Best of Detroit 2006
Brace yourself for the best-ever Best of Detroit. We've tallied your votes and tossed in a few of our favorites, and turned photographers and writers loose all over town. Our seventh annual celebration of the greatest people, places and things in Metro Detroit.
June means graduations, weddings, Father's Day and the official start of summer. But around our offices, for the past seven years, it's also Best of Detroit time. Our bleary-eyed staff has pored through the ballots, tallied your votes and assembled a list of the area's 200-plus best people, places and things. You'll see familiar winners, as well as some surprising dark horses. We even tossed in a few of our own. It's all for the best.
Text by: George Bulanda, Nancy Nall Derringer, Aleene Jinn Hang, Susan Howes, Dave Manney, Ben Schmitt, Dan Wilkinson
Best Restaurant Ambience/Best Romantic Restaurant/Best Wine List/Best Attentive Service/Best French
When it comes to the finest dining, Hour Detroit readers and Zagat's, as well as Gourmet, Wine Spectator and Bon Appétit agree - none can touch this magnificent French restaurant in West Bloomfield styled as a European country inn. This year, Jim and Mary Lark celebrate the silver anniversary of their creation, 25 years of attention to the finest details in food, wine, service and ambience. In that time, they've had only four chefs, with Kyle Ketchum now at the helm. For an unforgettable dinner, no restaurant does it better. thelark.com; 248-661-4466.
In early 2004, there was news that was greeted with a touch of disbelief: A sleek sushi restaurant had opened in downtown Detroit. In the RenCen, right? Nope. Try a stretch of Woodward Avenue that, although due for a multimillion- dollar face-lift, was known more for empty storefronts. If only out of curiosity, the crowds lined up. And quickly the word spread: The food was simply outstanding and the techno-bar in the basement was just too cool. "It's popular with young urban pioneers and suburbanites who wish they were," reported USAToday.com. Go see and be seen. osloworld.com; 313-963-0300.
Tapas without boundaries is the specialty of the house at this well-located (across from the Detroit Opera House) bistro. Perfect for nights when you can't make up your mind, at Small Plates you can order a little of everything, fill up and still feel virtuous. smallplates.com; 313-963-0497.
Best Celebrity Dinner Companion
Reporters will tell you he's a man of few words, but we're betting he opens up over dinner. But even if the Captain doesn't spill about life with Scotty Bowman or brag about his 22-year career with the Red Wings, we agree he would, hands down, be the coolest dinner companion in town. And you certainly wouldn't have to wait for a table.
Long before it was fashionable to call yourself a vegetarian, this cozy cafe in Royal Oak was showing diners the way. This year marks Inn Season's 25th anniversary of serving the area's tastiest natural and organic fare. The diverse dishes - ranging from soups to pizza to burritos - may even convert the steak lover in your life. 500 E. Fourth St.; 248-547-7916.
Best Restaurant General Excellence
Two years ago this month, metro Detroiters were stunned by the opening of this glamorous restaurant and jazz club in the Renaissance Center. From the start, its commanding view of the Detroit River, live music, first-rate service and top-notch menu proved an irresistible blend. From big-time celebrities to couples enjoying a night out to business people working a deal, this has become the place. How did Frank Taylor, Robert Porcher and company pull it off? Ask them. The hands-on team often works the floor. seldomblues.com; 313-567-7356.
Il Posto Ristorante
We are, of course, biased because we named Giovanni Belsito's gem in Southfield as Hour Detroit's 2006 Restaurant of the Year, but it's now clear that readers agree. What makes Il Posto, which Hour Detroit restaurant critic Christopher Cook described as "pure Milanese sophistication, dropped into Detroit" so special? It is, in Cook's words, "Operatic in reach, and striving to be the most classical in high Italian culture, and always through the equal combination of food, service and place." Salute. il-posto.com; 248-827-8070.
Nothing says Greektown like the Pegasus Taverna on Monroe. From its tasty saganaki (flaming cheese) accompanied by table side shouts of "opa!" to such Greek staples as spinach pie, moussaka and lamb chops, Pegasus has been entertaining tourists and locals alike for 25 years. The meals are cooked in a wide-open kitchen and the dining room is outfitted with faux grape arbors and Greek paraphernalia aplenty. A large array of dessert pastries includes the delectable baklava. The setting is busy and the wait staff is prompt and friendly. It can't hurt that Greektown Casino is in the same building. "We have an exciting atmosphere and the food is very good," says manager John Pappas. "That's what brings the people back. The restaurant is both family friendly and romantic." pegasustaverna.com; 313-964-6800.
Mon Jin Lau
Described by the venerable travel guide Fodor's as the "dressiest Asian restaurant in the metro Detroit area," the casual yet upscale spot in Troy also serves up delicious - and dramatic - dishes you can't find anywhere else. Award-winning "Nu-Asian" cuisine (dishes such as Peppered Tuna Sashimi and Grilled Quail) is the hallmark of Mon Jin Lau. And even entrees considered standard fare are stunning. How else to explain an order of Chilean Sea Bass, when it's wrapped in banana leaves with asparagus and bamboo shoots? Certainly, there's plenty for the less adventurous, including sushi. Pressed for time? You can order carryout online. monjinlau.com; 248-689-2332.
