The Octagon House

20 Jan

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In 1860, Macomb County farmer, engineer, Loren Andrus completed construction on his cupola-topped, Corinthian-columned, eight-sided home on Van Dyke just north of 26 mile Rd in Washington Michigan; 155 years later it’s still looks beautiful. Today the Friends of the Octagon House are having a holiday open house and we’re going. Before we start our tour, I’d like to tell you a little about this unique style of architecture. Some consider the octagon the first pure American housing style, it is completely different from the styles brought from Europe; Thomas Jefferson designed over 50 buildings with octagonal features. Eight-sided structures were less expensive to build, every inch could be used as living space, they were easier to heat in the Winter and stayed cooler in the Summer months due to the spiral staircase. It’s estimated thousands of octagonal homes were built in the US, mostly on the East Coast; today, less than 500 remain, two of them right here in Macomb County.

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We park in the lot next to the house, two of the original barns remain on the property, the orange brick home features 8-foot windows, white trim and pretty scrolled brackets reminding us it was built in the Victorian era. The front entrance is open, Christmas decorations fill the rooms, walls are pale yellow, wide trim pieces are painted satin white. I am astounded at how fancy the interior is; thick moldings hug wide arches that permit passage from one room to the next, ceilings are embellished with carved details, medallions act as anchors for chandeliers, and the spiral staircase……!! All of the decorated trees and garlands are for sale, one of the many ways the “Friends” raise funds for restoration and maintenance, it’s beautiful. Rooms flow one to the next, period furniture fills the space, many items have been donated. In the dining room a cluster of  large plaster acanthus leaves cling to the ceiling forming an elegant medallion for the crystal chandelier, this one is original, there’s a lovely china cabinet and sideboard, light pours in through the large windows making the room bright.

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There are different rooms for entertaining on the first floor, the kitchen is complete with ice box and antique stove. The centerpiece is, of course, the 55 step, cantilevered, spiral staircase that leads from the first floor to the third-story cupola, it’s gorgeous! Today it’s embellished in ribbons, garlands and glass ornaments. Kris and I stand at the bottom and gaze up to the top, it’s a swirl of plaster, wood and holiday sparkle. Climbing the steps, we go all the way to the top, inside the cupola we are granted a panoramic view of our surroundings; on one side mature trees and old barns recall the days when this was a working farm, the other direction, a complete contrast, busy roads and modern businesses. Walking down one flight, we are on the second story where the family bedrooms are located. Again we have that flow from room to room; doorways are wide, floors are broad planks, beds are antique, quilts are draped on racks; Christmas trees and Poinsettia adorn the spaces. A sitting area is finished off with thick books filling cases, a phonograph and other old-fashioned items scattered throughout.

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We descend the dramatic staircase to the first floor, then continue on to the basement, here we find old photographs and displays. There have been ‘digs’ on the property revealing old farming tools, bottles and wheels. A cellar is filled with cast iron skillets, rolling pins, baking pans, butter churn and storage bins for vegetables grown on the farm. Canning jars are filled with pickled and preserved items. In the laundry room there’s an old washing machine and a wringer to squeeze out the excess water before things were hung on the clothesline, reminds me of what a chore laundry used to be. Did you know the Octagon House was one of the stations on the Underground Railroad? 

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Like so many other important, historic sites and buildings, the Octagon House had been vacated, vandalized and condemned, it was rescued  just days before the wrecking ball was set to demolish the house. I remember coming here as a kid when it was the Apple Barrel Farm (1974-84) complete with animals. Today it is a State of Michigan Historic Site, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Macomb County Historic Landmark. It’s really a remarkable place, I encourage you to visit during one of their open houses or events, it can even be rented out for one of your own private events; check it out.

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Driving south on Van Dyke, we decide to stop off and grab a bite to eat at Tivoli’s Pizzeria in Utica. Nestled in a decades-old strip mall, the building recently suffered a fire, this is our first time back since they re-opened.  The inside is completely different, yet the same. The layout hasn’t changed; tables fill the front section, the open kitchen remains in the middle. The decor is a bit more rustic, chandeliers are mismatched, table tops resemble old wood planks. The long wall is exposed brick, Italian movie posters hang mid-way down, the left wall is covered in a custom painted mural, photographs and memorabilia belong to the family. We’re glad to see many of the old staff members have returned. 

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The menu has been revised; new things have been added, old favorites remain (whew!). Today we are having the Tivoli Special, a NY style round pizza with mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, ham, bacon, Italian sausage, we add yellow pepper rings to the mix. We start with the Antipasto salad, a nice pile of crisp lettuce topped with all the usual suspects, dressed with the housemade vinegar and oil, delicious. Our pizza is served right from the wood-burning oven, the crust is puffed high in some spots, melted mozzarella stretches all the way from the pan to our plates, it’s delectable, as expected. They also make Sicilian square and Chicago stuffed pizza, oh and don’t forget about dessert, you can’t go wrong with their homemade Tiramisu or Cannoli.


DETROIT: Belle Isle After Dark

13 Jan

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For months, all eyes have been glued to the pale yellow building on the corner of Michigan Ave and Wabash, waiting for signs of the official launch of Detroit’s newest restaurant. After much anticipation Gold Cash Gold is now open. Brought to us by Phil Cooley, the man behind Slows Bar B Q, the building was formerly an old pawn shop, a re-paint includes the red-lettered advertising that gave the restaurant its name. The lower level sports new windows and smart black paint job, the old Sam’s Loans sign still clings to the second story. Inside, panels of upcycled stained glass act as a barrier between the door and bar area. The place has been packed daily, we are having a late lunch to avoid the crowd. We are led to a corner table in the dining room, I’m fascinated by the floor; taken from an old elementary school gymnasium, a huge eagle, wings open wide, is painted on the wood, it had to be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle in its new home, the serpentine patterned ceiling is also made from reclaimed wood. Jars of pickled and preserved vegetables are lined up on narrow shelves.

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The lunch menu consists of about 12 items, dishes feature seasonal ingredients and whole animal cookery. Our order is placed, we look around a little; clear glass globes illuminate the dining room, a brick wall is painted white, arches allow passage between the dining room and bar, here more stained glass windows are used in the decor. Our sandwiches arrive, we dig in without hesitation. The Ham & Cheese is grilled, the buttered bread has formed a perfect crunchy crust, thin slices of ham, pimento cheese and pickled peppers are warm and gooey between the semolina slices. The Lamb Sandwich is an individual sized whole wheat pita stuffed with slices of roasted lamb, pepper jam and spicy greens; both sandwiches are served with a handful-sized portion of salad. We’d like to come back and try out the dinner menu.

