Fabulous fare

AJ's Music Café 240 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-399-3946; $: The space that had a long run as Xhedos' Coffeehouse was reincarnated a few years ago as AJ's by A.J. O'Neil, who has brought such quirky events to the java stop as a 50-hour "Danny Boy" marathon. Classic coffee, open-mic nights (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays) and fun stunts helped AJ's edge out Java Hutt and Bean & Leaf for top Oakland County coffee honors.

Angel's Cafe and Gallery 214 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-541-0888; $: Part art gallery, part restaurant, Angel's Cafe has a prime location in downtown Ferndale and the feel of an intimate European café. The chef will happily accommodate vegetarians' (and vegans') special needs. Open noon-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Sunday and Monday reserved for private parties, but lunch dates can be made during the week if you call a day ahead with reservations. They also do "high tea" and other fancy stuff. Reservations required. 

Anita's Kitchen 22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-0680; $$: From its origins as a crowded lunch spot for Troy office workers (110 W. Maple, Troy; 248-362-0680; $), Anita's has arrived in Ferndale's dining scene. In warm weather, a large, covered outdoor dining area allows outside dining. The bar serves beer, wine, juice and smoothies. For the harder stuff, examine the small but diverse wine selection and three Michigan craft brews. Salads and veggie-intensive appetizers fill a good portion of the menu. There are even a few unique pita pizzas. As with most Mediterranean cuisines, Lebanese is considered to be a very balanced, healthy diet. If meat is your thing, you can easily fill up with kebabs or shawarma. Lamb is prominent in the form of chops, shanks and kibbeh, a mixture of ground lamb and cracked wheat that can be ordered baked or raw. Of course, there are also a couple fish dishes. The ideal sampler is Anita's "mixed mezza" — for $32 you get a plate of hummus, tabbouleh, fattoush and a skewer each of Shish Kafta and Shish tawook, Chicken shawarma, beef Shawarma, grapple leaves and falafel. Comes in a vegetarian version for $26. For a fine finish to a meal, order a pot of Turkish coffee and a tender, not-too-sweet piece of baklava. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-9 p.m. 

Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro 330 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3499; $$$: Open since May 2000, Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro has become a popular dining place, known for its attractive atmosphere and creative menu. Its Mediterranean dishes are influenced by Italian, French, Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines, including such items as wood-fired pizza, antipasti, sea bass and sea scallops with hand-rolled pasta. They recommend you try the veal scaloppini. Full wine list, sangria and a full bar are available to accompany your lunch or dinner. There's seating for 80 in the courtyard patio, where a garden of tomatoes, peppers, basil, flowers and other herbs — and statuary including reproductions of the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's "David" — conjure the atmosphere of Tuscany. And, happily, the sound of the fountain drowns out the traffic on Nine Mile Road.

Bangkok Café 323 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-548-5373; $: Do an informal poll at Bangkok Café's carryout station and you'll find that most people have been coming here for years. It's all about the consistency that starts with their subtly tasty chicken and vegetable fresh rolls enhanced with mint leaves and a tangy dipping sauce and tom yum gai hot-and-sour soup. If a Thai restaurant is to be measured by its pad Thai, then we will vouch for this well-spiced but not dripping-in-sauce version. Even beyond the staples, we've yet to find a dish here that hasn't satisfied our Southeast Asian cravings. For instance, try the garlicky dish that's cleverly named "Kiss Me." Oh, sure, you can find Thai restaurants that are bigger, more pretentous or have bigger menus, but the reasonable prices, very fast service (you often needn't even call ahead when picking up) and consistent quality make this place a winner. 

Blue Nile 545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-547-6699; $$: 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) and then eat the tablecloth. At the Blue Nile, you get only two all-you-can-eat choices: four meats and seven vegetables for $17.90, or all-veg for $14.90 (kids eat for half price). Chicken, lamb, beef, collards, cabbage and several varieties of split peas and lentils are arranged on a large shared round of flat, spongy bread, called injera (that's the tablecloth). Diners use small pieces of it to scoop up the food, and the juices soak into the plattered bread so that the last part of the meal is the tastiest. As if eating with your hands weren't fun enough, the food is delectable and unusual. Colors are bright: a mound of dark-green collards, a puree of red lentils, bright-yellow split peas and a paler cabbage (my favorite) sautéed with jalapeño. Each is exquisitely spiced, often with onion and garlic, or with a barbecue-like berbere sauce. They take pains to point out that their lamb is boiled and stripped of fat to avoid any muttony flavor. Chicken, served in two varieties, is skinned. 