Vicente's Cuban Cuisine
In less than a year, this energetic restaurant in downtown Detroit has made a startling impact on the city's dining scene. "A visit to Vicente's is more than just food. It is an immersion in Latin culture," raved "Hour Detroit" restaurant critic Christopher Cook. In a dining room built around a dance floor (where salsa and flamenco dancing take center stage on weekends), you'll enjoy Cuban and Spanish cuisine, everything from tapas to tamales to a range of paellas. vicente.us; 313-962-8800.
Priya Indian Cuisine
With more than 210 items on the menu, this jewel in Troy may be frightening for those racked by indecision when ordering dinner. But take a deep breath and dig in. The cuisine will take you to all corners of India. Serving vegetarian and nonvegetarian fare, curries, dals and tandoor kabobs, Priya ensures all leave pleased and full. priyarestaurant.com; 248-269-0100.
There's a certain symmetry to Tex-Mex food: They keep pouring on the salt, and we keep pouring down the margaritas. Works for us. Chances are it works for you, too, given the popularity of this Mexicantown institution. On our visits we order a fishbowl-size margarita and happily anticipate being made even thirstier as the evening wears on. The abundant platters of enchiladas, tacos, tostadas and the like will take care of that. For more authenticity, we consult a section of the menu called "favorites of Mexico" that owes more to Mex than Tex. And then we order another margarita. Because what's the hurry? 3409 Bagley, Detroit; 313-843-0179.
If you're visiting this Troy hole in the wall for the first time, keep your eyes open - its strip-mall location on Rochester Road can be easy to miss. But once you get through the doors, you're taken away, if not to Thailand, then to a pleasant place of dark woods, decorated with the restaurant's signature flower. The menu is where the real delights lie - Thai food in all its spicy, coconut-milky, surprising variety. You'll find widely available favorites here (pad Thai, pad pak) as well as salads and noodles. Dishes are graced with such personal details as hand-carved vegetables, because you know, food is more than fuel. Sometimes it's a thing of beauty. And sometimes you want your carrots trimmed with pinking shears. Try the fried sweet potatoes, served with a spicy peanut sauce. 3303 Rochester Rd., Troy; 248-524-1944.
Lafayette Coney Island
In this blue-collar town, you rarely have to drive more than a couple of miles to find a hot dog soaking a bun with its freight of chili sauce, mustard and onions. But most coney islands are not Lafayette, in the heart of downtown. Its clientele reliably crosses a wider range of socioeconomic status than any other eatery in town - after midnight it can resemble the casting call for a Fellini movie - each after the platonic ideal of fast food, i.e., the coney. Plus cheese fries. 118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198
Beans & Cornbread
When a taste of the South is what you seek, head straight for this stylish, upscale spot in Southfield. For nine years, Beans & Cornbread has been the unrivaled king of soul food in metro Detroit, wowing diners with its tasty dishes, décor inspired by African-American history, and music that'll have your toes tapping long after you've finished dessert. Beer and wine recently have been added to the menu. beansandcornbread.com; 248-208-1680.
A full decade before Buddy's dished up Detroit's original Sicilian-style pizza, it was known as a hot destination - for illegal booze. The corner of Six Mile Road and Conant in Detroit was home to the first Buddy's, a "blind pig" tavern that opened in 1936. The invention of its delicious deep-dish pies in 1946 helped it go legit. Sixty years later, it boasts nine area locations, and the best pizza in town. Stop by a Buddy's near you and you'll find further proof it's stayed true to its roots: Alcohol is served in its restaurant bars. buddyspizza.com
If delis are generally neighborhood haunts offering cold cuts and quick bites to eat, Steve's, in Bloomfield Hills, needs a new name. Whether it's pastrami or corned beef you seek, or lox or cheese blintzes, Steve's dishes up the tastiest selections in town. Heck, crowds would line up just for the chicken noodle soup and turkey chili, not to mention the desserts imported from Manhattan's Carnegie Deli. stevesdeli.com; 248-932-0800.
Okay, so no soup can match what Mom served back in the day, but the zesty bowls dished up at Zoup! are the next best thing. The revolving menu at the nine area locations includes favorites like beef barley and cream of broccoli. But you can also get adventurous with recipes like shrimp and crawfish étoufée or white bean with turkey sausage. And you can slurp it from a bread bowl. zoup.com; various locations.
Slows Bar BQ
This hot hipster haven in Detroit's Corktown is barely a year old, but it's blowing away the competition. Lines to get in this restaurant with its exposed brick and loft-like feel may be long, but we swear it's worth it. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, fish and jambalaya are just the beginning. The succulent sides alone could be a meal. slowsbarbq.com; 313-962-9828.