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Just after 5 pm we cross the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, tonight is the annual Holiday Stroll; the aquarium, conservatory and museum are all open until 8:00. Reaching the parking lot nearest the aquarium, I draw in a deep breath, the 1904 Albert Kahn structure is shrouded in bright blue LED lights, spotlights highlight the icicle-like stone columns, it’s gorgeous! The aquarium operated from 1904-2005, making it the oldest in North America to continuously do so, in 2012 it re-opened and is now part of the Belle Isle Conservancy; you can visit Saturday’s and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm, free of charge.

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Colorful Christmas lights enhance the entrance, a decorated tree is off to the left. Every time I’m inside I feel like I am somewhere below the surface of the river, eerie, maybe it’s the reflection of the water off the green tiles or the barrel-shaped ceiling, whatever the cause, it’s cool. Many of the tanks have been restored and are home to multiple varieties of fish and other water creatures. As we approach a tank, the turtle inside swims to the front, he looks happy to see us, Kris reminds me it’s probably his dinner time. Multi-colored Koi swim back and forth, tiny fish cluster together, a trio of stingray hover just above the gravel, spotted patterns cover their skin, they have a sleek tail and eyes that protrude. Unrestored tanks are filled with interesting artifacts; one displays antique souvenirs such as plates, postcards and trinkets from the aquarium, photographs are blown up and provide us a look back in time. Another tank holds Frederick Law Olmstead’s architectural drawings and notes on his plans for Belle Isle, I love that they still have these things and share them with the likes of you and me. 

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Kris and I make our way over to the conservatory next door, lighted garlands are draped across the fence, from here we see red and green lights glow from within. The vestibule is buzzing with activity, boxes of Dutch Girl Donuts fill tables to the left, a large Christmas tree takes center stage, cups of cider are being passed out to visitors. Ambling through the Palm House we make the right into the Tropical House and follow the path to the Children’s Temperance Fountain; this is one of our favorite places. For nearly 100 years George Wade’s bronze statue of a young girl offering a bowl of water has stood in this spot, from time to time I have witnessed folks testing their skills, trying to toss coins into her bowl; tonight all is calm, delicate orchids bloom in purple and white. We loop back around into the Palm House, the dome soars 85 feet high, colored spotlights are aimed at exotic Palm trees as they reach skyward, the Show House is next. Beds are packed with red, white, pink and coral colored Poinsettia, Cyclamen bloom in purple and white, miniature lights are woven into trees. People are beginning to fill the empty chairs, the Deep River Choir will perform soon.

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Being here in the dark creates an entirely different atmosphere, the Cactus House looks stark, cold, other-worldy. Cactus and succulents are tall and spindly, they look like they could reach out and grab you. By contrast the Fernery has an ethereal look, lush ferns are awash in bold red, blue and white light, shapes and textures of leaves come to life in the form of shadows, I’m very fond of this room. Years ago we were permitted to walk in the lower level, repairs are yet to be made before they can open it up to the public again. Exiting the building Kris lingers outdoors, he walks the grounds a bit, taking pictures. Before we head back, he parks the Jeep facing the river,the city spreads out before us, view is spectacular. Renaissance Center stands front and center, blue lights encircle the towers, further back, the red ball on the roof of the Penobscot blinks off and on, Light radiates from the top of One Woodward, the irregular shape of One Detroit Center is unmistakable.  In the distance the cables of the Ambassador Bridge glimmer against the night sky all the way to Canada, quite a sight, I never tire of the view.

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Marshall: C’mon In…

6 Jan

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After a wonderful lunch at Schuler’s we are refreshed and ready to get back on the tourist trail, the Honolulu House Museum is next. Built for Judge Abner Pratt in 1860, it is said to resemble the executive mansion he lived in while serving as US Consul in Honolulu from 1857-59. They say after he came back, he missed the islands so much, he built this house as a reminder. The intriguing structure stands beside a small park near the intersection of highways US 12 and US 27, it is a most unusual design and has a place on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Buildings Survey. The home was occupied by several residents through the decades, in 1951 Mr Harold C Brooks acquired the property when it was threatened to be replaced by a gas station—Thank You Mr Brooks! These days it serves as the headquarters for the Marshall Historical Society and is open for tours.

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Entering the home from the back door, we step inside and are stopped in our tracks, elaborate designs cover the walls and ceiling, a massive curving stairway bisects the space between front and back, we follow the sound of voices; we have arrived just in time for a guided tour. You absolutely won’t believe your eyes, this is NOT wallpaper, each wall, ceiling, border, trim, pattern and scene is painted by hand! Plaster ceiling medallions are chunky and rich with detail, exquisite chandeliers are designed to run on gas and electricity, windows are rectangular and tall bringing sunlight into the home. They call the design of the building Italianate Gothic Revival with Polynesian influence, I call it spectacular! Originally the interior of the home had a much more tropical look, decorating styles changed, white fireplaces were replaced with black, dark colors became en vogue; from the period furnishings and authentic replicas of the carpet to the stunning hand painted finishes, this is Honolulu House in its 1880’s splendor.

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From room to room I am awed by the beauty, the ceiling in the dining room is a series of squares, each a different design and color pallet, gold leaf glimmers, border after border travels down the wall. A gorgeous rectangular piano graces the music room, wall sconces are ornate, portraits are placed throughout the home. Back in the foyer we all stop to admire the incredible sweeping staircase; made of ebony, teak, mahogany and maple, it leads to……nowhere….there is no second floor. What it does lead to is an observation platform on the roof, I’ll bet Judge Pratt had quite a view back in the day. The den has a more masculine feel, gold leaf is prevalent, the chandelier is simple, less frilly. Throughout, painted designs appear 3-dimensional, each room a work of art, door frames are fancy, all but one stained glass window surrounding the front door are original.

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Another set of stairs lead us to the basement, this is where the kitchen is located. Cast iron pots rest on a huge antique stove, the space is plain, made for cooking and eating, not entertaining. A butter churn, wood rolling-pin and grinder are at rest. Built in cabinets display china and crystal from a previous occupant. The floors are wide planks, an original white fireplace remains, there was no need for it to be replaced since guests would never see it. A wall of photographs shows the labor-intensive restoration, amazing! We ascend the stairs and are again mesmerized by the beauty of the home, I pause at every second or third step to admire the view. Kris snaps photo after photo in effort to capture the pure elegance of the home, it’s a place you really have to see for yourself.

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It’s time for us to meet our tour group at Trinity Episcopal Church for Marshall’s 35th Annual Candlelight Walk. The walk is a guided tour of five historic homes decorated for the holiday season, led by residents of the neighborhood, I’m so excited! We check in at Trinity and are treated to a buffet of homemade cookies, brownies, candy, coffee and hot chocolate. Once finished, we take the opportunity to check out the church. Completed in 1864, Gordon Lloyd of Detroit was the architect, he made a name for himself with the success of the building and went on to design numerous subsequent buildings: Christ Church and Central United Methodist, the Wright Kay Building and David Whitney house, all in Detroit. If you’ve ever been to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, (formerly the Northern Michigan Asylum) he designed the castle-like Building #50, just to name a few.