Christine's Cuisine 729 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-584-3354; $$: Ferndale is so fashionable that hip eateries are spilling over east of Woodward Avenue. Christine's Cuisine, the namesake of chef Christine Adams, is a casual, comfortable place to dine. The menu focuses on the Eastern European, with pierogies that were voted the best in Michigan by food cheerleader Rachael Ray, then goes veering off into Italian, American, French, and makes a stop at burritoville for good measure. In addition to the eatery's regular menu, it runs daily house specials and currently has five dinners available for only $8.95 — blackened pork tenderloin with peach-cilantro salsa, served with black beans and rice, is among them. 

Club Bart 22728 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-548-8746; $$: Some club-hoppers may only think of Club Bart as a nighttime spot for such throwdowns as Honky-Tonk Night, but this joint's normal breakfast menu is extensive: They serve 13 omelets and 10 pancakes or waffles. But for the hip weekend breakfast crowd, chef Bethany Morrow creates a tantalizing array of specials. Morrow says she likes to take everyday foods and turn them into breakfast. To that end, she'll serve a mac-and-cheese omelet; or breakfast lasagna: noodles layered with potatoes, eggs, sausage gravy and mozzarella. If you're looking for something on the sweet side, indulge in the cinnamon roll French toast. One recent hit has been the sausage strudel. During the week folks think a little healthier: oatmeal pancakes, a 10-grain hot cereal and Carrie's Loaded Omelet, which mixes the hash browns right in with the eggs. (OK, Carrie's is not that healthful, but it is popular.) Add in the liquor license and you can order a Bloody Mary or a boilermaker with your over-easies, though you'll have to wait till noon on Sunday to imbibe. Monday-Saturday breakfast 'n' booze starts at 9 a.m.

Como's Restaurant and Pizzeria 22812 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-5005; $$: Though they do serve pizzas and pastas, and seem willing to dunk anything from cauliflower to carrots in their deep fryer, Como's is best-known as a lively bar scene, particularly on their commodious tent patio, where heaters help Michiganders go al fresco on a frigid night. 

Dino's 22740 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-591-3466; $$: The late-night crowd may know Dino's best for its quirky open-mic nights or Texas hold'em tourneys, but the culinary offerings aren't afterthoughts. Expect full lunch and dinner menus daily. Take, for instance, the appetizers: They aren't just limited to crispy wings, including calamari, crab cakes, sirloin steak tips, crab-stuffed portobellos, even a char-grilled 12-ounce New York strip steak. And that's just apps: The entrées include tortellini carbonara, baked penne and meatballs al forno, teriyaki stir fry, brown-sugar-roasted salmon, a rib-eye steak, baby-back ribs and much more. But even if you're just dropping in for the entertainment, Dino's attractive bar is fully stocked to help lift your spirits even higher.

The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202: This tasteful spot, a combination of an upscale bar and a relaxed eatery, offers a menu of crowd-pleasing delights. A highlight of the lunch and dinner menu is a plate of sliders. These little celebrations sport a heap of sweet caramelized onions and a side of au jus for dipping. For something slightly lighter, try the crisp cherry walnut salad — slightly lighter only because it's topped by a mound of bacon bits that's about the size of a softball. Or try a plate of huevos rancheros: two crispy corn tortillas layered with black bean spread, a generous dose of sautéed peppers and onions, eggs sunny-side-up and topped with melted cheddar. On the side are potatoes, baked and then flash-fried crispy on the outside and sprinkled with large chunks of onion and pepper. The other side of the plate is reserved for avocado slices and mandarin orange wedges. New specials include $5 burger Tuesdays, and breakfast is served exclusively Saturdays and Sundays until 2 p.m. Anyway, whatever you get on those weekend days, wash it down with a creation from the well-stocked Bloody Mary bar and it's certain the rest of the day will unfold in your favor.

