In a quiet office plaza off the I-696 corridor in Warren, John Castiglione sells accordions. The showroom's small and sort of corporate; there are no flashy displays, diamond-encrusted instruments or autographed posters for show, no polka music piped through the speakers. There aren't even that many accordions in plain view: a Roland electronic model, a few black-and-white Castiglione-brand piano accordions, some stands and stray amps, and a few racks of sheet music.
It's not the rickety palace of wonder this writer was expecting — no rustic, wall-to-wall stronghold crammed with intricately decorated treasures. Castiglione is not a sorcerer. He's a businessman. And on first survey, his accordion store isn't much to look at. Unless you know what you're looking at: the largest accordion dealership in America, and probably one of the best.
Castiglione just got back from lunch, and his phone won't stop ringing.
"Where are you calling from? Las Vegas?" He interrupts a talkative customer. He's a one-man switchboard, picking up line after line to say I know you're waiting, be right with you. Three or four calls blink on hold at a time. An elderly accordionist in Kansas City who needs a repair. A guy in Denver who bought a lemon. A woman who's buying a custom tricolor conjunto chromatic button accordion that looks like a spangled Mexican flag. She wants to haggle over the price again.
Since its invention in Germany in the early 19th century, the accordion has circumnavigated the musical, and physical, globe. It's a versatile instrument that turns anyone with two hands into a roving one-man band, and its portable size has encouraged nearly two centuries of migrants to pack it up and take it on their travels. As a consequence, you'll hear accordions in a swath of cultural musical traditions: Eastern European Romani folk music, zydeco, klezmer, Brazilian baiao, Tex-Mex border music, classical Italian balladry, sea shanties and tangos, and endless iterations of the polka.
And one chapter of the world's great accordion tome was written in Detroit. It starts at the turn of the 20th century, when the last massive wave of immigration from Europe began.
Castiglione's father Vincent came to Michigan from Italy sometime around 1918. He had no intentions of starting a music store — he came for manufacturing work — but at a gas station one day, he pulled an accordion out of his trunk, played it for a few onlookers, and sold it to a guy who offered him three times what he'd paid for it.
"That was two and a half weeks' wages, working six days a week," Castiglione says. So Vincent bought more accordions. He sold those too. Castiglione Accordions was founded on the east side of Detroit in 1933 — just in time for the accordion's American "golden age."
"In the 1950s, the accordion was the number one selling musical instrument in the country," Castiglione says. He estimates that for 10 to 15 years, more than 500,000 accordions were imported into the country annually. Bubbly bands fronted by handsome accordionists and bandleaders like Dick Contino, Lawrence Welk and Horace Heidt were on prime-time TV. Parents everywhere signed their kids up for lessons.
Detroit's sizable population of Italian immigrants once supported several small but strong accordion factories and dealerships on the city's east side. The International Accordion Company, founded in Detroit in 1922 by Castelfidardo, Italy, native Nazzarreno Zoppi, made a few hundred accordions a year. Nazzarreno's son founded his own company, Gus Zoppi Accordion Manufacturing, in Hamtramck in 1934. The present-day Gus Zoppi Music Center, an all-purpose music store, is located in Sterling Heights and owned by Gus Zoppi's son-in-law, Tom Chuldzinski.
What happened? Some have blamed the decline of the accordion in pop culture on the guitar, others on generational destiny. Jennie Knaggs, a multi-instrumentalist who plays the accordion (and three other instruments) in her band Lac La Belle, wonders if the accordion was rejected by people who grew up with immigrant parents.
"These people were polka kings and queens from Germany who came to the U.S. with these instruments, had kids that became teenagers, and those teenagers just didn't want to be a part of it," she says. Before long, "the accordion was for dorks. The only people who were able to embrace it were people who were dorks. I mean, Weird Al Yankovic? They Might Be Giants? They were dorks."
But Castiglione says it's all about business: The accordion, which is usually imported and involves a huge amount of hand labor, just isn't a money-maker.
"Accordions are expensive to make. Margins are small. Guitars are cheap to make. When the Beatles showed up, guitars were sold by the millions. And some of those millions learned to play. Why work your buns off selling accordions?"
Lucky for Castiglione, the more music stores that switched to a guitar, bass and drum kit business model, the bigger the niche he could fill.
"You have to have all sorts of experience. You have to know everything about everything," Castiglione says about his business. "Manufacturing. Importing. Distributing and selling. In places like Kansas City, or in the middle of Tennessee ... there's just nobody there" who can do it all.
Castiglione, who has shipped accordions to Japan, Australia, Norway and Korea, and who once sold an accordion to Bruce Springsteen, is one of the few in the country who can.
When I ask him if he is an accordionist himself, he shoots me a little grin and says, "Let me show you something."
We go to the warehouse, where row after row after row of accordions, concertinas, bandoneons, bayans and diatonic jewel boxes are stacked. At a workshop table, one of his repairers, Yakov, is tinkering with an accordion that belongs to the band Flogging Molly.
Castiglione digs through a filing cabinet and pulls out the Johnny Mazurka, written by Vincent Castiglione in 1941. On the cover is a grainy old photograph of Vincent with his son. They both hold accordions. The one in the young Castiglione's hand looks about as big as he is.
"Yeah, I play the accordion."
This isn't really a story about the accordion's "comeback." The accordion "came back" in American pop music at least 15 years ago, nudged back into the limelight with a little help from Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos and Bob Dylan. Today it enjoys big-league indie respect — think Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, Beirut.
This is about the enduring magic of a strange and marvelous musical beast. Accordions struck Jennie Knaggs' fancy after 10 months traveling through Europe and seeing gypsy bands in Poland, Ukraine, Romania and the Balkans. Jennie's grandfather was Macedonian — "He played the accordion," she says. "But we haven't found it yet."
In Lac La Belle — an acoustic trio that plays woodsy Americana and traditional folk music — she plays the accordion because it "draws from a different canon. It connects your music to another world."
Accordions are common in bluegrass and Appalachian music, but Jennie finds that it just captures listeners' imaginations.
"Whenever I bring out the accordion, people get excited. It doesn't matter where I am. And I'm not amazingly good. But people still think it's awesome. I mean, they are in awe of the accordion."
She got her accordion from a friend, who'd bought it online. It was too small, so he gave it to Jennie.
On the day we met for coffee, Knaggs couldn't remember the name brand on her accordion, but promised she'd go home and check.
"I think it was made in Detroit, though," she told me.
She e-mailed me a few days later. It's a Castiglione.
Julien LaBro moved to Detroit 10 years ago from Marseilles, where the accordion never suffered from a sudden and crippling hemorrhage of "cool."
"In France, the accordion has always been popular. Here, older people say — with a bitter taste — that before the guitar, the accordion was number one. The accordion has a baggage with it, or at least it did in the '80s or '90s. To me, though, it doesn't matter. People could care less what you play, as long as it sounds cool."
When he was 9 years old, he saw an accordion player on TV. He knew he wanted to try it.
"I was fascinated with that guy, moving his fingers, moving the bellows," LaBro says. "I was intrigued by the whole thing. My parents were a little confused at first, but ... shortly after I started, I said, I want to make this my life."
His obliging parents rented an instrument and got him some lessons. Now the 29-year-old musician is an international star. He came to Detroit to study with accordion master Peter Soave at Wayne State. At the time, "only a few universities [in the United States] carried a program in which you could become an accordion player, I guess because of the unpopularity that happened in the '80s," he says.
LaBro plays a chromatic button accordion, also called a bayan. (In France, he says, "Most people are taught on button accordion. Until several years into my career, I hadn't even seen a piano accordion.") LaBro, a jazz enthusiast, is a member of the Hot Club of Detroit, a band inspired by the music of the Gypsy guitarist and Paris habitué Django Reinhardt. It's a project LaBro never saw coming.
"I knew about the music of Django Reinhardt, obviously, being French," he says. "In Europe that music has never really died, and there are hot clubs everywhere. [But] I really wanted to play jazz on the accordion, and even though Django is obviously a jazz icon, I was listening to Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock."
When guitarist Evan Perri, also a Wayne State student, asked LaBro to join the band, he was taken aback.
"I'll never forget it," LaBro says. He heard the music and "flipped out. They were doing these early, French, accordion-based waltzes. In Europe I was checking out American artists and recordings. I come all the way to Detroit, and I hear an American guy playing Django Reinhardt.
LaBro embodies the versatility that the accordion allows. He plays chamber music, is featured in the Oblivion Project, which pays homage to Argentinean tango composer (and bandoneón wizard) Astor Piazzolla, collaborates with traditional jazz musicians in New York and Brazilian ensembles in Chicago.
"Back in the day, you had to belong," he says. "You had to have a sticker above you that says this is what I do. It's better this way.
"It's not going to be The Lawrence Welk Show, where the accordion's the front piece, but who needs that? It has its role, and if it's used correctly, what's the problem?"
If you think about it, Detroit could really be the eye of the accordion storm. Just as it did in the '20s and '30s, the city has the right cultural forces at work for the instrument: indie kids, Eastern European families in Hamtramck, the many accordionists reared in the Welk era who still perform all over the state, and the roaring Hispanic community on Detroit's southwest side.
On a Friday night, the dance floor at the Blue Diamond is surrounded by dangling icicle lights. Things don't really heat up on the weekends until late, so we have a seat at a table dressed in a simple red cloth and order a round of Modelos.
Lansing's La Corporación plays the Blue Diamond at least once a month. Their sound is a crowd-pleasing cut-time jukebox of ranchera, border-region Tejano, merengue, Afro-Cuban rhythms and the unmistakable accordion-driven conjunto, a peppy polka-like two-step. The Blue Diamond has the feel of an old-fashioned social hall. Older couples are dressed in suits and stately dresses with pump heels and perfect coifs. Younger kids come in Stetsons and short, flappy dresses.
The accordion — and the polka rhythm — came to Mexico with German and Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. Since then, it's mingled with American rock, swing and country, Mexican folk traditions and a few generations of music history to generate a whole family tree of new accordion-borne sounds.
La Corporación's accordion player (he also plays keys and sings) is Pablo "Kookie" Hernandez. He learned the accordion from his father when he was 7 or 8. Now he owns six or seven accordions, all German and Italian-made. (Over the years, he's purchased at least a few of them from Castiglione.)
Hernandez tells me that in the Mexican music community, too, the accordion saw a brief loss of favor as effects-heavy keyboards took over from the big brass sections and multi-instrumentalists that had turned party bands into "small orchestras." But the adaptable, catchy accordion never lost its edge entirely.
"The accordion has always been there," he says. "My dad used to say, 'I heard that sound 20 years ago, and we'll be hearing it for another 20 years.' And it will probably be popular until I die."
Detroit's the perfect place for the accordion, and it's perfectly clear on a night like this. Everyone's dancing. Tables are filling up. Hernandez has a full-time job; he plays in La Corporación because he loves it. He estimates there are at least a dozen other bands like his in Detroit — probably more.
"Detroit has that style," he says. "There are so many different cultures here — Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans." And all of them would miss the accordion, he says, if it were gone.
"The world turns. Styles change. Technology changes," he says. "But the accordion is always there."
27 years ago in Metro Times: A cover story finds MT writers gearing up for Tiger baseball 1983. Michael Betzold hazards a prediction: "Under manager Sparky Anderson, the Tigers have been a perfect mathematical regression leading inexorably to the pinnacle of mediocrity, .500 ball, which they will reach at their current pace in 1984 — the last year of Sparky's contract." The story's headline? "Another spring and another set of fearless predictions." What was happening: Richard "Groove" Holmes & His Trio at Baker's Keyboard Lounge and Aretha Franklin at Joe Louis Arena.
13 years ago in Metro Times: Lisa Martino writes, "Let's face it. The climate for historical buildings in Detroit has not been very promising. They get about as much respect as a Beta videocassette on a shelf full of laser discs." She goes on to profile the pending structural additions to the historic Cornice & Slate building, home to Metro Times since 1994, but built in 1897. The building, recently featured in Model D's "Look Up: Top 10 Downtown Buildings," had its facade retouched just last year and looks better than ever. What was happening: De La Soul at St. Andrew's Hall, Vic Chesnutt at the 7th House, and Liza Minnelli at the Fox Theatre.
7 years ago in Metro Times: Brian Smith and Chris Handyside document their weekend of debauchery at South by Southwest. A "much-ballyhooed 'Detroit' booth" shows that Detroit's music scene can grab as far as the hip Texas town. Smith and Handyside dish on the Fags, the Electric Six, John Sinclair, Sponge and Supergrass, among others. 2010's SXSW features more than 30 Detroit-area groups, including Death, Mayer Hawthorne, Human Eye and the remaining members of Slum Village. What was happening: Quiet Riot at Harpo's, and Techno: Detroit's Gift to The World, an exhibit showcasing Detroit's development of electronic music, at the Detroit Historical Museum.
Aut Bar 315 Braun Court, Ann Arbor; 734-994-3677; $: In the warmer months, historic Kerrytown's Aut Bar spills out onto a quiet courtyard it has nearly all to itself. Functioning as a restaurant and a bar for 21 years (the second level is 21 and older only), there's a popular Sunday brunch (10-3) and a new Saturday brunch (11-2), and a Friday lunch (11-2). Sunday specials include cobbler on cinnamon French toast and eggs Benedict. The Aut Bar caters to the LGBT community and their friends and allies.
Blue Nile 545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-547-6699 221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, 734-998-4746; $$: For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian dining, a big part of the draw is that you get to eat with your hands (steaming washcloths are tendered before and after). At the Blue Nile, you get only two all-you-can-eat choices: four meats and seven vegetables for $18.90, or, for veg-heads, the all-vegetarian option for $15.90 (kids younger than 12 eat for half price, or, if they're toddlers, for free).
Earthen Jar 311 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-327-9464; $: Featuring vegetarian north Indian food in one big buffet, with dozens of selections. But instead of all-you-can-eat dining, this is dining by the pound — $4.99 a pound, to be exact. After your food is weighed, you can sit down and eat in their casual shop or carry it out. And no tipping means you can get almost a pound of scandalously healthful food for about $5.
Inn Season Café 500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916; $$: Good news: Inn Season Café — a rare provider of vegetarian cuisine in metro Detroit — has gotten better as it has gotten older. Fine, organic ingredients have always been its hallmark, but the health food nature of the cooking has been eclipsed; now you are eating vegetarian haute cuisine. Caters to special dietary restrictions.
Margarita's Mexican Restaurant 27861 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-547-5050; $: Located right smack in the middle of the Woodward corridor suburbs is a Mexican restaurant that would never even dream of pandering to the Chi-Chi's crowd. This is authentic Mexican cuisine that is heavy on the veggies and true to its roots. This place is right under your nose — don't miss it any longer.
Mind Body & Spirits 301 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-3663; $$: Situated at the corner of Main and Third, their newly remodeled building boasts rooftop solar panels, cork flooring, a bar top constructed of reclaimed wood, rain barrels for irrigating their onsite greenhouse and a bio-digester. But all these nifty, earth-friendly measures don't mean a hill of organic beans without tasty food. No worries there. The menu plainly defines the dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free.
Red Pepper Deli 116 W. Main St., Northville; 248-773-7672; $: Before she opened the Red Pepper Deli last September, Carolyn Simon had no idea there were so many raw food enthusiasts around. There are. They make up three-quarters of her clientele, and they instruct her on everything from recipes to the science of raw-foodism. But the way Simon does it, raw dishes are scrumptious.
Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111; $: The eclectic specials can change weekly, and offerings range the globe (from Ethiopian to Mexican, Indian to Italian), converting traditional meat-based fare into vegetarian or vegan: Favorites include the "Enchilada Calabaza" (a butternut squash baked with spicy enchilada sauce on top and cream cheese), a low-fat Thai salad with a peanut-cilantro dressing. Full bar and juice bar.
Sprout House 15233 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe; 313-331-3200; $: The Sprout House is serious about health and finds nutrition to be key in a long life. A sort of organic grocery, with produce, discount vitamins and health and beauty products, this place does a thriving carryout business in sandwiches and refrigerated prepared dishes from the store's working kitchen. Offering vegan, organic dairy, organic chicken, soy cheese and vegetarian options, the store has preservative-, growth hormone- and antibiotic-free foods.
Diners & delis
Al's Famous Deli 32906 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-3663; $: The deli with a difference, Al's is spearheading an effort to buy and sell only Michigan-based products. That means they cook their own corned beef (from United Meat in Detroit), buy their pickles from Topor's Pickle Company in Detroit, and use breads and rolls from Superior Bread Company and the Bake Station. So, at Al's, you can get your deli fix and support local businesses. Don't miss his chicken and ribs menu.
Bates Hamburgers 33406 Five Mile Rd., Livonia, 734-427-3464; $: This slider stop is a venerable west side institution, with some saying you haven't lived until you've tried one of Bates' "gut bombs." The blandishments are few — just the essentials: salt, pepper, mustard and ketchup — but it doesn't get any more authentic than this. A winning combo, as this place marked 50 years in business last month.
Bread Basket Deli locations in Livonia, Detroit, Redford, Warren and Ypsilanti; see breadbasketdelis.com for all locations; $: Here are the big sandwiches: Single-deckers, triple-deckers, quadruple-deckers, combos, dinner "baskets" and even some meat-laden salads. The prices are reasonable at this local mini-chain.
Duly's Coney Island 5458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit, 313-554-3076; $: This little southwest Detroit diner seems to have been built when people were a head shorter than they are today. Low-slung stools grace the long lunch counter, with small tables crowded in the back. Open 24 hours, with a fairly lively after-bar crowd, we're still getting used to sneaking around the cook to get to the restroom.