Red Coat Tavern
Best Burger? It's a wonder we bother to ask the question since this Royal Oak favorite, now celebrating its 34th year on Woodward Avenue, is the slam-dunk winner in every media survey. But one bite of its half-pound original burger, or the lower-fat version made with Piedmontese beef, and you'll understand the rave reviews. You'll also forget you're sitting in what may be metro Detroit's most unusual restaurant environment, a place with no windows in which, thanks to odd lighting, everything glows red. 31542 Woodward; 248-549-0300.
Ice cream has so few ingredients - cream, flavoring, maybe some eggs - that it's easy to make well. It's making it spectacularly that eludes many. But this Royal Oak institution, in business since 1958, not only has spectacular ice cream, but a unique service in molded ice cream for special occasions. How about a molded ice-cream peach filled with peach brandy? "We ship a lot of those to country clubs in Georgia," says Joan Stevens, who runs Ray's with her husband and son. For the less elaborate, stop by the store on Coolidge Highway for some Fat Elvis - banana ice cream with a peanut-butter ribbon. raysicecream.com; 248-549-5256.
On any given night, "the best bar" often hinges on your mood. Feel like letting loose? Nothing beats a thumping dance club. Want to drown your sorrows? Thank goodness for smoke-filled watering holes. But when the evening's mission is nothing more than kicking back with friends or ogling the beautiful - and wealthy - people, 220 is simply unbeatable. Yes, there's a restaurant with plenty of fine food, but the real action happens at the sprawling bar, the kind of place where they know your name. And if they don't, you can bet those looking for love, at least, will ask for it. 220 Merrill St., Birmingham; 248-645-2150.
Awards for this smoky Royal Oak bar pile up like cans of Pabst on a Saturday night. "We have all genres of music," says bartender Patty Pearson. "Tom Waits and Johnny Cash, to old-school punk rock."
It's gutsy to name your restaurant after the plant that's the root of tequila. After all, it does raise expectations that you can deliver on the liquor's most famous mixed drink. But sip one of the margaritas on the menu at this sleek spot on Woodward and you'll be convinced it's the best in town. With 60 brands of tequila behind the bar and 10 multiflavored margaritas on the menu, many trips are required to sample everything Agave has to offer. And don't forget to eat. The food has received rave reviews from the New York Times and Gourmet magazine. agavedetroit.com; 313-833-1120.
In its 45 years on the corner of Woodward and Nine Mile in Ferndale, this family-owned eatery and bar has become a destination - for everyone. Some come for the tasty pizza or Italian dishes while others stop by for raucous nights on the outdoor patio or at the popular indoor bar. The scene is so diverse and comfortable that Como's could have snared a number of "Best Of" awards, but this year it's crowned the place for girls' night out. comospizza.com; 248-548-5005.
Don't look for the waltz on the dance card at Sangria's Sky Club, the nightspot above the popular Spanish restaurant that brought tapas dining to Royal Oak. Every Wednesday and Thursday at Sky Club is Salsa Night, with free dance lessons courtesy of danceDetroit, Energetic Soul and the Troy Dance Studio. To get a taste of flamenco dancing, slip into the restaurant on Thursday nights and you'll soon be shouting "olé!" as Patricia La Argentina performs with a team of dancers and guitarist Garialan Blugraye. sangriaroyaloak.com; 248-543-1964.
Papa Joe's Gourmet Market & Catering
If you can't find what you're looking for at Papa Joe's, in Rochester and Birmingham, it probably doesn't exist. This is, after all, a gourmet operation that considers truffles from Italy, roses from Ecuador, and cherries from New Zealand to be routine offerings, along with Kobe beef, Copper River salmon and Kurbota pork. If, by the very small chance what you seek is not in stock, Papa Joe's will tap its vast culinary network to find it anywhere on earth. Beyond gourmet shopping lists, Papa Joe's also brings its exquisite touch to metro Detroit's party scene with a renowned catering operation, wedding cake offerings and flower arrangements. It even has its own limo service. papajoesmarket.com; Birmingham, 248-723-9400; Rochester Hills, 248-853-6263.
You'll realize just how little seafood you've sampled when you gaze upon glass cases at this Royal Oak institution. Black tip shark, wahoo, tau taug and cobia are just a few of the dozens of exotic offerings sharing space with such familiar fish as salmon and tuna. For more than 60 years, Superior has been the place professional and amateur chefs go for the best fresh seafood. It's also a top destination for Red Wings fans, as sales of octopi surge when the Wings battle for the Stanley Cup. superiorfish.safeshopper.com; 248-541-4632.
This downtown landmark on Jeffersonis the closest Midwestern equivalent to Sotheby's. But it's far more affordable, as well as a place to see a certain kind of history - in the estate items of well-to-do locals. (The very rich are different from you and me; they have dining-room tables that seat 20.) dumouchelle.com; 313-963-6255.
