Notable eateries in Birmingham, Troy and the Bloomfields
Andiamo Italia West 6676 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Twp.; 248-865-9300: The sunflower-yellow-and-purple color scheme and huge tilted mirrors that allow patrons to glimpse those sitting behind them have given the space a slickly contemporary look. The food is in contrast: it's the solid Italian fare of old master Aldo Ottaviani interpreted by a crew of young chefs in the open kitchen. Lively bar action is in an adjoining room.
Ashoka Indian Cuisine 3642 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-689-7070: Bright colors, rich flavors, exotic aromas. With more than 150 items on its menu, Ashoka wanders from the North to the South, with more legume-based recipes and fiery spice blends. There are even sections of the menu devoted to Indian-Chinese food, a style with a following in India. Full-service bar.
Baja Fresh Mexican Grill 1357 Coolidge Highway, Troy; 248-822-9000: You can tell from Baja Fresh's motto, "No microwave! No can openers! No freezers! No lard! No MSG!" that this chain of Tex-Mex fast food is a king among men, so to speak. You can eat food that is fast, inexpensive and tasty, and not overwhelmed by a dunk in the deep fryer. For ambience, think highway rest stop: bright lights, menu on the wall, line up to order, self-serve drink bar, plastic tableware, etc. But don't let the decor fool you, the food is much more interesting, and more healthful than traditional fast-food fare.
Big Beaver Tavern 645 Big Beaver, Troy; 248-680-0066: Once part of the triumvirate of the area's classic, old-line Italian-American restaurants (Mario's, Lelli's, Larco's), with roots going back a half century to Detroit's Six Mile Road, Larco's has now become Big Beaver Tavern, with the management going for a sports tavern format, with burgers, fries, wide-screen televisions and poker and blackjack tables in the basement. The customers seem to enjoy the video games, bartop games and DJs, and the food quality remains high. They're selling 1,000 burgers a week, but they still serve the same 8-ounce filet mignon that they served as Larco's for the last 19 years.
Big Rock Chophouse 245 S. Eton St., Birmingham; 248-647-7774: Big Rock Chop House oozes northern lodge appeal and there are a variety of rooms in which to dine, including an outdoor patio. The lively atmosphere is complemented by chef Brian Henson's skillfully crafted menus. In addition to the restaurant is a 2,000-square-foot brew house with custom-designed, state-of-the-art equipment and quality, award-winning brews. Tours of the brew house available by request.
Brooklyn Pizza 111 Henrietta, Birmingham; 248-258-6690: Brooklyn is considered the home of the North American pizza, and the owners of Brooklyn Pizza describe their pies as New York-style pizza cooked in a brick oven, fueled by coal or wood. This method creates a thin, crisp crust that snaps and shatters when you take a bite. This is one place where you can still watch the pizza chefs flip a disk of dough in the air. Pizza is available by the slice or pie. Ice cream, gelato and Italian ices are made on the premises.
Cafe Sushi 1933 West Maple Rd., Troy; 248-280-1831: When you walk into Cafe Sushi you are greeted by a sleek sushi bar topped with black tile. The focus is for those who want to try Japanese food but are scared away by raw fish — no daring is required here. The food is delicious, the service above average, and there is something for every kind of diner, timid or adventurous.
Cafe Via 310 E. Maple Rd., Birmingham; 248-644-8800: This small café has an intimate feel, with just 15 tables inside, plus a tiny bar and a few seats for drinks. Cafe Via's patrons follow the French way of dining: less quantity, higher quality. All dishes are lovely to look at.
Camp Ticonderoga 5725 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-828-2825: With its gnarled wood and exposed beams, this camp is going for the hunting lodge in the woods-cum-sports bar look. The Wild Thang Special embraces venison sausage, buffalo balls, wild boar ravioli; there's also alligator, emu and bear — and they don't taste like chicken.
Crust Pizza & Wine Bar 6622 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Plaza, Bloomfield Township; 248-855-5855: The concept of pizza-plus-wine now seems obvious, brought to life so expertly by the owners of Crust. First, the pizza here isn't just "fallback food" — the flavors are a revelation, with crusty "Naples classics" cooked in a 900-degree oven in as little as 90 seconds. The wines chosen to go with the pies are also excellent, categorized with such helpful descriptions as "refreshing fruit, crisp," "rich, buttery" and "blended earth and spice."
