Mmm… Johnny Cakes

Omar and I decided to grab a quick breakfast before jumping into another home project.  It seems that’s all we have had a chance to do lately! We decided to try Johnny Cakes Cafe’, in Troy on John R just South of Long Lake.  I had read reviews quite some time ago about the great breakfast, but this was the first chance we had to check it out.

The menu has an eclectic offering of really different breakfasts.  And if your name is Johnny Cakes, you assume they have a large selection of pancakes, which they did not disappoint. Yes I know Johnny Cakes are cornbread, but “cakes” make you think pancakes, so…. ranging from Lucky Charms pancakes (the special of the day) to red velvet, oreo, futopia and more! An interesting collection of Eggs Benedict, “shillets” and crepes, this place was a foodies wonderland.

Our waitress, Vickie was friendly, attentive and offered great suggestions. I ordered the Huevos Rancheros, to which Vickie suggested I put the Ranchero sauce on the side because it was hot – and let me tell you, Vickie did not lie!! Wooo Baby that was spicy!  Crispy hash browns, topped with oozy cheddar cheese, topped with freshly grilled corn tortillas, more melted cheese, all topped with two perfectly cooked over easy eggs. You cut into the eggs and the warm yolks just pour onto the crispy tortilla, and with the hash browns, a touch (just a touch!) of the Ranchero Sauce, and a bit of the sour cream and guacamole, gives a bite brimming with savory deliciousness. It was truly  a symphony of flavors.

Omar ordered the “2 and 2”. 2 eggs any style and 2 pancakes, any flavor AND hashbrowns.  Omar decided to try the peanut butter and nutella (pictured below) and the Resee’s Peanut Butter Cup. What he didn’t know were the pancakes were the size of  your head, we expected two small side pancakes, we didn’t expect the works of art that was brought to the table.  Vickie apologized that the chef accidentally made the peanut butter and nutella as pecan and nutella, she profusely apologized as our actual order would take a bit longer and asked that we take the “mistake” so it didn’t go to waste, humm OK, twist our arms!!

I am not kidding when I said the pancakes were a work of art, and delicious too. They were a bit of a sweet overload for breakfast. Almost seemed like desert pancakes if there is such a thing!

We also had to order the “homemade corned beef hash” on the side. Don’t judge our piggishness. Omar and I are corned beef hash snobs, and after making our own for so long have a hard time finding anything more than canned dog food out, but I digress. This corned beef hash was most definitely homemade. Tasty, but in our opinion needed more corned beef, and maybe some onions. But definitely in the running for best corned beef from a restaurant.

Look at that pancake below! Swirls of peanut butter and nutella in an edible masterpiece!

Our suggestion – go to Johnny Cakes. TODAY. OMG you won’t be disappointed.  The meals are a bit expensive but well worth it.  Our bill for two was about $30 but we feasted. And had leftovers.



One Night in Bangkok

Took my birthday honey to Mon Jin Lau in Troy for his birthday.  We wanted a nice outdoor patio but the weather was so hot. This summer was unusually hot!! We were both feeling like Asian food so we headed to Mon Jin Lau.  This post is entitled “One Night in Bangkok” because that was the name of the two dangerous martini’s I had that night.  Just two, but boy was my head pounding the next day.

We started going to Mon Jin Lau recently. It had been years since I had been there. We found the food a step up from the carryout places around us.  My go to chinese take out, Ho Wah is just ok.  I wish we had more options near to us.  The manager at Ho Wah can be, well lets say, abrasive. Funny thing about Mon Jin Lau, no matter what day, what time we go, when they ask if we have a reservation, and we say no, the answer is ALWAYS the same, “ok, we have table, but only if you can be out by 7” or 8 or 9, depends on what time we get there.  They seem to always give us an hour, hour and a half.