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The church is in the Gothic Revival style, the dark wood of the ceiling, trusses and pews are Michigan Black Walnut, so luxurious and grand. The late afternoon sun lights up the dazzling stained glass windows, they are a variety of styles installed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Each is lovely and unique featuring Christian symbols, flowers, images from nature, Jesus and Mary; colors range from pastel to bold. Chandeliers are opulent, square in shape they dangle from delicate chains, the interior is simple and resplendent at the same time, fine details accentuate railings and trim. The pipe organ was custom-made by the MP Moller Company of Hagerstown MD and features 37 ranks of pipes installed in 3 chambers which flank the chancel.

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Helium-filled, colored balloons are tied to pews, we are in the “gold” group, we take a seat in the appropriate section waiting for everyone to arrive. The tour begins right on schedule, 5 groups of 30 people each stream onto neighborhood streets, every group starts at a different home creating an easy flow of traffic in and out of houses. The neighborhood exudes charm; each home is unique, many were built in the late 1800’s, styles include Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Greek Revival, Farmhouse and Federal, creating an old-fashioned, quaint, ambience. The weather is perfect, mild for December and not a hint of a breeze, the sun is low in the sky. We approach a lovely Princess Ann home with a large wrap-around porch, it’s just lovely; inside a Christmas tree is positioned near the fireplace, candles glow in place of logs, the hardwood floor gleams, decorations reflect the home’s period, miniature lights here and there add sparkle. Back outside dark is falling, Christmas comes to life; lights are strung across gutters, draped on fences and wrapped around trees. Kris and I pause here and there looking at different houses, there’s a darling yellow one with black shutters and fancy white trim that really catches our eye.

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In the next home flames roar in the fireplace, white lights, popcorn and cranberries hug the Christmas tree; rooms are simple, uncluttered and cozy, love the built-in china cabinets in the dining room. It’s wonderful to see the owners’ personality reflected in their furnishings and decor. The next stop is downtown on W Michigan Ave, it’s quite a distance, the scenery is picturesque so nobody seems to mind. We stop in front of the Mole Hole, we are seeing the apartment above, Kris and I really like these kinds of spaces. Inside, the place looks like a designer showroom for comfort, coziness and cute. This is the family’s first Christmas here so they pulled out all the stops, it’s gorgeous! An outdoor deck glitters with lanterns and lights, candles flicker in bedrooms, ornaments fill glass vases, ribbon and tulle drape walls, dressers and floral arrangements. The Christmas tree lights up the main living space, there’s a cool pool table in the room, looks like a fun place to hang out!

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Outdoors Michigan Ave is glowing, it’s like a scene from a postcard or storybook; the antique holiday lights are lit, they sparkle above the street and storefronts, we casually make our way back to the neighborhood. The last two homes are beautiful as well, each has its own distinct style, decorations make the rooms festive, they all look ready for a party. The Colonial Revival on Mansion Street has a great front porch, many of us take a seat, chit-chat and look out over the area; it has been a real treat to take part in the Candlelight Walk of 2014. Before we leave town, we stop at the Brooks Memorial Fountain, festooned in blue LED lights, a life-size manger scene takes center stage. After taking one last look we point the Jeep East.

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Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a drive in the car, it seemed we had just left Marshall when Kris nudged me awake in Jackson to grab some dinner. He has been telling me about the burrito bar he ate at during the summer called Chilango’s on Michigan Ave, I’m excited to give it a try! As my eyes adjust to the light I follow Kris to the back of the restaurant, it smells delicious. I watch as a man behind the counter takes a ball of dough places it in a press of some sort, and removes a fresh, warm, huge flour tortilla. Both of us are starving, everything sounds appealing, Kris points to one of the burrito combinations on the menu, I nod in agreement. We watch as meat, beans, veggies, cilantro and sauce are layered into the tortilla, which is then neatly folded, my mouth is watering  just thinking about it…..Taking a seat in the front window we revel in our tasty burrito, folks pass by on their way to and from Saturday night festivities, this our last stop for the night, what a night (and day) it has been!

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MARSHALL: Cool Old Stuff !

24 Dec

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We are navigating west across the mitten to the charming hamlet of Marshall. Home of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts, in the Small Urban category, over 850 buildings are included in the landmark; the city has been referred to as “a virtual textbook of 19th century American architecture”, the heart of the Midwest’s “Prettiest Painted Places” and one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations”, that’s quite a reputation. Money to build such enviable structures came as a result of the Michigan Central Railroad, Patent Medicines Industry and agriculture; did you know Marshall lost out to Lansing as Michigan’s state capital by 1 vote? We have tickets for the 35th Annual Candlelight Walk, there’s plenty of time to explore before then.

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We park on W Michigan Ave, the streetscape is straight out of the 19th Century; buildings are constructed of brick and stone, each one distinct, wires strung from one side of the street to the other support miniature lights and decorative garlands, wreaths hang from light posts; it could be a scene in a Hallmark Christmas movie! At one time 18 general stores lined the main street, 16 of them served liquor by the glass, seems like a good idea to me….. Strolling down Michigan Ave we duck into The Mole Hole, Scott Smith is playing the Barton Theatre Organ, Christmas melodies fill the air, the gift shop is brimming with holiday decorations. Winter villages in showcases resemble Marshall itself, trees are bejeweled with ornaments and lights, snowflakes, candy canes and Santas fill shelves.  Shoppers gather around the organ, it’s fascinating to watch the organist at work; hands fly across the keys, feet pump pedals, resulting in the one of a kind sound that can only come from a pipe organ. A glass pane in the wall allows us to watch the pipes at work. 

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Down the street an old Rexall Drug Store sign piques our interest, a historical plaque informs us that Hemmingsen Rexall Drug Store was founded in 1855 and has provided more than 100 years of continuous service. At another pretty storefront belonging to a dentist, two giant molars are mounted to the facade, we walk into the tiled exterior foyer to look at the old-fashioned dental tools and accessories on display in large windows—my teeth hurt just looking at the stuff! At a little antiques shop, groupings are arranged by color, it’s very eye-catching. Items span the decades from the old metal toy trucks and tractors to the late 70’s, fun!  Serendipity is just the kind of boutique a group of girlfriends would love to shop; gourmet food, original artwork, tea accessories, serving pieces, decorative items, my friends and I could easily fill a few shopping bags. 

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Close by, a trio of blue bar stools are attracting attention in the front window of Amazing Grace, the kind of funky vintage shop Kris and I enjoy investigating. Mannequins are dressed up in interesting attire; clothing, furniture, lighting, accessories, figurines and loads of other unique items are for sale. Up on the second floor we get an up-close look at the stunning tin ceiling, painted white, for some reason it reminds me of a wedding cake. Kitchen items, souvenir pennants, quirky hats, rotary telephones and even a few parasols make this an awesome place to look around. The shopping district enjoys a nice variety of businesses and museums all housed in buildings more than 100 years old, there are 45 historical markers and plaques in the city, preservation has always been a priority in Marshall.

