Om Cafe- Ferndale

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“You are what you eat” is a idiom easier said than done. Ashton and I have recently started our journey down the road they call veganism. As on-and-off vegetarians, it didn’t take much to take the plunge into a diet completely void of animal-based foods. Logical next step, really. But as I said, easier said than done.

Two things: 1) we’ve slipped up a few times already (honey here and there, we caved and got a five-cheese pizza one night) and 2) being vegan (and gluten-free) in Michigan is harder than one thinks. Trying to find a restaurant with a tofu option? Hard enough. Chances that that same menu item doesn’t have eggs/milk in it? Absolutely daunting!

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Until now. Om Cafe is a place even an insatiable meat eater could find any number of satisfying, positively delicious meals. And for vegan/vegetarians/gluten-free folk, it’s an absolute godsend.

Healthy eating is not so much preached here as it is a given. Chatting with co-owner Jason Thibodeau, he told us that he was raised vegetarian and so simply doesn’t crave meat. Thus, Om Cafe (founded by his mother) lives by a macrobiotic philosophy. Healthy grains, local fruits and vegetables and an avoidance of processed, refined foods. The sort of “this is just the way it should be” ethos shines through onto Om’s thoughtful and healthful menu.

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In the beverage department, Om offers plenty of all natural juices, sodas and teas. During our visit I couldn’t pass up the house tea while Ashton went for an all-natural, cane juice-sweetened cream soda which satisfied her sweet tooth and her appetite for fizzy things.

the adorably-named TLT

Like I mentioned before, a big issue being vegan is that unless you love eating salads every time you go out, the pickins’ can be pretty slim. That’s why we appreciate a place that like Om that offers not only the typical tofu, but other options like tempeh (soy protein) and a delicious-sounding seitan (wheat protein). After a few scans of the lunch menu, I decided on the TLT (tempeh, lettuce & tomato) on sourdough. Sure the tempeh was great (grilled to a savory crisp) but it was the veggies I was most impressed with. The tomatoes cold, juicy and obviously fresh and the avocado slices were more than welcome, adding some heft and texture to the already loaded sandwich.

For Ashton, she tried what us folks would call “loaded nachos” vegan-style. El Mexicano was a bed of corn tortilla chips, beans, dairy-free cheese and a pile of fresh veggies lettuce, tomotos, avocado, olives and jalepenos. Her thoughts: muy bueno.DSC_0530

Dessert brought us to a gluten-free vegan almond cookie with jam which was of course awesome. The rest of the dessert menu offered tons of equally-appetizing sounding cakes and fresh fuit pies (all vegan, too).

Om offers rotating daily specials, so give their Facebook a like to keep up-to-date on what’s coming out of the kitchen. For us, it’s not a matter of if we’ll be back to Om Cafe, it’s when.

Namaste.

Visit Om Cafe

23136 Woodward Ave
Ferndale, MI 48220
(248) 548-1941

Vinsetta Garage – Berkley

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When it comes to hype, I’m typically a skeptic. Sure, Curt Catallo and Ann Stevenson, owners of the Clarkston Union and the Woodshop, are our local eatery geniuses, but could they possibly do it again? If you’ve heard any of the rumors about their alleged latest and greatest, Vinsetta Garage, I’m sure you’re wondering if it’s too good to be true. I hate to side with the hype, but this time the hype has got it right.

imageMike and I took a trip here on a relatively quiet Thursday afternoon in an effort to get a good look at the place without fighting the legendary crowds.  In terms of design, it’s pretty much what you’d expect out of Catallo and Stevenson; however, there is a greater sense of ingenuity as the layout pays homage to the buildings roots. Vinsetta Garage has been around since 1919, not as burger/pizza joint, but as an auto repair shop that serviced Detroit’s classic cars right on Woodward Avenue. But when the Vinsetta Garage decided to close it’s doors in 2011, it was bought by the aforementioned creative duo and repurposed as a restaurant. The bones of the original Vinsetta Garage still proudly stand, and when you sit down for dinner, there’s no mistaking it – a lot of cars came through here. But whether the garage is in the business of fixing engines or appetites, it’s spirit remains the same.

image-5Like it’s sister restaurant the Woodshop, Vinsetta Garage offers a menu of American Classics (burgers, sandwiches, pizza, milkshakes, etc.).  Never fear for those of us who have a gluten allergy or are vegetarian! This all-American restaurant can do many of it’s popular dishes gluten-free and each burger can be made with a vegetarian option. Here’s what we had:
Mike went for the EV1 Burger with a vegan patty, coal-fired tomatoes, arugula, garlic sprouts, goat cheese, shiitake bacon (fried, salty mushrooms), and roasted garlic and balsamic mayo.  He reports that “the vegan patty was gigantic and juicy, the goat cheese mixed with the shiitake bacon and tomatoes was in perfect harmony.” In other words, he thought it was awesome.

