Andiamo Bloomfield Township 6676 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Twp.; 248-865-9300: The sunflower-yellow-and-purple color scheme and huge tilted mirrors that allow patrons to glimpse those sitting behind them have given the space a slickly contemporary look. The food is in contrast: it's the solid Italian fare of old master Aldo Ottaviani interpreted by a crew of young chefs in the open kitchen. Lively bar action is in an adjoining room.
Baja Fresh Mexican Grill 1357 Coolidge Highway, Troy; 248-822-9000: You can tell from Baja Fresh's motto, "No microwave! No can openers! No freezers! No lard! No MSG!" that this chain of Tex-Mex fast food is a king among men, so to speak. You can eat food that is fast, inexpensive and tasty, and not overwhelmed by a dunk in the deep fryer. For ambience, think highway rest stop: bright lights, menu on the wall, line up to order, self-serve drink bar, plastic tableware, etc. But don't let the decor fool you, the food is much more interesting, and more healthful than traditional fast-food fare.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 E. Big Beaver, Troy; 248-680-0066: Once part of the triumvirate of the area's classic, old-line Italian-American restaurants (Mario's, Lelli's, Larco's), with roots going back a half century to Detroit's Six Mile Road, Larco's has now become Big Beaver Tavern, with the management going for a sports tavern format, with burgers, fries, wide-screen televisions and poker and blackjack tables in the basement. The customers seem to enjoy the video games, bartop games and DJs, and the food quality remains high. They're selling hundreds of the burgers a week, but they still serve the same 8-ounce filet mignon that they served as Larco's for the last 19 years.
Big Rock Chophouse 245 S. Eton St., Birmingham; 248-647-7774: Big Rock Chophouse oozes northern lodge appeal and there are a variety of rooms in which to dine, including an outdoor patio. The lively atmosphere is complemented by chef Brian Henson's skillfully crafted menus. In addition to the restaurant is a 2,000-square-foot brew house with custom-designed, state-of-the-art equipment and quality, award-winning brews. Tours of the brew house available by request.
Brooklyn Pizza 111 Henrietta, Birmingham; 248-258-6690: Brooklyn is considered the home of the North American pizza, and the owners of Brooklyn Pizza describe their pies as New York-style pizza cooked in a brick oven, fueled by coal or wood. This method creates a thin, crisp crust that snaps and shatters when you take a bite. This is one place where you can still watch the pizza chefs flip a disk of dough in the air. Pizza is available by the slice or pie. Ice cream, gelato and Italian ices are made on the premises.
Camp Ticonderoga 5725 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-828-2825: With its gnarled wood and exposed beams, this camp is going for a hybrid hunting lodge-sports bar look. The Wild Thang Special embraces venison sausage, buffalo balls, rabbit ravioli; there's sometimes even alligator — and it doesn't taste like chicken.
Crust Pizza & Wine Bar 6622 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Plaza, Bloomfield Township; 248-855-5855: The concept of pizza-plus-wine now seems obvious, brought to life so expertly by the owners of Crust. First, the pizza here isn't just "fallback food" — the flavors are a revelation, with crusty "Naples classics" cooked in a 900-degree oven in as little as 90 seconds. The wines chosen to go with the pies are also excellent, categorized with such helpful descriptions as "refreshing fruit, crisp," "rich, buttery" and "blended earth and spice."
Forest Grill 735 Forest Ave., Birmingham; 248-258-9400: Brian Polcyn's stylish bistro, situated on the unlikely east side of Woodward Avenue, is on the ground floor of a new multi-use, especially "green," three-story building created by prize-winning architect Victor Saroki. The handsome, long, narrow room, with huge windows and a bustling open kitchen, seats only 65 at its white-clothed tables and lively bar. Starters include a hearty bowl of French onion soup, thick with onions and melted cheese, and the charcuterie du jour platter, with exquisite smoked meats, sturdy house-made mustard, and three choice mini-salads. The mains, most of which hover in the 20s, are anchored by an admirable steak-frites platter, with a thick strip rather than hanger or flat-iron steak, plus abundant skinny, crunchy fries. A mecca for oenophiles, almost all of the wines are not only available by the 5-ounce glass but also by the 3-ounce taste, which permits a good deal of experimentation, even for those doing the driving.
Franco's 3614 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-528-0153: This neighborhood restaurant has been quietly turning out respectable meals for a generation or so from a prosaic strip mall on Rochester Road. In a simply decorated, dimly lit room that seats 125, you can enjoy heavy red-sauced dishes with the pastas averaging around $15 and the other entrées around $18 including soup and salad. Franco's hearty pastas include such familiar preparations as ravioli, spaghetti carbonara, fettucine Alfredo and linguini with clam sauce. Among the pesce, the crisp and tender sautéed shrimp scampi over rice is a well-executed dish. You can wash all of this down with reasonably priced wines.