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On the sidewalk ahead a sign advertises the American Museum of Magic, it’s the largest magic museum in the United States open to the public, who knew? The Victorian-style building is gorgeous, inside we pay the $5 admission and begin to wander around; I, like most folks, have always been fascinated by magic, Houdini, Thurston, Blackstone and Henning are all familiar names. From the famous to the obscure, the museum celebrates magicians and their magic. Pale yellow walls are plastered with heralds, hand bills, window cards and show bills. Devices, apparatus, photos and artifacts cram display cabinets and fill floor space. Probably the most popular is Houdini’s “Milk Can” and “Overboard Box”, amazing! Clare Cummings, who was “Milky the Twin Pines Magic Clown” donated most of his magic tricks to this museum as did Blackstone who was from Michigan. We move slowly from one area to another, there’s much to read and look at; crates, trunks, cabinets and costumes used in illusions, they even have one of those long wooden boxes where the magician saws the beautiful assistant in half, it’s so cool to see them up close. We climb the stairs and follow the narrow hall into another exhibit area, there’s a performance space with seating, more cases filled with memorabilia, masks, souvenirs and everyday products that came with mail-in offers for magic tricks, hey, they have Pen & Teller’s suits. Harry Blackstone’s mummy case rests on the floor, a placard explains how the trick worked. The collection does a splendid job introducing us to magicians, illusionist, hypnotists, their tricks, their stories and entertains us as well.

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Marshall is also known as the home of Schulers Restaurant & Pub, a century-old, family owned eatery in a former a hotel, it’s one of those must-go-to places. We step inside the historic building and find it bustling with people; it’s a Saturday in December, this is the perfect gathering place to meet friends and family. A small section is devoted to retail sales of Schuler’s own baked goods and pantry items from other Michigan businesses. We are led to the dining room, handed menus and the infamous cheese and crackers are left on the table. I think it was a tie between Kris and I as to who got to the crackers first! As we nibble we take in the quaint room; checkered cloths cover tables, Poinsettia are placed throughout, a fire roars in the large stone fireplace, historical murals and photographs cover the walls. Throughout the space quotes like “It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives”, “Music is the universal language of mankind” and other famous sayings are painted on the wooden beams; some are witty, others, thought-provoking, it’s wonderful! The fourth generation of Schuler’s currently run the business that turned 100 in 2009, that’s an accomplishment.

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Just as we finish the salad our veggie burger arrives; the patty is made from quinoa, black bean, oats and cilantro, we asked for ours on the homemade focaccia, topped with horseradish mayo, guacamole, onion straws, tomato and fresh greens, it’s outstanding! Truly delicious, it could be one of the best veggie burgers we’ve ever had. Our server asks us if we’d like to see the dessert menu, what the heck. We find two items particularly appealing, ask the server her opinion, then give in and order the Signature Pecan Ball. She’s back in a flash with a large ball of vanilla bean ice cream rolled in roasted sweet pecans, drenched in hot fudge (and on her suggestion) hot caramel. I am taking a slight pause here as I revel in the memory of the awesomeness…………..

We’re just going to sit back and relax for a while before moving on to our next activity. In the words of Bernie Wolf, “Take time to play–it is the secret of perpetual youth”.

FLINT: Farm Fresh………

16 Dec

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Each day signs and advertisements encourage us to “buy local” and “shop small” to support our community, city and state; the growing number of farmers; markets, maker fairs and small businesses are making it easier to do just that. Today we are in Flint MI visiting the new Farmers’ Market that opened downtown in June. The 32,000 sq ft, year-round, public market currently has about 50 vendors selling everything from fresh produce, meat and cheese to wine, Mexican groceries, coffee and baked goods. Housed in the former Flint Journal Printing Facility, businesses are open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; there’s a demonstration kitchen on the first floor and meeting rooms on the second level.

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Once downtown the market is easy to spot, large red letters rooftop act as a beacon to the building, the parking lot is busy with cars coming and going, an outdoor vendor is selling fresh evergreen wreaths, garlands and decorative pots. We find a space near the back, the side of an adjacent building is a cleverly painted mural of an overflow parking lot, vintage vehicles fill the few spaces, tail lights glow red, some even have real side-view mirrors, cool! We follow fellow shoppers inside, I immediately recognize the unique ‘market’ scent, that great mix of spices, food being cooked, coffee brewing, fresh fruit and vegetables, love it. To our left we find a Mexican and a Beirut market side by side, both sell grocery items and hot food, we pass through the atrium buzzing with activity and walk to the Art At The Market Gallery at the end of the hall. The space is long and narrow, framed photographs and paintings hang on the walls, clay pots, bowls and vases are handsomely displayed. Stained glass pieces glow under bright lights, metal art, furniture and jewelry are available in many different colors and designs.

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We head back to the main marketplace, rows and rows of food vendors tempt us with their offerings; cheese comes in full and half wheels, wedges and chunks, colors vary from white to yellow even green and blue. The milk comes from cows, goats and sheep. Piles of cabbage, hard squash and sweet potatoes fill a booth, Crust from Fenton is selling loaves of white, rye and challah bread along with onion rolls, cookies and brownies; I purchase a loaf of the Saskatoon Prairie Seed, it’s our favorite. Over at Charlies’ Smokin’ Bar-B-Q a line has formed, sure smells good….. Across the aisle fresh greens wait to be tossed into a salad, next to that you can buy gourmet popcorn, there’s handcrafted soaps, pasties, cheesecake, donuts and chicken salad. Mc Carrons Orchards has more than a dozen varieties of apples, at Bagels & Beans you can purchase a bagel as big as your head. At another produce stand brussel sprouts still cling to their stalks, grapefruit and oranges perfume the air.

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We browse the many aisles, weaving in and out, free samples abound, everywhere you look people are eating, ok, enough, time for lunch! There are many places to grab a snack or a meal, after walking around the whole place we choose Sweet Peaces; tucked into a tiny little spot, there is only room for 3 tables, you can also get food to go and eat in the large atrium area. The menu is completely plant-based and vegan. We order at the counter and are rewarded quickly with our lunch. The samosa is an Indian pastry filled with potatoes, peas and spices, it’s very good. The Mo-Mos are Nepalese steamed dumplings filled with cabbage, carrot, onion and spices, served with a sesame ginger sauce, very tasty. The special of the day is an Indian vegetable curry with butternut squash and pumpkin, really delicious, spicy but not too hot. Now we’re ready to shop again.