I, on the other hand, was amazed by their gluten-free pizza which I had with goat cheese, shiitake bacon, and caramelized onions.  Considering my typical experience with gluten-free pizza leaves me feeling like I’m eating the box it came in, this was a pleasant surprise. We toyed with the idea of ordering one of their adult milkshakes, but opted for a dessert of rock n’ rye ice cream with pop rocks (less expensive, more homegrown). 

Mike and I have plans to visit Vinsetta Garage again very soon.  There’s just too much on the menu to only go there once. Next time you’re cruising down Woodward make for Vinsetta Garage. It is not to be missed.

Visit Vinsetta Garage
27799 Woodward Ave.
Berkley, MI 48072
(248) 548-7711
www.vinsettagarage.com

Bucharest Grill- Downtown Detroit

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So, there may be a time when you find yourself in Detroit after a Tiger’s game or a concert somewhere downtown.  It’s, like, ten minutes till midnight and you’re about to make the unfortunate executive decision to find the closest McDonalds (Woodward and Canfield, fyi).  All seems to be lost, when- wait!  There is hope.  Delicious, Eastern European hope.

On Park Ave between Cass and Woodward, you’ll find a small brick storefront (neighboring the bustling and noticeably more modern Park Bar) with a small, glowing red neon sign.  Congratulations, you’ve just found Bucharest.  The best (and only) Romanian shawarma joint we’ve ever been to.BucharestNeon

A literal hole in the wall, the place is more or less an open kitchen with a register, a small counter that could fit at max three customers and just enough room for a line to start and make its way out the door.

They boast a traditional menu of Romanian and middle eastern fare and although I don’t think curly fries are a native dish to either of those regions, Bucharest’s are renown and really, really good.

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Bucharest is unique in the sense that it is affixed to the Park Bar, sharing a cool kind of partnership.  So after you order your schawarma, you’re welcome to go find a seat in the next room at the bar and get a brew to go with your grilled, greasy meal.  This is, of course, exactly what we did.

Visit Bucharest:
2040 Park Avenue  
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 965-3111

The Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen

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Photo Courtesy of The Union

Let me put it this way – The Clarkston Union is not about “you.”  And sure, you’re probably thinking, why would I want to go to a restaurant that doesn’t make the experience comfortable, personal, and well, all about me?  Because it’s about more than just great food, excellent beer, and great service – it’s about the communal “us.”

Give me a moment to explain.

Atop a small hill, the Union stands the tallest building in downtown Clarkston.  And it’s former occupation?  A church.  One might wonder how a restaurant could succeed in the skeleton of an old church while comfortably combining the buildings past and present identities, but take my word for it.  The Union knows what it’s doing.

Upon arrival, you are thrust into the thick of things as this restaurant is just one large, high ceilinged room, with very vocal wooden floors.  Stained glass windows brightly shine next to the vast bar containing not only an espresso bar, but also houses 35 beers on tap.

Since this is a communal style eating establishment, the tables, small and large, consist mainly of pews where you sit elbow-to-elbow with your party.  Or, if it’s just you and one other, you can expect to enjoy your experience near others just like you, doing the exact same thing.  Whomever it is you arrive with specifically, you end up eating with all.  You create the congregation, the community, the “us.”

Ironically enough, when Mike and I last made our trip to this Mecca of Clarkston, it was nonetheless on a Sunday.  The Union famously holds a Sunday brunch equipped with the best of both their breakfast and lunch dishes.

For drinks, we went for it and tried something new.  We both got Mimosa’s and they were so extremely delicious that we both wanted seconds, but thought better of it.