Elie's Cafe & Fresh Juice Bar 263 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-647-2420: Elie's menu is supplemented with a sheet of daily specials, but even the standard menu is full of unusual Middle Eastern delicacies and a dozen vegetarian entrées. A favorite for lunch, even though the supply of hot pita loaves can run short.
Forest Grill 735 Forest Ave., Birmingham; 248-258-9400: Brian Polcyn's stylish bistro, situated on the unlikely east side of Woodward Avenue, is on the ground floor of a new multi-use, especially "green," three-story building created by prize-winning architect Victor Saroki. The handsome, long, narrow room, with huge windows and a bustling open kitchen, seats only 65 at its white-clothed tables and lively bar. Starters include a hearty bowl of French onion soup, thick with onions and melted cheese, and the charcuterie du jour platter, with exquisite smoked meats, sturdy house-made mustard, and three choice mini-salads. The mains, most of which hover in the 20s, are anchored by an admirable steak-frites platter, with a thick strip rather than hanger or flat-iron steak, plus abundant skinny, crunchy fries. A mecca for oenophiles, almost all of the wines are not only available by the 5-ounce glass but also by the 2-ounce taste, which permits a good deal of experimentation, even for those doing the driving.
Forté 201 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-594-7300: Forté brings new and creative flavors to its neighborhood. Their chef's knack for comfort food brings such inventive dishes to the table as "firecracker chicken," a whole bird marinated in garlic and cinnamon, deep-fried, finished in the oven, carved tableside and plated upon wasabi mashed potatoes. Their wine list, recently retooled, is simple and unintimidating.
Franco's Cafe 3614 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-528-0153: This neighborhood restaurant has been quietly turning out respectable meals for a generation or so from a prosaic strip mall on Rochester Road. In a simply decorated, dimly lit room that seats 120, you can enjoy heavy red-sauced dishes with the pastas averaging around $13 and the other entrées around $18 including soup and salad. Franco's hearty pastas, which include such familiar preparations as ravioli, spaghetti carbonara, fettucine Alfredo and linguini with clam sauce. Among the pesce, the crisp and tender sautéed shrimp scampi over rice is a well-executed dish. You can wash all of this down with reasonably priced wines.
Hippo's 1648 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-524-9778: Hippo's serves a crowded Chicago-style hot dog: a steamed, all-beef, natural-casing wiener slid into a poppy seed bun and topped with mustard, onion, outrageously green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. But Chicago-style isn't the only dog in the house. There are loads of choices between a bun. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No smoking.
Kona Grill 30 E. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-619-9060: For a taste of Hawaiian cuisine, which, as on the Big Island itself, is more accurately described as pan-Asian, Kona offers moderately priced fare in an attractive dining environment. Choices range from sushi, noodles and pizza to beef and seafood, featuring ahi, Maui onions, and macadamia nuts as a genuflection to the islands' culinary culture. Most of their mains cost less than $20, with the "signature dish" being macadamia chicken combined with a soy-based shoyu-cream sauce and adorned with pineapple-papaya marmalade, accompanied by a huge mound of mashed potatoes dotted with white cheddar and wok-tossed vegetables. The small and versatile wine list has some decent buys in the 20s and 30s.
Lebanese Grill 1600 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-526-1444: This informal, bare-tabled restaurant, can seat as many as 200. The menu is encyclopedic, beginning with 40 appetizers (mezza) and salads that average around $7 for substantial shareable portions. A combination mezza platter for two, which goes for $29.75, will satisfy four people yearning for hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, labne, grape leaves, falafel, fried kibbeh and vegetables. Deciding on soup or salad is an easy choice compared to determining what to order from among 50 dinner entrées. As is the case in most Middle Eastern restaurants, at least half of the dishes on the menu are vegetarian-friendly. The desserts, rice pudding, cream caramel, baklava, and oshta, a sweet white pudding covered with fruit and honey, can be washed down with a pot of robust Arabic coffee.
