Wayne County

286. Taqueria El Rey – October 14, 2017 – Detroit, MI

TaqueriaElReyOct2017-2 (3)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-3 (2)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-4 (3)TaqueriaElReyOct2017-1 (2)Hi, all! I am super excited to share today’s place with you because it is an absolute gem and I’m OBSESSED with it after eating there a few weeks ago: Taqueria El Rey in Detroit. From this Mexican restaurant, I ordered literally THE BEST tacos of my life – and very possibly the greatest meal of my life to date. They were THAT good.

I’ve visited and reported on some incredible Mexican restaurants for 100 Places in the D; El Patrón in Pontiac, Las Tortugas Taqueria in Shelby Township, and Taqueria Alma in Center Line immediately spring to mind as establishments whose wares still haunt my gastronomical dreams (in the best way possible). I have to say, though, that the carnitas tacos I had from Taqueria El Rey edged even the offerings from those fantastic establishments in the “Mind is BLOWN!” (or rather, “Taste buds are BLOWN”!) realm for me. They were ridiculously, life-affirmingly, all-is-right-with-the-world-level delicious.

Let me set the scene here before I elaborate on how insane these godly carnitas tacos were. Taqueria El Rey is on Vernor Highway in the Mexicantown neighborhood of Detroit. It’s a cash-only establishment (one that, take my word for it, is def worth withdrawing cash for) with a small dining area, a front counter with stools, and a grill near the front door where the magic is happening in real time.

The vibe inside was welcoming; I immediately felt a sense of easefulness. I felt like I had stepped into another realm far from home, one where cell phones didn’t exist and people ignored their to-do lists to relaxedly eat their lunches at counters while forming bonds with the benevolent strangers next to them.

I don’t know what exactly moved me to feel this way. Maybe it was the carefree ambiance afforded by the Latin music playing. Maybe it was that there were indeed people sitting at the front counter eating their lunches in a relaxed manner. Maybe it was the friendly young woman who took my order and told me her name was also Jackie and preceded to ask how I spelled the full version of my name (a common question when fellow Jackies meet; I am the “Jacqueline” brand of Jackie; she was Jacquelyn, if I’m remembering correctly). Whatever it was, the place emitted enough good feels in the short amount of time I waited for my carry-out order that I was like, hmm, maybe I should’ve just ordered the food for here. I’m digging this place. But when my order came, I decided, nah, I’ll wait until I get home. The practical side of me overrode the spontaneous side.

But when I got to my car and opened the carry-out box to peek in at my order of two carnitas tacos, all steaming pork and corn tortillas loaded with diced onions and cilantro and accompanied by lime wedges, radish chunks, salsa, and an intriguing green sauce, the spontaneous side roared back all like Are we insane??? We need to eat these ASAP, while they are fresh. So I did, right there in my car in the gravel parking lot abutting Taqueria El Rey. And my world was turned upside down, because they were the BEST.TACOS.EVER.

These tacos were so fresh and flavorful on their own, and then with the additions of the lime juice and the radishes and the hot salsa and the green sauce, which turned out to be an insanely good creamy jalapeño sauce, the ante was upped times a million. And all this for only $3.18 – $3.18!

I am in love with these tacos, hardcore. Like, introduce-them-to-the-family hardcore-in-love. In fact, as I exited Taqueria El Rey’s parking lot after gorging on both of them, I was like, when can I take my dad and brother here? They would love this place!

I can’t wait to make my next trip to Taqueria El Rey to eat these magical carnitas tacos drizzled in lime juice and salsa and dunked in that spicy jalapeño sauce again. I am actually hoping to make another trip down to Mexicantown this Saturday. Although here is the dilemma: my addiction to trying new places is calling me to check out another Mexicantown establishment; I’m pondering one that specializes in tamales. But hey, those two Taqueria El Rey tacos were only $3.18; certainly I could afford to visit both when those tacos cost less than the price of a latte, right?

