Here’s one of those “lost posts” that I had mentioned before. This was originally scheduled to go out last year so it may be a little bit dated. But it’s still applicable since students are coming back into town and the coffee shops are going to be even more packed. Anyhoo, these are a couple of my favorites.
Just a quick post here. The site Serious Eats just did a spotlight a few weeks ago on where you can get some good coffee here in Michigan. And two out of the four selected just happen to be in town! I happen to love both of these places for two completely different reasons.
So let’s start out with one of my favorite hang outs — the Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti, MI. This place holds a special place in my heart because it was the first coffee house that I found when I first moved to the area that didn’t begin with a “Star” and end with a “Bucks”. But besides that fact, they brew a damn good cup of coffee. It’s a down-home, down-to-earth kinda place where they happen to roast beans on site — huzzah! It’s just a couple of blocks from Eastern Michigan University and is loved by locals and visitors alike. What’s great is that they also host a series of different events, ranging from workshops, to art shows, to tastings, to poetry readings. And if you are having some problems with your own home brewing equipment, staff will be more than willing to help you out as best as they can. Be sure to visit their Flickr account on their Links menu and check them out on Twitter.
The other local coffeehouse found in the fabulous Nickels Arcade landmark is Ann Arbor’s Comet Coffee. This place is relatively new, being around for a couple of years, and it has a completely different feel from the Ugly Mug. It has a modern, sparse feel which is set up in a small store front in the Arcade. What makes this place unique are the methods that they use to make their coffee. Each cup is brewed individually at specific temperatures, and what you get is one of the best cups of coffee around. The coffee isn’t brewed, but “pulled” through a porcelain cones into individual cups. Since everything is done on a individual basis, there is no risk of having a cup of coffee that has been sitting in a carafe for a few hours. Plus, following this method helps preserve some of the more subtle notes and flavors in each cup. And being literally across the street from the University of Michigan helps foster a strong following among students and faculty. But non-students, and even Spartans (Go State!) love this place 🙂
Now if you include Astro Coffee in Detroit, three out of the four coffeehouses featured are here in SE Michigan. Kudos to us! So if you’re ever in town, be sure to visit these local gems and get yourself a cup. And get yourself a t-shirt. And tell them I sent ya! And (as always) don’t forget to visit and like my Facebook pages for Daisy Cakes and Jereme’s Kitchen. Shameless self-promotion endures!
Notes — Since I first wrote this, I actually have gone to Astro Coffee in Corktown, Detroit. Amazing cup of coffee! And the pics of Comet Coffee I picked up from their Facebook page. I did double-check and get permission, but that was about a year ago so they probably don’t remember. At least I asked first!
Alright, so it’s been some time since I’ve been writing. I know, I know — I am ashamed 😦 But things happen in this thing called life. Not to make excuses, but I was trying to adapt to the new schedule caused by my new job. Then I got a weird volleyball injury that took up my time trying to rehab that. Then I got really sick really fast around Christmas and found myself admitted to the hospital several times. Lucky for me this happened in December and January so I got to fulfill two massive deductibles back to back. Hurrah! And hospitals are not fun — especially when you get the bill months later and can’t decipher what charges came from where and from whom and for how much. I will say to my insurance company that your estimate on what a CT scan costs is sooooo completely off from what the hospital says ($800 estimate vs. $1700 charge). All that fun and the multiple docs couldn’t even tell me what was wrong; just treated the symptoms and see what could be managed.
Then after getting to know the hospital, I got a weird infection that sidelined me for over three weeks. Meds didn’t work, I was weak all the time, I couldn’t walk without getting dizzy (which is a challenge if you have to navigate stairs to get to your truck — not that I could drive anywhere even if I managed to make it to the garage). Things eventually cleared up, but since I missed so much work, I ended up losing my job. Which I guess is alright aside from the fact that I am penniless. I don’t blame them for firing me; it just sucks for me. So much for my first stint in Corporate America!
But losing my job meant that I could focus on the physical therapy for the injury that happened months ago. And lucky for me (or unlucky for me), I met my out-of-pocket maximum for the year back in January so no charge! Well fast-forward a couple of months and my knees are still shit. I can’t afford COBRA anymore so I guess I will have to tape them up and just go on with life.