The Fly Trap 22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-399-5150; $: Chef Gaven McMillian and his partners — wife Kara McMillian and her bro Sean McClanaghan — bought the tiny space that's been home to a diner since 1932. At first, they considered going high-end, but decided to go for a diner. ("We're definitely thankful about that now," Kara says.) They wanted to preserve the concept of diner food, but with a twist that's both playful and sophisticated. Gaven, a longtime chef formerly at now-defunct Fiddleheads, concocts diner food with a fine-dining finish. And the all-day "blunch" menu goes in all sorts of interesting directions, with egg and breakfast dishes, sandwiches, Asian-influenced fare, and some generous salads, all with a tweak. You can get a burger and fries, or bacon and eggs, but after that the menu goes in all sorts of interesting directions, including sandwiches with such names as the Pea Patch or the Charmoula Chicken. And vegetarians have as interesting a selection as carnivores. Of the seven entrées, only one contains meat, another is fish, and one has a choice of chicken or tofu. Food Network Magazine recently named the best breakfast locations in each state, and Fly Trap took the top spot for Michigan for its "Cowboy Curtis" dish: a rib-eye steak complete with "wild west" sauce, two fried eggs, potatoes and bread. The award-winning meal is $9.95, available for carry-out. This small and unpretentious space, where they play dub, ska and reggae all day, every day, has hit upon a successful formula, with lines out the door on weekend mornings. Closed Mondays. 

French Gourmet 23421 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-541-1200; $$: Grapevine-wrapped pillars, classical background music and jeweled murals provide the setting, but the prepared-to-order entrées are gems, including vegetable broth-based French onion soup, bay scallops poached in vermouth, warm salad of duck confit and lobster. The pastries are beautiful to behold.

Howe's Bayou 22848 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-691-7145; $$: Owner Michael Hennes has managed to make Howe's a fun restaurant without resorting to novelty, amusement park-like attractions. So there are New Orleans-flavored prints on the wall and a plea to "let the good times roll" in Cajun French above the bar, but the atmosphere is laid-back and even the music has relaxed from what was originally hyper-tempo Mardi Gras parade tunes and New Orleans jazz to mellow folk rock or whatever happens to be in the bartender's iPod late in the evening. Dressed with dark wood panels, tables and a long, graceful bar, the slender space is cozy under low-hung ceiling fans, quiet lighting and the frequent call of employees greeting their regular customers. Out of the 10 "po' boy" sandwiches served on a French loaf with fresh Southern slaw, we frequently order the one packed with sweet and tender pan-fried Andouille sausage-encrusted oysters. The blackened catfish po' boy is our second choice. All of the sandwiches come with a side of thick, house-made potato chips. And all but the most fainthearted of eaters should try the crawfish boil. A pound of whole crawfish in a pot of steaming hot, aromatic and heady broth imbued with handfuls of spice is one of the finest restoratives we know.

Inyo Restaurant & Lounge 22871 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-543-9500; $$$: With a wide-ranging menu, striking presentations and quality cocktails, Inyo has sparked a buzz in Ferndale's dining scene. The dishes have not just flavor, but pleasing texture contrasts within a dish. Take the cold appetizer maguro yookwhe: Strips of raw, lean tuna are deepened by a quail-egg topping and served with crunchy sliced Asian pear and a spicy dipping sauce. The hot side of the appetizer menu has everything from unagi (freshwater eel) and avocado rolled in a French crêpe to Hong Kong-style spare ribs. Entrées include Inyo's version of kung pao chicken, or pepper steak that's startling in its simplicity. The sushi menu is the standard makimono (rolls), sashimi and nigiri, ranging from ordinary maki to specialties, such as the Inyo roll: a marriage of king crab, strawberry, Japanese cucumber and mango sauce all topped with caviar. As usual, the textures and tastes harmonize beautifully. Space sports oversized, wraparound booths and a granite horseshoe bar, with a soundtrack of easygoing nu-disco and downbeat lounge tunes. Excellent specialty cocktails abound. 