4730 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.taqueria-elrey.com

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283. Treat Dreams – October 6, 2017 – Detroit, MI

TreatOct2017-1 (2)TreatOct2017-2 (2)During a recent afternoon trip to Detroit to celebrate my birthday with my mom (the mother/daughter b-day thing is kind of an annual tradition), I FINALLY visited Treat Dreams. The local ice cream slingers with shops in the Midtown/Cass Corridor area of Detroit and Ferndale are much renowned for their scrumptious, ever-changing, oft-unique ice cream flavors, so I was excited to try some of their wares.

After studying the chalkboard touting the day’s selections, including such intriguing varieties as lemon basil, pumpkin truffle, and amaretto, we decided to share the Dark Sea Olive Oil, a chocolate concoction (there was really no way it was not gonna be something chocolate for us two; we are both in agreement with chocolate being LIFE). At the last minute, I decided it had to be in a waffle bowl, because what is a better container for ice cream than a fresh-baked waffle bowl? It’s practically a bona-fide fact that it’s numero uno in the ice-cream container department – at least in my mind it is.

The Dark Sea Olive Oil ended up being an amazing choice. It was rich and creamy – likely due in large part to the olive oil – with an irresistible chocolateyness and a perfect hint of sea salt. Perfection!

Another thing I love about Treat Dreams besides its ice cream being hands-down delicious is that it also offers coffee drinks – including COFFEE DRINKS THAT CONTAIN ICE CREAM. Best.idea.EVER. There is an espresso-laced shake, as well as the Affogato al Caffé, which is a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream. The ladies working the counter told us it’s a real popular one with med students who are studying for finals (no surprise there!). I’m sure we can all think of our own excuses to need one of those in our lives, stat!

4160 Cass Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.treatdreams.com

282. Cake Ambition – October 6, 2017 – Detroit, MI

CakeAmbitionOct2017-2 (2)CakeAmbitionOct2017-1 (2)After enjoying lunch at Selden Standard and making a couple of purchases at the lovely independent bookshop Source Booksellers (which I visited for the first time on my birthday last year), my recent birthday celebration downtown with my mom continued in search of sweets. Spurred on by a recommendation of one of the Source clerks who raved about its cheesecake, we went in search of what she called the “cheesecake lady” shop next to Blossoms florist.

After locating the florist, we realized the actual name of the cheesecake shop was Cake Ambition and that it sold much more than cheesecake. The vibrantly colored space (no way you can walk into this place and not smile!) also sold a selection of cupcakes and other baked goods such as coffee cake and spinach pies; old-fashioned candies such as salt-water taffy and striped candy sticks; and packaged goodies produced by other local vendors such as the fabulous Gus & Grey, which you may remember me mentioning in previous blog posts such as this one. Its jams are FANTASTIC, with unique flavor offerings such as the blueberry-lavender Spellbound, which Cake Ambition had in stock and which I decided to purchase.

I wanted to purchase the jam not only because I love Gus & Grey but also because I wanted to support the super-cheery shop and its friendly owner. My mom and I had decided not to purchase any cheesecake from Cake Ambition because there was only one slice currently being offered, and we decided amongst ourselves that we would move on to the other dessert place we’d had in mind instead, which I’ll cover in my next post (hint: it involves ice cream!).

Even though I didn’t sample any of Cake Ambition’s baked goods, I’m happy it was brought to my attention, because now I know not only where to go if I need a shot of childhood-level cheer and nostalgia (I just love the vibe of that colorful shop!), but also where I can order a baller custom cake. The gallery on Cake Ambition’s site shows cakes sculpted into realistic-looking models of athletic shoes, a pirate ship, and the Mad Hatter hat of Alice in Wonderland-fame, to name a few of the works of art displayed there. I am fascinated by the level of artistry obviously required to craft such desserts; these guys are definitely talented!

4154 3rd St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.cakeambition.com

281. Selden Standard – October 6, 2017 – Detroit, MI

SeldenOct2017-3 (2)SeldenOct2017-4 (2)SeldenOct2017-1 (2)October 6 was a very special day for me, because it was my birthday! And I LOVE my birthday. I find birthdays to be the ultimate excuse for myself to turn off that go-go-go, disciplined part of me that generally won’t quit and just chilling, doing what I want, and celebrating the fact that I got to spend another year on the planet.