For meals, we both went with breakfast selections.  For me, the walnut filled french toast, which was an immediate winner.  Mike went with the Heuvos Rancheros, also fantastic.  

Final Thoughts:

  • It’s worth your money and your time.
  • It’s often very busy, so you may have to wait.  However, I think this personally adds to the community environment.
Visit the Union:
54 South Main Street
Clarkston, MI 48346 (248) 620-6100

L.A. Cafe – Waterford

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A little bit hippie, a little bit Gen-X, a whole lot of delicious.

Remember the 90s? Long hair on guys wasn’t an ironic statement. MTV played music videos. It wasn’t that long ago, yet we can still identify even the smallest nuances that made the 90s a unique time to be alive.

A little java hut in Waterford, MI called L.A. Cafe is one of the few restaurants we’ve seen that reaches back to that not-so-distant decade for inspiration.DSC_0017

For this vibe to work, it’s all about subtleties. Some of the tables are plastered with pictures of 90s celebrities, the music selection always seems to lean towards artists that probably played at Lollapalooza or Lilith Fair, and in the corner of the coffee bar is an old iMac computer for patrons to connect to the (world-wide) web. Some of the servers wear tie dye, Chinese paper lanterns hang from the ceilings, and peace signs are abundant- reminding us that much of the 90s aesthetic was created by channeling the 60s.

So why “L.A.”?  Because the place looks and feels just like a coffee hut you would find in Venice Beach. Their bold yellow and black signage, the unorthodox, triangular building, the colorful wall tiles and bamboo shades all say “you may be in Michigan, but let’s pretend we’re in SoCal.” 

The place is refreshingly well-lit with lots of sunlight and the high seating around the windows and low chairs in the middle of the cafe make it a really comfortable place to eat and a great venue for their Saturday open-mic nights.

L.A. Cafe markets itself as healthy eating.  They offer tons of vegetarian options, lots of teas, homemade soups, and “better” meat selections (like their great turkey burger).

Come winter time, try one of their espresso or coffee drinks (the Peppermint Whip: Coffee, Hot Coco and Peppermint) or try a refreshing Italian creme soda in pretty much any flavor imaginable.

For food, I’ve been to L.A. Cafe so many times that I can safely recommend anything on the menu.  During breakfast visits, Ash sticks with the pancakes (pecan are always good) and I usually go for what they call the Scromlette- a giant omelette with your selection of veggies/meat/cheese and a gigantic pile of hash-browned potatoes.  For lunch try one of their grilled sandwiches- the High-Plains Drifter (Turkey, sprouts, guacamole, provolone) or the Good Mother (a plethora of veggies between two slices of bread). Don’t leave without getting a cup of vegetarian chili.

Final thoughts:

  • L.A. Cafe is a diamond in the rough.  Don’t be turned away by its odd location.  If you’re going to be in the area (Clarkston, Pontiac, Waterford), don’t pass this one by!
  • Free Wi-Fi!
Visit L.A. Cafe
5815 Dixie Hwy
Waterford, MI 48329
248-623-1610


Barnacle Bills – East Tawas (Arrrrr!)

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A trip to East Tawas is bound to be filled with beautiful lakeside views and extensive antique shopping, but when you start to get hungry from all that Michigan fun, you may find that pickins are slim. Well, blow me down! Barnacle Bill has got your back!

I don’t know who Bill is, nor do I know why he has such an unappetizing title, but I do know he makes a good plate of fish n’ chips. Cool beard, too.

Hey, we’re not going to say that Barnacle Bills is the best food in Michigan, but for a couple of hungry landlubbers, it did just the trick. The attractive lunch specials drew us in ($5 for a grilled cheese, soup, and a beer?!) But if you’re really a swashbuckling’ lad then you may be hungry enough for the unlimited fish n’ chips. While we only had one plate a piece, it was just what the meal should be – fried, salty and served with a lemon wedge. 

For a bar, Barnacle Bills was really damned friendly. Some towns have coneys or cafes where folks like to relax after work. East Tawas has a maritime-themed bar.  Good for them, we say.

So take a load off from all your shopping and beach-combing with a cup of chowder at Barnacle Bills. Knock back a few beers, play some Keno or a game of pool, and swab the poop deck, ya scurvy dog!