Go ahead and call it the McDonald's of coffee; that isn't a bad thing. This is where it started, where America learned to tell a latte from a cappuccino, where coffee went from diner fuel to something better. We doff our hats to Starbucks, even though we prefer to say "large" instead of "venti." Various locations, starbucks .com
Better Made Potato Chips
From Izzy's Deli Dill to tangy Ketchup, creatively flavored Better Made Potato Chips are the quintessential Detroit snack. Made primarily with Michigan potatoes, the chips have been churned out from a plant on Gratiot Avenue since 1930. It takes 40 million pounds of spuds each year to satisfy America's cravings for Better Made, which also cranks out other snacks. bettermadepotatochips.com; 313-925-4774.
The east-side Tudor house is easy to miss when you're driving on East Jefferson, but stands astride the world of decorative ceramics in the Arts-and-Crafts style like the colossus it is. The antique specimens are highly collectible, but artists on staff still produce tiles, tableware, vases and other pieces, retail and custom-ordered, to this day. For a piece of old Detroit as timeless as a classic Mustang, it can't be beat. Those designs, and oh, those glazes - they distinguish one of the city's great producers of utilitarian art. pewabic.com; 313-822-0954.
Drew & Mike
When it comes to irreverent radio - and years of juggernaut ratings - Drew Lane and Mike Clark on 101 WRIF-FM are Detroit's undisputed kings. Bathroom humor? Sure. Sex talk? You bet. But, along with news maven Trudi Daniels, Drew and Mike have proved savvy, if outrageous, observers of news and politics in metro Detroit, hilariously drumming on Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and whoever else happens to appear in their sights. Go ahead and laugh, but the morning duo arguably wield more influence over popular debates in metro Detroit than any "mainstream" media outlet.
Whether it's an accident on I-696 or a mixed-up Mixing Bowl, drivers need to know which spots to avoid. Many rely on morning traffic reporter Jackie Paige on Fox 2. With an affable yet no-nonsense delivery, she's a smooth guide. The fact she's a native Detroiter is a bonus, too - Paige doesn't mangle street names like Cadieux or Lahser. Something you probably didn't know: Paige was once the afternoon host for an affiliate of National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
When news happens, the weather turns ugly, or traffic backs up, metro Detroiters all head for the same place - 950 on their AM radio dial. It's a long tradition. WWJ was America's first commercial radio station, hitting the airwaves in 1920. It was also the first to broadcast news, election returns, sports and a complete symphony.
Paul W. Smith
When radio was a medium of static, sending voices through the ether to people who listened with cocked-head attention, one voice commanded attention - a great, smooth baritone that cut through the noise. The tradition continues with Paul W. Smith, who pilots WJR through the morning commute like the great broadcaster he is, blending silly with serious, leavening with a breezy interview, weaving in a more serious one, always clipping along, always with that voice. A great voice of the Great Lakes, indeed. 760 AM; wjr.net.
Raise your hand if you have a problem waking up in the morning, if you can tolerate only pleasant voices and light topics and familiar music that doesn't set your teeth on edge. Raise your hand, that is, if you're one of Purtan's People. Dick Purtan has been in local radio for nearly four decades - you can find him now on 104.3 WOMC, morning drive - and he knows what makes it work - a family atmosphere, lots of laughs, a little Hall & Oates.
Sports Radio 1130 WDFN
Feeling the urge to bash Lions honcho Matt Millen? Have some advice for the Tigers or Wings? When Detroit's passionate fans have something to say - or they just need a sports fix - they turn to the boys of Sports Radio 1130 WDFN. The action begins at 6 a.m. with Jamie and Brady, followed by Sean Baligian. Stoney and Wojo handle the afternoon/pregame madness. wdfn.com; 248-848-1130.
In an age when TV sports anchors shoot for their own highlight reels with silly schtick or ridiculous one-liners, the excitable yet straightforward Shane is practically a throwback. Okay, so he's not immune to on occassional, "Bye-ah!" But his smart sports coverage has been a Channel 7 staple for 17 years. He's proved he can go toe to toe with the best, including Bill Bonds.
Also crackling on the airwaves is relative newcomer Rhonda Walker, who anchors the morning news with Guy Gordon. Born in Detroit, the Michigan State grad joined WDIV three years ago. While Hour Detroit readers love waking up with Rhonda, they're also tuning in for more than the latest news.
After 28 years on WDIV, where she anchors Local 4 news at 5, 6, and 11 p.m. with Devin Scillian, Carmen Harlan is one of the most famous faces in Detroit. Hour Detroit readers also say she's by far the best in the business, the best-looking and - oh, those locks - the TV personality with the best hair. Also endearing to Detroiters is the fact that Carmen grew up in the Motor City, graduating from Mumford High School.
Joe Dumars Fieldhouse
Is there anything Joe D can't do? The former "Bad Boy" champ, current Pistons president of basketball operations, and recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee can add another item to his long list of successes. With locations in Detroit, Sterling Heights and Shelby Township, Joe's Fieldhouse combines the best of sports, dining and family fun - all under one roof. joedumarsfieldhouse.com.
Palmer Park Golf Course
The corner of Seven Mile Road and Woodward in Detroit may not be the first place that comes to mind when you want to play a quick round. But this 100-acre course built on land donated to the city by namesake Thomas Palmer Jr., an ambassador to Spain, U.S. Senator and president of the Chicago World's Fair, is an oasis. Relatively short (6,007 yards) and flat, the course is great for beginners and purists who like to walk. 313-883-2525.
