. It was A-MAZING. The Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty was SO full of flavor; it was wonderful. It was definitely the best vegan patty I’ve ever had, hands-down!

Honestly, I found myself liking that Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty better than a traditional beef patty – and that’s high praise from me, as I LOVE red meat. Unburger, look at you, making me a plant-based burger convert!

It wasn’t only the Spicy Chickpea and Zucchini patty on my Mac Style burger that was deliciously flavorful – the entire burger was, too. The Mac Style burger was – you guessed it – a vegan riff on McDonald’s Big Mac. It was delicious with its lettuce, onion, pickles, vegan cheese, and Thousand Island dressing – and hefty, to boot. Between eating that Big Mac and the crispy French fries, I was stuffed upon leaving Unburger!

Another thing I liked about Unburger was that the staff was really nice. How employees treat me at a place definitely makes a difference in how I recall it; excellent meals can be marred by snotty staff, and I appreciate how lovely the staff at Unburger was the night of my visit. Thanks, Unburger, for being so welcoming – and for cooking up fare that is both healthful and INCREDIBLY TASTY!

22018 Michigan Ave.

Dearborn, MI 48124

www.unburgergrill.com

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434. Tou & Mai – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019TouandMai1 (4)Tou & Mai, satisfying my Thai iced tea cravings!

I visited Thailand in January of this year and became enchanted with one of its signature drinks, the Thai iced tea – a yummy concoction of black tea and sweetened condensed milk. I’d not had one of those delectable babies since being back in the states and had vowed all summer that I’d hunt one down here at home.

It took me until a Sunday afternoon in late September (LOL) to finally focus on this objective. At least I achieved it before summer was officially over – and at least the weather was sunny and summer-like, with a high temperature in the upper 80s.

My Thai iced tea break at Tou & Mai occurred after a browsing session of shops – including Hugh, Source Booksellers, and Nora – in the Midtown/Cass Corridor area of Detroit.

While I knew exactly what I wanted, I browsed the tea shop’s menu while waiting in line. Tou & Mai’s signature offering is boba tea (also known as bubble tea), tea drinks with chewy tapioca pearls and/or jellies added to them.

Tou & Mai’s drink menu is separated into categories: Flavoured Fruit Tea (fruity drinks with a green-tea base); Flavoured Milk Tea (dairy-infused black teas); Real Fruit Smoothie (drink blends including varieties such as Red Adzucki Bean and Creamy Avocado); Extra Special Treat (next-level goodies such as the Litchi Mohito mocktail and the Peaches & Cream slushie infused with vanilla ice cream); and Vietnamese Caffé Latté (which, like the Thai iced tea, incorporate condensed milk).

The Toppings section of Tou & Mai’s menu includes such intriguing drink add-ins as Kiwi Popping Boba, Mango Popping Boba, Coffee Jellie, and Flan Custard.

Tou & Mai isn’t simply a boba tea shop; it’s also what it refers to on its website as an “Asian Mini Mart,” offering grocery items from Southeast Asia such as candy, cookies, condiments, and noodles. It’s also a place that celebrates the owners’ Hmong heritage, selling embroidered, hand-crafted goods made by Hmong artisans.

The Hmong people comprise an ethnic group with its origins in Southeast Asia. I’d admittedly been ignorant of the Hmong’s existence until a few months ago, when I watched an episode of CNN’s United Shades of America featuring them and their story.

The Hmong were recruited by the U.S. government to aid America in the fighting of the Vietnam war. Post-war, many of them fled their homes in fear of persecution for being American allies, and some ended up in the U.S., including here in the Metro-D. According to Tou & Mai’s website, a small Hmong community still exists here today.

So Tou & Mai is much more than the place that quite deliciously satisfied my appetite for Thai iced tea on a sunny September Sunday: it’s a boba tea shop/grocer/celebrator of culture. And it’s definitely worth a visit!

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 102

Detroit, MI 48201

www.touandmai.com

433. Hugh – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019Hugh1 (3)September2019Hugh2 (2)Hugh, in a nutshell, sells pretty things!

A more accurate assessment of the shop based in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood is that it sells items that are both aesthetically pleasing AND functional: well-designed home goods such as glassware, barware, candles, clocks, coffee-table books, and furniture, plus personal care items and accessories.