Hambo Coney Island 22900 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-414-9400; $: A cheap stop for a hash brown or a BLT, Hambo's will serve you in a jiffy, even if you arrive during Sunday's busy post-church crowd. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until 3 p.m. Sunday.
Janet's Lunch 15033 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Park, 313-331-5776; $: A place doesn't stay open for 71 years by chance. Founded in 1938, Janet's still serves such diner mainstays as hot beef, hot pork, hot turkey, mashed potatoes, soups made from scratch and homemade pies, including banana cream, apple, cherry and blueberry. There's fish after five every day, all day on Fridays.
Lafayette Coney Island 118 W. Lafayette, Detroit, 313-964-8198; $: Unless you're new to Detroit, you probably already know this place. If not, know this: Service here is fast, affable and loud. Accommodating night crawlers and day stalkers alike, the king of coneys boasts bright lights, long counters and cheap prices.
Legends Coney Island 5805 Mount Elliott St., Detroit; 313-571-4777; 11123 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-331-4000; $: Nothing fancy, just a crowd-pleasing Detroit coney institution, serving everything from wing dings and jalapeño poppers to an albacore white tuna melt.
National Coney Island 15555 Hall Rd., Macomb; 586-566-9558; more locations at nationalconeyisland.com; $: A perennial Metro Times Best of Detroit winner, National Coney Island offers several varieties of garden-fresh salads, sandwiches, gyros, Mexican and Greek specialties and award-winning Coney Island-style hot dogs.
Noah's Deli 14500 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, 313-582-8361; $: Though the spot opened as a deli back in 1936, it was only reincorporated as Noah's in 1977. But the offerings are timeless, and Noah's built its reputation on corned beef that's fresh-cut, lean and made on-site. This is your stop in east Dearborn for deli-style sandwiches. In addition to the specialty corned beef ($6.50), there's also ham, salami, roast beef, pastrami and turkey, as well as soups, meatloaf and hot plates, as well as dessert.
Omega Hawg & Dawg Deli 2100 Hilton Rd., Ferndale, 248-548-5700; $: This narrow, rectangular building on the northeast corner of Hilton and Cambourne has minimalist diner decor. Coney fare predominates, including burgers, triple-decker sandwiches, salads and a large omelet menu. But expect inventive twists, such as a bag of sliders, "chilly dilly" (chili with all the fixings) and all-day breakfast. With 13 years on the block, this puckishly named eatery has solid fare, reasonable prices and staying power.
Telway Diner 6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 313-843-2146; $: This is the sort of place that looks like it hasn't changed since the late 1960s. The tiny building on Michigan Avenue is frequented by police, late night cabbies and local yokels at its busy take-out window. You'll find no-frills service with a charming gap-toothed smile.
Woody's Diner 208 W. Fifth St., Royal Oak; 248-543-6911; $: Family-oriented dining on the first floor, but an older crowd on the upper levels. Oversized windows on the second floor and rooftop views of Royal Oak.
Pizza, burgers & beer
Arbor Brewing Company 114 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-213-1393; $$: Award-winning brewpub's drinkable house brews complement a menu of "upscale pub food." You won't find industrial "food" here: Their kitchen shuns petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides and additives, and they're "replacing the products of food science with the products of nature," with delicious results.
Ashley's Restaurant and Pub 338 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-9191; 7525 Wayne Rd., Westland; 734-525-1667; $: Billed as a "casual pub," you can't get much more relaxed than when you have 65 beers on tap to choose from, plus a long list of bottle beer, and more than 60 single-malt scotches and "small-batch" bourbons. Kitchen open late.
Aubree's Pizzeria & Tavern 20420 Haggerty Rd., Northville; 734-432-0200; 39 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1870; 2122 Whitaker Rd., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1525; $: Founded in 1972 in Ypsilanti's Depot Town, Aubree's aims for "warmth, hospitality, tasty food and great drinks."
Bar Louie 44375 12 Mile Rd. in Novi's Fountainwalk; 248-662-1100; more locations at restaurants-america.com/barlouie; $$: When it was founded in Chicago in 1991, Bar Louie was just a neighborhood spot. Now that it has spawned a chain of 44 franchise locations, savor the ironic success of the chain restaurant that "doesn't feel like a chain restaurant." Premium drinks, cheap bar food.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-0066; $: How does an Italian restaurant get reborn as a sports tavern? Check out what Mark Larco and company have done here. Not only do they have the burgers and fries, they have the sport and fun, including a massive burger that, if you can finish, you get a T-shirt for eating? Nice!
BlackFinn 530 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-542-9466; $$: Referred to instead as "an American saloon," the sprawling, boisterous lounge has great standards, including steaks, but also hosts a lively singles scene. The 25-bottle wine list has some bargains on it.
Black Lotus Brewing Company 1 E. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson; 248-577-1878; $$: A laid-back, airy high-ceilinged space, the open "kitchen" at one end of the horseshoe-shaped fieldstone bar is small, but churns out generously proportioned starters.
Bookies 2208 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-962-0319; $: Formerly Bookies Tavern on Washington Boulevard, the new Bookies offers three levels and a full-service kitchen. On the first level, a stone and granite bar provides a place to watch the game on six hi-definition plamsa TVs. The second floor has a private VIP area and the third has a roof-top deck with its own bar. The kitchen is open until 11 p.m., after which a scaled down menu is available.
Buddy's Restaurant & Pizzeria 17125 Conant St., Detroit; 313-892-9001; many more locations at buddyspizza.com; $: Our readers love Buddy's, perennial winner of Best Neighborhood Pizza. Enjoy the greasy, meaty square-cut pizza in its original setting. Secure parking.
Butcher's Inn 1489 Winder St., Detroit; 313-394-0120; $: Recently reopened by the crew over at Eastern Market's Cutter's, Butcher's Inn has been reborn as a tequila and margarita bar, with sliders, sandwiches and an Eastern Market location tailor-made for tailgating. Call ahead for hours.
Como's 22812 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-5005; $$: Though they do serve pizzas and pastas, Como's is best-known as a lively bar scene, particularly on their commodious tent patio, even on a frigid night, thanks to heat lamps.
CK Diggs 2010 Auburn Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-853-6600; $$: Beer galore at this sports pub, where you can learn the difference between lagers, ales, porters and stouts on their "beer definition" menu. Lunch and dinner menu offers traditional bar fare, as well as pastas, pizzas, and a short menu of surf & turf selections.
Claddagh Irish Pub 17800 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-542-8141; $$: Attempts to re-create the rich traditions of the great pubs of Ireland with an authentic "pub house" experience. Fun, friendly and exuberant atmosphere. Traditional Irish fare.
Cutter's Bar & Grill 2638 Orleans St., Detroit; 313-393-0960; $: Good-size burgers for $4.50, or $4.75 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things: stuffed chicken breasts, baby back ribs or whitefish.
Detroiter Bar 655 Beaubien St, Detroit, 313-963-3355; $: Yes, it's a bar, but it's also a grill worthy of this meat-and-potatoes town. The downtown spot packs 'em in for lunch. Expect solid bar fare, including big salads and a tasty chicken breast sandwich. The staff seems especially proud of their half-pound burger, the "house special," draped with enough meat and cheese to bring tears to a vegan's eyes.
Dino's 22740 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-591-3466; $: Next door to Club Bart, Dino's shares much with its neighbor: live music and open mics, sandwiches with just a touch more love than you'd expect, and a long bar that serves up quality cocktails. There's nothing intimidating here, and, if the music catches your fancy, many reasons to stay.
Dublin Fish and Chips 41900 Hayes Rd., Clinton Twp.; 586-416-3474; $: Hidden in a little strip mall in Clinton Township, guests can enjoy affordable fish meals as well as all things chowdery, including clam cakes, hush puppies and oysters, all bought fresh and prepared when you order.
Grand Tavern 35450 Grand River Ave., Farmington; 248-476-5700; $$: This neighborhood bar and grill is family-friendly, with 15 TVs, video games and a menu of grilled comfort foods. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 2 a.m. Sundays.
Green Lantern Lounge 28960 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-541-5439; 4326 Rochester Rd., Royal Oak; 248-298-3005; $$: Thin-crusted round pies and deep-dish pies come in four sizes from 10 inches to 16 inches. Reasonable prices.
Gus O'Connor's 42875 Grand River Ave., Novi; 248-465-9670; gusoconnors.com: Award-winning Irish pub with spirits, special events, and a full menu that includes sandwiches, shepherd's pie, Guinness stew and more.
Harbor House 440 Clinton St., Detroit; 313-967-9900; harborhousedetroit.com; $$: You can order off the menu, or you can take a shot at the table-served, all-you-can-eat deal: It will be $19.99, $34.99 or $23.99 depending on whether you want the seafood or prime rib (weekends only).
Hawthorne Valley Country Club 7300 N. Merriman Rd., Westland; 734-422-3440; $$: It's more than a country club; the attached restaurant offers a full menu — including steaks, seafood, pasta, burgers and more — in a casual, family-oriented dining environment. Fresh ingredients, no transfats, no MSG; full bar.
Hogger's BBQ, Sandwiches & More 2959 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-548-2400; $: No-nonsense barbecue joint has it all: pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue chicken, beef brisket, baby-back ribs, fried catfish fingers, chicken tenders and almost a dozen sides.
Howe's Bayou 22848 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-691-7145; $$: Cajun and Creole food pleases those seeking a bit of Nawlins living. Full bar. Great sweet potato fries and bread pudding.
The Inn Place Bar & Grill 917 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-547-6051; $: This local hangout has a diverse clientele, welcoming staff, friendly patrons and a casual atmosphere. It serves everything from breakfast to a late-night burger.
Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery 311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730; $$: While pub-like in atmosphere, the food is a bit more up-to-date. Expect tofu cracklings, French fries flavored with rosemary and truffle salt, and a butcher's snack board of cured meats and more. There is no real entrée menu as such. A small list of daily specials are offered, such as broiled walleye and mushroom risotto. The rest of the list consists of salads, sandwiches and pizza. Children are considered with an entire section of their own. And, of course, there is the beer. Diners not yet familiar with Jolly Pumpkin beers might want to ease into the experience with something tamer, such as North Peak Amber Ale.
Lucy's Tavern on the Hill 115 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe; 313-640-2020; $$: This place is known in its lakeside neighborhood for burgers. Also offering local fish dishes and other tavern fare amid warm, comfortable surroundings. Their kitchen has a reputation for using only the freshest ingredients, emphasizing the highest quality. All the dishes are interesting, the beer menu is extensive, and it has a patio for warm days.
M&M Cafe 13714 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, 313-581-5775; $: Tender loving care, dished up along with great food, and served in spacious and attractive digs. The menu is mostly American with a few Lebanese dishes: hamburgers, chef salad and turkey sandwiches, kafta, hommous and laban. The grilled shrimp is divine; just as good is a garlicky, buttery lemon chicken topped with thinly sliced mushrooms and served with rice pilaf.
Mr. B's Food & Spirits 423 Main St., Rochester; 248-651-6534; see mrbsrochester.com for more locations; $$: Established in 1977, the Mr. B's mini-empire provides quality food, a comfortable atmosphere and service that pleases, whether you're there for the game or a dinner banquet.
Muldoon's 7636 Auburn Rd., Utica; 586-739-6946; 3982 W. Auburn Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-852-2707; $: Local tavern with good, reasonable prices on food and drink, and a menu that encompasses not just appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, but Mexican too, even offering "sizzling fajitas." Live entertainment Wednesday through Saturday.
O'Mara's 2555 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-399-6750; omaras.net; $$: Irish restaurant and bar with entertainment that ranges from jazz to traditional Irish sounds. Menu includes plenty of protein, including filet mignon, New York strip, mixed grill, barbecued spare ribs and more.
Parrot Cove Yacht Club 33475 Dequindre Rd., Troy; 248-585-6080; $$: Solid bar food in a raffish but homey clubhouse. This Floribbean-themed bar and grill serves a Cove Platter that, at $8.50, is a steal. Relax with a cold one while selecting from among the menu's inexpensive comfort food.
Pasquale's 31555 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-4002; $$: Try "Brown's special," and it's loaded with cheese, pepperoni, bacon, ham, onions, green peppers, green and black olives, and mushrooms, $13 for a small, $16 for a medium and $21 for a large.
Poole's Tavern 157 E. Main St., Northville; 248-349-1715; $: A tavern since the early 1900s, now it's an updated, fun bar and grille, serving baby-back ribs and inventive daily specials.
Rosie O'Grady's 279 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-591-9163; more locations at rosieogradysirishpub.com: Irish pub's new digs on Nine Mile Road are better than ever. They have quality food, lots of beer choices, a full bar, games and more.
Sherwood Brewing Co. 45689 Hayes Rd., Shelby Twp.; 586-532-9669; $: A microbrewery with a full menu of ambitious burgers, pizzas and more, their midday lunch-and-pint specials (11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday) look like a good deal.
Uptown Grille 3100 E. West Maple, Commerce Twp.; 248-960-3344; $$: When you come in, you'll see the café that opens at 6 a.m. where they sell wine and beer, as well as drinks and casual food. After 11 a.m., they open the restaurant, with wine, beer, a full menu of burgers sandwiches and pastas, as well as steaks, fish and desserts.
Woodward Avenue Brewers 22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696; $: Dubbed, "a neighborhood bar with lots of style," the top floor has huge windows overlooking Woodward Avenue. Downstairs has a sidewalk café and lounge with a view of the brewhouse.
Atlas Global Bistro 3111 Woodward Ave., 313-831-2241; $$$: Voted by our readers as the best affordably expensive restaurant (under $50 per diner), Atlas has the vibe of a hip city eatery thanks to its striking interiors, knowledgeable service and international cuisine. In Atlas' quirky kitchen, ingredients don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin, and the fusion fare can be at once exotic and down-home, mixing it up with lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, caviar and black-eyed peas.
Beverly Hills Grill 31471 Southfield Rd., Beverly Hills; 248-642-2355; $$: For Sunday brunch, be prepared to wait at the bar for as long as a mimosa or two. But once you get your seat, you can choose from a half-dozen scrambles, omelets and frittatas, from the humble vegetable scramble (mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes, spinach and garlic-herb chèvre; can be made with egg whites) to the lobster Cobb omelet (smoked bacon, avocado, tomato, onion and blue cheese). Entering its fourth decade, here's one spot that has weathered more than one recession.
The Breakfast Club 30600 John R, Madison Heights; 248-307-9090; 38467 W. 10 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-473-0714; $: This eatery is proud of its specialty breakfasts, such as crab cakes Florentine or a crab-asparagus omelet with Hollandaise. A vegetarian omelet made with Egg Beaters or egg whites, smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese, as well as about a half-dozen others. They also serve a chocolate-covered strawberry with every check.
Cafe Muse 418 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-544-4749; $: You won't find "omelets" on the menu, as the kitchen has chosen to serve scrambled eggs instead. The "exotic mushroom scramble" is rich with truffle oil and a bit of Boursin cheese, topped with shredded basil, which also goes well with the sweet potato side dish. Another scramble choice incorporates ammoglio, a mortar-and-pestle pounding of garlic, basil, peppercorns and tomatoes.
Cafe Zola 112 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-769-2020; $$$: A bistro in the European tradition: a place for gathering, eating and enjoying coffee, espresso, hand-selected teas, and sweet and savory crepes made fresh, one at a time, and served hot and delicious. Or you can enjoy organic egg omelets, luscious house-made biscotti, Belgian waffles, market-fresh salads and sandwiches, and Turkish-inspired specialties. In true European style, there is outdoor seating on the sidewalk.
Club Bart 22728 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-8746; $: Some may be more familiar with the night-time music, but every morning, this bar and grill serves up breakfasts, opening at 9 a.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. weekends. The weekday breakfasts include popular omelets and oatmeal pancakes, but the weekend breakfast choices can get more interesting, including French toast, biscuits and gravy, eggs Benedict, quiches, at least one Mexican-inspired special, and lots of sweet things.
Delmar Family Restaurant 1307 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak; 248-543-2773; $: Most of the omelets are less than $6, and they're all classics. You have your spinach omelet, your mushroom omelet, your ham-and-cheese. But the choices get grander from there. There's the "meat-lover's," with bacon, ham, sausage and cheese. There's the Southern, with green pepper, onion and sausage with country gravy on top. But, for $6.25, you can have the Delmar omelet, which has it all: ham, cheese, onion, tomatoes, green peppers, even potatoes rolled up in there.
The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202; $$: Breakfast is served exclusively Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m.-2 p.m. One way to start the day right is with a plate of the Emory's huevos rancheros: two crispy corn tortillas layered with black bean spread, a generous dose of sautéed peppers and onions, eggs sunny-side-up and topped with melted cheddar. On the side are potatoes, baked and then flash-fried crispy on the outside and sprinkled with large chunks of onion and pepper. The other side of the plate is reserved for avocado slices and mandarin orange wedges.
The Fly Trap 22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150; $: Chef Gaven McMillian and his partners — wife Kara McMillian and her bro Sean McClanaghan — bought the tiny space that's been home to a diner since 1932. At first, they considered going high-end, but decided to go for a diner. "We're definitely thankful about that now," Kara says. Gaven, a longtime chef formerly at now-defunct Fiddleheads, concocts diner food with a fine-dining finish. "You can't go wrong with that for $8.95," Kara points out. The little diner that could marked five years on the block last December.
