318. Cheng’s Asian Bistro – April 4, 2018 – Sterling Heights, MI

April2018Chengs1 (2)April2018Chengs2 (2)April2018Chengs3 (2)When I saw Cheng’s Asian Bistro in Sterling Heights open up a few years ago, I felt compelled to try it. Having “bistro” in its name made it sound fancy, and I mused over what the food and interior would be like beyond the unpretentious storefront located in a strip mall.

This past Wednesday, I finally made it over to Cheng’s (it cracks me up how often this is the case – that it takes me years rather than weeks to visit a place I’m curious about. Time truly flies, doesn’t it?). My dinner there turned out to be a momentous occasion in my life.

It was a momentous occasion because based off of my experience there, I have decided that I am hereby designating Cheng’s Asian Bistro as my [DRUM ROLL]: Official Chinese Carryout Joint.

If you are like me and rely on having a go-to, tried-and-true Chinese restaurant to order carryout from, one that’s so good you never question switching it, then you likely get what a big deal this is for me to be switching mine.

While overall in my life I adore – no, am OBSESSED with – trying new places, when it comes to Chinese food, I am particular; I’ve thusly ordered takeaway from the same, tried-and-true Chinese restaurant for years. But my former standby has OFFICIALLY BEEN DETHRONED by Cheng’s Asian Bistro.

It was obvious to me when I tasted Cheng’s Kung Pao chicken that it had to be this way. This version of my go-to Chinese dish was the BEST Kung Pao chicken I have ever eaten; it was PERFECT! Its fresh, crunchy vegetables, tender chicken, and optimal heat-level (I ordered the spice level as Hot, and it was my kind of hot – for-reals Hot!) had me raving. I could not stop marveling over how great the meal was during the duration of it, and I could not stop thinking about that Kung Pao chicken for the rest of the night. Cheng’s had hooked me!

So after years of driving by the restaurant and wondering what its food was like, I finally knew it was delicious enough to beat out my as-of-then go-to Chinese carryout joint – no easy feat. Was the inside of Cheng’s Asian Bistro as fancy as its name had suggested to me?

It turns out that the interior isn’t the elegant, dimly-lit environs that I’d envisioned. But it’s clean and bright and pleasant, with yellow-gold walls, dark-stained wood paneling and floors, and colorful pom-poms and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Probably it offers better ambiance than many elegant, dimly-lit establishments, because let’s face it: those places can be stiff and gloomy at times. I’ll take cheery over stiff and gloomy any day.

Service was prompt and friendly at Cheng’s and prices were affordable, too: my Kung Pao dinner combination plate with its fried rice, cup of wonton soup, and egg roll was $10.95; the portion was big enough that I was able to make two meals out of it.

I’m thrilled to have had such a positive experience at Cheng’s Asian Bistro, and I can’t wait to have an excuse to order from my new Official Chinese Carryout Joint! Perhaps a sweatpants-and-movie-and-takeaway night is in order – or a celebratory dinner to commemorate when spring finally makes its way to the D for real (please may that be soon!).

43005 Hayes Rd.

Sterling Heights, MI 48313

www.chengsasianbistromi.com

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317. Red Olive – March 25, 2018 – Saint Clair Shores, MI

March2018RedOlive1 (2)March2018RedOlive2 (3)I’d never heard of Red Olive restaurant until a few years ago, when I worked with a colleague who was obsessed with ordering takeout from its Auburn Hills location.

Little did I know until recently, this locally-owned chain has 16 locations – 16! – in the Metro-Detroit area. Apparently, I’d been living under a rock, and this place is beloved by many more people than my former coworker.

In fact, I recently learned that one of my very best friends is also a Red Olive regular. Her last meal before her scheduled induction to have her son last fall was its chocolate-chip pancakes. That’s right: Red Olive’s wares helped to fuel a child’s birth! That’s kind of a big deal, especially considering how wonderful this particular kiddo is.

It was becoming more and more obvious that I needed to try this Red Olive place for myself, and last Sunday, I finally did while lunching at the Saint Clair Shores outpost with my aforementioned devotee-friend.

