Best Of 2008

Community Chest - Staff Picks

DETROIT'S BEST STEP FORWARD
Detroit's RiverWalk
Once a terribly neglected resource, Detroit's riverfront has been transformed into a true gem — we'd say a sapphire, given the sparkling blue waters now easily accessible because of the lovely promenade constructed in recent years under the guidance of the nonprofit Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. When completed, the walkway will stretch from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park (just past the MacArthur Bridge leading to Belle Isle). The first phase has focused on the 3.5-mile section that starts at Joe Louis Arena and continues east; nearly 3 miles of that portion are complete. New features added this year at the Rivard Pavilion — site of the Cullen Family Carousel — include the Wheelhouse Detroit, which provides bike rentals and tours, and RiverWalk Café. If you haven't walked the riverfront lately, now's the time to check it out. You won't be sorry.

BEST SCOOP
Detroit Free Press text message story
As much as we hate to praise the competition, we can't ignore the importance of the Free Press' publication of incriminating text messages exchanged between former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. If it weren't for that monumental scoop, we wouldn't now be sticking the words "former mayor" in front of Kilpatrick's name. The way we see it, the paper deserves a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts — which include a costly Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that is still under way. On the other hand, should the paper be overlooked by the Pulitzer judges, having a Metro Times "Best Of" award to hang on a wall at the offices over on West Lafayette will surely be a comforting consolation.

BEST WAY TO SUPPORT RIVERWALK
Buy a brick
detroitriverfront.org
The development along Detroit's riverfront is supported by a public-private partnership that includes federal, state, county and city government, corporations, foundations and the community at large. You would be part of the latter. As noted on the Conservancy's Web site the first way to become involved is to simply use the riverfront. The next step would be to put your money where your foot is and buy a commemorative brick. Prices start at $100. Visit the website for more info.

BEST SHOW OF POLITICAL COURAGE
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy
Even after he lost the whistle-blower lawsuit that cost the city more than $8 million, and even after the text messages showing that he'd lied under oath were published, Kwame Kilpatrick retained a considerable amount of public support, and many in positions of power continued to watch his back. On the other hand, many in the suburban parts of Wayne County wanted to see the mayor of Detroit pilloried. Given the politically charged nature of it all, — and facing a re-election bid — Worthy was in what many considered a no-win situation. And the easiest thing would have been to hand the case off to the state attorney general or a special prosecutor. But she didn't. Instead, she and her team built a solid case — aided by a series of bond violations and an assault of a state police officer by the mayor — and ended up getting a guy who had long maintained his innocence to plead guilty, step down, accept jail time and agree to reimburse the city $1 million. We say, take a bow, Kym Worthy. Instead off ducking responsibility, you did a good job under the most difficult of circumstances.

BEST DETROIT RADIO MORNING SHOW PRANK, MAYBE EVER
Mojo sends moving van to Manoogian
And all it took was the cost of a rental truck. On the morning of Sept. 4, as the city of Detroit held its breath to see if Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would cop to a guilty plea in court, 95.5 (WKQI-FM) jolly jokers Mojo in the Morning dispatched on-air operative "Rob the Web Guy" — whose Web page lists his previous occupation as "repo man/tow truck driver" — to the Manoogian mansion with a moving van to help Hizzoner pack up his personal belongings. "I got some gloves on, got my tennis shoes. ... I'm good to go," Rob declared. The moment he drove onto the scene, nearly every media outlet keeping watch outside the mansion turned its cameras or microphones toward the truck, reporting the "breaking news" that Kilpatrick's moving truck had arrived. Later, nearly all of them had to issue a retraction that "a local radio station" was behind the hoax. Keep on truckin', Mojo.

BEST WAY TO IMPROVE DETROIT POLITICS
District council elections
It's often been claimed that at-large elections for its legislative body spared Detroit the kind of corrupt, machine politics that have plagued district-based cities like Chicago. Well, there's no sign of a machine here, but in recent years, we've had the investigation of the late Kay Everett, the conviction of Lonnie Bates, and now a cloud over the council with the federal Synagro probe. So much for being spared corruption. Meanwhile, we have a political system that circumvents the vigorous debate that goes with a one-on-one general election and the primary leading up to it. We have a system that (practically speaking) is only open to candidates who can afford to run citywide. A system where council members are accountable to all Detroiters in general — but no Detroiters in particular.

BEST MOVE TOWARD GREENDOM
Closing the Detroit incinerator
Although the City Council — with then-president Ken Cockrel Jr. on board — voted to close the massive trash burner on Detroit's east side, the thing hasn't been snuffed yet. But every environmental group in southeast Michigan wants it closed, and they have a relentless ally in Councilmember JoAnn Watson, so hopes remain high the facility will be history by this time next year. Vigilance — along with a major commitment to establishing curbside recycling — remains key.

BEST SENSE OF HUMOR IN A JUDGE
Judge Craig Strong
In our last Best Of issue, our staff picked Judge Craig Strong as the "Best Judge Dressed Like a Player," noting that the Wayne County Circuit Court judge is less noted for the black robes of a jurist than for the bright colors he wears so well and often. Well, mere days after the issue hit the streets, there came an insistent buzzing at our front door. Who did we find there but Judge Craig Strong himself, wearing an ensemble entirely in light-eggplant, right down to his shoes. His reaction? All smiles. When he beamed at us and cried, "Do I look like a player?" we knew the question was purely rhetorical.

BEST WAY TO ADDRESS THE FORECLOSURE CRISIS
State Sen. Hansen Clarke's moratorium proposal
SB 1306 looked to be going nowhere until it became obvious that everyone living on what the talking heads call Main Street is feeling the economic pain caused by the foreclosure crisis. As the country teetered on the brink of economic meltdown a few weeks ago, a press conference was held to announce that Michigan's AFL-CIO leadership was giving the proposed legislation its support as the foreclosure tsunami's black waters kept spreading, swamping neighborhoods across the state. It is more evident than ever that we're all part of the same economic mess, and that helping people stay in their homes is good for everyone. To learn more go to moratorium-mi.org.

BEST WAY TO GET DETROIT ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Join Transportation Riders United
detroittransit.org
In terms of getting from here to there, things are finally looking up for the only major U.S. metropolitan area without a rapid transit system. After years of going nowhere, there's movement on a number of fronts. Much of the credit for that goes to John Hertel, the seasoned politico who heads Detroit Regional Mass Transit effort. A newly released plan commissioned by the city of Detroit and Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties has generated much excitement and optimism. Along with consolidating Detroit and suburban bus service, it envisions hybrid-powered buses traveling along major routes throughout the region, light rail along parts of Woodward Avenue, and stepped-up commuter rail between the New Center area and Ann Arbor (including Metro Airport). The plan makes too much sense to fail. By cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing reliance on foreign oil and promoting economic development throughout the region, the opportunity to link metro Detroit through an integrated transit system is something we can't afford to miss. But long before any of this happened, the nonprofit group Transportation Riders United was out there creating the vision and generating the political pressure needed to transform what once seemed to be an impossible dream into a reality. And it still needs all the help it can muster to assist in keeping things moving in the right direction. Learn what the group is all about at detroittransit.org.

BEST WAY TO MAKE YOUR ELECTION CONNECTION
publius.org
Founded in 1996 by Vince Keenan, publius.org is an example of nonpartisan electoral public service at its best. Want to make sure you are registered, or where your polling place is? Type in your name and the info appears. Interested in who's contributing to a candidate? Click an icon and link to the Secretary of State site containing the info. As its website points out: "Publius continues to evolve based on the principle of creating tools to make the time citizens interact with government as effective as possible. We pound the pavement, make calls, and ask lots of questions in order to consolidate all the information citizens need to vote, and then we create an intuitive system to access it." The name Publius dates back to Roman times, and shares its etymological roots with the word public. And that, pretty much, sums up who this nonprofit serves. That, and democracy itself.

BEST SELF-PROMOTION WITH PUBLIC MONEY
Oakland County Sheriff's Department helicopters
Cops do need a little PR sometimes to save them from that stereotype as jack-booted, ticket-writing, door-kicking violators of Constitutional rights. But we can't help but think maybe one effort has gone a bit too far. Does Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard really need his name plastered down the tail of the department's helicopters? The helicopters do help police and citizens — they've been used to track lost Alzheimer's patients, assist in chases and do drug surveillance — but to be a flying billboard for an elected office? Well, that answer is not up in the air.

BEST NEXT TASK FOR ATTORNEY BILL GOODMAN
Chair of the City Charter Rewrite Commission
When KK was finally out as mayor, the question became: When would the next mayoral election be held? Turning to the city charter for guidance, journalists, attorneys, city council members and their staff tried to decipher the language that reads: "If a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor or city council 30 days or more before the filing deadline for a general election in the city or special citywide election, the vacancy shall be filled at that election for the remainder of the term. When a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor or city council less than 30 days before the filing deadline for a general election in the city or special citywide election, the city council shall order a special primary election for the nomination of candidates and special general election to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the unexpired term." The arguments over which filing deadline — one that's past or in the future — crippled the city while the council sorted it out. This conundrum — and others too numerous to detail here, not to mention our district council stance related above — leads us to start a campaign for a charter rewrite. Given his familiarity with the charter — hell, he's actually read the fucking thing and keeps a printed copy of it in his office — we suggest Goodman. After all, with KK gone, he could use some more steady work.

BEST RENOVATION
Book-Cadillac Hotel
1114 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-442-1600
Constructed in the 1920s at a cost of $14 million, Detroit's 33-floor Book-Cadillac could once lay claim to being the tallest hotel in the world — an ornate structure with more than 1,100 guest rooms, three ballrooms and an equal number of dining rooms and, according to information posted on the website Forgotten Detroit, a silver service that contained 50,000 pieces. Once described as the "epitome of glamour," it — like the city around it — eventually fell into a long decline. It was shuttered in the 1980s. Now, after more than two decades of dormancy, the famed hotel has undergone a $180 million renovation — including the addition of 67 luxury condos on the building's top floors — resurrecting one of the city's most prominent ghosts. Those who cherish the city's great past and want to see its glorious remnants preserved — and those desperate to see signs that Detroit is continuing to move forward despite the deluge of problems facing it — all cheered to see the splendor has returned.

BEST SUNRISE VIEW OF DETROIT
It's complicated
First you check with the U.S. Naval Observatory online (tinyurl.com/2setkh) to figure the time of the sunrise. Then with radio traffic reports to help time your arrival at the crest of M-39 (Southfield) interchange to I-96 headed downtown. There's one problem, though: You can't stop to take it all in.

BEST ARGUMENT FOR BETTER ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW
Greektown Casino expansion
Yes, Detroit needs development (and redevelopment) so badly it's hard to say no to anything. And, yes, the casino has been fighting its way through bankruptcy. But the expansion of the old temporary casino to its permanent state involves the construction of a largely featureless boxy behemoth extending over Lafayette Avenue. You walk down the avenue alongside the new construction, look up at what are apparently intended to appear (to the outside) as enormous faux windows and you can't help but curse the light and sky you've lost here. Approach the casino from west, staring east on Lafayette, and that bare brick wall creates the most boring streetscape in all of downtown Detroit.

BEST MOTORIZED CARDIO WORKOUT
Hall Road/M-59
Holy Christ! You really need more power on today's road, especially if you want to get your economy car past the convoy of light trucks speeding down the hammer lane. It's enough to make Steve McQueen himself break a sweat. Make your move quickly! Dart left, clearing the ferocious-looking grill of some oversized Ram 1500, then swerve immediately into the left turn lane, where you have 10 yards to skid to a stop due to a backup. Now, take your cue from the H3 that's riding your ass and give it a jackrabbit start the minute there's any sign of forward movement. Then, once you're through the "Michigan left," if you've made the red, dart across five lanes of traffic to that wrap joint you like. Who needs an exercise bike?

NEXT BEST THING TO LIGHT RAIL FOR DETROIT
City Bicycling Plan
Working quietly last month, Detroit City Council heard and approved the Detroit Non-Motorized Transportation Master Plan. That sounds deathly dull, but it's actually exciting news for the pedalists among us. Though the state had vowed to commit funds to cycling initiatives in Detroit, and Detroit's Traffic Engineering Department had signed off on the endeavor, the plan had never been brought before council for its approval — something MDOT needed before it would help move things forward. The plan ought to get cyclists pumped: It will track cycling destinations across Detroit with an eye to connecting them with a network of bike trails, lanes and greenways, calling for as many as 400 miles of bike lanes across the city. The plan's organizers believe lanes could be painted down during normal MDOT road maintenance. And for groups wanting bike lanes in their neck of the woods, working in tandem with the city means it won't be the uphill slog it used to be.

BEST PROJECT OF 2008 WE'RE STILL WAITING TO BE FINISHED
Dequindre Cut Bicycle Path
Talk about anticipation! Last year, the long-unused rail bed slicing through Detroit's near east side emerged from the thick cover of brush as contractors whacked back the wilderness and began turning the old sub-surface rail cut into a bike path. Back then, we heard this "rails to trails" project was due to be complete in May 2008, linking Eastern Market with the newly expanded RiverWalk and its parks. The only problem is, construction is still under way, and no section of the path seems to be open yet. That's a terribly tempting thing for city cyclists to pass over, day in and day out. And plenty can't resist. Here's hoping the path is ready for us to roll on by, oh, let's say May 2009.

BEST URBAN GETAWAY
University of Michigan-Dearborn natural area
Corner of Fairlane Drive and Montieth Boulevard, Dearborn; 313-593-5338
"You could live your life in the area and never know it was there. It's one of my favorite places to go — especially in the fall," one of our informants told us. Not far from the bustle of Fairlane Mall, the University of Michigan-Dearborn owns 75 acres of natural habitat (part of the original Henry Ford Estate) and oversees another 225 acres owned by the county. UM-D's Environmental Interpretive Center on Fairlane Drive houses exhibits on topics such as the Rouge River (which runs through the area) and is the gateway to the foot trails through the vicinity. The topography includes a variety of forest types (such as one of southeast Michigan's rare climax beech-maple forests), maturing old fields, Clara Ford's former rose garden (now returning to nature), an eight-acre lake and a community organic garden (plots available, call 313-583-6371). Fox, raccoon and deer can be seen. More than 250 bird species have been recorded by the Rouge River Bird Observatory, housed at the center. The observatory studies the role of this natural-amid-urban area as a stopover for migrating birds. The center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the trails are open sunrise to sunset. No dogs, no running; bicycling only on the River Rouge Gateway Trail (trailhead on Michigan Avenue). More info at umd.umich.edu/eic, including a link to the latest bird sightings from the observatory. You can also use the nature area trails to reach the Henry Ford Estate, Fair Lane.

BEST ISLAND
Peche Island
Detroit River, just downstream from Lake St. Clair
This Canadian recreation spot is part of Windsor's park system (think "toilets available") and offers beaches, waterfowl, inland waterways, walking trails and wetlands. Named by the French — for "fish" or "fisherman" — it's home to bald eagles and some enormous freshwater turtles, and the park can only be reached by boat. Hiram Walker owned the 100-acre island from 1883 to 1907, long enough to build a summer house, stable, greenhouse and ice house; only the home's foundation remains. Since the Walker family gave it up, the island has been owned by the province of Ontario and now is part of the city of Windsor, which provides a map and other information at citywindsor.ca.

BEST EMERGING SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN TOURIST ATTRACTION
Mountain Biking
Various trails, Metroparks and state parks; mmba.org.
Who needs real mountains for great mountain biking? Not riders in southeast Michigan, who are surrounded by a trove of hilly trails that attract new and experienced cyclists. Just ask Ernie Bell. After friends convinced him to try off-road cycling a decade ago, he's become a dedicated rider and now assists others with his Waterford bike shop, Cycle Therapy. "I see all kinds of people from outside of southeast Michigan who come here for the rides," he says. That includes bike tourists who make a trip specifically for some rides and business travelers who escape meetings and hit the trails. "They have to go mountain biking here because they've heard so much about it," Bell says. The area's offerings range from beginner — Island Lake is one of the most highly recommended — to the difficult single-track loops at Highland Recreation Area. In between "There are challenging rides but they aren't so hard that they scare people away," Bell says. "I think the average rider can ride most of the trails without risking too much."

BEST PLACE TO BET THE DAILY DOUBLE
Pinnacle Race Course
18000 Vining Rd., New Boston; 734-543-3200; pinnacleracecourse.com
It opened in July, bringing live thoroughbred racing back to the Detroit area after a hiatus of nearly a decade. The new track, located near Metro Airport, is operating while still under construction. So while it may not offer the amenities of a Churchill Downs, it's still the only place in town to watch the distant descendants of Secretariat, Man O' War, et al. thunder down the stretch. As part of the inaugural season, admission and parking are free through Nov. 2.

BEST WAYNE COUNTY LAKE
Belleville Lake
Folks in Belleville like to make the point that Oakland County doesn't have a monopoly on lakes in metro Detroit. And Belleville has a bit of history as a one-time resort community of the 1930s, as well as birthplace of techno in the 1990s (Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson have been called the Belleville Three). Public access points to the lake, Wayne County's largest, include Horizon Park and Van Buren Park, the latter boasting a swimming and picnic areas and a variety of wildlife. Be on the lookout for bald eagles and the University of Michigan women's crew team, which practices and races on the lake. Diversions include the annual Strawberry Festival and Taste of Belleville Festival. More info at belleville.mi.us.

BEST 'SHRINK-RAPPED' FILM SERIES
Reel Deal
The sponsor group's name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue: The Association for Psychoanalytic Thought of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. But the group's film series has been around for five years — not bad — and we think some of you will want to get on the couch with them. (We couldn't resist, doc.) The current format features extensive clips from a film of the last year or so, followed by a group discussion led by a "director's chair' facilitator" (taking the film theory perspective) and either a psychoanalyst or a psychotherapist. There are four events planned over the next six months. Next up is No Country for Old Men, (Friday, Oct. 19, 1-3 p.m. at the Bloomfield Township Library), but we're really looking forward to the season closer in Ann Arbor next March with HBO's In Treatment. That'll give us shrinks talking about a show about a shrink and his shrink. That's so meta- that we're getting dizzy. For information see mpi-mps.org or call Dave Lundin at 248-229-5389.

BEST TV NEWS PERSONALITY FOR THESE TROUBLED TIMES
Murray Feldman
Wall Street is in freefall, your job's in jeopardy and the word "foreclosure" has become part of your daily vocabulary. Murray Feldman, if we ever needed you, it's now. The velvet-smooth FOX2 business reporter, who's been on the beat here so long he can remember when car sales were booming, has become our voice of experience and reassurance. He hosts Money Minute reports in the mornings, Murray's Money Savers in the afternoons, the help-wanted FOX2 Job Shop every day, The Feldman Report at night, does double duty for WWJ-AM (950) news radio and somehow finds time to co-anchor Channel 2's 5:30 p.m. newscast with Sherry Margolis. Look! On the air! It's SuperFeldman! How Murray manages to be such a ubiquitous presence on Detroit TV, reporting such critical information, yet remain relatively anonymous away from the camera, is one of the Motor City's great media mysteries.

BEST REASON TO STAY UP LATE WITH A RADIO (STILL)
Alan Almond's Pillow Talk
He's still inspiring imitators after all this time — even R&B superstar Keith Sweat with his Sweat Hotel on Mix 92.3 (WMXD-FM) — but Detroit's Alan Almond has been making panties damp with his bottomless voice and atmospheric love songs from 7 p.m.-midnight as host of Pillow Talk on WNIC-FM (100.3), which he started more than a quarter century ago, and his style and delivery remain among the most consistent elements in all of radio. Exhibit A: Almond's nomination as 2008 national Personality of the Year by Radio & Records magazine and his claim to the highest-rated nighttime romantic-mood radio show in Detroit history. Alan, thank you so, so much.

BEST MIXED METAPHOR INTERCEPTED BY MT EDITORS
'Juggling a flood of interview requests'
"Mixed metaphor? Is that a journalism thing?" one of our poet-writers once asked. Runners-up in this "journalism thing" competition: "... has his hands in so many pies that he would seem unable to keep track of everything on his proverbial plate ... has worked various teeming waters of American music, mining the rich vein of our collective musical heritage, while traveling restlessly down many a back road. ... Its songs hang together like gentle mood swings ... These dueling powerhouses get to pour on the intensity."

BEST ALL-AROUND LITERARY ACTIVIST
M.L. Liebler
When MT had the idea of a collage poem drawing on the work of ... oh, a hundred or so Detroit poets, it seemed the only person crazy enough to try and knowledgeable enough to pull it off was M.L. Liebler. The result — our first cover poem — speaks for itself. Abandon Automobile (2001), which Liebler co-edited with Melba Joyce Boyd, is the introduction to contemporary poetry in Detroit. Liebler's been in the trenches for years promoting series and group readings and building connections between the Detroit and the national and international scenes. Metro Detroit Writers, which he directs, offers the best one-stop directory to literary events in metro Detroit at springfed.org. This Thursday, Oct. 16, he's at Cliff Bell's with his Magic Poetry Band and guests from the Detroit Writers Workshop. Friday, Oct. 17, he's with Marge Piercy and others at the 18th Annual Bernard Firestone Labor Arts & Poetry Tribute, at McGregor Conference Center on the Wayne State campus. Saturday he kicks off the Kick Out the Jams Library Tour with John Sinclair and others in Ypsi. Did we mention he stays busy?