Frittata 236 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-280-2552; $: Named after a type of omelet, Frittata has creative dishes without the smokers or fried food odors. Their knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff serves frittatas that are off the hook. The roasted wild mushroom frittata is a blend of wild mushrooms with fresh herbs, Gouda cheese and pancetta (Italian bacon) baked in a herb frittata. Every dish here looks camera-ready, and the frittatas are all $7 or $8, though the build-your-own starts at $5. It's usually not hard to get in weekdays, but on weekends calling ahead for seating is advised. Weather permitting, the outdoor patio is open for folks with pets, and sometimes a DJ will spin light jazz on a Sunday morning.
Gest Omelettes 39560 W. 14 Mile Rd., Commerce Twp.; 248-926-0717; $: Order the "World War I" plate and get corned beef hash, two eggs and toast for $6.85. Or, for a mere $6.30 you can have a go at the "World War II" plate, with creamed, seasoned ground beef and mushrooms over hash browns, two eggs, two strips of bacon and toast. There's even a "Mexican Revolution" plate for $6.55! Remember: All's fair in love and war.
Harvard Grill 16624 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-882-9090; $: You can create your own omelet here, piling items on until you've created a 2,000-calorie breakfast bomb. Or, you can choose from the usual omelets. One interesting choice is the Irish omelet, with corned beef (natch), green pepper, onion and Swiss cheese. All omelets come with hash browns and toast.
Heavenly Chicken & Waffles 17117 W. Nine Mile Rd., Southfield; 313-429-7199; $: It is exactly what it sounds like: A place serving chicken, waffles and various combinations thereof. Waffles really are better with Amish wings and tiger shrimp.
Louie's Ham & Corned Beef 3570 Riopelle, Detroit; 313-831-1800; $: This boxy, newish diner on Mack and Orleans (near Eastern Market) has a giant pig on its sign. With a hog as a mascot, it's hardly a surprise they have a lot of pork on the menu. And you'll pay full freight for that pastrami on rye or Canadian bacon. But the breakfasts are a little cheaper. Another bonus: a drive-through window.
Original Pancake House 33703 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-642-5775; $: The quintessential breakfast, served all day, with the titular pancake still supreme and the omelets a close second. Do not confuse this with chain pancake houses. This one makes everything from scratch, and adheres to truth-in-menu honesty. No mixes or ersatz ingredients: real cream, real butter, real maple syrup. Often a wait, but worth it.
Pronto! Royal Oak 608 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-544-7900; $: Technically, it's more than just a "breakfast" place, but if you want to avoid the pricey, overcrowded Main Street restaurants, go to Pronto. Brightly colored walls, a lively feel, a creative and fun sandwich menu and sidewalk seating in the summertime.
Russell Street Deli 2465 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2900; $: This chattery Eastern Market deli serves breakfast and lunch six days a week to a loyal crowd. The customers are happy because they're eating really good food, and there's something about sharing tables with who-knows-whom that brings out the best in people. Both breakfast and lunch menus offer original combinations of fresh ingredients that make the best veggie sammies to ever set you salivating.
Toast and Toast Birmingham 23144 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-398-0444; 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278; $$: In Ferndale, it's difficult to make a poor choice when ordering at Toast. The Grand Marnier French toast pairs vanilla-soaked challa bread with toasted almonds and other ingredients perfectly, and the more-than-filling granola banana cakes are made to explode stomachs — in a good way. And the Birmingham spinoff serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." The hostess station is an old white Detroit Liner stove, a 1940s model with legs and drawers. Serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week, with a menu almost like Ferndale's served till 4 p.m.
Al-Ajami 14633 W. Warren, Dearborn; 313-846-9330; $: Al-Ajami is comparable to a slew of other Middle Eastern restaurants, but it's definitely less expensive. Chef and co-owner Stephan Ajami offers 15 seafood dishes. Also good are the chicken lemon, which combines grilled chicken and pilaf with vegetables doused in lemon butter, a terrific chicken rice soup and a good lentil soup. Servings are enormous.
Al-Ameer 12710 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn, 313-582-8185; 27346 Ford Rd., Dearborn Heights; 313-565-9600; $$: Owner Khalil Ameer says with pride that his Lebanese fare isn't Americanized factory food. He has labored to stay true to the Lebanese table, offering fresh bread, serving no pork or liquor, and preparing food that's not overwhelmed by spices and herbs. Instead of simply ordering a vegetarian platter, diners may choose among vegetarian grape leaves, tomato kibbee, green bean stew, eggplant stew, a "veggie galaba" of rice, mushrooms, carrots, green peppers — and, if you must have it, they'll add more spice.
Anita's Kitchen 110 W. Maple, Troy; 248-362-0680; $; 22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; $$: Though it started in Troy as a crowded lunch spot for cubicle workers, this friendly café has branched out into a more serious dining crowd with a second location in Ferndale, on Woodward south of Nine Mile Road at the former home of the Frostbite ice cream parlor. In warm weather, a large, covered outdoor dining area allows outside dining. The bar serves beer, wine, juice and smoothies. For the harder stuff, examine the small but diverse wine selection and three Michigan craft brews. Salads and veggie-intensive appetizers fill a good portion of the menu. There are even a few unique pita pizzas. As with most Mediterranean cuisines, Lebanese is considered to be a very balanced, healthy diet.
Beirut Kabob 5827 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-2100; $: Ray Ahmad and brother Mike are serving fine versions of familiar favorites — the menu is short but covers the usual bases — at prices well cheaper than those of the Lebanese restaurants a few miles away in Dearborn. The highest priced entrée is $12, and that will get you three skewers of meat plus your rice, pickles and salad. Most entrées are $6 or $7 — for dishes that cost $12-$15 at other places. Sandwiches run $3.25-$3.99.
Beirut Palace 105 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-399-4600; 2095 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-795-0424; $; The Royal Oak location is situated just across the street from the Main Art Theatre and makes a great start to a night at the movies, particularly on warm nights. (They take in their chairs Oct. 15.) And while we certainly would never suggest patrons smuggle food into the show, shawarma is definitely easier to pick out of teeth than popcorn. At Beirut, they make all their own bread — definitely a plus in an industry where prepacked, hard-to-chew pitas abound.
Byblos Cafe & Grill 87 W. Palmer St., Detroit; 313-831-4420; $; Located near Wayne State University, Byblos offers a Lebanese- and Middle Eastern-inspired menu featuring more than 90 dishes. The servers are friendly and helpful, making this an excellent place for those eager to dip their toes into a larger culinary world. While their juices and Lebanese dishes are quite good, they also offer more run-of-the-mill fare like quesadillas, fettucine Alfredo and grape Crush.
Cedarland Restaurant 13007 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-4849; $$: When the three brothers who own Cedarland converted the large bank building on the corner of Warren and Hartwell into a restaurant, they retained the drive-through window for quick orders. Whether eating in or taking out, the baba is creamy, with a roasted, earthy aroma and just the right bite. You can order it as an appetizer or a side dish.
Elie's Mediterranean Cuisine 263 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-647-2420; $$$: This popular Middle Eastern place up the street from Toast in Birmingham has a full menu of smoothies, pita roll-ups, and entrées such as warak malfouf, warak enab and Moroccan-spiced swordfish.
Mezza Mediterranean Grille with locations in Orchard Lake, Southfield, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak; see mezzagrille.com; $$: A new entry into the Middle Eastern mini-chain category, Mezza has all the usual classics at bargain prices, and with larger than usual servings. Looks like you can throw a rock and hit the nearest location too.
Mr. Kabob 3372 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley; 248-545-4000; $: There was a time not long ago when you stopped at a service station for gas and maybe a candy bar. Although most now have morphed into convenience stores offering sandwiches, donuts and slurpies, few if any flaunt the restaurant-quality cuisine turned out at Mr. Kabob, located inside a Sunoco station at the corner of 12 Mile and Coolidge. Most popular is the chicken kebab dinner, with your choice of rice or fries and soup or salad for $10.95.
Phoenicia Restaurant 588 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-3122; $$$: Proprietor Sameer Eid has been serving meticulously prepared Middle Eastern food since 1970. He knows his way around the kitchen, and gives a more sophisticated spin to the well-known litany of shish kebab, shish kafta, baked kibbee and lamb chops. Seafood is a specialty, including whitefish, Dover sole, grilled salmon, and a fish long known in the Mediterranean but relatively new to the American table: bronzini.
Pita Café 25282 Greenfield Rd., Oak Park; 248-968-2225; $$: It's a busy place underneath the pretend grape arbor, because both the familiar (baba, the popular chicken shawarma, roasted vegetables) and the less so (arayis, ghallaba) are excellent. In business since the early 1990s, Pita Café has since expanded into Birmingham and Novi.
Steve's Back Room 19872 Kelly Rd., Harper Woods; 313-527-5047; 24935 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores; 586-774-4545; $$: An east side institution since 1988, the eatery behind the swinging saloon doors of a grocery in Harper Woods is still open for lunch, but owner Steve Kalil has moved the main operation to the booming "Nautical Mile" of St. Clair Shores. The house specials feature what is best about Middle Eastern food: the sprightly flavors of lemon, garlic, parsley and olive oil, vegetables used in inventive ways, meat as a minor player.
Yossi's Israeli Cuisine 7325 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-626-0160; $$: At Yossi's, much of the menu is similar to what you might find in an Arabic restaurant — kebabs, hummus, shwarma, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, fattoush — but with differences that are both subtle and substantial. Dishes with the same names may be seasoned differently or prepared differently. Israeli cuisine also incorporates influences from Morocco, with its emphasis on spices and slow cooking. All appetizers are vegetarian, as are four entrées.
Upscale & Romantic
24grille 204 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-964-3821; $$: Though it shares the Book-Cadillac hotel with the open and airy Roast, stepping through the wooden double doors of 24grille means entering its darker, sexier sister. This urban oasis is decked out in leather and wood tones of beige and brown, a more intimate setting sporting a designer's touch, with cushioned stools and benches and wine glasses frosted with the restaurant's logo, all set off with low-key lighting from creative fixtures.
Antonio's in the Park 15117 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park; 313-821-2433; $$: This romantic little Italian restaurant has all the Old World charm of a courtyard café in Rome. The menu has handmade pastas, thick and rich soups and to-die-for specials. The atmosphere, suggested by candlelight and colorful tapestries, is so relaxing that slow service would seem like a gift.
Assaggi 330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3499; $$$: Assaggi's Mediterranean dishes include wood-fired pizza, antipasti, sea bass and sea scallops with hand-rolled pasta. A full wine list and a full bar are available to accompany your lunch or dinner. Known for its seasonal dishes, you can always be sure the menu will incorporate what's in season. Half-entrée orders offer a slightly more inexpensive meal, but with all the flavor intact.
Big Fish Seafood 700 Town Center, Dearborn; 313-336-6350; $$: A Chuck Muer Restaurant, Big Fish responds to the need for "high quality, moderately priced, casual seafood." It has two open dining rooms, an outdoor patio and what may be the largest cocktail bar in town.
Café Felix 204 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, 734-662-8650; $$: Authentic European-style café, serving pastries, breads and cakes baked fresh on-site, as well as European wines, beers and liquors. They serve a full breakfast, omelets, crepes, soups, salads and tapas. No smoking. Handicap accessible.
Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543; $$: Stepping into the newly restored art deco live jazz bar is to arrive in another era. With everything from a standard fillet of beef tenderloin to cassoulet, the French-inspired eclectic food menu speaks for itself. Try the duck confit on a buttermilk biscuit with cranberry jam for a small plate reduction of Thanksgiving dinner. Hedonists will go for a chunk of tender braised pork belly that comes plated with a rich, spicy sweet cider sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and a pinch of cracklings for good measure.
Coach Insignia 200 Renaissance Center, 71st and 72nd floors, Detroit; 313-567-2622; $$$: This eclectic chophouse is the United States' second-highest restaurant and is located at the top of the GM Global Renaissance Center. Coach Insignia features incomparable food, great service and a world-class wine list to accompany a panoramic view. Handicap accessible; dress code: no jeans.
Cuisine 670 Lothrop St., Detroit; 313-872-5110; $$: Housed in an original Detroit dwelling, walking up into the anteroom of the former home takes you into an intimate experience, where early 20th century parlors, paneled with wood and stucco, have been turned into dining areas. Grosz's reputation for chatting with diners means the kitchen knows better what to do.
Detroit Fish Market 1435 Randolph St., 313-963-3003; $$: The newest addition to the Frank Taylor dining empire fills a gap left by Joe Muer's departure from the downtown dining scene, an eatery specializing in the fruit of the sea. And it's a doozy of a location, set in old Harmonie Park, one of the last remaining oases of Augustus Woodward's 1806 city plan. Retooled and remodeled as an urban upscale eatery trading off the fame of Paradise Valley, the wood-paneled interior is decorated with fanciful murals depicting the creatures of the sea.
The Fondue Room 82 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens; 586-463-8568; $$$: Here private cozy booths provide the ultimate romantic secluded atmosphere — and dipping succulent strawberries in rich Swiss chocolate ain't all bad either! Serving a wide array of savory dishes, desserts and wines, the Fondue Room also educates its servers to act as skilled fondue trainers — to ensure your fondue doesn't end up a "fon-don't."
Giovanni's 330 S. Oakwood Blvd., Detroit, 313-841-0122; $$: Giovanni's could get your date wondering why you're driving toward the Rouge Complex. But, once you get inside, all will be clear: The stunning old spot brims with carved woodwork in the dining room and stainless steel in the kitchen. The restaurant's different rooms are adorned with family photos and heirlooms. And all the restaurant's pastas are homemade by 84-year-old Irma Morri and her staff, including the light angel hair linguine and gnocci. Everything is made to order, and nothing is ever kept in a steam table or on a shelf.
Grape Expectations Wine Bar and Merchant 555 Forest Ave., Plymouth; 734-455-9463; $$: Stocks more than 100 bottles, 50 of them for sale by the glass, and serves Italian- and Spanish-influenced small plates designed by chef Nina Scott. The choices range from fresh and chunky gazpacho to the "Cutting Board," an assortment of meats, olives, roasted peppers and cheeses.
Iridescence 2901 Grand River Ave., inside the Motor City Casino, Detroit; 877-777-0711; 313-237-6732; $$: High atop the hotel tower, Iridescence has a winning team that has given it quite a buzz. Last year they welcomed new chef de cuisine, Derik Watson, who used to work with Iridescence's executive chef Don Yamauchi at Tribute in Farmington Hills. And the entrées are intense, running a very high gamut from grilled Kobe strip steak to roasted swordfish to sautéed Asian sea bass. Unusual city views from just outside downtown Detroit.
The Melting Pot 888 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-362-2221; 26425 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-347-6358; 309 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-622-0055; $$$: A new way of dining mixed with an old favorite, The Melting Pot brings back the fun of fondue. Dipping an assortment of breads, vegetables and apples in your choice of cheese fondue allows you to dictate your desired taste. The dining experience can get a bit pricey but the dessert makes it worth it.
Mon Jin Lau 1515 E. Maple, Troy; 248-689-2332; $$$; Sophisticated but casual chic Asian-Deco decor. New Asian cuisine, combining the taste of Asia with preparations artfully presented. Great ambience for gourmet Chinese food, with a lively bar for drinks or sushi, as well as cool music and lighting. The Chinese stuffed eggplant is an appetizer big enough for two. Lunch Monday through Friday; dinner seven nights including late night dining.
Mosaic 501 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-9366; $$: When Greektown goes global, prepare to be dazzled. And it's not all porcini-mushroom-dusted scallops with Asiago potato croquettes, spinach confit, tomatoes and white truffle oil. The feast is as much for the eyes as the mouth at Mosaic, and all of it is drawn from a hip new generation.
Oak City Grill 212 W. Sixth St., Royal Oak; 248-556-0947; $$$: Menu spills over with filet mignon, peppercorn sirloin and pecan-encrusted trout at reasonable prices. On warm nights, the front opens up to add an al fresco feeling. Quality service, live music most nights.
Opus One 565 E. Larned St., Detroit; 313-961-7766; $$: When Tim Kokas opened Opus One in 1987, plenty of observers scoffed that a four-star restaurant tucked away on Larned Street wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't fly. But Kokas was no stranger to the business, as his family ran the long-lost Chambertin restaurant in Dearborn. But unlike his parents' suburban establishment, he felt that an upscale, luxurious eatery would be a smart gamble. For 22 years, he's been proving the doubters wrong.
Oxford Inn 1214 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-543-5619; $$: A cozy English pub-type atmosphere featuring baby back ribs, an oyster bar and fresh fish. A Royal Oak fixture for years.
Quattro Cucina Italiana 203 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-593-6060; $$$: Quattro Cucina, the new high-end Italian place in Birmingham, aims to create the feeling of old-fashioned service. The place is crawling with attentive staff, and it has been redone with high, curved banquettes in neutral tones, nothing to arrest the eye except some elaborate chandeliers. The food is wonderful. Wine by the glass ranges from $10 to $14. Desserts are mostly Italian. Quattro Cucina is open for lunch and dinner during the week and for dinner on weekends.
Rattlesnake Club 300 River Place Dr., Detroit; 313-567-4400; $$$: There's a reason this place has been selected by our critics year after year as the Best River View: Lots of other spots have pleasant water views, but none can match the fine-dining experience of the Rattlesnake Club. For decades, Jimmy Schmidt, the respected doyen of local chefs, has presided over one of the most creative kitchens in town. The settings are just as elegant as the decoration. One newer addition is the outdoor pergola, with a shaded, garden feel.