And that is what I am trying to do — go on with life. I think I’ve done enough wallowing in self-pity and it is time to git goin’! I’m finally able to work out again (with some obvious limitations) and I’m getting back to what I love — FOOD! And booze, of course. Actually, right now I am in the Corner Brewery here in Ypsilanti trying to raise my spirits. Some pulled pork tacos and a Buzzsaw IPA can sure help with my mood, but more on that later! Although it is a bummer that no one wants to join me here — stupid friends and their stupid jobs and families and prior commitments!
But in all seriousness, I plan on getting back to blogging and sharing my foodie adventures. I did just take another trip up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and found some amazing pasties, and breweries , and wineries, and distilleries. . . . I’m also trying to make a theme cake (note the emphasis on trying). What’s wrong with a round cake? I can do those, no problem. Dinosaur shaped? Ugh, I need to practice this. A lot. Plus I have some posts that should have gone out last year (oops!), but they’re still relevant.
So Stay tuned! More food and booze and hijinx heading your way! And for no good reason — here’s my sweet idiot dog Cooper enjoying the summer sun!
With all the hub-bub over my cookbook giveaway, I thought it might be time for another trip over to Frita Batidos. Frita’s is owned by Chef Eve Aronoff (who is the author of my cookbook giveaway, if you’ve not heard) and this is her second venture in the Ann Arbor dining scene after her first restaurant eve. Actually, I believe there is some overlap between the two timelines, if I remember correctly. But that’s all beside the point — I’m here to eat!!!
She is quick to point out that the food served here is not Cuban food, but rather, it’s what is called “Cuban-inspired” street food. When describing the basis for this inspiration, Chef Aronoff talks about the times she spent growing up in Miami and being exposed to all the different local cultures. Of course, this includes the Cuban and Latino communities, but also numerous influences from other migrant populations like Creole and African. So, Cuban food traditions are just the starting point of where she develops the signature flavors and tastes of Frita Batidos.
Before we get too far along, let’s look at some of the terminology. That’s when the menu gets extra handy offering some explanations. First of all, let’s start with the name of the restaurant. A frita is a type of Cuban burger which is traditionally made with chorizo, but can be made of fish or black beans. It’s usually served on top of a soft bun with a side of shoestring fries. A batido is a tropical milkshake made fresh fruit, crushed ice, and a drop of sweetened milk, with or without rum (yummy Cajeta Batidos!). But there is a wide selection of other menu items that would be at home in any Cuban restaurant like Cuban sandwiches, plantains, conch fritters, and churros — lovely churros. Just look at the picture above to see (or go to the website). What’s also great about the menu is how it’s broken down on the back (it’s also printed on the wall). There are listings for what’s Vegan and Vegetarian; there are categories for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Garlic-Free items; and there’s a breakdown of flavor profiles. It’s great for those who may need a little direction and guidance in making their selection. But then again, I love categorizing and organizing things so it makes perfect sense to me!
When you first enter the restaurant, one thing that you’ll probably notice is that it is stark white with various metallic accents from the chairs, menus, lighting, etc. The storefront is white, the walls are white, the ceiling is white, the floors are white. The lone pop of color comes from the window-side bar which has a warm wooden tone; there is another bar towards the back. You’d think all this starkness would lean towards a more sterile, clinical feel, but it really doesn’t. The exposed brick and wood are among the various textures help add to a feeling of warmth. Also all the white lets the food really stand out — which is why my everyday plates are simple and all white. There is an air of informality here, which is helped along by the use of the picnic tables instead of regular tables and chairs. You could even start up a game of dominoes with your neighbor if you like, which again is a nice touch that is reflective of the Cuban / Latin American cultures.
Luckily for me, I get there around 11:30 and I beat the lunch rush. I try to keep things simple and just order a Chorizo Frita (you can get a Frita Loco which includes Muenster cheese, cilantro-lime salsa, tropical coleslaw, and an egg sunny-side-up!). I also get a Fresh Ginger Lime Juice to accompany it and make myself comfy at the window-side bar so I can look out on this cold, gloomy Michigan day. Hard to believe it was 85 degrees here a couple of weeks ago!