BEST LITERARY HOST AND LITERACY BOOSTER
Motown Writers Network
Celebrating its eighth year, the organization founded by author Sylvia Hubbard hosts its fifth annual "Essence of Motown Literary Jam and Conference" Nov. 6-9. Through its free, weekly Web newsletter, free, monthly seminars on self-publishing, marketing and writing, and frequent collaborations with local libraries, the Network has become one of the largest volunteer literacy organizations in Michigan. Among its recent honors are the 2005 Spirit of Detroit Award and the 2008 Detroit Literary Empowerment Gala's Community Champion Award.

BEST INVENTIVE MALAPROPISMS FROM A PROSPECTIVE INTERN
'Let's corporate'
From an actual letter from an actual college student seeking a summer internship at Metro Times: "As an inspiring journalist, I would love to be able to work, learn, and corporate with Metro Times. Working alongside with you and the entire staff, I will gain more experience and become an even better writer. ... Writing allows me to express, learn and grow into a better person and see the world." (Postscript: Student did not get summer internship.)

BEST OVERHEARD CONVERSATION
Guy: 'I've got your switchblade still.'
Stylish woman: 'Oh, that's OK. I've got five more.'
Yes, it's true: We've secretly been scouring the streets, listening in on private conversations held in public places, stealing great lines for publication. So sue us. Whether it's a duet of Blue Cross Blue Shields employees gossiping on a smoke break ("I had the most god-damned fun in that truck, sitting on his lap"), or some lunatic running his mouth at an outdoor bazaar ("I beat up women too. I'm from the old school"), or a confessional take on inebriation ("I was drinking so much I skipped drunk and went straight to hangover"), we're delighted to find out what some folks have got the nerve or verve to say. And yet, it's the profoundly simple stuff that makes metro Detroit seem like a real deep place to dwell. Once overheard at a bar: "Something is everything to somebody."

BEST DOWNTOWN PARADE THAT DOESN'T INVOLVE SANTA CLAUSE
Annual Caribbean Festival Parade on Jefferson Avenue
Reggae, soca and other island and coastal sounds blare from flatbed trucks. Beauty pageant contestants wave from convertibles. Hundreds of dancers — 800 to 900 last year, the organizers tell us — in respective national colors wave national flags. And there are floats (of a sort), as costumed ladies drag wheeled contraptions from which flare enormous wing-like appendages — they're human butterflies. With cultural and musical attractions celebrating Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and their regional neighbors, the Caribbean Festival is a summer staple in many big American and Canadian cities, including Detroit. It's well worth catching, including the parade that traditionally starts Saturday at noon near Chene Park, then struts down Jefferson to the festival site at Hart Plaza. Next year's event is Aug. 10, 11, 12; the parade is on Aug. 11. Organized by the Caribbean Cultural and Carnival Committee; myccco.com.

BEST PLACE TO WATCH A KIDS' SOCCER GAME
Riverfront fields at the Historic Fort Wayne
Luis Reyes says the view is "pretty nice" but he doesn't have a lot of time to think about it as soccer balls fly at him. A goalie for Cesar Chavez Academy's soccer team, the 17-year old has practice and games just about every weekday on the riverfront fields at Historic Fort Wayne. Nine soccer fields are nestled between a row of aged buildings at the southwest Detroit fort and the river's edge on former parade grounds. Perched above the Detroit River, the sidelines offer a view of freighters and other boats on the river and the Canadian shoreline across the waters. Think Detroit PAL runs soccer leagues that use the fields, which are under the care of the Detroit Recreation Department. On Saturdays during the spring and fall, more than 2,000 players use the site. Ranging in age from 4 to 19, players could be making their first kicks or be part of a traveling league. Kristen Kaszeta, director of communications for Think Detroit PAL — a two-year-old merger of the former Think Detroit nonprofit and the Police Athletic League — says the soccer fields are a big draw for spectators. "The barges go by, it's done really well," she says. People also find the fields a great viewing place for summer fireworks.

BEST ALMOST UNKNOWN HISTORIC SITE
The launch site of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Foot of Great Lakes Avenue, Ecorse
A couple of times a month during the summer, a few curious souls will appear at this Ecorse canal looking for what some call Great Lakes shipping's "Valhalla": the canal where the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald freighter was launched in 1958. The site back then was the Great Lakes Engineering Works boat-building yard, where the ill-fated "Fitz" first hit water on June 7, 1958. The ore carrier sailed the Great Lakes until her famed sinking on Lake Superior in 1975, memorialized most notably in a Gordon Lightfoot song and a display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula. Twenty-nine men died and rest in a cold Lake Superior grave. But while the ship's final resting place is well-known, its birthplace is not. No marker. No sign. No memorabilia for sale. An occasional Homeland Security patrol goes by the industrial waterfront site. It's now owned by U.S. Steel, which leases land on either side of the canal to Detroit Bulk Storage, a supplier of materials for road construction, and Great Lakes Towing Company to harbor its three-tugboat fleet.

Community Chest - People's Poll

BEST CHANGE IN THE DIA RENOVATION
More ... more ... more ...
More of what, readers couldn't agree on. But they celebrated a new DIA that has "more places to roam," "the bigger, more prominent café," "more people-friendly," "more places to view," "more hangout space," "more open and transparent to the public."

BEST CHANGE TO CHANGE IN THE DIA RENOVATION
The marble
OK, we were less than artful in asking what readers didn't like about the changes, what they might want to change back. The leader was some variation of "that god-awful mausoleum facade" or "the mismatched outside walls." But compared to the preceding question, few bothered to answer, some suggested that everything is just fine and there's not a thing that needs changing.

BEST PLACE TO SEE A MAINSTREAM FILM
Uptown Palladium
250 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham, 248-644-FILM
This modern movie palace in Birmingham boasts three floors, 12 theaters and the largest marquee outside of downtown. An updated art deco style complements their amenities, including stadium seating, premium presentation and the opportunity to enjoy dinner with a movie in body-hugging comfort seating.

BEST PLACE TO SEE AN INDEPENDENT FILM
Main Art Theatre
118 N. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-263-2111
This friendly neighborhood art house has retained its charm even as a Royal Oak residential and shopping complex has grown up around it. Three theaters feature the biggest releases in alt-Hollywood fare, and their summer midnight movie series brings back the funky vibe of long-gone repertory houses.

BEST PLACE TO SEE TOURING PLAY OR MUSICAL
Fisher Theatre
3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit: 313-872-1000; nederlanderdetroit.com
Historical note: It was this very theater that (along with Louis Armstrong's classic cover song) made Hello, Dolly! a hit ... after it had bombed in earlier stops on the road to Broadway. And maybe the theater will make some history again when it reopens in remodeled glory next month.

BEST PLACE TO SEE LOCAL STAGE PRODUCTION
Planet Ant
2357 Caniff Ave in Hamtramck; 313-365-4948
With more than a decade in the small theater game, Hamtramck's black-box theater stages edgy drama, over-the-top improv and local theater and media festivals, and our readers put it together for the little building with the big ant on the side.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR POETRY
Trixie's Coffee
25925 Gratiot Ave., Roseville; 586-776-9002
It's a veritable microcosm of the Detroit arts community. The popularity of their open-mic nights means that they rarely close their doors before 1 a.m.

BEST HANGOUT FOR GAMERS
Pinball Pete's
1214 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-213-2502
University of Michigan students flock to this downtown Ann Arbor locale to get away from their studies, to dance or throw or shoot their cares away. It's open late and has every type of arcade game you could want, perfect for just one game of pool or air hockey after dinner or three hours of DDR before bed.

BEST GOLF COURSE
Rackham
10100 W. 10 Mile Rd., Huntington Woods; 248-543-4040
Some of the things that make Rackham a hole-in-one: 1) Nice layout. 2) Well-maintained. 3) The bunkers were renovated last year. 4) Reasonable prices. 5) The rich history that includes the likes of Joe Louis as a frequent visitor.

BEST MINIATURE GOLF
Putterz
2675 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-434-2838
Three 18-hole courses can either make for a fun marathon of competitive putting or a long night of chaperoning for Mom and Dad. This gauntlet of golf caters to everyone from kids to college students and includes a batting cage and arcade if 54 holes aren't enough of an outing for you.

BEST SUBURBAN PARK
Stony Creek
4300 Main Park Rd., Shelby Township; 586-781-4242
Biking, birding, boating, canoeing, camping, cross country skiing, golfing, fitness trails, hiking, fishing, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, snow boarding, swimming, parties, picnics, a fitness trail, a nature center and special seasonal events ... whew!

BEST SLEDDING HILL
Balduck Hill
5271 Canyon St., Detroit
This giant hill is a fond memory to many of the people who grew up on the east side of Detroit. Even today, it remains a favorite for kids.

BEST HIKING TRAIL
Kensington Park
2240 W. Buno Rd., Milford; 248-685-1561
Our readers turn to Kensington's sprawling, 8-1/2 miles of trails (of various lengths) as the best to gape at animals, get some exercise, conduct a class field trip or just marvel at how pretty it all is. Trails traverse woodlands, wetlands, abandoned fields and a tamarack bog.

BEST PLACE TO FISH OTHER THAN THE DETROIT RIVER
Lake St. Clair
But where on the lake? Smart fishermen seem not to want to get that specific.

BEST PLACE TO CANOE OR KAYAK
Huron River
The tranquility of being on water is unarguable: the gentle current, the wildlife, the steady downhill flow. Add in the therapeutic effects of paddling a kayak or canoe and you can throw away the prescription for the anti-depressants.

BEST BATHROOM
Slows Bar-BQ
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828
We've had more than a little praise for this place since it opened a few years back. Readers now point out that we've missed something.

BEST BATHROOM GRAFFITI
Cass Cafe
4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400
This Cass Avenue establishment is well-known as a spot to engage in (and overhear)good conversations. And so it's natural that the spirit of free expression spills over into the stalls, where our readers give their best marks.

BEST ICE RINK
Campus Martius
Downtown Detroit
Hey, all you Hollywood film directors coming to town: Central Park isn't the only romantic downtown skating location in the universe.

BEST INDOOR ROCK CLIMBING
Planet Rock
82 April Drive, Ann Arbor; 734-827-2680; and 34 Rapid St., Pontiac; 248-334-3904
Between Planet Rock's two facilities (Ann Arbor and Pontiac), which both feature 50-foot high walls, there are hundreds of different routes to test your climbing skills on.

BEST BICYCLING PATH OR TRAIL
Dequindre Cut
How desperate are Detroiters for something like this? Consider that this old rail line-turned-bike path (running parallel to St. Aubin) only extends from Gratiot Avenue to not-quite the riverfront — and it's months from being officially open.

BEST PLACE TO ADD BICYCLING PATH OR TRAIL
Woodward Avenue
It strikes us as odd that after years of clamoring for as much, Detroiters are finally on the verge of getting mass transit for the Woodward Corridor ... at the same time we're finally getting serious about bike lanes. Odd, but definitely reassuring.

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKING
Pontiac Recreation Area
It could be advertised as "8 inches and single" but even that wouldn't excite cyclists any more than the nine dedicated miles of mountain biking trails at this Michigan state park. Located on Pontiac Lake just west of the Oakland County Airport, the park is easily accessible from M-59. The two-mile climb will make you a (wo)man or a mouse. Bring a helmet.

BEST ROAD TO PRETEND YOU'RE LANCE ARMSTRONG
Hines Drive
It's open, wide and runs along a river, kinda like the Tour de France finale along Paris' famed Champs Elysees and Seine River. If you're not at the pro level yet, this is the place to train for it.

BEST BEACH
Metro Beach
31300 Metropolitan Pkwy., Harrison Twp.; 586-463-4581; 800-477-3172
We used to separate beach for swimming and people-watching. Metro won them as separate categories in the past, and not surprisingly now wins as the best beach overall. We can't think of a place in the region where a more diverse crowd gathers for such a good time.

BEST PLACE FOR A PICNIC
BEST PLACE FOR OUTDOOR SEX
BEST PLACE TO PROPOSE
BEST PLACE FOR AN OUTDOOR WEDDING
BEST PLACE TO FISH
Belle Isle
Is this the life cycle of a relationship? (You can do your research on spots for noshing, canoodling, etc. but we've checked on the wedding thing: Scott Fountain, the Conservatory and the Carillon Tower all have available dates for next year for $200 to $400-plus deposits.)

BEST PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE
Michigan Theater
603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-TIME
A few years ago, the theater asked patrons to share their first-date tales for a Valentine's Day promotion. "The velvet curtains, the organ, and the view from the balcony left me breathless," recounted the winner, who fell in love with her date. Another reminisce: "I met Rebecca at a mutual friend's birthday dinner. We were seated next to one another and discovered that we enjoyed the same kinds of films. I mentioned my plans to see Dr. Strangelove the next day at the Michigan Theater. Rebecca showed interest and so I welcomed her to meet me there. When I entered I scanned the theater. Rebecca waved. I didn't view this as a first date until I found a single red rose in the seat she saved for me. It remains one of my fondest memories in life."

BEST PLACE FOR AN INDOOR WEDDING
TIE

Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900; dia.org
Detroit Athletic Club
241 Madison Ave.; 313-963-9200; thedac.com
Some wishful thinking here: The DIA is available for receptions only. Cost depends on the location within the museum, and bookings are being taken for after June 1. The Detroit Athletic Club is also an option if you are a member of the private club or can get a member to sponsor you.

BEST PLACE FOR A LAST DATE OR BREAKING UP
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198
We explain it this way. This is the date where you don't have to worry about having onions on your breath.

BEST PLACE TO CRUISE
Woodward Avenue
And for thousands of classic car owners and a couple zillion enthusiasts, the cruising reaches a dreamlike peak on the third Saturday of August.

BEST AIRPORT PARKING
Big Blue Deck
Prices have doubled from $5 to $10 over the past five years, but the Blue Deck still offers competitive rates, the advantage of covered parking and, if you are using the Smith Terminal, incredible convenience.

BEST WAY TO BEAT A DRUG TEST
Don't Do Drugs
The winner two years in a row. We might add: the only foolproof way to beat a drug test.

BEST CEMETERY
Elmwood Cemetery
1200 Elmwood Ave., Detroit, 313-567-3453
It takes no particular preparation to stop by this 86-acre island of greenery a few miles from the heart of downtown Detroit. You can't help but appreciate the beauty of the place, founded in 1846 on the principles of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (the visionary of New York's Central Park). You also can't miss the history in tomb markers that echo the names of streets, expressways, hospitals, schools, cities and more. If the latter is of interest, we highly recommend also visiting the informative website elmwoodhistoriccemetery.org. (By the way, permanent spaces are still available as well.)

BEST EASTERN MARKET VENDOR
Rocky Peanut Co.
2489 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-6871
Beyond the dried fruits and nuts and the selection of granolas, they've got bulk coffees, a great deli counter, spices, candies, dressings, sauces and specialty items in abundance. You can find more of some of these items at other market establishments. You arguably won't find greater variety under one roof.

BEST FARMERS' MARKET OTHER THAN EASTERN MARKET
Royal Oak Farmers' Market
316 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak
Hardworking Michigan farmers spend their days planting, growing and picking those beautiful (salmonella-free) tomatoes. And what must you do to enjoy them? Take a Saturday ride to Royal Oak. And beside the Michigan-grown fresh produce, metro Detroit's second favorite farmers' market features fresh herbs and spices, honey, teas and soaps. On Sundays, the farmers' market gives way to the flea market and its 100-plus independent merchants offering antiques and collectibles.

BEST PLACE TO CELEBRITY GAWK
Townsend Hotel
100 Townsend St., Birmingham; 248-642-7900
With an endless list of luxurious amenities, it's clear why celebs like Paul McCartney and Shaq choose to sleep here when they're in town. A lucky peek into the Rugby Grille at lunchtime or the Corner Bar at night just might satisfy your fix for People magazine-level celeb sightings.

BEST PLACE TO ADOPT A PET
Michigan Humane Society
michiganhumane.org
Your new best friend is waiting. We dare you to go in and not get attached. We double-dog dare you. Are you a 'fraidy-cat?

BEST MALL FOR PEOPLE WATCHING
Somerset Collection
2800 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-643-6360
The recession may take off some of the luster, but we expect there'll be no better place to ogle ridiculously good-looking people and their baubles.

BEST LOCAL TV NEWSCAST
WDIV
Channel 4's coverage of this year's mayoral meltdown was far and away the most evenhanded and unsensational, that "Night Cam" still has an aura of mysterious immediacy, and its street reporters, led by Derricke Dennis, Kevin Dietz and the Bulldog, Paula Tutman, are the best aggregate group in town.

BEST HOT NEWSCASTER
Carmen Harlan
Maybe it's the gleaming smile and the dancing eyes. Or the way her smoky voice curls around the word "tonight." And who can forget the hot pants she wore a few years back during WDIV's coverage of the Freedom Festival Fireworks? Channel 4's most enduring presence is still sexy after all these years — 30, to be exact, and counting.

BEST LOCAL TV SHOW OTHER THAN A NEWSCAST
Wolfman Mac's Nightmare Sinema
After its share of legal woes, this no-frills, cheap-thrills escapade on TV20 is catching on. And branching out. Wolfman Mac is to officiate a mass wedding ceremony in front of Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, followed by an all-ages Halloween party at the Crofoot Ballroom on Halloween night. The show is to begin broadcasting soon at digiflick.net. As they say, "Stay tombed."

BEST LOCAL RADIO MUSIC SHOW
Mojo in the Morning
In between the outlandish pranks, celebrity interviews, "War of the Roses" phone spoofs and shameless gossip, Channel 95.5's notorious morning-drive show delivers some of the most scintillating sounds on Detroit's FM dial. It's the place where the newest tracks from hot-and-now artists like Rihanna, Jesse McCartney and Jordin Sparks are likely to be heard first. And every Friday at 9 a.m., Mojo officially launches the weekend with a "Friday Throwback" blast of old-school party tracks ranging from the Beastie Boys to MC Hammer.

BEST LOCAL RADIO TALK SHOW
Detroit Today
We have some extra insight (full disclosure) here, since every Wednesday the writer of the MT cover story does a segment with WDET host Craig Fahle. As both guests and listeners, we find Fahle strikes a judicious balance between letting guests have their say and probing, between interjecting himself and listening — without taking himself too seriously, or letting his guests do the same.

BEST LOCAL RADIO NEWS
WDET
Local news in a format that can stretch out as well as deliver the headlines, traffic and weather. Detroit Today and the recently added The Back Story expand on the segments inserted into Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

BEST LOCAL RADIO PERSONALITY
Dick Purtan
Purtan rose to the top in the 1970s when a different kinder, gentler (and we're not being ironic, but maybe a tad nostalgic) kind of humor ruled the airwaves. His brand of, as the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame folks put it, "comedic commentary and topical wit" still speaks to a large audience from his mic of the last dozen years at WOMC.

BEST LOCAL COLUMNIST
Jack Lessenberry
Where would our letters page be without readers praising and lambasting Jack, and, from time to time, turning to verbal jousting with each other over his columns. The columnist readers love — or love to hate.

BEST LOCAL DO-GOODER
Planned Parenthood
The pro-choice victory of Roe v. Wade would be meaningless without groups, none more so than Planned Parenthood 1) fending off relentless attempts to curb Roe v. Wade by law and 2) fighting to ensure that services, at a practical matter, are actually available.

BEST UNSUNG HERO
TIE

Kym Worthy
Planned Parenthood
The Wayne County prosecutor wasn't exactly off the radar screen, but readers thought she, like Planned Parenthood, has been insufficiently credited.

BEST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Barack Obama
We weren't the least surprised that it was Obama's message of change that most resonated with readers by a landslide. Readers a year ago overwhelming went for Obama as best Dem to run for the White House in '08.

BEST REASON TO VOTE
So many ...
Just to go, arbitrarily, with suggestions beginning with the letter G: gas prices, gay rights, gay equality, George Bush, get Bush out, get Kwame out, get rid of Republicans, get rid of Bush policies, get rid of Democrats, get rid of Republican rule, gives you full bitching rights, Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.

BEST LOCAL CHARACTER/PUBLIC PERSONALITY
BEST THING TO FORGET ABOUT PAST YEAR IN DETROIT
BEST THING ABOUT PAST YEAR IN DETROIT
Kwame Kilpatrick, Kwame Kilpatrick text scandal, Kwame Kilpatrick leaving
As we've said before, it's a relief to write ex-mayor in front of his name. It's also a relief not having to write about him so often at all.