Loccino Italian Grill & Bar 5600 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-813-0700: Loccino's menu features many accessible entrées, with most coming in at less than $20. Despite its relative elegance, the owners call it "family casual." The kitchen covers most of the Italian bases with a slight overemphasis on creamy sauces and breaded dishes. The chicken and veal preparations appear in comparable guises with veal $3 more than chicken. Loccino's chicken piccata with capers and mushrooms in a delicate lemon-wine sauce merits the local award it has won. Loccino's intelligent wine list covers both the Old and New World with a handful of interesting bottles for less than $30.
Maggiano's Little Italy 2089 W. Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-205-1060: A visit to the free-standing castle-like edifice east of Crooks on Big Beaver Road offers some answers. One of dozens in a national chain, this upscale family restaurant is designed to look and feel like a venerable neighborhood institution, just as the original, which opened in Chicago in 1991, was designed to appear as if it had been a downtown destination since the 1930s. Many come for the family dinners that include two huge platters each from an encyclopedic selection of appetizers, salads, pastas, entrées and desserts. And virtually all of those who bravely confront the mounds of food will go home with doggie bags. The intelligent wine list, dominated by Italian, West Coast and Australian varietals, features several bottles for less than $30.
Mitchell's Fish Market 117 Willits Rd., Birmingham; 248-646-3663: Mitchell's Fish Market is a member of that new breed of restaurants: the upscale chain. Featuring an ice-filled display case with luscious steaks and bright fillets, the selection of fish varies from day to day. You choose the fish and its style of preparation.
McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant 2850 Coolidge Hwy., Troy; 248-637-6400: The setting is posh, with beveled glass windows set into the mahogany paneling, and the service is accommodating. The food's the clincher, though — whether slip-sliding simple raw oysters or savoring the most fussy presentation, such as cashew-crusted mahi mahi sweetened with Jamaica rum butter and a salsa of mango and red bell peppers. The menu is printed twice daily, with an impressive list of more than 30 fresh-catch offerings. Desserts are all rich and classic; be sure to call for reservations.
Mon Jin Lau 1515 E. Maple, Troy; 248-689-2332: Mon Jin Lau seats 175 (not counting the spacious warm-weather patio) in several large and lively rooms. It's is one of the most extravagantly decorated of all the Chinese restaurants on this side of the river, with striking modern art on the walls, stone columns, art-deco chandeliers and palm trees all set against vibrant colors. Mon Jin Lau has nouveau Asian fare, including Korean, Thai and Japanese specialties. The menu is long, ranging from mundane golden oldies like egg fu young to the elaborately prepared roasted Chilean sea bass with lemongrass, red peppers, and Thai curry sauce, including more than 20 appetizers averaging around $8. If you stick to the section that lists 15 wines by the glass or bottle, you can score a decent Albarino or a musky Chilean gewurztraminer without drifting off into the 40s.
Moose Preserve 43034 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-858-7688: Knotty pine walls, lots of duck prints and various preserved animal parts are on display. To eat, there's emu, elk, buffalo, rabbit, duck, quail, wild boar, deer — virtually a forest full of critters — plus fried cheese sticks. Believe it or not, salads are some of the best menu items.
My Cousin's New York Pizzeria 42967 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-874-9999: Doing a mostly carryout business, My Cousin's New York Pizzeria trades on the mystique of New York pizza. Their rendition is round, generally thin (although thick-crusted at the slightly charred edges), moderately greasy and eaten folded lengthwise. The slices, wider than the Detroit norm for round pizzas, are eminently foldable and the crust is thin and delicate until you arrive at the crunchy edge, which is always eaten last. Moreover, the seamlessly blended tomato and cheese are more lightly applied than in comparable Detroit varieties.
New Bangkok Thai Bistro 183 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-2181: Re: those spice levels, medium will be hot enough for most. Most entrées can be ordered with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, scallops or squid. The fried rice dishes are even more comfort-food-y than the pad Thai, with an emphasis on the fried. The beef in one companion's kow pad was super-soft, with, unfortunately, an overreliance on onions. Fun for the younger set are bubble drinks — smoothies with a handful of soft and chewy boiled tapioca pearls that you slurp up through a special wide straw. Strawberry, watermelon, coconut, taro, green tea and black milk tea are bubble drink flavor options.
