ANN ARBOR, MICH. — We call them getaways, but sometimes there's nothing more relaxing than a little familiarity on vacation.
That's just what any Oklahoman whose ever been to Stillwater or Norman will when they visit the home of the University of Michigan will find.
But you will also find plenty of inspiration in Ann Arbor, which has a lot more to offer than blue-and-gold trinkets.
While you'll find the same kind of team spirit pasted all over town, you'll also learn Ann Arbor has embraced food culture in a way that's an inspiration and is home to an arts culture for young and old.
Ann Arbor town is not only a great college town, but a terrific place to visit whether the Wolverine football team is playing or not.
Here are five reasons to visit Ann Arbor Michigan:
As you might suspect, I don't pick vacation spots that don't have interesting places to eat. If Ann Arbor doesn't come immediately to mind when you think of great food towns, it's only because you've never visited.
The uncanny food culture can be traced back to the opening of Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 when University of Michigan students Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig decided they couldn't go another day living in a town without real deli. What started as a simple niche-filler became the keystone in what is now bountiful community-supported agriculture, farm-to-table allegiance that borders on zealotry, leading to a legion of shops, markets, restaurants and watering holes that only increases the momentum of the movement. The tiny original deli on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley streets just expanded into a third building, including a next-door coffee house.
The offerings are stunning in the context of deli. Cured meats, exotic cheeses and every imaginable accouterment hang either from the ceiling or are stacked high on the shelves. House-made corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver, chicken salad, free-range chicken and turkey highlight sandwiches I tried a Meat Cone, which includes an ample sampling of assorted delectables in one convenient receptacle. I'm pretty sure they pass these out on the first corner you pass after entering the pearly gates.
In my four days and many visits with local purveyors, I didn't meet anyone who didn't pay a debt of gratitude to Zingerman's, which more than two decades after its founding now boasts an industrial bakery, coffee roasterie, candy manufacturer, and creamery, a food tour operation, training consultancy, and restaurant (Zingerman's Roadhouse), which features meats smoked on site by James Beard Award-winning chef Alex Young. Weinzweig is also a prolific writer, issuing more than 200 issues of the “Zingerrman's News” newsletter, contributed to top food magazines and written “Zingerman's Guide To ...” titles that include bacon, vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, great service and two volumes on business leadership.
The influence of Zingerman's is no more apparent than at Logan
At Logan Restaurant, 115 W Washington St., where chef Thad Gillies has operated since 2004. The success of this farm-to-fork American bistro has its roots at the deli in Kerrytown where Gillies was executive chef for ten years. Gillies foundation is classic French technique applied to global influence and interpreted the freshest, seasonal ingredients. Named for Gillies' son, the restaurant is adorned with artwork by his wife, who is an art professor at the university.
The first meal I had in Ann Arbor was at Ayse's Turkish Cafe, 1703 Plymouth Rd., a casual haunt that features authentic Middle Eastern fare. Ayse's rallying cry is a familiar one in Ann Arbor: We use local, seasonal ingredients when possible and offer a revolving menu to reflect it. But the caveat at Ayse's is Turkish cuisine. The menu is a series variations on simple themes: cold salads, pilavs, boreks, stews, seafood, lamb, chicken and dessert. And the variations are many. Ayse's offers more flavor than fuss, and is an introduction to what Oklahomans will find familiar and approachable thanks to our strong Lebanese heritage. Common ingredients include bulgur wheat, chickpeas, eggplant, potatoes, lentils, grape leaves, rice and yogurt.
Perhaps the coziest dining of the trip was at Pacific Rim by Kana, 114 W Liberty St., which started as a family-owned Korean eatery and has since evolved into an upscale contemporary Pan Asian concept under the direction of chef Duc Tang. While Tang shies from the term fusion because he feels it connotes a clash of unwilling participants, the Vietnamese-born chef bases his service on classic French technique while drawing inspiration from his home country, Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. Duc never intended to be a chef, as indicated by his degree in Biochemistry from Yale University and the graduate degree he earned in Theology and Biblical Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., in Canada. But don't let those fancy degree fool you, the man is a cook with the heart of an artist.
Perhaps the granddaddy of all Ann Arbor's farm-to-table concepts is Grange, 118 W Liberty. Chef Brandon Johns is a veteran of Ann Arbor's dining scene notwithstanding some time spent in New York City and Chicago to further his culinary acumen. Chef Johns' passion is local ingredients farmed naturally and sustainably. Grange offers a menu that changes to daily to reflect seasonal ingredients and everything is made from scratch, including pasta, breads, pickles, pancetta and preserves. Johns' propensity to use whole animals means the revolving menu will often include unusual cuts, a celebration of bone marrow and house-made charcuterie. Fans of Ludivine would be well pleased at Grange.
Ann Arbor also is home to former “Top Chef” contestant Eve Aronoff, whose Frita Batidos is one of the hottest fast-casual concepts in Michigan. The menu promises Cuban-inspired street food and does so with aplomb. A Frita is a griddle chorizo patty served on a lush egg bun with fried shoestring potatoes. While chorizo is the headliner, fritas come in beef, chicken, fish or black bean patties, too. Fritas can be topped with Muenster cheese, a sunny-side-up egg, salsa, tropical slaw or guacamole. If you want all of the above, order it “loco.” Batido is a tropical milkshake made with fresh fruit, crushed ice and vanilla ice cream that come in coconut cream, lime, passion fruit, cajeta (caramel) or mocha. Having a bad day? Ad a shot of rum and make everything better.
