My buddy and I went to a motorcycle show on Saturday and needed a bite and a brew afterword. It is always a challenge to decide where to go, so we decided to try something new and stop at the Vinsetta Garage on Woodward. This place is a pretty cool concept. It was literally a garage not that long ago and maintains some of that oldschool industrial look inside. This place is apparently very popular with a diverse crowd because we saw lots of different types of folks come and go during the loooooong wait. They were telling people the wait for a table was two hours and they weren’t joking. I think part of the problem was that they were allowing everyone to “wait at the bar”. Since we remained in the waiting area, I was perplexed by the fact that a relatively small building seemed to swallow an endless string of people to wait at a bar I could not even see from where we were waiting. When we finally were shown to our table, the answer became obvious. A thick crowd of people had formed along one end of the building where there was indeed a bar that could occasionally be glimpsed as people jostled for position. The throng was at least three bodies deep and was blocking several key paths of the servers as they tried to transport food from the kitchen behind the bar to diners siting at tables that were being encroached upon by people “waiting at the bar”. I felt a great deal of sympathy for our waitress as she struggled to fight through this crowd. Even after she brought my friend the wrong beer, nearly forgot mine, and mixed up our sandwiches, I couldn’t blame her with all she had to contend with. She was resigned to the fact that the place was over crowded, but we jokingly suggested her job could become easier if someone called the fire marshal. (the place was clearly over the posted 172 person capacity)
Despite all of that, I will likely visit again. The beer list is more than adequate and the menu is interesting. I ordered a Lamburger and it was served on a thick pretzel style roll and was topped with Feta, pickled beet and tzatziki sauce. It proved to be quite tasty. They also have a pizza oven and were producing prodigious amount of 12 inch pizzas that smelled wonderful. My wife ordered a Margherita that did not disappoint.
I’ll just try to avoid peak times on Friday or Saturday night when I return. A cool venue and good food can be had without the two hour wait.
Frittata serves the best breakfast in metro Detroit. It isn’t cheap though. A special, like the eggs benedict on langoustine cakes pictured below, can be as pricey as $17. The standard menu is very good, but the specials are always different and delicious. The menu features several different frittatas, but I rarely order one. The “Mushrooms on Toast” and the scrambled eggs are great choices. They do eggs right here, and my usual favorite are the eggs benedict. One of the specials is usually some variation of this breakfast classic and it is often special indeed. I’ve had them on crab cakes, salmon, potato latke, and even a duck wellington. I am never disappointed.
The restaurant itself is tiny. If you arrive at peak times, be prepared to wait a little bit. During the summer months, there is a delightful garden patio that nearly doubles the available seating. I’ve found that arriving at around 9:30 is a good bet as it is not yet full and the chef has usually finished the list of specials (arrive too early and there may not be any specials yet).
Eggs Benedict on Langoustine cakes in the foreground, Salmon hash in the background.
My wife and I frequently visit Toast in Birmingham for breakfast. There is a branch in Ferndale that is very similar, but Birmingham has the better atmosphere in my opinion. In any case, the food is very good. It rates near the top of my list of favorite breakfast places and it must for others as well since it is busy during peak breakfast hours on weekends. The menu includes several omelet choices including the Petosky (brie cheese, caramelized onions, dried cherries, bacon), which is my current favorite. The Spicy Cali omelet has been the only disappointment as it needs something to add some texture. Other menu choices I enjoy include the Breakfast Burrito and Huevos Rancheros. I usually get coffee, but they do serve alcohol, in case you like to start your day with a bloody mary or mimosa. There are usually specials, but rarely anything that surpasses the offerings of the standard menu.
Unlike some other breakfast joints, Toast also serves lunch and dinner. I’ve visited for dinner a couple times and it does not disappoint. They offer several excellent appetizers including a delightful Shrimp & Crab Ceviche and Fried Green Tomatoes. My only quibble is that the balsamic reduction on the tomatoes seems to overpower the rest of the dish. The Mediterranean Crunch Salad is excellent as well. The main dishes are good but a bit predictable. In all, Toast is a good choice for a bite any time of day.
A Benedict special with shrimp.
The Toast Breakfast Burrito, a standard menu item for those with a big breakfast appetite.
The Townhouse Bistro is a relatively new restaurant in downtown Birmingham. I’ve tried it out for brunch a couple times and the food is good, but a bit on the pricey side for what you get. I had chicken and waffles on my fist visit and it was a somewhat unique take on the concept. It was served in a sandwich like stack with a fresh slaw. I had the quiche of the day on a subsequent visit and it was creamy and delicious. But, like I said, it is a bit on the expensive end of the spectrum for brunch. The restaurant itself is well decorated but very cramped inside, with uncomfortable chairs. Luckily, they do have a large outdoor seating area during the warm weather months. An odd quirk of the location is that the actual kitchen is a door down the street and the server walk the food down the sidewalk and around the corner to the restaurant in large red boxes. In all, I’m not in any hurry to go back, but it is an alternative if the wait is long at Toast across the street.