BEST NEXT JOB FOR KWAME KILPATRICK
From cell phone sales to making license plates in jail to preacher
Suggestions are literally all over the place. Among them: Manage the Lions (they can't do any worse), marriage counselor, cleaning elephant poop at zoo he tried to close, bodyguard for next mayor, City Council member, city janitor, talk show host, strip club manager, etc., etc., etc.

BEST DETROIT MAYORAL CANDIDATE FOR '09
Dave Bing
OK, Detroiters have earned a bad rap for electing poorly qualified candidates simply on the basis of name recognition — can anyone say Martha Reeves? — but the former Pistons great is much more than a famous ex-jock. He's become one of this country's most successful African-American businessmen and has established a well-deserved reputation for supporting the city through his work with civic groups and charities. Our readers say he's the guy we need to help secure Detroit's rebound.

BEST MICHIGAN GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE FOR '10
Dennis Archer
He has a way of saying that he hasn't made up his mind that makes you wonder whether he's made up his mind.

BEST OAKLAND COUNTY EXECUTIVE CANDIDATE
L. Brooks Patterson
He may wince at the comparison, but re-election would put him on par with Coleman Young's five terms in office. Few other politicians in recent times have cast such long shadows over local governance. If Young's final term is any kind of portent, this may not be such a good thing for his legacy.

BEST LOCAL PRO ATHLETE, BEST DETROIT TIGER
Curtis Granderson
So, the boys of summer were a colossal failure this year, finishing last in the AL Central. But that didn't lessen metro Detroit's love for the Tigers' smooth-hitting centerfielder, Curtis Granderson. Known as a versatile athlete — he's one of three players in MLB history to hit 20 home runs, 20 triples, 20 doubles and steal 20 bases in a season — and stand-up guy, Granderson has garnered praise from fans and media alike. And after inking a $30 million extension in February, it looks like he'll be patrolling centerfield in Comerica Park for the foreseeable future.

BEST DETROIT RED WING
Henrik Zetterberg
He's really good. Like season MVP-bound good. Plus, he's a scorer, which everybody is a fan of. Don't be surprised if the sun is gleaming off not only the Stanley Cup at next year's championship parade, but the Hart Memorial and Conn Smythe trophies as well.

BEST DETROIT PISTON
Chauncey Billups
"Mr. Big Shot" is the leader of our Pistons. He decides where the ball goes from the beginning of the possession. He usurps the likes of Rip and 'Sheed for the same reasons he won the Finals MVP in 2004: more composure and responsibility.

BEST DETROIT LION
Calvin Johnson
After the Lion's pathetic start, it's no surprise Johnson narrowly beat out "none of them," as the readers choice for Best Detroit Lion. Moreover, in only his second year, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound freak of nature (Johnson ran a 4.35 second 40-yard dash) has shown the potential to be a dominant wide receiver in the NFL. (Wait, wasn't that what they said about Charles Rogers, Mike Williams and Roy Williams?)

BEST DETROIT SHOCK
Deanna Nolan
The Shock's leading scorer and debatably best player has led Detroit's other basketball team to yet another WNBA Finals win this year. She gives us all a reason to watch while the NBA is in its off-season.

BEST LOCAL SPORTS MOMENT OF 2008 (SO FAR)
Stanley Cup
With the Pistons falling short of yet another national championship, the Tigers' disappointing season and the Lions ... being the Lions, the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2002 re-established Detroit as a titled town. (For the record, voting closed before the sacking of Matt Millen.)

BEST LOCAL NEWS BLOG, BEST LOCAL POLITICAL BLOG
Detroitist
detroitist.blogspot.com
For those who like their news delivered with a double shot of snark, this is the site. Pithy, venom-dripping commentary accompanies links to the day's notable local and state stories.

BEST LOCAL POP CULTURE BLOG
Super Gay Detroit
supergaydetroit.blogspot.com
The site may have stacked the deck just a tad by soliciting its readers to vote — not that there there's anything wrong with campaigning — but the site is still a total hoot, even for the hetero among us. Self-described as "documenting one upwardly mobile, 30-something man's fight to find the kind of gay life every good homo deserves. In Detroit," Supergay totally rocks. (And we're bettin' Sarah Palin would not approve!)

BEST LOCAL MUSIC BLOG
Motor City Rocks
motorcityrocks.com
Still the best place to go for announcements, links and rumors related to local music, with an emphasis on rock. It's been a little less consistent during the last year, but now that it's been sold, it seems to be picking up some steam again.

BEST LOCAL WEB SITE
Metro Times
metrotimes.com
We've redesigned. Looks like you still like us. Thanks.

BEST MICHIGAN WEEKEND GETAWAY
Traverse City
The bay is beautiful, the shopping is worthy, the bar scene works.

BEST ONTARIO GETAWAY
Toronto
We've heard Detroit tourism types tout Toronto as a model for how the D might market itself. What's the T got going for it? Culture, music, neighborhoods, etc. The Toronto Tourism board actually has a link marked "Edgy & Underground." It's more than a little of what Detroit aspires to — and they've got gun control.

BEST LOCAL MUSIC FESTIVAL
Detroit International Jazz Festival
The festival has faltered and reinvented itself several times over the years. But it's in an enviable spot right now both behind the scenes (as an independent organization with a substantial endowment) and in terms of the Labor Day offerings on Hart Plaza and stretching up Woodward Avenue through downtown. A solid jazz core with added nonjazz attractions that seems simpatico rather than distracting is a winning formula.

BEST METRO DETROIT BUILDING
Guardian Building
500 Griswold St., Detroit; guardianbuilding.com
Describing this landmark as being "40 stories of inspiration" is no hype. As its website notes, the Guardian's lavish architecture features an "explosion of color, craftsmanship and blending of Native American, Aztec, and Arts & Crafts influences" that fill visitors with awe.

BEST BUILDING RENOVATION
Book Cadillac
1114 Washington Blvd., Detroit; bookcadillacwestin.com
More than $180 million was spent restoring this neo-Renaissance gem built in the 1920, and it looks to be worth every penny. Luxury hotel rooms, condos, restaurants — come downtown and check what has become the Westin Book Cadillac.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD TO FIND FORECLOSED HOUSE
Indian Village, Detroit
Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a historic mansion?

BEST ABANDONED BUILDING TO SAVE, BEST URBAN SPELUNKING SITE
Michigan Central Station
Dear Mr. Maroun: Far be it for pikers like us to tell you what to do with a multimillion-dollar asset that also happens to be an abysmal eyesore and blot on the city if not all of humanity ... but you could think about turning it into a new kind of urban theme park. Planet Rock would have nothing on you.

BEST IDEA TO IMPROVE DETROIT IN FUTURE
Mass transit
After years as the top readers' choice in this category, it's hard to believe that Detroit is on the verge of real progress here.

BEST LOCAL COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY
Wayne State University
wayne.edu
Along with Midtown and the Cultural Center area, what has long been a vitally important but merely functional school is evolving into something much more.

BEST CELEBRITY WHO SHOULD RELOCATE TO DETROIT
Jack White
His fans and defenders are always quick to point out — unlike Kid Rock, unlike Eminem — Jack White is one of the current rock stars from our fair state to actually grow up in Detroit proper. But is this choice ironic since Jack has relocated to Nashville? And since he doesn't have a lot of nice things to say these days about the music scene that groomed him? But who knows? Maybe the voters' message is: "Move back, Jack; all is forgiven."

BEST ARGUMENT FOR REGIONAL MASS TRANSIT
Gas prices
Prices are dropping now, but even if prices dropped below the levels of a year ago (when readers voted the same way), we doubt it would change a thing. See above.

BEST POTHOLE
Mt. Elliot at I-94
How bad is it? None of our expeditions have ever made it back to the office.

BEST REASON TO FILM IN DETROIT
Tax Breaks
The bottom line is that readers realize that this is the bottom line.

BEST REASON TO CROSS TO WINDSOR
19-year-old drinking
And we'll drink to that. On second thought ...

BEST MOTTO FOR DETROIT
Variations on: Bye, Kwame
Others: We're so tough our mayor is a criminal. Rebuilding since 1967. Michigan's Dirty South. Come for casinos, stay for the hookers. At least it's not Houston. It's better than Trenton. The chances are you won't get shot. Stark, cold, sexy. God, I love this city. Text ya later.

BEST MOTTO FOR MICHIGAN
America's High Five
Others: Where prejudice reigns. Like Mississippi, only not as hot. Five lakes, a lifetime of wonder. Get your own water, bitches. Nowhere to go but up. Stay smitten in the Mitten.

BEST UNDERGROUND ART SPACE
CAID (Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit
5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit; 313-899-2243; thecaid.org
Since this 30-year-old roaming nonprofit finally found a place to call home in 2005 — in a bare-bones space on a rural patch of Rosa Parks Avenue (the former haunt of detroit contemporary) — we can honestly say that art in Detroit has moved beyond polemics. CAID is where the venerable meets the undervalued, where wealthy suburbanites hang with hoodie-wearing anarkids. If that don't make it underground, then CAID's unpretentious, logcabin- in-the-woods vibe certainly makes up for it ... no matter who, clad in riot gear, tries to tear it all down.

BEST DETROIT RIVERFRONT ATTRACTION
RiverWalk
To anyone who frequents downtown, checking in on the RiverWalk has been one of the joys of recent years. You're away for a few months, you check in on the transformation. It's now nearly 3 miles long, and it'll be 3.5 miles when completed, from the Joe to east of the Belle Isle bridge. You may shake your head about the shortsightedness that kept the city from promoting this kind of river access generations ago.

Community Chest - Staff Picks
by Metro Times staff
Super people, places and things, picked by our team of writers

Conspicuous Consumption - People's Poll

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Maria's Comida
11411 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-733-8406
Mexican food on Hamtramck's Polish strip? It might have sounded odd a decade ago, but among our readers it has a serious following. No matter how much you like pierogies and kielbasa, traditional Mexican food — with a few of Maria's "specialties" — make this family-owned and -operated restaurant a welcome addition to Hamtramck's already culturally diverse dining scene. (And 99-cent Taco Tuesdays and Thursdays don't hurt either.)

BEST RESTAURANT UNDER $50 PER DINER
TIE

Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241; atlasglobalbistro.com
Sakana Sushi Lounge
22914 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-336-2555
Our readers were split between a sumptuous eatery and a lounge where you can dine. As a dining hotspot with a menu that screams "four-star," Atlas Global dedicates itself to serving exotic selections ranging from Fiji Island prawns to Moroccan spiced tilapia. Sakana, however, offers the best of both worlds, with fine sushi, more than 50 specialty drinks and the intimacy of a lounge. Its fresh sushi bar — with an American-friendly sushi menu — choice sakes and nightclub-style ambience have ensured its popularity since it opened last year. At night, it becomes a DJ lounge in earnest.

BEST RESTAURANT UNDER $15 PER DINER, BEST CARIBBEAN RESTAURANT
Irie Caribbean Cuisine
45580 Cherry Hill Rd., Canton; 734-844-8892; irierestaurant.com
Mirroring last year's success in our reader's poll, Irie again wins a few categories handily (including Robert Parker's win as Best Chef and a tie for Best Appetizers). The Caribbean flavors, friendly waitstaff and live entertainment of this western suburban grill have made it a cheap island getaway for anyone looking to get their groove back.

BEST RESTAURANT TO BLOW SERIOUS DOUGH
Tribute
31425 W. 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-848-9393
Based on its many wins in this category, Tribute has rightfully earned its place as the byword for expensive excellence. With the recent economic downturn, however, Tribute has ironically lowered its entrée prices from $34-$59 to a more accessible $24-$39, with the same portions and quality. Though it threatens Tribute's standing in this category, we somehow doubt our readers will be disappointed.

BEST LOCAL CHEF
Robert Campbell
Irie Caribbean Cuisine
Maybe it's his bachelor's degree in hospitality. Maybe it's the quality of Irie's Caribbean fare. Maybe it's something he learned when he catered the Olympics. Whatever it is, it has made Robert Campbell the winner of this readers' category two years in a row, proof positive that he knows something about building a strong and loyal following.

BEST KID-FRIENDLY RESTAURANT
Red Robin
18650 Ford Rd., Detroit; 313-996-8910; see redrobin.com for more locations
With a fun, friendly atmosphere, bottomless fries and an extensive menu that offers more than just chicken tenders — we can see why kids love this place! But if the screechy sippy-cup set puts nerves on edge, adults have the right beverages at their disposal to take the edge off.

BEST RESTAURANT WITH A VIEW
Coach Insignia
100 Renaissance Center, 71st floor, Detroit; 313-567-2622
After the glass elevator spirits you up to the topmost floors of the Renaissance Center, you'll dine while treated to a spectacular view of the shores of the Detroit River and the Windsor skyline. Nothing even comes close for our readers.

BEST RESTAURANT WITH A WATER VIEW
Seldom Blues
400 Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-7301
Amid plenty of contenders (including Andiamo Riverfront, Coach Insignia and Portofino), our readers chose this jazz restaurant and supper club, which, at a lower altitude than Coach Insignia, affords commanding and captivating views of the scenic Detroit River.

BEST RESTAURANT PATIO, BEST ROMANTIC RESTAURANT, BEST HANGOVER BRUNCH
La Dolce Vita
17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331
In good weather, there's the sun-splashed patio. In bad weather, there's the valet parking and intimate interior. Topping it all off is the popular and imaginative pajama brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every second Sunday of the month, making Detroit's hidden getaway on Woodward Avenue off McNichols Road into a triple-threat.

BEST AFTER-HOURS EATERY
National Coney Island
nationalconeyisland.com
It's not like National does anything fancy or flashy. The 21-location local chain just concentrates on the gut-pleasing, chili-soaked, mustard-drenched, onion-sprinkled coney fare that has become a tradition for metro Detroit night owls.

BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Real Seafood Co.
341 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-769-7738
Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Real Seafood Co. provides locals with the freshest selections of seafood from the East Coast and a raw oyster bar, all in an atmosphere that's comfortable, open and lively.

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Xochimilco
3409 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-843-0179
Smack in the best-traveled part of Mexicantown, Xochimilco's mix of selections runs from the familiar, gringofied chimichangas to more uncommon selections, such as nopalitos (cactus cooked with eggs). And the after-game, post-bar crowds don't lie, sometimes lining up to get in well after midnight.

BEST SPANISH RESTAURANT
Sangria Tapas Café
401 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-1964; sangriaroyaloak.com
Whether it's the sizzle of the signature tapas or the spice of live flamenco dancers, Sangria delivers an authentic slice of Spanish style. And with a heated patio area for the fall and winter season, expect Sangria to keep things simmering through the year's end.

BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
The Earle
121 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-994-0211
Those yearning for a taste of France will love this restaurant with its elegant setting, a selection of more than 1,000 bottles of wine, and being able to order from the menu without having to parlay-voo.

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Roma Cafe
3401 Riopelle St. in Detroit's Eastern Market; 313-831-4940
A mainstay of the Detroit restaurant scene since 1890, steady patrons are often struck by how their surroundings look just as they remember they did during long-ago visits. And that consistency played well for our readers, edging out even the Andiamo chain for the top spot.

BEST GREEK RESTAURANT
Pegasus Taverna
558 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-964-6800; pegasustaverna.com
Pegasus has it all going for it: In the heart of Greektown, open late, and with waiters who bring flaming cheese to your table crying, "Opa!" With more than 20 years in business, why change a good thing?

BEST AFRICAN RESTAURANT
Blue Nile
545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-547-6699
Fork and knife be damned: Come and trade in your silverware for the tasty injera, a crepe-like bread used as a base for Blue Nile's wide (and endless) buffet of meats and vegetables. In a nod to the West, the full bar awaits your order.

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
THREE-WAY TIE

Mon Jin Lau
1515 E. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-689-2332
Peking House
215 S. Washington, Royal Oak; 248-545-2700
P.F. Chang's
2801 W Big Beaver Rd Troy; 248-816-8000; more locations at pfchangs.com
In a tie suggesting a delicate balance, our readers favored the winning Chinese bistro chain, the tasteful Royal Oak fixture and the sophisticated and upbeat Troy eatery.

BEST VEGAN RESTAURANT, BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Inn Season Café
500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-547-7916; theinnseasoncafe.com
A longtime provider of vegetarian cuisine in metro Detroit, Inn Season has gotten better with age. Fine, organic ingredients have always been its hallmark, this eatery takes health food to the level of haute cuisine.

BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT
Priya
36600 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills; 248-615-7700
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.

BEST MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT
Anita's Kitchen
22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; anitaskitchenonline.com
This Ferndale spot has thrived since opening earlier this year. With a stylish, comfortable atmosphere and good food at reasonable prices, it's no surprise. The ideal sampler is the mixed mezza, a range of Anita's finest Middle-Eastern dishes offered with or without meat.

BEST CONEY ISLAND
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198
Arguably the most serious coney dog destination in Detroit, you wonder why hot dog pilgrims and food TV crews aren't mobbing the place to see the staff plate the Motor City equivalent of the baguette.

BEST EAST EUROPEAN RESTAURANT
Polish Village Cafe
2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726
From the moment you step down into Polish Village, you're transported back to Hamtramck's high Polish period, with hearty fare, a full bar and waitresses in ethnic costume, as well as the history on the walls. Mother would approve.

BEST SUSHI RESTAURANT
TIE

Noble Fish
45 E. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson; 248-585-2314; noblefishhouse.com
Oslo
1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-962-7200
Sometimes great things come in simple packages. Though the front of Noble Fish is a humble Japanese grocery, the back is a no-frills sushi restaurant of outstanding quality. Even so, Noble found a match in Oslo, the restaurant-nightclub that quickly regained its luster when it reopened in January. The downtown Detroit spot is a destination for not just sushi and Thai fare, but for techno, house and hip hop in its downstairs club. Woodward, 1; Main Street, 1.

BEST THAI RESTAURANT
Sala Thai
3400 Russell St., Eastern Market, Detroit; 313-831-1302; see salathai.us for more locations
Once, it was just a storefront in a strip mall on Lafayette Boulevard. Now it has grown into a mini-chain that has extended as far as Sterling Heights and has even grown back into its original spot — with a full bar. Best of all is the Eastern Market spot, a cozy restaurant with sushi service in a historic Detroit firehouse. Wherever you got it, Sala's spicy Thai fare was a winner.

BEST BREAKFAST RESTAURANT
Original House of Pancakes
Locations in Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Woods and Southfield; originalpancakehouse.com
With 15 types of specialty pancakes, gourmet waffles and breakfast crepes, as well as such proteins as thick-cut bacon, hickory-smoked ham and the "special recipe" corned beef hash, our readers named this popular breakfast chain as their fave.

BEST BAGELS
New York Bagel
23316 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-2580; with locations in Oak Park, Southfield and West Bloomfield
With almost 90 years in the bagel business, the Goldsmith family has been selling bagels made the traditional way — boiled then baked — since 1921. Fourteen varieties should please everybody (a fresh one is 85 cents; $7.25 a dozen) but the full deli counter's sandwich options will please those seeking something more substantial.

BEST BRUNCH BUFFET
Fishbone's
400 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-965-4600; with locations in Southfield and St. Clair Shores; fishbonesusa.com
Although it has two affiliate locations, what probably puts the Greektown Fishbone's above the rest is the exclusive Sunday buffet available for $24. While a wide selection of traditional breakfast items would make it alluring enough, the buffet kicks it up a notch with selections like salmon shrimp, catfish beignet, many Cajun-Creole creations and a dessert table! And the interior, with its high ceilings and water wall, make it a pleasure to linger.

BEST VEGGIE BURGER
Cass Cafe
4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400
Chefs and menus have come and gone at Cass Cafe, but the café lentil burger has remained a pleasing constant. With a hearty mix of brown lentils, walnuts, Parmesan cheese and other delicious ingredients, it's no wonder it's the house specialty.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA
Buddy's
17125 Conant St., Detroit; 313-892-9001; 8 more locations at buddyspizza.com
A longtime winner in the Neighborhood Pizza category, their square pie is dense and cheesy enough to approach a Chicago-style thickness. (No cardboard-thin, foldable triangles here!) And their original location on Conant Street in Detroit still has the walk-down bar with nary a plasma screen in sight.

BEST CHEAP PIZZA
Little Caesar's
littlecaesars.com
Pizza, Pizza? Next year will mark 30 years that we've had that phrase drummed into our consciousness. Little surprise that in the capital of the Ilitch empire, the competition has been crushed.

BEST GOURMET PIZZA PLACE
Pizza Papalis Taverna
553 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-961-8020; for more locations, see pizzapapalis.com
When Pizza Papalis first opened in Greektown in the 1980s, Chicago-style pizza was a gamble. Having now outlasted such Monroe Street stalwarts as New Hellas, our readers say Papalis' several locations are a sure thing.

BEST BURGER RESTAURANT
Red Coat Tavern
31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300
A perennial favorite, the Red Coat burger can come topped with a wide selection of condiments and bread, which makes diners feel special and individualistic. If the redcoats ever made burgers this mouthwatering, you may wonder why we ever proclaimed independence.