Dick's Sporting Goods
Sometimes you need a basketball; sometimes you just want to dress like a basketball player. Dick's takes care of your jock side - both inner and outer. With an inventory that stretches from soccer to paintball and beyond, it's your last stop before you head outdoors. dickssportinggoods.com.
Anyone who's ever puttered around a course in metro Detroit knows the name, since it's the answer to almost every "Where'd you get that?" golf-gear question. "Carl's. Where else?" Its mammoth stores in Bloomfield Hills and Plymouth are nirvana for golf fanatics, but an equally big draw is the practice facility at both shops, acres of driving ranges, putting greens, bunkers and chipping areas. You could say it's Carl's specialty, since the empire began with a driving range near Pontiac nearly 50 years ago. Either way, with so much turf to try your next club or perfect your swing, "Carl's" could also be your answer when the question is, "Wow! How'd you hit that shot?" carlsgolfland.com.
Some of the folks who live along the shore of Oakland County's biggest lake may tell you it's a little too good for water-skiing, especially when boats roar through a specially designed slalom course at the crack of dawn. But the sporting early risers have triumphed over attempts to limit their fun. Although the course on the 1,300-acre lake has been moved and a no-wake area preserved, skiers can hit the water from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. - so long as they don't go over 50 miles per hour.
Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club
Tee off at this 350-acre course with meandering valleys, woodlands and hills and you may think you're Up North, certainly not in Clarkston. Named one of America's 100 greatest public courses by Golf Digest and among Michigan's top 10 by AAA Living, the course's 18 holes measure 7,236 yards. Greens fees range from $45-$85. shepherdshollow.com; 248-922-0300.
Detroit Yacht Club
The words "yacht club" tote a lot of baggage, but you can leave it all at the door of the city's oldest and most storied ... call it a club with boats. The DYC doesn't do snooty, despite its membership claim to some of the city's oldest names, including Henry Ford and the Dodges. What remains of that gilded era is the Mediterranean clubhouse on Belle Isle, now used by an inclusive, diverse membership of boaters and just plain socializers. "We're a thoroughly modern club that retains the essence of a bygone era," says Commodore Bill Farmer. By that he means members enjoy the large marina, pools, sailing fleet, grill, harbor store with dockside service and wi-fi for work-aboard summer afternoons. "We're part of the tapestry of Detroit," says Farmer - 20th and 21st centuries, evidently. dyc.com; 313-824-1200.
Beverly Hills Club
There are lots of outdoor tennis courts around the area, but what do you do if it's raining, snowing or so windy that the ball won't even stay in the court? With six indoor courts, many players head to the BHC, on Southfield near 13 Mile Road in Beverly Hills. The BHC opens at 5:30 a.m., so you can get in a few sets before work. Well, how else do you expect to become the next Andy Roddick or Serena Williams? The club also offers tennis classes and private lessons, as well as the fun TGIF Tennis - which includes pizza, beverages and of course, tennis - on occasional Fridays throughout the year. beverlyhillsclub.net; 248-642-8500.
Whether you're looking to play craps, blackjack, poker, pai gow, slots or some other game of chance, you can find it here, frequently with pot-sweetening incentives - Craps for Cash, Roll for a Million Mondays. The Ilitch family's temple of fortune claims west-side downtown real estate, with plentiful parking, restaurants, Detroit-themed murals - look, there's Henry Ford gazing over the old hometown - and, if you cock an ear over the cacophony from the slots, funky music on the sound system. Flag down a cocktail waitress and take a seat. Dealer has an ace showing - you want insurance? motorcitycasino.com; 313-237-0711.
Things have improved at this iconic gallery since founder Rick Manore returned to manage his dream a little over a year ago. Easily recognizable by the distinctive metalwork of Alex Porbe on Woodward in Detroit. cpop.com, 313-833-9901.
John K. King Used & Rare Books
Book lovers know what it takes to make one sigh in contentment, and this Lafayette Boulevard institution has it all - quiet, selection and a staff knowledgeable about the contents of every nook and cranny on five floors. From bestsellers to local history to ephemera, this is your first stop, and likely your last. "It's like a great library, only you can buy the book," says Gregg Sutter, who works as novelist Elmore Leonard's researcher. Sutter often arrives at King with the sort of stump-the-staff problems that would defeat a lesser institution: "I needed a book on the meat industry [in the 1940s] recently, and found one called Meat and Man. If I need something, I always go there first. If you have all day, pack a lunch and explore." And if we don't see you by sundown, we'll send in search parties. rarebooklink.com; 313-961-0622.
The Somerset Collection
You know you're in a different kind of mall when Santa Claus sees children only by appointment, but that's part of what makes Somerset cool - it's a different kind of mall, a place worth visiting even if you don't buy anything. If your soul isn't consumed by envy, it can be fun to window-shop at Neiman Marcus. But note the range, too - Mom can buy earrings at Tiffany & Co., while her daughter can find something at Claire's; youcan get a hot dog in the food court or a lobster at the Capital Grille. And it all looks high-end, a retailing miracle. thesomersetcollection.com.