For dinner, we split a few dishes. Egg rolls, chicken fried rice, Marco Polo lo mein and Mongolian beef, spicy.  The egg rolls were hot and crispy, with just the right amount of filling.  The chicken fried rice flavorful.  The Marco Polo lo mein is a bit of a disappointment.  With lobster, Chicken, Bean Sprouts, Snow Peas, Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots, Water Chestnuts, Pan Fried Noodles you would think it would be bursting with flavor but it was underwhelming.  The Mongolian beef was tasty, but did not come with rice, presumably due to the crispy noodles in it.  I was happy to have the chicken fried rice.

As it was Omar’s birthday, Mon Jin Lau celebrates by making you wear a super creepy, probably cootie filled mask, and gives you a free sundae.  No singing, just the odd “out this mask on and we will take your picture” as you can see by our creepy mask pictures.

Wednesday night they also have this club called “Shanghai Wednesdays”. They have some techno dj come in and the most unusual people start arriving.  Girls in tiny dresses and spiked heels and guys in open collared shirts, unbuttoned for their hair and chains to show.  I have not experienced this portion of the evening, but looking at the crowd, I don’t have the wardrobe for it.

We will go back, and we recommend you try it.  The food is decent. Price not too outrageous.  We give it 6 spoons up out of 10.


Ye Old Detroit Burger Bar

Last Friday, Omar and I snuck out for a quick dinner, with a craving for a good burger and a new destination in mind, The Old Detroit Burger Bar, which took over the old Mr. B’s on Rochester Road in Troy. The website touts itself as “the best burger in town”. With a claim like that, we had to try it.
The walls of this restaurant are decorated with old pictures of iconic Detroit landmarks which tell a story of Detroit’s history along with widescreen TV’s and subtle lighting.
The menu incorporates many Michigan based companies, Vodka distilled from Ferndale, Beer from Kalamazoo and Birmingham, Faygo, Towne Club, wines from Traverse City, Better Made potato chips, Dearborn Brand and Wigley’s Meats.
The burgers come in baskets, branded with the company logo, juicy and delicious with a side of fries, waffle fries, onion rings or tater tots.
It was Wigley’s corned beef that first grabbed Omar’s attention. Omar ordered the “Ambassador” Burger. 1/2 lb perfectly cooked beef topped with Wigley’s corned beef, swiss cheese and Thousand Island Dressing. The burger was juicy, although Omar said could use a bit more seasoning.
I stuck with the standard Old Detroit Classic, a 1/2 lb Angus burger to which I added bacon and cheddar cheese. My burger was amaze-balls. Juicy, flavorful and huge!! I could only manage to eat half of the monster!!
Both Omar and I agreed that the sides were good, not great. I ordered the tater tots, because, really when do I ever eat tots? I expected them for some reason to be extraordinary. They were just tater tots. Nothing more, nothing less. Omar’s waffle fries were the same. Just your run of the mill waffle fries.
They had a decent selection of Michigan Beers. I ordered my usual Vanilla Java Porter. Cold and frosty as usual.
If you are feeling adventurous, try the I-75 burger. A 2 lb $25 burger topped with grilled onions and jalapenos. Finish the burger and you get your picture taken and placed on the “wall of fame”. As Omar and I didn’t want our picture to appear in the news with caption “gluttonous couple eats themselves to death” we did not order it.
We were sat quickly, our waitress was attentive and our beer and food came out very quick. Overall, a great experience and we will go back!! Forks up to this one!!

Joe Kools Not So Cool

It was my Dad’s birthday and my brother and I were taking my Dad out to dinner. Looking for somewhere close to home and we could get a beer we decided on Joe Kools. My original suggestion was Big Beaver Tavern and I was sadly surprised to find they closed. Not sure what happened to that restaurant.

Now Omar and I go to Joe Kools occasionally, but I honestly don’t know why. Although they have a large and eclectic beer selection, the food is usually mediocre and you are always bombarded with fruit flies. Never matters what season, or where you are sitting, you always have fruit flies buzzing around.