Hugh’s interior is a well-organized place, pleasing to browse. The woman working the store the Sunday afternoon I visited was welcoming, and while I didn’t end up buying anything, I was especially intrigued by the Chemex coffee makers, elegant glass vessels (which remind me of beakers with their middles cinched) used to make pour-over coffee. Now that I’ve read this post on Hugh’s blog about the history of these coffee makers, I’m feeling increasingly taken with them. Maybe it’s time for a revisit?

If you aren’t in the area, you can still shop for Hugh’s pretty-slash-purposeful wares via its website (which also shows more furniture available for sale than is on display in its brick-and-mortar store).

4240 Cass Ave, Ste. 107

Detroit, MI 48201

(Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

www.thankhugh.com

432. El Club – September 8, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019ElClub1 (2)September2019ElClub2 (4)September2019ElClub3 (2)September2019ElClub4 (3)El Club! The venue in Southwest Detroit is an all-ages club that hosts musical acts on a near nightly basis. It’s also where I saw Stef Chura and Ezra Furman perform on a Sunday night in September.

I’d been wanting to experience El Club since I read about it in Hour Detroit a year or two ago and was thrilled when I saw that one of my favorite contemporary musicians, Ezra Furman, was going to be performing there. I ordered tickets right away – and was even more psyched when I saw that closer to the show date, local artist Stef Chura and her band were added to the bill. I was familiar with her music and knew she would rock out!

I’m not familiar, in general, with the artists featured on El Club’s events calendar. I presume most of them are up-and-coming performers or those who appeal to more niche audiences. I’m admittedly not at all hip to the alt-music scene – though after my visit to El Club, I want to be!

The venue’s concert floor is relatively small, looking to accommodate no more than a couple hundred people – and that’s frankly part of its appeal. It’s what makes seeing a show at El Club exciting – you’re going to be right down there on the floor, in the action, a part of a live musical experience that is much more visceral, more alive, than being stuck up in the nosebleeds at some slickly produced yet lifeless stadium show.

The show I attended at El Club was billed as starting at 7 – but that ended up being when the doors opened for the night, which my friend and I discovered when we arrived at the club about 45 minutes early, the sole early birds in sight (LOL). Our early arrival did make parking simple; there’s a lot across the street from El Club where parking is free, so we parked there.

Killing time was easy, as beautiful Clark Park is only a few minutes’ walk away, and we sat on a hill there and watched people being led through square dances by a bluegrass band. It was a surprisingly moving experience, people of all ages and races coming together to joyfully perform these old-timey dance moves.

Back at El Club once the doors opened, I got a beer from the bar (which is a full bar serving beer, wine, and liquor), and my friend and I hung out on El Club’s picturesque patio with its garlands of lights and mural swirling with vibrant colors.

We were waiting not just for the show to start, but for the pizza to appear, because El Club serves slices of the pie. I was under the impression that El Club makes the pizza, but on that night, it arrived via outside delivery. Regardless, it was fresh and delicious.

Sometime after 8, we heard an explosion of music – the show was starting! Stef Chura and her band had boarded the stage; they played for about a half hour to 45 minutes, and they killed it!

Stef Chura’s voice mesmerized me; its got this alt-’90s vibe that I really dig, and I legit found myself thinking “I wanna be a cool rock star like her!” (Maybe in my next lifetime.)

After about a 20-minute break, Ezra Furman and his band hit the stage and also rocked out HARD. It was exciting to see a guy whose music I’ve admired for so long playing that music right in front of me. I actually found myself exclaiming a few times, “He looks the same as in his pictures!” (LOL – bless me with my obvious, fan-girling statement!)

As Ezra thanked us in the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night to support the arts, I felt a proclamation welling up inside of me: “I am going to CHANGE my life: I’m going to see live music more; I’m going to visit El Club all of the time!” I had drank the El Club Kool-Aid – and it felt good.

Flashing forward nearly a month: I haven’t been back to El Club since that night; I’ve let daily life with all of its routines and obligations pull me back into its orbit. But I’m still excited by the memory of my visit there and scan its newsletter every week, seeking the act that will make another magic moment out of my everyday life.

4114 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.elclubdetroit.com

430. Le Detroit Macaron – September 1, 2019 – Hamtramck, MI

September2019LeDetroitMacaron1 (2)September2019LeDetroitMacaron2 (2)Le Detroit Macaron is a virtuoso creator of its namesake French confection! Its brightly-hued, vibrantly-flavored macarons are downright delicious.