Kona Grill 30 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-619-9060: For a taste of Hawaiian cuisine, which, as on the Big Island itself, is more accurately described as pan-Asian, Kona offers moderately priced fare in an attractive dining environment. Choices range from sushi, noodles and pizza to beef and seafood, featuring ahi and macadamia nuts as a genuflection to the islands' culinary culture. Most of their mains cost less than $20, with the "signature dish" being macadamia chicken combined with a soy-based shoyu-cream sauce and adorned with pineapple-papaya marmalade, accompanied by a huge mound of mashed potatoes dotted with white cheddar and wok-tossed vegetables. The small and versatile wine list has some decent buys in the 20s and 30s.
Loccino Italian Grill & Bar 5600 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-813-0700: Loccino's menu features many accessible entrées, with most coming in at less than $20. Despite its relative elegance, the owners call it "family casual." The kitchen covers most of the Italian bases with a slight overemphasis on creamy sauces and breaded dishes. The chicken and veal preparations appear in comparable guises with veal $3 more than chicken. Loccino's chicken piccata with capers and mushrooms in a delicate lemon-wine sauce merits the local award it has won.
Maggiano's Little Italy 2089 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-205-1060: A visit to the free-standing castle-like edifice west of Crooks on Big Beaver Road offers some answers. One of dozens in a national chain, this upscale family restaurant is designed to look and feel like a venerable neighborhood institution, just as the original, which opened in Chicago in 1991, was designed to appear as if it had been a downtown destination since the 1930s. Many come for the family dinners that include two huge platters each from an encyclopedic selection of appetizers, salads, pastas, entrées and desserts. And virtually all of those who bravely confront the mounds of food will go home with doggie bags.
Mitchell's Fish Market 117 Willits Rd., Birmingham; 248-646-3663: 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 from day to day. You choose the fish and its style of preparation.
McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant 2850 Coolidge Hwy., Troy; 248-637-6400: The setting is posh, with beveled glass windows set into the mahogany paneling, and the service is accommodating. The food's the clincher, though — whether slip-sliding simple raw oysters or savoring the most fussy presentation, such as cashew-crusted mahi mahi sweetened with Jamaica rum butter and a salsa of mango and red bell peppers. The menu is printed twice daily, with an impressive list of more than 18 fresh-catch offerings. Desserts are all rich and classic; be sure to call for reservations.
Mon Jin Lau 1515 E. Maple, Troy; 248-689-2332: Mon Jin Lau seats 175 (not counting the spacious warm-weather patio) in several large and lively rooms. It's is one of the most extravagantly decorated of all the Chinese restaurants on this side of the river, with striking modern art on the walls, stone columns, art-deco chandeliers and palm trees all set against vibrant colors. Mon Jin Lau has nouveau Asian fare, including Korean, Thai and Japanese specialties. The menu is long, ranging from mundane golden oldies like egg fu young to the elaborately prepared roasted Chilean sea bass with lemongrass, red peppers, and Thai curry sauce, including more than 20 appetizers averaging around $8.
Moose Preserve 43034 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-858-7688: Knotty pine walls, lots of duck prints and various preserved animal parts are on display. To eat, there's buffalo, rabbit, duck, quail, wild boar, deer, sometimes rabbit and duck specials — virtually a forest full of critters — plus fried cheese sticks. Believe it or not, salads are some of the best menu items.
My Cousin's New York Pizzeria 42967 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-874-9999: Doing a mostly carryout business, My Cousin's New York Pizzeria trades on the mystique of New York pizza. Their rendition is round, generally thin (although thick-crusted at the slightly charred edges), moderately greasy and eaten folded lengthwise. The slices, wider than the Detroit norm for round pizzas, are eminently foldable and the crust is thin and delicate until you arrive at the crunchy edge, which is always eaten last. Moreover, the seamlessly blended tomato and cheese are more lightly applied than in comparable Detroit varieties.
New Bangkok Thai Bistro 183 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-2181: Re: those spice levels, medium will be hot enough for most. Most entrées can be ordered with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, scallops or squid. The fried rice dishes are even more comfort-food-y than the pad Thai, with an emphasis on the fried. The beef in one companion's kow pad was super-soft, with, unfortunately, an overreliance on onions. Fun for the younger set are bubble drinks — smoothies with a handful of soft and chewy boiled tapioca pearls that you slurp up through a special wide straw. mango, honeydew, taro, cocoanut, strawberry are bubble drink flavor options.
Northern Lakes Seafood Company 39495 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-646-7900: This sprawling establishment, which can seat 275 in its main dining areas, tavern and cozy private dining room, does not seem as large as it is because of the artful manner in which the space is broken up, and also because of the generous spacing between the New England-style bare wooden tables. Every night, the establishment offers about 10 fresh catches of the day that may range from Lake Superior whitefish to Idaho rainbow trout to Key West black grouper.
