Food

By Sherry Wells
Photos by David McNair

I FIRST MET DEAN BACH, AKA “DINO” OF DINO’S LOUNGE, when he personally delivered food he was donating to the Relay for Life Survivors & Caregivers Tent as part of his efforts to give back to the community. As a bar owner, I expected he’d still be in bed after working into the wee hours. I was a member of the Ferndale Rotary Club at the time, which sponsored the tent. Dino also provided food for a Rotary fundraising dinner, personally bringing it too.

As did Michael Hennes, owner of Howe’s Bayou. Mike rushed in, wearing a long, starched-white apron that covered him from neck to almost ankles. He was there to see whether more of his entree was needed.

BOTH BACH AND HENNES HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH FERNDALE’S DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY for over ten years, with Bach becoming chair in 2015. Hennes has also served on city committees and task forces.

For the last several years, Hennes has not only donated the entire dinner for the Peace Action annual Peace Builders Award banquet, he and his partner, Patricia Barker, have been personally serving it as well.
Hennes also merits a nod for keeping some of Ferndale’s familiar streetpersons busy and fed, with odd jobs to earn a meal.

I learned that Hennes visits New Orleans once or twice a year to stay current on the cuisine. Any excuse will do!

Dino’s introduced me to grilled corn on the cob. Yum! The grill master that day was Dino himself. I told him how much I admired his community involvement.

“Well, my CPA keeps telling me I overdo it,” he shrugged.

Yet he hasn’t seemed to have cut back. Wounded Warriors has been high on his list, informing the public himself about the need. Dino has provided space for non-profit events in his second local spot, the M-Brew, including in the lower video arcade room. Both have provided cosponsorships and gift certificates for fundraisers.

MY THIRD FAVORITE FERNDALE BAR OWNER IS JEFF KING OF THE IMPERIAL and Public House. I frequently walk by the back of his Public House and noticed that recorded music playing in their patio could only be heard when I was within five feet at most of its perimeters. I walked in to tell him or a manager how much I appreciated that. “He gave us strict orders to keep the music level down so it can be heard only in the patio,” his bookkeeper told me. Rex, his manager at the Imperial, said music is to be “Enjoyed, not overheard” by customers and neighbors.

Jeff recently chose the Disabled American Veterans to benefit from one of his many “ten percent of the day’s proceeds” events. Although local organizations are his priority, his annual Cinco de Mayo Skateboard Auction has aided hurricane relief for Mexico and Puerto Rico.

His next idea is Twelve Days of Christmas, starting December 12, with each of 12 beers – at Public House, or 12 cocktails – at The Imperial, representing a different charity and $1 a drink going to that charity.

These three members of our community set the bar and keep raising it for good business blended with community involvement.

By Ingrid Sjostrand

DR. JOEL KAHN WANTS TO HELP PEOPLE EAT BETTER. He’s dedicated nearly 30 years to spreading the importance of a plant-based diet and has been practicing what he preaches for even longer.

A cardiologist by day and restauranteur by night, Kahn has been vegan since college. A combination of necessity from trying to find Kosher foods around the campus of the University of Michigan and his mother’s cooking style at home led to him eating fully plant-based for nearly ten years before starting his career. Naturally, he began incorporating nutrition into his practice.

“I started teaching every patient that we can do a bypass and I can do stents, but they could get out of this pickle they are in…by eating pickles,” Kahn says. “I’m fortunate that I had something to offer people, which was prevention, and the opportunity to get off medication and avoid operations.”
Kahn calls this practice “inter-preventional cardiology” – a twist on the standard interventional practice of treatment.

“WHAT I FOUND REALLY INTERESTING WAS IN MY 30 OR 40 MINUTES with a patient during a procedure I had a great opportunity to teach them how to never come back. That was the best and most effective time. I started talking about diet, sleep and fitness and a lot of them made some really significant changes,” Kahn says. “So I came up with this word, I can do interventional cardiology like other cardiologists. But I really want you to never be here again because you’ve learned the tricks of a healthy lifestyle, and eating is the biggest one.”