Quiche of the Day – Good crust, creamy texture, tender asparagus.
Black Lotus is a little brewpub at the corner of 14 Mile and Main Street in downtown Clawson. I’ve been going to this place since it opened about six years ago and it’s been interesting to watch evolve. When it opened, they had no food, just beer. They eventually added some little panini grills behind the bar and started making sandwiches. Over time, the pub entered a golden age of tasty thin crust pizza, and they even had a Chicago style hot dog! However, the changes kept coming. A remodel resulted in a real kitchen (good) and the menu has been updated repeatedly (bad). The sandwiches are still very good, but the pizza and hotdogs are long gone.
The beer has been the one constant throughout all of the other changes. They usually have six different styles on tap and rotate through seasonal and special brews, as well as their standard fare. My perennial favorite is the Detroit Hip Hops, an American Pale Ale that is consistently tasty, reasonably hoppy, and is usually on tap. The other styles can be hit or miss. I’ve liked their occasionally brewed ESB and Black IPA styles, but some of their lighter beers strike me as notably bland. On a recent visit, I had a White Wheat Session Ale that could be described as crisp and refreshing, but so could a cold glass of water. The last couple of years, they have been making a Birthday Beer around the anniversary of their opening, and I liked it previously, but this year it has a distinctly “off” bitter flavor. I usually like bitter, I am a huge IPA fan, but this is not a good bitter and the flavor just doesn’t work.
I was going to order a BLT (have been very good on previous visits) for lunch on this trip, but was tempted by their special of Lobster Mac & Cheese. I was a bit surprised by the large bowl I was served. It was pretty good, but did not wow me. There were a good number of langoustine chunks, but I would have liked it to be a bit richer in the cheese department. I think they try to get fancy with their food offerings, but can’t quite pull it off. My wife ordered their soup of the day, which was some sort of roast pepper tomato something or other. It was way to thick, and she said it was like eating tomato paste.
So, in summary, the place is not perfect but I will continue to visit on occasion. I will however stick to the old standbys I know they do well. So, it will be Pale Ale and sandwiches for me.
Lobster Mac & Cheese special and a mostly empty Birthday Beer.
Ferndale is really popping with restaurants lately, and one of my favorite newer places is Imperial. It’s on the northbound side of Woodward just north of 9 Mile. It’s an exceedingly simple bar with self seating and a patio area in the back. They have no beer taps, but have a good selection of beer in bottles and cans, including an array of Mexican brews (Tecate, Modelo, Dos XX, etc.). They have a small list of signature margaritas and tequila drinks as well. My favorite is the “Ring of Fire”, which is habanero infused tequila and grapefruit. It is delicious and may also be the spiciest thing on the menu. The food menu is simple as well, a selection of “street” style tacos and other sundry Mexican type fare. They also have a torta and a hot dog on the menu that sound good but I have yet to try them. The tacos are great. I especially like the Al Pastor, which is a mildly spicy BBQesque pork topped with pineapple chunks and thinly sliced jalapeno. They are all good though, and cost a reasonable $2.50 each. A notable side is the “elote especial”, which is grilled corn on the cob dipped in some kind of lime sauce and rolled in a Parmesan like Mexican cheese and spices. The chips, salsa and guacamole are very good as well. The only two drawbacks of the place is that it gets loud inside and the tacos are not served super warm. I can deal with loud voices and the flavors make up for the lukewarm tacos though. Imperial really shines in comparison to Barrio in Birmingham, which isn’t even as good and is outrageously overpriced. This is my go-to place for tacos now.
Tacos counter clockwise from front: 2 Al Pastor, 2 Chicken Tinga, 1 Carne Asada peeking out from behind the Elote Especial (grilled corn on the cob)
I stopped in at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe last weekend for a quick bite. For those who don’t know, this is the little bar/restaurant at the Bell’s Brewery site in downtown Kalamazoo. I haven’t been there for something like ten years, and I was surprised by how much it had changed, yet stayed the same. They now have a nice entry way and an outdoor patio. The decor is nice as well. The main space is still the same single larger room with an upper balcony on one end. The cafe is still hyper casual, much the same as I remembered. There is no table service, all drink and food orders are made at the bar. Patrons are on their own to find seating. If you do order food, they give you a pager that will summon you to a small window at the back when your food is ready. Although there were many patrons cycling through on a Saturday afternoon, ordering and finding a table was not difficult. I recalled a lack of seating on my previous visit, so this was a relief. I ordered a quesadilla appetizer and a bowl of soup. All was quite good. The quesadilla contained sweet potato and was served with Sriracha sour cream, which was an interesting and tasty twist.
Bell’s beer has a pretty wide distribution in the region, but I think it tastes even better at the source. They have about a dozen beer styles on tap, and were serving a Mead as well. They were pouring a French Farmhouse Blonde Ale that was quite refreshing the day I visited. The beer pictured is The Oracle, a double IPA.