BEST ALL-AROUND BUFFET, BEST CASINO BUFFET
MGM Casino
1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1777; mgmgranddetroit.com
Though they shy away from the 'B'-word, the all-you-can-eat Palette Dining Studio offers a vast selection of upscale treats, with stations called "Char" (meat cooked over charcoal fires), "Far East" (Chinese, Japanese, sushi and a Mongolian grill), "Sea" (including Blue Point oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp), "South" (Southern foods) and "Indulge" (dessert). Prices range from $22 a head for lunch to $32 per diner for crab leg and prime rib dinners.

BEST STEAK HOUSE
Ruth's Chris Steak House
755 W. Big Beaver Rd., Suite 151, Troy; 248-269-8424; ruthschris.com
What's it going to take to outdo a Ruth's Chris steak? With more than 100 locations worldwide, they've topped our list the past two years. Well done!

BEST SOUL FOOD RESTAURANT
Southern Fires
575 Bellevue St., Detroit; 313-393-4930
Remember your grandma's penchant for cooking a week's worth of food in one day? The same effect is achieved at Southern Fires, where they serve so many classic Southern entrées, from mac 'n' cheese to smothered steak to short ribs to catfish fillets, you'll be cursing your zipper before dessert.

BEST WINE LIST
TIE

The Earle
121 W. Washington, Ann Arbor; 734-994-0211
Vinotecca
417 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6256
Our readers seemed equally disposed toward the sturdy restaurant with classics for the connoisseur and an unstuffy hangout for the enthusiast. While the Earle complements its upscale classic menu with an incredible 34-page wine list, Vinotecca may be a little less intimidating, with merely more than 100 bottles drawn on every region and type.

BEST APPETIZERS
TIE

Irie
45580 Cherry Hill Rd., Canton; 734-844-8892;
Small Plates
1521 Broadway, Detroit; 313-963-0497; smallplates.com
Caribbean-inspired Irie gets a nod for best apps because they're authentic and anything but boring. (How many restaurants actually offer fried plantains or Jamaican beef patties?) But Small Plates gets just as many props, with individual portions of upscale fare at between $4 and $14 a plate.

BEST BAKERY
Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis St., Detroit; 313-832-0008
The Cass Corridor mainstay continues to expand upon its initial premise: to supply the local community with fresh, deftly crafted breads and pastries in an ethically sound and environmentally sustainable manner. Now eat your cookie, hippie-feet.

BEST BREWPUB RESTAURANT
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700
This handcrafted Detroit space boasts several lagers, ales, wines and even the odd mead-based quaff, with chopped salametti, cheese, olives and pizza. Art nights, boutique bathrooms, a patio for warm days and a few choice parking spots make it perfect.

BEST DELI
Bread Basket Deli
Locations in Detroit, Redford, Warren and Livonia; www.breadbasketdelis.com
With several locations throughout the metro Detroit area, this local chain delivers a menu selection that is definitely beefed up, featuring gut-busting triple- and quadruple-decker Dagwoods.

BEST DESSERTS
Astoria Pastry Shop
541 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-963-2530
From caramel apple and Oreo cheesecakes to crème brûlée and baklava, this Greektown institution has been on Monroe since 1971 to help sate our readers' collective sweet tooth.

BEST TEA ROOM
Goldfish Tea
117 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-541-5252
When Jim and Janice Girling opened Goldfish Tea in Royal Oak in early February, they aimed to offer people the highest-quality product and an education. Inside their Chinese teahouse, drinking tea stems from an ancient tradition, one that goes deeper than the clever marketing of dunking a bag into boiling water.

BEST CHOCOLATE
Gayle's Chocolates
417 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-398-0001; gayleschocolates.com
A shop renowned for seducing many a sweet tooth since the mid-1980s, Gayle's remains dedicated to producing chocolate in every format that's fashionable, from truffles to bars to Halloween-oriented candies.

BEST GELATO
Zingerman's Creamery
3723 Plaza Dr., Ann Arbor; 734-929-0500
Our readers were clear: Zingerman's does it right. For instance, they make their gelato with an authentic Sicilian gelato machine, using traditional Italian recipes. With innovative flavors (one is "burnt sugar") and a good mix of Michigan-raised ingredients, you've got a winning local formula.

BEST INDEPENDENT ICE CREAM
Ray's Ice Cream
4233 Coolidge Hwy., Royal Oak; 1-888-549-5256
This sweet local institution marks a half century in operation this year. With more than 40 flavors of real homemade ice cream and unique dairy treats like huckleberry ice cream, Detroit club coffee, cotton candy confetti and "the Fat Elvis" — banana ice cream with a peanut butter ribbon — this open-year-round scoop shop has the competition licked.

BEST CHAIN ICE CREAM
Cold Stone Creamery
Dozens of area locations; coldstonecreamery.com
Who knew the ice cream world could still be revolutionized? With fresh toppings that are "folded" into the ice cream right in front of you, you have the makings of a personalized and delicious experience. And, yes: all the sprinkles you want.

BEST CHAIN COFFEE SHOP
Starbucks
535 Griswold St., Detroit; 313-961-6337: for more locations, see starbucks.com
Free wireless Internet, a cozy spot to sit with friends or get some work done, and, oh yeah, coffee too, all help make Starbucks a reliable java stop. Especially if your favorite shop wasn't one of the 600 sentenced to death in July.

BEST INDIE COFFEE SHOP
TIE

Café 1923
2287 Holbrook St., Hamtramck; 313-319-8766
Rowland Café
500 Griswold St., Detroit; 313-964-1928
Both provide espresso classics and cozy atmospheres with a local edge.
When it comes to real coffeehouses, our readers were torn between the neighborhood and the city. In two-story Hamtramck, Café 1923 serves up fresh java with rotating art shows, a library lounge and even a pleasant backyard nook. Nothing could be more different than the Rowland Café in the glorious mezzanine of the art deco skyscraper ecstasy that is the Guardian Building, our readers' other pick.

BEST RESTAURANT TO IMPRESS OUT-OF-TOWNERS
BEST BEER SELECTION IN A RESTAURANT
BEST BARBECUE RESTAURANT
Slows Bar-BQ
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828
No longer a contender for Best New Restaurant, Slows has come full circle, from new kid on the gritty block to sturdy denizen of the after-work and weekend dining scene. What keeps people waiting two deep at the bar during prime dining time? Factors include the barbecue — cooked "low and slow" — an imaginative beer selection, and a great atmosphere in a historic building.

Conspicuous Consumption - Staff Picks
by Metro Times food staff
From style to fare to special dishes, our staff picked what's best

Conspicuous Consumption - Staff Picks

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Modern Food and Spirits
1535 Cass Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-681-4231
To be sure, Keego Harbor is a schlep for most of us, but it is well worth the time and gas to dine at Modern Food and Spirits, across from Cass Lake. The Modern, which opened at the end of last summer, is an informal little spot with generous portions and amazingly reasonable prices — most dinners are under $20 including an unusually imaginative array of comes-with soups and salads — and a menu full of little culinary surprises from around the world. They do fish well here, especially grouper with salsa and whitefish that is comparable to the best "Up North" versions, while the steaks, brisket and short ribs will please carnivores. Best bet for the smashing comes-with salads or soups is the sampler of three complex house-made soups, while the wine list includes many intriguing, obscure varietals.

BEST NEW JAZZ RESTAURANT
Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe
97 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-882-5299; dirtydogjazz.com
The Dirty Dog is another feather in the cap of Gretchen Valade, the entrepreneur and philanthropist whose generosity and love of jazz saved the Detroit International Jazz Festival. Chef Andre Neimanis' sophisticated tapas-style menu encompasses unusual dishes that showcase his creativity. Musically, the Dirty Dog has some of Detroit's best players, with piano sets from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by two evening shows with full bands. Willie Jones, the general manager, is visible in the front of the house, overseeing service and keeping the whole show running smoothly. All the elements combine to make this Detroit's best new restaurant.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD PICKER-UPPER
Woodbridge Pub
5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701
A beautiful neighborhood that's seen its share of crime woes, Woodbridge was in need of a walk-to restaurant-bar. Resident Jim Geary, a man with no experience in the food biz, decided to right that wrong by transforming an empty former party store — no windows unless you count bulletproof glass — into a welcoming refuge. Years of elbow grease later — applied to gorgeous found elements like an all-wood meat-locker turned into a men's room — Geary and his neighbors have a place they can call home and that calls them home.

BEST TRANSFORMATION
Ike's Restaurant
38550 Van Dyke Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-979-4460
Last fall, after 16 years in a strip mall, Ike's Family Restaurant moved down the block into more stylish and spacious digs, dropped the word "Family" from its name, and brought in reasonably priced booze. Ike El-Alam, the genial, hands-on owner, specializes in Middle Eastern fare including a few unusual dishes such as Sheikh El Muhsi, an eggplant, lamb, onion and pine nut stew. For those who aren't attracted to the kitchens of the Levant, his huge menu, with multiple combination possibilities, devotes space to Greek and American specialties — and even fish and chips. A special bargain is Ike's Turkish coffee.

BEST STARTLING TRANSFORMATION
From MamO Bistro to Smoke & Spice Southern Barbecue
1515 Ottawa St., Windsor; 519-252-4999
In August Chef Ryan Odette closed the fabulous but tiny MamO Bistro, where he cooked dishes such as breast of duck with parsnip purée, roasted apricots and fig jus, delectable delicacies reflecting his French training. In September Odette reopened on the site of the shuttered Bin 151 — another upscale place, where chef Martin Atkins had served, for example, a different risotto daily. So what does the new joint serve? Barbecue! A cuisine from another planet! Luckily, Odette brings the same wizardry to ribs and pulled pork that he did to fettucine with creminis and white truffle oil; the meat is indescribably good, worthy of winning the Best Ribs in Windsor category as well.

BEST REWARD FOR A LONG WAIT
Mercury Coffee Bar
2163 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-496-4000
Through several investors, several years, a couple of concepts and a name change, the spot across from Slows Bar-BQ sat empty but full of potential, tantalizing Corktowners and southwest siders with the promise of good food to come. This month, it's finally open, with a cyan-magenta-yellow color scheme, an open kitchen, and coffee both fast and slow (individually brewed to order). The 7 a.m.-10 p.m. menu features $6-$8 panini and house-baked pastries, including a signature tres leches cake. Most striking feature: You can gaze at the train station as you sip your rosetta-topped cappuccino.

BEST RESTAURANT TO MOURN
New Hellas
After more than a century in business, the New Hellas closed this winter, a victim of the Greektown Casino's remaking of Monroe Street as well as octogenarian owner Gus Anton's decision to begin his well-deserved retirement. For many Detroiters, this busy restaurant was synonymous with Greektown, the place where multiple generations learned about retsina, octopus with wine sauce, taramasalat and the rest of that earthy Mediterranean fare.

BEST REPLACEMENT FOR THE NEW HELLAS (AND BEST "GREEK" RESTAURANT)
Cyprus Taverna
579 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-961-1550
Those downcast about the shuttering of the New Hellas need only walk next door to the Cyprus Taverna to get their saganaki (opa!) fix. Vassos Avgoutis, who runs the cozy taverna with his wife, Eleni, apprenticed up and down Monroe Street for several decades, including a stint at the New Hellas, before he opened his own place in 1994. Aside from such expected Greek platters as lamb and rice and stuffed grape leaves, they feature unique items from their nation, including savory lamb riganato, fried haloumi cheese, mushrooms in wine and coriander, and Eleni's justly renowned pineapple cake.

BEST RIVERSIDE DINING
Rattlesnake Club
300 River Place Dr., Detroit; 313-567-4400
Although there are other spots on both sides of the river with pleasant water views, none can match the fine-dining experience of the Rattlesnake Club. For two decades, Jimmy Schmidt, the respected doyen of local chefs, has presided over one of the most creative kitchens in town. Alas, dinner at the Rattlesnake does come at a rather steep price. The best way to sample the fare and lower the tariff is to go for lunch, when some of the same dishes appear in smaller portions and at a lower price. Moreover, as we move into winter, there is not much to see on the river during the darkened dinner hours.

BEST PRE-THEATER — MODERATE
Union Street
4145 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3965
Whether you are going to Orchestra Hall, the Fox or even the Fisher, Union Street is a bustling, versatile restaurant that attracts an unusually diverse urban clientele. Over the 30 years it has been in business (in a century-old building), it has evolved from a neighborhood bar into a full-service restaurant with global culinary pretensions. Try, for example, chicken kung pao, jambalaya, antipasto salad, Scooby Doo pasta or the incendiary dragon eggs composed of gorgonzola-stuffed chicken breasts in hot sauce over a Caesar salad. Chalkboard specials daily feature bargains on their extensive beer and wine lists.

BEST ROMANTIC
Nico
851 Erie St. E., Windsor; 519-255-7548
Nico sets only 14 tables, so no bustle will distract you from your partner's face. It's the sensuality of the cuisine that makes this place romantic — every dish tastes as if the chef were asking for your hand. The sheer over-the-top layering of sensual flavors will impress your date — say a chicken breast stuffed with ricotta and spinach and wrapped in prosciutto; then the brandy cream sauce seals the deal. Or for those who think red meat will enhance their powers, there are pound-plus slabs of beef such as a rib-eye with Gorgonzola butter. The intimate setting and gracious service make you feel cared for, and the wine list, including grappa, may help dissolve resistance.

BEST VIEW
Coach Insignia
Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-2622
As long as the food is good, whatever restaurant occupies the top of the RenCen should always win this category. Coach Insignia, the elegant flagship of the Matt Prentice empire (and not the manager of Italy's Olympic basketball team), does not disappoint, with a far better kitchen than its predecessors. Unlike them, however, it does not do a 360, a feature that used to concern the minority of diners prone to vertigo. Although Coach Insignia is expensive, there are enough relatively reasonably priced dishes and libations to make it a prime consideration for a romantic date or to show off spectacular views of the river and a foreign country to cosmopolitan visitors to flyover country.

BEST AL FRESCO DINING — SUBURBS
Assaggi
330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3499
Even though you know the huge Ferndale public parking lot is nearby, Assaggi has done a remarkable job in creating a Mediterranean oasis to go with its top-notch Mediterranean fare. A fountain, statues, Italianate sculpture on the stone wall, tall greenery along the borders, and piped-in old classics help to transport you to the Old World. Saucy dishes such as Moroccan-spiced twice-cooked duck, Chesapeake Bay wild striped bass, and pheasant coq au vin satisfy. Main problem is the attractive environment is conducive to lingering over a bottle of wine, but doing so will be costly.

BEST AL FRESCO DINING — DOWNTOWN
Majestic Café
4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700
As if they did not have enough going for them — restaurant, pizza place, bowling alley and music theater — the Zainea family opened their huge Alley Deck this outdoor season as still another element of their entertainment complex. To be sure, the venue is not as green as other comparable venues, but the elevated view of our gritty downtown is what sells the location. The Alley Deck's grilled fare is far simpler than that served in the main restaurant downstairs, but you can ask for a special order of the more sophisticated stuff from down below. And while Cheli's much smaller deck further downtown is higher and offers spectacular views of Comerica Park, the Majestic's cuisine is better in general and the Tigers have tanked.

BEST DINER
Maple Leaf Café
297 E. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-723-1222
Seven days a week, the Maple Leaf Café serves up some of the best breakfasts and lunches around. Using all-natural and organic ingredients in such contemporary dishes as lemon-blueberry pancakes and "voodoo french toast" — skewers of challa bread in a rich New Orleans-style batter of yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla, dusted in toasted coconut and accompanied by a fruit cobbler. Egg-lovers will find a variety of omelets too. The lunch menu begins with five-star meat loaf and macaroni and cheese, a creamy concoction made with six cheeses. The sandwiches and salads and half-pound burgers are every bit as good as the menu descriptions.

BEST RETRO DINING
Mr. Paul's Chop House
29850 Groesbeck Hwy., Roseville; 586-777-7770
Mr. Paul's opened 40 years ago and has changed little except, of course, for the prices. This old-fashioned, upscale roadhouse, which features flamboyant tableside preparations of Caesar salad, Chateaubriand and cherries jubilee, is where several generations of eastsiders have gone to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and graduations. Other well-executed classics rarely seen nowadays are escargot bourguignon (albeit out of their shells), sautéed calf's liver with bacon and onions, and frog legs. Big heavy reds dominate a wine list recognized by Wine Spectator.

BEST OF THE EASTERN MARKET
Russell Street Deli
2465 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2900
A fixture of the Eastern Market for years, the Russell Street Deli was sold a few years ago to Ben Hall and Jason Murphy, who have continued to serve top-notch soups and sandwiches. The lines at lunchtime — especially on Saturdays — attest to the eatery's popularity, and the diverse crowd includes business people in suits, workers from the market, and shoppers from all over metro Detroit, waiting to enjoy the casual atmosphere and the chow at the kind of joint that has the feel of the market. The food is fresh and the selection provides something for every palate.

BEST FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD BAR AND RESTAURANT
Vinsetta Grill
28028 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-2626
Ask friends what they can tell you about Vinsetta Grill. They may tell you that they think they've seen it, but even with a visible location on Woodward Avenue, it has remained under the radar, a well-kept secret. That said, this friendly spot is full of many of the same customers night after night. The menu includes build-your-own burgers from an array of choices. The huge Caesar salad will easily serve four. Ribs — both beef and baby back — are popular, as well as steaks and shrimp. The delicious cheese steak is one of the best. The nonsmoking policy is a bonus.

BEST TAKEOUT
Simply Good Kitchen
1105 S. Adams Rd., Birmingham; 248-203-2450; simplygoodkitchen.com
Simply Good Kitchen is not as simple as the name suggests. Husband and wife Bill and Shanny Apodaca, both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, can cook! Their food is terrific. (So are their cooking classes — see Best Cooking Classes elsewhere in this section). Many of the choices change weekly. There are some hard-to-find ingredients; sauces, fine chocolate candies and house-made sausages like tandoori lamb and hot Italian. The "Food To Go" is delicious. The Asian noodle salad is outstanding. The moderately priced entrées are better than most cooks can prepare at home. They also offer cookware, discounting All Clad 25 percent on orders of four pieces.

BEST ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT
Culinary Studies Institute at Oakland Community College
27055 Orchard Lake Rd., Building J, Farmington Hills; 248-522-3700; oaklandcc.edu/culinary
You'll have to plan ahead for this occasionally offered bargain lunch ($9.95), but if you go to it, you'll find a daunting amount of food with almost everything prepared by the student chefs either good or great. You'll find both contemporary dishes and old favorites dressed up for extra credit, such as a deviled egg with smoked salmon or potato salad made with roasted spuds. Expect a dozen cold salads or appetizers plus a cheese selection, a paté selection, a fruit tray and a smoked fish platter, not to mention such entrées as Andouille-stuffed pork loin, short ribs braised with Burgundy and pearl onions, and salmon with lemon caper beurre blanc. No reservations, so arrive early or prepare for a line. If you miss out on the all-you-can-eat, see the Institute's a la carte lunch offerings, also remarkable deals, and its fancy dinners with entertainment.

BEST FOR ADULTS WITH CHILDREN
Camp Ticonderoga
5725 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-828-2825
Although those opposed to hunting might object to the huge game heads mounted on the walls, most kids love the natural-history-museum-like environment, including the moose- and elk-oriented coloring materials, and the dog wall that features photos of hundreds of patrons' best friends. The children's menu covers all the usual suspects. As for adults, the campfire whitefish, buffalo loaf and venison chili are satisfying, as is the signature dessert that all will happily share — warm, freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies.

BEST NEW MARKET & TAKEOUT — DETROIT
Zaccaro's Market
3100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-3400
Fed up with trekking to the suburbs for posh provisions? Go no further than the southern reaches of Detroit's Midtown. The original Zaccaro's is in Charlevoix, and it shows — the place is a mix of the green (toilet paper to toothpaste), the healthy (gluten-free brownie mix) and, mostly, the gourmet, with prices to match. More than a market, the scene includes café tables and a sit-down espresso bar, an in-house bakery, prepared meals and sandwiches, and green packaging. In addition to dozens of imported cheeses and 12 brands of olive oil, it's possible to get your staples here: grains, nuts, and flour, canned goods, pet food, nine kinds of sea salt. Take-out possibilities include lemon-ginger chicken salad, rosemary roasted vegetables, eggplant Parmesan, an apricot walnut tart from Give Thanks Bakery and nine panini (such as one made with juicy roast beef, wild mushrooms, Cambozola and caramelized onions). Most fun: the olive bar.

BEST SUBURBAN DINING
Ferndale
For more than a decade, Royal Oak could claim the laurels in this category.
Recently, however, Ferndale passed it with more high-quality, adult-dining venues like Via Nove, Assaggi and Starving Artist, along with ethnic favorites Star of India, Anita's and China Ruby. For a while this year, Maria's was gone from that culinary pantheon but it has reopened under new management of the people who run Nami Sushi Bar. To be sure, Royal Oak is attempting to reclaim its No. 1 position as it added Ronin, Town Tavern, Small Plates and Blackfinn to its roster recently, but Ferndale maintains its lead. Aside from Royal Oak, the race is getting tight in this division with Dearborn and even Grosse Pointe (!) on the rise.