Roast 1128 Washington Ave., Detroit; 313-442-1600; $$: After a $200 million renovation, the freshly scrubbed, historic facade of the Book-Cadillac contains this up-to-the-minute establishment. Unlike the 1920s flourishes on the hotel, Michael Symon's Roast is decked out in modern style. But it's a laid-back sort of elegance, relatively minimalist, with slabs of marble, granite and tile, leather-padded columns and sharkskin-style tile mosaics. The kitchen does the meat right, aging everything at least 21 days, and lavishing just as much attention on poultry.
SaltWater 1777 Third St., inside the MGM Grand Casino, Detroit; 877-888-2121; $$: When it comes to beyond-the-pale interior decorating, Michael Mina's opulent seafood restaurant is the catch of the day. Though the surf they serve will tickle your sea-tooth, the elegant space celebrates all things aquatic with equal creativity. The wow-factor is in the way they work the motif of water into every conceivable surface. It's in the cobalt-blue accents at the bar or on the great folding doors to the private dining rooms. And the menu is equally dazzling.
Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro 151/155 S. Bates St., Birmingham; 248-731-7066; $$: It's hard to believe that, in Birmingham, sale of alcohol by the glass was forbidden until as late as 1972, a holdover from Prohibition that left the city high and dry for 56 years. Especially when you look at a business like the exciting new Tallulah Wine Bar. Expect a full line of wines from around the world, complemented by "clean food." They promise to serve Michigan products, including farm-raised meats and organic produce, using only the freshest ingredients possible to serve a "new American" cuisine, simply prepared, light and not overcooked.
Town Tavern 116 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-544-7300; $$: Elegant (mohair booths, bentwood chairs) 21st century bistro. Grazers can easily make a hearty meal of the "bar-plate" appetizers. Bustling, noisy, with a train passing through Royal Oak a block away now and then.
The Whitney 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700; $$: Detroit's showplace mansion restaurant, the Whitney used to cater to an older, chamber-music-loving crowd, but it has now made a bid for more casual, younger diners, with happy hours (Tuesday-Friday), shuttle services, DJs, live music, casual garden menus and patio parties, and its quirky Ghost Bar, trading off the building's haunted reputation. And the menu seems just as ambitious as the building, offering entrée choices including pork, salmon, duck, chicken, lamb, risotto, sea scallops, rib-eye and cioppino.
Wolfgang Puck Grille 1777 Third St., inside the MGM Grand Casino, Detroit; 877-888-2121; $$: Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's restaurant is fairly restrained by casino standards, open and spacious, with the usual gazillion accent lights playing upon its surfaces. You can see the fire flash in the kitchen, visible through windows, as the chefs prepare the innovative, seasonal, organic cuisine Puck has helped popularize. But if you'd rather get away from the bells and whistles (and the subdued chiming of the casino floor), the partitioned dining booths offer a bit more seclusion.
Surf & Turf
The Capital Grille in Somerset Collection North2800 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-649-5300; $$$: This upscale chain does it all, dry-aging its own steaks, cultivating a rich, club-like atmosphere, and serving excellent steaks. You'll pay a pretty penny for it all, around $2 an ounce and up for the main steaks, but, after a day of shopping at the exclusive Somerset Collection, what could top it off better than a porcini-rubbed Delmonico steak, with 12-year-aged balsamic reduction? Totes.
City Kitchen 16844 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe; 313-882-6667; $$$: Just about everything at City Kitchen merits praise. One might quibble a bit about the price of the appetizers, but not their quality. The individual pizzas, baked in a wood-fired oven, are well worth a try, as are the generously proportioned mains, most of which are priced in the low 20s. Salmon, shrimp, perch, swordfish, and fish and chips, most of which are served with creative pairings of vegetables and starch, are among other maritime offerings.
D'Amato's 222 S. Sherman Dr., Royal Oak; 248-584-7400; $$: Neighborhood Italian joint has eclectic and "from scratch" fare. Plenty of beef, chicken and seafood entrées, and 30 glasses and 60 bottles of wine to wash it down. The attached martini bar also has excellent specialty cocktails.
Flood's Bar & Grille 731 St. Antoine St., Detroit; 313-963-1090; $$: You can tell by the bottlenecked line of glimmering Jags, Beemers, Mercedes and SUVs lined up for valet parking that this is a nightspot where the Motor City's elite come to meet. The food's OK, but that ain't the point; it's the tailored clientele and top-shelf booze that really sets Flood's apart.
Gaucho Brazilian Steak House 39550 W. Seven Mile Rd., Northville; 248-380-7770; $$: The rooms gleam with Brazilian cherry wood and the brilliant white gaucho shirts of the staff at this authentic Rodizio restaurant owned and operated by Brazilians. Eliane Carvalho Coelho Turner and her partner, Neto Fernandez, have brought a real touch of Rio to the free-standing building. It is a fixed price system where an array of 15 different cuts of fire-roasted meats, from filet mignon to lamb chops, are brought to the tables on long skewers, one after the other, until diners call a halt.
The Hill Seafood & Chop House 123 Kercheval St., Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-886-8101; $$: Many of the Hill's "signature dishes" cater to a Reagan-era notion of good eating — surf and turf, lots of blue cheese and bacon in the house salad. Seafood is a strong point: The swordfish is tall and terrific and the calamari appetizer is out of the ordinary. Desserts are quintessentially American: The molten lava cake has a luscious liquid chocolate center. The steaks are the usual cuts — filet mignon, New York strip (prime) and porterhouse — and all are certified Angus beef, char-grilled and prepared to spec. And the preparations aren't just mash and veg anymore, chef de cuisine Matt Couri says they've stepped up their game a great deal.
Katana Nu-Asian Steakhouse 111 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-591-9900; $$: Katana offers a spectacular show seven nights a week in the fine art of teppanyaki, or grilling. This is a Japanese restaurant for those who shudder at raw fish; any steak-loving American will find plenty that pleases. Seven stations are on one side of the restaurant, each with a granite counter wrapped around three sides of a hibachi. For this experience, expect to pay as little as $16.25 for chicken or $40 for a seafood combo of fillets, scallops and lobster. As many as 10 people can be seated at each station. On the other side are booths and tables for those who prefer the bistro and sushi menu, now with full entrées in addition to the small plates.
Lily's Seafood 410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459; $$: Stunning interior, friendly service and a kitchen that believes homemade is best, down to the house-made root beer, cream soda and four varieties of house-made beer. And then there's all that great fish!
Mitchell's Fish Market locations in Birmingham and Rochester Hills; see mitchellsfishmarket.com; $$: Mitchell's Fish Market is a member of that new breed of restaurants: the upscale chain. Featuring an ice-filled display case with luscious steaks and bright fillets, the selection of fish varies daily. You choose the fish and its style of preparation.
Moe's on Ten Seafood Grill 39455 W. 10 Mile Rd., Novi; 248-478-9742; $$$: At Moe's, your friends can have the surf, but you still get your turf. For them: lemon sole that's lightly breaded and served with a lemony sauce flavored with dill and scattered with capers. For meat-lovers: a New York strip sautéed with mushrooms, scallions and herb butter, or a filet mignon heaped with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a demi-glace. And Moe's also serves such popular Michigan fish as lake perch and whitefish, for those who want to keep it local.
n Morton's of Chicago 888 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-404-9845; $$$: No cheap steaks are served here. The Morton's chain specializes in serving only the very best quality, aged, prime quality cuts of beef. They're so serious that a presentation cart of raw meat and fish comes to each table so diners may preview their porterhouse, double filet mignon or live lobster before actually ordering it. Everything is big enough to split. Since the menu is a la carte and expensive, it's far from a bad idea.
No. VI Chop House 27000 Sheraton Dr., Novi; 248-305-5210; $$$: As plush a steak and seafood house as can be found in the area, this one offers top-of-the-line fare in a darkly sophisticated setting. All of the meats are prime, from the filet mignon to the veal chop. Expect to plunk down good money for fine meat. Steaks are broiled at 1,700 degrees to sear in flavor. The remodeled bar now has plasma TVs and is cigar-friendly.
Ocean Prime 2915 Coolidge Hwy., Troy; 248-458-0500; $$$: A large selection of prime-quality seafood and steaks, handcrafted cocktails and world-class wines. Feels like a stylishly retro supper club, only with a welcoming, modern, casual vibe.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse 755 W. Big Beaver, Troy; 248-269-8424; $$$: The clubhouse-like dining room has a golf theme, lots of wood and brass, and white linen swathed tables. Steaks, ranging from a small filet mignon to a huge porterhouse (for two), come to the tables on platters sizzling with butter, hinting at the New Orleans origins of the now-international chain of very good steakhouses.
Shiraz 30100 Telegraph, Bingham Farms; 248-645-5289; $$$: Diners will find steaks of one grade only — prime, the most expensive and fattiest — plus beef in other forms, like short ribs, veal chops and calf's liver. You can even get duck, or a "surf and turf" consisting of a 7 oz. fillet and lobster tail. Steaks come with a choice of sauces: port wine veal essence, béarnaise, morel, horseradish cream or Detroit zip. The hearty port sauce complements the flavorful steak perfectly.
Sindbads at the River 100 St. Clair Ave., Detroit; 313-822-8000; $$: There's an emphasis on steaks, chops and especially seafood. Try their fresh-made beer batter. Seafood appetizers include Snug Harbor mussels or Campeche Bay shrimp, and New England clam chowder. Steaks include a 16 oz., certified Angus beef center cut New York strip, a choice 8 oz. center cut filet mignon with zip sauce and the "Coxswain's Striker," a choice 9-ounce Delmonico steak. Or come for cheaper versions at lunchtime.
Streetside Seafood 273 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-645-9123; $$: With just 60 seats and a well-deserved reputation for great fish, this tiny eatery fills up fast every day of the week. Chef Sharon Juergens believes that fish should be simply prepared and well seasoned. The menu seems to travel the world to present the fish in its best light: Gumbo chowder, lobster and shrimp scampi, seafood jambalaya, bouillabaisse. Lots of places serve decent fish, they're not all as fun as Streetside.
Tom's Oyster Bar 318 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-541-1186; more locations at tomsoysterbar.com; $$: Not a lot here in the way of turf, but seafood selections abound. This local mini-chain does it right, from oysters on the half-shell to seafood chowders.
Around the World
Andiamo 129 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-582-9300; more locations in metro Detroit at andiamoitalia.com; $$: No mention of Italian dining in metro Detroit would be complete without including the Andiamo mini-chain. Started about 20 years ago by restaurant entrepreneur Joe Vicari, the organization now has almost a dozen restaurants in the area, with each spot having its own chef to tweak the food to local tastes.
Antonio's Cucina Italiana 26356 Ford Rd., Dearborn Heights; 313-278-6000; 37646 W. 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-994-4000; 2220 N. Canton Center Rd., Canton; 734-981-9800; $$: The menus differ slightly at each location, but you'll find all your favorite old-line Italian classics.
Aladdin Sweets & Cafe 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; $: There is not one dish on Aladdin's menu that surpasses $8.99. In fact, a large mixed fruit shake costs more than any of the appetizers and even a few of the vegetarian entrées that include rice or naan. On the whole, prices hardly surpass what you'll pay for a meal at a national drive-through chain. The variety is amazing and the most expensive dish is $5.99.
Bastone 419 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6250; $$: Belgian brewpub is unpretentious, quirky and interesting, with fare heavily influenced by Germany and France. Which means excellent pommes frites and mussels.
Bistro 222 22266 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-792-7500; $$: In this intimate room, which seats 60, Michael Chamas serves imaginative Californian-Italian cuisine at reasonable prices. Decorated in subdued shades of eggplant, avocado, Portobello and Chianti accented with dark wooden panels, it's an inviting place for what the menu bills as "a culinary adventure." Much of the fare is assertively spiced. As for dinner, if you are going to pass on pasta for a main, you might consider one or two of the six variations ($11.95-$14.95) for your tablemates to share as an intermediate course, or primi piatti.
Buca di Beppo 12575 Hall Rd., Utica; 586-803-9463; bucadibeppo.com; $$: Thousands of people love this place, a fast-growing chain that attempts to re-create the Southern Italian immigrant experience of the 1950s. The surprising thing is that the food is really good — not to mention cheap. The tiramisu is dense and superior, and the wine list has Chianti in a basket.
Cafe Nini Da Edoardo 98 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-308-3120; $: The Barbieri family is attempting to re-create an Italian café in Grosse Pointe with Café Nini, the latest restaurant to bear the name Da Edoardo. They have Mokarabia coffee, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma and mortadella with pistachios — all that's lacking is a glass of wine to sip with the panini.
Cariera's 6565 Telegraph Rd., Dearborn Heights; 313-278-4060; $$: Charming little Italian restaurant with authentic Italian cuisine. Portions are big enough for two. In two cozy rooms, with bare wooden tables and thick cloth napkins and walls full of family photographs and wine and oil bottles, Cariera's turns out familiar old-fashioned classics.
Crust Pizza & Wine Bar 2595 Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-844-8899; 6622 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Plaza, Bloomfield Township; 248-855-5855; $$: The flavors at Crust are a revelation — not to mention the wines chosen to go along with them. Lots of people pick up a pizza after work, and maybe a six-pack. For not a lot more money, you can have more fun at Crust, where the "Naples classics" attest to the Neapolitan way of thinking.
Dick O'Dow's Irish Public House 160 W. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-642-1135; $$: A popular, unpretentious watering hole, this dimly lit pub has an expansive menu, with such bar food as pizza, burgers, sliders, wings, ribs, mac 'n' cheese, ahi tuna and the like. Among the "Irish Classics" ($11.99-$15.99) are boxty, a unique dish whose foundation consists of two thick, slightly charred potato pancakes. Guinness-battered cod and chips come with an admirable creamy coleslaw.
Gim Ling Restaurant 31402 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-296-0070; $$: Gim Ling has served dine-in and carryout at the same St. Clair Shores strip mall location for decades. Only relatively recently has it been transformed into a "Modern Asian restaurant." In this case, the term "modern" mostly serves as a stand-in for "better."
Giulio's Cucina Italiana 31735 Plymouth Rd., Livonia; 734-427-9500; $$: The pizza is great, at least the "al pesto" variety. In fact, if you're seeking a good pizza pie, the fare here is much tastier than hitting the local chain, and far cheaper. Giulio's also offers four veal dishes — the usual three (Marsala, piccata, saltimbocca) plus a braised veal roast.
Inyo 22871 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-543-9500; $$: With a wide-ranging menu, striking presentations and quality cocktails, Inyo has sparked a buzz in Ferndale's dining scene. The dishes have not just flavor, but pleasing texture contrasts within a dish. Take the cold appetizer maguro yookwhe: Strips of raw, lean tuna are deepened by a quail-egg topping and served with crunchy sliced Asian pear and a spicy dipping sauce. Excellent specialty cocktails.
Jamaican Jerk Pit 314 S. Thayer St.,
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
It was its setting that separated the original Bioshock from other first-person shooters. The undersea dystopia of Rapture was spooky, unpredictable and, most importantly, new. Problem is, you can never go back somewhere for the first time, so Bioshock 2 has its work cut out.
This time, you play as a prototype Big Daddy (a large, armored monster thing for those unfamiliar), who has awoken a decade after the events of the first game. You'll discover that Rapture has completely gone to hell, but your only concern is reuniting with Eleanor, the little sister to whom you've bonded. Catch is, Eleanor is the daughter of Sophia Lamb, the current head of state. Not keen to lose control of her daughter, she'll send a new enemy, the Big Sister, along with the rest of the city, to make sure you don't succeed. En route you'll find allies who'll assist you while you do your Big Daddy thing, which sees you adopting other little sisters — and defending them — as they collect "Adam," the life-force juice of Rapture, and the source of your amazing plasmid attack abilities. (Adam is extracted with a giant needle-like thing from bellies of people.)
Boasting a wide variety of weapons, and the special "plasmid" attacks, surviving requires a different mind-set than most first-person shooters. You'll soon find that a run-and-gun approach doesn't work and you must use Rapture itself to your advantage by setting traps and using a combination of plasmids and the environment to beat back waves of enemies. Many upgrades — including the surprisingly solid online multiplayer option — allow you to customize your character to your strengths, which leads to an intriguing romp against your very formidable foes.
The original Bioshock was acclaimed for its groundbreaking storytelling and atmosphere. While the sequel doesn't quite have that effect, it does improve on its predecessor in almost every other way. Coming home can be hard, but 2K Games succeeds.
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
There's a reason why most schools don't allow Wikipedia as a reference tool for reports. The fact anyone can edit an entry leaves Wiki open to ugly historical errors. In a way, Dante's Inferno is the same way. EA and Visceral Studio's interpretation of Dante's journey down the circles of hell has very little in common with the Divine Comedy's first chapters.
The revised storyline goes like this: Dante is a crusader, tasked with liberating the holy land from the forces of Saladin. While he's good at what he does, all he wants to do is go home to his beloved Beatrice. Unfortunately, usually pious Beatrice has made a deal with a demon and when it comes collection time, Dante, with the poet Virgil as his guide, follows her into the depths of hell to get her back.
Along the way, Dante encounters characters from the original poem, such as the aforementioned Saladin, King Minos and Cleopatra. That's close to the source material, right? Well Dante didn't do battle with Cleopatra while demon spawn erupted from her boobs in the poem, did he? Gameplay controls will feel very familiar to vets of the God of War series. In fact, while the developers took liberty with the storyline's source material, they did not do so with the GOW-like gameplay. It's almost exactly the same, down to the heavy use of quick-time events. So the gameplay is fast paced, the controls tight — it's only the beast-riding that feels awkward.