When I get my Ginger-Lime Juice, I was definitely surprised. This was my first time ordering this and I was taken aback, not just with the flavor but with its presentation. It was served in a simple plastic baggie with a straw. This may seem strange to some, but it definitely stays with the street food theme. If you’ve done any traveling in the Caribbean, or Latin America, or if you’ve watched any travel programs like No Reservations, or even Destination Truth (remember, I’m a nerdy dork) you should be familiar with how this drink is served. It is very typical of what you can find in markets or being sold by street vendors in that part of the world. I am very much appreciative of the effort and thought that went into this drink. The flavor was amazing — just what I needed to brighten this gloomy day! The flavors of the ginger and lime feel so balanced and refreshing. I really could drink this all day long! It reminds me of her Ginger-Lime Martinis, but without the martini part.
It doesn’t take too long for my Frita to be ready. Served on a small sheet pan (these would be handy in my bakery), it’s wrapped in paper sitting on top of a piece of banana leaf. Again, you have a gamut of textures and flavors here — there’s the soft and creamy brioche, the crispiness of the fries, and the spiciness of the chorizo. All the different layers all contribute to the really exceptional experience you get when biting into one of these. The flavors all seem to blend and yet stand out on their own. The quality of the ingredients is definitely apparent — everything was delicious!
Unfortunately, I had to cut my lunch date with myself short because the time ran out on my parking meter. Originally, what I had hoped for was to get a large cohort of folks together so we could all sample a wider array of menu selections and give a better representation of what Frita’s has to offer. But I guess I’ll just have to make another field trip downtown, by myself or what have you. It’s not like I need an excuse to eat some great food. It’s all in the name of research! And I do have to apologize to the nice folks that sat next to me at the bar. Sometimes when I have a task on hand (like doing a restaurant review), I have a tendency to be too focused and not be as friendly as I should. It’s a flaw and I’m working on it 🙂
So, if you ever happen to find yourself in downtown Ann Arbor, stop in to Frita Batidos for a bit. Have a churro and hang out for a while! You won’t regret it.
And don’t forget to like me of Facebook (why do I always forget about self-promotion?)
So here it is! The moment for which you’ve all been waiting. To get everyone up to speed, to celebrate my 1 year blogiversary (which was yesterday) I decided to have a give-away. Nothing celebrates my anniversary more than giving away presents! And the winner will get not just one, but TWO items!!!
If you are a regular reader, you know that I am here in the great state of Michigan. So I wanted my give-away to focus on items that are local goods or Michiganian in nature. Plus, since this is a food blog, it has to be food-related, but not necessarily a food item. To be honest, sending a food item seemed a little weird. But enough talk; let’s get to the prizes!!!
First of all, there’s this beautiful Michigan oven mitt. It shows the Mitten State in all its mitten-shaped glory (and if you’re from Wisconsin, there’s no way that Wisconsin looks like a mitten. . . maybe a boxing glove if you squint a lot). One side has a map of the lower peninsula and when you turn it over you get the upper peninsula! It also has a list of the state symbols on the bottom. Fabulous!
Second is a cookbook that can put the spotlight on one of our locals. It was difficult to pick one since we do have a number of great restaurants in town that have their own cookbooks, including several Zagat rated establishments. Also, there are books from the always spectacular Zingerman’s, which is definitely one of the places to visit if you are in the area for the day.
The book that I chose is eve: Contemporary Cuisine, Méthode Traditionnelle by Chef Eve Aronoff. You Top Chef viewers may remember her as a Season 6 alum. She has worked in the industry for over 20 years, starting from prep cook eventually working her way up to executive chef / owner. With several years of culinary experience behind her, she attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris where she received degrees in French Cuisine and Wine and Spirits. Using her background in classical French cooking as a foundation, she draws on African, Cuban, and Vietnamese cultural influences to shape her own unique style. She has been a champion of the Slow Foods Movement which focuses on a commitment to the environment and also stresses the importance of working with locally sourced artisans and farmers. In addition to all that, she was even invited to prepare a meal for the James Beard Foundation where she was able to highlight her cooking philosophy which features bold flavors, contrasts, and textures.
