Christmas Trees and Pizza Papalis

Pizza Papalis-WEBAs my sweetheart had recently taken a job in Downtown Detroit – with a big, not-to-be-named company whose offices happen to be facing Campus Martius –  we decided to go to the annual tree lighting festivities.  We dragged the kids through the marketplace, looking through all the wonderful offerings from Detroit area artisans, shops, and food vendors.  The little ones wanted something to nibble, so we hopped into the Holiday Cheer Garden and had some macaroni and cheese and bratwurst from the E.G. Nick’s Winter Magic Eaterie.

But, I’m not here to talk about E.G. Nick’s…

After traipsing through the crowded streets, checking out the magnificent Compuware building, and seeing the massive, 55 foot spruce tree light up, we decided to visit Pizza Papalis in Greektown.  My brother insisted.  He said it was the best pizza on the planet.  How could I say no?

Let me preface this story with a tip…when the young lady at the hostess stand says, “go ahead and place your pizza order while you wait,” DO IT!  I had no idea it would take over an hour to cook our pizzas.  But, don’t let this warning turn you away from the place.  Eat here.  DO IT!

I’m hard-pressed to say the best part of eating here was the food.  Not because it was forgettable.  We were seated at a booth right against the front window, and I have to say that we were well-entertained by the people walking by on the streets while we waited.  It wasn’t just dinner, it was a show.  My middle daughter kept saying, “I love Detroit, it’s so interesting!”  Yes my love, it sure is.

The kids had a simple cheese pizza as they are still uninterested in complicated food combinations.  Poor things.  We adults unapologetically loaded it up with a heart-stopping amount of meats. The crust was buttery, tender, and flaky, not to mention the most necessary piece of the pie.  Without it, there would be no way to hold in all the toppings.  The cheese was gooey and luscious with just the right amount of sauce.  It’s built in reverse, with the toppings underneath the cheese and sauce on the very top.  It keeps the integrity of the delicious dough intact.

Our server was a good spirited guy, even though he got the loudest group in the place.  Our drinks were always full and he constantly smiled.

You will need a fork to eat one one of their slices, and most likely a box to take left over pieces, too.

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Cork Wine Pub

Cork Wine Pub – Pleasant Ridge, Michigan

April 2011

Two leisurely hours, five inspired courses, and a couple glasses of unique wines were enough to convince my friend Julie and me that we found something quite special. The staff was warm and knowledgeable, patient in spite of being peppered by questions about the menu or requests for suggestions. The atmosphere was hip and bustling, even for a Tuesday night. Make reservations if you go!

The menu is broken down into five categories…literally “first, second, third, fourth, fifth.”

The first section is “snacks.” Of course, it’s a pub! And yes, the cocktail menu is ridiculous. But, we stuck to wines. We’ll do cocktails another time.

After hemming and hawing over what we wanted to start with, our server suggested the Sylvan Ave Spreads, which was her personal daily choice for dinner. House-made breads and crackers were divine with the herbed goat cheese, white bean spread, and eggplant pate. I’m not normally a fan of eggplant, I’ve tried it many times prepared in a variety of ways, but never could develop an appreciation for it. I’m glad I am the kind of gal to never give up on a food. This stuff was delicious! Tangy and sweet, it was fantastic smeared onto the bread with the goat cheese.

Jules and I shared a Brick Roll for the second course. I wish she would have gotten her own because this was the best thing we ordered all night. Finely chopped wild mushrooms mixed with goat cheese (for the record, I believe goat cheese can save the world) and sweet caramelized onions are wrapped in a crispy shell and served with a mustard sauce. This dish will single-handedly bring me back to Cork.

As for the wines we had with the first courses, Jules had the Delille “Doyenne” rousanne which neither of us had ever tried and was absolutely mouthwatering. With a bit of trepidation I ordered the Stuhlmuller chardonnay from California because our server highly recommended it. I’m not fond the overly oaky aroma and taste of some California chardonnays, but this one was perfectly balanced for me. It was wonderful, especially with the Brick Roll.

Next came the salad course, and since we couldn’t make a choice, we got two to share. Our goal was to venture outside the norm, so we decided to forgo the traditional “green” salads and go with funkier options. I ordered the roasted beets and she the smoked fish.

The beet salad was served with blue cheese crumbles, garlic, and browned butter vinaigrette. The proportion of heavy salad over a token amount of spinach underneath was way off. The salad would have been better if there was more of the green and less of the beets and blue cheese. The vinaigrette was too heavy on fat; it needed a little more acidity. I love the earthy…okay, dirt…and sweet taste of beets, and pungent blue cheese, but this dish was too much of a good thing.

The smoked fish salad, topped with pickled fennel and served with super thin sesame crackers was the better salad. Pickled fennel was lovely and unexpected. We assumed it was the chef’s twist on the staple pickled ginger with sushi garnish. The arugula added a nice freshness necessary against the smoky flavor of the fish.

You would think after three courses, we would be ready to call for the bill. Not us! We soldiered on; confident we could take on the fourth, main, course and have plenty of room for dessert.

Here is where we really parted ways, as diners that is. I knew from the time I got the menu in my hands I was going to get the duck. Jules was torn between two loves…pork and salmon. In the end she went with the pork. She is a phenomenal cook, salmon being one of her specialties, so she would save that for dinner at home.

Duck Devonshire, crispy-skinned and perfectly pink inside, was served with roasted carrots and parsnips over quinoa and date chutney. The vegetables were perfectly tender but still had a fresh bite to them and were nicely glazed. Quinoa is one of my favorite side dishes. But, on its own it is bland. It needs something to jazz it up. The quinoa under my duck was unadorned, unseasoned, and resting on top of the chutney creating a barrier between the meat and the sauce. The taste was fine eaten all together, but it was unappealing to look at. I enjoyed the Chateau d’Angudet margaux from France with the duck.

Across the table, Jules was having what she affectionately referred to as a “pork experience.” Her pork tenderloin was sensational! Nicely pink inside and served with beautiful braised red cabbage and tiny, crispy spatzel on a mustard sauce. Wonderful! Jules went with the Domaine Daulny sancerre and was quite happy with the combination.

Dessert. We had come too far to skip it now.

I read somewhere that said their butterscotch pudding was a signature dish; they actually put Scotch in the recipe, so I definitely had to have that. It was served in a coffee mug with a bitter toffee sauce on top and a small gingerbread cake on the side. Looks simple on the plate, but the flavor is complex and grown-up. I had the café gourmande, organic Sumatra dark roast coffee and was sufficiently awake by the bottom of the cup!

Jules, because she said she was feeling “nutty,” went with the maple cashew tart. The curry anglaise was an interesting addition to the tender little pastry as was the smooth honey-cinnamon ganache. An eclectic mix of flavors that worked remarkably well together.

I look forward to bringing more of my food-crazed friends with me to Cork so they can experience the innovative food, the extensive wine list, and the warm atmosphere of this new little neighborhood gem. And I will start all over, ordering five dishes from the menu I haven’t tried yet.
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