BEST BAKERY — LOCAL
Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis St., Detroit; 313-832-0008
A pioneer in the rejuvenation of the Cass Corridor, the Avalon continues to fashion a wide selection of healthy and fresh artisanal bread, scones and cookies, not only for its fortunate walk-in patrons but also for several area restaurants and grocers. From the slender baguettes to the earthier farm breads, you are certain to discover your favorite crust and dough. Moreover, the owners deserve kudos for their involvement in progressive politics in the city, a commitment that continues to be displayed each day in their choice of venue for a bakery the suburbanites would die for.

BEST BAKERY — STATEWIDE
Stone House Bread
407 S. Main St., Leland; 231-256-2577
Twelve years ago, Bob Pisor, local journalist, author (he wrote the best book on the battle of Khe Sahn) and Coleman Young apparatchik, gave up the political rat race to open the Stone House bakery in Leland, 20 miles north of Traverse City. He has now given up the bakery rat race and sold his place to two local families, who remain faithful to the original concept. Their dark and dense Chernushka Rye, soft ciabatta and varieties of crusty baguettes are state-of-the-art. Yeah, 250 miles is a long way to go for your daily bread, but Stone House does ship loaves all over the country. If that doesn't work for you, there is more than a hint of the Stone House approach at the award-winning Avalon in town — the talented people who founded that bakery interned at Stone House. Speaking of talented food folk, Pisor is married to foodie and writer Alice Waters' sister.

BEST MUSICAL BRUNCH
D'Amato's
222 S. Sherman Dr., Royal Oak; 248-584-7400
If you're looking for some fun on an early Sunday afternoon why not spend it sipping on a bottomless Bellini or Mimosa cocktail while moving to the Django Reinhardt- and Louis Armstrong-influenced tunes of Gino Fanelli's Red Hot Sugar Daddies. Munch on poached eggs atop spicy thick sausage patties on crispy biscuits topped with a roasted red pepper hollandaise. Your sweet tooth will adore almond marscapone between two fluffy slices of french toast covered with a cranberry-and-apple reduction. The Bloody Marys are good too.

BEST SOUP
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
32407 Northwestern Hwy., Farmington; 248-626-6767; gcatsoup.com
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup specializes in, as the name suggests, comfort food. What evokes a greater sense of comfort than the dishes that you grew up eating on a blustery winter day? If tomato soup, doesn't suit your fancy, certainly one of the other varieties, made daily, should. Most of the sandwiches are grilled, making the bread crisp and melting the cheese. More comfy stuff is Grandma's mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and pot roast. Salads like Maurice, Cobb and Caesar round out the menu.

BEST FALAFAL
Falaffal King
32748 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-544-9881
The vast majority of patrons who come to this plain storefront with space for 10 diners are picking it up to go. It is comforting to see that the chefs take longer than expected with the orders, which suggests that most of the items are made from scratch. Ultra-fresh and artfully spiced ingredients combine with pickled turnips and yogurt to make a falafel feast. The portions, even those labeled lunch-size, are as generous as the price is modest. Beyond the falafel, the chicken shawarma is moister than most and the kibbeh, made from beef, not lamb, is well-seasoned. You can try most of the menu in foot-long wraps.

BEST MUSSELS AND POMMES FRITES
Cadieux Café
4300 Cadieux Rd., Detroit; 313-882-8560
Besides serving up huge bowls of tasty classic Belgian mussels steamed in white wine and vegetables with sides of clarified butter and a mustard and vinegar sauce, Cadieux Café offers them prepared with marinara, garlic and numerous other ways. Whatever style of mussels you choose be sure to match them with a plate of pommes frites — crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside — and accompanied by one of three mayonnaise-based dips. For pure north-European bliss, add a strong and spicy Belgian ale to wash it all down.

BEST PIZZA — NEW YORK-STYLE SLICE
My Cousin's New York Pizza
42967 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-874-9999
Lunchtime in New York finds legions of pizza lovers — and who isn't? — strolling down the street, noshing on a generous sized slice of 'za folded in half, a cheap, filling and scrumptious meal. Some say that the dough is unique to New York due to the water. Whatever the cause, it's good, thin chewy, saucy and cheesy, oily in a good way from the full-milk mozzarella and the spicy pepperoni that seem indigenous to the Big Apple. Now you can enjoy it here, thanks to Ronnie Gonzales, who worked in family-owned pizzerias in the New York City.

BEST PIZZA — ROUND, THIN-CRUST
Tomatoes Apizza
29275 14 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-855-3555 and 24369 Halstead Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-888-4888; tomatoesapizza.com
To call Michael Weinstein a pizzaiolo pazzo — crazy pizza maker — is likely to be taken as a compliment, as it's intended. His passion for pizza — the best pizza — consumes him. Last year he put in a coal-burning oven, the first in the area, at the location on 14 Mile Road. For those who haven't tried it, you'll find a slightly charred and bubbled pie, mimicking the New Haven-style Neapolitan pizza of the legendary Abate's, where he studied the art of the pizzaiolo, working beside Lou Abate himself. Start with the red pie. Ask for more garlic.

BEST PIZZA — SQUARE, DEEP
Loui's
23141 Dequindre Rd., Hazel Park; 248-547-1711
In this fiercely contested category, Loui's wins for its deep-dish pies, which boast deftly charred, crunchy crusts and an appropriately greasy and sublime blend of cheese and tomatoes. They emerge from the kitchen on plastic dinnerware served by colorful veteran servers who seem happy to be working in a central casting pizza parlor decorated with Chianti bottles hanging from the walls and ceiling. Indeed, everyone seems to be having a good time at Loui's (which also could win the award for most misspelled restaurant name) in part because of the reasonably priced boombahs and carafes. And you gotta love a place that offers Old Grand-Dad and Coke as a drink special.

BEST BURGER
Redcoat Tavern
31452 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300
A million burger lovers can't be wrong. Thick, juicy succulent; use extra napkins. The Redcoat Tavern has been the bastion of a great burger seemingly forever. Located on Woodward Avenue a few blocks north of 13 Mile Road, this place is crowded every day at lunch and dinner — and usually in between. The notable burger is served with the "special" sauce, grilled onions that most folks request burnt and the rest of the usual toppings found wherever a good burger can be had. There is a full menu, and not just bar food. Don't miss the Caribbean-style seafood chowder, not to be confused with the clam chowder.

BEST SLIDERS
Bagger Dave's
2972 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley; 248-543-3283
Although its menu looks a good deal like what you would expect in a drive-through burger joint, Bagger Dave's is a full-service restaurant that boasts wine, beer and cool recorded jazz. Like most sliders, these are thin, so go for a double (only a dollar more) and load 'em up with an extensive variety of toppings, cheeses and sauces, including black-bean chili and guacamole! Hand-cut double-fried Belgian fries and, especially, seasoned sweet-potato fries round out a satisfactory if artery-clogging repast. A few modest salads and more interesting sandwiches and shakes are also available.

BEST GYROS
Golden Fleece
525 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-7093
Though not quite as fancy as some of the other nearby Greektown restaurants, stepping into Golden Fleece just feels right. Immediately behind the counter are two vertical rotisseries spinning massive dripping hunks of gyro meat, and the heat from the burners is palpable. The gyros are the real deal here. Simply sliced off the skewer, layered onto a warm pita and adorned with tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce, they are tasty, triple-napkin handhelds worthy of their reputation and damn good with a cold beer.

BEST GARDEN BURGER
Jacoby's
624 Brush St., Detroit; 313-962-7067; jacobysdetroit.com
Jacoby's is one of the best places downtown for a great, no-frills, all-American (well, they are also noted for their fine German food) lunch — a wonderful place for a burger and a brew before a Tigers game or a show. Those burgers are said to be superb; their perch sandwich to die for. But what about lunch for those of us of the vegetarian persuasion? Well, Jacoby's has one of the finest, tastiest garden burgers we've ever tasted — and we've tasted a lot in our lifetimes. Don't know exactly what they do to make it so special or so darn tasty, aside from the cheese on top (we always go with melted Swiss) and the incredible buns — but it's their secret and we're certainly not complaining. In fact, at least two MT editors claim they could subside on nothing but these. Comes with a pickle and a side of french fries — though, lately, we've been substituting a terrific garden salad (you have numerous other choices, including Jacoby's famous potato salad, etc.) for only a buck more.

BEST CHICAGO-STYLE HOT DOG
Hippo's
1648 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-524-9778
In the land of Coney Island dogs, sometimes it's nice to have your wiener "dragged through the garden" — topped with mustard, onion, outrageously green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. It's an all-beef Chicago-style hot dog nestled in a poppy seed bun. At Hippo's, the little brick stand on Rochester and Maple, they make them exactly like they do across Lake Michigan. Big eaters will want to order the "Great Scot Hippo" — it's double-sized.

BEST PIZZA AND A BEER
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700
Of all the beer brewed in Detroit, one of the most poundable you're going to find is Ghettoblaster. It's a full-bodied, full-flavored beer, both malty and refreshing. It's best on tap from the source, washing down a brick-oven pizza. Choose from simple pizza Margherita to more intensely flavored pies like the pesto, goat cheese, roasted red pepper and roasted garlic Godfather. Or create your own from a large list of ingredients. Finish your meal with one of the seasonal or one-off beers.

BEST DIM SUM
Shangri-La
6407 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-626-8585
Time was, a while back, when you wanted good dim sum, you had to cross the pond to Canada where Wah Court ruled. That's no longer necessary. Shangri-La serves as many as 75 varieties of these delectable delights (or "touches of the heart") on Saturday and Sunday. The carts roll by the tables one after another, each holding four or five different dumplings — steamed or fried — including seafood stuffed peppers, tiny octopus in garlic sauce, noodles and, one of our favorites, chive dumplings, along with dozens of other morsels. The legions of Asians attest to the authenticity of the fare.

BEST SEAFOOD
Northern Lakes Seafood Company
39495 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-646-7900
After a decade in business in the Radisson Kingsley Hotel, Northern Lakes continues to reign over all things nautical, including an interior design that features whimsical fish mobiles and menacing octopi chandeliers. Stick with the unusually diverse fresh-catch-of-the-day list that is reasonably priced and attractively prepared, although the busier "house specialties" like the Nobu-influenced tuna duo are meritorious as well. The quirky "Interesting White Wine" section of the wine list merits attention as does the justly celebrated Matt Prentice sourdough, a previous winner of best restaurant bread.

BEST SUSHI
Noble Fish
45 E. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson; 248-585-2314
So what if it's not an upscale Asian restaurant adorned with Eastern flash? You'll forget all about that the minute you bite into a fat spider roll. And the green tea is free! There are just a few tables behind a makeshift wall separating the "restaurant" from a Japanese market full of exotic foods. Carryout might be advised during the dinner rush, or you can snag a box of what is surely the freshest pre-made sushi available. They even offer raw fish pieces in the refrigerator section for do-it-yourselfers.

BEST TAPAS
Sangria
401 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-1964
If patatas bravas are the measure by which tapas restaurants are judged, Sangria gets top marks. Pros from Vigo, Spain, were brought in to help set the menu. You'll find a long list of authentic hot and cold tapas here. Consider pulpo a la vinegreta: The chunks of octopus are meaty, almost beeflike, and subtly marinated with potatoes in lemon vinaigrette. Have your goat cheese baked and your blue cheese fried. Olives, shrimp, mussels — the menu is a taste of the Iberian Peninsula.

BEST SOUL FOOD & JAZZ
Baker's Keyboard Lounge
20510 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-345-6300; bakerskeyboardlounge.com
In 1996, when Clarence Baker's pending retirement threatened to close the world's oldest jazz club, along came Juanita Jackson and John Colbert to rescue this jewel of the national jazz scene. Juanita, known as Detroit's (chicken) Wing Queen, took over the kitchen, putting down some terrific, destination-worthy soul food. Try the wings and the catfish! The music lineup, which for years had been dominated by the legends of jazz, was supplanted, for the most part, by our many great local players — local legends who have given Baker's the warmer, homier feel that helps keep it packed nearly every night.

BEST AMERICAN
Fiddleheads
4313 W. 13 Mile Rd., Royal Oak; 248-288-3744
Chef Tim Voss's seasonally changing menu includes standards like Caesar salad, roast chicken and pork chops — even spaghetti and meatballs — alongside tofu marinated in maple syrup, beef tenderloin in black currant sauce, and scallops with olives in a tomato-fennel purée. If some of the names are familiar, all the outcomes are spectacular. Voss loves his sauces, and, as a result, so do the patrons. Try the super-tender braised lamb shank with artichokes or the salmon with a corn fritter and a roasted portobello. Off the beaten track, Fiddleheads has the friendly feel of a neighborhood place but a level of service, decor and taste that call out for special occasions.

BEST BREWPUB FOOD
Lily's Seafood
410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459
At Lily's Seafood, the house-made beer is fresh and good (we particularly enjoy Reggie's French River Red), but it's the food that draws us back. The delicious signature Creole soup is spicy and rich with chunks of Andouille sausage, crawfish tails and chicken; we order it every time. The tuna burger is ground sushi-grade yellowfin, and the malt-crusted whitefish is superb. Open for brunch on the weekends, you might even be tempted to hit the Bloody Mary bar instead of ordering a pint of ale with your salmon hash.

BEST BARBECUE
Slows Bar-BQ
2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828
Forget the Texas vs. North Carolina argument; in the revitalizing Corktown neighborhood Slows Bar-BQ treats both beef and pork to unhurried hardwood smoke seasoning and then offers up a choice of five tasty sauces. Or try one of their more interesting creations, such as brisket enchiladas or split pea-and-okra fritters. But it's not entirely about the Q. The beer list is one of the best in town. The wine menu is more thoughtful than many nearby upscale restaurants. Add to that a nice selection of small-batch bourbons and you might end up staying awhile.

BEST IRISH
Baile Corcaigh
1426 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-963 4546
Tiger Stadium no longer stands whole in Corktown, but there are still plenty of good reasons to visit. In addition to the gorgeous dark wood and stained glass interior of Baile Corcaigh, they're making some quality victuals there. Still, in the comfort category, the cuisine goes well beyond corned beef and cabbage and should delight a range of diners. The charming dense and crumbly house-made soda bread might as well be called a scone. Stop in for a Beamish stout or a snort of whiskey during melancholy hour.

BEST ITALIAN — CHAIN
Andiamo
Multiple locations; andiamoitalia.com
We usually avoid chains, many of which serve mediocre, commissary-prepared, often-frozen food. Not so with Andiamo. Joe Vicari's 11 restaurants are part of an Italian chain, all right, but they have different styles, different menus, and they all have equity-owning managing partners who run them like independent owners. Under the tutelage of Chef Aldo, the kitchen staffs are trained to prepare the outstanding recipes that have sustained this operation and enabled its growth for the past 19 years. From a trattoria in Grosse Pointe Woods to the flagship in Bloomfield Township, Andiamo defines Italian food.

BEST ITALIAN — MODERATE
La Dolce Vita
17546 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-865-0331
Driving on Woodward Avenue three blocks north of McNichols Road, strangers to La Dolce Vita might miss it, tucked away behind a brick wall with the letters LDV being the only clue to its existence. Pull around to the rear to find a courtyard that, in season, is surrounded with lush greenery, complete with flowers and vines growing over the walls, covering an iron fence, secluding the courtyard from the street. The European atmosphere complements the fine food and service. Reasonably priced Italian food — salads, pastas and protein — are fresh and straightforward, uncomplicated, in the Tuscan style. This is a delightful oasis, a destination that defies the adage "location, location, location."

BEST ITALIAN — SPLURGE
Bacco Ristorante
29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-358-0344; baccoristorante.com
Italian doesn't get any better than Bacco. The dining room is lavish and tasteful at once. It's open and spacious, while maintaining a sense of intimacy. The service is professional, provided by a knowledgeable staff that can describe every dish and its ingredients. A visit for a special occasion will not disappoint. Luciano Del Signore grew up in the restaurant business and has taken it to a new level. The ingredients are the freshest, prepared by a man who is able to translate his love of food and wine to a sophisticated palate.

BEST NEW ITALIAN
Italia Fresca
4111 Orchard Lake Rd., Orchard Lake; 248-855-1259; italiafresca.net
Sam Sharkas is a brave man. He opened a restaurant tucked away in a location that has claimed several predecessors, in economic times that frighten the faint of heart. He even opened without a liquor license, although he hopes to have one soon. What is making Italia Fresca a success is the food. Sam can cook. The menu includes pastas — his pesto is redolent of fresh basil and garlic with just the right texture to coat every noodle. What's more, the quality of the veal, chicken and seafood are evidence of a chef who has spent his entire life cooking.

BEST FRENCH
Zinc Brasserie & Wine Bar
6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-865-0500
Relying mostly on the cuisine of southern France, with nods to Spain and Italy, this brasserie offers a carefully chosen list of European beers and 200 wines, more than 40 by the glass, in a bustling, see-and-be-seen atmosphere. Classic French entrées are coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and cassoulet, but nightly specials might include various renderings of whole fish, Basque-style spare ribs, lobster and braised beef short ribs. Especially popular are the bouillabaisse, osso buco, paella — and, oddly, the famous Red Coat Tavern hamburger (same owners) — along with sophisticated tapas and charcuterie. Almost everyone gets pommes frites with the house mayo — or truffle aioli.

BEST SAMMARINESE
Tre Monti Ristorante
1695 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-1100
No contest here as this is the only local restaurant (and one of the few in the United States) that features the cuisine of tiny San Marino, the oldest republic in the world. That cuisine is similar to what is found in northern Italy where the mini-state (population 30,000) is situated. Some of the pastas, bread and especially the Monte Titano dessert are unique to the San Marino kitchen. Most of the rest of the light and well-prepared plates will seem familiar. Added attractions include several inexpensive regional Italian wines and, especially, the gracefully decorated room that belies the relatively moderate price structure.

BEST MEDITERRANEAN
Mediterrano
2900 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-332-9700
Even though Detroit is home to many splendid Mediterranean restaurants, you'll have to travel to a mundane shopping center several miles from the center of downtown Ann Arbor to find the best in our area. Mediterrano covers the cuisine of the countries bordering the sea for which it is named, from Spain to Turkey on the north shore and from North Africa to the Middle East on the south shore. Here you can find paella, pistou soup, tapenade and a vegetarian Turkish burec in a large comfortable dining space full of geographically relevant kitsch. The portions are generous, the diversity is admirable, and the intelligent wine list covers a wide swath of Mediterranean vineyards along with New World varietals.

BEST GERMAN FOOD IN A DETROIT BAR
Jacoby's
624 Brush St., Detroit; 313-962-7067
It's a piece of Detroit history with more than a dozen taps of German beer. Autumn is the ideal time for a bowl of Jacoby's famous German sausage soup. It's a simple and utterly satisfying mixture of sausages and vegetables in a tomato-based broth. The breaded pork medallions (schnitzel) are ideally prepared, sautéed crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. If your meal doesn't come standard with potato pancakes, make sure to order a side and slather them with sour cream and applesauce.

BEST TURKISH
Balkan Bistro
3203 Peter St., Windsor; 519-254-4369
The dishes are familiar to fans of Middle Eastern or Greek cooking, but with a twist that improves each one: The secret of Turkish cuisine is long, slow cooking that concentrates and marries the flavors, producing gems such as karisik (one of several eggplant appetizers), humus that's chunkier, tangier and nuttier, minty lentil soup, sigara boregi (flaky phyllo stuffed with a rich and tart spinach filling, far more delicious than most spanakopita), eggplant kebab (ground beef wrapped in eggplant) and hunkar begendi (veal stew on a bed of mashed grilled eggplant, smoky and creamy). Try the "mixed Turkish plate." Levant and Aykan Evrenoz serve it all with informal warmth despite the refinement of the surroundings — the former Alan Manor, in an 1877 house two minutes from the Ambassador Bridge.

BEST PERSIAN
Pars
30005 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-851-8200
Some dishes are familiar — humus, kebabs, grape leaves — but then you run across ghormeh sabzi (herb stew) and khoresht-e-bademjan (eggplant stew). Enhancing dishes with traditional ingredients such as sun-dried limes and ground walnut-and-pomegranate paste, Pars is seeking both to satisfy the Iranian community and to recruit others to its intriguing cuisine. Chicken, lamb and beef are combined with rice, herbs (cilantro, fenugreek), fruits (raisins, dates) and nuts (almonds, pistachios) to create perfectly grilled dishes new to most Detroiters' palates but very welcome if you feel you've eaten a lifetime's worth of chicken shawarma. Be sure to try the soups and the grilled eggplant starters.