Outside of his practice, Kahn has worked to make healthier, plant-based food more accessible to more people. He’s written five books and is about to publish his sixth in 2020. He also teaches at both Wayne State University and Oakland University, but one of the biggest ways he’s done this is through his restaurant, GreenSpace Cafe, which he opened in 2015 with his son Daniel. Located at 215 W Nine Mile Rd, GreenSpace’s menu is locally-sourced and free of GMOs, processed foods, fryers, microwaves and animal products.

KAHN SAYS. “WE’VE TRIED VERY HARD TO EMPHASIZE REAL FOOD, old food, healing food. This is certainly not a medical clinic, but you can create great food and great-tasting food from real ingredients without processed chemicals.” The menu changes based on ingredients available seasonally. Another unique attribute of Greenspace compared to other local vegan restaurants is that they have a full bar. They regularly host events ranging from plant-based breakfast for dinner, staying healthy during the holidays to a presentation of a vegan bellydancing troupe.

“It’s been an amazing ride. I’m here most nights, Daniel is here most days, my wife is here a lot and we’ve served over 500,000 meals,” Kahn says. “We want to make sure everyone who comes here has some comfortable options to eat. We have seen so many people that have never been in a restaurant with plant-based options, and that’s been really great.”

IN 2018, THEY EXPANDED THE BRAND and opened Greenspace-And-Go in Royal Oak: a fast-casual space with dine-in, carry out and catering and a completely different menu cooked almost entirely without oil.
“You can’t help but notice around the country in the last couple of years that people are starting to be more conscious of what they are eating. I don’t know if anyone would have predicted that mainstream America is trying plant-based substitutes,” Kahn says.

“Very honestly, I don’t need to be in the restaurant business, I want to be in the restaurant business. We’re proud to have survived in a tough industry for four years and plan to be here for many more; we welcome everyone to come in just once or every night.”

How to take the first steps to change your eating:

1. “Decrease the garbage because it’s bad for you and have awareness of what you are putting into your body. Realize that food is medicine and bad food can be poison. Most people aren’t really thinking as they eat a meal ‘is this promoting my health so I don’t have to take medication or have surgery?”

2. “Increase the good stuff, I like Meatless Monday for people that are starting. Start with one day a week where you have a smoothie or oatmeal or skip breakfast, bring a salad to lunch that is loaded with protein or beans and peas and carrots and maybe a little cubed tofu, make it bulky and find a way to make a cheeseless pizza at home and add every vegetable in the world.”

3. “Get rid of dairy seven days a week – ‘Dairy is scary,’ as we say. Dairy causes acne, bloating, gas issues, stuffy nose.”

Dr. Kahn recommends two documentaries • Forks Over Knives/Netflix • Game Changers – Netflix

By Jill Lorie Hurst

Just when I thought I’d met every brilliant human who lives in the 48220, Ferndale Friends sent me to learn all about Rachel Engel: homesteader, permaculture consultant, perfume and candle maker, winner of the Ferndale Beautification Award, urban farmer, ecologist. Engel is one of the founders of the Ferndale Seed Library. She holds workshops for people interested in leading a zero-waste lifestyle.

Rachel is also warm, funny, empathetic and very gracious. Seconds after arriving at her Ferndale home on a snowy morning, I was seated in a big, comfy chair with a blanket tucked around my shoulders, terrier Teddy in my lap, immediately, dangerously comfortable. Rachel: “It’s important to be cozy and have your basic needs met. Celebrate your day-to-day.” She celebrates with husband/partner Brian, eleven-year-old daughter Terra and a growing group of animals that include Wyandotte chickens, “big, fat heirloom chickens who love the cold.”

Born into a military family, Rachel moved over 35 times as a child. She found Ferndale as a grownup, and met Brian just as she was leaving for a great job in Chicago. She left. And then returned. They’ve been growing a life together ever since.

The “growing” started when she wondered if he’d mind getting rid of the front lawn! I expressed interest and confessed a lack of skills. “Failure is all part of the process. Fail – you have compost. Things will grow better next year. Just get roots into the soil.”

RACHEL ADVISES STARTING WITH AN HERB SPIRAL. Easy to grow fruits and vegetables? She recommended garlic, chives, Asian pears, persimmons, arugula. Divide your yard into zones. Grow the things you use most in the zone closest to your house. Think small. Make long-term goals.