Once the domain of the sporting saloon crowd, bowling alleys are sparing no expense these days to woo families and teenagers. And locally, none does it better than this veritable indoor amusement park in Troy. A cool $750,000 was the price tag on Thunderbird's renovation in 2004, an overhaul that included MTV-esque video scoring systems and automatic bumpers on the lanes that can be raised to save your child - or you - from throwing a gutter ball. Plenty of money also was dropped on the glow-in-the-dark Rock and Bowl show. "We installed additional black lights over the lanes," says General Manager Bruce Heichel. "To add to the effect, we installed 12-foot-high screens over the lanes." Go. You'll have a ball. bowlthunderbird.com; 248-362-1660.
Tucked as it is on Lothrop Street behind the Fisher Theatre, and set in a 1920s home, Cuisine would snare this award based on location alone. But it's the performance of chef Paul Grosz that really has people cheering. Trained by famed chef Jean Banchet at Le Français near Chicago before doing a culinary tour in Paris, Grosz was already a star in the local dining scene (his résumé includes 10 years as executive chef at the Whitney) when he opened Cuisine with his brother in 2001. Since day one, his unique French-American menu has garnered rave reviews, including a Restaurant of the Year nod from the Detroit Free Press. It's also considered can't-miss for romance. cuisinedetroit.com; 313-872-5110.
Quaint it ain't. Community theater is a seriously entertaining business at Royal Oak's 391-seat Baldwin Theatre, the ornate and historic home of Stagecrafters. While anyone can be a star in the group's ambitious productions, kids also get a shot at stardom through the youth theater. Opened in 1922, the Baldwin Theatre was first home to vaudeville shows and silent movies. It was eventually condemned to be a second-run movie theater, until it was rescued by Stagecrafters and remodeled. stagecrafters.org; 248-541-8027.
Main Art Theater
A metro area the size of Detroit will have some art theaters, but how nice to have one in Royal Oak, close to restaurants and bars. You can have a real city movie date at the Main's three screens. Two for Brokeback Mountain, please. landmarktheatres.com; 248-777-3456.
It's technically called the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview, but it hardly needs an introduction. Metro Detroit's biggest party of the year - and one of America's largest fundraisers - happens every January at Cobo Center, when the area's elite gather to sip champagne and ogle one another's attire, along with the cars. naias.com.
The White Stripes
The curious couple known as the White Stripes and their stunning brand of made-in-Detroit minimalist rock arrived on the scene back in '97, and they've been pushing the limits ever since. Finding their roots in folk blues, '60s Britpop and Broadway tunes, the 2006 Grammy winners for best alternative band remain unmistakably modern, and overwhelmingly popular.
The Magic Bag
It hasn't been an easy road for entrepreneur Jeremy Haberman, who saw value in turning a Ferndale stage once used by showgirls into a live music hot spot. The 1990s had him singing the blues as he booked underappreciated blues bands, saved only by "Brew & View" movie specials to help pay the bills. But soon he won over Detroit's best homegrown talent and The Magic Bag became a hot spot for CD release events. Now savvy followers of underground music heed the roster, never knowing who might drop in. themagicbag.com, 248-544-3030.
In this era of text and instant messaging, this shop with locations in Royal Oak and Brighton reminds us there's beauty in the written word. For more than 15 years, Write Impressions has been the place to go for the finest stationery and greeting cards. If the names Crane, William Arthur and Mudlark ring a bell, you know what we're talking about. If not, get moving. Write Impressions also offers a wide selection of gifts, as well as embossing, printing and calligraphy services. Royal Oak, 248-541-8921; Brighton, 810-229-4150; writeimpressions-mi.com.
Arrangements from Blossoms, with their clean, spare vases, imaginative use of materials and attention to floral detail, could hardly be artier. Co-owners Norman Silk and Dale Morgan have been in Birmingham for 20 years, keeping up with trends in fashion, home styling and art. "It all intertwines," Silk says. The pair start with top-quality flowers and apply their own artistic impulses and imagination. What emerges is something like Blossoms' rose squares - a dozen roses cut off short in a squat cube, with grasses or stones in the water. Another favorite is the "city block" arrangement, bunchy knots of flowers arranged in a wide-mouth rectangular vase. It isn't easy being on the cutting edge. "Simple is hard to do," Silk says. But simple, by Blossoms, always looks fabulous. blossomsbirmingham.com, 888-820-6599.
The only souls who get a better view at dinnertime are the peregrine falcons who roost on skyscraper cliffs overlooking the city - and they have to eat pigeons. Coach Insignia has the menu of a high-end steak and chophouse overlooking Windsor, downtown and anything else you can see from the top of the Renaissance Center. Order some steak tartare, look down and play spot-the-freighter. Your date will also think you look better up here. 313-567-2622
In a perfect world, everyone would register for everything - not just weddings and new babies - and shopping of all sorts would be a breeze. Marshall Field's makes it so easy, you can buy for multiple brides and an expectant mother on a single lunch hour and still have time for lunch. While you're eating, the expert gift-wrappers will put hospital corners on just the right color of foil and add matching ribbon. You show up with a pretty box, smelling like a rose. Various locations, fields.com.