At Mani Osteria, 341 E Liberty St., you'll find fresh oysters and handmade rustic Italian fare with a well-appointed wine list. Got a big group? Don't hesitate to summon a plank covered in antipasto, you will not be disappointed.
But the rich food culture extends beyond restaurants in Ann Arbor. Washtenaw Dairy, 602 S Ashley St., has been producing dairy products since 1934 and is still going strong. At this throwback tiny market you can have a trans-fat-free doughnut or a scoop of ice cream or both while picking out house-made milk, butters, creams and cheeses.
Morgan and York, 1928 Packard Rd., is one-stop shopping for wine and all that you want to eat with it. Co-owner Tommy York spent his formative years in the food industry at, where else, Zingerman's Deli. The time was clearly well spent. His wine shop specializes in artisans wine and food. York believes in finding the best products in the world and sharing them at a fair price.
Conveniently located inside the store is chocolatier Nancy Biehn's Sweet Gem Confections. Biehn's 15 years experience includes time spent in France perfecting her skills, and her zest for chocolate is apparent at first glance. Pop one in your mouth, and there's little doubt Biehn is an artist.
Matt and Rene Greff have found life simple as ABC since founding the Arbor Brewing Co.in 1995. What started as passionate home-brewing is now a worldwide sensation. That's because UM graduate Gaurav Sikka was so smitten with frosty beverages that he convinced the Greffs to expand their empire to Bangalore, India.
A stone's throw from ABC, you'll find The Grizzly Bar, which boasts no international locations, but a collection of stone-cold delicious beers in every conceivable fashion. Other beer purveyors for your consideration include Wolverine State Brewing Co. and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.
At Vinology, 110 S Main St., wine is the star but the food is a nearby satellite. The concept is an outgrowth of the Jonna family's obsession with fine wine dating back to the early 1970s. John and Ed Lonna teamed with John Lossia to found the Merchant of Vino, which grew into a chain of fine wine and gourmet foods emporiums that was eventually purchased by Whole Foods Market in 1997. John Jonna and his daughter Kristin now own and operate Vinology along with Vinotecca in Royal Oak, Mich., both emphasizing inspired wine choices and small plates. The wine list runs about 100-bottles deep, including about 50 by the glass and carafe — none costing more than $80.
Whether in Ann Arbor during football season or not, no trip is complete without a trip to The Big House. University of Michigan Stadium is planted in an enormous pit in the middle of a residential area, meaning it can kind of sneak up on you the first time. But when you walk into the 111,000-seat stadium a small part of you turns blue and gold. A tour of the stadium decorated with the programs legends and history goes from spectacular to breathtaking when you step out into the fresh air and become engulfed in the concrete and metal cathedral tied to the church of football.
Like any college town, especially one with a university the size of UM, museums are in ready supply. The University of Michigan Museum of Art, 525 S State St., and the campus itself are home to a terrific collection of outdoor sculpture by artists like Richard Hunt and Mark de Suvero. The 53,000-square-foot museum includes more than 18,000 works of art representing 150 years of collection. The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, 1109 Geddes Ave., offers four floors of exhibits that include the largest display of dinosaurs in the state plus local wildlife, anthropology, geology exhibits. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 434 S State St., houses a collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval objects from the civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Near East.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, 303 Pearl St., is an archive of the university's most accomplished alum. Materials on display include papers on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations, and political affairs during the Cold War era. Current holdings include 25 million pages of memos, letters, meeting notes, reports, and other historical documents.
The Ark, 316 S. Main St., is a legend in the folk music community. The nonprofit, 400-seat venue hosts live music 300 nights a year. The club opened in 1965 as The Ark Coffee House and Wednesday night Hootenanys ensued and The Ark has been going strong ever since. During my trip Judy Collins sold out two shows on a Thursday night and Shawn Colvin sold out two more on Friday.
The Ann Arbor Comedy showcase hosts stand-up acts from across the country four nights a week. The Blind Pig is a mid-size music venue, featuring a variety of styles of music from performers at home and abroad.
The Purple Rose Theater Company, is the brainchild of acclaimed actor Jeff Daniels (“The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Something Wild,” “The Newsroom”) who grew up in nearby Chelsea. The company produces New American plays in Daniels hometown.
Performance Network Theatre, 120 E Huron St., produces seven Broadway-quality shows a years, two festivals featuring new works and a children's theater.
METAL, 220 Felch St., is a design and fabrication studio that also sells some of the weirdest antiques you'll ever come across. You can watch artists in residence create original works while browsing a collection of metal affects that range from old post office boxes to arcane medical implements.
Around the corner from Zingerman's, you'll find an eclectic mix of vendors at Kerrytown Market and Shops, 415 N 5th Ave., open Monday through Friday who are joined on Saturday and Sunday by one of their better farmers markets you'll ever come across.