Josephine Creperie & Bistro 241 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-399-1366; $$: If you want it done right, do it yourself. At Josephine, it's all made on the premises, with outstanding results. And co-owners Jeanine Henson and Bob Zagar work the floor themselves, resulting in professional, knowledgeable, caring service. They're serving a short menu of French or French-inspired dishes that begins and ends with crêpes but also includes onion soup and coq au vin. Forget preconceptions about puny crêpes. At Josephine, an entrée crêpe is both filled and topped with goodies, and, with its sides, it's plenty for a meal. Their end-of-month special meals usually celebrate various veins of French cuisine, and are a decent deal to boot. What's more, their sidewalk cafe offers 12 seats. Open 4:30-10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 4:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Closed Monday and Tuesday for private parties. 

Maria's Front Room 215 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-7379; $$: Maria's anchored Ferndale's restaurant scene for more than a decade. Then, after memorable owner Joan Orlando died in 2004, the restaurant remained open until April of 2008. Its longevity had a lot to do with the fact that little had changed over the years. David Brown reopened the cozy trattoria in October 2008, and even purchased Maria's old recipes. He did, however, do considerable redecorating. The place does look more sophisticated now, and Brown slashed the previously low prices by about 25 percent so that entrées now average around $15. The food includes old classics and some new lighter fare. Moreover, Brown scored a full liquor license from Ferndale's city fathers, and now boasts a serviceable list with most bottles going for less than $30.

Nami Sushi Bar 201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-542-6458; $$: Sushi chef Simon Bennett cheerfully shares his enthusiasm as he explains menu items or guides a newcomer in a beginner's assortment. The sushi comes in three categories: Nigiri, Rolls and Inside-Out. Especially important when you're eating raw fish: The restaurant scored 100 percent in its health department inspection. 

Om Cafe and Gallery 23136 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-1941; $$: How does a vegetarian restaurant weather almost a quarter of a century? Find out by visiting Om Cafe, where you'll find vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic choices. And not only does the café offer some fish dishes for your flesh eating (or vegetarian-cheating) friends, but all desserts are vegan, so everybody gets to have a sweet finish. It's only open nine hours per week (on Fridays, noon-9 p.m.), but for the vegan crowd, these could be the best nine hours of the week.

Omega Hawg & Dawg Deli 2100 Hilton Rd., Ferndale; 248-548-5700; $: This narrow, rectangular building on the northeast corner of Hilton and Cambourne has minimalist diner decor. Coney fare predominates, including burgers, triple-decker sandwiches, salads and a large omelet menu. But expect inventive twists, such as a bag of sliders, "chilly dilly" (chili with all the fixings) and all-day breakfast. With 10 years on the block, this puckishly named eatery has solid fare, reasonable prices, and undeniable staying power.

Pete's Place 1225 Woodward Heights, Ferndale; 248-544-4215; $$: Peter Mel has transformed a dreary Coney Island into a hip eatery that's open all day. The theatrical ambience isn't limited to the Broadway posters and show-tune soundtrack, as it spills over onto the menu. And the prices are quite reasonable, with entrées averaging around $14 and appetizers and salads around $7. Be certain to ask for the specials of the day, which can include eggplant Parmesan, a near-perfect blend of cheese and tender eggplant slices floating in marinara sauce. Fish lovers will enjoy sautéed salmon served with Swiss chard. Vegetarians will be pleased with the Verdi pasta in a pesto-garlic-oil sauce and the broccoli, rigatoni and pine nuts. Four frittata-style omelets anchor the breakfast menu, and luncheon sandwiches range from corned beef on rye to a sautéed chicken breast with spinach, portabella and Gruyere pesto mayo, to panini stuffed with sautéed vegetables or mushrooms and goat cheese or turkey and spinach. Prime rib is offered seven days a week. Another plus is the attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable waitstaff. 

Pinwheel Bakery 220 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-398-8018; $: Owner Ann St. Peter learned the baking business at a small Royal Oak restaurant where everything was made fresh from whole ingredients. Back then, she just assumed everybody cooked that way. When the time came to open her own bakery, she used this philosophy, along with her grandmother's killer recipe for banana bread, as a means to create a unique little spot in Ferndale. This cozy neighborhood bakery replaces the traditional tiered wedding cakes in the front displays with whimsical dioramas that change along with holidays and seasons. The scenes compel strolling couples and families to stop and linger for a while. Inside, behind the displays on either side of the entrance, are short, built-in countertops and tiny chairs where children can read or draw with material from the well-stocked activity center. Seating consists of a few small tables. Oftentimes, the space will become a gallery and host local artists' work that fits with the general vibe of the place. The gourmet bakery offerings are simple, made-from-scratch delights: bite-sized cookies, scones, popovers, bread pudding and oatmeal cream pies. If you're in the mood for something more substantial, panini sandwiches on ciabatta bread are made fresh daily and grilled to order. 