Luckily I had the chance to go to her restaurant eve before it closed (too soon, if you ask me!). I witnessed first hand her wonderful mien of cooking, while at the same time celebrating the union of two of my best friends (shout out to Cari and Jeremy-with-a-Y). By the way, her Ginger Lime Martinis are top-notch! Her current venture is Frita Batidos, which features Cuban-inspired creations that harken back to times she spent growing up in Miami while visiting her grandmother. Her food is amazing and her passion definitely becomes apparent in how she writes about food and how she connects with food. And if that quick bio doesn’t make you want to add this book to your culinary library, I don’t know what will!
Alright, here’s how you enter:
- Commenting on this post gets you one entry
- If you post in the comments, AND subscribe to my blog you get one
- Liking my Jereme’s Kitchen Facebook page gets you one
- Liking my Daisy Cakes Facebook page gets you one
So that’s four chances for you. You can let me know on your comments if you already subscribe, but I will probably check anyway. I will have to go ahead and say that any member of my family will have to be excluded from this give-away, but they probably won’t read this anyway. Plus anyone who is affiliated with Jereme’s Kitchen or Daisy Cakes (thinking about changing the name) will also have to be excluded. But since that involves just me, I can police that fairly easily 🙂
Y’all have until Friday, April 6 to enter, but maybe I could extend it a day. The winner will be chosen at random and I will make the announcement (or contact the winner) the Monday after Easter (April 9). Although I may be distracted because I am planning on winning that 1/2 a billion dollar Mega Millions jackpot 🙂 I know I’m going to win — I can feel it!!!
Good luck everyone!
Today is Paczki Day! While other folks may be celebrating Mardi Gras or Carnivale, here in the Midwest we have Paczki Day. Well, it might not be particular to the Midwest, because if you live anywhere with a large Polish population, you probably know about Paczkis. But here in SE Michigan, we can’t get enough. According to AnnArbor.com, we here are crazy about paczkis and lead the nation in Google searches about Paczki Day. Personally, I never even heard of a paczki until I started living in Michigan. And thanks to the large Polish population in Hamtramck, MI (which is a city within Detroit), I am hooked!
But, let me back up a little bit. Some of y’all might not know what a Paczki is. First of all, it’s pronounced POONCH-key or PUNCH-key. These are Polish jelly-filled donuts which are traditionally served the day before Lent, which is the 40 days of sacrifice and penance before Easter. They came about as a way to use up all the lard, butter, sugar, and eggs in the pantry, because if you do celebrate Lent, you won’t be using any of those ingredients for the next 5 1/2 weeks. So, much like Mardi Gras, paczkis are one last indulgence before 40 days of fasting.
In the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti area, probably all over Michigan, you can find local big box grocery stores stocked with them. I even found them as early as the first week of February. At places like these, you can find fillings like strawberry, lemon, or custard, but you probably won’t find the traditional flavors like prune or rosehip. Prune you’re more likely to find, but you have to work to find rosehip. Again, if you don’t know, rosehips are the fruit of the rose. When you leave the rose on the bush (particularly Rugosa roses) and allow it to wither, what eventually develops is a rosehip. They kinda look like those tiny tomatoes you find at the grocery, but on a rose bush. And in case you were wondering, they are very, very, very high in vitamin C.
There are several places around here where you can find some paczkis. All the big grocery stores have them — Kroger, Meijer, and Busch’s — and some other specialty establishments like Plum Market and the renowned Zingerman’s. Normally, I go to Copernicus Deli (where you can find some rosehip), but this year I got my first sampling of the goods from Ypsilanti’s Dom Bakeries. They were already my favorite donut shop in town (their apple fritters are ridiculously good!), but I never thought to stop in for some paczkis. But I’ll be heading to Copernicus this morning anyway to get some rose ones due to a special request from a Michigan ex-pat down in Key West.
So, if you have a Polish neighborhood in town, be sure to go on a hunt for paczkis today. Better yet, make a trip down to Hamtramck, MI and participate in the festivities throughout the day (I really should work for the Michigan tourist board). Don’t deprive yourself of this yearly event of sweet, deep-fried culture. And be sure to visit me on Facebook — I’m up to 7 likes now!
I was hoping to post this sooner, but I was having some problems with editing. For whatever reason none of my revisions were saved and I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Eventually I figured it out so I apologize for being behind on posts. But I digress. . . On to my story. . .