 
Visit Barnacle Bills of East Tawas:
119 Newman St. East Tawas, MI (986)-362-5701
Or visit Bill’s Facebook page.

The French Laundry – Fenton

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There is something rather paradoxical about breakfast. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” yet, it seems that breakfast is the meal that is the most dull and drab of all. Coffee, toast, eggs, cereal in any number of bland arrangement all seem to blur together into a meal we would rather look forward to skipping. However, our trip to The French Laundry provided us with a unique and refreshing experience that restored our faith that breakfast can be more than the same ol’ hum drum menu.

Located on a quiet downtown corner, the French Laundry stands welcoming and inviting for guests arriving on foot or by car. It’s quaint outward appearance, with garden seating and ample awning, is juxtaposed with it’s lively interior equipped with both a vast bakery and a full bar. Adorned with bright stained glass windows, mismatched chairs and tables, informative chalk boards (including one with the morning’s headlines), and colorful tile work, The French Laundry’s remarkable setup and design is the perfect setting to enjoy the most important meal of the day.

Thoughts on Drinks: Mike and I arrived at our table and began with typical breakfast beverages. His fresh squeezed orange juice and my cafe au lait, both served in beer glasses, were an enjoyable way to pass the time while we made our breakfast selections. (Both 5/5)

Thoughts on Eats: Settling on the same entree, the Welcome Falvion Vaxsounded too delicious to pass up. The delicious meal of peppered scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes, and garlic roasted potatoes was a true 5/5.

Final Thoughts:

  • This place is definitely one you’d want to visit more than once. There is simply so much to try and so much variety in food and drink that I know we’ll more than likely be back.
  • The French Laundry has something for the snob in us all, whether it’s baked goods, wine, or coffee. Delicious!
Visit The French Laundry:
125 W Shiawassee Ave Fenton, MI 48430
 

(810) 629-8852

The Jolly Pumpkin – Traverse City

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“Crossing this dusky entry, and on through yon low-arched way – cut through what in old times must have been a great central chimney with fire-places all round – you enter the public room.”

The tavern is a special piece of early American iconography.  We like to think of them as places where travelers stopped for the night to enjoy a hot meal, commune with fellow vagrants over beer and mead,  and where they’d at least find a modest room to lay their head. (Read more on Colonial tavern life).

Hundreds of years after the tavern age, some restaurant owners try to channel the glowing energy of the inn. Enter: the Jolly Pumpkin.

One of Traverse City’s hidden haunts, the JP is isolated on the city’s iconic peninsula.  On our trip north, Ashton and I take the scenic route out to Traverse Wine/Cherry country. The road forks at Bowers Harbor and there, perched on a hill by the waterside, is the old house.

The first thing patrons may notice is the GIANT MOOSE HEAD above their roaring fireplace.* The Jolly Pumpkin is two-storied — loft-style with a high ceilings and walls (tavern, anyone?)  Twisted, amber lanterns glow above the well-worn tables and the whole place kind of feels like a warm and welcoming barn.

*(On a personal note, I think all restaurants should have fireplaces.  It’s an inviting gesture- one a tavern keeper would employ)

So, let’s take our seat…

The Jolly Pumpkin Score Card

Thoughts on eats: We got the spinach and goat cheese pizza, which we throughly enjoyed but thought was a little too rich for our sensitive bellies. [4/5]  The soup-of-the-day (a creamy butternut squash), on the other hand, was PHENOMENAL. Savory sweet, not too creamy as to induce tummy aches and vegetarian! [5/5]

Thoughts on drinks: I got a glass of North Peak’s limited-time Hooligan (a pumpkin beer in October, how could I resist?) Ash treated herself to the Fuego del Otono, which we thought had a light, almost cider-like apple flavor. Delicious. [5/5, for both of us]

Final Thoughts:

  • Don’t let the goofy name throw you.
  • If we lived closer to Traverse, this would certainly be a regular haunt but we’re also glad that it’s off the beaten track.
  • We know most come to Traverse in the summer, but if you have the chance, come here during autumn.
  • Note: the building is comprised of two restaurants.  We didn’t get the chance to visit the other (the Old Mission).  The Jolly Pumpkin is near the back.
Visit the Jolly Pumpkin:
13512 Peninsula Dr, 
Traverse City, MI 49686-9717
(734) 913-2730