My visit to the Hamtramck-based bakery went down on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. I was seeing a friend on Labor Day and wanted to bring her a very cool (and also very belated) birthday present. Pondering things she loves, macarons popped into my head, and I knew a long-anticipated visit to Le Detroit Macaron was in order. All the bakery does is those meringue-esque, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with their rich layer of ganache sandwiched in between.

Arriving at the adorable shop with its white-and-black-striped awning and window boxes overflowing with flowers, I stepped inside and was greeted by a cornucopia of fresh-baked macarons displayed in glass cases. There were loads of varieties – macarons in every shade of the rainbow!

After speaking with the woman working the counter and pondering the options, I decided on six macarons for my friend and four for myself (because you know I couldn’t leave Le Detroit Macaron without grabbing some of its goodies for myself!).

For moi, I ordered macarons in these four flavor varieties: Hazelnut, Chocolate Malt, Rose Cardamom, and chocolate-chip espresso (I didn’t capture the exact name of that latter one). For my friend, I chose the macarons shown in the above photo: the Chocolate Malt and chocolate-chip espresso varieties I’d gotten for myself, as well as Chai, Fruity Pebbles, Lavender, and Oreo Cheesecake (aren’t those the most YUM-sounding flavors?).

The macarons that I bought for myself didn’t last more than a few minutes beyond my visit to Le Detroit Macaron. I exited the bakery, climbed into my car, and proceeded to scarf all four cookies in quick succession. I tried to savor them and make them last, but MAN! they were so delightful that I just.couldn’t.stop eating them.

The Hazelnut macaron was admittedly a little stale, though still tasty in flavor. But the Chocolate Malt, Rose Cardamom, and chocolate-chip espresso: WOW! were those so delectably fresh and soft and bursting with flavor! The rich chocolate ganache of the Chocolate Malt, the fragrant floral flavor of the Rose Cardamom, and the supreme chocolate-plus-coffee combo of the chocolate-chip espresso were SO SO SO good!

I drove away from Le Detroit Macaron sad that my allotment of macarons were gone but satisfied with getting to experience their deliciousness, however fleeting. I resisted digging into my friend’s macarons and gifted them to her the next day, and she reported back that she enjoyed them.

The next time I need a gift – whether for myself or others – I know where to go: back to Le Detroit Macaron! (Hmm, my birthday is soon; I could totally justify a repeat visit this weekend . . ..)

2756 Evaline St.

Hamtramck, MI 48212

www.ledetroitmacaron.shop

429. El Taco Veloz – August 31, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019ElTacoVeloz1 (2)

August2019ElTacoVeloz2 (2)El Taco Veloz is, hands-down, the BEST visit of Blog Year Six of 100 Places in the D thus far.

I’m OBSESSED with this Detroit-based purveyor of Mexican cuisine after visiting it during Labor Day weekend. I’ve exclaimed over a lot of fantastic tacos on this blog, but I seriously think El Taco Veloz’s Al Pastor tacos are the BEST tacos I’ve ever eaten. They are PHENOMENAL!!!!

It’s hard to know how to categorize El Taco Veloz: is it a restaurant, or is it a food-truck-based business? The answer I’ve arrived at is that it’s both.

When you pull up to El Taco Veloz’s given location on Toledo Street in Southwest Detroit, you see a gated parking area. Mind the wholesale produce warehouse to the right of the lot and the semi-trucks rolling in and out of it, and look towards the rear, where you’ll see two food trucks parked. Those are the El Taco Veloz kitchens/ordering stations.

Behind the El Taco Veloz trucks is a building, which contains a dining area with tables where you can enjoy food ordered from the trucks.

From one of these food trucks, I ordered six Al Pastor tacos to go, which cost under $11 – an awesome deal, especially considering the supreme deliciousness of the tacos, which I was about to discover.

I’d ordered the Al Pastor tacos to share with my dad and brother, who I was on my way to visit. But I couldn’t resist eating my two tacos right away, while they were still super fresh (sorry, Dad and Bro!). So I hunkered down at a table in El Taco Veloz’s dining room to do just that.

Opening the foil-covered to-go container, I revealed the six steaming-hot, fresh-off-the-grill Al Pastor tacos. Grilled corn tortillas were loaded with marinated shredded pork topped with cilantro and diced raw onion and accompanied by sliced raw radishes, sautéed onion, a grilled jalapeño, a lime wedge, red salsa, and a creamy, spicy green sauce (alllll that goodness for under $11!).