This night was no different. It took forever to get our waitress to even take our drink order. Once she finally came with our drinks, my nephews Root Beer, which came without ice, had a fruit fly floating in it. Pretty typical for Joe Kools. I drank about an inch of my beer before I saw the lovely red lip stick on the glass, which would have been ok if I was wearing lipstick. Gross. First rule of bar-keeping – check your glasses before you fill them. I don’t want other peoples lip prints on my glass.

It was almost impossible to get our waitress to bring us new drinks. I asked of they could spring for some ice for the Root Beer, but again came back sans ice. Guess their must be a terrible ice shortage that evening.

Our food was incredible. Incredible at just how underwhelming it was. I ordered a Avocado turkey wrap which I substituted with grilled chicken. It was supposed to come on white lawish bread, but they substituted wheat, which was dry and crumbly and made my sandwich completely fall apart. I could barely eat it, and it was somewhat inedible, so I just ate some of the insides.

My dads buffalo chicken wrap was pretty much the same, although he complained far less than I did. My brother said his tacos were ok, and my nephews chicken tender meal, well what can you say about a kids meal, it was deep fried mediocrity.

I really don’t know why we go back. Maybe it is about convenience. I am not sure how many fruit flies I have actually consumed in those visits, probably a lot. I think I will think twice about returning.

El Restaurante Lucha

Last night Omar and I went out to dinner and I had a hankering for Mexican Food.  Although we typically just go to El Patio, since it is just across the street, and great food & service (check out my prior post here) I was really craving the fluffy tacos from El Charro.  Feeling lazy however, I did not feel like driving all the way to Fraser to eat. By the time Omar gets home from work and we get to eat, it is almost 8 p.m.  I did not feel like the adventure of a Fraser road trip.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was an El Charro now right in our own back yard!! The old Arby’s at 16 1/2 and Rochester was converted to an El Charro, turns out in 2011!  Where have I been? Geeze, I guess I haven’t been paying attention.

So, yes I cheated on El Patio and we tried El Charro for comparison.  Compare I shall do.  First, the restaurant is clean, fairly small, and does have the feel of the old Arby’s.  Even kept its drive through if anyone wants a carry out!  The immediate difference is the wait staff (and presumably kitchen staff) are all young college looking kids.  Not like the authentic Mexican waiters at El Patio, with their thick Spanish accents.

They brought out a small basket of chips.  Just chips, nothing special.  El Patio wins hands down on the chips portion of this comparison.  El Patio brings out heaping baskets of warm, crisp salty chips.  El Charro I thinks dumps some out of a store bought bag, not sure, but that is what it appeared to be.

They brought out two kinds of salsa’s, both medium.  Just different consistencies.  When askTomatillo_01_croppeded for hotter they brought out two more. A red hot salsa that Omar said was “pretty hot” and a green tomatillo sauce, that has a nice flavor and heat. (FYI: The tomatillo, also known as the Mexican husk tomato, is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. A staple of Mexican cuisine, they are eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, particularly salsa verde. Here is a picture – you probably saw them at the store and wondered what they were.)  In my opinion, El Charro has my vote for best salsa.

We both ordered the combo platter that included their famous soft, fluffy, corn taco, a meat and bean tostada, enchilada, burrito, rich and beans.  We of course both started with the taco.  The taco itself is so interesting.  Kind of a cross of corn bread, corn tortilla and a cider mill doughnut.  I say the latter since it has that crispy fried outside, and tender, soft inside.  The shell makes the taco.  The meat and toppings inside are really not the star, and are just barely seasoned.  As Omar always says, Mexican food is really not very exciting.  Seasoned meat, some beans and some things to hold them.  The rest of the combo platter really is like most other places.  The food is plentiful for sure, as we both took both enchilada and burrito, along with the rice and beans home for lunch today.  Once you get beyond the taco, frankly, El Patio is superior.  The food and atmosphere are both more authentic and it is actually cheaper.

Bottom line, I would go again, especially when craving that taco which I sometimes do.  But in most cases, I will just stick with El Patio, which is my opinion is the clear winner.