Rachel has two goals these days. One is design-ing permacultures for others. “Helping people become guardians of their own land. Each garden is diverse and unique. It’s based on following the sunlight paired with water and energy conservation by focusing on perennial food production and inviting natural ecological systems to do the work.”

Second, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which Rachel calls a “deep-hearted endeavor.” They deliver fresh, seasonal produce to lucky customers on a regular basis. Food is harvested an hour before delivery!

We discussed the idea of a CSA on every block. What’s a CSA? Each household grows different things to share with the neighborhood. “We can shrink our carbon footprint and increase our nutrition by becoming ‘hyper-local.’” Rachel is passionate. “The best legacy we can leave future generations is good soil.”

HER DAUGHTER TERRA ON GROWING UP in a permaculture homestead: “My favorite part is being able to go into the yard and being able to eat so many yummy veggies and plants. The hardest part is maintaining it, but it’s definitely worth it. And it matters because we are going through a global crisis and growing our own food helps the Earth in many ways. Also, growing up on an urban farm is so much fun because of being able to play with the animals and make many things and eat many things with the plants.”

On the walk home I thought about an herb spiral, the arugula we can grow, the clover and wildflowers that’ll replace the grass in our front yard. Up until now I’ve left the gardening to my husband, but Rachel has made me unafraid to fail! A great teacher inspires you to dig in. Explore. Set goals that work for you.

Rachel Engel moved more than 35 times as a kid. It was hard to put down roots. Rachel dreams of picking an apple off a tree she planted herself. Hopefully she’ll pick that apple right here in Ferndale.

By Lisa Howard

SINCE 1990, YAD EZRA (OR “HELPING HAND” IN HEBREW) HAS BEEN PROVIDING KOSHER GROCERIES TO LOW-INCOME JEWISH FAMILIES IN THE COMMUNITY. While there are other food pantries in the area, Yad Ezra is the only kosher pantry.

But that’s not the only thing that makes them different — they also offer a choice pantry, which is to say that clients can choose which items they want from a shopping list of options ranging from dry staples like canned fish and whole-grain pasta to whole chickens and fresh produce. “We’re unique in that we purchase much of the food we distribute rather than just relying on donated foods,” says Lea Luger, the Executive Director of Yad Ezra. “Because of that, we have a bigger variety to offer clients.” They serve about 1,250 families each month and distribute over a million pounds of food every year. In addition, they provide clients with non-food essentials like toilet paper, diapers, and household cleaning items.

With only six people on staff, Yad Ezra depends heavily on volunteers to keep the pantry running smoothly. Fortunately, they have a core group of 125 to 150 volunteers who are willing to help out, whether that’s delivering food to homebound clients or sitting down with clients to review the menu and make sure they’re maximizing the points they’re allotted. (Yad Ezra gives each client a certain amount of points to spend based on their family size.)

Yad Ezra is a supplemental pantry, meaning that they assume clients have other means of financial support, such as SNAP benefits. Still, most clients find that their monthly visit is equivalent to about three weeks of groceries. “There’s a misconception that if you live in a certain area or are of a certain religion or ethnicity or demographic, no one in that community is low-income, and that’s not true,” Lea says. “Hunger is everywhere. But food insecurity is not like homelessness — you don’t see it. It’s hidden.”

Although Yad Ezra is a kosher food pantry, says Lea, because they care about the hunger issue in general, they go out of their way to address food insecurity in the greater community. She and her staffers work with fellow organizations like Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest to make sure that all donated food items are given to someone in need. If Yad Ezra receives donated food that isn’t kosher, for instance, they give it to those fellow organizations so that they can distribute the food to the greater community.

Yad Ezra also advocates for Metro-Detroit programs that focus on food, including programs like Do It 4 Detroit, a micro-grant program that supports grassroots organizations addressing hunger or food justice issues in Detroit, Highland Park, and/or Hamtramck. This year, Yad Ezra was able to secure grant money that is allocated directly to Do It 4 Detroit. They also participate in the Crop Hunger Walk and 24 Hour Food Stamp Challenge every year.