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Across the way is d’vine Wines, remember to look down at the cork floor. In addition to selling tons of Michigan wines they also sell varieties from Spain, France, Italy, Australia, South America and New Zealand; they also feature wine from California, Oregon and Washington, in addition to wine accessories like glasses, corkscrews and the like. The Local Grocer is a collaboration of businesses selling locally grown produce and grocery items such as flour from Westwind Milling Co, popcorn kernels from Bur Oaks and roasted soybean nuggets from Rabble Roasters; we pick up a few things for home. Time for coffee…… I saw a sign at Hot Cups for an Eggnog Latte, they even use eggnog from Calder Dairy, that I can’t resist. Kris gets an iced coffee, we have a seat in the atrium and relax as we drink out beverages, now that hits the spot!

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Driving around downtown earlier we noticed a sign in front of the Masonic Temple for a holiday market by Flint Handmade, let’s go! We score a spot on the street right in front of the building, built in 1911 it’s a Flint landmark. Inside, the building is intriguing, the market is happening right here on the first floor in the auditorium, the shopping begins…. The room is simple, understated, what a cool place to hold an event like this; tables are arranged into wide aisles, successful shoppers are loaded down with bags, the holiday spirit is palpable. We meander past baskets filled with goofy felt characters, some have bright pink hair others sport multiple eyes, any child would love one. Hand-dyed scarves, bags, hats and gloves fill a table; they are lovely, Flint Handmade is selling t-shirts. There are several jewelry booths; wire-wrapped pendants hang on long chains, one artist sells nothing but rings. My favorite are the pieces made from old watch parts and scrap pieces; gears, hands and faces are reconfigured and made into stylish earrings and necklaces, they’re gorgeous in an industrial way. Some artists create unique, decorative objects from discarded items, they call it upcycling, I like it.

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Out in the lobby I ask if it’s possible to look around the building, we are given a tour and a chance to explore the place—- awesome. We ride the elevator up to the top floor (#3) and exit into rooms decorated in red, banquet tables are set up in one area, a wide white molding surrounds the stage, the Boardroom is stunning; heavy wood panels cover the walls, the fireplace is gorgeous, light fixtures throughout are simple stainless steel. The history of the local Masons is found in photographs, in cabinets filled with medals and cases loaded with memorabilia; it’s truly fascinating stuff. The next floor down decorated in blue, is home to the main auditorium. The room has almost a medieval feel to it; raked seating on each side gives everyone a clear view, free-standing columns flank the entryway, one is topped with an antique-looking globe, the architecture screams Masonic artistry. We encounter antique ornamental chairs, showcases with trophy’s and an elegant sword. Beautiful bookcases reside on the mezzanine level. 

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This building has housed lodges including Flint 23, Fellowship 490, Shriners, York Rite, Scottish Rite and other Masonic bodies that devote themselves to charitable works that benefit the Flint community. It is said the Free Masonary is likely the world’s oldest fraternity dating from medieval times. There’s some amazing history here! We’ve had a great day here in Flint, seems new things are popping up all the time; it’s good to see some of the old ones have stood the test of time.

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DETROIT: Holiday Style

9 Dec

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It’s the holiday season; trees are wrapped in lights, Christmas music fills the airwaves, cities and towns celebrate with events and activities. In Detroit, Campus Martius Park has been transformed into Winter Magic. Each weekend the park is filled with music, entertainment, ice skating, tents to keep you warm, food and cocktails. Shoppers can head over to City Loft in the First National Building where stores from the Somerset Collection will take up residence until December 23.

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It’s a crisp Friday evening, we park the Jeep and fill the meter with quarters. First stop, 1515 Broadway for a warm cup of coffee, as we approach the counter a woman asks us if we’re here for Unsilent Night……well, maybe, what’s that? Turns out we have stumbled into something oddly cool. Here’s how it works: participants record one of four tracks on a cassette, cd or mp3 player, the group gathers together, then walks through the streets of the city, when all four tracks are joined it creates an “ethereal, electronic soundscape”. A crowd has formed inside 1515, I haven’t seen so many boomboxes since the 90’s, anything that amplifies music will do. Coffee’s in hand we wait on the sidewalk as the mass moves outdoors, a few brief instructions and the music begins. We join the promenade through the streets of Detroit (one of 33 cities in the world to participate), at times it sounds like bells or chimes, folks on sidewalks pause to look and listen, as the group nears Campus Martius we branch off in our own direction; that was delightful!

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There it is, Detroit’s Christmas tree, placed prominently atop the fountain; thousands of lights wrap the branches, packages are adorned with big red bows, water flows and sprays below; dozens of cameras at a time record the beautiful image. Surrounding trees join in the festivities with their own lights, buildings are specially lit, rosy-cheeked skaters fill the ice rink, freezing cold hands are warmed by fires blazing in barrels throughout the park. As we amble, a stilt walker dressed up as a snow queen pauses for photos, a street performer practices his fire-eating skills, next thing you know we stumble upon an igloo on Cadillac Square. Inside, the light phases from purple to blue to green then white, 25 designer snowmen are decked out in fashions by Somerset retailers; top hats, beautiful scarves, capes,  I can’t decide which one I like best.

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Well past our dinner time we make our way to the Showcase D’ Holidays tent, ooh, it’s warm in here. Every Friday and Saturday they have live music in this space; Bermuda Mohawk is just finishing up, Dennis Coffey comes on at 8:45. Big snowflakes hang from the ceiling supports, lights glow in green and red, the ping-pong table is vacant at the moment. Food and beverages are on the left, seating on the right, the stage is all the way in the back. Restaurant vendors vary from week to week, today some of our favorites are represented, we get vegetarian chili from Mudgies and a Southwest bowl from Johnny Noodle King, yum! Sitting at a high-top table we notice the crowd increasing steadily, it’s nice to get off your feet and enjoy a little music.

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Outside we wander around a bit, the streets are busy with bundled up pedestrians, horses’ hooves sparkle with glitter as they pull carriages through the the maze of streets—- what a fun way to see the city, the Zamboni is hard at work refreshing the ice at the rink. Stopping in at the Compuware Building, we relax at the sound of water falling in the fountain, it’s quite lovely; Santa packed up at 7 pm, but he’ll be back tomorrow for pictures and wish lists. Outdoors, the line to rent ice skates zigs and zags, all seem in good spirits as they await their turn. At the other end of the rink stands a temporary bar, a table empties just as we enter, immediately we claim it. You couldn’t ask for a better view; tables are set up along clear plastic windows of the tent, the decor is straight from Ikea, the beer from Atwater, there’s also a full bar, too bad it’s only here until the end of the month….. Kris grabs us a couple of drinks at the bar, the space is cozy, tablecloths look like their made from logs, each table is decorated with a candle and centerpiece. It feels as if we’re part of the group out on the ice, expert skaters fly by as the inexperienced grasp the side rail, refusing to let go; someone is always stopping to take a photo. The holiday spirit has arrived in Detroit, come out and get some for yourself!


DETROIT: It’s always something…..