I DO NOT work on my birthday. I haven’t since 2010. Generally my mom will take the day off with me, and we’ll spend the day together. That’s what we did this year – and the best part is, we made it a Detroit Day!!!!

Yes, we did one of my favorite things on the planet: spend the afternoon downtown, starting with a birthday lunch at a restaurant I’d been curious about for years, Selden Standard.

In case you haven’t heard of this much-lauded restaurant, Selden Standard is in the Cass Corridor neighborhood. It’s a modern-looking establishment with a bright and clean ambiance: lots of gray and white, bricks and concrete, wood-planked ceilings and wooden countertops.

It was busy on the Friday we were there; we were offered seats at the bar and the chef’s counter near the wood-fired oven and bustling kitchen crew. We chose seats at the latter and had an open view of the kitchen beyond it, which looked very clean and professional. I always appreciate a restaurant that’s not afraid to give a window into its kitchen to guests!

Selden Standard is big on shareable plates, we learned from our server. My mom and I had different things that we wanted to try, so we each got two of our own dishes. I had the Heirloom Tomato Salad and the Chicken Sugo pasta, which were both phenomenal. The flavorful heirloom tomatoes in that first dish were paired with an irresistibly creamy ricotta, crispy fried bread, and my favorite touch, mint – which I wouldn’t have expected to go so perfectly with the tomatoes and cheese, but it so did. The Chicken Sugo with campanelle noodles, tomato, ricotta, and fennel was wonderfully rich in flavor, with this lovely smokiness to it. My mom enjoyed her potato soup (which was the soup of the day) and the Grilled Shrimp with eggplant, peppers, and pickles.

It was a special birthday meal, one that I felt privileged to be out enjoying in a city I love on a weekday when I normally otherwise would have been working. Sometimes, I remind myself during times like these, you really do need to say “F’ it!” to all of the obligations and to-dos and take time out specifically to have fun so you can remember how fun life can really be – and if you can’t do that on your b-day, when can you?

Worth mentioning: Selden Standard has pretty specific hours; it’s closed for a few hours between lunch and dinner (or brunch and dinner on the weekends). Lunch currently runs from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; dinner is from 5 to 10 p.m. every day. The bar area has slightly extended evening hours; it’s open from 4:30 to 11 p.m. every day.

3921 Second Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.seldenstandard.com

276. Lyla’s Catering – September 16, 2017 – Grosse Pointe Woods, MI

Lyla's1Lyla's2Lyla's3 (2)On the jaunt from an Arts and Scraps donation run in Detroit to Saint Clair Shores, I decided lunch was in order and that this would be the perfect opportunity to visit Lyla’s Catering, a Lebanese catering and carry-out establishment I’d read about in Hour Detroit a few years ago. And with that Grosse Pointe Woods, a new-to-the-blog city, was represented!

Four of the five Grosse Pointe neighborhoods have now been repped on 100 Places in the D (Grosse Pointe Shores is left). But the most important thing about that day is that I got a scrumptious, flavorful, filling meal at Lyla’s.

I stepped into its sunny orange interior and ordered from the friendly owners the fatoush salad with grilled chicken, plus two spinach pies and two pieces of baklava. They were ready quickly, and I ate a portion of the huge fatoush salad while sitting at one of the two tables inside Lyla’s, savoring the freshness of the greens,  tomato chunks, cucumber slices, and crispy pita chips tossed in the garlic, lemon, and olive oil dressing and the slices of warm marinated chicken breast. What a perfect on-the-go meal: healthful and hearty and void of processed ingredients!

I had the rest of the salad for dinner that night, as well as one of the spinach pies and both pieces of the baklava. The triangular dough-encased mini pie with its vibrant spinach filling had this irresistible hint of nutmeg, and the baklava with its honey-drenched layers of phyllo dough was straight-up addictive.

