Report on trip to Detroit area, Michigan, and adjacent Ontario Canada last weekend (Oct 24-27 2003).
Flew into Flint, then drove down to Buddys Pizza at 12-13 Mile Road & Van Dyke in Warren MI. Buddys pie remains a great testament to Detroit pizza. It has a superb crust which is never soggy, but also never tough; and great flavored cheese (plenty of it). It is mandatory to have the small antipasto drenched in vinaigrette on the side for the Olympic sport of pizza-dunking.
We went for a pre-dinner real ale at a place called Dragonmead microbrewery off 696 around Groesbeck. Yikes! This place is hard to find, just wish it had been harder to find. Their cask-conditioned stout was rank, and sugary, and the stench of stale beer that hits you as you walk in the door is dire. Add to this the bizarre choice of piped music (sort of like Wagners Greatest Hits meet Lawrence Welks out-takes) and the unconvivial atmosphere and this place is a definite must-miss.
Dinner that night was a chance find, and what a find!, using a tried-and-true technique (driving around aimlessly smelling for kitchen fumes) we stumbled down a road in Ferndale (west, off Woodward Ave.) and saw a dark frontage with obviously happy diners within. This turned out to be Assaggi:
Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro
330 W. Nine Mile Road
Ferndale, MI 48220
We ate well here. Mussels is the appetizer to go for, an entrée-sized (almost) helping. I had a succulent and entirely fresh jumbo prawn affair. The seafood here seems to be the thing to aim for. My friend had their paella which was quite un-paella like in the traditional sense, but chock full of seafood. For my main course I had lamb chops with baby carrots (I believe they have a kitchen garden). Open plan kitchen. The only worry for some might be the wine list. I think the cheapest(!) bottle was about $33 and on up from there. The male part of the ownership duo is also the sommelier & wine advisor. The bartender also pours a mean gin & tonic, but at a price $8 a throw. My friend from England observed also that the amount of ice used in each g&t would keep an average English pub ice bucket filled for a whole evening. Tab came to about $200 for three people with two bottles of (good) wine. So its not really expensive on the food front.
Next day went to Hamtramck and bought kielbasa and heavy sugar donuts for the journey north. I cant remember the shop names but it was the main thoroughfare with a meat market just north of a pastry shop. Slicing large wedges from a kielbasa to nibble on must be the best way to ease hunger pangs driving north to Sault Sainte Marie.
We stayed the night at Bruce Mines Ontario, a little town to the east of the Soo. Ate at the Bavarian Inn
Bavarian Inn Restaurant
9181 Highway 17, Bruce Mines, Ontario P0R 1C0
Telephone: (705) 785-3447
which was featuring a buffet. A superb effort this: beef stew (great!) chicken stew, pasta, devilled eggs, orange jello (well why not!), sliced meat & cheeses, olives and then a carvery with a good hunk of beef rib served with real horseradish. One thing I love about Canada places like this one is that although you are quite far into the wilds there is an air of civilized dining about it, and some interesting people-watching. My English friend liked the fact that HP Sauce was readily available.
Breakfast next morning at Bobbers
9161 Highway 17, Bruce Mines, Ontario P0R 1C0
Telephone: (705) 785-3485
was good, particularly the peameal bacon, a hearty hunk of perfectly cured bacon, English in style and intensely flavorful, as were the eggs.
Back to the US for a ferry to Mackinac Island and the Grand Buffet at the Grand Hotel.
Mackinac Island, Michigan 49757
Phone: (906) 847-3331
It goes like this: you show up at the hotel entrance and a woman discreetly asks you are you guests of the hotel? (Eyeing your shorts and scruffitude with disdain.) Upon getting the answer no you are informed that it costs $10 to gain entrance to the hotel but that this is applicable to the buffet lunch. (not a bad business ploy this). (My friend recalled that in his book of travels in the USA Bill Bryson refuses to pay the ten bucks to get in.) The Grand Hotel is something else. Id lived in Michigan before but never gone over. Stephen Kings The Shining is graphically called to mind, especially as they were about to close for the season. But this is a one-of-a-kind luxury old-school hotel~all appointments first class. The island is nifty too: see if you can spot the horse-drawn propane-powered street-cleaning machine! A very unlikely contraption indeed, but which seems to work. (No cars allowed on the island, all horses.)
Anyway, the Grand Buffet was just that. The dining room at the Grand Hotel is like the worlds largest Pullman dining car. It reminds you of that with hordes of liveried waiters attending tables stretching to the horizon. The buffet was beautiful to look at. We started with oysters (a dozen) and then aspic, pate, smoked whitefish, caviar and prosciutto. On and on and on. Beautiful salads and breads but why bother with salad here, pass the caviar? I loved the real butter nuggets each with the GH embossed on it. There were a variety of stews and pastas in sauces, all presented and tasting of the highest quality ingredients; then a carvery where we ate juicy venison and if you have room an entire wonderland of pastries and sweet stuff. You would have to see it for yourself, because it is hard to describe in words, kind of like the Grand Canyon or something. I had envisaged the Grand Hotel as a sort of faded movie star, showing her age but not at all. The clientele are generally older. Only later did I realize I had not seen one child of any description in the environs. Oh, and the drill is as follows: when you get to the dining room portals, you present your $10 voucher, then they require you to pay another $30 apiece, so its not a cheap lunch but its certainly cheap for what you have on offer. Wine can be ordered a la carte. There is strictly no tipping so your $40 is inclusive of that.
Drove back south and stayed the night in Mio, Michigan. We wanted a big put on the dog dinner for the farewell night as my friend was going back to England the next day. Unfortunately the only supper club establishment had already closed so we ate at Walkers Bar on the main drag.
Walkers Restaurant and Lounge
This turned out to be a hidden gem. We asked there if there was anywhere like a supper club open and they said no, but the bartender/chef there recommended we stay and eat and made is a very special dinner. Nothing fancy, but entirely satisfying: Standard American fare, but more than worth dropping in for. Their Merlot was tasty and for the three of us (with two bottles of wine and cocktails) the entire tab was $57! The barman even gave us an ice bucket for the wine which my friend thought could supply all the pubs in Suffolk with ice for a month, and when we ordered a second bottle, we got a *new* ice bucket!
Our final meal was lunch the next day in Belleville at
404 Main St
It was entirely pleasant, if unspectacular. I had a fairly authentic shrimp po-boy, while my wife had a good pasta ravioli type deal. My friend who had never tried Cajun cuisine opted for a stir-fried Chinese special (I suspect only to annoy me~just kidding), but proclaimed it AOK. We mentioned that we must be on our way to Metro Airport at a certain time and our waitress made it all happen such that we were out of there on time.
Great trip. Those of you who live in Michigan are lucky. Ive always thought its food ranks right up there and this visit confirms its still a destination where youre unlikely to go hungry.
Thanks for reading.