Despite its faults, Inferno has a lot in its favor. Depicted in all its glory, hell is well ... hell. With each ring designed to correspond with its cardinal sin, a walk through this garden ain't pretty. Overall, you've got an accurate portrayal of what God of War would be like in Christian hell, and an F on your paper if you try to use the game's storyline in a book report.
Q: My husband and I have been married for one year, but we had been dating for 10 years before that. I thought we had a very understanding relationship. In the last couple of days, I have found out that he has a serious obsession with females wearing running shoes. He had in the past hinted at the fact that it turns him on, but I had no idea the scope of this obsession. I've discovered that he spends a large number of hours a week devoted to this fetish. He was sloppy in covering his tracks one day, and I found evidence on his computer.
I should also mention that when he told me he thought running shoes are hot, I thought he meant on me, not on all living and breathing females.
I believed that he could trust me enough to be open with me, but he has been hiding this from me for 11 years! I am still in shock and not quite sure how to deal with it. He obviously feels ashamed, otherwise he would have told me years ago. Why did he not bring this up before we got married? I had a right to know what I was getting into. I don't know if I can live with knowing that he gets a hard-on for every running-shoe-wearing woman who goes by. I feel betrayed and creeped-out. He says that he didn't want to hurt me, but he has done just that. I feel physically sick to my stomach knowing that I didn't really know who he was all this time. We still have to work it out and really talk about our new situation. But I am beginning to think our marriage isn't going to survive this. Am I being too sensitive? How can I fix my marriage? —Dumbfounded In Brooklyn
A: Does your husband like your tits only, DIB, or can he get a hard-on for every tits-wearing woman who goes by? Does he like your pussy only, DIB, or can he get a hard-on for every pussy-having woman who goes by?
If your marriage can survive the husband being attracted to tits and pussy generally, DIB, but attracted to your tits and pussy particularly, your marriage should be able to survive the awareness that your husband is into women in running shoes generally but into you in running shoes particularly.
Why did he keep it from you? Because he was ashamed, DIB, because guys with fetishes are told — hey there, Prudie — that they're disturbed and unlovable, and because no one bothers to inform straight women that fetishes are to male sexuality what lies are to a Fox News broadcast: likelier to be present than not. So he dropped hints but didn't tell you during year one — or year two or three, year four, etc. — because he was afraid you would have the reaction you're having at year 11.
So what do you do now? You forgive him, if you give a shit about your marriage, if you actually ever loved him, and you do a little reading about male sexuality. Daniel Bergner's The Other Side of Desire is a good place to start.
And ladies? If your boyfriend or husband has "hinted at the fact that [something or other] turns him on," you can safely assume that [something or other] really turns him on.
Q: A good friend of mine is engaged to a woman with an extremely low sex drive. He'd like to have sex every day; she barely responds to his touch. I advised him to work up the nerve to suggest an "understanding" or to disengage. If he's this frustrated as a 27-year-old fiance, how is he going to feel after five years in a monogamous marriage? —Concerned Buddy
A: Either your buddy won't be married in five years or he won't be monogamously married. Either way, CB, you spoke up, and that's all a friend is required to do under the circumstances. Now you have to stand back and let your buddy make the biggest mistake of his life.
Q: I assume you've heard of Chatroulette by now. I discovered it about four weeks ago, and I am strangely turned on by all the dudes on there jerking off. I have started to show my tits to some of these dudes because it is such a massive turn-on for me. (Who knew I had this exhibitionist streak in me?). My husband doesn't know about any of this. However, all sexual arousal is redirected his way in the form of really hot, passionate fucking!
I feel bad about not telling my husband. Do you think this is cheating? If you say it is, Dan, I will stop. —Clever Acronym
A: I don't want to call what you're doing — flashing random Chatroulette pervs — cheating, as cheating is such an ugly word, but odds are good that your husband would call it that.
Even so, CA, I'm reluctant to tell you to stop. Spend a few weeks reading my e-mails, and you will come to regard anything — anything at all — that lights a fire under the marital bed as a universal good. So talk to your husband. Tell him that — like everyone else on earth — you "discovered" Chatroulette about four weeks ago. Then tell him you were surprised by 1) just how many dudes are jerking off in front of their computers at any given moment and 2) just how turned on you were by their exhibitionism. Confess that you've been a bit obsessed with the site, add that it's why you've been so horny lately, and then invite him to join you for a session. If he seems into the idea, or gets into it once you're online, sheepishly confess that you've been flashing a little skin yourself.
Then fuck the husband's brains out.
Confidential to Savage lovers: I need to ask you to do something. Not for me, but for a teenage lesbian who lives in a small town. Constance McMillen is a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss. When she asked the school if she could attend prom with her girlfriend, she was told no. When Constance pressed her case, the Itawamba County School Board canceled prom rather than allow Constance to attend with her girlfriend. The school board had to know what would happen next: The other students at Itawamba Agricultural blamed Constance for getting prom canceled and "ruining senior year." Constance is now being harassed and bullied.
The school board claims it canceled prom to avoid "distractions." Now it's up to us — to decent people everywhere — to make sure that bigotry and discrimination are a much bigger distraction for the Itawamba County School District than inclusion and tolerance ever could've been.
E-mail, call and fax Itawamba Schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece (firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 662-862-2159 ext. 14, fax 662-862-4713) and Itawamba Agricultural Principal Trae Wiygul (email@example.com, 662-862-3104). Then join the Facebook page "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom." And, finally, make donations to the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (mssafeschools.org), which is organizing an alternate prom that will welcome all students, and make a larger donation to the ACLU LGBT Project (tinyurl.com/yl9mvkb), which is defending Constance and other gay teenagers across the country.
Call, write, fax, donate. Constance needs to know that there are people all over the world who are on her side. And, more importantly, Itawamba County Schools needs to know that we're not going to let them get away with this. Be respectful, but be relentless. Let's show these bigots what a real distraction looks like. Get 'em.
Emilio Castillo spends about 175 days a year on the road with Tower of Power, a 42-year-old musical institution based in the Bay Area, where Castillo grew up after leaving Detroit as a kid. We caught up with him by phone at an airport, en route to a New Orleans gig where he'd no doubt play "What Is Hip" along with the other Tower classics.
On his early listening in Detroit: I left when I was 11, but I was inspired by music when I was there. My parents were really music lovers, so back in the late '50s and early '60s it was all about the Platters and Bill Doggett and Dinah Washington and stuff like that, Elvis Presley.
On stealing a T-shirt at age 16: Our first try at stealing — me and my brother — we got caught. My father made us go to the store and personally apologize. Then he brought us home, and he gave us a spiral notebook each and he said, "Fill this notebook with the reason why you're never going to steal again as long as you live." We were working on it for a few days and hanging out in our room, and he said, "I want you boys to think of something that's going to keep you off the street, otherwise you're gonna stay in your room for the rest of your life." We were like, "We want to play music." And he said, "Get in the car," and he took us to the store, and he said, "Anything you want." I picked a sax and my brother picked the drums, and life changed. That day, we started a band, that day. We started a band and then we learned how to play.
On his band the Motowns: We got into soul music when I was about 16 years old, and we were kids. My mother was like the manager and she was like, "If you're gonna play soul music, you should call yourselves the Motowns. You're from Detroit." And we were like, "Yeah, OK." But then we wanted to get into the Fillmore. We knew we'd never get into the Fillmore with a name like that, so we changed it. We never did a lot of Motown covers. We did a lot of Chicago soul music, and we did a lot of Memphis soul, and a little bit of James Brown and Dyke and Blazers. We did a lot of New York soul music like Howard Tate and that kind of stuff.
On playing Detroit: In the first half of our career, we would go with acts like Santana or the Temptations or the Crusaders, but people didn't seem to be into us. It kind of seemed like we weren't black enough for the blacks and too black for the whites. When we finally did get over, it was like the promoters didn't believe it so we didn't get offers. But now we're coming to Detroit a lot more. I'm loving it because I got a lot of family there.
On The Great American Soul Book, the band's last record: We've never been on the charts for, like, 30 years, and we were on some sort of Billboard chart for 20 weeks, and we didn't even want to do the record. We didn't want to do a cover record. We thought, we set trends, we don't chase them. Our manager convinced us. We didn't get the guest vocalists right until the end. Then Tom Jones came on board. Huey Lewis said he'd do it. Joss Stone came in. At the last minute, I remembered that Sam (of Sam and Dave) Moore lives in my hometown and I called his wife up, and she is his manager, and she says sure we'll do it. It just fell together.
On not having big hits: I think we hit the lower Top 10 and the high teens a couple, two, three, four times, but we were never a No. 1 seller. In some ways, I look at that as a blessing because it gave our career longevity. You know a lot of these people who ring the bell, they come and they go.
Tower of Power appears Saturday, March 20, at Sound Board at Motor City Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-237-7711.
When I was a kid, I remember my mom taking me to a Wonka-ish shop that sold fake pill bottles filled with candy.
It wasn't the sugary contents that made me decide I had to have one. It was the packaging. After all, who could resist candy "pills" labeled super rich, beautiful and brainy?
I knew they weren't real, but I had a lot of fun pretending they were. Of course, the folks who peddled this junk to kids were about as wise and responsible as the creators of candy cigarettes.
It cost me most of my allowance and gave me cavities, but my earliest experiences as a consumer taught me to recognize and appreciate the charm of product labels.
These days, I like to think I'm older and wiser, though I'm still a sucker for marketing, especially when it comes to fetchingly packaged beauty stuff. With technological advances and stiff competition, the best brands can deliver, believe it or not, with that kick of imagination and savvy marketing backed by heart-beating personality.
Hence up-and-coming companies such as Lush Handmade Cosmetics, whose shower gels sport names like Tramp, Happy 4 Sad, Narcotick, and Sonic Death Monkey. What's not to like?
So are you a decadent diva, demanding voluptuary, eco-conscious fop or energetic self-promoter? Or are you like me, a daydreamer with a soft spot for clever advertising?
While you ponder that, below are suitably labeled body washes, soaps and scrubs that'll leave you all squeaky with that, um, unsoiled feeling.
City Map Soap
City Bird offers City Map Soap. Each bar is handmade here in the Motor City. Glance inside the clear vegan glycerin, and you'll see a fragment of a Detroit street map. Choose from a mosaic of different shapes, colors and scents. The map stays visible till the soap is gone. See ilovecitybird.com or visit their retail shop (460 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9146).
B Electro Shower Gel
Vancouver-based Lush Handmade Cosmetics marked the year its hometown hosted the Winter Olympics by launching a racy limited-edition shower gel. B Electro is infused with grapefruit and tinted neon green to foam away morning grogginess or hangovers; its floral bouquet's rather seductive too. But don't let the flowers fool you. B Electro would rather be the first to cross the finish line than stop and smell the roses. Get it for a limited time at lush.com.
Stinky Hippie Body Wash
Scrub Your Butt Soap Company
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The Whitney, that grand old former residence, shines on a sunny afternoon in midtown Detroit. With its 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms and 20 fireplaces, the three-story pink-granite edifice is in great condition, and pots of forced lilies decorate the front garden. It seems the manse-turned-restaurant is preparing for a wedding party later that day, and the staff bustles through the elegant dining rooms, giving them a final spruce. It's so opulent that it looks every bit a century-old lumber baron's mansion.
The view out behind the building, however, looks much humbler. Out among the staff's parked cars, Dan Maurer, 26, the restaurant's executive chef, is cadging a cigarette off a fellow employee before settling onto a bench amid raised herb beds. Unlike the 19th century grandeur of the Whitney, Maurer is all 21st century flair, from his tattooed legs and arms to the waist-length dreadlocks he has piled under a ballooning cap. It's a sunny afternoon, and he loosens his hoodie to get some sun on his neck.
Maurer is, um, quite a character. When he's excited, he weaves together sentences densely laced with so much swaggering profanity it sounds like a monologue from Ricky of the Trailer Park Boys. It's a comical fit with his egalitarian style. In fact, he's riffing on his shock over hearing a colleague refer to him by the formal title "chef."
"I can't believe somebody called me 'chef'! 'Cause, I mean, you work for some chefs and it's like, 'Yes, Chef. No, Chef. Please, Chef!' What the fuck's that about? Why would you want to remove yourself from your gang of cooks by saying, 'I don't have a normal fucking name to you guys?'"
In recent months, the sharp-tongued, self-taught chef has fallen into the limelight — ever since a buddy of his blogged about him, resulting in his appearance, with some other younger culinary peers, on WDET's Craig Fahle Show, exposing metro Detroit to a new cohort of young executive chefs.
And these sharp, young chefs are shattering the mold. They wear tattoos more than toques. They're more likely to get drinks after work at Gusoline Alley than the Rugby Grille. In a city that can seem plagued with old food, stale recipes and stodgy airs, these twentysomethings have forged independent careers, drawing on culinary school, apprenticeships or old-fashioned book research. And, as local kitchens get less formal, more casual and take more chances, these young chefs are in a good position to capitalize and move up. And, despite any raffish edges, it's good news for area diners.
From bass to bouillabaisse
Executive chef Myles McVay is pulling some chairs down off a few tables in Royal Oak's D'Amato's. The restaurant is empty in the late afternoon, and he's free to talk for a while. At 29, the youngish chef looks clean-cut, with his short hair and clean white chef's shirt. But when he has a seat and puts his tattoed guns up on the table, you can tell something's up. A former colleague of Maurer, he often gets off work and strolls over to Gusoline Alley and meets him for a few.
"We call it the 'straight walk,'" McVay says with a laugh, adding, "At a certain point in the night, we can look out the window straight down Fourth Street and pretty much see the door of Gus'."
A family man with a wife and a 2-year-old at home (and another child on the way), McVay is a little more settled than Maurer. In a soft-spoken voice, he tells how he's been cooking since childhood, and first picked it up from his Italian-American mother, learning elementary cooking techniques while helping make family dinners. He started working as a dishwasher in mom-and-pop pizza parlors as a teenager, more to get a car than to get a career. Still, he says, "I developed the sense early on that I could do that."
But McVay was more interested in playing bass guitar in bands, taking the stage at the Shelter, St. Andrew's, Alvin's and Smalls. When his group got a record deal with Cargo Music, it briefly looked like they would hit the big time.
McVay says, "I really didn't take cooking seriously until I was 18, and on the road with my band and not making any money. I faced the lifelong question of whether I'd go to college or try to be poor and gut it out the rest of my life in a band. So I decided to ante up, went to Macomb for a few years."
He adds with a laugh about his formal culinary education, "Want to spend $60,000 on school? Guess what? You know what you're going to make when you get out of school? Ten dollars an hour — just like everybody else."
In McVay's case, the $10 an hour came working as a "low-level salad guy" at Opus One. The restaurant seems to encourage the growth of young, self-taught chefs, and it was only a matter of time until McVay's latent talent would be spotted — and he'd get a chance on the "hot line."
"They just moved me right along, taught me everything," McVay says. "I saw a lot of stuff that I never saw before, and I was like, 'Ah, I didn't know you could do that with food.' And then it clicked, and I got really serious about it.
"I didn't feel like I learned enough in culinary school. I felt like I was learning a lot more a lot faster actually working in a restaurant for good people. So I started learning stuff on my own. I bought really great books, stuff they recommended to me. I would see something that I liked and I would steal it right away, and I really tried to impress. Long story short, they gave me a sous chef job."
For McVay, it would be a baptism by fire.
"I was thrown into a situation I probably wasn't ready for. ... I'm walking in knowing really nothing about how to cook at that pace, at that level, in a fine-dining establishment where everything is tweaked and the bar is high, so I was thrown into this hectic situation, just getting my ass kicked, just sucking for a while, and my chef just encouraged me. He saw a young kid coming along, probably like he did himself, and he was like, 'Just keep doing it. Don't let it break you.'
"And, ever since I was 20 years old, I never looked back. I'm creeping on 10 years of being a chef in this business in metro Detroit and I've never cooked anywhere else."
The fuck-up pantry guy
Though McVay would hone his cooking chops in several kitchens, he says the best learning experience he ever had was when he worked at Royal Oak's now-shuttered Fiddleheads. It was there he met Dan Maurer.
"Dan's a really funny story," McVay says. "When I worked at Fiddleheads, he was the pantry guy." Suppressing a laugh, he explains it carefully: "At the time, I thought he was the biggest piece-of-shit guy. I was like, 'This guy's such a loser, man! We gotta get rid of this asshole!' He was notorious for going out on Saturdays and getting bombed out of his mind, and he didn't show up for me on a Sunday brunch when I was sous chef, and I told my chef Brian Brenner, 'We gotta fire this guy. Let's get rid of this fuck-up pantry guy, man. He's more headache than he's worth. He comes in, he's hung-over, he doesn't want to do it.' So we did. We fired him. He was out at Fiddleheads."
Asked if he really was a "fuck-up pantry guy," Maurer laughs. "Yeah," he says, "I was young and I was with all these badasses at Fiddleheads and I was just the runt of the group, fucking everything up. It was an awesome learning experience, but they hated me. They fuckin' hated me. I was, like, 22, and they were all at least a few years older than me. They'd been doing it that many more years and they just knew what the fuck they were doing, and they just accepted me for my personality.