Lyla’s has both its carry-out and catering menus on its website, so you can check out their offerings and order ahead should you decide to visit – which I highly recommend you do!

20083 Mack Ave.

Grosse Pointe Woods, MI 48236

www.lylascatering.com

275. Arts and Scraps – September 16, 2017 – Detroit, MI

ArtandScraps5ArtandScraps1ArtandScraps2ArtandScraps4Arts and Scraps is a thrift store, but it’s an art-products-based thrift store, which to me makes it the coolest thrift store on the planet.

The Detroit-based shop/charitable organization geared toward encouraging childhood creativity among low-income populations had been on my mind for months – since late winter/early spring, when I cleaned out the closet in my home office and gathered up buttons, crayons, yarn, bits of fabric, safety pins, and other craft-related detritus, bagged them, and threw them in the trunk of my car with the intention of going there and making a donation. Finally I made it over there on a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-September.

As instructed on Arts and Scraps’ website, I parked near the side delivery door where donations can be dropped off, hauled my bag of offerings out of my car, and knocked. A friendly older woman answered, thanked me for my donation, and asked if I wanted to have a look around. I hadn’t planned on doing that, but I was like sure, why not? So she let me through the back area to the front of the shop.

OK, let me say, when I walked through that shop, I was like, WOW! I brimmed with excitement as I took in the fabric room with its shelves of colorful offerings and the main shop area with its bins and bins of every crafting material you could ever think of: buttons, pipe cleaners, cardboard, yarn, wallpaper sample books, spools of thread – even metal cookie tins in all shapes and sizes. And it was all there for super-cheap prices, such as a dollar for four spools of thread. A dollar!

This place was heaven to the 10-year-old craft-happy kid inside of me. It had me fantasizing about using the shop contents to craft the kind of large-scale modern art installation made from everyday materials that I adore; if inspiration hit me someday, I would know exactly where to go. Give me five baby-food jars, some embroidery thread, a wallpaper sample book, and those wine corks – stat! I’ve got creating to do!

So if you’ve got a creative project you’re looking to dive into, consider skipping those pricey national-chain craft stores and hitting Arts and Scraps for your supplies instead. You’ll save money and support a good cause – a total win-win in my (scrap)book. 🙂

If you are interested in donating supplies to Arts and Scraps, here’s the link to the page on its site that gives donation-material guidelines: www.artsandscraps.org/get-involved/individuals/save-materials-from-home. Financial donations can be made through the site, as well.

6135 Harper Ave.

Detroit, MI 48224

http://www.artsandscraps.org/

274. The Apparatus Room – September 14, 2017 – Detroit, MI

20170914_18375020170914_184245How ’bout this as a testimonial for ya? The food was so good at The Apparatus Room that I forgot to take photos of its dazzling interior.

That testimonial is from, yes, yours truly, and that’s exactly what happened when I visited The Apparatus Room on a weeknight in mid-September. I was digging the Spring Vegetable Fritter in all of its deep-fried, dunked-in-spiced-crema glory and the Crispy Confit Chicken Sandwich with its irresistible spicy mayo so hard that I completely blanked on taking photos of anything but them. But I want you to see the dining room of The Apparatus Room with your own eyes, because it is spectacular with its white marble bar, old-school-elegant booths upholstered in earth tones, and multitude of bare lightbulbs hanging on strings around the bar area like glittering stars. So click the below link to the Apparatus Room’s website when you’re done reading and check it out!

The Apparatus Room is relatively new to the Detroit restaurant scene; it opened in May – which is also when the hotel it’s inside, The Detroit Foundation Hotel, opened to the public. Wow, is that place STUNNING! It’s no surprise it’s that gorgeous given the ambiance of its premier restaurant, and I’m actively looking for an excuse to stay there someday. The Apparatus Room got its name because the hotel is housed inside a former fire station, and the dining-room area is said to be where the fire engines and related equipment were housed. Sounds like yet another success story of a shuttered building in Detroit being repurposed and brought back into glory – love it!