I can’t speak for what décor has been adopted by the 15 other Red Olive locations, but this Saint Clair Shores location, not far from Lake Saint Clair, has embraced the nautical theme. Murals of sailboats afloat on a vibrant blue sea grace the walls. Dark stained wood and deeply-colored booths give the place a more refined look than that of the typical diner.

I was ravenous with hunger and psyched to discover how extensive Red Olive’s menu is. I’d admittedly assumed its offerings would be pretty basic, probably because my former coworker had ordered one meal over and over: a side-salad with ranch, lemon-rice soup, and pita bread – not the most adventurous of cuisines.

In reality, the Red Olive menu is loaded with options; the Wraps section alone was enough to excite me over its selection (there’s a Grilled Fajita Wrap, a Reuben Wrap, a Chicken Shawarma Pita Wrap . . .). An entrée-salad area boasts intriguing varieties such as Strawberry Chicken Avocado Salad, Fattoush Salad, and Chicken Avocado and Mango Salad. There’s a sandwich section; a breakfast section; a section devoted to burgers and Coney dogs. There’s an entrée section containing comfort-food classics such as meatloaf and roast chicken, a whole area devoted to gyros . . . you get the idea. There are a LOT of choices!

I zeroed in on that Chicken Shawarma Pita Wrap, as well as a baby Greek salad. My friend got a breakfast combination plate with eggs and hash browns and the like.

Our food came out quickly. The Greek salad was fresh and filling; the shawarma was wonderfully toasted on the outside and stuffed with filling, tender chicken, crunchy pickles, and delightfully garlicky sauce. YUM!

The food being delicious was the best part of the Red-Olive experience, of course, but our total bill barely topping $20 also didn’t hurt. Now I can see why this place is garnering admirers and sprouting new locations all across Metro-Detroit!

23977 Harper Ave.

St. Clair Shores, MI 48080

(With 15 additional locations in the Metro-Detroit area)

www.redoliverestaurant.com

316. The Bottom Line Coffee House – March 20, 2018 – Detroit, MI

March2018BottomLine2 (2)March2018BottomLine3 (2)Coffee shops are one of my very favorite categories of places in the world. A good coffee shop has a soothing, inviting vibe, a community-fostering spirit, and of course, bomb coffee. Upon visiting The Bottom Line Coffee Shop in the Midtown area of Detroit last week, I was ecstatic to discover that it possesses all three of these qualities. Another wonderful local coffee shop for my collection of go-tos!!!!

After lunch at Motor City Brewing Works with a friend from out-of-state who was passing through Detroit, we took the five-minute walk to the coffee house located on the ground floor of the Beethoven Apartments building. I’d been wanting to visit The Bottom Line for what feels like forever (a.k.a. several years), so I was psyched to finally be there.

I immediately dug the welcoming, unpretentious vibes of the small shop with its wood and brick and white walls, vibrant artwork, and garland of twinkle lights and colorful fake flowers festooning the entryway to the nook designated as the “Book and Record Den,” where one can sit with headphones on and groove to music while perusing the book collection (LOVE it). A tiny outdoor patio area nestled in an alleyway to the right of the shop entrance also caught my eye and had me dreaming of the as-of-yet elusive summer.

I know coffee houses are my particular brand of safe spaces, but really, is there anything better than stealing away to one on a Tuesday afternoon when you should be at work, sipping cappuccinos and chatting about life with an interesting person? I think not – especially when the cappuccinos you are sipping are super smooth and rich and flavorful, as they were at The Bottom Line.

That cappuccino! I’ve been fantasizing about it every day since I drank it, it was that good. I need it back in my life – and I’m hell-bent on achieving that soon while using the $2-off coupon emailed to me after my visit (thanks, The Bottom Line!). I’ll be sure to pass on the love while I’m there via the coffee house’s Suspended Coffee program, which allows patrons to make an advance purchase of a $2 cup of coffee for someone in need who comes into the shop and isn’t able to purchase it on his or her own. How great of a program is that? That’s that community spirit I’m talking about!