Sakana Sushi Lounge 22914 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-336-2555; $$$: Upscale sushi lounge aims to smooth the pace of life with stylish drinks, lush electro-acoustic lounge beats and raw fish artfully prepared. Start with a sake-based cocktail or a 750-milliliter bottle of Oregon-brewed Momokawa. Try the $4.50 salad of seaweed tossed in rice-wine vinegar and sesame oil, cleverly presented in a chic cocktail glass. Sushi ($3.50-$7) comes two pieces per order, hand-rolled balls of rice capped with oily hunks of mackerel, flaky water eel and rich and fluffy egg. Specialty rolls are topped with curious fruits and glazes; for instance, the Woodward is filled with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and cucumber. The six riceless rolls come garnished with a spicy sauce that blazes in the mouth. Cool off with green tea, coffee, mango, red bean or strawberry ice cream.

Star of India 180 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale; 248-546-5996; $: Indian is part of the mix of cuisines that stretches from Woodward to Livernois and from Japan to Italy to Ethiopia. Star of India offers a classic Indian menu that includes, among other dishes, two variations on korma, a creamy, yogurt-based sauce with a mild blend of spices punctuated by yellow raisins and slivers of almonds. The taciturn menu descriptions are short on details but accurate: when you read that the vindaloo is fiery hot, believe it. Loaves of naan, a flatbread baked in a clay oven, are good snacks. At $1.95 plain, $2.95 with spices and $3.95 stuffed with ground lamb or tikka chicken, it's ideal for lunch. It's no-nonsense dining in a small spot, and, for the uninitiated, perhaps a mild introduction to the fare of the subcontinent.

Strawberry Moon Bakery 301 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale; 248-544-3141; $: Downtown Ferndale's offerings became even more complete with the opening of Strawberry Moon Bakery. Owner and baker Jonathan Glab is a rare phenomenon in America: He didn't grow up on Wonder Bread. The regular family visit to the bakery is his fondest childhood memory. Today, using organic flour from Owosso, he and a raft of family members are offering not only baguettes and other loaves at a very reasonable $3 to $5.50, but cookies, pastries, rolls, muffins and pizza at good prices. His coffee is fair-trade Jim's Organic and he offers a variety of bottled drinks. With this range of offerings, Glab is attracting both lunchers and those who want a good loaf of bread with their jug of wine. His concept is not just bakery, but pizzeria and café as well. Moon's original pizzas include a Caesar, a Reuben and a breakfast. 

Toast 23144 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-398-0444; $: Toast's weekday egg-fests include some pretty fancy fixin's along with more regular fare, and it gets more lavish on the weekend. Try the wild mushroom or French omelets, breakfast burrito or corned beef hash. The French toast layers challah with bananas and adds rum and vanilla, topped with a raspberry-blueberry sauce ... large and luscious. 

Via Nove 344 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-336-9936; $$: Four salads, eight pasta choices, and dinner comes with crusty focaccia, brushed with butter and dotted with herbs. Veal, shrimp, salmon, chicken and filet mignon make up most of the entrées, and they're prepared in ways that go beyond the ordinary. Open 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Enjoy a full bar that offers a nice selection of Italian and California wines. An enclosed patio in front can seat a dozen diners.

Woodward Avenue Brewers 22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696; $: Dubbed, "a neighborhood bar with lots of style," the top floor has huge windows overlooking Woodward Avenue. Downstairs has a sidewalk café and lounge with a view of the brewhouse. The WAB serves a selection of its own award-winning microbrewed beer and root beer, and even pours Michigan-made spirits now. You won't find your typical bar food here, gourmet sandwiches, quesadillas, bruschetta, huge salads and more.

Special thanks to editorial intern Simone Landon for her assistance compiling this column. See any inaccuracies in our listings? Let us know! Contact us at 313-202-8043 or at [email protected].

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