Mid-city eats

Jan 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Atlas Global Bistro 3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241; atlasglobalbistro.com: Voted by our readers as the best affordably expensive restaurant (under $50 per diner), Atlas has the vibe of a hip city eatery thanks to its striking interiors, knowledgeable service and international cuisine. In Atlas' quirky kitchen, ingredients don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin, and the fusion fare can be at once exotic and down-home, mixing it up with lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, caviar and black-eyed peas. And Atlas simply oozes hip urban cachet, nestled in the Addison Building — a 1905 beaux arts structure that once flirted with the wrecking ball — where it sports high ceilings, polished floors and street views of Detroit's historic Brush Park.

Avalon International Breads 422 W. Willis, Detroit; 313-832-0008; $: The biggest seller at this Cultural Center mainstay is the farm bread, a traditional French white sourdough. 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 loafs like Leelanau Cherry Walnut and Dexter Davison Rye that brought bread-starved customers flocking five years ago. Now brioche, scones and cinnamon rolls expand the meaning of "bread." 

Bangkok Cuisine Express II 4216 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-3408: Part of a mini-chain of a half-dozen Thai restaurants, this little restaurant on Woodward Avenue (just north of East Willis Street) has a fast-food ambience, but the friendly service and wide selection has drawn a loyal take-out crowd. 

Bronx Bar 4476 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-8464; $$: For years, the Bronx was a rough-and-tough old-man bar, but no more. Ever since it was taken over and refurbished, it has become one of the smartest bars in the vicinity of Wayne State University. How popular is it? Every September, it's overrun with new faces, as new (drinking-age) students pop in. Fresh off a redesign that moved the entry door and expanded the dim bar's windows, it's better than ever. And with plans to refurbish the burned-out Forest Arms across the street, things are only looking up. Better still is the weekend, build-your-own Bloody Mary bar, with scads of adds to build the perfect hair-of-the-dog. Best of all is the small but efficient grill, which serves excellent hashes, and hamburgers and sandwiches on bread so good its provenance is a tightly guarded secret.

Byblos Cafe and Grill 87 W. Palmer, Detroit; 313-831-4420; bybloscafeandgrill.com; $: Located near Wayne State. Lebanese and Middle Eastern-inspired menu which offers more than 90 dishes and includes more than baba, with quesadillas, Cajun salmon, fettucine Alfredo and fish and chips. Beverages range from complex smoothies to a simple bottle of Crush. Also has bargain prices of $3.75-$5 for wraps and sandwiches. Friendly and accommodating service in a simple, smallish restaurant.

Cass Cafe 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400; casscafe.com; $$: The lofty open space on two floors can accommodate intimate or large groups, cater to veggies and non-veggies, and also has a varied beer and wine list. They also have nightly drink specials, including $5 PBR pitchers Sunday, $2 well drinks Monday, PBR $1 a glass and $6 a pitcher Tuesday, Motor City $2 a glass and $11 a pitcher Wednesday, $1 cans of Black Label Thursdays, $2 bottles of High Life and a wine special Friday, and, on Saturday, $3 Bloody Marys 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and $3 margaritas 5 p.m.-closing time. It's been voted by readers as the Best Bar for Conversation. Whether you have a penchant for windjammers, a thirst for beer specials, a hankering for food or a fondness for art, this place has the making of a good night any night.

Circa 1890 Saloon 5474 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1122; $$: A mainstay for WSU faculty and students, Circa features homemade soups, pizza, and their famous burgers, as well as daily drink specials.

Cuisine 670 Lothrop Rd., Detroit; 313-872-5110; cuisinedetroit.com; $$$: In the shadow of the Fisher Building, Cuisine is a fine place for a celebration, and also attracts a bustling theater crowd. Inside, the 1920s house is simple but elegant — there's a full bar and seating both upstairs and down. The French-American menu is ambitious and creative, sophisticated and memorable. Each entrée on the short list is classically presented and perfectly executed; desserts are also marvelous. Chef-owner Paul Grosz has a reputation for visiting with guests, not just to glad-hand but because he really cares what they think.

Good Girls Go to Paris Crêpes 15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; goodgirlsgotopariscrepes.com; $: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this eatery inside the Park Shelton. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. The crêpes may be savory or sweet or just plain simple, but they can be complex, combining such ingredients as bacon, spinach, Boursin and even Black Forest ham. Don't call ahead. Your crêpe does need to be made to order, and it'll be much better if you eat it right then. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Honest John's Bar and No Grill 488 Selden St., Detroit; 313-832-5646; $$: Five reasons (not the only ones) to go to Honest John's: 1) Owner John Thompson is likely to be there, and, as he puts it, "Everybody wants to watch a fool." 2) You'll be contributing indirectly — and directly, if Thompson ropes you in — to charity programs that could use your cash. 3) Cheap eats and drinks, including local microbrews. 4) Breakfast till noon on weekdays and till 3 on weekends. 5) An outdoor patio, though small, that can accommodate as many as 30 people in fair weather. Great jukebox, loyal regulars and an owner who has raised more than $750,000 for charity in the last 12 years.