ANOTHER ASPECT OF YAD EZRA’S MISSION IS TO PROVIDE COMMUNITY EDUCATION, particularly for youth. Four years ago, they were able to expand their Giving Gardens and hire a master gardener to oversee the gardens, allowing them to host agricultural workshops for both youth and adults. (Most of the harvest also goes to their clients.) Helping with the gardens, hosting food drives at schools, and participating in food drives at synagogues are all ways Lea would love to see more youth get involved as volunteers.

And, she points out, it’s important to stay involved. “This is the time of year when people start thinking about Thanksgiving and call us wanting to donate a turkey dinner,” she says. “Awareness is high at this time of year. That’s fantastic! But the truth of the matter is that hunger is a year-round issue. Do a food drive in May or June, when the need is just as great — hunger doesn’t go on vacation.”

www.yadezra.org | 248.548.3663

Story: Ingrid Sjostrand | Photos: David McNair

THERE MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER – or the food – that makes Berkley restaurants flourish. For a city of only 2.6 square miles it’s unusual to have so many successful restaurants, but the local eateries continue to defy the odds.

Two restaurants in particular have thrived in Berkley: Crispelli’s and Bagger Dave’s. Both source local product for their food, focus on adapting to their customer needs and have expanded to multiple locations due to their success in Berkley.

CRISPELLI’S

CRISPELLI’S, LOCATED AT 28939 WOODWARD AVE, has felt the support of city residents from the minute they opened their doors. Director of Operations Ron Nussbaum shares the story of their opening in February 2012.

“We had paper up in all the windows, we took it down at 4:30 P.M., and by 5:15 P.M. we had a wait – all we did was take the paper off,” he says. “We’re thinking ‘if someone comes in we can practice,’ but it turned into chaos within minutes. We thought no one would notice, but the first couple tables came in and started calling friends, telling them we were open.”

The fast-casual restaurant is best known for its gourmet pizza, but they also specialize in Italian classics and fresh-made artisanal bread. The style of “fast-casual” is somewhat unique to the area, allowing guests to order and watch their pizza made in front of them.

THE FAST-CASUAL PART REALLY SET US APART. And the speed – we still try to get food out in five minutes,” Nussbaum says. “When you order, by the time you’re done paying your pizza is almost ready. It’s good food, made from scratch in under five minutes.”

Due to the continued success of the Berkley location, the Crispelli’s brand has grown into a bakery in Royal Oak, restaurants in West Bloomfield and Troy, a food truck that made its first appearance at Berkley Street Art Fest this past summer and a new location in Clarkston, set to open in October 2020. All of this expansion hasn’t slowed the Berkley location one bit.

“This store continues to grow and it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Nussbaum says. “Restaurants don’t grow for seven or eight years straight; it just isn’t normal. Every day I find someone that says they have never been here before.”

(248) 591-3300 | 28939 Woodward Ave, Berkley Sun 11a-9p | Mon-Thur 11a-10p | Fri-Sat 11a-11p

BAGGER DAVE’S

ORIGINALLY STARTED AS A FRANCHISEE OF BUFFALO WILD WINGS IN 2008, Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern has matured into a restaurant truly focused on customer satisfaction. From where they source their food to the daily specials and discounts, Regional Managing Partner Aaron Van Kuren says it’s evolved into a much different experience.

“Three to four years ago we stabilized the menu, did some different things with our main items, expanded shareables, signature burgers and craft cocktails, and have gotten really good feedback,” he says. “Our mission statement is ‘Making regulars,’ and it’s really all about making every guest feel welcome.”

Located at 2972 Coolidge Hwy, one of the main ways Bagger Dave’s works to keep patrons coming back are their menu specials. On top of monthly specials like “buy-one-get-one burgers” and “two for $10 appetizers,” there are also everyday deals throughout the week. Matt Blankenship, owner/operator of the Berkley location, details some below.

“We have daily specials, like our $6.95 Great American cheeseburger Tuesday, and kids meals are half off on Wednesdays and Sundays,” Blankenship says. “Thursdays are all-day happy hour – we have a really aggressively-priced happy- hour menu. We have something pretty much every day.”