I know it’s Fattoush, But Here is Another La Saj Review

I must explain a couple things.

Omar’s family has an “inside joke” than when someone says something “Fattoush” it means a repetitive story. As I apparently like to tell stories over and over again, I hear almost daily from Omar, “I know, Fattoush!”  I have now adopted this term into my vocabulary, so Fattoush has a different meaning for us all together.

Next, I know we reviewed La Saj in the past in this blog, we felt necessary and the polite thing to do, to review the new La Saj that just opened in Troy, at 15 1/2 and Crooks.

We had a rather large group meet Friday night (there was 14 of us). When I made reservations, they were friendly, helpful and eager to host our group (unlike another local restaurant **cough cough** Parrot Cove  **cough cough**).  When we arrived, the new restaurant was beautiful, tastefully decorated, with a knowledgeable and helpful staff ready to assist us.  Our table was waiting, and we had waitstaff immediately bringing water, bread and that delicious garlic dip.

The food was the same quality and taste we had come to expect from the Sterling Heights location. Being new, they don’t seem to have problems with those stumbling blocks of having continuity in your cooking, and service. How many times have we gone to the same restaurant, different location, where food was different, and just wasn’t as good as the original? Not the case here.

You really just can’t beat the dinner for two.  It comes with a sampling of everything you could want. Start off with a delicious lentil soup or salad, upgrade to fattoush for an additional cost, or be like me, and get fattoush dressing on your tossed salad – no upgrade cost and all that’s missing is the pita chips. Then you get baba ganoush (a smoked eggplant spread), hummus (regular or spicy, a chickpea spread), tabbouleh (parsley salad), beef or lamb kabob, chicken kabob, saji kafta (ground lamb with spices, skewered & grilled), fried kibbe (ground beef with spices, fried in a dough in a football shape), falafel (fried chick peas) and grape leaves (ground lamb or beef, rice and spices wrapped in grape leaves).  What more could you need?

I was not feeling very hungry, so I ordered a regular dinner and Omar wanted Raw Kibbee (gross, raw lamb and bulgar wheat, seasoned, yes, but no thank you. For all you raw meat lovers, Omar said it was really good). The combo for two is such a great deal that our friends bill with all that food was the same as ours with one entree and one appetizer.

We have said it before and we will say it again (I know, that’s Fattoush!! LOL) La Saj is a place to go when craving Middle Eastern Food.  Now that we have one so close, we will be back.

Keep in mind though, the Troy location is patiently awaiting their liquor license.  We were terribly disappointed when informed it would be a booze free evening.  In a couple months though, they will be good to go. In the meantime, have a cocktail first, and go for some exceptional food.

Thanks to all our friends joining us: Maria, Andy, Natalie, Colin, Kevin, Sherry, Karen, Mike, Sarah, Lisa, Laura and Ken! Happy to see you all. It has been far too long.



Merry Making, Memorial and Menudo?

Saturday Night we went to El Patio’s in Troy to have a dinner in honor of Lila Seaman’s birthday.  Lila was Omar’s sister, who passed away last year after a long battle with breast cancer.  Lila was a remarkable woman who graciousness and generosity touched the hearts of all who knew her.  She had a way of bringing out the best in everyone.  I am very fortunate to have gotten to know her before she was taken away, far too soon.  We had a great dinner, laughing, talking and feeling like Lila was there with us.  We we joined by  Omar’s parents, who graciously hosted the event, Omar’s kids, Lila’s daughter, Lila’s sister in laws, in-laws and special friends.

As this is a restaurant review blog, I guess I need to get to the reason of the blog.  The food.  El Patio opened in Troy I believe in 2012. We were happy to see a new restaurant open up close to home. El Patio is just rich with authentic, tasty, affordable Mexican fare.  They bring you baskets of fresh, hot, crispy tortilla chips and a very tasty salsa. Be careful though, their hot salsa is HOT.  Even for Omar.  I dare not even try it.  I recommend the cheese dip too.  A very simple white cheese dip, but very good with the chips. What I would avoid is the guacamole.  Obviously not made from scratch, this “pre-packaged” green monstrosity is not guacamole.  When it doesn’t brown, turn it down!!! Ha good rule of thumb for guacamole.