The experience of biting into one of those Al Pastor tacos . . . the written word cannot do it justice. All I can say is, WOW!!!! The flavor explosion these babies are bringing is just exceptional. These are not only very probably the best tacos I’ve ever eaten – they may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, period!

Driving away from El Taco Veloz after consuming two of those magical Al Pastor tacos, I literally could not stop exclaiming to myself over how amazing they were. Every 30 or so seconds during the first several minutes of that drive, there’s me declaring “Those were SO good!” to no one but me, myself, and I. That’s how enchanting these El Taco Veloz wares are: they will make you talk out loud to yourself!

Worth noting: El Taco Veloz is a cash-only establishment (and SO worth that trip to the ATM!). AND it has a second location from which it peddles its glorious goodies: a counter inside Midtown-based convenience store Marcus Market.

6170 Toledo St.

Detroit, MI 48209

428. Nora – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019Nora1 (3)My trip to Nora was a visit-within-a-visit!

After purchasing a ticket at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August and finding myself a half-hour early for the movie I was there to see, I decided to make a quick jaunt to nearby Nora to check it out and kill some time before the show.

It took some brisk walking to and from the theater and the shop based in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit to make the visit happen, but: mission accomplished! I was able to browse Nora’s beautifully curated collection of books, home goods, beauty care, clothing, greeting cards, accessories, and other items.

A striking collection of conically-shaped taper candles in various sizes and colors caught my eye, and I opted to purchase a turquoise one in the smallest size. The woman working the shop that day (who I presume is the owner) was friendly and welcoming in her interactions with me, as she was when I returned several weeks later to select another of the candles to accompany the first one (which looked like it needed a friend to join it on its perch on my family room table).

So, the verdict is in: whether you only have a few minutes to spare or time for an expanded browsing session, Nora is worth a visit! It’s an ideal place to pick up a thoughtful gift or eye-catching item for your home.

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 109

Detroit, MI 48201

www.noramodern.com

427. Cinema Detroit – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019CinemaDetroit1 (2)August2019CinemaDetroit2 (3)August2019CinemaDetroit3 (3)Cinema Detroit is doing the good work, bringing interesting movies to the Metro-Detroit masses!

The independently-run, non-profit movie theater based in the Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit occasionally screens films that the corporate theater chains show (it ran BlacKkKlansman when it came out last year, for instance). But most of the movies Cinema Detroit features have a smaller reach – think indie films, documentaries, cult classics. Cinema Detroit curates its films with care, favoring those that are thoughtful or artful or have an impactful message rather than those that net mega dollars.

Take the movie I saw at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August, The Farewell, a comedic drama about a Chinese family’s decision to hide its matriarch’s cancer diagnosis from her. The movie got some mainstream attention – likely in part because it starred Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians fame – but it’s no flashy superhero-packed blockbuster. It’s in parts funny and heartwarming, but it’s also quite dark at times, and it poses an important moral question: is it wrong to hide from a loved one that she’s dying? Or is it a kindness, a shouldering of the burden so that she doesn’t have to? The Farewell is a thinker of a film.

Cinema Detroit specializes in such films. The other movie playing that day was a documentary on Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which I’m kind of kicking myself for not returning and seeing because she’s one of my favorite authors. (Her writing is so beautiful, and her fictional characters are so wonderfully strange! That’s my Toni tangent of the post.)

The movie theater is housed in a brick building with its own gated parking area and a beautiful mural emblazoned on its side, featuring flowers and a quote by Detroit-born poet Robert Hayden: “Undiscovered suns release their light.”

Entering it, I immediately took a liking to it. Cinema Detroit definitely emits indie-theater vibes with its lobby with its homey mish-mash of sofas and stuffed chairs and its combination ticket/concessions counter, where admission (reasonably priced at $9) is sold alongside popcorn and Faygo pop and candy.

Within Cinema Detroit, there are two viewing rooms: the main theater, which appears to be – from the photos I see on Yelp; I didn’t see it in person – a traditionally laid-out theater with cushy red chairs; and the screening room, which is where I viewed The Farewell. That room (captured in the third photo shown above) is a more intimate setting, a small space with a collection of couches and chairs that could seat about 12 to 15 people, depending on how cozy you want to get.