2 Dec

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It’s that time of year again; maker’s fairs, artists markets, arts and crafts shows fill the weekend calendars. Talented folks present ideas, products and services to the public, gathered in unique venues across the urban landscape. Today we are attending the 2nd Annual HLDYMRKT, a DIY Holiday Craft Market held in an old industrial building on Christopher, off Conant just south of Jos Campau; it’s certainly off the beaten path! For us, seeing the building itself is as much of a treat as what’s going on inside. The building is owned by Andy Didorosi of the Detroit Bus Company; when we saw the buses parked in the lot, we knew we were in the right place. Signs on hot pink poster board lead us to the entrance; let’s check it out.

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Inside we are greeted by the scent of  gua bao, Asian buns stuffed with tasty fillings from the San Street food cart, shoppers carry steaming cups of coffee from Red Hook and nibble on treats from Pinwheel Bakery. The space is long and narrow, daylight fills the room, rows of vendors await us. The group gathered today are independent small businesses; some have a brick and mortar location, others do not. As we stroll the aisles we are excited to see a lot of things we’ve never seen before; Pot & Box offers a DIY terrarium bar, they are also selling crocheted cacti in tiny pots that look exactly like the real thing. I still send hand written notes and cards, I love checking out paper goods, Snow & Ivy has some great designs, I’m stocking up. SWEET has a variety of, well, sweets, artisan marshmallows being the main draw; vanilla bean, double chocolate, banana bourbon caramel and mango picante are just a few of the flavors; the snowflake s’mores look delicious. Vintage clothes from Jenstyle Vintage hang on racks, fabric items such as stuffed animals, hot and cold packs, hand-dyed pillows and tea towels make nice gifts. Beards are in, so are men’s grooming products such as beard oil, pomade, mustache wax, combs and brushes. Detroit is represented in a number of t-shirt designs and posters. The terrariums from Leadhead Glass are stunning, each is made from reclaimed raw materials from abandoned and deconstructed homes in Detroit, pretty cool! 

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Some friends tell us we need to go next door and check out the Fowling Alley……Wait, what??  We’re curious what the buzz is all about so we head over. First, let me say, the space is huge; 34,000 sq ft huge! At first it’s hard to comprehend; to our left is a series of “alley’s”, wooden platforms sit on the floor, bowling pins are set up on one end and a football rests near by, the area is sort of enclosed by nets and fencing. To the right is a mile-long bar, ok, it’s not really a mile long, but you get the picture; tall stools are pulled up to the bar awaiting their first customers, the top is constructed from old bowling lanes, clever. Far in the back a gigantic American flag acts as a backdrop for a stage platform, the rest of the square footage is filled in with industrial-size spools acting as tables in the soon-to-be biergarten……it’s a lot to take in! The building itself is nearly 100 years old, the ceiling a combination of metal beams with a saw-tooth skylight roof; light filters through green panels. After doing some reading I discovered this was home to the Gear Grinding Machine Co. in 1925, Dana Corp purchased the building after the war, it was then known as the Con-Vel Division Plant where the Rzeppa constant velocity u-joint was manufactured; gotta love that Detroit history.

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People are busy with tasks as they get ready to open for business, the owner, Chris Hutt is nice enough to explain what’s going on and most importantly, what FOWLING is. Chris actually invented the sport himself along with a few friends; a combination of horseshoes, bowling and football, he guarantees it’s a good time. Two arrangements of 10 bowling pins are set up on flat boards 48 ft apart from each other, fowlers take turns throwing a football from their board to the opposition’s board, each trying to knock down their opponents pins first…. sounds fun to me!  From fowling to live music, cocktails and mystery beer, The Fowling Warehouse promises to be a good time. Keep checking their Facebook page for the opening.

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There is no shortage of delicious food in Hamtramck, but today we had our mind set on a particular place, Rubbed, a sandwich and charcuterie shop on Michigan Ave. The small but quaint dining spot offers a tasty variety of cured and preserved meats, cheeses and accouterments available on a sandwich or charcuterie board; it smells amazing when you walk in the door. The interior has a retro feel; wood floor, vintage globe lights, an assortment of table and chairs, make the completely open space feel homey. Shelves by the counter are stacked with preserved vegetables, Rubbed t-shirts and old license plates. A chalkboard menu is placed near the register, we walk over and begin the decision-making process. Soup and sandwich sound good, we place our order and have a seat by the front windows overlooking all of the activities on Michigan Avenue.

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We help ourselves to cucumber water and look around, charcuterie board menus are written on plain brown paper near the counter, they all sound delicious; meats, cheeses, breads, pickles, olives, nuts…..Our food arrives, it looks and smells wonderful. I dip into the steaming hot bowl of mushroom soup, well seasoned, packed with mushrooms and a fair amount of bacon, it’s delectable. Kris stabs a potato from the dill and red skin salad and nods his head in approval. The Little Italy sandwich is huge, certainly big enough for two, it comes wrapped in butchers paper and cut in half. The bread is the perfect combo of crisp and tender, stacked with capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, tomato, red onion, banana peppers and mayo it is quite a mouthful, a scrumptious one at that.We eat until we have polished off every last crumb, the meal yummy and satisfying. Be sure and check out their monthly dinner series, maybe we’ll see ya there!

DETROIT: Southwest Sunday

26 Nov

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With so many new things in Detroit grabbing the spotlight, it’s nice to go back and visit things and places that made Detroit the architecturally rich, diverse, amazing city it is today. A good place to start is one of the many historic churches that have stood the test of time; today we are visiting St Hedwig Roman Catholic Church on Junction in SW Detroit. St Hedwig was the third Polish parish established on Detroit’s west side, the first service held in this building was November 30, 1916, Thanksgiving Day. Here’s a little history.

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 St Hedwig was founded in 1903, From 1910 to 1914 increasing numbers of Polish immigrants settled in Detroit, the parish quickly outgrew their building, in 1911 Architect Harry J Rill designed the church we are standing in today. In 1917 the Vorrler-Holtkamp Sparling Organ Co. of Cleveland completed the installation of the pipe organ, in 1918 Daprato Statuary Co, installed the stained glass windows. In 1928, for the Silver Jubilee, 3 bells were purchased and hung in the south tower, at the same time five clocks were installed in both towers. Hispanic population grew three-fold from 1993 to 2003 in southwest Detroit, the first Spanish mass was added in 2003. In 2013 St Hedwig and St Francis D’Assisi merged into one new parish.

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The exterior is a combination of red brick and stone; arches, columns and windows are grouped into three’s, statues stand near the main stairs, wood doors grant us access to the interior, a tile medallion on the vestibule floor reads A.D. 1916. It is nearly 30 minutes before mass begins, all of the lights are not on yet, our attention is immediately drawn to the stunning high altar, aisles leading to the front are made of tiny tiles grouped into fanciful patterns. Dark colored wood pews rest upon a wood floor, light seeps through the stained glass windows. As we near the sanctuary we see the baptismal font, a work of art in itself, the pulpit was installed in 1978 along with the main altar to comply with Vatican II, there it is, the High Altar! The High Scagliola Altar is an original work of the Daprato Statuary Co of Detroit, they also made the other statues and the stations of the cross. On the upper tier, St Hedwig is at the high, St Peter and St Paul, on her sides, the Evangelists occupy the middle tier while the lower tier contains the Tabernacle. Large-winged angels flank the lower tier holding elaborate gilded lights, at the base of the altar rests a rendition of the last supper. Here the ceiling soars into a high Gothic arch, murals surround it, sanctuary lamps hang from delicate, ornate chains.