I must say, I don’t veer off far from my standard “create your own combo”.  How can you go wrong with 3 items of your choice, rice AND beans??  My go to – beef taco, chicken burrito and beef burrito.  Yumm. Omar is not as stuck in his ways as I am. He has sampled the Enchilada’s Verde, a variety of combination plates (there are many) and his favorite, the Special Dinner which includes – are you sitting down? A Chalupa, a taco, an enchilada, a chile relleno, a tamale and ric and beans!! You can seriously split this meal with a friend.

This night however, I did take a walk on the wild side and ordered the fGRand Burito Fajita, with steak.  It was flavorful and so filling!

Feeling adventurous? They even have Menudo Soup.  No, not named after the delightful Puerto Rican Band of the 70’s, but a traditional Mexican soup made with beef tripe (which for the faint of heart is beef stomach lining).

El Patio is one of our go to places.  They are fast, efficient, food always good and staff eager to please. There have been many restaurants in this spot, and I hope this one fares better than the rest and lasts!!

Let me tell you what’s at steak.

I took my beautiful Jen out to Mortons steak house last night for her birthday.  We have been there several times before, usually for corporate parties and always enjoyed ourselves.  We were seated promptly and the server came over right away with bread and water.  Jen ordered a Mojito which she said was good but a little too sweet (kinda like me). I ordered something called the last word.  This was a concoction of three different alcohols, that was pink and served in a stemmed glass that little girls would use for a tea party with their stuffed animals. Had I known this no way would I have got this drink!

The loaf of bread served was hot and fresh and oniony, like a larger lighter Kaiser roll. Very tasty.  Jen and I both ordered off the summer special menu.  This allows for an entree, a salad, a side and a dessert.  Jen and I each ordered a house salad, a 6 oz. filet and Key Lime pie for dessert.  Our only differences, were in the potato dishes. Jen ordered sour cream mashed and I ordered Lyonnaisse potatoes. Jen ordered her steak mid rare and I ordered mine rare.  We also upgraded our steaks Oscar style (topped with asparagus, lump crab in a Bearnaise sauce).

The salads were large but rather un-inspired, just lettuce some crumbled egg with dressing. That’s it, no wow factor here.  The potatoes were just ok, nothing special.  Lyonnaise is just a fancy way of saying spuds sauteed with onions. The sour cream mash was better, but if your gonna charge people 13 dollars for potatoes when ordered a-la carte, they should be special.  These were not. Now for the steaks.

Both of our steaks were super tender, juicy and cooked perfectly, nothing but praise from both of us.  The Oscar topping was equally delicious, except for a tiny bit of cartilage in Jens, otherwise very good. Dessert is a mixed review, I really enjoyed it but Hot Jen felt that the crust on the pie was burned.  I did not. I thought it was good, although Bahama Breeze has a better key lime pie I enjoyed eating Jens’ dessert as well.

Look, I know places like these are expensive, and I don’t mind dropping serious coin on a super stellar meal, however this was only good, not great. I like Mortons and I will go back, but as of my most recent experience, Ruths Chris is a better steak house.  One more word, when ordering a cocktail, be careful, bartenders are trying to get to fancy and sometimes the drink doesn’t work.  That’s why my next drink was a Martini which Morton’s makes very well.


Fondue or don’t, well maybe.

It was my baby girl’s 20th birthday and Allison wanted to go to the Melting Pot in Troy for dinner. I went to the bank, took out a second mortgage on the house, and prepared for our visit.  Kidding, but dang, it is expensive. So let me begin by saying find a coupon. Or check the website for specials.  This night out is crazy expensive and you have to do it right. Thanks a bunch to Maria Slawick who graciously gave me her Entertainment Book coupon. That saved my $25!!