There were eight or nine of us in the screening room viewing The Farewell that afternoon, and from my chair in the back row, I had plenty of room, as I only shared that row with one other person. But if you want to make sure you get your preferred spot to view a movie in the screening room at Cinema Detroit, it wouldn’t hurt to show up early.

I left Cinema Detroit that night jazzed up by the experience I had there. Arts and culture, for me, make life more vibrant and compelling, and it’s exciting for me to have discovered another way I can experience them. Thanks, Cinema Detroit, for doing the good work!

4126 3rd St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.cinemadetroit.org

426. La Pecora Nera – August 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019LaPecoraNera1 (3)August2019LaPecoraNera2 (2)Ravenous hunger brought me to La Pecora Nera on a Thursday afternoon in August. With its hefty, hearty sandwiches, the downtown-Detroit-based deli is an ideal place to satisfy such hunger.

After over-caffeinating myself at Madcap Coffee (SO worth it, BTW), I hit that phase of the coffee-drinking experience where my temporarily-distracted appetite suddenly whooshed into awareness, craving ALL the things.

After scanning La Pecora Nera’s menu, that craving narrowed down to a hankering for its Reuben Italiano sub, which I enjoyed on the deli’s pretty, street-facing covered patio. It was delicious, packed full of flavor with its corned beef, cabbage slaw, pickles, mozzarella, and house-made Thousand Island dressing. I devoured it – and it, in turn, devoured my hunger.

La Pecora Nera’s menu features much more than that Reuben Italiano. It also offers a variety of other subs, such as the Italian Meatball with its crispy fried onions and  homemade marinara and the P.L.T., a luxe B.L.T. with pancetta replacing bacon and herb-and-garlic aioli dethroning garden-variety mayo; entrée salads; morning-centric items (breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, hash browns, muffins – available in the a.m. only); coffee and espresso drinks; and gelato (because satisfying one’s sweet tooth is never sweeter than after you’ve enjoyed a whole lot of savory!).

1514 Washington Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48226

(Closed Sundays)

www.lapecoraneradetroit.com

425. Madcap Coffee – August 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019Madcap1 (3)August2019Madcap2 (2)Madcap Coffee – what a delight it is to recount my visit last month to this coffee shop in Detroit. It’s also making me crave their coffee something fierce!

Coffee shops, with their ability to make me feel as if I stepping away from the oft-chaotic world into one of tranquility and divine caffeination, have long enchanted me. So it’s always a treat to visit a new one, especially when the shop is independently owned (because we heart indie and Michigan-owned establishments here on 100 Places in the D!) and as fantastic as Madcap Coffee is.

Us Metro-Detroiters are fortunate that the Grand Rapids-based coffee chain recently opened a location in downtown Detroit, because Madcap Coffee brews some good coffee. The cappuccino and nitro cold-brew coffee I enjoyed there were excellent.

Stepping inside Madcap’s sleek, stark interior, I’ll admit that I mentally prepared to be met with pretension. Instead, I was greeted with warm friendliness by a barista and received some of the best customer service there that I have in recent times. Silly me, pre-judging a place based off of its décor!

Madcap continued to wow me with its coffee. Its cappuccino was rich, creamy, and flavorful.

Being a lightweight, I could have stopped right there, having achieved my caffeine quota for the day with that cappuccino, but I couldn’t leave Madcap without also sampling the nitro cold-brew coffee, which I had spied whilst waiting for the cappuccino and which intrigued me – because, nitro cold brew?! It tastes as amazing as it sounds, luxuriously rich and creamy; it goes down easy.

I visited Madcap for a few hours, first while perched at a counter seat inside, then at one of the outside tables scattered before its storefront, where I basked in the sun while sipping my nitro cold brew and tapping away at my computer.

Not only does Madcap have interior and exterior seating, it also has interior and exterior ordering counters. The front of the shop opens up to make it open-air, and people can walk over to the counter there and order off of the street rather than entering the shop. Presumably, this part of the coffee house will be closed during the cold-weather months, but in the meantime, it’s a cool feature.

I left Madcap Coffee with a bounce in my step, invigorated by new-place vibes and caffeine pulsing through my veins, happy to have discovered another coffee-house haven.

1413 Farmer St.

Detroit, MI 48226

www.madcapcoffee.com