I am a car nut. Not a gear head, mind you, because I can barely change a tire. I can do stuff like switch out headlamps, but adding some forced induction to boost performance is way, way, way over my head. I just love driving them (one of my favorite pastimes [I think that’s spelled wrong] is going out for test drives of new cars). I like seeing what’s new and improved, seeing what sexy concepts are coming, and following all the latest automotive news. And one of the great things about living in SE Michigan is that the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is held every January right in downtown Detroit. Luckily I got a chance to go on the last day of the 2012 show on Sunday, January 22nd. Now if you love cars, this is one of the best shows in the country, if not THE best. Over the past couple of years, the NAIAS saw a drop which coincided with the economic downturn. Automotive companies withdrew from the show, major debuts and premieres were shifted to places like Chicago, New York, or Geneva, and attendance dropped. But from the looks of everything, the show has come back in a big way.
Another great thing about SE Michigan is Slow’s BBQ. For the past couple of years, our new tradition has been to go to the auto show and afterwards head on down to Slow’s for some beers and a meal of barbecued deliciousness. Slow’s has generated a big name for itself not just among locals, but across the country. There was even a nice article in the New York Times about how Slow’s is helping to revitalize downtown Detroit.
So let’s get down to business. . . after hanging out at the auto show for a few hours, we got in around lunchtime (like around 1:00), so it was packed with an hour wait (the crowd does thin out around 3:00 so that could be a good time to go). You could try and get a seat at the bar, but I wanted a table and didn’t mind the wait. Besides, it gave me a chance to look over all the pics from the auto show. Plus, I get a chance to figure out what beers I want to try — they have about 60 bottles and 20 beers on tap.
We started out with the Fried Catfish Appetizer and a couple of beers — specifically Bell’s Hopslam and Short’s Sour Puss. These are two of my favorite breweries and if you come across either of these two I definitely suggest you try them. The Hopslam is hoppy, and bright, and has strong flavor of grapefruit (especially on the aftertaste). This is another one of the Bell’s beers that has a cult-like following, especially since it’s available for only about one month out of the year. It is a lot stronger than your average ale, with a 10% alcohol rating. Now, as for the Sour Puss, I was not familiar with it and I couldn’t find any info about it at all on their website. So I had to drop the brewery a line; I haven’t heard back from Short’s so your guess is as good as mine. But I will be scouring stores in my area to see if I can get my hands on some. No surprise, but there is a very strong sour flavor and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. It was layered and complex, but I have no frame of reference for me to compare. I just know that I loved it! Unfortunately for a lot of y’all, Short’s beers are available only in Michigan, and they don’t have any plans to change that any time soon. But hey, that’s a great reason to come and visit the state and visit Short’s Pub in Bellaire, MI.
So, on to the catfish. . . these morsels were perfectly cooked and served hot with a side of remoulade. These were described as having a “tempura” batter, but that really wasn’t the case. It was a lot more substantial than you would find in a tempura, but it didn’t overpower the fish. I think that the cornmeal in the batter helped out with that.
Another round of beers. . . another Hopslam and this time I wanted to try the Firkin of Pineapple Ale. Again, I don’t know much about this one and didn’t think to ask. I’m still learning how to be a restaurant critic so I will try to remember to be more inquisitive. . . and to bring a pen and paper because using the notepad on my phone is a pain! Now I’d say that this ale is closest to an IPA but on the sweeter side. I didn’t quite catch flavors of pineapple, but I did get apple and citrus notes. Since it was served closer to room temperature, the other flavors were easier to pick up. Now this is definitely a better choice for the meal, because the Sour Puss might probably overpower the rest of the meal with its intensity.
And now for the main course. . . we got the Longhorn sandwich with a side of waffle fries and the Big Three entrée with a side of green beans and the delicious Mac and Cheese. The Longhorn is a sandwich with sliced beef brisket, onion marmalade, and shredded smoked Gouda. The Big Three is pretty much a sampler platter of their barbeque offerings — pulled pork, pulled chicken, and the brisket. Honestly, I think the brisket is the star. You can get some of the crispy charring on the outside coupled with flavors with some of the fat on the beef (the fat is where the flavor is at!). So not only do you get the layers of flavors, but also layers of texture which add a great deal to the experience. I definitely think the brisket could stand on its own without any additional sauces or additions, but of course, that didn’t stop me from trying different combinations! Don’t get me wrong — I love the pork and the chicken, but they can be a little bit on the lean side which means they are perfect vehicles for Slow’s selection of sauces.