International Mini-Cafe 111 E. Kirby, Detroit; 313-377-2555; $: Affordable lunch buffet. Each day, a different soup, three Indian dishes, two of them vegetarian, a hommous, tabouli and falafel, a veggie quesadilla, a pasta dish, nachos, three pizzas, Greek salad and three American-style sandwiches. Desserts are often Middle Eastern pastries. They even deliver. This has long been the best lunch deal in the neighborhood, perhaps right under your nose. If so, don't miss it again.

Lefty's Lounge 5440 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-5338; $$: On the ground floor of the Belcrest, the lounge is decorated with beer paraphernalia and 14 flat-screen TVs, seating around 80 with space for 30 on a patio overlooking the Belcrest's renowned art-deco swimming pool. Unlike full-service restaurants in sports bars, such as the Broadcast Booth and Harry's, Lefty's is primarily a watering hole that features a wide variety of items that fall under the bar-food rubric. This means that patrons should not expect house-made dressings, artisanal bread or elaborate preparations, even though Gary, one of the cooks, interned at the Golden Mushroom when he was in high school. On the other hand, many of the dishes created in-house are first-rate, with the exemplary beef, for example, fresh from Eastern Market. Not surprisingly, most of Lefty's patrons are beer drinkers. They are well-served with more than a dozen brews on tap and by the fact that a domestic pint goes for $2.75. 

Majestic Cafe 4124 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com/cafe.asp; $$: After an ambitious renovation that took three months last year, the Majestic Café sports a new lounge feel and a revamped menu. There's even a new stage for live music, and the new menu has all the old classics plus affordable comfort food from around the globe. The fresh bill of fare not only serves Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, French, Belgian, Cajun and Jamaican crowd-pleasers, it mixes it up a bit (Mexican-fried ravioli, anyone?). The weekend brunch is still on, and the emphasis on food prepared in-house with a focus on local products still stands. Taste the difference. 

Mario's Restaurant 4222 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-1616; mariosdetroit.com; $$$: It's been 52 years since Mario Lelli opened this inviting Italian spot where generations of theatergoers, taking in shows at the nearby Hilberry Theatre, have enjoyed multi-course meals. This is exactly the kind of place people think of when they think Italian restaurant. All the favorites from veal Tosca and spaghetti Bolognese to shrimp scampi and chicken cacciatore are served by a competent, formal waitstaff in a series of rooms. Valet parking.

Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700; motorcitybeer.com; $$: The 15-year-old brewery, the state's second oldest microbrewery, is known so well for its beer that it once was the question to an answer on Jeopardy. Three years ago, owners John Linardos and Dan Scarsella began serving food in their taproom, located in front of the works in the Traffic Jam's parking lot on Canfield in Detroit. Over time, chef Jodi Laney expanded their offerings. The menu of appetizers, soups, salads, pizza and sandwiches is brief. Among the five appetizers ($8-$9), the sampler plate offers a pleasing assortment of Greek olives, warm spiced pecans, sun-dried tomato tapenade, salametti sausage with a sweet mustard sauce on the side, and a choice of cheese of the day with mini baguette. Adhering when possible to a locavore approach, the brewery purchases its cheese from Hirt's. But the real strength of the brewery's kitchen is a 10-inch brick-oven pizza, which is a steal at $8-$9. You can construct your own from a large variety of sauces, vegetables, meats, cheese and fruit. The homey taproom, into which 50 patrons can squeeze, is a colorful hodgepodge of stained glass windows, tiled walls, wooden beams, blond wood panels, skylights and even a huge steel fermenting tank in the rear. The tiny kitchen behind the bar, dominated by a huge pizza oven, precludes elaborate culinary preparations. Much of the material that went into the making of this unique dining area was scavenged. A handful of tables and well-worn wooden chairs are scattered around an irregularly contoured concrete bar.

Rice Bowl Asian Kitchen New Center One Building, 3031 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-871-7000; ricebowlasiankitchen.com; $: Though the menu varies at each location, this growing local chain offers healthful food at reasonable prices.

Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizzeria & Deli 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7272; majesticdetroit.com/pizza.asp; $$: Pies come in large, medium and "bambino," $10, $8 and $4 with cheese, respectively, and 50 cents to $1.50 for extra toppings, which include pepperoni, ham, sausage, ground beef, bacon, grilled chicken, mushrooms, onions, green or roasted red peppers, mild pepper rings, jalapeños, black olives, green olives, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pineapple, feta and anchovies. Delivery available. Salads and sandwiches are also offered.