Plenty of locations, convenient parking and a selection that can't be topped - when you're just remembering you need to put a card for your mom's birthday in the mail today, these things can be a godsend. Birth or death, transition or illness, celebration or milestone, Hallmark has you covered. Various locations, hallmark.com.
Tiffany & Co.
Even if you took away all the little extras - the long history, the designs, the quality, the robin's-egg blue boxes and, of course, Audrey Hepburn and that cigarette holder - you're still left with the essence of Tiffany & Co. That is, one of the country's oldest jewelers, carrying the finest inventory, in styles that could sit next to a dictionary definition of "classic." If you're shopping for the most important jewelry of your life anywhere else, you're starring in the wrong movie. tiffany.com; 248-637-2800.
If the names Gabriela Artigas, Alex + Chloe, Thea Grant sound familiar, you've probably met Christine Burns (right), since she was selling the jewelry lines before they were trendy. "I get the most joy out of finding the new artists who are designing something spectacular," says the 31-year-old owner of this chic "lifestyle store" in Royal Oak. Indeed, jewelry occupies only a corner of the space on Washington Street, where shoppers are also mesmerized by modern home décor selections, including pillows, martini sets, fragrances and candles. Burns, who stocks more than 80 product lines, finds many of them by scouting shops and shows in New York and L.A. "That's where you find the up-and-comers, the people who are just starting out," she says. "That's how you stay ahead of the trends." shopshine.net; 248-414-5277.
Luigi Bruni Capelli Moderni & Bashar Salon
Their salons may be new, and certainly state-of-the-art, but the names on the door are both known and storied well beyond Birmingham. Luigi launched his career at Red The Salon but accrued such a following it necessitated a space of his own, which opened this year with such futuristic perks as laptops for guests to use while their hair is processing. Bashar Kallabat has established himself as a master of his art. His serene attitude is an inspiration to his staff - and more recently, he's become host to some of the city's best parties. luigibruni.com, 248-723-1500; basharinc.com, 248-540-2200.
This Ann Arbor salon is one of only a handful of Intercoiffure members in Michigan, and owner Charlie Adams is celebrated for her technique as a colorist - both important elements for a successful salon (even in a laid-back, Birkenstock-wearing college town such as this). Mix in the big, cozy pedicure chairs and high-end products, and a first-class experience is pretty much a head-to-toe promise. salonxl.com, 734-997-7030.
In serene downtown Plymouth sits an equally tranquil spot, Spa Julianna, on the site of what had been the old Mayflower Hotel. The sun-splashed lobby is as quiet as a church, the silence interrupted only by the sound of a gurgling fountain. From manicures and pedicures to more advanced treatments like Hydra-Quench facials and water massage therapy, this place has you covered from head to toe. Spa Julianna is airy, spacious and clean. But beware: The watermelon water is so delicious, you'll easily work up the thirst of a water buffalo. juliannaonline.com; 734-455-4445.
Detroit's Golden family pioneered the optical industry in 1946 when Dr. Donald L. Golden opened up shop downtown as one of only five optometrists in the country fitting contact lenses. Since then, he's recruited son Richard and grandson Seth into the biz, and they're busy making things happen all over town and nationwide. For this family, readers agree - everything they touch is, well, golden. docoptics.com.
Margot's European Day Spa
In the increasingly competitive spa business, using the word "European" may seem like a marketing gimmick. But not for this Birmingham oasis. Margot got her start in her native Heidelberg, Germany, and has been certified in France, Great Britain and Japan. For more than 20 years, she's soothed metro Detroiters with her world of knowledge. Warning: If you step into her full-service spa and sample one of eight body massages, you may not want to leave. Relax. It'll be okay. margots.com; 248-642-3770.
Head to Dearborn and you'll find, in a remarkably unassuming building on Michigan Avenue, next to the doctors' office who founded it, a most remarkable spa with an Eastern flair. Relatively new to the market, Om is as a refreshing oasis of tranquility. The doctors who oversee the staff and products approve all treatments, and the equipment is among the best we've found in Michigan. The Vichy shower bed is padded and lined in cozy terry. Even the music is individually selected with iPods, and the staff tip-toes around a beautifully appointed quiet room with so many goodies, you'll want to spend the day. omdayspa.com, 313-565-9686.
Whether you're looking to sweat or just be seen, Lifetime has mastered the art of creating a user-friendly and fun club for all. From kid's care to nutritional support, the club, in Canton, Novi, Commerce, Troy, Rochester Hills and Shelby Township, is designed to service the competitively obsessed or exercise newbie - and everyone in between. lifetimefitness.com.