That community spirit is also fostered by The Bottom Line in its selling of local artisans’ goods, such as that colorful artwork displayed on its walls. Shirts, sweatshirts, and coffee mugs emblazoned with fun sayings such as “Detroit Grinds” and “Anything can Happen over Coffee in Detroit” (YES!) are also available, as are pastries to go with the ample selection of coffee and tea drinks.

Speaking of the ample selection of coffee and tea drinks: The Bottom Line offers a lavender latte, which enticed me as much as the prospect of sitting in its nestled-away patio area. Hurry up, summer: patios are another one of my happy places!

4474 3rd St., Ste. B2

Detroit, MI 48201

www.thebottomlinecoffeehouse.com

315. Irish Tavern – March 17, 2018 – Waterford, MI

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I spent St. Patrick’s Day this year out and about, including a stop at Irish Tavern in Waterford. As you would expect from its name, the bar was decked out in full St. Paddy’s day glory and packed with drink-swigging, green-bedecked revelers.

I was one of those drink-swigging, green-bedecked revelers enjoying the live music and festivities, and I had my eye on the prize: that lunchtime corned beef sandwich.

True, my numero-uno priority on St. Patrick’s Day for much of my 20s was consuming a maximum amount of adult beverages (shocking, I know), but there’s nothing I enjoy more about the holiday now than the excuse to enjoy an EPIC corned beef sandwich. And I was pleased to discover that The Reuben on Irish Tavern’s menu is a glorious rendition of a corned beef sandwich.

This sandwich, with its layers of thickly-sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand-Island dressing between two pieces of buttery, crunchy rye bread, served with perfectly crispy, supremely seasoned French fries, was SO, SO, SO, SO good! And fortunately, The Reuben appears to be a staple on Irish Tavern’s menu, so it can be ordered at any time of the year and not just on Luck-o’-the-Irish-centered holidays [cue me happy dancing!].

Other pluses about this place: despite the busyness of the day of my visit, the various servers I interacted with were prompt, polite, and friendly. The bathrooms were clean, not a hot mess as they often are at bars on occasions of this caliber (though it was still relatively early in the day).  And I see that Irish Tavern’s menu is loaded with enticing food choices besides The Reuben, including a variety of other sandwiches; salads; appetizers; burgers; and Irish favorites such as Shepherd’s Pie, Guinness Braised Corned Beef, and several dishes centered around boxty (traditional potato pancakes). Numerous local craft brews are available, and the whimsically titled Staycation section of the menu touts daily food and drink specials.

So the verdict is in: Irish Tavern is worth a visit, and not just on Luck-o’-the-Irish-centered holidays. Certainly I can come up with an excuse to consume an epic corned beef sandwich, regardless of the day of the year!

4703 Elizabeth Lake Rd.

Waterford, MI 48327

www.itwaterford.com

314. Vault of Midnight – March 10, 2018 – Detroit, MI

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Comics, graphics novels, and board games: I need more of them in my life, I’m thinking, after visiting Vault of Midnight in downtown Detroit a few weeks ago.

The emporium for the aforementioned items of whimsy and imagination and magic reminded me of how much I love playing board games and how I’m always saying I’m going to host a game night at my house (but have yet to). It peddles an impressive amount of serious board games: intricate, strategic games far from the toy-store game-land of Monopoly, Mall Madness, and Operation that I grew up in.

These serious games are stickered with serious price tags; with many in the $40-to-$80 range, they are not what I’d categorize as an impulse purchase. I assume most people going into Vault of Midnight to procure these board games are doing so intentionally, either because they know exactly what they want or are confident they’ll find something they’ll want enough to buy.

All I know is, I’ve been fortunate enough to play some of these kinds of intricate, strategic games at other people’s houses, and I find them as entertaining as all get-out. Not to trash the $10 ’90s-version of Clue that I grew up with (that game was LIFE to me in the first grade!), but these serious board games are fun to play because they’ve been crafted with care, from their rules to their artwork to the elaborate planning and scheming required of many of them to win.