BEST MIDDLE EASTERN
Al-Ajami
14633 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-846-9330
Known among its mostly Middle Eastern patrons for its deconstructed salads — you start your meal with a head of romaine, a bunch of scallions, a whole tomato and some cucumbers and pickles — Al-Ajami is equally celebrated for its bargain "family trays," laden with succulent shishes, shawarmas, kaftas, falafel and creamy garlic sauce. The impossibly long menu includes impossibly tender lamb and "chicken lemon" cooked with artichokes, as well as a sizable seafood list (perch, lobster, scallops, snapper). Chicken rice soup flavored with cumin is a standout. Breakfasts featuring beef-lamb sausage are served anytime. Come with a good-sized party to do this place justice.

BEST INDIAN — DETROIT
Sizz'l-n-Spice
136 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-963-2860; sizzlnspice.com
This little northern India-Pakistani spot has been popular with downtown lunchers for its carry-out buffet — all you can stuff into a box for $8.99, but recently ended — and its $3.99 chicken or shrimp biryani and tandoori chicken (still going strong). A new menu — including a number of $1 items — was going into effect as we were finishing this issue, but a number of crowd-pleasers remain, including butter chicken masala, chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, dal tadka (lentils with lots of spices) and lamb achari — curried with pickle spices. Indo-Chinese dishes made with soy sauce (that is, Chinese as it's done in India) are popular with natives of India. It's open Monday-Saturday evenings too.

BEST INDIAN — SUBURBS
Bombay Grille
29200 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-626-2982; bombay-grille.com
Something has changed at Bombay Grille. The service is more attentive, even at lunch, when nearly everyone chooses the buffet, one of the best bargains in town with its myriad dishes and flavors. On a recent afternoon the fare included a delicious Indian-Chinese corn and chicken soup. Next were two appetizers, one a fried ball of mashed potatoes and peanuts, followed by Tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, dal, aloo palak — spinach and potatoes — and several others, all perfectly seasoned and spiced, all for $8.95. This is a great way to explore a new cuisine for those who aren't familiar with it.

BEST CHINESE
Golden Harvest
6880 E. 12 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-751-5288
Although the dim sun that won laurels two years ago is still estimable, this year we again salute Golden Harvest for its regular fare. Maritime delights are one of the specialties on that extensive menu with the walnut shrimp and sizzling seafood platter among the favorites. For vegetarians, it is difficult to beat their hot pot of garlicky eggplant. Almost all of the clientele is Asian, many of whom order intriguing-looking items that don't appear on the English menu. Walk around the room before taking your seat to see what they are eating, and then point to the tables of interest when your server approaches. And even though she might inform you that Americans don't care for the soup that comes with, order it. For likely translation problems, call for Yip, the genial manager who comes from Hong Kong.

BEST THAI
Bangkok Café
323 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-548-5373
Just about everyone has a favorite local Thai joint to satisfy their regular urge for curry, noodle and fried rice dishes. Ours is Ferndale's Bangkok Café, where medium-hot actually means medium-hot and leftover Pad Thai might not make it past midnight. Without fail, every time we dine there we can't help but order the fresh rolls: a simple chicken and vegetable mixture rolled into rice noodle wrappers and enhanced with mint leaves and a tangy dipping sauce. And we could easily carry out 12-dozen seasoned Siam wings to nibble while watching football.

BEST JAPANESE
Ronin
325 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-546-0888
Moving into a jinxed restaurant space on the corner of Lafayette and Fourth near the Royal Oak Music Theatre, Ronin looks like it will be a keeper. Its dramatic subdued Japanese interior combined with superior sushi and other Japanese treats make it one of the more sophisticated dining spots in town. Although the non-sushi and -sashimi side of the menu is brief, it is full of interesting items, such as sweet-potato tempura, pork potstickers, chilled green-tea noodles, black risotto and the somewhat oxymoronic Kobe beef sliders. The artistically constructed gluten-free dark and white chocolate cake is a surprising winner.

BEST VIETNAMESE — BUDGET
Thuy Trang
30491 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-588-7823
No frills at Thuy Trang — no website, no bar, no cloth napkins — just good fresh food on the cheap. If you spend 15 bucks here, you've overeaten. The pho, a staple of the Vietnamese diet, is a large bowl of hot broth filled with noodles and some kind of meat, usually beef or chicken. On the side are bean sprouts, basil, hot fresh chilies, chili sauce and fish sauce. You can make a meal of pho or share it if you can find an extra bowl. If you're familiar with the menu, you know what to order. If not, ask.

BEST VIETNAMESE — UPSCALE
Annam
22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-8744
Still the best because the ethereal delicacy of its food is matched by the spare elegance of the surroundings. The Nguyen family's secret is to use fresh herbs — cilantro, mint, lemon grass — and to stir-fry with few oils. Customers' favorites are chicken lemon grass and catfish cooked in a clay pot with a caramelized sauce. Equally good are the lotus stem salad, appetizer sampler, bouillabaisse and ginger chicken with eggplant. Wine list and full bar too, with Japanese and Chinese beers. Though we've called it "upscale," prices are eminently affordable.

BEST MEXICAN
Señor López Taqueria
7144 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-551-0685
Skip the tourist traps on Bagley Street and head west. Beans are the measure of a Mexican restaurant, and Señor López does them right: Cooked fresh every day with onions and without lard; whole, not mashed and refried. Try the crusty whole tilapia, chiles rellenos (two poblanos barely dipped in egg batter, grilled and peeled for a smoky flavor and filled with creamy Muenster), guacamole (chunky and infused with lime), the simple $1.25 taco, slathered with cilantro, puerco en chile verde and chicken soup for the Mexican soul. Instead of the usual gringo favorites (death by chimichanga), branch out and try chile enogada, mole (red or green), and Mexican drinks like horchata, tamarindo and jamaica. Tequila, beer and margaritas are served.

BEST ECLECTIC
Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241
Whoever said "do one thing and do it well" hadn't met Chef Christian Borden, who borrows ingredients and traditions from cuisines all over, or at least Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. His dishes evoke the familiar — France, Italy, Japan — but they may also call to mind Algeria, Fiji, Scandinavia or Quebec (duck leg with maple sauce), and they change seasonally. He often deliciously juxtaposes elements from different continents in the same dish, such as Baffin Bay crab over kimchi or macadamia-dusted calamari. Whatever he does, it's intense, verging on gilding the lily.

BEST CULINARY GRAND TOUR
Pi
28875 Franklin Rd., Southfield; 248-208-7500
You can put together a virtual Grand Tour of Europe on the Internet, but why not try something that you can sink your teeth into — like Pi's menu, which roams the Old World from Irish lamb stew to Greek lamb chops? In between you can stop off for the seldom-seen-here Portuguese salt cod, French bouillabaisse, Hungary's chicken paprikash and Poland's bigos. The reasonably priced wine list also roams the Old World for bargains, while the varied beer list includes quaffs from Macedonia and Russia. Live jazz from the New World enhances the evening.

BEST PRE-THEATER - UPSCALE
The Whitney
4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-7500
This category originally read "expensive" — but that would not do justice to the new, more affordable menu that came with the handsome refurbishing when the Whitney reopened for business last fall. There may a bit of sleight-of-hand here — as the prices came down, so did the portion sizes — but that should be irrelevant (who takes a doggie bag to the theater?) when you can feast on five-lily soup, Peekytoe crab salad, duck two ways and roast chicken roulades stuffed with pork and pistachios. And all of this amid the most elegant surroundings in town, whichever of the 52 rooms you happen to find yourself in, including the celebrated second-floor men's bathroom.

BEST WALK-UP
Good Girls Go To Paris Crêpes
2 John R St., Detroit; 313-964-2023
Don't look for a door: It's the only New York-style walk-up we've got. It's not like downtown is so jammed with businesses that this was the only way to squeeze in one more, but the idea does add a touch of urbanity to the city center. Here, a crêpe griddle is tucked into 48 claustrophobic square feet of cooking space with a window on the street. Customers place their orders, get handed a steaming crêpe loaded with veggies, bacon, fruit, chocolate — whatever — and walk away; it's all designed for portability. The crêperie opens early for downtown foot traffic and stays up late on Fridays and Saturdays.

BEST ETHIOPIAN
Taste of Ethiopia
29702F Southfield Rd., Southfield; 248-905-5560
and 2453 Russell St., Eastern Market, Detroit; 313-567-6000
Omnivores and vegetarians are both happy here. They've discovered that an Ethiopian restaurant doesn't have to serve all-you-can-eat (though that option's available for $17.95). Most customers order from the varied a la carte menu. Along with their injera they get generous servings of familiar vegetables — collards, lentils, carrots, cabbage — simmered in a long list of spices to bring out their quintessential spirit; it's easy to feel you've never truly appreciated these humble sides before. Beef, lamb and chicken are available several ways, as are lentil-carrot-scallion soup, plantains or fresh fruit for dessert, a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes and red onions dressed in sesame oil and lemon juice, Ethiopian tea, coffee in a clay pot — even a thin crust "pizza" with basil.

BEST SPLURGE
The Lark

6430 Farmington Rd., West Bloomfield Twp.; 248-661-4466
Jim and Mary Lark's eponymous European country inn has been around for more than a quarter-century, winning awards for its French-oriented kitchen and for its vast wine cellar. In their exquisite but simply decorated room with only 12 tables, discriminating guests dine on a prix-fixe that averages a hefty $75 but includes a wondrous cold appetizer trolley (try a bit of everything), a choice of warm appetizer, a palate-cleansing sorbet, entrées such as rack of lamb, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and Dover sole, as well as a salad. A hands-on owner if there ever was one, Jim Lark patrols his domain, chatting up his guests and making certain that his highly skilled staff takes care of all diners' gustatory desires.

BEST CUT-RATE SWANKY
Tribute

31425 W. 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-848-9393
How to enjoy one of the area's very best restaurants without blowing the rent? First off: At Wednesday through Friday lunchtimes, ordinary mortals find that 20 bucks will get them either an appetizer plus an entrée or an entrée plus dessert — anything they want from the menu of the award-winning Tribute. Choices are likely to include Szechuan calamari with chili lime mayo or smoked salmon "pizza" with crème fraiche; lobster Bolognese, sautéed halibut, beef tips with gnocchi, salmon with edamame mashers; and crème brûlée or chocolate mousse. Secondly: the dinner menu entrée prices themselves have been slashed: from $59 down to $39 on the high end. And November features a three-course dinner for two for $99.

BEST DEAL ON A TAMAL
Pollo Chapin

2054 Junction St., Detroit; 313-554-9087
These square Guatemalan tamales from chef Inocencia Urizar are moist and rich, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, the way a tamal should be. No one, even gringos, should settle for the skinny, dry cylinders that pass for tamales in some Mexican restaurants. Prized as a Christmas dish, a Pollo Chapin tamal — its masa made with broth and lard, and stuffed with chicken — must be eaten with a fork. It would be delicious at twice the price, but it's $3.75 to eat in, or $2 to go.

BEST CONEY ISLAND ON A TROUT STREAM
Lipuma's

621 N. Main St., Rochester; 248-652-9862
The metro area is rich with Coney Island restaurants, but perhaps none have quite the setting as the ultra-friendly Lipuma's in downtown Rochester. Paint Creek runs directly past a covered deck and several picnic tables outside the small building. Though their dogs and fries are some of the best, they taste even better during the temperate seasons with the sound of burbling water and busy ducks as backdrop. Gorge yourself and then work it off with a hike or bike ride on the nearby Paint Creek Trail.

BEST MEXICAN-ITALIAN
El Barzón

3710 Junction Rd., Detroit; 313-894-2070; elbarzonrestaurant.com
Even if there were more Mexican-Italian restaurants, it's likely that El Barzón would get the nod in this category. Chef and owner Norberto Garitas learned Mexican cooking in his native land, and then cooked for years at Il Posto, the lauded Italian restaurant in Southfield, where he honed his Italian cooking skills. The combination of cuisines sounds odd until you've tried Garitas' food. The Mexican side of the menu has $1.25 tacos, mole poblano and other examples of a cuisine that is much more than tacos and quesadillas. The Italian portion of the menu has much of the standard fare, all expertly prepared and reasonably priced. The zuppa di pesce is outstanding.

BEST CUBAN
Vicente's Cuban Cuisine

1250 Library St., Detroit; 313-962-8800; vicente.us
On a recent Saturday night there was a line to get into Vicente's at 11:30 p.m., with a DJ spinning salsa and the dance floor crowded. But before dancing, get fortified on the selection of tapas and four paellas, the traditional saffron-infused rice dishes that range from Cuban Style Paella — filled with lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, calamari, chorizo, chicken and vegetables — to paella de huerto — made with assorted seasonal vegetables and the venerable Spanish saffron rice. Or try the ropa vieja ("old clothes"), shredded meat cooked with bell peppers, tomatoes, red wine and green olives. For lighter fare, try a Cuban sandwich. Now dance!

BEST LAOTIAN
Sabidee

1449 W. 14 Mile Rd., Madison Heights; 248-597-0800
A winner with few competitors, Sabidee introduces the Laotian kitchen to our area. After operating Bahn Nah in Ann Arbor, the Inhmathong family moved its operation to Madison Heights this summer. The owners hail from the northeast part of Laos bordering Thailand, which helps to explain the number of Thai standards on their menu as well as their often-incendiary spice levels. Larb, sticky rice, pork sausage and basil steak are among Laotian specialties worth a try. But so too is the more generic beautiful to look at and delightful to consume crispy duck. Alas, those who are peanut-averse will have to take a pass on the flavorful peanut-based sauces that accompany several of their offerings.

BEST VEGETARIAN NOT IN A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Lebanese Grill

1600 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-526-1444
Like most Middle Eastern restaurants, the Lebanese Grill boasts a large number of vegetarian dishes, but this cozy family-run place is special. Among the aromatic vegetarian dishes on its encyclopedic menu are borghul, cracked wheat with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic and mushrooms, madjara, lentils, cracked, wheat and onions, and arayis, pita stuffed with goat cheese and tomatoes. Other options include dense flavorful soups, crisp lemony salads and oshta, a sweet dessert pudding covered with honey and fruit. And the wine list is dominated by a diverse selection of the best from Lebanon's venerable vineyards.

BEST CONDIMENTS AND GARNISHES IN A DINER
The Fly Trap

22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150
While you're skanking in your seat to the ska beats pouring out of the Fly Trap's sound system, take notice of the quality accoutrements this "finer diner" offers. The delicious dill pickle spears are naturally fermented. The house-made jams are typically a mixture of fresh fruit and complementary herbs — an outrageous improvement over the small plastic tubs of corn syrup-sweetened jellies. And their fiery yet tasty habañero "swat sauce" is so popular a $5 bottle can be purchased to go.

BEST COOKING CLASS
Simply Good Kitchen

1105 S. Adams Rd., Birmingham; 248-203-2450; simplygoodkitchen.com
Bill and Shanny Apodaca love to cook and to turn the world on to great food. They are knowledgeable chefs and have plenty of charisma, which comes through in their fun and informative classes. They teach their excellent, detailed recipes to a maximum of 15 students — and many bring wine to drink while watching as their gourmet dinner is prepared. The latest class schedule came out at the beginning of August and sold out in several days. How coveted are slots in their classes? A friend signed up for one scheduled at the end of January, was accepted, and then asked to pay immediately just to hold the spot.

BEST DESSERTS
Traffic Jam and Snug

511 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9470
There are the regular desserts like a double scoop of house-made ice cream available in seven flavors, the Carlotta Chocolatta ice cream cheesecake that will have even the heartiest chocolate lover in a spin, bread pudding, fresh berries or even a simple Boston cooler made with vanilla ice cream and Vernor's ginger ale that once was brewed only two blocks away. Then you have to decide from daily specials such as German chocolate cake and Lemon chiffon. Enjoy your treats on the newish outdoor patio facing the quiet West Canfield neighborhood.

BEST CRÈME BRÛLÈE
Grape Expectations

555 Forest Ave., Plymouth; 734-455-9463
Chef Nina Scott's two crème brûlèes, vanilla and chocolate, are just the right combination of crackliness, barely burnt flavor and creamy insides that a brûlèe should be. She uses the traditional method, slow-cooking the eggs and cream over a double boiler, and makes only four or five at a time. The chocolate version uses 50 percent cocoa chocolate instead of bittersweet. Most people go over the top by adding a topping: a fresh fruit sauce of whatever's good that day (say, raspberry-strawberry) or the "turtle" — fresh caramel sauce, chopped walnuts and crème anglaise. It's bliss multiplied by bliss.

BEST ICE CREAM
Shatila Bakery & Café

14300 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-1952
If you're accustomed to thinking of fruit ice creams as light — sherbet-y — and vanilla and nut ice creams as rich, revise your thinking at Shatila. Apricot, mango, pineapple and lemon, made with puréed fruit, are super-premium and super-rich, potent in color and intense in flavor. Even richer is kashta — like French vanilla only more so. Pistachio, coconut, almond, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are also on hand, as is a vast array of Mediterranean and European pastries. A scoop is $1.48 ($7 per quart), but think in terms of cents per gram of butterfat.

BEST PLACE TO SHOP FOR PAN DULCE
Mexicantown Bakery

4300 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-0001
There are a dizzying amount of sweet breads, pastries and cookies at Mexicantown Bakery, and you will be amazed how little cash you need to spend to walk away with a bag full of them. They also offer more refined cakes and tarts, freshly baked buns, tamales and a grocery well-stocked with Central and South American, Mexican and Caribbean specialties. Next time you're dining down that way, try dessert at the bakery. Or better yet, load up and have yourself a little picnic across the street in Clark Park.

BEST FROZEN CUSTARD
Erma's Original Frozen Custard

6451 Auburn Rd., Utica; 586-254-3080; ermascustard.com
Erma's has been around, just outside downtown Utica, since 1942. It shows. That's not

The Glory of Capitalism - People's Poll

BEST WOMEN'S CLOTHIER
TIE
The GetupVintage
215 S. State St., No. 3, Ann Arbor; 734-327-4300; thegetup.com
Nordstrom
Locations in Troy, Novi and Clinton Twp.; nordstrom.com
On the surface, these winners couldn't seem more different — a small indie boutique selling reasonably priced retro fashions versus an upscale department store chain toting today's top name-brands. But while their aesthetics may be at different ends of the style spectrum, both stores have earned a loyal following due in large part to staffs that put the customer first.

BEST STORE FOR HIP-HOP ATTIRE
Fly Clothing
209 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-3323; flyclothinga2.com
Apparently, the image of the giant fly located above the doorway didn't throw off our readers, who are hip to Fly's collection of the coolest brands in urban wear for both men and women, from Triple 5 Soul to Skunkfunk to Rise — a selection that can give even the clueless super-fly street-cred (sorry, we couldn't resist!).

BEST SHOE STORE
DSW
Various locations; dsw.com
Was it the rows upon rows of nothing but shoes — thousands in fact, of ballet flats, strappy sandals, sneakers, pumps, boots and everything in between, all designer brands at bargain prices? Or was it the fact that you can now buy shoes directly from the website so no one will see you buying the same peep-toe heels in three different shades?

BEST PLACE TO BUY EYEGLASSES
SEE
Locations in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Rochester and Troy; seeeyewear.com
The reasons our optically challenged readers voted for SEE are as clear as the big E on the eye chart. Their funky and fabulous eyewear is designed exclusively for their stores and offered at relatively affordable prices. SEE also gets points for community spirit — their charitable work includes being an annual sponsor of AIDS Walk Detroit.

BEST TAILOR
Sam's Tailor Shop
300 Renaissance Ctr., Detroit; 313-567-6960
A good man might be hard to find, but a good tailor is damn near impossible. That's why Detroiters should be thankful that we have a sartorial magic shop like Sam's in our midst. Walk in looking like a hobo in a baggy suit, and walk out looking like the proverbial million bucks. Along with alterations, Sam's also sells custom-made shirts, clothing and accessories — plus tuxedo rentals.

BEST DRY CLEANERS
TIE
University Dry Cleaners
4704 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-9799
Janet Davis
27607 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-543-0340 and 3645 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-647-3009;janetdaviscleaners.com
In the battle of the urban vs. suburban dry cleaners, a draw was called between the posh suburbanite Janet Davis, which has been outing damn spots for more than 65 years along with offering such perks as home delivery, and the no-frills Wayne State student staple University Dry Cleaners.

BEST FABRIC STORE
Haberman Fabrics
905 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-541-0010; habermanfabrics.com
This year marked the 50th anniversary for this venerable fabric store that offers an extensive collection of fine fabrics and patterns, bridal accoutrements, down pillows, decorating fabrics and custom upholstered furniture. A clientele of experienced and professional dressmakers speaks to Haberman's quality, but don't be intimidated — the staff is always willing to assist rookie seamstresses. And if all else fails, a Haberman sewing class is sure to have you busting bar tacks before you can thread your bobbin.

BEST PLACE TO BUY LINGERIE
Victoria's Secret
Various locations; victoriassecret.com
Whether it's the overtly sexual commercials, the mannequins in water-bras, or the fact that there seems to be a semi-annual sale every month — the store that has made everyone love pink has a place, if not in our readers' hearts, at least in their underwear drawers.