Shangri-La 4710-12 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-974-7669; $$: Midtown's Shangri-La has a quirky interior, extremely attentive servers, and excellent dim sum, those small plates that are something like Chinese tapas. Most dim-sum are $2.95 to $3.50, and most offer a bite or so for at least three diners. Teeny pancakes laden with garlic and chives, crisp dumplings, lilliputian spare ribs in a sweet black-bean sauce, stuffed eggplant, and the sweet bun full of barbecued pork are all winners. Although the regular menu is dominated by traditional Chinese cuisine, curries ($9), Singapore noodles ($8) and cilantro-less pho-like noodle soups ($7-8) suggest a pan-Asian influence. If you are looking for more exciting creations, you will have to choose among the chef specials, which are more expensive ($13.95-$16.95), and can include a whole or half roast duck, eggplant with shrimp paste in black-bean sauce, a mélange of succulent fried squid, scallops and shrimp with (not that) spicy salt or more mellow walnut shrimp. 

The Whitney 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700; thewhitney.com; $$$: With its 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms and 20 fireplaces, the three-story pink-granite edifice built for a lumber baron in 1894 has been one of Detroit's most celebrated restaurants since 1986. In 2006, Bud Liebler, a former automotive public-relations executive, bought the place and began making renovations in and around the building and, especially, in the kitchen and the wine cellar. More important, Liebler hired Michael Lutes, who previously worked at the Golden Mushroom, Tribute and Chicago's Charlie Trotter's, to bring a new look to the cuisine of the self-proclaimed "American Restaurant in an American Palace." The dozen main courses cover a wide gastronomic terrain. 

Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-831-9470; trafficjamdetroit.com; $$: Traffic Jam and Snug restaurant makes much of its own food in-house, and that can mean baking its own bread, making its own ice cream, even brewing its own beer. The menu emphasizes seasonal fare, and it therefore changes all the time. Though it's too cold to consider the outdoor patio right now, the quirky interior has a charm all its own. As for the fare, it's inventive and as fresh as possible. If it's on the menu, try the Delta Stack: collard greens, avocado, roasted peppers and dill ranch served on corn bread with sweet potato fries. And see if they have their Fruity Pebbles and Faygo Rock and Rye homemade ice cream. It's worth asking for.

Union Street 4145 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3965; unionstreetdetroit.com; $$: Beautiful art deco decor and upscale food draw an eclectic crowd. The menu ranges from chicken wings to homemade pastas to filet mignon to calorific "Dragon's Eggs" — chicken breast stuffed with Gorgonzola, then battered, tossed in hot sauce, fried and served on a salad. The bar stocks more than 100 beers, with an excellent wine list too. They also have a wide range of catering packages for any occasion. Secure, paid parking lot just to the south of the restaurant.

Wasabi Korean & Japanese Cuisine 15 E. Kirby St., Suite E, Detroit; 313-638-1272; wasabidetroit.com; $$: Wasabi's bibimbab is best served in a dolsot, a heated stone bowl. Chef Seonghun Kim tops a big pile of white rice with little piles of julienned beef and vegetables, mostly cold, and a fried egg. Squeeze on the gochujang, a chili-based hot sauce, and mix it all together. It's huge and infinitely satisfying on a cold night. The other famous-to-Americans Korean dish is bulgogi, which here is marinated rib eye. The marinade includes not only sake, ginger and various fruits but Sprite! Salmon teriyaki overdoes the sweet sauce, but beef, pork or chicken katsu are great, breaded and fried and served with a mixture of ketchup, butter, sugar, chicken broth, tempura mix and bottled tonkatsu sauce. Sushi in all the usual varieties is offered, artfully done and of excellent quality. For dessert, Japanese ice cream is the best bet, especially green tea flavor.

Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull St., Detroit, 313-833-2701, $$, The Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, and the most popular items on the menu (as on all menus) are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portobellos, delivered rare if you ask for rare. Other sandwiches are equally wonderful, such as a pile of sweet caramelized bacon combined with Brie on a baguette ("BBLT on a B"), or a compilation of all-yuppie ingredients called a S.U.B.: portabella, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions on warm ciabatta, as well as ultra-thin white pizzas and four pastas, cavatappi and fettuccine, also with tons of cheese. The brunch menu features bottomless mimosas from noon to 4 p.m. for $11. This deal is recommended for walkers only.

See any inaccuracies in these listings? Let us know. Call 313-202-8043 or e-mail to [email protected]