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To the right and left of the main altar are the Blessed Virgin Mary Altar and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Altar, the St Therese Altar is enclosed by a wrought iron gate as is the St Francis Altar on the south side, all are lovely. Facing the back of the church the first thing we notice are the pipes in the organ loft, there are over 2900 pipes in the organ that imitate instruments such as tubas, clarinets, oboes and trumpets. Columned arches line the nave, capitals are highly decorated in gold leaf, the ceiling is solid ivory in color, making details such as murals and windows stand out. Stations of the cross are mounted to side walls, each one tells a story; the lights have been turned on, it is clear these are not the original fixtures. Filled with light, the church has come to life, parishioners are filing in through front and side doors, today’s mass is in Spanish.

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We drive over to Vernor and park in front of the familiar yellow awning belonging to Taqueria Nuestra Familia. For over 11 years they have been serving up family recipes handed down through generations, the restaurant is packed! We are seated at a table near the front and close to the picture of the Holy Family; the menu offers the usual tacos, tostadas, tortas etc. What brings people in is the variety of fillings: Beef Head, Beef Tongue, Beef Tripe, Chorizo, Lomo, Carne al Pastor, Carne Asada and of course, chicken. Our server arrives with a basket of tortilla chips and 3 homemade salsas; a creamy green one, the standard fresh tomato and a golden one I suspect is made from roasted tomatillo’s, it has a nice spice to it. We place our order and try not to finish off the chips.

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The space is filled with families out for a Sunday meal, it’s not unusual to see three generations sitting together at a table, infants are passed from one family member to the next. The mood is light and cheerful as is the decor; tables and chairs are finished in bright pink, yellow, blue, orange and lavender. Chair backs are decorated with scenes of birds, flowers, fruit and Mexican themes. Before we know it our meal arrives, we are having the combination plate of a taco, tostada, burrito and two enchiladas, we were hoping to try a few different fillings, but the same meat comes in each, today we ordered the carne asada. I used a different salsa on each to give it some variety, all was good.

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Heading east on Vernor we stop in at Neveria La Michoacana for dessert. Serving up homemade Mexican popsicles (Paletas), aguas frescas, chocolate dipped bananas, fresa y crema and ice cream, the shop does a good business. Walls are magenta and green, ceiling tiles are blue and white, coolers and chest freezers with pictures on the front line the counter. There’s a short line so we have time to look around. They offer snack items like nachos made with Doritos, or hot Cheetos and Cheese, fresa y crema (strawberries and cream). After studying the menu I order a mango aguas frescas, the owner reaches into a cooler packed with clear square bins filled with icy, colorful liquids and fills my cup, tasty and refreshing it reminds me of punch. Be sure and ask for a sample of the Cajeta, it’s pink and made with a combination of fruit and milk, nice and sweet! After much debate Kris orders the mango paleta de chile, a housemade mango popsicle sprinkled with Tajin, placed stick up, in a cup of Chamoy– a tart sauce made from fruit pulp, lime and spices; the result a sweet, spicy, tart, frozen treat.

DETROIT: Food n Funk…..

19 Nov

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Tonight Kris is taking me out, we’re making a night of it. Chef Andy Hollyday’s new place, Selden Standard, is now open, we’re going there for dinner. Turning onto Second Ave we see cars parked up and down the street, Kris drops me at the door and parks the Jeep. The once nondescript building sports an attractive facade, Edison lights within glow warmly through the windows. I am greeted at the hostess stand and taken to a table, looks like we made it before the dinner rush. The attractive interior of knotty wood planks, black walls and white glazed brick create a casual and welcoming atmosphere. Kris is seated and we are left to pour over the menu. Selections are served small plate style and are perfect for sharing, items run the gamut from veggies and oysters to quail and lamb. Our server helps us narrow down our choices, we place our order then dig in to the bread and butter.

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I have to admit I’m a fan of the old-fashioned bread basket or some incarnation there of; it always makes me feel a little more welcome, like the establishment is extra friendly. Menu items come from local farms and producers whenever possible, I like that too. First to arrive is the Fritto Misto, an assortment of fresh vegetables in a light tempura batter, a little bit of panko for crunch, served with a tasty herb aioli, really good. The Kale Caesar salad is next; just what you’d imagine with the addition of crispy chicken skin alongside the shaved Parmesan and croutons, quite nice. The Sweet Potato Ravioli with brown butter, sage and pecans is set down just as the Steak Frites arrives. The hangar steak is served medium rare, a scoop of shallot butter slowly dissolves in the meat, a handful of dressed bitter greens and a half-dozen fries complete the dish. This is our favorite way to eat, a bunch of different dishes, sharing everything. We enjoy it all, each item had a different taste; the combination of salty, crunchy, sweet and savory all add up to a satisfying meal. And now for the entertainment portion of the evening……

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A short drive away, performing on the stage of Northern Lights Lounge every Tuesday from 8 till 11:30 pm, is legendary guitarist Dennis Coffey. He had his first recording session at the tender age of 15, backing Vic Gallon in I’m Gone, after that he played with Del Shannon. He went on to become a session guitarist for various labels including Motown, see if you recognize any of these: Just My Imagination, Smiling Faces, Cloud Nine, War, Someday We’ll Be Together, Ball of Confusion, ah, now I’ve got your attention. In the late 60’s he was a member of the Funk Brothers Studio Band, it is said that Coffey introduced a hard rock sound to producer Norman Whitfields recordings, most notable the wah wah guitar sound heard in songs like the Temptations Psychedelic Shack and Ball of Confusion. Coffey is credited with discovering Sixto Rodriguez, he played lead guitar on Rodriguez’s first album Cold Fact. Coffey appears in the Oscar-winning film “Searching for Sugarman”, not only did he co-produce, co-arrange songs on the soundtrack, he played guitar and bass on some of them too.

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In the early 70’s Coffey struck out on his own as artist, film scorer and producer, in 1971 he recorded “Scorpio” a million-selling instrumental that reached #6 on the Billboard pop chart. The story of the Funk Brothers was told in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, in 2004 his memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars was published, in 2011 his self titled album Dennis Coffey was released. He turned 74 just this month, and here he is tonight, on stage, joined by three other amazing musicians, about a mile away from where it all began.