There’s a selection of four sauces — Apple, Sweet, Spicy, and North Carolina. In my opinion, the best all-arounders would be the smokey, sweet Apple and the vinegary North Carolina. I think the Spicy works best with the pulled pork, and the Sweet goes well with the chicken. Keep in mind that there are other dishes there, like the ribs, salmon, jambalaya, even vegetarian options, so these sauces could strut their stuff with other pairings. Maybe one of these days I’ll opt for the ribs and a side of the black-eyed peas. And maybe one of these days, I’ll remember to leave room for dessert.
Slow’s BBQ is quickly becoming an Michigan culinary institution, if it isn’t one already. I think that over hour wait that you’re likely to encounter when you get here attests to that. But if you can wrangle up 5 of your friends, you can call ahead for a table because they take reservations for parties of 6 or more. I love Slow’s and I recommend you checking them out. If you’re careful, your bill doesn’t have to be exorbitant like mine tends to be. But I get here once a year, and what can I say? — I’m a sucker for great food and great beer!
Here’s another post from my trip up to the Traverse City area. If you saw my post on Elk Rapids, I likes me a nice breakfast when I’m on vacation — usually an omelette (still don’t know if it’s one “t” or two). This time I got a chance to go to J&S Hamburg on Front St. in Traverse City, MI. It has that whole charming hole-in-the-wall / diner feel. Plus, it was during Halloween, so that gets to add a little something to the experience — I guess some folks like to dress up in their costumes for the whole day.
I ordered a Farmer’s Omelete which had tomatoes, sausage, and mushrooms. Much to my surprise it came with a stack of pancakes! Everything was delicious and well cooked; maybe I’m just a sucker for eggs, but since I always order them, I know a good omelette when I taste one. It’s like when I judge a sushi restaurant by how good their spider rolls or temaki are. But I digress. . . you get a lot of good food for the price. Definitely worth a return visit.
Of course, I also had to check out what the town had to offer in regards to pumpkin donuts. And that’s where Potter’s Bakery comes in. As you may recall, I visited the Elk Rapids Sweet Shop and sampled their offerings. Potter’s makes a doughnut that can challenge the Sweet Shop for what I think is the best pumpkin doughnut. What makes the one from Potter’s different is in the flavor profile. The main thing that stands out is the spiciness of the it. It wasn’t overwhelming, but gave it a nice kick. It was a nice way to warm up a chilly autumn morning.
Also joining us on this road trip were the puppies Daisy and Cooper (well, maybe not puppies anymore). So I wanted to make a stop that was specifically for them. And Traverse City is home to D.O.G. Bakery, which stands for “Daisy and Oscar’s Gourmet Bakery”. You may have seen some of their goods since they have vendors in Michigan, Florida, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee. The store is located on Front Street in Traverse City and has some of the standard items that you would find in any pet store. What makes them special is the bakery in the back (plus the fact that they donated over 7% of their proceeds to pet focused charities). They use quality ingredients and use local food producers whenever they can, which is great. Naturally dogs are welcome inside. Thankfully there were no other puppies inside when we went in because Daisy and Cooper have a tendency to be excitable. But it was nice for them to go to a place where they can be included — it’s not like those two would be welcome inside North Peak Brewery (which I will post on soon).
So stay tuned for my final post about my trip up north when I will share a little bit about North Peak and Shorts Brewing Companies! It’s the last post about my vacation, I promise! That is, until the next vacation.
This is another post of my visit to the Traverse City, MI area. Now I’m only here for a couple of days and I will be doing lots of traveling around Northwest Michigan so breakfast is going to be super important! Well, breakfast is super important anyway, but there are lots of things that I want to see in the area and I’m going to need some fuel to keep my body going (of course, I could try to burn off some of my, um, stored “energy reserves”). But I’m on vacation, and when I’m on vacation, I likes me a nice breakfast. Judging by my pattern, I usually get an omelette if I get a chance (is it one “t” or two cuz I’ve seen both). But if I’m going on a long, long road trip, my travel foods of choice are chicharonnes and pecan logs, including a stop at the first roadside Chick-Fil-A I see. It is a small miracle that I can make it to my destination on a diet like that!
