Best Of 2014

Parking in the blacktop lot, and entering the low-slung, wood paneled, kitsch-clogged interior, the visitor to Gracie See will most certainly be transported back to the 1970s. It’s surprising how little this venerable pizza spot, founded in 1969, has changed over the years. The rooms are patrolled by some servers who have worked there for many years, as well as by owner Grace Puleo, who still recognizes customers by face. There are some very unusual pies on the menu, including a BLT pizza, with slices with bacon cooked into it, heaped with mayo, chopped lettuce and tomato. It’s also surprising how good the other items on the menu are, as their kitchen prepares gnocchi that are firm, clean dumplings without a hint of the gooeyness that sometimes plagues the potato-based pasta. You don’t last 45 years on the block without earning it.

For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian dining, a big part of the draw is that you get to eat with your hands (steaming washcloths are tendered before and after). At the Blue Nile, you get only two all-you-can-eat choices: four meats and seven vegetables or all-veg. Diners use small pieces of bread to scoop up the food, and the juices soak into the unleavened bread so that the last part of the meal is the tastiest.

A newcomer to our roster of winners, this year Southfield’s Tokyo Buffet Lounge topped our readers’ list of great buffets, and it’s easy to see why: an array of sushi, sashimi, Chinese food and a stir-fry station, as well as ice cream for dessert.

Demand for foods that respect people’s dietary restrictions has never been taken more seriously. Enter Ethel’s Edibles, a popular purveyor of baked goods that won’t irritate people with gluten sensitivity.

When it comes to baking, having another business as a partner can be a smart move. So says Ann St. Peter of Pinwheel Bakery. More than two years ago, tired of the hassle of baking and running a retail, she gave the front of the house over to longtime friend and former co-worker Sandi Heaselgrave, who now runs the coffee shop Red Hook out of it, selling Pinwheel’s baked goods. The move has freed up St. Peter to focus on production, and the business thrives on its wholesale sales to a bunch of different cafes and restaurants around town.

Sure, Avalon’s breads are among the best, regularly featured at restaurants far beyond their Cass Corridor location. But if you like your sandwiches made for you, show up at lunchtime as the focaccia comes out of the oven. It might be topped with organic roasted zucchini, tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Avalon has branched out from the baguettes and crusty peasant loaves of yore.

Bad Brad’s motto is “From our smoker to your plate,” summing up their intention to give diners the best barbecue possible. They start every day at 5 a.m., cooking beef brisket and pork shoulder in fruit wood and hickory smoke as long as 14 hours. Get a taste of the meat in one of their many cleverly named sandwiches or choose among sliced or chopped brisket, pulled pork or chicken, or pork sausage.

This year, Union Woodshop took top honors for its barbecue, which is hardly a surprise, as, under the leadership of Aaron Cozadd, the Southern Pride smoker on the restaurant’s back lot cranks out small-batch smoked proteins. That said, lots of restaurants understand that gluten-sensitive diners are worth the extra effort it takes to cater to their dietary restrictions, but only a few eateries offer an entire gluten-free menu, Union Woodshop among them.

The barbecue spot next to Whole Foods on Washtenaw Avenue has become top dog this year, garnering more votes than Red Rock and Blue Tractor (what’s with the colors?). But don’t take our readers’ word for it. The restaurant has a smoker right where you can see (and smell) it.

This nationally recognized Corktown gem is packed with faithful barbecue fans willing to wait over fancy beer or wine selections for hours just for a taste of the delicious Carolina-style pulled pork, the sharp and creamy mac-n-cheese, or the flaky catfish. And our readers voted it best barbecue in the county.

One-Eyed Betty holds an impressive collection of craft brews, around 45 drafts and 85 bottled beers. What’s more, all the items on the menu pair perfectly with the beer selection, or are cooked with beer — like the tasty beer-and-cheese soup.