"I was partying too hard, just living at a little house with a buddy in downtown Royal Oak. We just fuckin' partied like crazy. I was like, 'Uh, it's a $10-an-hour job, whatever. It's Saturday night. I can't fuckin' work brunch tomorrow!' And the chef there at the time was a good friend of mine too, so I got away with it a couple times, showing up a couple hours late on Sunday. Finally, the owner was like, 'Brian, I know he's your friend, but he's setting a bad example.'
"So one night, the chef and me are sitting around drinking beers after shift on Saturday night getting pretty hammered, and Brian's like, 'Well, Dan, I got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you're gonna have a lot more free time. The bad news is they're making me fire you.' I was like, 'Alright, cool.'
"Looking back, I wonder how they put up with me. I see the guys who work for me now doing what I used to do, like being a fuckin' mess and looking like they just got in a fuckin' food fight ... and I'm like, 'Sonofabitch! How did those guys put up with me? I'm ready to fuckin' kill this guy right now.'
"Anyway, I went back to doing construction for my dad, which I'd done with my brother since I was, like, 13. ... It was just a little under a month I was doing that and I was just going nuts. Working for your dad is like, 'Holy shit, dude, I'm going to end up fuckin' hating you! And I don't want to!'"
As fate would have it, McVay cut his hand severely and suddenly needed help with his job. "The group of people that you really like in this business is pretty small," McVay says, explaining why he'd ever consider calling Maurer back on the job.
"I called him out of the blue one day. I was like, 'Dan, it's Myles. Do you think you could come in for a little bit and help me work?' He was like, 'I don't know. I'm working some construction for my dad.' I was like, 'Well, think about it and call me back. By the way, I think I still have your chef's boots here. Come pick them up.' It was one of the stupidest conversations. ..." Maurer gladly returned.
Back at Fiddleheads, Maurer began pushing himself a lot harder. McVay recalls, "He was like a different guy about it. I think when he was out of work and he got fired, he was a little bit down on his luck. I think that was his moment where he really just stepped up, and he's been a different cook every since."
Maurer agrees. "It wasn't, like, a big fucking awakening or anything. When I got back in the kitchen I was like, 'Now I know I love this. I keep doing this because I'm addicted to restaurants.' I was just going through the motions before."
Enter the mentor
The biggest influence on McVay and Maurer would be Fiddlehead's then-new executive chef, Tim Voss. McVay calls Voss a "culinary savant," and says, "I figured I could learn something from this guy. He came in and, sure enough, probably had more culinary knowledge than any person I've ever met, just a culinary wizard."
Maurer says, "When Tim was there, we would learn more in a day than we'd learn through all the other chefs we'd worked for. Because Tim is a natural teacher, he's like a fuckin' encyclopedia of cooking." Indeed, Voss has a reputation for scholarship, and has been known to reel off the scientific names of ingredients, and to describe restaurants as "living beings."
The 39-year-old, now executive chef at Greektown's Mosaic, is surprisingly soft-spoken. He doesn't seem like the product of the French-dominated kitchens of Chicago, which he describes as full of "yelling and screaming and slamming pans." Unlike the divas who trained him, Voss is an enthusiastic teacher, a crew-builder of the to-teach-is-to-learn school. And he's very proud about his old crew from Fiddleheads.
"Such a small percentage of people really want to soak up everything around them," Voss says. "I've worked in places for a long time and, every once in a while, I get waves or groupings of people like that, like a coach building up a crew again. We're excited, we're still making mistakes, but there are windows with a crew when it just comes together and it sings. It's so difficult to put to words what happens — and I'm not saying it's necessarily pretty — but when you get to the end of a super busy, crazy day, it's pretty awesome."
At Fiddleheads, McVay and Maurer were part of a team that harbored other aspiring young chefs, including Matt Dalton, now-chef de cuisine at Birmingham's Chen Chow Brasserie. Maurer says, "It was, like, the baddest-ass crew of cooks you could find in metro Detroit, and I was like their retarded little brother."
McVay says, "The knowledge I obtained from working with chefs ultimately set me apart. ... I never say to somebody, 'I went to culinary school, and that's where I learned everything.' I always tell people, 'Yeah, I'm self-taught with a little bit of help from some other people.' I don't put a stamp on it like I'm entitled to be a chef because I went to culinary school."
Voss agrees, saying, "There are some wonderful, well-established culinary schools in this area, but there's that little pat on the back: 'Here's your diploma. You're a chef now.' Just like you're an architect, or an accountant or anything else. Well, yeah, you got a diploma. Now you can start your career."
Or, as Maurer puts it: "If somebody comes in and drops off an application and they're like, 'I went to culinary school,' I'm like, 'Sweet, that means you think you're a chef but you have no fucking experience is all that tells me.'"
Gaining experience in a good kitchen is something young chefs are often willing to take a pay cut to do, especially if it means getting on the fine-dining path. It can be an apprenticeship in everything but name. Voss says aspiring chefs should do it when they're young enough to work all night and come home to "a six-pack of beer and a jar of peanut butter in the refrigerator." It can involve going to stage, a French term meaning to work for free somewhere to learn from other chefs. Voss explains: "You put yourself up on a stage for someone. It also gives the restaurant a way to see what you can do."
'These kids all murder me'
When he was casing a move to the West Coast, Maurer went on his own stage to San Francisco. He packed up his knives, took a flight out, and stayed with a buddy. Through dumb luck he gained entry to the kitchen at San Francisco's hallowed Cortez, where the youthfulness of the kitchen blew his mind.
"It was really badass, and it was kind of an eye-opener because it was all young kids. Around here, in a lot of restaurants, it's older dudes cooking. I show up in this restaurant and the chef's 29, the cooks are like 22 to 26, and they're just all fuckin' badass. Just every fuckin' one of them. I was working this hot station with this girl. I'm just like, 'Holy shit, if you were in Detroit you'd just practically be running shit.' But [in San Francisco] there are just so many restaurants and so many cooks — it's like everybody's a badass. It's a totally different scene. I was like, 'Wow, I know absolutely nothing. I mean, these kids all murder me.' And everything ran so smooth. I'm used to Saturday nights being pretty hectic. And I saw this 29-year-old chef at Cortez, and he's just the most cool, levelheaded person. He talks to everybody like they're people, and everything just ran like a dream. And I was like, 'Oh, that's how things are supposed to work.'"
The experience left such an impression on him, Maurer planned to leave his job as sous chef at the Whitney and move out West with a friend. But one Tuesday morning his cell phone was blowing up and he was tapped for the head chef job.
"We were closed Monday, and I'd been out drinking all Monday, so I wake up at noon with like 30 texts and texts from people and chef friends and cook friends that aren't even connected to the Whitney. 'Hey, your chef got fired.' 'Your chef got fired.' My general manager called me like 30 times. My two-month plan was to be in San Francisco and that was when dude got fired."
If Maurer sounds like an odd fit for the ostentatious Whitney, bear in mind the youthful clientele of nearby Wayne State University. For years, the grand mansion sat next to a parking lot; now the university has built new, multistory campus housing. A hip, twentysomething chef — and garden parties hosted by DJs — can make a statement to younger prospective diners.
It sometimes causes uneasy laughter for Maurer. He kids, "Some people feel intimidated coming inside this place. Sometimes, I'm more intimidated than they are. Servers will be like, 'My table really wants to meet you.' I'll be like, 'What do they look like. 'Cause if they're, like, 80-year-old men, I'm going to offend them or something.' It could go bad with an old dude, if he looks at me and he's like, 'This is the chef? I used to come here 40 years ago and the chef was my age. He wouldn't have tattoos and long hair! That's not what a chef is!'"
If that sounds outrageous, Voss says odd reactions in the dining room aren't unusual for any chef. He says, "A very goofy reaction I get sometimes is, "You're the chef? Well, you're not fat!"
Luckily, generational strife is rare, and, as young chefs, Maurer and McVay are both given room to be creative, and to enliven exhausted bills of fare.
McVay says, "D'Amato's had become a pretty tired place when I took over. It had a lot of 'old food' and an older dinner crowd. There were a lot of changes to be made. ... I don't want to say it was 'spaghetti and meatballs,' but it was just boring Italian food, from my point of view. I said, 'If this is the direction we're going to go in, I can improve on this.' Plus all the desserts were bought; they bought all their pasta. Everything was already pre-done and pre-fabbed and I loathed it, especially coming from a perspective where you want to create and do your own thing and add a little bit of speciality to it. But we still have to have a little something for everybody. That's what the market is right now. You can't alienate people.
"But I've really tried to make my own style and do Italian-American fare with my own spin, and I steal bits and pieces from books that I see or recipes that I like, and people have taken notice. Our diner clientele has changed a little bit. It's become a little younger, a little hipper, a little fresher, and more often you see the same faces coming back, or coming up to me in the open kitchen's window and waving goodnight. That's the ultimate compliment."
Maurer echoes the diner-is-always-right mind-set: "Make the guests happy. If I were to get 300 e-mails a day asking, 'Why the fuck don't you guys have a cheeseburger on your menu?' what am I going to do? I'm going to put a cheeseburger on the menu! If they ask why isn't the cheeseburger more like McDonald's? I'll make a Big Mac better than McDonald's does, if that's what people want."
Big Macs at the Whitney? No, but tastes are slowly changing. And it's often a challenge to give people what they want with what McVay calls "a side of integrity." He says, "Michigan is known for like stale, Old World stuff. Meat-and-potatoes Michigan, you know what I mean? Big portions, big plates of everything ... If you go to these big corporate chains and you find these massive plates of, like, fish sticks and fries or whatever, and that's kind of the norm in those places. ... Just boring stuff, you know. It doesn't have to be that way — and it's been that way around here for a long time. Of course, those high-end fine-dining establishments always had really tweaked food, but the middle class never really saw that unless it was a special night. But I think you can do that now. I try to bring high-class food into the middle class, to give everybody an opportunity to eat like a fine diner."
Of course, you can't please them all. McVay laughs, "Some people still come in from the dark days, and they want their spaghetti and meatballs, and they'll be like, 'Man, this place sucks. I remember when it was awesome!' But I think we're on the right path."
So what does a rejuvenated menu look like? It is more casual, more accessible, and often more comforting. "With the economy, everybody kind of got knocked down a notch," McVay says. "The price of food's going up, but we can't sell it for higher prices. So fine diners are becoming upscale casual, the casuals are becoming fast food-eaters, and so on.
And so you'll find less emphasis on hue-perfect colors and more on a mouth-feel of contrasting textures. "Not that food shouldn't be art," Maurer cautions, "but I think it should be more like art in your mouth. I'll add something crispy to a dish if I think it needs it, 100 times over, before I add a color I think it needs."
Rather than a dish with a garnish that diners won't eat, Maurer would rather serve dishes that don't look like much but are loaded with flavor. He describes one "ugly, ugly dish," brownish-orange sweet-potato gnocci, off-orange caramelized apples, white and brown caramelized fennel, and brown seared pecan-breaded pork tenderloin. "The whole thing comes out looking like an orange-brown mess," he says, but it gets good responses.
"I think that's maybe even a benefit. Maybe it comes out unassuming and you eat it and you're like, 'Whoa, that ugly fucker was good!'"
But whether they're going for pitch-perfect presentation or earthy comfort appeal, McVay says chefs must maintain integrity, adhering to strict preparation techniques, improving consistency, ensuring freshness, making sure everyone in the crew is properly trained, and knowing how to adapt dishes to individual tastes and dietary restrictions.
And with more comforting, sensible, personally tailored dishes, casual diners are welcomed as never before. "We're a come-as-you-are place. You can come in jeans and a T-shirt and have a good time. We don't discriminate against anybody. I think the dark days of suit and ties, it's just out, man. Just come in, be casual, eat some good food, get a good bottle of wine and enjoy yourself. That's pretty much how it is. That's how it should be, anyway."
On casual comfort, Maurer feels the same way. He jokes, "I got into it with the hostess here when I was out standing by the hostess desk. I overheard her taking a call, saying something along the lines of, 'Don't wear gym shoes.' And then she hung up the phone, and I was like, 'What the fuck was that?' She was like, 'We don't encourage gym shoes.' I was like, 'You've been here a month and you're going to decide what our customers can wear? You tell people they can come in drunk and naked if they fucking want to!'"
For any cognizant creative whose finger is on the pulse of this ailing city, the news of one relocating to New York is a cliché. And other places too. Want to move to Los Angeles? Best of luck, see you in the valley, babe. You'll be back broke with smog-filled lungs, a runny nose and an uneven tan. Oh, off to Brooklyn is it? Don't forget to rehearse your hipster-apparent apathy. We've always wondered if the water there makes ramen taste better — they say it's the secret behind the pizza and Sheepshead Bay bagels.
Upon news of another creative (and worse, motivated) mind relocating to the city, the knee jerks and the eye winces, but now our tongues lash without pause. And why the fuck not? The move is such an obvious one, and being so bloody expensive, it's mostly painfully unrealistic.
Sinatra said if you can "make it" in New York, you can "make it" anywhere. Sinatra also said "do-be-do-be-do." (He made thugism elitist too, and if you're bankrolled by the mob you'll "make it" anywhere.) If you do make it in Manhattan, it'll be for the same reason you made it in Detroit, Omaha or Atlanta: because you're good and because it's not who you are, it's what you are. Still (and Detroit obviously is not alone), some of our city's best writers, painters, photographers, chefs and musicians take off to New York. It's been this way for decades. People will always want greatness to rub off, it seems.
This weekend there's a homecoming of 29 ex-Detroiters living in New York. Their work will be exhibited by a Cass Corridor artist who has been significant for more than 40 years, Bob Sestok. They're all for the exhibit Exit Detroit at the Ladybug Gallery in southwest Detroit.
The Southwest Artists Network (SWAN) is an offshoot of the defunct Zeitgeist Gallery (formerly the Michigan Galley), which has stood for years as a home to contemporary Detroit art of various mediums on Michigan Avenue. To launch SWAN to the public, they called upon auteur-sculptor-painter Sestok to organize the inaugural opening.
"SWAN is an interesting organization," Sestok says. "They started going to Ladybug Gallery in search of a place to show after Zeitgeist closed. See, there was a history and a momentum that had died out [after its closing] but now we're watching that start to build back up, which is really quite exciting. It's certainly exciting to be asked to be a part of that."
Sestok is inspired by the group behind SWAN, but as an ambassador of Detroit, and an embodiment of the Cass Corridor, the show's focus brings as much spark to this artist's eye.
"I saw a need for a show like this one in a gallery like this one," he says. "Take a look at Detroit and how many people have fled from the city. Look at the number of vacant homes being torn down. The city is just disappearing. A study I read last year said that New York City has over 800,000 artists living in Manhattan alone; it grows every day. That's where everybody is going. Detroit's just not a destination. But what's happened is that the people who have moved away are choking in their environments. There's no freedom to put up a sculpture in a vacant lot in Brooklyn — you'd have go through all sorts of stuff to get permission. Not to say you don't have to do that here as well, but in Detroit you have such amazing space to work with. There's no shortage of that."
It's been 20 years since Sestok curated a show here, he's busy making his own art, so Exit is of special consideration. And part to consider is Sestok's own Detroit legacy as a piece of the influential 1970s Cass Corridor art scene, which has been the subject of books, documentaries, numerous articles and college courses.
As much as Sestok is engrained in Detroit, he's not anti-New York. We spoke in depth about making annual visits to a city we both, actually, love. Sestok moved there once, in 1976 — for about nine months.
"When we were younger and didn't have kids and didn't own property, we were a lot leaner and meaner," Sestok says. "You get a little bit older and more established, you want to concentrate on your work in a more serious way without being interrupted by traffic in the street or the politics you have to deal with to have a show. You just want to make your work."
The genial Sestok has been aware of, and friends with, artists younger and older who, over the years, moved to New York City. Peers or not, he still sees dedication and quality. "I keep in touch with them," he says. "Some of my friends are more established and some aren't. No matter what, though, they're all intent on continuing to make art."
What does he ask of an artist he knows who's moving away?
"Are you betting that you're going to be a great success and rise above your fate? Are you betting that you're going to be able to create a huge amount of money to live on? Or are you going to focus on changing the spectrum of what people think about what art is and can be? Focus on your work, not what your work will be."
With Exit, Sestok hopes people will come and look at the art of these Detroiters-in-exile and figure out for themselves whether or not moving away is making a difference, visually, on the work that's produced. Each of the 29 artists Sestok invited agreed to submit work, and many are excited to show again in Detroit, yet none, sadly, alluded to any permanent homecoming any time soon. Still, one can't help but appreciate Sestok's sentiment: "It's always been my contention that if all the artists never left Detroit, well then what would this city really look like?"
Sponsored by the Southwest Artists Network and the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, Exit Detroit opens March 20 at the Ladybug Gallery, inside the Whitdell Building at 1259 Hubbard St., Detroit; swandetroit.com & thecaid.org.
John Joseph Henry Schwarz grew up a Republican. He supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier, he served in Vietnam, and, afterward, went back to Indochina — with the CIA.
He supported his friend John McCain for president two years ago, and twice was endorsed for Congress by George W. Bush.
This year, he is thinking about running for governor. And my fairly well-educated guess is that he might easily be the best we could get at this point in our history, if he can only get elected.
No, I haven't been seized by Glenn Beck commandos and brainwashed, nor have I been forced to write this at gunpoint in a cave in Utah. I have not fallen in love with Sarah Palin's nasal whine, hand-scribbles and arrogantly stupid outlook. None of that.