BEST COSTUME SHOP
Fantasy Attic
3010 Packard Rd., Ann Arbor; 734-973-8000; fantasyattic.com
This year-round costume shop sells and rents a vast selection of costumes — from the super-deluxe gorilla to Dee Snider — along with a massive stock of masks, wigs, makeup and props.

BEST MALL
Somerset Collection
2800 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-643-6360; thesomersetcollection.com
This ultra-chic mall and perennial best-of winner showcases such frou-frou designers as Armani Exchange, Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Economic crisis? Pshaw!

BEST NON-MALL SHOPPING
Downtown Royal Oak
Despite spiking rents and the mushrooming chain stores, Royal Oak retains its crown as the best place to shop out of doors, thanks in large part to indie stalwarts such as Incognito, Noir Leather, Lost and Found Vintage and Chaud Jeans.

BEST PLACE TO PAMPER A WOMAN
TIE
Douglas J Aveda Institute
409 S. Center St., Royal Oak; 248-336-5506; douglasj.com
The Green Room Salon & Day Spa
26571 W. 12 Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-350-9322; greenroomdayspa.com
The name Douglas J has become synonymous with cutting-edge styles and stringent quality standards. The Royal Oak location is the fourth training institute and full-service salon to open in the state, offering services performed by senior students at great rates. The Green Room offers relaxing spa treatments in a beautiful and luxurious space. But ladies don't have to be pampered alone — check out the couples' VIP room, which comes complete with strawberries and Champagne.

BEST NAIL SALON
Envy Salon & Day Spa
15430 Haggerty Rd., Northville; 734-420-0052; envysalonanddayspa.com
Envy offers everything from lash extensions to haircuts, but it was all about the nails for our readers. Acrylics, pedicures, manicures — they do it all, at reasonable rates and with exquisite style.

BEST BEAUTY SUPPLY STORE
Sally Beauty Supply
Various locations; sallybeauty.com
Supplying professional cosmetologists and do-it-yourselfers with the means to beautification, what's said to be the world's largest beauty supply retailer is helping the world look better — one shopping basket at a time.

BEST PLACE TO PAMPER MEN
Manhood Grooming Gallery
26571 W. 12 Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-354-8400; manhoodgrooming.com
Jokes about metrosexuals? Please, that is so 2002. After all, what man can resist the lure of a Swedish massage, a relaxing pedicure, a soothing facial or a straight-razor shave? Especially when he can still catch the game on a flat-screen and chug a brew at the bar? If scantily clad chicks served up hot wings, Manhood would be a bona fide dude-bro hangout, girly spa treatments not withstanding.

BEST MASSAGE
TIE

Lee Shaw of Total Motion
10990 Middlebelt Rd., Livonia; 734-437-7689; totalmotionmassage.com
RelaxStation
300 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor; 734-623-1951; relaxstationmassage.com
These two winners know how to rub our readers the right way. Whether you're seeking relief from pain or just need a stress reduction, Lee Shaw offers custom massages to cure what ails you. And the folks at RelaxStation have won for the second year in a row thanks to their range of services and accommodating staff.

BEST HAIR SALON
6 Salon
306 W. Sixth St., Royal Oak; 248-398-1586; sixsalon.com
This award-winning up-scale salon has three metro locations, but the Royal Oak chop shop is heads (get it? heads?) above the rest for our readers. Visit one of their designers (don't you dare call them hairdressers) for a cut, curl or dye that's a work of art.

BEST ADULT NOVELTY STORE
Lover's Lane
Various locations; loverslane.com
Apparently, our readers still believe that lovers who play together stay together. Or at least they enjoy amassing an impressive collection of dildos, teddies and Kama Sutra cards in the process.

BEST ADULT BOOKSTORE
Intimate Ideas
Various locations
This adult novelty store sells all the old standbys — sex toys, bachelorette party supplies, videos and, of course, books. What's more, the knowledgeable and up-front staff will be more than happy to share tips on prying apart stuck-together pages.

BEST TATTOO SHOP
Eternal Tattoos
Locations in Livonia, Howell, Eastpointe, Clawson and Taylor; eternaltattoos.com
Is Eternal the best merely because they cover all the geographic bases — Downriver, east side, west side, north side and middle of nowhere? Or is it because of the consistent quality of their work? Or maybe it's just the fact that an instantly regretted tattoo can be (almost) instantly removed at their Howell facility?

BEST BODY PIERCING SHOP
Lucky Monkey
308 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor; 734-623-8200; luckymonkeytattoo.com
Under the capable hands of the foxy Wendi and Sarah, customers at Lucky Monkey experience clean and safe piercings. They say they're the only shop in the state that uses sterile gloves, that they were the first to use internally threaded titanium jewelry and that their piercers stay up-to-date on the latest techniques.

BEST SMOKE SHOP
BEST HEAD SHOP
42 Degrees
613 E. William St., Ann Arbor; 734-665-9600
Artfully crafted hand-blown glass pipes helped 42 Degrees get the nod in two best-of categories. Sure, it may be more expensive that the average shop, but if you're a true connoisseur of smoking accoutrements ...

BEST MICHIGAN PRODUCT
Better Made
Found at various bars, grocery and party stores in metro Detroit; bmchips.com
Since 1930, the contents of those ubiquitous yellow bags have satiated the salt cravings of the city. And considering that Detroit remains a perennial leader in annual consumption of potato chips, Better Made's position as Detroit's fave munchie-buster should be safe for at least another 70-plus years.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A MAGAZINE
Borders
Various locations; borders.com
When our readers want something beyond the typical People, Cosmopolitan and Rolling Stone they head to this big box book seller that grew from its humble beginnings as a used shop in Ann Arbor to become the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States.

BEST COMIC BOOK STORE
Green Brain Comics
13210 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-9444; greenbrain.biz
One of the categories where Metro Times' readers and critics consistently concur — Green Brain's incredible selection and super-friendly staff defeats the competition every time. Pow!

BEST USED BOOK STORE
John K. King
901 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-0622
No surprise here! Year after year, our readers can't find a bookshop that competes with the more than 750,000 used and rare titles found at this bookworm's wet dream.

BEST INDIE BOOK STORE
The Book Beat
26010 Greenfield Rd., Oak Park; 248-968-1190; thebookbeat.com
The Book Beat is the best of what a bookstore can be — shelves crammed with hard-to-find tomes, a friendly staff willing to roll up their sleeves and dig through the stacks, and a great selection of specializations that too many other stores ignore: art, photography, children's lit and local authors. And as if that weren't enough, they also offer exhibits in an adjacent art gallery and host frequent literary events.

BEST VIDEO SELECTION
Thomas Video
122 S. Main St., Clawson; 248-280-2833; thomasvideo.com
Their motto: "We have the movies they don't want you to see" is a happy truth for film buffs from across the county who hit up this indie store for hard-to-find cult and foreign titles. The inventory of more than 30,000 titles doesn't stop at rarities, but also features current blockbusters and timeless classics. Plus, it's owned by a couple of punk rockers, which may have nothing to do with the selection, but definitely lends indie cred.

PLACE TO GET VIDEO GAMES
Game Stop
Various locations; gamestop.com
With video games usurping movies as the preferred economic escape tool, it's no wonder that this mega-chain boasts more than 5,000 locations around the world, with more and more and yet more in the plans. The Wal-Mart of gaming, anyone?

BEST PLACE TO BUY SKATEBOARDS
BEST PLACE TO BUY ROLLER SKATES
Modern Skate & Surf
29862 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-545-5700; modernskate.com
There's a reason Modern Skate & Surf is a perennial "Best of Detroit" winner. Yeah, they carry the top gear and the best brands, but as a pioneer in the boarding and skating industry, Modern's also got street cred. They have a pro skateboarding team, they helped raise cash to open skate parks in the state, and they also sponsor local skaters. Flippin' sweet, dude.

BEST RECORD STORE
Record Time
27360 Gratiot Ave., Roseville; 586-775-1550
For those who prefer music from actual stores as opposed to the World Wide Web, Record Time is the place to go. The staff is only too eager to share their encyclopedic knowledge, they have a great selection of used CDs, and, hey, Kid Rock and Eminem once loved this place. If it's good enough for local celebs, shouldn't it be good enough for you?

BEST INDIE RECORD STORE
BEST RECORD STORE FOR VINYL
Stormy Records
13210 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-581-9322; stormyrecords.com
The self-touting "weirdo music" specialty store above fellow winner Green Brain Comics (Best Comic Book Store) is the antithesis of the corporate retail music barn. Virtually absent of major label releases, they instead focus on the niche market of catering to the independent spirit. Whether it's international, experimental or underground, they buy from and sell to a more refined taste (which we hope doesn't make them too cool for this award).

BEST FLORIST
Blumz
1300 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-964-5777 and 503 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-398-5130; blumz.com
If you've ever passed the windows of either Blumz location, you know the artistry that goes into their floral arrangements. Blumz far surpasses the bland bouquets of corporations like FTD while providing the all-important (but often underrated) personal touch.

BEST HOME FURNISHING STORE
TIE
Mezzanine
206 E. Grand River Ave., 2nd Floor, Detroit; 313-887-0900
Bureau of Urban Living
460 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-833-9336
Downtown or Midtown, both stops have what you need (and what you think you need) to decorate your home or office. Mezzanine boasts a carefully curated showroom of modern and contemporary furniture and lighting; the Bureau stocks everything from kitschy stationery and kitchenware to cookbooks from Eastern Market and Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products.

BEST PLACE TO BUY FURNITURE
Ikea
41640 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-981-6300; ikea-usa.com
Shop for cheap, assembly required furniture and end the day by chowing down on a plate of Swedish meatballs — for better or for worse, there's no other place like it.

BEST JEWELER
TIE

Greis Jewelers
32940 Middlebelt Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-855-1730; greis.com
Tapper's Diamonds & Fine Jewelry
6337 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-932-7700 and 27716 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-465-1800; tappers.com
Two family-owned jewelers with more than 30 years of experience each provide readers with their flashy accessories of choice. Greis Jewelers is the go-to spot for those seeking upscale, quality jewelry (although items priced as low as $25 can be spotted in the store), while Tapper's extensive selection is always outshone by the blinding brilliance of the diamond engagement rings they've become known for.

BEST ARTISAN JEWELER
Abracadabra Jewelry & Gem Gallery
205 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-994-4848; abracadabrajewelry.com
Exquisitely crafted custom-made and artisan jewelry combined with a world-renowned selection of sparkling gems has made owner Steven Lesse and his staff an indispensible source for anyone who desires jewelry with a little more character than a diamond heart-shaped pendant.

BEST PLACE TO BUY PET SUPPLIES
Pet Supplies Plus
Various locations; petsuppliesplus.com
We've never quite figured out what the plus stands for, but once again MT readers picked this chain as the perfect spot to find everything from argyle dog sweaters to hermit crab houses.

STORE YOU'RE DYING FOR IN THE CITY OF DETROIT
Trader Joe's
Various locations in the burbs
The self-proclaimed "neighborhood grocery store" would do well to open a location (or two) within the city limits. Their vast and thrifty selection would give local residents a reliable and healthful place to fill the fridge.

STORE YOU'RE DYING FOR IN THE METRO AREA
THREE-WAY TIE
Ikea
41640 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-981-6300; ikea-usa.com
Whole Foods
Five metro Detroit locations
Bloomingdale's
We get it, if you live on the east side it's an hour-long commute every time you have to replace a missing part, but five Whole Foods isn't enough? Really? As for Bloomie's, apparently metro Detroit clothes whores need one more upscale department store — Macy's, Parisian, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom just aren't cutting it.

BEST PLACE TO BUY AUDIO EQUIPMENT
Car Tunes
Various Locations; cartunesstereo.com
If killer sound while you cruise is a must, then no other store but Car Tunes can hook you up without busting your wallet. Added bonus — if your gear is toast, they'll repair it, no matter where you bought it.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A CAR
Victory Honda
315 Ann Arbor Rd., Plymouth; 734-453-3600; victoryplymouth.com
According to the folks at Victory Honda, the appeal of this multi-state dealership is "low, low prices." What were you expecting them to say? That it's the low-pressure, hands-off sales people?

BEST FOREIGN CAR
Honda Civic
It used to be taboo to buy Japanese in the land of the Big Three. But it looks like nearly 30 miles per gallon, a price tag around $20,000 and Honda's quality rep have finally won Detroiters over.

BEST DOMESTIC CAR
Saturn
It's becoming a bit redundant, but it does not make it any less true — gas prices are a bitch. Maybe that's why this fuel-efficient brand is our readers' homegrown fave. And the modest price tag and hard-to-dent exterior probably don't hurt either.

BEST USED CAR
Toyota
Toyota is consistently ranked among the top car brands in durability and resale value, which makes it no wonder that our readers are willing to take a chance on a used (excuse us, pre-owned) model.

CHEAP GAS
Costco
Various locations
No, they don't sell gas in bulk next to the jumbo bag of frozen waffles, but many Costcos have their own filling stations located within their parking lots, offering gas for a small discount below the "average retail price." Sorry, members only.

BEST CAR WASH
Jax Kar Wash
Various locations; jaxkarwash.net
Hot wax, soft cloths, hand detailing, tire shine, foam polish ... Jax is like the upscale salon of car washes. Your car deserves it.

BEST DOLLAR STORE
Dollar Tree
Various locations
Where else can you get Sweet Tarts, a pack of army men, a best-selling book from 1994 and shampoo, all for only $5? As financial markets keep dropping, this chain's appeal is only too obvious.

BEST PARTY STORE
THREE-WAY TIE
7-Eleven
Various locations
Forest Liquor
4535 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-3828
Marcus Market
4614 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-833-1191
In a tight category, these three winners barely edged out a diverse set of competitors from street corners throughout the metro area. In the end, everyone's favorite Slurpee slingers came out on top once again, although they were joined this year by two inner-city locals, both located near the grateful beer-guzzling students of Wayne State University.

BEST ATTORNEY
Geoffrey Fieger
19390 W. 10 Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-355-5148
Rumor has it that the most infamous name in local litigation may be taking another run at government office. From defender of Dr. Jack Kevorkian to Detroit's mayor? Stranger things have happened.

BEST PLACE TO BUY INCENSE AND NEW AGE STUFF
Earth Lore
15076 Middlebelt Rd., Livonia; 734-762-0717 and 895 Wing St., Plymouth; 734-354-1877
Westside Wiccans do it best. So say our readers, who stock up on incense, minerals, world music and angel statuary at these knowledgeable purveyors of positive vibes.

BEST HEALTH FOOD STORE
BEST SOURCE FOR ORGANIC FOOD
Whole Foods Market
5 metro Detroit locations
The largest source of organic and natural foods in the world, Whole Foods is committed to providing customers with natural and quality alternatives to the chemically laden and processed foods that are the staple goods of most mainstream grocery stores.

BEST GROCERY STORE
Zaccaro's Market
3100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-3400
A Northpointe Foods brainchild, this specialty market was more than a welcome addition to Detroit's food desert when it opened this summer. Inside this gourmet oasis, shoppers can find a bakery, prepared foods section, fresh meats and seafood counter, deli counter, full-service espresso bar and a wine offering fashioned by their own sommelier.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A MOTORCYCLE
Motor City Harley-Davidson
34900 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills; 248-473-7433; motorcityharley.com
Roll up on your boss hog or shop online at their new eCommerce store. Either way, leather accessories are a must.

BEST HEALTH CLUB
TIE

Life Time Fitness
Various locations; lifetimefitness.com
YMCA
Various locations; ymcadetroit.org
Our readers split between the monolithic and pricey fitness chain that's like (dare we say) a health club on steroids, and the dependable, community-oriented Y.

BEST BIKE SHOP
The Hub of Detroit
3611 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-879-5073; thehubofdetroit.com
This Midtown bike shop grew out of Back Alley Bikes' volunteer youth education program. The Hub sells bikes and bike accessories and offers repair services (all on the cheap, by the way) and then uses the profits to support Back Alley's educational endeavors. It also gives Back Alley youngsters a place to learn repair basics, as well as offering classes for wheelie-poppin' adults.

The Glory of Capitalism - Staff Picks
by Metro Times staff
Our staff counters with our own favorite places to plunk it down

The Glory of Capitalism - Staff Picks

BEST PLACE TO SHOP GREEN IN THE CITY
Bureau of Urban Living
460 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-833-9336; bureauliving.com
Husband and wife team Claire Nelson and Francis Grunow opened the cosmopolitan, hip shopping destination Bureau of Urban Living to fill a need for Detroit residents — a place to purchase home accessories and necessities. But what the duo also did was provide a spot where the ever-increasing numbers of environmentally conscious Detroiters could spend green on going green. Earth-friendly products include Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day cleaning supplies, Twist biodegradable sponges and Euro-clothes, eco-friendly bamboo bowls and kitchenware, and even organic cotton bibs and onsies by Coyuchi. And, sure, while even drug stores are jumping on the eco bandwagon, no other store in the city offers such a mix of fun and practical shopping — laundry detergent side-by-side with handcrafted goods from local artists, clever greeting cards and books by local authors. An added bonus is supporting a business owned by a duo that (besides being some of the most affable shopkeepers around) works hard to encourage growth and entrepreneurship in Detroit. Nelson co-founded Open City, a support network for aspiring and fledgling business owners in the city, and Grunow co-founded Detroit Synergy, an organization promoting the places and happenings in the D. So whether you're a seasoned Detroiter or an urbanite neophyte, shopping here can help you help the world while helping the city. Make sense?

BEST NEW PLACE FOR HOLIDAY SHOPPING
Russell Bazaar
1600 Clay St., Detroit; russellbazaar.com
In a city that's consistently faulted by regional naysayers for its lack of shopping, any addition to commerce is hailed as an event on par with the Second Coming. And if that hyperbole is due, then it should be due triple-fold to the newly opened Russell Bazaar located in the Russell Industrial Complex. An ambitious $1.5 million project, the Bazaar is intended as a space where commerce exists as lively exchange in a diverse atmosphere, modeled after the street markets of Europe. Nearly 200 vendors offering a diverse grab-bag of goods and services have set up shop, selling everything from clothing and fine art to imported Asian crafts and kitchenware — even two salons and a food court! And while the bazaar offers the same advantages of the mall — one-stop shopping in a convenient location — it also gives frazzled holiday shoppers what no mall can: a chance to find a truly one-of-a-kind gift.

BEST HIGH-END AUDIO DEALER
David Michael Audio
4300 Delemere Blvd., Suite 201, Royal Oak; 248-259-7017; davidmichaelaudio.com
At David Michael Audio there's pure audio porn readymade for those whose attention spans and hearing allow for reach-out-and-touch-the-artist sensations, meditation-like listening and detailing the infinite nuances of recordings. Sure, high-end audio stuff ain't cheap, but what price aural pleasure, attendant goosebumps and getting the most from your valued music collections? DMA owner David Kasab is a kind and gracious young gent who'll help you piece together a cost-effective and mind-blowing system, whether you're into tubes or solid-state, analog or digital, or even if you've no idea what the hell you're looking at. His shop carries myriad of aesthetically and aurally pleasing products from such manufacturers as Rega, Quicksilver, Cayin, Creek and the jaw-dropping UK-made Harbeth loudspeakers (considered by many to be the world's finest) in an atmo that's unintimidating, somewhat geek-free and empty of high-end elitist 'tude.

BEST LOW-END AUDIO DEALS
Salvation Army
28982 Ford, Garden City; 734-261-7175
For less coin than a couple frothy pitchers at your local watering hole, you can cobble together a fine little disposable stereo ready for use wherever tunage is required. Shelved chaotically among ancient curling irons, coffee pots and clock radios you'll find antiquated stereo components (the kind pimped in Playboy ads circa 1974) and more recently made ghetto blasters with detachable speakers, CD spinner and a cassette apparatus that's standing by for that Wang Chung tape that's been lost in a box of middle-school memories in some dark recess of your basement. At this particular Salvation Army, you can exhume some cheap low-fi heaven, to be sure, but don't look for them fangled USB iPod inputs — this is all about the 8-track, Jack.

BEST MUSICALLY OVEREDUCATED STAFF AT A RECORD STORE
Record Time
27360 Gratiot Ave., Roseville; 586-775-1550
Yeah, it's a cliché all right — you know, the obsessive music geeks who're so passionate about music that arguments flare as long as at least two employees are within earshot of one another. Yeah, yeah, we all saw High Fidelity. Be that as it may, the young and affable Record Time recruits often engage in verbal sparring which, on a single visit, can run the gamut from dissecting the undersung merits of rapper Esham to the relevance of rock 'n' roll classicists the Black Crowes to the indie cred of Jenny Lewis to the death of techno and so on and so forth. But it all makes sense because that's how record stores are supposed to be. Record shops may appear to be a dying tradition, but they are truly vital for community, for musical unearthing, for tips and suggestions from an actual human being whose head is crammed with pop knowledge — just like those musically literate chicks and dudes manning the well-stocked floor at Record Time in Roseville.