Northern Lakes Seafood Company 39495 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-646-7900: This sprawling establishment, which can seat 300 in its main dining areas, tavern and cozy private dining room, does not seem as large as it is because of the artful manner in which the space is broken up, and also because of the generous spacing between the New England-style bare wooden tables. Every night, the establishment offers about 10 fresh catches of the day that may range from Lake Superior whitefish to Idaho rainbow trout to Key West black grouper. In addition, there are several other seafood "house specialties" and some landlubberly platters, although with scant choices for vegetarians. It has a wonderful wine list full of relatively obscure and often reasonable bottles. The professional service is commendable, the surroundings are charming and the fresh seafood make it a prime destination for fish in our metroplex.
Original Pancake House 33703 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-642-5775: The quintessential breakfast, served all day, with the titular pancake still supreme and the omelet a close second. Do not confuse this with a chain pancake house. This one makes everything from scratch, and adheres to truth-in-menu honesty. No mixes or ersatz ingredients. Real cream, real butter, real maple syrup. Often a wait, but worth it.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro 2801 W. Big Beaver, Troy; 248-816-8000: P.F. Chang's is part of chain, located in a posh mall and the menu strays from authentic. But it is a very good restaurant nonetheless. Entrées are excellent, and drinks include a variety of wine, beer and specialty drinks traversing many cultures.
Parrot Cove Yacht Club 33475 Dequindre, Troy; 248-585-6080: The Parrot Cove Yacht Club has huge servings of solid bar food in its raffish but homey clubhouse. The Cove Platter, at $8.50, is a steal. The substantial sampler overflows with deep-fried chunks of crisp and tender chicken fingers, comparably crisp onion rings, breaded mozzarella sticks and, least crisp of the four, somewhat soggy stuffed potato skins. These irresistible artery-cloggers come with three dipping sauces. Parrot Cove flaunts seven burger variations that can also be constructed with ground turkey. The Cove Burger ($5.50), a made-to-order patty topped with provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms and lettuce and tomatoes, and accompanied by fries and slaw, is an attractive combination.
Pasta Fagioli 2398 Franklin Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-332-1111: A modest place in a suburban strip mall, it doesn't have the most extensive menu, or the cheapest prices, but what's there is very good. These classic dishes can be found in most Italian eateries, but here they are just a little bit better. Ravioli, made fresh daily, is served with a bright orange palomino sauce that comes from mixing tomato sauce with cream. The same sauce appears on the gnocchi cappricciosa — perfect little potato dumplings, light as pillows, which the sauce doesn't overwhelm. A frequently appearing special is angel hair pasta with lovely grilled shrimp and plenty of fresh vegetables, including spinach, onions and tomatoes.
Phoenicia Restaurant 588 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-3122: Proprietor Sameer Eid has been serving meticulously prepared Middle Eastern food to the locals since 1970. He knows his way around the market and the kitchen, and gives a more sophisticated spin to the well-known litany of shish kebab, shish kafta, baked kibbeh and lamb chops. Seafood dishes are also specialties.
Priya 72 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-269-0100: Priya's dishes from southern India, such as rice-lentil crepes, are found nowhere else in Michigan. The extensive menu of traditional Indian food sprawls across the subcontinent, featuring sophisticated dishes from the north and spicier fare from the south, including pulaos and biryanis from Hyderabad. Herbivores and carnivores will feel equally at home.
Quattro Cucina Italiana 203 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-593-6060: Quattro Cucina, the new high-end Italian place in Birmingham, aims to create the feeling of old-fashioned service. The place is crawling with attentive staff, and it has been redone with high, curved banquettes in neutral tones, nothing to arrest the eye except some elaborate chandeliers. The food is wonderful. Dinner starts with warm and salty focaccia and dishes of bright yellow olive oil that tastes like — olives! All starters shine. Four of the pastas here are house-made — gnocchi, ravioli, tagliatelle and lasagna — and are therefore appropriately silky — no rubbery ravioli here. Those not seeking a fancy evening out — perhaps just popping in before hitting the Palladium 12 next door — can order $12 pizzas. Wine by the glass ranges from $10 to $14. Desserts are mostly Italian. Quattro Cucina is open for lunch and dinner during the week and for dinner on weekends.