Whether you need the basics, some work on your back or perhaps prenatal help, this favorite in Royal Oak has what you need to "om" your way to yogic peace. With 20 registered instructors teaching a variety of methods - including Ashtanga and Vinyasa - classes as low as $14, and lights on from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., you really have no excuse. namaste-yoga.net; 248-399-9642
Mayor of Detroit
When the first ballots came in, we thought it was a joke: If I could have any job, it would be mayor of Detroit. Yeah, good one. But then the votes kept coming. And coming. Finally, the only logical explanation hit us: Who doesn't want to hang in the Manoogian Mansion?
Whether you're eating on the east sideor the west, Dearborn or Detroit, you can always close the deal over fine northern Italian cuisine (and fine wine) at one of 10 area locations. andiamoitalia.com.
Talk to people who work at Compuware, and you don't know if they're describing an office building in downtown Detroit or one of those postmodern Silicon Valley campuses. The list of workplace perks includes, but is by no means limited to: first-class workout facilities with basketball and racquetball courts, running track, plus sauna/steam and massage; on-site daycare for infants as young as 6 weeks, with strong early-childhood development emphasis; an on-site doctor's office through the Detroit Medical Center, for both employees and the children in daycare; a cafeteria the peer of most restaurants; a corporate culture that encourages creativity, flextime and worker empowerment and discourages clock-watching; competitive pay and benefits. Oh, and they're installing a car wash in the parking deck soon. Are we forgetting anything? Probably. compuware.com; 313-227-7300.
Ford Motor Co.
The best logos cross cultural boundaries - hello, Coca-Cola - and work as well in Dubai as they do in Detroit. So it is with Ford's blue oval, which seems as contemporary as yesterday but hasn't changed much since 1927. That's when the Ford script first appeared on a field of blue, on the 1928 Model A, according to Ford Motor Co.'s corporate historian, Bob Kreipke. Since then, the oval has been elongated, gotten a bit more stylized, picked up some shading and soon will pick up some 3-D elements. But Henry Ford would still recognize it. That's a logo built Ford tough.
Rising 40 stories above Griswold Street, the Guardian Building downtown is one of the foremost examples of Art Deco architecture in the world. Wirt Rowland (of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls) - who also worked on Detroit's Buhl and Penobscot buildings - designed the Guardian, which opened as the Union Trust Co., in early 1929. It was the hub in Detroit's growing financial district. With its tangerine-colored brick, pink granite, terra-cotta accents and geometric tile-trimmed windows, this was a structure built to be noticed. A rainbow of Pewabic tiles greets visitors in the domed main Griswold entry, and the lobby is accented by stained-glass windows and a Rookwood tile barrel-vaulted ceiling in bright green, yellow, blue and red.
If you don't see Tiesheko Houston, owner of this funky store in Ferndale, amid the racks, don't be alarmed. She's likely in Germany or perhaps Hawaii, strutting on the runway as a model. Or she could be in L.A. or Miami scoping out the hottest fashion trends. "I look at other people and see what they're wearing," Houston says. As she crisscrosses the globe, she grabs only a few of what she likes so everything is one-of-a-kind and the selection is always fresh. She also doesn't stick to any particular brands. "It's about a style and a look, not the name," she says. 22626 Woodward; 248-547-3655.
Caruso Caruso & Rear Ends
With more than a half century of combined experience in the denim business, these two Oakland County shops are authorities on all things jeans. On a recent visit to Caruso Caruso (above) in Birmingham, we estimated 55 brands in men's, women's and children's jeans at Caruso Caruso - with lots of variety in cut, color and style within each category. The same goes for Rear Ends in West Bloomfield, which reports "a couple thousand jeans in stock" at any given time. Caruso Caruso, 248-645-5151; shoprearends.com, 248-626-4333.
Bellócchio Upscale Resale
Six years after former Hudson's employees Carol Dowling and Carolyn Joseph opened in Royal Oak, the somewhat addictive store keeps hitting "best of" charts around town - and with good reason. The partners serve as wardrobe consultants as they help well-to-do consigners weed through deep closets to bring barely worn stock to a store where treasures abound. bellocchioresale.com; 248-541-8025.
Why shop Tender? They scour the world for clothes you can't find anywhere else. And if they know you bought a dress for a specific event, they won't sell it to someone you'll see there. That's called "service." 217 W. Maple, Birmingham; 248-258-0212.
It's not just the staggering selection in this 11,000-square-foot showplace in West Bloomfield's Orchard Mall that puts it over the top. "We really focus on the high level of service we provide our customers," says Steven Tapper, vice president and general manager of the jeweler that's marking its 29th year of helping people "mark the moment." tappers.com; 248-932-7700
Whether you're looking for high-end European lace for the wedding night or a 36F bra that doesn't resemble a truss for a Holstein, you'll find it at Harp's. And you'll find something more - a sales staff that has seen every breast configuration under the sun, and has a bra to fit - with matching panties. The shop's soul is owner Elizabeth Harp (left), who has 58 years of experience. "I tell women, 'I'm not a plastic surgeon, but I can make you look better,'" she says. 265 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-642-2555.