EVEN WITH DAILY DISCOUNTED PRICES, Bagger Dave’s doesn’t skimp on quality. Their ingredients are locally-sourced and fresh, including turkey burgers brought in from Grand Rapids.

“We don’t have walk-in freezers. We prep every day, we make our own sauces, we have local craft sodas, local draft beer,” Blankenship says. “I think that’s what separates us. We’re more local and in tune. We want to be the neighborhood go-to restaurant.”

“Eighty to 85 percent of the menu we get is from Michigan or the Midwest. We want to support the community by not only buying the products in the area but being one of those places that people want to go to get something fresh,” Van Kuren adds.

Bagger Dave’s has grown to include eight restaurants across the Midwest with five locations in Michigan, two in Ohio and one in Indiana. Although they’ve grown, they haven’t forgotten where they came from and appreciate the Berkley community, even offering discounts to local businesses.

“It’s a very tight-knit community. We’re just a small piece of the pie here and we enjoy taking part in it,” Van Kuren says. “It’s a very diverse area. We love each and every person that comes in.”

(248) 543-3283 | 2972 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley Sun-Tues 11a-10p | Wed-Thu 11a-11p | Fri-Sat 11a-12p

By Lisa Howard

WHEN SISTERS KATIE KUTSCHER AND CHRISTINE GROSS OPENED BERKLEY COMMON in 2017, one of the things they wanted to do was to create a common space for the community.

As Katie points out, “It’s part of our name.” They wanted a place where people could bring their kids and families, a place with healthy bar food options that women and men would enjoy equally.

Their combined efforts resulted in a community-minded restaurant that serves American food with a global twist. (They offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free dishes, too.) Case in point: Their most popular item is the Korean Cauliflower Wings with house-made kimchi and BBQ sauce. “We really focus on fresh ingredients and a scratch kitchen,” says Katie. “We have zero food storage space, so the ingredients arrive every day.”

Christine adds that the same holds true for their cocktails – they’re created with ingredients like hand- made bitters and freshly-pressed ginger. And, just like the food menu, the cocktail menu is rotated seasonally, with new menus in fall and spring. Along with cocktails, Berkley Common also has 22 beers on tap (all from Michigan!) and includes two nitro taps in the mix.

THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART, but the sisters have a synergy that makes them a great team. Christine, a CPA, does “the nerdy stuff” while Katie manages the staff and plans the menus. That said, she points out that the specials they run give their chefs a lot of creative freedom. “Anybody here who walks through the door has maximum creative development potential, because they’re adding to what we do,” she says. “If their idea is successful, we’re thrilled! It’s a collaborative business, and we’re always looking for good people to grow with us.” The sisters are also happy to say that 80 percent of their employees are from Berkley.

One of their ideas from the beginning has naturally unfolded into a key aspect of their business: Creating an event space where they can host everything from bridal showers to networking events to class reunions. They’ve even had musical groups rehearse in the second-story space.

They hold fundraising events, too, like the guest bartender series where the group picks the charity they want to support and Berkley Common gives part of the proceeds and all of the tips to that charity. A recent fundraising event for Cure JM (juvenile myositis) raised $1,200; on October 25 they’ll be hosting a guest bartender fundraiser for breast cancer.

During their peak season, they’ve had as many as 25 events in a single month in the upper space. Katie thinks that’s because the demand served the space. “There aren’t that many venues in this immediate area that will take a party of 40 or 50,” she says. “We have done private dinners for groups of 20 people and can fit up to 80. It’s a very versatile space.”

BEFORE THE SISTERS OPENED BERKLEY COMMONS, Katie had been running two beverage establishments in NYC, but she decided to move back to Metro-Detroit and open her own restaurant. It took a while to find the right location, renovate the building (the tin ceiling is still there, though!), and then get it staffed and open.
“My favorite part about all of this has been seeing our business and building change as Berkley has changed,” Katie says. Chris agrees. “Seeing how so many motivated, smart, and fun business owners and residents are committed to growing the city is great,” she chimes in. “It’s really fun to be part of everything.”