Recipes 2919 Crooks Rd., Troy; 248-614-5390: Described as an upscale place for breakfast, the atmosphere is relaxed. The flawlessly served fare runs the gamut from the traditional (pancakes, eggs in every variation imaginable) to the adventurous (California roll omelets with crabmeat, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese and bits of seaweed). Stay long enough and you'll have the chance to sample one of the delightful lunch dishes such as chicken scaloppini with angel hair pasta or pan-Asian pasta garnished with sprouts and a spring roll.
Rugby Grille 100 Townsend, Birmingham; 248-642-5999: The Grille, which opened in 1988, is located in the Townsend, a boutique hotel in downtown Birmingham favored by visiting athletes and rock stars. But don't ask the manager for names of celebrity diners: The hotel carefully protects the privacy of its famous guests, many of whom, in any event, choose to take their meals in their rooms.
Steve's Deli 6646 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-932-0800: Everyone has their own yardstick for measuring the quality of a deli. For me it is a pastrami sandwich. Like corned beef, pastrami starts as a brisket pickled in brine, but then the two meats part company. Pastrami is coated with cracked peppercorns, garlic and other spices, then smoked. Steve's makes a great pastrami sandwich on hand-cut rye bread with a crunchy crust. It's piled high with meat, but not so high that you can't get your mouth around it.
Streetside Seafood 273 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-645-9123: With just 60 seats and a well-deserved reputation for wonderful fish, Streetside Seafood fills up fast every day of the week. A menu supplemented with three or four daily specials keeps things lively even if you're a regular at this tiny eatery. They believe in cooking up "… simple, well-prepared food that is well-seasoned."
Sy Thai 315 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-258-9830: This is one restaurant where you ought to take the hot pepper rating seriously; even the mild spice level will prickle your taste buds. The little storefront eatery is a busy, noisy, friendly place, also doing a brisk take-out business. Each of the traditional entrées is offered with a choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, vegetables, shrimp, squid or imitation crab — noodles, curries, fried rice and other dishes load up the menu. The tom kha soup is a sure winner, a coconut milk broth enlivened with lime, with little straw mushrooms, scallions and fresh basil floating within.
Toast Birmingham 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278: The hype is true: Toast serves great food and wine "with humor in a fun, casual environment." There's a lounge called the Blue Room that's full of candles and sports a stark white deer's head over the fireplace. The menu is a mix of such firm favorites as burgers and mac & cheese (with Gruyere, of course) and less-common options, such as duck pie and venison sausage. The menu is mostly American, with a few ringers such as carnitas and forbidden rice, originally Chinese. And Toast shines in the bakery department. Pastries baked daily are displayed in the lobby and can be taken home. Open 7-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8-2 a.m. Saturday, and 8-4 p.m. Sunday.
Tokyo Sushi & Grill 30 W. Square Lake Rd., Troy; 248-828-0090: There is a spare simplicity to Japanese food that makes it possible to savor each component of a dish. But if the thought of raw fish strikes fear in your heart, order tempura or teriyaki. Or go for the big bowls of udon and soba noodle soups.
Tre Monti Ristorante 1695 Big Beaver Rd., Troy; 248-680-1100: For a mini-state with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants, San Marino has made a lot of history. Founded in 301, it is the oldest republic in the world; its 400-year-old written constitution claims another longevity record, and its citizens once elected a government dominated by their Communist Party. With the opening in March of the Tre Monti Ristorante behind the San Marino Club on Big Beaver just west of John R, Detroiters will have an opportunity to sample its venerable culture and cuisine.
Wawel 2975 E. Maple, Troy; 248-689-3636: The Polish-American Cultural Center's restaurant isn't just a commercial enterprise — it's a labor of love. You can get most of your Polish favorites here, beginning with czarnina (duck) soup, which alternates with flaczki (tripe) every other Friday. Pierogi come in potato, cheese or kraut (five for $5.75). Kielbasa is tasty and fresh and is served with sauerkraut. Two kinds of Polish beer are offered, along with the usual American varieties.
Whistle Stop 501 S. Eton, Birmingham; 248-647-5588: Cheese and meat omelets, pancakes with fruit, cinnamon rolls, French toast — sounds like a breakfast winner. Equally traditional lunch items include tuna melts and Maurice salads. Weekend breakfast specials, served all day, are a tad more adventurous, and everything is made fresh on the premises, including the breads and bumpy cakes.See any errors? Let us know! E-mail [email protected]