The menu basically covers 4 courses. A cheese fondue course, with a variety of different cheese selections. Second, a salad course, with I think a variety of 4 different salads (and to answer a questions posed to me when telling this story previously, no, you do NOT dip your salad into anything hot!) Third, a main meat course, which offers ample selections for all you meat lovers out there.  Fourth and finally, and my favorite, the dessert course, which is a decadent chocolate fondue. You can order each course a la carte or  you can order as a four course meal, which really is the best value.  The four course meals range from about $39 to upwards of $48 depending on the type of meat you choose. Now we learned that we could split the meat course on 2 four course meals and I would only be required to add an extra cheese and extra dessert (I opted against salad) this method saved us $20 as well, so consider it when you go – there is a LOT of food. Especially for 3 girls who don’t eat a ton.

We ordered our drinks, Jamie a basil infused strawberry lemonade made with strawberry vodka, and me, my standard Mojito.  After what seemed an enormous wait, they came back to say no basil, so what was her option. As I didn’t even get my mojito yet, Jamie said she would try mine before ordering. After another LOOONG wait, I got my mojito, or should I say my mint salad with rum dressing!  The drink was OK, kind of weak, but had so much mint in it it seemed more a salad than a drink. I had trouble even sipping through a straw. Jamie liked it, and ordered the Lemon Berry Mojito, which I think was better, since it was sans mint. 20 minutes later she was finally enjoying her cocktail.

We started with Quattro Formaggio, which was Butterkäse and fontina cheeses, roasted garlic, basil and tomato pestos, mozzarella and Parmesan.  They brought apples, carrots and cauliflower and a variety of breads for dipping.  The bread was a wee bit stale, but the cheese was tasty.

As I said, I skipped the salad course, but Allison got the house salad, which was a basic salad with Peppercorn Ranch and Jamie a Caesar salad.  The interesting thing about  the Caeser was it was topped with Parmesan encrusted pine nuts, which Jamie enjoyed, but for me, seemed out of place.

Our meat course we split the Classic, with Certified Angus Beef sirloin, pork tenderloin, Pacific white shrimp, herb crusted all-natural breast of chicken and teriyaki marinated sirloin. We added more steak with the Steak Lovers which included Premium Filet Mignon, teriyaki-marinated sirloin and Certified Angus Beef sirloin.  The meats were tender and well seasoned.  My favorite was the Filet, which had a peppery rub and super tender. The meat course also comes with potatoes, and veggies to cook as well.

Our broth however, the classic court bouillon, as we began was not quite hot enough.  We were cooking our meat longer than suggested, and it still wasn’t cooked.  A little worrisome when dealing with chicken and pork.  It quickly rose to temperature and we were on our way!!  We did pretty good, but even splitting the 2 meat courses, we still couldn’t finish it all. At the end of the meat course we were all stuffed.  Good thing they take a TON of time in between courses so you can get hungry again, well at least not stuffed beyond comprehension.

For desert, Allison got a special Happy Birthday plate with a chocolate covered strawberry and a candle.  They said they would bring her a champagne toast NEXT year when she was all legal like.  We ordered the S’mores fondue with chocolate, flambeed marshmallows, and graham cracker stir ins.  With that, we got  plates full of brownies, marshmallows, fruit, pound cake, rice crispy treats and more for dipping.  We were so full!!

Overall, we were there over 3 hours.  It is an adventure, not just a meal.  Plan on a long leisurely meal and don’t go when you are in a hurry.  The food is good, not exceptional, but the cook your own fondue is different and could be very romantic.  Keep in mind though, due to cooking at the table, you will walk away with your clothes and hair smelling like chicken soup!! Should you go? I would say that it is a special occasion type experience everyone should do at least once.  It falls into that dinner and a show category like the Brazilian type steakhouses, or Hibachi.  We had fun, and did not leave hungry that’s for sure. Hence my title, Fondue or don’t it is really up to you!! Happy birthday Allison!!