What I have become devoted to in my declining years is common sense. Democrats are not going to win the governorship this year, not after controlling the office during eight years of recession. Nor does it help that the present governor, Jennifer Granholm, has been the weakest and most ineffective chief executive in modern Michigan history. Right now, Democrats are gearing up for a primary fight.
The unions are supporting Virgil "Call me Virg" Bernero, the mayor of Lansing. To be sure, he has guts and some good ideas. But he is virtually unknown statewide, and can come off as a little goofy. Plus, as I noted last week, he has a distressing tendency to start running for a new job the moment he gets elected to something.
His main opponent is Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, who has good looks, bad hair, and a number of other drawbacks. The unions hate him because he wants to put all statewide workers on the same health care plan. Actually, he is right about that; the union leaders, especially the overpaid, bloated bureaucrats of the Michigan Education Association, either don't care or don't want to know much about the true condition of the state today.
However, Dillon has proven ineffective as a leader, and is suspected of having essentially Republican sympathies. Last year, he negotiated a budget "deal" under which the Democrats gave up everything and got nothing in return (though Dillon did get to yuck it up with Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop on some talk shows.) Also, Dillon is pro-life and anti-stem cell research, which is just fine if you want to return society to the Middle Ages.
There is also Alma Wheeler Smith, for whom I'll probably vote in the Democratic primary, since she is the only one so far to unveil a sensible tax plan. She thinks kids matter and the rich should pay more than the poor, and so nobody will give her campaign money.
Indeed, the Democratic establishment's strategy goes like this: Nominate Virg; we can control him on issues dear to our interest groups. We'll probably lose, but we can always hope the GOP nominates Mike Cox and he gets caught in another scandal.
Joe Schwarz, however, knows if Michigan is to have a future, it lies in better educating our citizens. He was in the state Senate from 1987 to 2003, and did his best to protect university funding.
He is a medical doctor who thinks abortions should be "safe, legal and rare," a sentiment that got him virtually drummed out of the Republican Party. Six years ago, he was elected to Congress from his Battle Creek district. He was widely regarded as the best freshman congressman in the nation. Two years later, he was defeated in a primary by a right-wing yahoo who was a former Bible salesman.
Schwarz now knows he doesn't have a home in the "Kool-aid drinking" nut society the present-day GOP has become. He's not about to become a Democrat either. Instead, he's an intelligent guy who loves this state and knows how the legislative process works.
Running as an independent is not an easy thing to do, not if you care about winning. First, he needs 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot; then he needs to get the money — we are talking millions of dollars — to run a credible race. That's hard enough.
Plus, while he has always appealed to that distinct minority known as literate adults, the good doctor is not a matinee idol, and has never been especially good at the sillier aspects of campaigning.
He's also 72, and some will think that too old. But he's likely our best hope of good government. Eight years ago, when he was running for the GOP nomination for governor (he got creamed) he told me:
"I don't think people should expect the governor to be their best buddy. I think the job of the governor of Michigan is to protect people from the hazards of life; to try and make sure they have a job, and that the job has benefits and that they can live, own a home and support their family. But I'm not everybody's buddy. In fact, sometimes I am a hard-working prick.
"But if that's what it takes, that's fine. ..."
Aw, hell. If we have to fight for our future, wouldn't it be nice to have a governor who is a well-adjusted grown-up, for a change?
Can we still save the public option? Like me, you may have been bombarded with e-mail appeals claiming that is it still possible to put a public insurance option back in the health care bill, which the Obama administration is now trying to pass by reconciling the previously passed House and Senate versions of the bills.
Democrats still have a large (59-41) majority in the Senate, but if they want to pass health care reform this year (maybe even this decade) they'll have to do it through reconciliation, thanks to their loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts. If they can't, the obstructionist party, aka the Republicans, can block any new vote through a filibuster.
Early on, it became clear to me that I didn't understand exactly how reconciliation worked, and that few others did either. Fortunately, I had the chance to ask someone who ought to know: Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. He's a Harvard-trained lawyer who has been in the Senate longer than anyone in Michigan history.
Like many of us, he would love a public option. But sadly, he said we can forget about it, at least this year. "It's actually very complicated, very technical. You've got to jump over seven hurdles to meet the test, and if it doesn't, it doesn't fly," he told me.
"The parliamentarian, who is a neutral, has got to say that any bill proposed as a reconciliation bill must meet the seven — the most important one, every single [changed] provision of the bill must have as its principal focus reducing the deficit, not policy.
"You can raise or lower money for a program, but you can't change, say, the abortion issue. If any one provision fails that seven-part test, the whole thing is subject to a point of order.
"So you can not, for example, have a public option. I wish you could. But you don't have the 60 votes for it," he said.
Believe it or not, there are some so-called liberals whose attitude is that if they can't have a public option, they might as well allow the bill to just die. Which is, frankly, nuts, unless your aptitude tests indicate that kamikaze pilot is the right profession for you.
In your Feb. 24 article reviewing the taqueria Los Altos ("Mexican high"), you describe it as being in "Mexicantown's second downtown, near Springwells." The area that you visited is called Springwells Village. Mexicantown is really only the district located east of I-96 on Bagley Avenue, which even the Mexicantown website will describe as the boundaries.
Springwells Village is named for the area that had been the city of Springwells before it was subsumed within Detroit. I have historical maps if you care to see them. —John Bentz, Detroit
Great article on Tera Patrick ("Skin trade," Feb. 10), very funny. I heard an interview Drew and Mike did with her a while back and she was a total turd. Good stuff, bro. —Don Duprie, River Rouge
Thanks to Michael Paul Goldenberg for writing the letter ("Cartoon anger," Letters to the Editor, Feb. 10) I've wanted to ever since you replaced This Modern World with The Boiling Point. I, too, find Mikhaela Reid's cartoons unartistic, sophomoric and inane. I used to rush to view Tom Tomorrow's latest offerings in your paper. I'm sure the decision to replace This Modern World was based on cost, and I understand that those choices have to be made at times, but — geez — couldn't you have found someone at least a little amusing? —Jack Poma, Shelby Township
St. Patti's Day
Writer extraordinaire Bill Holdship penned a very insightful review on Patti Smith's loving affair with Robert Mapplethrope ("Promises fulfilled," Feb. 17). The underlying cool essence conveyed is that achieving fame wasn't the top priority for Patti; being a good person is her commitment to our often-soulless world. This is a cherished lesson our less enlightened celebrity-driven pop culture can and should learn from, because chasing all the treasure in the world still can't buy a heart of gold such as the one our Patti is blessed with. —Ken Hreha, Dryden
I am usually a big fan of Ms. Svoboda's work. The lack of balance in "Midtown's menu" (March 10), however, calls into question her other work. In the spirit of full disclosure I am the head brewer and cheesemaker at the Traffic Jam, and have known both parties in the dispute for more than 10 years. I, like the owners of Avalon, have tried to stay out of the dispute as much as possible, but most of all to keep an open mind. Ms. Svoboda did an excellent job of describing Mr. Linardos' position in the dispute, but that is where her article ended. I do not call that journalism. That is propaganda. She got some facts plain wrong about the gate and missed the core issue of the debate entirely. She also tried to demonize Mr. Lowell as a disgruntled developer angry that he could not acquire Mr. Linardos' property. I can assure you there was no desire or need to acquire Motor City Brewing; he already owned the entire parking lot. I would posit the argument that Mr. Lowell's renovations of drug- and prostitute-infested apartment buildings has had more to do with Midtown's renaissance than any of the other principals in the article. However, this is not the forum to go point-for-point with the article. I will just reiterate that I was disappointed with the one-sided nature of the article. It failed to bring any real understanding to a very nuanced dispute only an overly simplified big guy vs. little guy narrative. I expect more form Ms. Svoboda and Metro Times. —Christopher Reilly, head brewer, cheesemaker, Traffic Jam & Snug, Detroit
Editor's note: Traffic Jam & Snug and its attorneys did not return calls for comment on this story.
Raising the bard
Re: "Labor's love lost" (Jan. 27), such scintillating satire deserves plaudits galore. And no apologies to the other bard. He would appreciate the aim and the targets struck. Retired as I am from that very "land," I view Bobb's efforts with multi-mixed emotions. Ms. Svoboda, you did a remarkable work with this story. Kudos, kudos! —Nick Toyeas, Dearborn
Send letters (250 words or less, please) to 733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226; faxes to 313-961-6598; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your telephone number. We reserve the right to edit for length, clarity and libel.
In what legal experts say is a highly unusual move, a Wayne County prosecutor wants University of Michigan Law School students to testify against a man they've been working to exonerate.
Innocence Clinic co-director David Moran is asking Wayne County Circuit Judge Tim Kenny to strike the students from the witness list, as well as a journalist who sat in on some of the clinic sessions last year as part of a fellowship. Moran argued at a hearing Monday that the students have the same confidentiality privileges that lawyers have, and that assistant prosecutor Robert Stevens should not be able to call them to try to make his case.
"What Mr. Stevens has requested would decimate our legal team," Moran said.
As part of their work with the Innocence Clinic, the students helped their professors last year convince Kenny to set aside Dwayne Provience's 2001 murder conviction. At the time, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy agreed evidence was withheld from Provience's defense at his trial and that he should be granted a new one.
Kenny released the 36-year-old Detroit man from prison and scheduled a new trial for April 5. Provience had been serving a 30-to-60-year sentence for the March 2000 death of Rene Hunter, who was fatally gunned down at a northwest Detroit intersection. Police have said it was drug-related.
In arguing for the new trial, the students found a related murder case, tried a year after Provience's, in which Wayne County prosecutors asserted that two other men were responsible for the killing that landed Provience in prison.
The Innocence Clinic students also found exculpatory evidence in police files that either wasn't turned over to Provience's original attorneys or wasn't pursued by them.
In a series of hearings since the new trial order, Kenny has allowed the law students to appear before him on Provience's behalf as permitted by Michigan Court Rules. They've also continued to investigate the case and have successfully argued to Kenny for the exclusion of the prosecution's only trial witness: a neighborhood panhandler and admitted crack user named Larry Wiley, who was the only person to identify Provience as the gunman.
Wiley has said police forced him to falsely testify against Provience, and that he worries if he testified to that in court, he could face a perjury charge. Kenny has ruled that Wiley can't be called for the retrial, scheduled for April 5, because he has a Fifth Amendment privilege that protects him from incriminating himself.
Still, with a growing amount of evidence pointing to Provience's innocence, Stevens continues to maintain he'll try him. The Prosecutor's Office refuses to explain why they are pressing on with the case.
Stevens filed his witness list March 5, and it includes six students who have been enrolled or interned with the clinic, another law student who was present at witness interviews and a California journalist named Peggy Lowe. A writer for The Orange County Register, she was part of the prestigious Michigan journalism fellowship program last year, and attended clinic sessions and interviews.
At Monday's hearing, Stevens responded to Moran's objections to the students' possible testimony. Stevens said because the students have had statements published in newspapers, have interviewed Wiley and appeared in a YouTube video about the case, he should be able to call them to the witness stand.
"All this is fair game," Stevens said in court. "I need to know the context of [Wiley's] conversations with each of these persons. Each one of those persons is a prosecution witness."
Kenny requested a written argument from Moran due March 25, and scheduled a hearing for March 29. "I think I need you to brief this issue as to how, in effect, law students become attorneys for the duration of the entire trial," he said.
Michigan Court Rules allow law students and recent graduates who are under the supervision of a member of the state bar to staff legal aid clinics — such as the Innocence Project — that are part of accredited law schools. Michigan law schools have a growing number of such clinics. The University of Detroit Mercy has 10 and Cooley Law School and Wayne State University each have seven, for example. Wayne State opened a new one this year for asylum and immigration cases.
While enrolled in the clinics for credit, students gain practical experience working on cases and representing indigent clients who could not afford counsel. "It's very good exposure for the students," says Robert Ackerman, law dean at Wayne State, "and we like our students to do some good."
Like regular attorneys, the law clinic's students are covered by the attorney-client privilege that prevents them from divulging communications with a client or work they did related to a case, says Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne who specializes in criminal procedure. He calls Stevens listing of the students a "pretty aggressive" tactic.
"It does raise the question of is the prosecution simply clinging to the conclusion and not taking a second look at it as they should? It's not just listing the clinic students as potential witnesses. It's more the overall issue of are they evaluating the case fairly or are they simply responding out of pique?" he says.
Brian Peppler, Chippewa County prosecutor and president of the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council, says the students' confidentiality could depend on their role in researching, preparing and defending the case.
"I'm sure some of what they know or have done is protected, but maybe not necessarily all of it," he says. "They kind of put themselves in a position like a police officer or a private investigator. I don't think the privilege applies at that point."
Margaret Raben, president of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, says attorneys must list all potential witnesses because if they don't, they can't call them at trial.
"I would have to believe that the Prosecutor's Office has some good-faith basis for listing them, even if the law is more or less clear that they're protected," she says. "It's my guess that the Prosecutor's Office thinks they've got nothing to lose."
At the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, staff attorney Jack King says he has never seen law students called to testify about clinic work. "Maybe one of them might have something that's unprivileged that would help the state's case, and so he has to put them on the witness list or he can't call them," he says. "Or on the other hand, maybe he's just trying to scare the kids."
But Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, says the students' research raises interesting questions that could affect how far any confidentiality privilege extends.
"Are they detectives? Are they investigators? Are they now inserting themselves into the criminal justice system, which is fine, but not necessarily as defense attorneys?" Burns asks. Roles other than as defense attorneys could make them prosecution witnesses, he says.
Lowe, who isn't an attorney but was part of the University of Michigan's Knight-Wallace Fellows Program for journalists, is in a different legal situation. Working journalists are often covered by "shield laws" that offer them some protection from being compelled to testify in criminal cases. Michigan's shield law protects print and broadcast reporters from disclosing confidential sources or information in all but capital cases.
But one of the journalism program's provisions is that fellows do not publish during the nine months on campus, says Charles Eisendrath, program director. Fellows have status as university students and audit classes, he says, declining further comment on the issue.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says Lowe probably doesn't have protection from testifying if called because she didn't interview Wiley and other witnesses as confidential sources. "She's going to have a hard time claiming to be a journalist, particularly if a condition of her fellowship was that she not do journalism while she was there," she says.
In Illinois, the attorney general last year subpoenaed notes, grades and other material from Northwestern University journalism students whose work was used in a petition for a new trial for a man convicted of murder more than 30 years ago.
The attorney general claimed that, because the work was done by students, they were not covered by shield laws as professional journalists would be. The Medill Innocence Project last week dropped the petition that included the results of the students' work, and a judge granted the man a new trial.
The infidels here at News Hits were heartened a few weeks ago when news broke that a group called the Detroit Area Coalition for Reason placed ads on the outside of SMART buses that read: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."
Given the influence of the religious right in this country, attempts to rally nonbelievers and create an avenue for them to come together seemed to us a very good thing. Apparently, though, not everyone sees it that way.
Vandals have torn or defaced part of the message on at least three of the ads, says Ruthe Milan, coordinator of the Detroit coalition. They've altered the signs to read: ... believe in God? You're not alone."
Devilishly tricky, that.
"Acts like this give a striking reminder that our message is necessary," Milan says. "Without a doubt, prejudice against atheists and agnostics is still very real in American life."
If you doubt that, think for a moment about the last presidential election, when candidates on both the right and left were touting their Christian credentials in an attempt to convince voters that God was on their side. Incoming President Obama's mere acknowledgement of "nonbelievers" in his inaugural address was precedent-breaking. Contrast that to the last time you heard a candidate say, "I don't need to believe in some mythical being in order to be a good leader. In fact, my absence of belief is a clear sign I'm more rational than my opponents who believe cave men frolicked with dinosaurs."
It just doesn't happen. And because we don't congregate weekly in houses of worship, nonbelievers can feel isolated and alone.
So, in addition to singing the praises of the coalition, and the national United Coalition of Reason, which paid for the ads, let us also give a shout-out to the folks who run the SMART system, because they agreed to replace the ads for free.
"We are most pleased by SMART's action," national director Fred Edwords said in a press release. "It shows they care about freedom of speech. We hope their action will help bring about a day when those with minority opinions can feel safe going public with their views."
Having run similar campaigns in several cities around the country, Edwords says such vandalism is rare. He notes, however, that billboards in the Sacramento, Calif., area were also defaced recently.
Both nationally and locally, although bothersome, the vandalism is anything but a deterrent to the nonbelievers.
Funded by a $100,000 donation from a wealthy Philadelphian, the national group intends to keep on with its efforts to, as Edwords says, "gather the clans together." By that he means the messages aren't intended to convert religious types to the side of godlessness, but rather to let agnostics, atheists, free thinkers, secular humanists and others of that ilk know there are places where they can all come together.
On the positive side, Milan says, the vandalism only helps keep the issue of the ads in the news. You are, after all, reading about it right now. We're almost tempted to say God works in mysterious ways, but are convinced no divine hand directed the misguided vandal to break the law.
Aside from the defacings, Milan says reaction to the campaign overall has "predominantly been very positive. So many people are grateful to see us reaching out to the secular community like this. I'm getting a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people who want to say thanks or to find out how they can connect with others in the secular community."
"Because this happened, we stand even more resolved in or goal of being outspoken about our ideas," Milan said in a press release. "And we expect that this vandalism will convince even more nontheistic Detroiters that getting organized is important for the cause of religious liberty."
If you are one of them, you can find the Detroit Area Coalition of Reason on the Web at DetroitCoR.org or phone 248-722-3727.
