Italian fare pops with flavor in Ferndale 

Pop's for Italian is now open

click to enlarge pops_italian_052516-1923.jpg

Photo by Scott Spellman

Ferndale: It's the one suburb that most would agree is the cool burb, where brightly hued faux hawks fit in just as well with doggie water bowls outside of the slow pour coffee shop, where the rocker BBQ joint or sports bar can coincide peacefully with the vegan cocktail bar and eatery.

If you're in the mood for hole-in-the-wall Indian or Thai, you're covered. Fancy bar food or all-natural groceries, there's that too. In fact, just about every taste can be satisfied by the menus in this Oakland County town, making it a foodie destination — not in an obnoxious or forced way, but instead in a very organic way. The success of Ferndale, we believe, has to do with the connection many of the merchants have with one another. Whereas other food oases in metro Detroit seem to exist in a vacuum, Ferndale restaurateurs seem attuned with what the city could use more of and take it from there.

That's where Pop's for Italian comes in. Launched by the Kramer Restaurant Group (owners of the nearby One Eyed Betty's), it shares a 10,000-square-foot space — once occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings and the Twisted Shamrock — with the 24/7 Daily Dinette. The location manages to knock out two birds with one stone: chef-driven Italian cuisine for dinner on one side and a late-night spot that appeals to the hungry bar crowd occupying the other.

The mashup is unified by a 26-foot-high exposed ceiling, stone and hardwood flooring, retractable floor-to-ceiling windows ideal for letting in gentle breezes during the summer months, and a variety of communal seating, dark wood high tops, and a patio for dining al fresco. Lighting is a whimsical mix of natural and strung bulbs — reminding us of romantic plazas in Italy. Partner Brian Kramer's grandparents were Italian immigrants.

Pop's focuses on a few details: that open, spacious feel, its 1,000-degree oven imported from Italy that churns out pizza in a jiff, and its impressive 32-bottle wine preservation system. The system allows diners to drink vintages by the glass in 1.5, 3, and 5-ounce pour, and 750 ml carafes — ranging from the small taste test to committing to a favorite for the night. It's the wine lovers equivalent to One Eyed Betty's for beer buffs.

The servers, dressed in crisp checkered shirts, are quick to walk novice wine drinkers through the different flavor profiles without sounding like stuffy connoisseurs. In fact, during one visit, we were pleasantly surprised when our bartender offered up tips on the finely crafted Reidel glassware on hand, while giving us a wink assuring us that, no, he's not one of "those" kind of snobby servers.

The menu is more in line with what most of us are already familiar with in Italian cuisine: a mix of thin crust Neapolitan-style pizzas, pastas, chophouse classics like veal picatta, salted, cured meats, and rustic veggies.

To start, we sampled several of the appetizers, including the prosciutto and melon or burrata, the fried roman artichoke, and meatballs. The sweet, balled melon helped to cut the saltiness of the prosciutto, as did the creamy, lightness of the cheese. The artichokes came nicely breaded, reminiscent of fried chicken skin, with a tart lemon finish. And as for the meatballs, they're of the requisite juicy variety, scrumptious and ideal for sharing.

We dug into the artichoke pizza, made with fried hearts, capers, mozzarella, and olive oil. Never oily, with a crisp, slightly charred crust, this newest pie in the metro Detroit scene could easily contend with other thin crust heavy weights like Bigalora or Supino Pizzeria.

Onto pasta, we broke with our usually cautious approach to consuming carbs, as the flat noodles were addictively prepared al dente. We went for the linguini with clams, with parmesan, olive oil, and garlic. The sauce to pasta and clam ratio was well balanced and served with a big spoon, perfect for twirling and slurping.

Our dining partner optioned for the veal picatta, served breaded, with capers, lemon, and garlic mashed potatoes. The lemon is typically used to lightly complement the flavor of the filet. In this case, while a bit too acidic, the juice was balanced out with just the right sprinkling of capers and garlicky mash.

Back to that wine system: It's a Coravin brand, and the cool thing about it is it allows servers to pour glasses or carafes from every price point, without actually having to open the bottles. This makes it possible to keep the wine for months at a time and not have to worry about it spoiling (though the spot goes through each bottle far faster than that).

As for dessert, we highly recommend a towering serving of tiramisu. The lady finger layers are deliciously dipped in stout, and each serving is covered in fresh whipped cream.

With as much as Ferndale has to offer, we heartily welcome the addition of Pop's (and its dinette counterpart). They serve to more robustly fill out the entrée of choices in Ferndale and cement the community's place as an appreciable, mom-and-pop foodie destination.

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