3087 12 Mile Rd.
Berkeley MI 48072
248.67.0795

Mon- Closed
Tues – Friday – 4pm – Close
Sat & Sun – 11am – Close

facebook.com/berkeleycommon

By Sara E. Teller

WHEN 36-YEAR-OLD PETRO DRAKOPOULOS DECIDED TO OPEN REPUBLICA in Downtown Berkley in 2013, he already had years of experience in the restaurant industry under his belt.

“My wife’s family owned Mitch’s in the Keego Harbor area. They opened in 1949. I also had 21 years of restaurant experience myself,” he explained. “I helped open Texas de Brazil in Detroit.”

Drakopoulos knew he wanted to start his own restaurant, and the spot in Berkley was ideal. “A lot of people asked if it would be like Mitch’s, but the nostalgia tied to a restaurant can be more important than the restaurant itself. And nowadays people are looking to be more health-conscious,” he explained, adding that Mitch’s was known for large portions of comfort food. “I wanted to start a healthy dining place with vegan and gluten-free options.”

Drakopoulos, who’s originally from the Chicago area, said Berkley reminded him of the Northwest Chicago suburbs where he grew up – a small- town feel with conveniences close by. He said, “I wanted to open a gastropub, which has a completely different meaning here than it does in Chicago or New York. The concept would be cool and unique, and the meals would consist of fresh ingredients but be approachable at the same
time.”

WHEN COMING UP WITH REPUBLICA’S MENU the family decided to infuse just a few favorites from Mitch’s to keep its memory alive, including its legendary ribs and family pasta. Drakopoulos’ mother-in-law is also a dietician and helped put together the one-of-a-kind “from- scratch kitchen” with “fresh ingredients,” he said,
saying, “She puts arugula and antioxidants in everything. After eating here, people can really understand the difference between a freshly- cooked meal and a freezer-to-fryer meal.”

The restaurant’s menu consists of small plates, burgers and sandwiches, soups, salads, entrees (even for the kids) and everything in between with options that meet a variety of dietary needs. Gluten-free and vegan dishes are highlighted along with organic bites and a note that all of Republica’s salad dressings are “made in-house and free of refined sugar and artificial ingredients.”

“Our bartender has also come up with drinks that are gluten-free and have less sugar,” Drakopoulos said, adding that Republica offers space for special events as well as off-site catering and party planning.

He credits the restaurant’s successful six-year run – and counting – largely to Berkley’s supportive community, explaining, “Berkley has a great school system and people just want to be here. I really love the sense of community. It’s often said, ‘it takes a village’ and Berkley is that village. I also have some regulars that come once a week from Grosse Pointe, so people come from all over. But Berkley and Huntington Woods have been especially supportive. The Chamber of Commerce holds meeting here, as do other organizations.”

FOR DRAKOPOULOS, BEING A RESTAURANT ENTREPRENEUR is a part of a long-standing family tradition. He believes Republica represents this, explaining, “We’re a family-run establishment. There’s always an ownership presence – whether patrons want to talk to my mother-in-law or watch me buzzing around, dropping plates.”

He also owns Brujo Tacos and Tappas, part of the restaurant collective and beer hall inside the Detroit Shipping Company, which is a high-traffic eatery especially on the weekends with thousands stopping by. He is an active participant in the Berkley community and enjoys entering its Soup & Chili Cook-off.

Republica is located at 1999 Coolidge Hwy and is open for lunch and dinner, 12:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Monday through Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays 12:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M., and Sundays 12:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. Carry out is offered online through GrubHub. For more information, call 248.268.3175.

By Sara E. Teller

COCO FAIRFIELD’S IS A BREAKFAST-AND-LUNCH DINER with classic eats like Belgian waffles, pancakes, omelettes, and fresh soup, sandwiches, and salads. They not only offer traditional favorites, just about everything on the menu can be made gluten-free.

Nicole Miller, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, Marty, said, “It had long been Marty’s dream to have a little local sandwich restaurant, and together we opened Coco Fairfield’s in August 2013. When the recession hit and displaced him from his auto- motive maintenance career, it was the start of the dream becoming a reality. We decided to take the plunge.”

In their search for a “cute little downtown area,” Miller said they just knew Berkley was the spot. “Marty likes to say that Berkley chose us. It just reached out and pulled us in!” she said. “We couldn’t wait to open and be a part of this great little community.”