BEST SELECTION OF NEW IMPORTS
Dearborn Music
22000 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-561-1000
The beautifully packaged Japanese mini-LP reissues of the Band? They're here. So are those hard-to-find and lovely Slade U.K. reissues on Salvo records. The imported deluxe edition of John Mayall Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton or that killer Nina Simone two-disc set from France? All here, as are the latest Mobile Fidelity releases that you won't find anywhere else in the greater Detroit area. In fact, you can't find any of this stuff in the greater Detroit area. So it's good to know that a local, family-run shop can still invest large amounts of money in thousands of hard-to-find imported titles, from jazz and blues to country, soul and rock 'n' roll. True believers in sonic joy who count on music that can be held in their hands should thank their lucky stars that they don't have to donate their hard-earned dough to community-dissolving giants such as Amazon and iTunes.

BEST RECORD SHOP FOR REAL RECORDS
People's Records
3161 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-0864
Mister, you don't know how fookin' good you've got it here. You don't. See, this old dilapidated town is a crate-digger's paradise, and unlike bigger burgs like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, you can discover tons of amazing vinyl, all had on the cheap. No shit. Among the great places to go digging in Detroit (Stormy Records, Record Collector, Street Corner Music, Car City Records, Record Graveyard, Melodies and Memories, Record Time, Dearborn Music, Encore Recordings, Solo Records and Detroit Threads), Brad Hales' People's Records is arguably the greatest. It's definitely the greatest place to go for shopping for 45s; or, perhaps, soul, funk, electro, disco, hip hop and soul-jazz vinyl. And like Melodies and Memories, you can bump into great Detroit or expat Detroit DJs, you can spot Northern-soul-loving Brits on holiday, you can hear Detroit legends chirping, "Yeah, I played on that record," and you can even bump knuckles with Motor City legend Hermon Weems, who sometimes paints signs and 45 boxes here. Neat!

BEST OVERALL RECORD STORE
Melodies and Memories
23013 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe; 586-774-8480
With its cavernous and ant farm-like layout, its mind-boggling number titles in every genre and format, including 8-track (all of which number in the hundreds of thousands) and three separate stereo systems going at once but never interfering with each other, it's no wonder you can get lost in this lovely, musty place. If there's a title you can't find, you might not be looking hard enough — and sometimes the hunt can last hours and hours. M&M is Detroit's answer to Cali's mighty Amoeba Records, only set in a veritable pop-culture museum crammed with keepsakes. The shop is, in other words, scary-amazing. (Starfucker alert: Eminem still shops at M&M!)

BEST ROCK 'N' ROLL ARTIFACTS ON DISPLAY
Melodies and Memories
23103 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe; 586-774-8480
Don't have time to drive to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? (And why would you want to, anyway?) Check out the great rock 'n' roll and pop cultural artifacts on display at this groovy mom-and-pop record shop, one of the last of a dying breed. No, you won't find anything like, say, Eric Clapton's guitar on display (you can see that sorta stuff at the generic Hard Rock Café anyhow) ... but you will find autographed photos and albums, classic posters and other remnants from rock's golden eras, all the property of the store's owners, pop culture mavens all. None of the treasures is for sale — there are plenty of CD's and vinyl for that — just on display for the entertainment of the customers ... although maybe the more persuasive out there can make a strong case to the owners for purchase. Who knows?

BEST PLACE TO TAKE MUSIC LESSONS
Royal Oak Music
512 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-548-4894; royalmusic.us
Well, if you're not enrolled at one of the two new (but totally unassociated) schools of rock in the metro Detroit area — and especially if your ambition goes far beyond rock, into areas including jazz and classical or show music — this is probably your place. Royal Oak Music features instruction — from novice to advanced — in brass and woodwind, piano and other keyboards, symphonic strings, drums and guitar. They boast many great teachers, including jazzbos as well as rockers (several of the Howling Diablos teach here). Legendary guitar virtuoso Jack Pitt, clarinetist Andy Mormile (from the old Condon's NYC scene) and some of the best show and pit musicians in the area teach here. It's also a regular hangout for jazzers, both local and visiting, featuring as it does a cool historic ambience, including photos of jazz greats and a sheet music collection that runs from the turn of the century to the present. The jazz playing continually from the sound system ain't too shabby either!

BEST PLACE TO GEEK OUT WITH DETROIT'S NEW MAYOR
Green Brain Comics
13210 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-9444; greenbrain.biz
Metro Times cartoons and commentaries to the contrary, there are actually no superheroes working in Detroit government (while a space alien from the planet Vandella, Martha Reeves is not super-powered, so she doesn't count). There is at least one avid comic book fan on the city payroll, though — Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., a guy so self-confessedly geeky that he quoted Terminator 2 in his inaugural address (the "no fate but what we make" line, not, thankfully, "come with me if you want to live"). This reporter has spotted Hizzonner at Green Brain on a few occasions, and owner Dan Merritt says Cockrel is a regular customer who favors sci-fi and action-adventure titles. After years of the hip-hop mayor, is Detroit ready for the fanboy mayor? Will we soon hear rumors of the police rushing to the Manoogian Mansion to break up Moon Mist-fueled arguments over who'd win in a fight, Swamp Thing or the Hulk? Will the city motto change from "Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus" to "Excelsior!"? Will the mayor replace his bodyguards with Imperial stormtroopers? And if so ... well, how cool would that be??

BEST SEQUENTIAL ART(S & CRAFTS) STORE
Detroit Comics
23333 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-COMX; detroitcomics.com
First of all, Detroit Comics looks nothing like the porn video emporiums that a lot of lesser comics shops resemble and more like an honest-to-God boutique that you wouldn't mind, you know, shopping in or being seen leaving. That and its decent selection of periodicals and graphic novels from across the genre spectrum would be enough to recommend it. What makes the place unique, though, is all the lovingly hand-crafted comics-related merch they have on sale. Where else can you get superhero-themed wallets made of duct tape or crimefighter action figures meticulously built out of construction paper? And check out the stools and foot lockers decoupaged with funnybook pages, and the bottle-cap magnets, clocks, necklaces, mouse pads, bibs and onesies all featuring your fave mutants and sidekicks. Aside from just being cool, this stuff gives the shop an air of happy, fannish enthusiasm. Add a selection of goodies from the Bellyache Candy Shop, an old cigarette machine modded to dispense small objets d'art, and a smattering of Dunnys and prints and you might not have to hit the craft fairs for holiday gifts this year.

BEST WAY TO CLOWN AROUND FOR HALLOWE'EN (AND SUPPORT A GOOD CAUSE)
Rent a Parade Company costume
Call the Parade Company at 313-432-7835 or visit theparade.org
No doubt you've watched on TV or from streetside as the 3,000 costumed characters of Detroit's annual Thanskgiving parade march by. We doubt you knew — well, it was news to us — that you can rent those costumes during the rest of the year from the Parade Company. Adult sizes only. From $35 to $65. Most popular rentals: pirates, bugs, Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, elves and the Easter Bunny.

BEST BICYCLE SHOP
Continental Bike Shop
24436 John R Rd., Hazel Park; 248-545-1225; continentalbikeshop.com
Up and running since 1937, this Hazel Park institution has as many as 11 people on staff to serve cyclists during the busy summer season. Their repair department can do everything from build custom bikes to refurbish vintage bikes, as well as basic repairs like tune-ups, flats and brake and derailleur adjustments. It's all here, whether you're shopping for a $300 get-it-and-go asphalt-ready Giant Cypress or Sedona, or want a fancy cargo bike like a $950 Kona Ute or a $1,200 frameset for a Surly Big Dummy. But even if you're not spending thousands of dollars for tandem cycles, high-end racing frames or custom jobs, the friendly staff will serve you just the same if you're looking for a new tube, without any intimidating professional hauteur. Sales associate Liz Szewczyk puts it this way: "We all love what we do. Anybody starts out not knowing anything about it. We did; we just try to hide that. The more we can teach people about cycling, the more likely they are to ride and come back." Online bonus: Their website has a handy calculator to show just how much cash you'll save by commuting to and from work by bicycle.

BEST CAMERA REPAIR
Midwest Camera Repair
318 Oak St., Wyandotte; 734-285-2220
Opines MT shutterbug Doug Coombe: Cameras thought to be goners — the one that got slammed by the slam dancer at the Afghan Whigs show, the one that got doused with a mixed drink at a Super Bowl party, etc. — have been brought back to life here. When your point-and-shoot seems shot, you're probably right to toss it. Anything else is probably worth the time for a look-see. One thing that makes Midwest Camera Repair great is the staff does most repairs on site instead of merely sending cameras off to the manufacturer. So if you do have a problem with a repair, you don't have to send it back to the factory and wait all over again. (Best advice for avoiding Midwest Camera Repair: Don't drop any camera equipment from more than 5 feet. Gravity usually wins.)

BEST PLACE FOR CHEAP GAS
Highland Park (If You're Brave)
We have friends who watch gas prices like eagles. And here's what we're told: With rare exception, the only gas pumps in town cheaper than CostCo (members only, of course), and with never a line (for the reasons above) are found along Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. They're often as much as 25 cents cheaper than other stations within two miles. But, let's put it bluntly: Watch your back as well as the pump.

BEST PLACE TO OUTFIT YOUR KITCHEN AT BARGAIN PRICES
Restaurant Supply Shops
We probably don't need to tell you that the best deals on outfitting your kitchen are at thrift shops and garage sales. But absent the luck and diligence required to meet your needs at the former within any particular timeframe, your best deals will be at restaurant supply companies. The "open to the public" signs are, in our experience, sincere — no one will laugh at you if you're stocking a kitchenette that would easily fit in the restaurant freezers they sell. Depending on where you go, you may not find a fryer holding less than a gallon of oil, but, hey, when it comes to fry pans, woks, salad bowls, double-boilers, salt shakers, chairs, etc., you can use the same stuff as the commercial folks, and you'll be amazed at the prices. Two of our favorites are People's Restaurant Equipment Company, 2209 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; 313-567-1944; and Advanced Restaurant Equipment, 13201 Prospect Rd., Dearborn; 313-945-5600; advancedrestaurantequipment.com.

BEST BEER AND WINE SELECTION IN A SMALL GROCERY STORE
Western Market
447 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-546-7288
While just about every small market offers beer and wine, most of them simply line the shelves with the same corporate swill you find in the big chains. It's remarkable what Western Market has been able to do with their limited space. From organic to obscure and in-between, the lone wine aisle is stocked with everyday drinking wine, mostly below $15, with a few real gems on the higher end. Square footage for beer is even less, yet Michigan microbreweries and other artisanal producers are soundly represented. There's usually even someone there to help you decide.

BEST FRUIT MARKET
Papa Joe's Gourmet Market and Catering
6900 N. Rochester Rd., Rochester Hills; 248-853-6263; 34244 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-9400; papajoesmarket.com
Calling Papa Joe's Gourmetrion a fruit market is tantamount to calling a Ferrari dealer a car lot. But with 500 fruit and vegetable items, the title does ring true. But that's not all. Shoppers will find a breadsmith, a patisserie and an extensive "Gourmet to Go" department. Prime meats and fresh seafood are among the best anywhere. Numerous imported and domestic cheeses are available, as are meats and sausages in the deli department. Flowers and fine chocolates help to make home entertaining complete. The wine department offers choices to complement any meal. This is a chowhound's paradise.

BEST NEW DELIVERY SERVICE
Pink Elephant Cupcakes
Order by phone at 313-499-8353 or online at pinkelephantcupcakes.com
If you're like us (meaning if you have an insatiable sweet tooth), then the thought of cupcakes delivered straight to your doorstep seems, well, genius. Add to it the fact that these are no ordinary cupcakes, but scrumptious and decadent gourmet treats, and that's a feat damn near worthy of sainthood. This Grosse Pointe biz, which will turn a year old in November, offers curbside service throughout the metro area (for a fee outside of the Pointes), of 13 unusually flavored cupcakes, including tiramisu, PB&J, the cheekily labeled "stud muffin" (peanut butter and chocolate) and their signature pink elephant, a vanilla cake topped with hot-pink frosting. Along with delivery, they also offer individually boxed and gift-wrapped cupcakes and a kid-friendly DIY cupcake package. But the service that takes the cake is the year of cupcake delivery — for a mere $135, you can have a half dozen cupcakes delivered to someone (or yourself) once a month for an entire year. Screw flowers and gift baskets — cupcakes are the mail-order sign of affection, half-assed birthday gift and plea for forgiveness of the future.

BEST DAILY DEAL ON PASTRIES AND BAKED GOODS
Au Bon Pain
Renaissance Center, Tower 200, Ste. 2102, Detroit; 313-393-2271 and 800 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-226-7516; aubonpain.com
You've probably passed one of these if you've been in the center of downtown Detroit; maybe even eaten at one. Au Bon Pain, originally based in Boston, is known for its bread and pastries, though they can be somewhat pricey. The good news, however, is that the downtown stores have a special every day near closing, when customers can buy two of any baked good still on display for the price of one. The Renaissance Center deal starts after 3:30 p.m.; the Campus Martius store after 5. One of MT's editors got so addicted to having two of their chocolate chip cookies every day that his doctor just recently chastised him for his latest cholesterol count.

BEST SALAD BAR
Whole Foods Markets
2880 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-649-9600; three other locations; wholefoodsmarket.com
Let's face it: It's hard to find a decent salad bar — even a salad bar, period — in the metro Detroit area. That's why Whole Food Markets is a godsend for the salad aficionados among us. Each one — there are two more in the Detroit area, another in Ann Arbor — uniformly has an excellent bar with tons of great selections (in addition to the nearby soup and hot food bars) featuring the healthy and organic food available at this chain based in Austin, Texas. A bit pricey, yes — but well worth it for the salad connoisseurs among is, especially if you're sick of canned and frozen vegetables on a regular basis (especially during these upcoming winter months).

BEST FURNITURE STORE
Moss & Associates Furniture Distributors
1804 Miller Rd., Dearborn; 313-841-0460; mossfurniture.com
While IKEA has become the go-to place for budget-conscious furniture shoppers, the family-owned Moss & Associates has offered a less-overwhelming (not to mention less homogenous) and still affordable alternative since 1960 — long before the first Ikea touched down in metro Detroit. While a large part of their business caters to commercial shoppers — from retail furniture stores to motels — residential dwellers shouldn't be deterred. The in-stock selection may seem minimal, but a large number of suppliers are just a mouse-click away — at wholesale prices. And the staff is more than happy to accommodate, having been known to slash prices for shoppers that spot must-have items or to strike deals with apartment-dwelling bargain hunters.

BEST RESALE SHOP
Regeneration
23700 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-414-7440
Maybe calling it a resale shop doesn't really do it justice, but no label seems to quite fit this Pleasant Ridge store, which has been outfitting metro Detroiters for more than a year. Unlike a typical resale shop where piles of moth-eaten sweaters outnumber sartorial gems, the fashions at Regeneration are actually, well, fashionable. On the store's well-organized racks, contemporary name brands hang comfortably beside '70s print dresses, and while much of the clothing is not new, it's basically as good as. Owners Nicole Freaund and Melissa Williams buy clothing with a discriminating eye, offering an inventory that ranges from the latest trends at a discounted price to standout vintage threads that may surpass the $100 mark.

BEST NEW STORE ON THE THRIFT SCENE
DAV Thrift Store
8050 N. Middlebelt Rd., Westland; 734-513-6020
If the thought of buying tight-fitting '80s T-shirts for $1 and cheesy knicknacks for the bargain price of 50 cents gets your pulse racing, than the opening of the first DAV thrift store in Michigan should be enough to bring on a massive coronary. The stores, which are located throughout the country, are owned by the Disabled American Veterans and the proceeds go to programs that help disabled veterans with transportation, and to VA hospitals. And like any good thrift store, there's not much that can't be found at the DAV — car seats, formal wear, kitchen appliances, golf clubs, books ... you get the idea.

BEST WAY TO DISPLAY DETROIT PRIDE
City Bird
At various metro Detroit locations and online at ilovecitybird.com
The hype surrounding these crafty siblings has been hard to miss — they've been lionized in a handful of local publications and even got a brief mention in The New York Times as an example of how the young, smart and creative can thrive in Detroit, despite the hordes of twentysomethings that throw off their caps and gowns only to head to the ostensibly greener pastures of cities like Chicago and New York. But Emily and Andy Linn don't just live in Detroit; they've made a business promoting the city they love. Since 2005, they've transformed a simple map of Detroit into a badge of local pride by sticking it on their handcrafted goodies, which include everything from soaps and clocks to plates and jewelry. Their handmade goods can even be purchased at shops in New York and Chicago where surviving while young and hip is not such a big deal, but where Detroit-refugees still want to show some absentee pride

BEST NEXT SOMETHING
Standard Oil building
Intersection of Beaconsfield and Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park
Its off-white brick, tiled roof and general art-deconess just beg for this former service station to be something. But instead it sits, at a prime intersection in Grosse Pointe Park with a few cars squatting in the parking lot and a few more signs of neglect every day. It would make a great restaurant — the garage doors would allow indoor seating to spill outdoors in nice weather — or a combination sit-down, carry-out joint, something the neighborhood is lacking. Its location, location, location on one of the main arteries in and out of the Pointes and proximity to a dense neighborhood, thriving business district and schools promise a customer base. Someone, please, put something here

BEST PLACE TO SWEAT
Bikram Yoga
Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills, Grosse Pointe Park, Plymouth; bikramyoga.com
Twenty-nine postures, two breathing exercises and about a gallon of your sweat dripping — no, pouring — off you in the 110-degree room might not sound like how you'd like to spend 90 minutes. But give it a try and see how you feel when it's over. Oddly refreshed, if dehydrated. Stretched and strengthened. Balanced. For those who think yoga is an easy peaceful time, the Bikram workouts — prescribed sequences of postures that start standing and end on the floor — will cure you of that misconception. And while the hot room is criticized as a marketing gimmick by some, it does provide a nice sanctuary as days get colder, if you can't think of another reason to get there.

BEST PLACE TO HELP A BAD BACK (OR NECK)
Dynamic Rehabilitation
1800 W. Big Beaver Rd., Ste 150, Troy; 1-888-DYNAMIC, ext. 114; dynamicrehab.com
You've probably seen their ads on local TV in which they boast that all physical therapy isn't the same. Sounds like a sales pitch ... but one of the problems with a lot of therapy is the notion of "one size fits all." Dynamic specializes in backs and necks only, and they design a unique regiment exclusive to each individual patient. Several medical doctors are on staff, right there in the office at all times, in addition to the physical therapists, licensed personal trainers and PT assistants. It's not the easiest of programs; they work you fairly hard. The key here is their unique Med-X machine, which strengthens and isolates the important muscles of the lower back. Dynamic has an 80 percent success ratio and while they may not "cure" you (we know of at least one totally "cured" patient, though), they will almost certainly improve your range of motion. Follow-ups for six months after completing the program are free. Headquarters is in Troy but they have four other locations in the metro area. The staff is nice and accommodating, even to those who are cranky (which most people in chronic pain can be). Only fly in the ointment is the lack of Friday and weekend hours ... but if you're in pain, you'll make it work!

BEST PLACE TO SPEND AN ENTIRE PAYCHECK ON SNEAKERS
Burn Rubber Sneakers Boutique
202 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-543-3000
Don't question the sneaker dedication of rapper Roland Coit (stage name Octane) and professional tap dancer Rick Williams: The pair of friends once drove 11 hours to New York to visit the flagship store of Japanese clothing company A Bathing Ape, and promptly drove back once they finished shopping. Coit would later wear the pink-and-gray kicks he purchased there with his wedding tuxedo. These days, Coit and Williams are the ones peddling multihued, hard-to-find shoes and streetwear out of Burn Rubber, the Royal Oak sneaker boutique they took over in February 2007. Along with selling items like the Nike (h)Air Questo 1 — the limited-edition shoe designed by the Roots drummer ?uestlove — Coit and Williams keep the store entrenched in the hip-hop community that supports it. They regularly host listening parties for upcoming album releases, and the likes of rapper-actor Mos Def (Monster's Ball, 16 Blocks) and Detroit staples like Black Milk, Slum Village and Kanye West signee Big Sean have been spotted at the store as well. This summer, the store released Burn Rubber: The Mixtape, a disc that featured exclusive music from Coit and other top Detroit hip-hop acts. Talk about the best of both worlds.

BEST STORE FOR NOSTALGIA SUFFERERS
Mantra
3401 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-657-0728
This Midtown shop is a veritable haven for retrophiles who believe that vintage (almost) always equals better and that no home is complete without an owl-shaped candle, circa 1970. But it's not all kitschy knicknacks — although those abound in all their tacky, nostalgic glory — but also vintage furniture, lamps, wall-hangings and even clothing, all priced so that even the most cash-strapped shoppers can deck out their pad in something other than mass-marketed chintz. And while the store moved from cramped quarters in the basement of Eastern Market Antiques to its current roomier (by comparison, at least) confines, every nook and cranny still overflows in a treasure-trove of kitschy, hard-to-find goods organized in no way whatsoever. You may have to spend hours browsing, but when you come up with that Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox just like the one you owned when you were a kid — hell, it might even be the same one — it will be well worth the dig.