But I digress. . . I love going to diners and local eateries on trips. There’s always a good chance to experience some local flavor at a diner! And I stumbled across a great one in Elk Rapids, MI. This town wasn’t on my travel itinerary but I’m glad I stopped, because I happened upon the charming Harbor Cafe. It’s a nice, small, and modest restaurant with a black awning to help shelter patrons. Of course there is a “harbor” theme, which makes sense since Elk Rapids is right on the water with Grand Traverse Bay on the west and Elk Lake on the east. Plus, you can boat up to it! The outdoor seating was tempting, but it is autumn here in the northern reaches of Michigan, and it’s not exactly warm outside. You can expect some traditional diner fare, but with their own twist!
We got a couple of their omelette specials (all their specials were written on a large chalkboard which dominated the wall next to the kitchen) — the Corned Beef Hash omelette and the Reuben. Both were outstanding! The Corned Beef Hash came with some sautéed peppers,onions, and Swiss cheese, while the Reuben came with all the usual fixin’s that the sandwich has, including the Thousand Island Dressing. It is easy to see why this place is a favorite in the community. Everything was cooked perfectly; the hash didn’t overpower the omelette and the flavors of the Reuben really worked together which shocked me a bit. Never thought sauerkraut would taste good in an omelette! And the friendly staff recommended another local product that I should try and I was again pleasantly surprised. It was called Wild Bill’s Root Beer from local company Northwoods Soda. Such a distinctive and delicious flavor, unlike any other root beer that I’ve tried. I find it difficult to describe, but if you ever come across it, I definitely recommend it. You can check the link to see where it’s available. I have to come back soon to try some of the burgers and the Blueberry and Cream Stuffed French Toast!
On the way out, I noticed a little shop that people were literally running towards. Not knowing what the big draw was, I had to stop and investigate. Just out of arm’s reach from the Harbor Cafe is another small, unassuming, modest establishment hiding the absolute best pumpkin donuts I’ve ever had. Welcome to the Elk Rapids Sweet Shop (check them out on Facebook)! I am craving some of those donuts right now! The ones that you’d find at some of the larger chain stores and big box groceries are weirdly dense and coat the inside of your mouth with some sticky conglomeration of undercooked flavors. The donuts from here were light, fluffy, flavorful pillows of pumpkiny goodness. I swear I’ve never had anything like them, and I’ve eaten lots of donuts, hence the extra “energy reserves” 🙂 There aren’t any pictures of my donuts because, let’s face it — I just can’t control myself sometimes! I had selected the glazed pumpkin donuts; there were also iced and cinnamon-sugar versions. If you check out their Facebook page you can see that they offer a wide selection of other baked goods and pastries including pies, breads, and packzis (hopefully y’all know what those are, but I can explain on Fat Tuesday). I wish I had more time to sample more of what they have to offer. All the more reason to come back!
So if you’re ever in the area, stop by give these two places a try. You won’t regret it. And check out the rest of town, if you get a chance. I was visiting at the end of the season, so a lot of the places had already closed up for winter. I look forward to coming back, hopefully when the weather is warmer, although I have been known to drive up to Sault Ste. Marie in a snow storm. . . but that’s another story. . .
Well, not really. It’s actually the Magical Harbor! But pasties and smoked fish are the two things that I need to buy when I am visiting, and it’s been some time since I’ve been up north. It seems like those two things are everywhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) so sorting through all the different kinds can take some time. Here’s where I can help!
But first things first — a quick stop at Java Joe’s for some coffee. This place is a fun little cafe that serves a nice selection of breakfast items. Everything is good, but I’d have to single out the crepes as something to try. They can be tricky to make yourself, and you just don’t find those in every restaurant. Plus the decor is fun, especially the mural on the outside. And the coffee is great as are the people who work there!