Coco’s food is always top-notch and made to order, and the owners source many items from other Michigan-based companies.

“We don’t have deep fryers or microwave ovens,” explained Miller. “Everything is made to order and cooked fresh. We buy our maple syrup from Doodle’s Sugarbush located in Blanchard MI. We serve Zingerman’s coffee locally roasted in Ann Arbor. Our meats are nitrate- free, and we use organic mixed greens in our salads.”

A BERKLEY FAVORITE FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS, the restaurant has many regulars as well as those looking for a destina- tion spot while passing through. Miller said, “We love our customers and clearly would not be what we are without them! We have a lot of regulars, mostly from Berkley and the surrounding areas, but also a good amount from further out like Bloomfield and Farmington. We’ve even heard we have a following from the Grand Rapids area. Seems some people came in to eat while they were in town…now if people are coming to the Metro Detroit area, they come to eat at Coco’s.”

Part of creating such a warm and welcoming atmosphere means the staff treats every customer like family and the menu and vibe are all consistent with a community feel.

“Serving great food is only one part,” Miller explained. “We have the atmosphere and community that set us apart. And the community is the most fulfilling part of being a restaurant owner.”

Coco Fairfield’s is an active member of the Berkley Area Chamber of Commerce and helps to sponsor the Berkley Street Art Fest. The restaurant also regularly supports Berkley schools and many student teams through fundraisers and other events, as well as the Huntington Woods Men’s Club annual auction and Women’s League annual home tour. Miller is currently the Chamber president (through the end of 2020) and spends her time volunteering at local activities around town like the Art Bash, Pub Crawl and the Irish
Festival.

“Our staff loves helping people and and supporting the community as it grows and evolves with the ever-changing businesses.”

COCO’S WILL SOON BE EXPANDING to a new, larger building off of 12 Mile. The added space will accommodate its growing customer base and allow the restaurant to offer patio seating in the back.

“We should get approval of our plans any time now and able to start the renovation,” Miller said. “It’s going to be great! We hope to be complete by fourth quarter 2019.”

Coco Fairfield’s is open from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 248-399- COCO (2626) during normal business hours. A menu can be found online at www.cocofairfields.com/menu

By Ingrid Sjostrand

SOUL FOOD HAS GROWN TO BE A FOUNDATION IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN COOKING and a staple of Southern meals. After moving to Michigan, George and Martha Clay saw a need – especially when friends urged Martha to cook for them – so they opened carryout-only Motor City Soul Food in March of 2001 on 7 Mile Rd. in Detroit.

 “My wife is a native of Mississippi and I was born in Alabama. Soul food was our everyday way of living. It is what we were raised on and what we prepared every day,” George Clay says. “Soul food has a generational, multi- cultural bond – it transcends age, ethnicity, race, socio- economic background, education, gender and time.”

 The couple had years of experience as entrepreneurs, running businesses ranging from custom casual clothing and real estate to an ice-cream shop and it was quickly obvious that Motor City Soul Food was going to be anoth- er successful venture. Everyone from Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel – who featured the restaurant on his show Bizarre Foods America in 2012 – to comedian DL Hughley have raved about Motor City Soul Food.

 “We were voted #1 fried chicken by Thrillist magazine earlier this year,” Clay says. “We were the only restaurant that represented the great state of Michigan on this list.”

 After more than ten years of success in Detroit and help running the business from their son Scott, Motor City Soul Food expanded in 2013 to a second location in Oak Park, located at 24790 Greenfield Rd. It is also cafeteria- style ordering and carryout-only.

 “One of the biggest reasons we chose Oak Park is because of the great location. We are near the I-696 freeway which brings customers from Eastside Detroit and Detroit suburbs as well as customers that live further west.” Clay says. “One of our favorite things about Oak Park are the diverse customers we encounter. We serve people from all walks of life and are inclusive of everyone.”

 On top of their nationwide-famous chicken wings, dinner options include turkey wings and pork chops. But the real soul food experience – and the items you aren’t going to find anywhere else – are in the food like Neck Bone, Ham Hocks and Ox tail. You couldn’t call Motor City a soul food restaurant without the side item choices of tender collard greens, okra, sweet black-eyed peas, candied yams and macaroni and cheese – which has a crisp, golden top coat and seasoned kick of paprika. Of course each dinner comes with a cornbread muffin too.