If you visit The Apparatus Room sans reservation and can’t get a table in the dining area (which was what happened to my friend and I when we got there), I highly recommend sitting at the bar, where you’ll get attentive service, an abbreviated – yet tantalizing – food menu (~cue me geeking out over that Spring Vegetable Fritter and Crispy Confit Chicken Sandwich~)  and an excellent vantage point of the whole scene. We were later offered a table in the dining area after sitting at the bar, but we liked it up there so much that we decided not to move.

250 W Larned St.

Detroit, Michigan 48226

(Inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel)

www.detroitfoundationhotel.com/apparatus-room

273. The Keep – September 14, 2017 – Detroit, MI

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When I descended the stairs to this broodingly dark basement bar with intimate clustered seating, a faux fireplace, and the overall vibe of some old dude’s study, I immediately entered major-like-mode with The Keep. While the subterranean bar on Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit likes to keep a low profile (pun intended!), it’s garnered a loyal following, as reflected by several Yelp reviews in which the posters echoed the sentiment of worrying that their overwhelmingly positive testimonials would make the place too popular. Don’t worry, guys, your secret is safe with us!

If anyone wants to make a modern-day version of Cheers set in a basement bar in Detroit, he/she would be wise to slot The Keep as the first location-scouting stop. Not only is that dimly lit little underground retreat enchantingly cozy and inviting, but the bartenders – at least the one who was on staff when I was there – are super friendly, too. The female bartender helped my friend and I deliberate among the intriguing choices on The Keep’s craft cocktail menu, causing me to settle on the Bearded Lady, a delightful whiskey concoction with notes of orange, vanilla, and spices. That Bearded Lady will help you kick off your weekday happy-hour session right!

Only two other patrons were in The Keep at the same time as my friend and me: a guy and gal around our ages. We chatted with them at the bar as we stood and waited for our drinks, remarking on the oft-arduous rush-hour commute from Detroit to the ‘burbs (which I’m familiar with from my days working in Dearborn) and his recent move to the area. Probably it was talking with them and the bartender that made me think of the Cheers reference. Who doesn’t love discovering a place where the people may not know your name, but they’re willing to learn it?

Worth noting: The Keep’s entrance is off of Congress Street rather than Cadillac Square (as you may have noticed from reading the sign in the above photo of the unusable door). Look for a nondescript entryway leading to those basement stairs and below-ground glory.

140 Cadillac Sq.

Detroit, MI 48226

271. Narrow Way Café and Shop – September 4, 2017 – Detroit, MI

20170904_11142320170904_111959I’m so excited to write about today’s featured place because I absolutely LOVED it. Narrow Way Café and Shop is an excellent addition to the Detroit coffee scene!

Seriously, this coffee shop in the Avenue of Fashion neighborhood of Detroit (Seven Mile and Livernois area) is PHENOMENAL. It can be challenging to find a coffee shop that has it all: great service AND excellent coffee AND delicious snacks AND great ambience AND ample seating options. Narrow Way Café and Shop checks all the boxes – especially the one important box I didn’t yet mention, the I-Want-to-Stay-Here-all-Day-and-Escape-from-the-World-Because-this-World-is-Lovely box.

Good vibes: those are the words that come to mind when I recall Narrow Way’s interior. It is light-filled and pleasant and cozy and there-can-be-no-anxiety-here tranquil. Instrumental jazz music is playing in the background. The walls are painted blue-green and white, and the expanse behind the dark wood counter is white-tiled. The tables are white; the chairs are white with a black criss-cross design; the lighting is hanging gold globe fixtures. There’s a map of the world on one wall and a purple fluorescent Narrow Way logo glowing on the wall behind the counter. I loved it.

The baristas were lovely to me, very polite and friendly and calling me “Miss Jackie,” which I found completely charming. This is not some corporate mega-chain where they scrawl your name on a cup and then holler it out incorrectly when your order is done. “Miss Jackie, would you like your pastry warmed up?” Heck yes, I would! And you’re going to deliver it to me in my seat? Best customer service EVER.

