Friday, July 25, 2008

Away Game

I am going to shamelessly stoke my ego and assume that not only have you been checking here regularly and expecting the usual near daily fare of new posts, but also that you might have done so for the past week and, not noting any new content wondered, "where the hell is Texas Deb?".Well I'll tell you - I've been in Ann Arbor, y'all.

Rarely is yours truly persuaded (read: forced by circumstances beyond her control) away from computer and homestead long and far enough to experience much outside the Austin/Central Texas culinary world. But this past week found me handing off my CSA basket to a family friend (thank you Alycia!) and joining my hub and daughter, hopping on various planes flying us to Detroit to visit the gorgeous little burg of Ann Arbor. As in Michigan. As in sure enough cold in winter but delightfully cool (to us) in the summertime.

Sidebar - "hopped on a plane" - where did that phrase come from? Can you imagine any activity more likely to invite a strip and/or cavity search? Especially with our current "Orange" security level. I use the phrase with a huge pinch of "don't take me literally" salt certainly.My family and I are all such total control freaks that arbitrarily relinquishing the amount of say over what we do and how we do it to so many others in order to fly anyplace has us engaged in activities that look a lot less like hopping and a lot more like intentionally zoning out.

Travel stressors aside, there we were in Ann Arbor, checking out the place and trying to find a new spot for our youngest to call home for the next three years while she attends the University of Michigan Law School. (Did I just casually work in another Mommy Brag about one of my kids? Why, yes! Yes I did, and thanks for noticing.)

Our crash course in assessing properties and talking "lease legalese" often took on a somewhat Gilligan's Island surrealism. (a..... three.....hoour........tooooour.....")Leasing, something none of the three of us had actively engaged in for some (cough!) decades is a fascinating/creepy enterprise. You drop off your driver's license just to look at a unit after which you are asked freely share the very same information you'd ordinarily closely guard with a succession of Red Bullish peppy, falsely enthusiastic/confidential leasing agents. All this just to figure out if they'll allow you the extreme privilege of paying extra for a covered parking space in their "community".

While there we also toured the Law School which reinforced our understanding that while our daughter will be living in Ann Arbor and actively engaged in scholarly pursuits, she will be doing a lot of reading... and studying....and after making the payments for tuition and her abode with it's add on charges for pets, covered parking, doors and windows, she will have little if anything left over for the amazing array of wining and dining opportunities Ann Arbor has to offer.

As her loving parents, we asked her to investigate the hot spots she'd like to try out on us during our first shared visit.  She set certain price parameters on her own and choose our venues for lunch and dinner accordingly.

Sure, I'm her Mom and I think her grocery lists are brilliant, but my daughter did a fabulous job of finding just the right combination of "local", "responsible philosophy of food", and "deliiiiicious". 

Here they are, a quick run down of our short list of some of the best eating available in Ann Arbor without breaking the bank, a saga in 4 meals.

Dinner Day One: Our family has a dangerous tendency upon arriving in a hotel after a day spent traveling (aka:freaking out see above) to simply unpack, put our feet up, and reach for the room service menu. Seeing as we were only spending 3 full days in Ann Arbor, the alluring convenience of room service had to be overcome by something equally appealing. Enter the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. [Grizzly Peak Brewing Company 120 W Washington Street ]Catch this as incentive to ignore room service:Fresh Brewed Beer to go!  We indulged in an after dinner "Growler" - 64 ounces of glass jugged brewer's best takeaway.Dinner Day Two: Noting the philosophy of the Arbor Brewing Company Pub & Eatery [114 E Washington] who had no online menu because they were busy regearing their kitchen and resourcing as needed to implement an all natural/local when possible/organic/make it from scratch rebellion, we were not at all discouraged by the need to sit out a 15 minute wait for a table at their historic bar.The beer battered onion rings we ordered for the table set the tone for another delicious foray into a second fresh/local/organic/responsible dinner for three.And another Growler.  Go Blue!

Brunch Day Three:Our last full day in Ann Arbor found us selecting "the" spot for our daughter's new home away from Texas, and to reward ourselves for such diligence and industry we were slated for brunch at the locally famous Cafe Zola [112 W Washington]followed by our official University of Michigan Law School Tour.

Cafe Zola has a simply amazing menu. Despite weathering the "worst performance by an employee impersonating a waitress", we thoroughly enjoyed our choices of various crepes and an omelette worthy of it's own zip code.Dinner Day Three/Meal Four: Had we peaked? Was there anything left to stun our somewhat sated palates after amazing brew pub eats, two growlers and the brunch to end all brunches? Why yes! There was still our piƩce de resistance, Vinology [100 South Main Street].I will let their website speak for itself. We think this sweet spot of the unheralded food centric Ann Arbor stacks up favorably to the highly touted Bin 36 in Chicago. We had a series of amazing small plates at Vinology, a decent yet affordable Montepulciano d'Abruzzi, and finished with a shared panna cotta dish and cheese/fruit platter that filled and thrilled without our regretting a single sip or bite.

Ann Arbor is not your run of the mill sleepy little college burg. They have a bustling downtown filled with exciting places to eat and drink including a lot of ethnic food that we didn't have time to explore. They have cutting edge design appearing in unexpected places, such as this new local library branch that has local tongues wagging in a heated debate over "cool" vs. "ugly". They have an adorable water tower and regularly occurring visual surprises such as this Montessori school fence.Ann Arbor has an annually occurring event featuring four simultaneous juried art fairs that runs mid July. This fair is known nationally, featuring as many as 1200 artists and drawing upwards of a half million visitors. Apparently they block off most of downtown to anything but foot traffic, and nearly every flat surface of any size is transformed into gallery space. I am grateful we missed the fair by a few days, not desiring to share this small space with that many other tourists on our first go-round, but smiled to note one home just west of downtown that had not quite made the transition back to whatever passes for "normal" in Ann Arbor.

Did our visit go off without a single hitch? Nearly. Forgetting in one early morning pre-coffee haze that we were in the Land of Kellogg, renowned Clairvoyant Physician, my sweet husband tried to order a non-Kellogg cereal for breakfast in our hotel restaurant. Fortunately the waitress (who seriously pulled a face that looked as though she was struggling to recall if she had ever even heard of our family favorite Honey Nut Cheerios) was not inclined to judge, much less punish, and we all lived to tell the story.

Michigan was a beautifully green and cool respite for our three sets of July heat glazed Central Texan eyes.  I am looking forward already to our next visit and a chance to try out more of their amazing array of eateries.

Meanwhile, Monday I pick up my very last CSA basket of the season.  I'll be back to report on the bounty available from an organic farm after some tropical storm rains perked up the produce. It was fun to have played around some in the cool green of Michigan in July, but it is sure great to be back home!

1 comment:

bee said...

sounds like such a vibrant, happening place.

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