 “Our menu is literally anything that you could want for any holiday, any social event, when you need comforting or just want something delicious and homemade,” Clay says. “Soul food is a comfort, down home, good tast- ing meal – it includes a deliciously-seasoned meat and always includes a starch. Often, my wife will prepare items that aren’t on the menu because she has a taste for it. My wife is an awesome cook!”

 Other menu options include fish, like their crunchy, cornmeal-coated catfish, and hot sandwiches, including a meatloaf one. It may be hard to fathom eating more after such hearty dinners, but the dessert is worth it. In addition to banana pudding, Motor City Soul Food makes sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and 7-Up pound cake, a moist, delicious treat that brings back memories of childhood.

 Both locations are open seven days a week from 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. and offer in-store and off- site catering available through their website, www.officialmotorcitysoulfood.com.

 “Our customers should expect to be served a quality-made product prepared fresh daily and served hot for their enjoyment,” Clay says. “We are a family owned-and-operated restaurant. We do our best to provide quality products and service to our custom- ers because we are all family.”

 

By Sara E. Teller

Photos By Bill Gemmell

ALEX WASEL OPENED ALASKA FISH & CHICKEN in Oak Park in 2012. “I had a dream to open my own place after working in a fish market with a friend of mine,” he said. “I got to know how to manage everything then and I knew I wanted to have my own business.”

Right from the beginning, Wasel and his staff worked hard to keep their customers happy, and they now have many regulars who stop in “six or seven days” a week, according to the owner. This has to do in part with Wasel’s customer-oriented, close-knit team who truly understands the market. The food is cooked-to-order and served fresh daily, too, which makes Alaska a unique experience for those who appreciate high quality chicken and seafood.

“All of our seafood and other dishes are always fresh,” Wasel said. “And everyone loves working here – we’re like a family, and we take care of our customers. We’ve gotten the hang of everything here in Oak Park and have our operation under control. We are very busy.”

SOME FAN-FAVORITES INCLUDE Alaska’s jumbo shrimp, snow crab, and fried lobster tail. There are many types of fish available, too, either separately or in combos, including tilapia, cod,perch, catfish, whiting, pickerel, bass, and orange ruffy, among others. Chicken options include wings and tenders along with breasts, legs, things and even gizzards. Family combos are available, and Alaska offers a tempting dessert menu. There are ten cheesecake options to choose from, including specialty slices such as peach cobbler, sweet potato, and superman, as well as six traditional cakes by the slice, including chocolate, caramel, velvet, lemon, pineapple, and coconut. Overall, Alaska Fish & Chicken has something for everyone and is able to cater to a wide variety of dietary preferences.

“When people come in here and try our seafood, they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Wasel said. “They love how fresh it is and how we’re able to make it just the way they like.”

He added, “I had some friends come in here from out of town and when they left, they told others about it. Now, the people they told now come here all the time. I also have someone who comes in every morning to get chicken.” Wasel laughed fondly, “He says he needs my chicken! We’re always busy.”

WASEL LOVES OAK PARK IN GENERAL. He first started in Highland Park in 2008, but said he wasn’t in a good neighborhood and decided he would need to relocate. When searching for a new spot, he stumbled upon Oak Park and knew that’s where he wanted to be.

Four years later, that dream would become a reality. And even though Wasel still currently resides in Hamtramck, he hopes to relocate in the near future to be closer to the community he serves. He said, “I love this city. It’s safe and everyone’s friendly. The City of Oak Park is great. They’re good neighbors to have.”

Wasel is quick to show his appreciation to both his staff and customers, too, understanding they are responsible for Alaska’s success. “I really appreciate all of our customers in Oak Park. And, I really appreciate my staff,” he said. “They know what they’re doing and work hard every day to ensure we’re taking care of our customers.”

Alaska Fish and Chicken is located at 3701 W Nine Mile Rd. and is open Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M. as well as Sundays 10:00A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Online delivery is available viaDoordash.com. For more information about the menu, call 248-556-0000.