Best Of 2014

The chefs at both Luxe and ML produce a delicate, feather-light version of Brussels sprouts, caught at just the right moment between browned and burnt and retaining a complex, earthy flavor. ML gets a slight nod because theirs are deconstructed into single spherical layers and dressed with sriracha, agave and lime, while Luxe’s throws in unnecessary dried cherries. Rock City Eatery takes a different direction, roasting the sprouts soft and solid rather than crisp and wispy, and combining them with peanuts, cherry tomatoes, basil and something hot. The effect is semi-Chinese, and good enough to make the podium if not the gold.

“Condiment: A substance, such as a sauce or spice, used to add flavor to food.” With that definition, it might be difficult to construe the egg as a condiment, since more often than not, an egg is eaten with condiments rather than as one. Make no mistake, however: The egg is the best condiment there is. Want to make your burger experience better? Add a fried egg! Vinsetta Garage puts a sunny-side up egg on a hot dog — sure to please. Perhaps you’re in the mood for pastrami? Check out Public House’s pastrami slider, topped with a sunny-side as well. Mop up the yolk with the bun as you eat. Rock City Eatery tops their poutine with a fried egg, sending their nontraditional take on the dish through the roof. Steak and eggs are good any time of the day, and if you’re at the right restaurant, you might be able to get an order for dinner. Let us not forget, of course, hollandaise sauce: Egg yolks are the star here, and twists are popular, like Bistro Joe’s jalapeño hollandaise on their crab cake Benedict. Simply put, if your food is good, put an egg on it: It’ll get better.

To convert an old Blockbuster is one thing; to set up tables outside a strip-mall spot and make them the place the customers definitely want to sit — that takes moxie. Bill Roberts’ outside tables are surrounded by tall planters that permit the happy diner to see only treetops and blue sky, no intrusion of harsh motoring-public reality. Heated floors and overhead heaters too. And hey, you don’t have to pay to park.

Not only do the owners of these high-end fast-food spots use top-quality ingredients — they start their employees at $12 an hour, with some now at $15. That’s literally twice as much as McD’s and BK pay around here. Harry Moorhouse and Brian Parker say they can’t understand why other employers nickel-and-dime their staffs and their customers. So they use Meyer lemons, natural ground chuck with no hormones, top-of-the-line Maille Dijon and Grana Padano cheese from Italy, and still keep burger prices at $3.25. Iconic chef Jimmy Schmidt crafts a monthly “craveables” menu with items like pastrami-spiced chicken with aioli or a burger stuffed with corned beef. Really. If they can do it, why can’t mega-corporations with mega-economies of scale pay a living wage?

Young pastry chef Lindsey Barterian interned in Provence, but she gets her ideas from studying appetizers, she says. That might not be obvious when you’re forking into a “Little Napoleon” with lime curd or a “Dolce Caprese” with meringue, buttermilk panna cotta, sweet basil pesto and balsamic-infused strawberries. She’ll use liquid nitrogen to freeze out-of-the-way ingredients and, of course, a torch for the crème brûlée of the day, very eggy with a perfect crackling crust. Her desserts are a surprising $7, low in relation to the rest of the Jefferson House menu.

Upon entering Hamtramck’s Rock City Eatery, you’ll notice mismatched chairs, flatware in Mason jars, and other DIY touches that might make you think the restaurant’s food is as scrappy and homey as its decor. But one look at the menu, with duck eggs here and pork belly there and all kinds of eclectic, internationally influenced dishes in between, will make you do a double take. Fine-dining-caliber food is the name of the game at Rock City, but without the prices to match; most of the shareable plates ring in at around $10, leaving you with plenty to spare for a few $4 cocktails.

Berkley has seen a number of new eateries crop up over the last couple of years, and our favorite of these is Atomic Dawg. Run by Chef Gary Brenner, formerly of Café 317 in Royal Oak, Atomic Dawg offers creatively topped hot dogs and Corridor Sausage Co. sausages in a converted house with quaint ’50s decor and friendly service to match. Our favorites are the BBQ Hog Dawg, split and filled with pulled pork and coleslaw, and the Laikon, a Corridor lamb-and-fig sausage with tomato, red onion and cucumber salad and tzatziki sauce. Wash them down with a classic milkshake or a root beer float. A great place to take kids, or just revel in the nostalgia of being a kid yourself.

First, a caveat: “Homestyle” desserts do not, by any means, take less technique, skill or effort to create, just because they’re “homestyle.” A good bread pudding is a difficult thing to get right, let alone coming up with new and clever ways to turn local products into a dazzling variety of recognizable and deceptively simple desserts. For this very reason, CAYA Smokehouse Grill employs an in-house pastry chef who produces simply incredible desserts, the perfect finish to a meal. One visit saw a rum-raisin-bread pudding brought to table: It was creamy, with just enough egg flavor to satisfy the custard lover, but not so much that the bread gets lost; a scoop of vanilla ice cream completed a delicious plate, exemplary of the quality to be found at CAYA.

Depending on your eating habits, the concept of raw food — in which nothing is heated past 116 degrees — may strike you as anywhere from a little strange to downright alien. But rest assured that no matter where you fall on that spectrum, you’ll be welcomed with open arms at Try It Raw, a tiny vegan diner in downtown Birmingham. The vibe at some vegan restaurants can be downright hostile if you cop to being a carnivore, but the chefs and staff at Try It Raw are more than happy to answer all your questions about raw food, whether or not it’s your usual fare. Not only that, but their interpretations of familiar dishes like tacos, lasagna and Reubens are delicious in their own right.

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.