Now on to some pasties. I think I may have talked a little bit about them in my post about the PastyFest 2011 in Calumet, MI. Recipes can vary, but there are those who are adamant that the filling must include rutabagas and not potatoes. In my opinion, it is the crust that makes everything shine. And Bessie’s Homemade Pasties does it the best. It’s a little bit further from the main strip downtown; just drive down the road, and up the hill until you see the giant sign. Like a lot of restaurants in the Upper Peninsula (UP) the inside of the restaurant is simple and unassuming, with charming guestbooks that visitors can sign. But in there, you will find some of the best pasties in the land. These are my favorites by far — the filling is delicious (even if they don’t use rutabagas) and the crust is top-notch. Plus, the pasties look happy to be there! Luckily I planned ahead and brought a cooler so I could take some frozen pasties home. Hopefully I can make them last for a while because I have no idea where to get pasties in SE Michigan.
And finally a stop at Manley’s Smoked Fish. You’ll pass it on the way to Java Joe’s and Bessie’s. If you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, you will definitely see it. You’ll probably notice it even if you’re not a fan of the Pack since the complex is painted in the team’s green and yellow colors. But it’s not all for show — they have great quality smoked fish, homemade beef jerky, pasties, whitefish, lake trout, among other goodies. We picked up a few smoked whitefish to bring home. I don’t know exactly what they do in their smoke house, but they definitely know what they are doing. There are lots of other purveyors of smoked fish in the northern reaches of the state, but this is worth a stop. And the prices are extremely reasonable; respectable smoked whitefish down here can be around 5 times the price at $25 a pop. I will be using these golden formerly swimming packets of goodness to a make smoked fish dip which I will be posting soon.
Now I know I’ve been relatively quiet for the past few weeks. But it’s the weird transition in the house between taking down Halloween decorations, leaving up Thanksgiving decorations, and putting up Christmas decorations. Plus I’m in vacation recovery mode (I went to the Traverse City [TC] area and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). I promise not to bore y’all with all my vacation escapades. I will just share some of the food-related finds.
If you don’t know where Traverse City, MI is, I will show you on your handy Michigan map. Just take your right hand and look at it palm-side-up; looks like the lower peninsula of Michigan, right? Traverse City is just to the right of the tip of your pinky. Don’t believe me, just check out this map.
Traverse City is actually a great foodie town. Chef Mario Batali spends his summers just north of the city; Chef Jacques Torres opened up his first chocolate shop outside New York and Las Vegas in Traverse City (it has since closed); it is home to the National Cherry Festival; and prime Michigan wine country is just a stone’s throw away.
Speaking of cherries, have you heard of the Great American Cherry Pie War? Well, I don’t know if it’s called that, but that’s the moniker I’m using. TC and rival town just up the road Charlevoix, MI engaged in a heated battle vying for World’s Largest Cherry Pie. Charlevoix fired the first volley by baking a pie that was over 14 feet across and 2 feet deep. It weighed over 17,000 lbs and was baked in 1976 to help celebrate the US bicentennial. It held the title until TC took the title away with a pie that was over 17 feet across and over 28,000 lbs. Some town in Canada broke the record several years later, but you can visit the pie pans for the Michigan record breakers.
I had actually come across this by accident when I noticed a giant pie pan on the side of the road while taking the scenic route up to St. Ignace, which is just over the Mackinaw Bridge in the Upper Peninsula. That triggered a memory of the duel between the two rival towns that I had read on the Roadside America website. You can read about quirky tourist attractions all over the country. Just type in a city and find out what’s nearby. This website also brought up another interesting TC landmark.
TC is home to a memorial to Colantha Walker, “The World Champion Cow of the Insane”. She was born in April 1916 and was under the care of staff and patients of the Northern Michigan Asylum. While living on the farm on the Asylum grounds, she produced 200,114.9 lbs. of milk and 7,525.8 lbs. of butterfat. Now I have no clue as to how this compares to non-world champion cows, but it was sufficient enough for her to be immortalized with a rather sizeable granite tombstone after her death in January 1932. But after doing a little research, her landmark year was 1926 when she produced almost 23,000 lbs. of milk, which earned her “World Champion” title. According to census records, the Michigan average for dairy cows was just over 3,900 lbs. a year.
Exciting stuff! Like I said, I promise to try not to tire you with yarns about my trip. I’ll post on some great budget-friendly restaurants, a couple local breweries, a bake shoppe that makes the best pumpkin donuts that I’ve ever had, and throw in some smoked fish and pasties (the pastry, not the adornments worn to cover up your unmentionables). I’ll even work in a recipe or two. Stay tuned!