What I’m saying is that in my experience, these serious board games are worth the serious price tag if you know you’ll be playing them on a regular basis instead of letting them collect a thick film of dust on a shelf in a closet in your basement (cue my copy of Scrabble: Deluxe Edition enduring that very fate). And I think it’s amazing that there’s a place right here in downtown Detroit reminding us of their awesomeness, beckoning us to enjoy some unplugged fun with them for an hour or two.

Of course, the unplugged fun is not only being touted by the serious board games at Vault of Midnight but also by its wide selection of comics and graphic novels.

I’ve never been an aficionado, per say, of either comics or graphic novels, but I did read the Detroit Free Press funnies religiously for years as a kid and fostered a love for Archie comics stemming from the ’60s-era issues saved by my paternal grandparents (and still find myself pondering the latest volume of the Riverdale gang’s shenanigans every time I spy it in a grocery-store check-out line). And I’ve read and enjoyed a few great graphic novels, such as Maus and Ghost World. It’s a genre I’ve long intended to explore more but haven’t. As with the board games in my basement closet, that intention often lies dormant, collecting a thick film of dust in my mind.

I can’t speak to the specific kinds of comics and graphic novels that Vault of Midnight stocks, because I didn’t delve too deeply into them. I looked at a few comics that appeared to be small-batch varieties, possibly even handmade, which intrigued me. I’d like to return and check those out in greater detail.

Maybe it’s time for me to more seriously consider and pursue my interests in board games and graphic novels and comics. Maybe it’s time to actually set a date for game night; maybe it’s time to invite more whimsy and imagination and magic into my life. Certainly, another visit to Vault of Midnight is in order!

1226 Library St.

Detroit, MI 48226

(Locations also in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor)

www.vaultofmidnight.com

313. Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine – March 10, 2018 – Detroit, MI

March2018Vicentes1 (2)March2018Vicentes2 (3)If you visit Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine in downtown Detroit, try the Ropa Vieja – a.k.a. the Old Clothes.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: how good can a dish be that’s named after worn-out apparel?

AMAZINGLY GOOD, it turns out. The shredded beef cooked in a red wine tomato sauce with diced bell peppers and green olives was amazingly tender and flavorful during my visit a few weeks ago.

This is a smile for your stomach! This is comfort food at its finest! I seriously believe I could eat this dish accompanied by rice, black beans, and sweet fried plantains (SO yum in themselves!) every day, and I would be happy.

Of course, I also wouldn’t mind if the mint-studded mojitos I imbibed and the tres leches cake I ordered for dessert made more frequent appearances in my life – maybe not daily, but surely weekly (I am totally a chocolate person, but tres leches cake is LIIIIIFE).

Vicente’s struck me as the perfect special-occasion venue – and not only because of my table’s consensus on the food being of a high caliber of deliciousness. The dining room is sleek and contemporary, ideal for sophisticated soirees, and there is salsa dancing on Friday and Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. onwards, including free lessons for beginners. Live jazz music is played every Wednesday and Thursday, too.

Of course, I’d also argue that Vicente’s is the perfect place to dine whether it’s a special-occasion day or not a special-occasion day, because I’m a major advocate for everyday life being more magical (here’s to packing as much magic and whimsy and straight-up FUN into adulting as we can!). I know if I continue to frequent Vicente’s, savoring vibrant dishes such as the Ropa Vieja, Cuban Style Paella, and Medallones de Cerdo (pork medallions) to the rhythm of rollicking jazz tunes, I’ll get into the fun-zone of life a little more frequently.

1250 Library St.

Detroit, MI 48226

www.vicentesdetroit.com

312. Anthology Coffee – March 3, 2018 – Detroit, MI

March2018Anthology2 (2)March2018Anthology3 (2)New-coffee-shop time!!!!

I’m always excited to visit an amazing, new-to-me independent coffee shop, because I LOVE independent coffee shops with singular vibes. And Anthology Coffee in Detroit is most certainly a coffee shop with a singular vibe, in the best of ways.

Plus, it has its own parking lot.