Asian carp, climate change and clean energy are among the priorities for Nick Schroeck, the new executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.
The Detroit-based nonprofit center is affiliated with the Wayne State University Law School's new environmental law clinic, which started last year. Schroeck, then the regional representative with the National Wildlife Federation, had taught at the clinic as an adjunct faculty member and now will run the center full-time as well as keeping classroom duties.
Much of his work will be mentoring Wayne State law students who are working on active environmental cases, advising legislators and monitoring the work of federal and state administrative agencies involved with environmental issues.
The center and the clinic students also represent citizens and community groups who have an interest in protecting the air, water and land in the area.
"Environmental matters in the Great Lakes regions can have international repercussions, so international law issues can arise as well," says Robert Ackerman, dean of Wayne State's law school. "It's very good exposure for the students."
Formed in 2008, the center's attorneys and law students have been active. The center filed a petition in federal court challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that environmentalists argue could introduce more invasive species to the area. Schroeck was part of the Great Lakes states' two-day lobbying effort in Washington D.C. last month, and Noah Hall, Wayne State law professor and the center's founder, continues his work on "all things wet and legal," as he describes it on his website: greatlakeslaw.org/blog.
With continued tensions over how to handle the Asian carp threat, a shrinkage of governmental budgets that could lead to less compliance with environmental regulations, and other issues, the center has plenty of work.
"We look forward to serving the unmet legal needs of environmental and community organizations in Michigan," Schroeck says.
It's pretty safe to say that Michigan isn't exactly wanting for film festivals. In fact, the damn things are popping up like dandelions. Whether it's Jews, Palestinians, environmentalists or the GBLT community, if you throw a dart at a calendar, you're bound to hit a week when an ethnic or special interest group is screening flicks for local moviegoers.
And then, of course, there are the full-fledged fests, scrambling to find venues in order to turn their community into a destination for budding cinephiles. For your best chance at rubbing asses with celebrities, there's Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival, which has premiered Hollywood fodder like Flash of Genius and Religulous, while helping to revitalize the city's initially suspicious downtown. Heck, even Madonna made the trip back to Michigan to premiere her doc I Am Because We Are in 2008. Saugatuck's WFF (Waterfront Film Festival) has attracted both notice and crowds, while do-it-yourselfers have launched DIFF (Detroit Independent Film Festival) and DWIFF (Detroit-Windsor Independent Film Festival). The former wrapped up a successful first year at the Burton Theatre a couple of weeks ago (this year's sponsors are already signed up for next year) while the latter celebrates its third year in June. Meanwhile, both Grand Rapids and Port Huron have decided on a piece of the festival pie too, establishing their own cine-fests last summer.
For an industry that's supposed to have perished at the hands of Internet, there sure is a lot of enthusiasm for film fests. The obvious question is whether the Mitten State is in danger of getting fested out.
"I lived in San Francisco for 10 years, where there were more than 50 film festivals in a given year and obviously a community to support them," says Donald Harrison, executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. "I think we are nowhere close to a saturation point in Michigan for high-quality film festivals."
The granddaddy of all Michigan Film Festivals — actually, a cinematic senior on the global stage — the Ann Arbor Film Festival has been bringing independent movies to the masses for 48 years. And though it went through some troubled, audience-alienating times, the last several years have made it a must-attend event for those who fancy themselves serious film fans. Since 2005, the submissions (2,500 from 67 countries this year alone), crowds and accolades have been accumulating.
And, unlike most festivals, which knowingly appeal to celebrity hounds and I-saw-it-firsters who are obsessed with catching Hollywood releases before opening weekend, AAFF trains its sights on audiences who are truly looking for a unique cinematic experience.
"While I understand the fascination with celebrities, I believe that the majority of audiences most want remarkable and engaging experiences," Harrison says. "People nationwide flocked to the 'The Gates' exhibit in New York's Central Park not to see celebrities, but to have a shared experience with art and to get outside of their everyday lives."
And that's pretty much what you're going to get at AAFF. Most of the festival's selections are from little-known to anonymous filmmakers (with a few cult heroes thrown in for good measure). The film selections (170 this year) are defiantly experimental or independent in nature, with a focus on shorts, documentaries and animation. The festival attracts a who's who of the underground film scene. As far as true-blue film experiences go, you're unlikely to find a purer example of films for art's (rather than profit's) sake.
The real challenge facing the AAFF is whether it can convince metro Detroit audiences that movies they've never heard of by filmmakers they don't recognize are every bit as exciting and interesting as anything showing at Sundance, Toronto or Cannes.
So, for those of you whose eyes glaze over when you check AAFF's lineup of never-heard-of-them flicks, here are a few promising suggestions to get you started.
Some Days Are Better Than Others
Director Matt McCormick follows in the footsteps of fellow Portlanders Kelly Riechardt's (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) and Miranda July's (Me and You and Everyone You Know) with a melancholy, awkwardly episodic examination of personal disconnection starring the Shins' James Mercer and Sleater-Kinney's former singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein. Loss, heartbreak and small personal revelations are the name of the game for the film's three protagonists. Mercer plays a philosophizing slacker who's struggling to find meaning in his life and enough cash for rent. Brownstein is a wannabe reality TV star who works at a Humane Society shelter, and whose audition tapes reveal her emotions over a recent break-up. Renee Roman Nose is a thrift-store employee who becomes unsettled by the discarded urn of a dead child that shows up in her sorting bin. It's the kind of film where everyone needs a hug but no one gets one. The three plot threads thematically interconnect but ultimately have little to do with one another. Nevertheless, once you fall into McCormick's slow but lyrical groove, his film's quietly compassionate meditation on abandonment becomes quite moving.
One of eight narrative feature competitors at the South by Southwest festival (there were 831 submissions), Some Days Are Better Than Others plays at AAFF at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27. The festival expects the show to sell out so get your tickets now.
Heaven & Earth Magic
with live musical accompaniment by Flying Lotus
Terry Gilliam called Heaven & Earth Magic one of the 10 best animated films of all time. Created by Harry Everett Smith, this surreal 1957 film made from cut-out photographs seems to presage the work of such animators as Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers. Lyrically hypnotic and filled with the kind of surreal imagery that haunts your nightmares, what makes this screening truly inspired is that AAFF commissioned experimental hip-hop star Flying Lotus (known for his sampled spins on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim) to compose and perform a live musical score. Expect top-notch turntable scratches, drum machines, samples, synthesizers and keyboards. Think of it as a preview to Flying Lotus' upcoming work with Radiohead's Thom Yorke.
The show is at 7 p.m. Friday, March 26. Flying Lotus will also perform at a Dark Matter afterparty at the Blind Pig (208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555). Set time is 10:30 p.m. He'll be accompanying Dr. Strangeloop, who provides a mind-bending array of shorts films and film clips.
An Evening with Kenneth Anger
For the hardcore cineastes in the crowd, this is probably as close as you're going to get to a true film icon. Anger is widely heralded as a master of experimental cinema, with 1963's Scorpio Rising lauded as a landmark in avant-garde filmmaking. He's probably best-known for his sordid (and controversial) bestseller Hollywood Babylon and, to a lesser extent, for his fascination with such occult figures as Aleister Crowley and Anton LeVay, as well as working with future Charlie Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil. Even at the age of 78, Anger managed to make cinematic ripples, releasing Mouse Heaven, his equally affectionate and disturbed video tribute to Mickey Mouse memorabilia. There will be two retrospectives of his work, and both will feature an appearance by the esteemed filmmaker.
The first retrospective — at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27 — is followed by an onstage conversation with New York film critic Dennis Kim. The second (at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28) focuses on his occult-inspired work.
This Animated Life
Always a crowd-pleaser, AAFF mines its many, many submissions for animated shorts that provoke, inspire, tickle or just plain weird you out. And inevitably there will be a hilarious Bill Plympton selection. Catch it at 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 26.
Also, I have it on good word that the sarcastic Tehran Has No More Pomegranates, the shorts in competition in All That Lies Between Us and Daniel Barrow's live animation presentation Every Time I See You Cry are sure-to-please programs for the adventurous.
Finally, if you're more of a mall multiplex filmgoer, intimidated by what you might be subjected to at the fest's various programs, a sure-fire approach would be to attend the final night's Awarded Film Program. These are the flicks that won the hearts and minds of festival-goers and jurors. It's a pretty good bet you'll see more than a few things you'll like. The programs run at 6 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 28.
The AAFF runs Wednesday, March 24, through Sunday, March 28, in Ann Arbor. For complete show schedule and festival screening locations, go to aafilmfest.org or call 734-995-5356.
THURSDAY MARCH 25
Movie Night Alleycat Benefit
LOOKING FOR LANCE ARMSTRONG!
This two-part benefit for the HUB (recently named Michigan's first gold-level bicycle-friendly business by the League of American Bicyclists) features an Alleycat race through the nooks and crannies of the Cass Corridor to the Burton Theatre, where a trio of bicycle-themed films will be screened. The winner of the race can screen the flicks for free and second- and third-place bikers will receive HUB swag. Films include the 1948 Italian classic The Bicycle Thief and the 1986 tale of BMX glory, Rad. A third surprise film rounds out the night (Six Day Bicycle Race perhaps?). Racers meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Hub (3611 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-879-5073) to register; movies begin at 8 p.m. at the Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-473-9238). Race only is free; movies are $7 advance at the HUB or $10 day of; partake in both for just $7.
THURSDAY-SUNDAY MARCH 25-28
A STAGNANT LIFE
The renowned Maly Drama Theater of St. Petersburg makes its University Musical Society debut with Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, a masterpiece of unrealized dreams, unfulfilled loves and lethargy predicated on vague regrets. It tells the story of Professor Serebryakov, who, with his young bride Elena, returns to his country estate which has been in the care of his daughter Sonya and his brother-in-law Vanya. Vanya has spent his life sacrificing for Serebryakov's well-being, but the professor's underwhelming presence makes him wonder if he's been wasting his life, a feeling compounded by his sudden love for Elena. The Maly Drama Theatre was founded in Leningrad in 1944, and is internationally recognized as one of the world's preeminent theater troupes. Performances, in Russian with projected English translations, take place at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor; 734-764-2538; ums.org; $18-$56.
FRIDAY MARCH 26
Center for Yoga Grand Opening
ROCK YOUR CHAKRAS
To celebrate the opening of its new eco-friendly studio in B-ham, Center for Yoga is hosting a 24-hour yoga marathon for yogis new and old. A 3:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony will be followed by continuous yoga classes that conclude with a special meditation session at 5:15 p.m. the next day. The family-friendly event also features free vegan eats, massage services, DJs and special giveaways. Get flexible at the Center for Yoga, 555 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7054; centerforyoga.com for schedule; free, but the center will be accepting donations for the Judson Center, a social service agency located in Royal Oak.
FRIDAY MARCH 26
INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT, EH?
The Canadians head south ... er, we mean north, to join their border buddies at this first annual American Canadian musical mash-up. Representing the Great White North (or Windsor, at least) are mellow folk rockers James O-L and the Villains, Windsor indie rock staples Yellow Wood and electro-pop duo the Peace Leeches. Taking the stage for land of the free and the home of the brave are locals Four Hour Friends, Petal Shop, the Jet Rodriguez and Car Jack, along with Chicago's Lasers & Fast & Shit (actual lasers? No. Trippy light show? Yes!). Welcome the Canucks at 8 p.m. at the Magic Stick and the Majestic Café, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; $6.
FRIDAY MARCH 26
Take a Chance on Rock & Roll Live
ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY PICK-SLIDE
The world may be sliding into a dystopian stew of alienation and isolation, where the old standbys of politics and religion have failed us, but one cliché will always comfort: rock 'n' roll, damn it! At least that's the spirit behind this solo installation by artist Tim Hailey, whose large-scale murals proffer arena rock, with its boundless optimism and unbridled enthusiasm, as the alternative utopia we should inhabit (arena-rock heads ought to recognize the title of the exhibit from the Boston song "Feelin' Satisfied"). The opening-cum-dance party is the first event at Public Pool, a brand spanking new art cooperative organized by Stupor zine creator Steve Hughes. Now inhabiting the defunct Design 99 location in Hamtramck, the founding members of Public Pool plan to host a wide range of contemporary art projects, as well as musical performances, readings and burlesque. Take a Chance on Rock & Roll Live takes place from 7 to 11 p.m. at Public Pool, 3309 Caniff St., Hamtramck.
FRIDAY MARCH 26
THE DEPRESSION IN SONG
It's a testament to composer Steve Jones — and, to put it very mildly, a disaster for us — that his jazz opera, Forgotten: Murder at the Ford Rouge Plant, is more relevant on this side of the financial meltdown than in 2004 and 2005 when it played here. Class conflicts and complications are set to song in his Depression-era Detroit. Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, the Ford Hunger March and the other figures and events of the day figure into the story of Jones' activist-unionist-minister-broadcaster great uncle Lewis Bradford, whose mysterious 1937 death was reconsidered and deemed a likley homicide as a result of Jones' research for this musical. None of which would matter much if the music didn't do its job — and it does. At 7:30 p.m. at Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township; 586-286-2222.
FRIDAY-SUNDAY MARCH 26-28
A Streetcar Named Desire
Thanks to the classic 1951 film adaptation, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play has become so much a part of the collective American consciousness that even people who've never seen it can quote its famous lines. In this Stagecrafters' production, A Streetcar Named Desire is performed faithfully — Stanley's brutal working-class vitality, his wife Stella's marginalized equanimity, her sister Blanche's delusional path into destruction — but with the play's sexual undertones ramped up to new levels. Oh, boy! Performances take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak; 248-541-6430; $14 and $16. A talkback featuring Dr. Marc Rosen discussing psychological aspects of the play will take place following Sunday's show. Performances continue through April 11.
SATURDAY MARCH 27
Awesome Color and Tyvek
DON'T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY!
Awesome Color, a trio of Ann Arbor ex-pats, may be hunkered down in Brooklyn, but its blistering rock can't escape the Motor City — the fuzzy guitars, yowling vocals and teenage nihilism owe everything to the Stooges and MC5. On the cusp of releasing its third disc, Massa Hypnos, Awesome Color has paired up with fellow scuzzy Michiganders Tyvek for a month-long tour that concludes with this hometown show. Both bands have a reputation for devastatingly intense live outings, with scorching guitars, thundering drums and untamed onstage antics competing for attention. It's a voluntary thrashing you don't want to miss. Doors at 8 p.m. at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit; $7; with special guest the Jovantaes. For info, contact the Crofoot at 248-858-9333 or thecrofoot.com.
SATURDAY-SUNDAY MARCH 27-28
Black Women Rock! A Tribute to Betty Davis
PROUD TO BE DIFFERENT
Produced by local writer, performer and poet jessica Care moore, Black Women Rock! showcases female artists of color who rock in the style of funk diva and '70s badass rabble-rouser Betty Davis. By providing an alternative image of a rock star, the goal of the event is to inspire young female musicians to seek success on their own terms, rather than conforming to the plasticized stereotypes marketed by the music industry. Saturday night's 8 p.m. concert features performances by moore, New York City-based powerhouse vocalist Imani Uzuri; local rock vixen Steffanie Christi'an and Tamar-Kali, a veteran of New York's Afro-punk scene. On Sunday at 1 p.m., Moore leads a master class featuring the performers and other local artists, including Monica Blaire and Invincible. At the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-494-5800; both events are free.
SUNDAY MARCH 28
The second annual Colin Hubbell Memorial Fundraiser remembers Detroit champion Colin Hubbell and benefits the fund established in his memory, which provides financial support to businesses, organizations and individuals contributing to the renewal of the city. The shindig will feature food, music, bowling, an auction and a corn hole tournament. Last year's grant recipients include Good Girls Go to Paris Creperie, Leopold's Books, the Hub, North Cass Community Garden, Luella Hannan Foundation, Noel Night 2009, Mariners Inn and Morningside Community Mural Project. 3 to 7 p.m. at the Majestic Theatre Complex, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; contact the University Cultural Center Association at 313-577-5088 or detroitmidtown.com for info; tickets are $20, $10 ages 16 and under.
TUESDAY MARCH 30
The Black Lips
Answer: vomit, a chicken, public urination, fireworks, flaming guitars and band members making out. Question: What are things you may see at a Black Lips show? Atlanta's self-described flower punks may relish the spectacle, but the shenanigans (whether contrived or genuine) can't completely overshadow the quartet's knack for crafting bold, hummable ditties. Their woozy gayroge rock sound is made interesting thanks to flashes of psych, random sound effects and moments of sharp contrast, where catchy choruses devolve into cacophony and odes to reckless debauchery masquerading as sunny pop tunes. The Black Lips perform in support of their fifth studio album, last year's 200 Million Thousand, at 8 p.m. at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; $10 advance, $12 day of; all ages; with Box Elders and Tyvek.
DUDES ON DISPLAY
In Male/ID metro Detroit artists Brian Barr and Andrew Doak, and D.C. artist Al Miner explore how current views on masculinity inform the construction of contemporary male identities. The works, which include paintings, drawings and photography, delve into everything from traditional gender roles and typical signifiers of maleness (beards, muscles, etc.) to new conceptions of maleness and male relationships (think "bromance"). Beyond scrutinizing how society molds its members who rock the Y chromosome, the exhibit also aims to generate a broader discussion about gender as a whole, and how so-called "appropriate" behavior is identified, delineated and regulated. On display through April 24 at the Butcher's Daughter Gallery, 22747 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-808-6536.
The Boiling Point - by Mikhaela Reid
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