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Five reasons to visit Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Food Dude describes the surprising allure of the home of the University of Michigan.
by Dave Cathey Published: March 10, 2013
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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.

Drinks

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.

The Sights

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.

Entertainment

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.

Shopping

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.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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