As you may know from reading previous posts on this blog, I am, yes, obsessed with establishments in Detroit that have their own parking lots, because the act of formal parallel street parking is essentially a phobia for me – I will park blocks away simply to avoid having to wedge my car within the confines of two painted lines narrowly abutting other cars at the curb of a busy street (not my idea of a good time).

So when I pulled up to Anthology Coffee, this java shop located within the Ponyride building in an industrial-looking part of town that feels isolated and deserted (but that in reality is very close to the Corktown-neighborhood drag of Michigan Avenue) and saw the ample number of parking spaces in the adjacent lot, I was like “Heck yes, Win #1 of the day!” (No victory is too small in my book – baby-stepping through life is my M.O., people.)

The exterior entrance to Anthology was a bit hard to identify on this Ponyride building (which, according to its website, rents out office and coworking spaces to various local businesses – how awesome is that?). I spied a set of unmarked doors sandwiched between two vibrant graffiti-art murals and confirmed with people departing from them that they indeed led into the shop.

Once inside, I was immediately taken with the clean, modern look of Anthology’s space: walls white here, paneling in blonde wood there; the pop of the turquoise coffee counter and the vibrant nature-themed mural painted in one corner; the concrete floors and the sunlight streaming in through the windows.

The friendly barista working behind the counter greeted me and helped me choose which of the various bean varieties I wanted in my iced coffee. When I assented that I preferred a bolder flavor over a fruity one, he suggested a variety from Myanmar.

I found a seat at one of the smaller tables, and he delivered my iced brew in its tall glass to me when it was ready (now there’s a touch I always appreciate at a coffee shop, the barista bringing the coffee to my table so I don’t have to stand at the counter and wait for it). It was delicious: bold, but very drinkable.

I appreciated not only the flavor profile of that coffee but the profile of Anthology’s overall vibe on that afternoon of my visit. It was humming with activity, with other visitors chatting and/or working and even a few kids running around, but it wasn’t overwhelming or distracting; it was pleasant. It radiated a sense of fostered community rather than a sense of being overrun by people. It felt amiable and also low-key, relaxed. The music played at an ideal volume level, enjoyable ambiance rather than a blaring distraction.

As I paid for my drink at the end of my visit, I commented to the barista on how much I’d enjoyed the coffee and the overall experience. I’d found a space I could envision as my own personal coworking space in a future where I worked for myself amongst other local entrepreneurs – where each of us, in our respective caffeine-induced flow states, teased out ideas on how we could best contribute our gifts to this wonderful city.

1401 Vermont St.

Detroit, MI 48216

www.anthologycoffee.com

311. Golden Donuts – March 3, 2018 – Clinton Township, MI

March2018GoldenDonuts1 (2)March2018GoldenDonuts2 (2)Donuts, glorious donuts! How I adore those little glazed nuggets of goodness and having an excuse to purchase them – and to try a new bakery for this blog, of course.

Visiting a dear friend on a Saturday morning is as good an excuse as any to purchase a half-dozen donuts from a new-to-the-blog bakery. Thusly, my visit to Golden Donuts on Harper Avenue in Clinton Township commenced a few weeks ago.

Stepping into the tiny storefront located inside a strip mall, I was reminded of another local donut shop I’d visited in the last year: Donut Factory of Warren – mainly because both had an old-fashioned vibe and elderly gentlemen hanging out in them at the time of my visit. I got the impression that the two elderly gentlemen hanging out in counter seats at Golden Donuts were regulars, that they were familiar to the woman working behind the counter, that they were killing time in the companiable way that a certain type of retiree is wont to do.

The presence of these older dudes, it was oddly comforting to me. Maybe because I aspire to one day be able to pass time that way, in the practice of sitting and doing nothing much, really; maybe it’s because elderly people remind me of my beloved grandmother who passed away last summer. Regardless of the reason why, I saw Golden Donuts being the kind of place where elderly gents like to hang out as a plus-sign, as random as that sounds.