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Inside Northern Lights we sit at our usual table, the band is getting ready to start, it’s busy for a Tuesday night. You can tell who’s here for the music alone, these folks grab the tables front and center, when Dennis Coffey plays, listening isn’t enough, you have to see him work that black Gibson. Our cocktails arrive simultaneously as the band starts, there he is, the star attraction in blue jeans, a black turtleneck and his signature black hat.  The song is a great funk-a-fide version of Summertime, combined with the great 60’s vibe of Northern Lights, it’s the next best thing to going back in time. We listen along, at times just stopping and staring as his hands slide up and down the guitar strings, so natural, effortless, it’s like watching someone breath. Audience members tap their toes to Knock Me Off My Feet, Signed Sealed Delivered, Scorpio, Coffey sings on Johnny B Goode; my absolute favorite is Just My Imagination, no vocals necessary, this version is extraordinary. It’s not uncommon for a number to last five minutes or more, every minute a delight of sight and sound. The man is an incredible musician, he has survived and thrived in the business for decades, and he’s right here every Tuesday, doing what he does best, entertaining a live audience, and it doesn’t cost a thing.



ROMEO: Terror On Tillson !!

6 Nov

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It’s late October, the ghosts and goblins are getting restless. Tonight we are getting into the spirit of Halloween…..One should never face the eerie, spooky or haunted on an empty stomach, to remedy this we are having dinner at The Shamrock Pub in downtown Utica. Sitting at the same Auburn Road address since 1935, the pub has been turning out one of the best burgers you’ll ever sink your teeth into for decades. The interior is long and narrow; exposed brick walls, open ceiling, dark wood tables and Art Deco style bar and mirrors, give the restaurant a quaint, relaxed atmosphere. The menu is simple:  burgers, corned beef, chili, seasoned fries, jalapeno poppers and cheese sticks; everything you could ever want. Waitresses are always friendly, it’s the kind of place you’ll see the same staff members for years. On any given day patrons run the gamut from businessmen to families, senior citizens to girls volleyball teams; everybody’s welcome.

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It’s dinner time, the place is pretty busy; tonight we are joined by a friend who is not normally a burger eater, after listening to us rave about Shamrock, she’s decided to give it a try. Orders are placed, drinks arrive, the heavenly scent of char-broiled beef fills the air; waitresses traverse the dining room and shout out orders to the bartender. The cook says ‘hot food’, ah, time to eat. Burgers are served on paper plates snapped into those red plastic frames long used by families for outdoor dining, a 7 oz. patty sits atop one bun, shredded lettuce and tomato on the other, a pile of dill pickle chips, sliced onion and a couple of peppers complete the toppings; mustard and ketchup are serve yourself. Without hesitation each of us grabs our burger and takes a big bite, it’s so good it makes me smile; top quality beef cooked perfectly, the cold salty crunch of the pickles, a little heat from the onions and the sweetness of the tomato, food nirvana! Looking down at her empty plate our friend murmurs ‘that’s a good burger’, you bet it is!

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Romeo is one of those lovely historic villages that has somehow managed to maintain its mid-1800’s old-world charm. The architecture of downtown has changed little through the centuries, this is also true of the of the gorgeous Victorian homes which, I might add, are the perfect background for Terror On Tillson Street. Every Halloween homeowners drag out the hammer, nails, saws, extension cords and their wild imaginations to create a unique neighborhood attraction that draws folks from all over to Tillson street for a little fun and fright. We’ve been coming for years and look forward visiting every October. 

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Driving down Main Street we see the congestion of traffic forming at Tillson, we go one street over and park on Pleasant; looks like neighbors here are doing a little decorating of their own, cool! Across from us glowing pumpkins line the porch and steps, lights are strung in bushes and windows looking festive. Witches are prevalent, a group of them are gathered on a porch roof while others rock in chairs. Graveyards and tombstones fill front yards, spider webs and bats cling to porch railings, a procession of skeletons hoist a wooden casket upon their shoulders. Walking to the end of the block we turn left, then left again for the main attraction; suddenly the street is alive with pedestrians, howling winds, rattling chains and creepy characters.

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Today a large home becomes the Tillson Theater, scary images are projected onto a screen, skeletal dogs reside on the lawn, there is no line at the ticket booth, the spooky guy behind the window may be the reason. Next door an old hearse carriage has encountered trouble, the casket has spilled onto the lawn, the unfortunate fellow inside sits up to have a look around. In the distance haunting images fill windows, billowy cloths react to the night breeze, black lights make everything glow in an unnatural way. Crowds gather around temporary fences watching the goings-on; a female skeleton in an antique wheelchair comes rushing towards the gate, gasps are released from the crowd. The electric chair is a crowd favorite, personally it gives me the chills when electricity passes through the prisoner and his body trembles. The Tillson castle complete with drawbridge is advertising rooms to rent….anyone interested?

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People are grouped together on the sidewalk, the pace varies according to the displays, we pause to watch as a cauldron is stirred by a skeleton chef, smoke from dry ice wafts over the sides. Cookbooks on a shelf offer recipes for preparing humans, glass jars hold shrunken heads, eyeballs and unidentifiable items. Out of the blue a child screams and begins to cry, everybody jumps, there in a tree hangs a horrifying face with ghastly fangs, more yelps follow. The Romeo High School Football Graveyard is the center of activity, here you can purchase a shirt, hot chocolate, cup cozy or cookbook; proceeds go to a scholarship fund and other local and national charities. Keep in mind these homeowners put this on out of the goodness of their hearts, they do all the work and pay for everything out of their own pocket, it is an amazing feat!

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At the Tillson Playground dolls fill the seats on swings and merry-go-round, A gigantic spider hovers over a radioactive hive, Stinky’s Trucking dump truck is parked nearby, arms and legs dangle from the bed, advertisements on the side include Got Bodies? and U Call I Haul.  Across the street cornstalks fill a front yard, colored lights and tall slender figures give it a spooky feel, an evil-looking figure hangs from the gable. The dead are having fun at the saloon while next door an elegant ball is taking place. The lawn is transformed into a ballroom; pillars are draped in tulle, a crystal chandelier provides light for the dance floor,  a queen of sorts is perched on her throne, distorted humans with animal heads guard the queen closely. The scene is otherworldly; ghouls are dressed in sequined gowns, top hats, they wear masks and beads as they twirl. Off to one side trapeze artists hand from trees getting ready for their performance.

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The captain of a marooned pirate ship looks out over the crowd, chests lie open, their treasure spilling out. Down the block a house is completely shrouded in webs, windows have been boarded shut. Havoc is taking place at Tranquil Estates Cemetery, caskets are unearthed dumping their contents onto the grass. One yard after another offers a slice of the freaky, dark, abnormal and scary; animated creatures moan and groan with glowing eyes, giant skulls fill window frames, sinister creatures lurk in yards. Bizarre and frightening clowns have taken over a house, they pop out of windows and doors trying to lure us in. We reach the end of the street just as it starts to drizzle, it seems a fitting way for the evening to end. Can’t wait to do it again next Halloween!


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