There is perhaps no more prestigious honor in the restaurant world than to be acknowledged by the James Beard Foundation. Today, there are a dozen chefs and eateries in Michigan with reason to celebrate. The foundation has announced its list of Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists, and Michigan, particularly Detroit, is well-represented.
Best New Restaurant: Saffron De Twah, Detroit
Capturing a national honor, this friendly, neighborhood spot on Detroit’s East Side is the first Halal Modern Moroccan Bistro by Chef Omar Anani. Menu items at Saffron De Twah include Moroccan Fried Chicken Sandwich, Cauliflower Shawarma Batbout, and Lamb Tagine.
Outstanding Baker: Lisa Ludwinski, Sister Pie, Detroit
Author of a best-selling cookbook and baker extraordinaire, Lisa Ludwinski was also a 2019 honoree. Her Sister Pie bakery got its start with a little help from the Hatch Detroit business competition. There she creates scrumptious and tantalizing pies like Honey Lemon Meringue, Salted Maple, and Sweet Beet.
Outstanding Bar Program: Sugar House, Detroit
If you’ve ever popped into Sugar House for a cocktail, chances are you’ll find no surprise in seeing its bar program honored. The list of available cocktails is seemingly endless from classics to creative. Plus, there are the seasonal additions. The current winter list is dedicated to iconic bars of Detroit. You can enjoy a Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (Remy Martin 1738, Amaro Pasubio, berry medley, vanilla, lemon, orange bitters), Cadieux Cafe (Barrel-aged Bols Genever, Water Hill cranberry liqueur, St. Germain, peppercorn bitters & mint), or even a Nancy Whiskey (Tullamore D.E.W, Borghetti, Astro Coffee, vanilla-chai cream).
Outstanding Hospitality: Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor
Zingerman’s is so good at creating a friendly, service-oriented dining experience, that the company created its own training company called ZingTrain to help others learn how to do it. That’s one of the many reasons why dining at Ann Arbor favorite, Zingerman’s Roadhouse is such a treat. There’s also the delectable comfort cuisine like Poutine, Ancho Beef Chuck Chili, and Pit-Smoked BBQ Pork.
Outstanding Restaurateur: Sameer Eid and Samy Eid, Birmingham and Detroit
Father and son partners Sameer and Samy Eid are known for restaurants that serve exquisite Mideastern fare with genuine hospitality. Sameer purchased his first restaurant Phoenicia nearly fifty years ago in Highland Park, then moved it to Birmingham. Nearby Forest came along next in 2015, and most recently in 2019, Leila joined the booming food scene in Detroit at Capitol Park.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Lena Sareini, Selden Standard, Detroit
No wonder the food at Selden Standard is so darn good. This big national salute for pastry chef, Lena Sareini, is one of two chef’s honors for the restaurant this year. It has also been named restaurant of the year by both the Detroit Free Press and Hour Detroit in previous years. As for Lena Sareini, the talented young graduate of Schoolcraft College’s Baking and Pastry Arts program has been honored with this accolade by the James Beard Foundation for several years.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): Andy Hollyday, Selden Standard, Detroit
One of six chefs being touted this year in the regional category this year, Andy Hollyday is also a multi-year James Beard semifinalist lending his talents to Selden Standard. The Midtown eatery changes its menu regularly based on what’s in season. The team sources flavors from local farms, captured at the peak of the season, and then prepares dishes in a wood-fired oven, which are served small plates-style.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): Mike Ransom, Ima, Detroit
It stands to reason that the chef of the Detroit Free Press choice for restaurant of the year last year, would also capture the attention of the James Beard judges. Ima is known for incredible udon noodle bowls and flavorful dishes of Korean and Japanese inspiration. The original location is in Corktown, with another in Madison Heights, and the latest addition in Midtown.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): Sarah Welch, Marrow, Detroit
Recognized by James Beard judges for its masterful food before, Marrow might be one of the most unique dining destinations in Detroit. It’s actually a self-described butcher shop and restaurant hybrid. Yes, you can take some food home to prepare it yourself, but with a chef this good, why not dine in? Selections include Kimchi Nappa, Koji-Rubbed Scallops, and Tahini Roasted Sablefish.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): James Rigato, Mabel Gray, Hazel Park, MI
Hazel Park’s best draw for foodies is home to another of the regional semifinalists. Mabel Gray. Here too, food and beverage selections rotate with the seasons and availability of local farm products. Chef James Rigato is dedicated to local sourcing as he is to his craft, and it shows. He even offers a tasting menu for $65 per person.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): Ji Hye Kim, Miss Kim, Ann Arbor, MI
Part of the Zingerman’s family of companies, quality food and impeccable service are hallmarks at Miss Kim. Chef Ji Hye Kim grew up in Seoul, South Korea and is obsessed with ancient Korean culinary texts and the finer points of fermentation. The menu features small, medium and large plates, comprised of local ingredients, that are meant for sharing. The menu changes frequently. Examples include Charred Japanese Sweet Potatoes, Gochujang Seafood Stew, and Crispy Duck Breast.
Best Chefs Great Lakes (IL, IM, MI, OH): Abra Berens, Granor Farm, Three Oaks, MI
The only semifinalist on the list that isn’t located in Southeastern Michigan is Granor Farm in the tiny hamlet of Three Oaks, not far from the Lake Michigan shore. This is not a restaurant. It is an active, certified organic farm. However, it periodically plays host to special ticketed dinners designed to broaden people’s understanding of organic farming. Chef Abra Berens serves up food grown right on the farm with flavorful flare.
The Foundation will announce the final nominees for all Award categories during a live press conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.