Of course, the most critical component of a donut shop is not its perceived desirability as a hangout spot by senior citizens but whether its donuts are any good. I set out to determine this out by ordering a half-dozen of Golden Donuts’ namesake wares: a white-cream-filled donut, a custard-filled, a red-velvet glazed, a honey-glazed chocolate, a chocolate-and-sprinkle-topped glazed, and a vanilla-and-chocolate-drizzled variety that looked to be jelly-filled and that was called a Napoleon.

While the donuts I tried that day – the red velvet, the honey-glazed chocolate, the white-cream-filled – were tasty, the true star of the show was the Napoleon, the one I randomly threw into the mix because I thought my friend or her husband might like it but which I didn’t expect to try. When it ended up left in the donut box and back at home with me, I decided to give it a whirl, not really expecting it to be my thing (I’m not really a jelly-donut girl) but not wanting to waste it.

This Napoleon turned out to be not just any jelly donut: it was quite possibly the best jelly donut EVER MADE. Certainly, it was the best jelly donut I can remember eating.

First of all, this Napoleon donut wasn’t a regular donut in terms of the dough used to make it: it was more of a flaky, puff-pastry kind of consistency. And it wasn’t simply filled with strawberry jelly; half of it was, but the other half was filled with CUSTARD. This was a half-jelly-filled, half-custard-filled, puff-pastry-esque, vanilla-AND-chocolate drizzled donut! It was AMAZING!

Based off of that glorious Napoleon donut alone, I would say that Golden Donuts passes the good-donut test. If the Napoleon sounds at all intriguing to you, I encourage you to give it a try! Or if you want to check out Golden Donuts’ other wares, such as its pasties and other baked goods – or to simply sit and hang at the counter with the old dudes – that is of course cool, too.

34155 Harper Ave.

Clinton Township, MI 48035

310. Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño – February 25, 2017 – Detroit, MI

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PUPUSAS!!!! HOW had I gone so long in my life without consuming you, you glorious little pancake-esque tortillas loaded with savory, meaty, cheesy fillings!

My first encounter with pupusas was back in 2014 at El Guanaco in Troy. I was immediately taken by the Salvadorean delights: what was not to like about piping-hot grilled corn tortillas stuffed with meat and cheese? I mean, that is kind of my JAM right there.

Yet somehow I went all this time without consuming another pupusa. I’ve never returned to El Guanaco – certainly not because I don’t want to (I gaze upon it fondly whenever I drive past it) but rather because a consequence of running a blog that’s all about trying new places is that repeat visits are not especially common for me – even when I really, really love a place and intend to go back. And sadly, Salvadorean restaurants are not especially prevalent around Metro Detroit.

But as I discovered a few weeks ago, there is at least one other Salvadorean restaurant in this area:  Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño in Southwest Detroit. Continuing my quest to visit 50 new places in Detroit in Blog Year 5, I set out for the restaurant on Livernois Avenue one Sunday in late February.

Right away, the place won my heart because it had its own parking lot (a category of criteria I especially appreciate in the city), which was packed with other cars for the midday lunch rush. I entered the colorful restaurant bedecked with flags and vibrant artwork and put in a carryout order for one of the combination plates, which contained two pupusas, rice, beans, curtido (a cole slaw-esque, spicy cabbage relish), and a drink. I can’t recall exactly how much the combo cost me, but I believe it was around $8.

The order came out relatively quickly, and I excitedly made the jaunt back home, sucking down the horchata I’d ordered as my drink choice and savoring its creamy, cinnamon-laced goodness. Soon I’d also be savoring those pupusas nestled in my carryout bag!

The glorious moment arrived: I got back home and sat down to devour the pupusas in all of their fresh-grilled, meat-and-cheese-studded glory.

They were of course AMAZING. I’d gotten a ground pork pupusa and a cheese pupusa, and both were wonderfully fresh and flavorful and filling-stuffed. If I had to pick which one I liked better, I’d go with the cheese one (cheesy goodness being pretty hard to beat in its glorious simplicity), but the ground pork one was deliciously savory, too. Paired with the curtido, these bad boys were utterly KILLER. How come more food isn’t accompanied by a spicy cabbage slaw??? That needs to change.