Original Pancake House 33703 S. Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-642-5775: The quintessential breakfast, served all day, with the titular pancake still supreme and the omelet a close second. Do not confuse this with a chain pancake house. 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.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro 2801 W. Big Beaver, Troy; 248-816-8000: P.F. Chang's is part of chain, located in a posh mall and the menu strays from authentic. But it is a very good restaurant nonetheless. Entrées are excellent, and drinks include a variety of wine, beer and specialty drinks traversing many cultures.
Parrot Cove Yacht Club 33475 Dequindre, Troy; 248-585-6080: The Parrot Cove Yacht Club has huge servings of solid bar food in its raffish but homey clubhouse. The Cove Platter, at $9.99, is a steal. The substantial sampler overflows with deep-fried chunks of crisp and tender chicken fingers, comparably crisp onion rings, breaded mozzarella sticks and, least crisp of the four, somewhat soggy stuffed potato skins. These irresistible artery-cloggers come with three dipping sauces. Parrot Cove flaunts seven burger variations that can also be constructed with Piedmontese beef — for less fat and cholesterol, fewer calories, and a shorter cooking time. The Cove Burger ($8.99), a made-to-order patty topped with provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms and lettuce and tomatoes, and accompanied by fries and slaw, is an attractive combination.
Phoenicia Restaurant 588 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-3122: Proprietor Sameer Eid has been serving meticulously prepared Middle Eastern food to the locals since the mid-1980s. He knows his way around the market and the kitchen, and gives a more sophisticated spin to the well-known litany of shish kebab, shish kafta, baked kibbeh and lamb chops. Seafood dishes are also specialties.
Priya 72 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-269-0100: Priya's dishes from southern India, such as rice-lentil crepes, or dosas, are found nowhere else in Michigan. The extensive menu of traditional Indian food sprawls across the subcontinent, featuring sophisticated dishes from the north and spicier fare from the south, including pulaos and biryanis from Hyderabad. Herbivores and carnivores will feel equally at home.
Recipes 2919 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-614-5390: Described as an upscale place for breakfast, the atmosphere is relaxed. The flawlessly served fare runs the gamut from the traditional (pancakes, eggs in every variation imaginable) to the adventurous (California roll omelets with crabmeat, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese and bits of seaweed). Stay long enough and you'll have the chance to sample one of the delightful lunch dishes such as chicken scaloppini with angel hair pasta or pan-Asian pasta garnished with sprouts and a spring roll.
Steve's Deli 6646 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-932-0800: Everyone has their own yardstick for measuring the quality of a deli. For me it is a pastrami sandwich. Like corned beef, pastrami starts as a brisket pickled in brine, but then the two meats part company. Pastrami is coated with cracked peppercorns, garlic and other spices, then smoked. Steve's makes a great pastrami sandwich on hand-cut rye bread with a crunchy crust. It's piled high with meat, but not so high that you can't get your mouth around it.
Sy Thai 315 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-258-9830: This is one restaurant where you ought to take the hot pepper rating seriously; even the mild spice level will prickle your taste buds. The little storefront eatery is a busy, noisy, friendly place, also doing a brisk take-out business. Each of the traditional entrées is offered with a choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, vegetables, shrimp, squid or imitation crab — noodles, curries, fried rice and other dishes load up the menu. The tom kha soup is a sure winner, a coconut milk broth enlivened with lime, with little straw mushrooms, scallions and fresh basil floating within.
Toast Birmingham 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278: The hype is true: Toast serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." There's a lounge called the Blue Room that's full of candles and sports a stark white deer's head over the fireplace. The menu is a mix of such firm favorites as burgers and mac & cheese (with goat cheese and gouda, of course) and less-common options, such as duck pie and venison sausage. The menu is mostly American, and changes with the seasons every few months. Past ringers have included carnitas and forbidden rice. And Toast shines in the bakery department.
Tokyo Sushi & Grill 30 W. Square Lake Rd., Troy; 248-828-0090: There is a spare simplicity to Japanese food that makes it possible to savor each component of a dish. But if the thought of raw fish strikes fear in your heart, order tempura or teriyaki. Or go for the big bowls of udon and soba noodle soups.
Tre Monti Ristorante 1695 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-1100: For a mini-state with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants, San Marino has made a lot of history. Founded in 301, it is the oldest republic in the world; its 400-year-old written constitution claims another longevity record, and its citizens once elected a government dominated by their Communist Party. With the opening three years ago of the Tre Monti Ristorante behind the San Marino Club on Big Beaver just west of John R, Detroiters will have an opportunity to sample its venerable culture and cuisine.
Whistle Stop 501 S. Eton, Birmingham; 248-647-5588: Cheese and meat omelets, pancakes with fruit, "cinnamon roll French toast" — sounds like a breakfast winner. Equally traditional lunch items like tuna melts and Maurice salads. Weekend breakfast specials, served all day, are a tad more adventurous, and everything is made fresh on the premises, including the breads and bumpy cakes.
Special thanks to editorial intern Sharon Jacobs for her assistance researching and compiling this column.
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