That pastry by the way: it was a spinach, feta, and brioche one, and it was absolutely phenomenal. The savory spinach, salty feta, and buttery brioche . . . OH YEAH. Narrow Way’s baked goods are from Avalon, so of course it was gonna be amazing. I mean, come on.

Plus, the mocha-almond frozen coffee I got was addictively delicious. I was bouncing-off-the-walls euphoric after consuming that frozen, flavorful, caffeine-saturated goodness. Narrow Way serves Zingerman’s coffee, so it’s official: they’ve got good taste over there – and they’re repping other local establishments, to boot (which you know I heart).

My one regret about visiting Narrow Way was that I did not stay long. I’d driven there with the intention of hanging out for a while with my journal, but then I was paranoid about where I’d parked (in the lot of the nearby grocery store, Mike’s Fresh Market), because there were warning signs about non-patrons being towed. Would they really have noticed and towed my car? Probably not, but I was with a friend once in Denver where they did notice and tow her car when we left it in a market parking lot, so I’m always leery of the possibility. Anyway, I should have parked on the neighborhood street behind Narrow Way instead – or Lord forbid, in one of the parallel parking spots in front of the shop (my phobia – yes, phobia – of parking in a parallel parking spot prevented me). Next time, I’ll ensure I find a legit parking spot so I can bask in Narrow Way’s good vibes longer.

19331 Livernois Ave.

Detroit, MI 48221

www.thenarrowwaycafe.com

261. The Hudson Café – July 16, 2017 – Detroit, MI

20170716_11431320170716_120209One of my favorite versions of Heaven is taking in a ballgame at Comerica Park during a perfect-weather day (my other versions are: 1) shopping in a gourmet Italian produce market and 2) browsing in a multi-leveled independent bookshop. Yes, I am kind of a nerd). And when I venture downtown for a day game, I like to make a day of it – to have a meal and/or drinks beforehand. So in anticipation of my mom and I going down to the D back in July for what seems to be becoming our annual mother-daughter ballgame, I of course was like, “Can we go somewhere for brunch beforehand – preferably somewhere that is new to both of us?” Because yeah, trying new places is my pinnacle obsession these days (and happily, one that my loved ones indulge).

My mom suggested The Hudson Café, a breakfast/lunch restaurant that she’d heard good things about. She’d attempted to eat there during Memorial Day weekend, but her and my stepdad decided not to endure the long wait for a table at the time they were there, so they went to the Woodward location of Avalon International Breads instead (excellent alternate choice – LOVE those guys!).

Armed with this knowledge of how busy the joint could be, we settled in for a long wait at The Hudson Café – and got a table after about an hour, which wasn’t all that bad because we could jaunt up and down Woodward in the interim (and shop at lovely nearby Avalon, procuring a loaf of its insanely delish Farnsworth Family Farm sourdough and some Gus and Grey Floozie peach bourbon jam – oh yeahhh. Can’t help fan-girling over that place!).

Once triumphantly seated inside The Hudson Café after our lengthy wait, I enjoyed the bustling atmosphere and brightly colored murals of breakfast foods interspersed with Detroit landmarks. My mom ordered the banana pancakes, and I decided on the Chicken Pesto sandwich.

Let me say one thing about The Hudson Café: its portions are GENEROUS! The banana pancakes were huge – like, bigger-than-your-face huge. The Chicken Pesto sandwich, with its hefty grilled chicken breast, slabs of tomato, and smotherings of mozzarella, spinach, and pesto on weighty ciabatta bread, did not come to play. It and the double-serving of sweet potato fries that accompanied it meant gastronomical business! Hungry tummies are turning into happy, full (possibly overstuffed-and-in-need-of-a-nap) tummies after a visit here!

Besides offering the usual breakfast-centric fare (a generous variety of pancakes, waffles, French toast, sweet/savory crepes, omelettes, Eggs Benedict dishes, and other egg-centric fare), The Hudson Café’s menu boasts numerous entrée-salad and sandwich choices such as the Chicken Pesto.

1241 Woodward Ave.

Detroit, MI 48226

www.hudson-cafe.com