If you have never tried a pupusa and are intrigued, can we agree that that needs to change, too? Give Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño a try – and while you’re at it, try El Guanaco, too! There’s enough love to go around for both of them.

3149 Livernois Ave.

Detroit, MI 48210

309. Ike’s Restaurant – February 17, 2018 – Sterling Heights, MI

February2018Ikes1 (3)February2018Ikes2 (4)I’m always looking for an excuse to celebrate – especially in February, when there’s not inherently a lot to celebrate in Michigan (Another snowfall? The umpteenth gray day of the year? Not slipping and falling on an ice patch? Actually, that last one is totally worth celebrating).

So when the sister-in-law/best friend of one of my oldest pals reached out letting me know they were planning a surprise birthday party for her, I was like, “Heck yes, I will be there!” Heck yes to having this celebration as a bright spot to look forward to after wayyyyy too much snow-wrangling the weekend prior!

(Snow, we over you here in Metro-Detroit, for reals. Please be a dear and take the hint.)

When I found out this surprise birthday dinner was going to be at Ike’s Restaurant in Sterling Heights, a Mediterranean restaurant I had never been to, I was heck-yes-ing times a million. New-place time! GARLIC-SAUCE TIME!

Mediterranean cuisine is one of my favorite types of cuisines, and garlic sauce is its pinnacle. I mean, what’s not to like: it’s creamy, it’s garlicky . . . that’s really it, but do you need anything else in a sauce? No sirree, in my humble opinion.

When the night rolled around and the whole surprise-thing was pulled off without a hitch (my friend was truly surprised – how often does that happen?), I realized that Ike’s menu contains more than Mediterranean food.

It contains a lot more: bar-and-grille-esque fare such as steaks and lamb chops and ribs and chicken and fish dishes; Italian favorites such as veal marsala and chicken parmesan; a whole section of vegetarian options – some Mediterranean, some Italian, some Greek.

The variety impressed me; the ribs and steak piqued my interest because both ribs and steak are kind of my jam. Ultimately, I knew I had to stick with the Lebanese section because visions of me inhaling Mediterranean food had basically haunted my psyche since I’d received this invitation.

I’m admittedly really boring when ordering Mediterranean food: I get crushed lentil soup and lemon-oregano chicken OR a chicken shawarma pita – accented by, of course, loads and loads of pita bread slathered in garlic sauce. I don’t believe my order has ever wavered from those choices – probably because those choices are so AMAZING that why would I bother to vary them? Still, this is a departure for me in a lot of ways, me of the loving-to-try-new-places-and-dishes-and-the-weirdest-sounding-cocktail-you-can-throw-at-me variety.

So when pondering Ike’s menu, my eyes went to laser in on the lemon-oregano chicken – and didn’t see it. It was not on Ike’s menu – wah wah.

Not to worry – I asked our server if the kitchen would be able to make the prized lemon-oregano chicken, and she said it would, though she claimed it probably wouldn’t taste as lemony as I was accustomed to. I didn’t mind; I was sure it’d still be good.

It was: my lemon-oregano chicken was glorious. Yes, it wasn’t as lemony as usual, but it was still wonderfully tender and flavorful and delicious – and generous in portion size.

That’s a definite plus about Ike’s: the amount of food it serves you. Portions are hefty – and who doesn’t like that? Additionally, both soup and salad came with my entrée (ol’-faithful crushed lentil was naturally my soup choice).

And the garlic sauce? Well, garlic sauce and pita bread isn’t a complimentary appetizer at Ike’s as it is at a lot of Mediterranean restaurants, but it’s available for order; our table ordered a platter of it to share. It goes without saying that it was GLORIOUS.

Given the high-quality food, generous portions sizes, elegant ambiance, and excellent service our table received, I can confidently vet Ike’s as an top-notch venue for celebrating any kind of occasion, from birthdays to I-didn’t-slip-on-ice-and-fall-flat-on-my-face kinds of days.

38550 Van Dyke Ave.

Sterling Heights, MI 48312

www.ikesrestaurant.com