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!

DETROIT: West Village

28 Oct

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It’s a gorgeous Autumn day; the kind that lures you outdoors with brilliant colors, mild temperatures, piles of fallen leaves. This late in October we are reminded that days like this are limited, there is a sense of urgency to get out and enjoy every last one. It’s hard to find a prettier, more charming neighborhood than West Village at this time of year; beautiful historic homes, mature trees, shops and cafes, all quite walkable. Bordered by Jefferson and Kercheval, Parker and Seyburn, the neighborhood is a perfect mix of single family homes, luxury apartments and small businesses. Let’s go for a walk.

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Near the corner of Kercheval and Parker stands Parker Street Market; opened since April, it was an immediately hit with the community. It’s a step back in time to when every neighborhood had a corner store; a place where you could grab milk, bread, lettuce, chips, baked goods and a cup of coffee. Today’s version carries organic produce, raw juice, Michigan made products and local honey. The cute little storefront is flanked by potted mums, large front windows afford us a view of the tasty treats that await us inside. The interior is a work in progress, as more items are added there is cause to change and rearrange. The tin ceiling is ornate, the floor, dark wood, shelves and coolers line the walls. Sister Pie has been busy stocking shelves with Salted Maple Pie, Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies and a tray of shortbread. Bottles of Drought  juice fill a small refrigerator, ready-made salads, wraps, Calder milk, local pickles and produce stuff a cooler. Dry beans, French baguette, chocolate bars, Dave’s Sweet Tooth Toffee, tea, salsa, jam and bags of coffee from Populace tempt shoppers. French lava cakes, ice cream sandwiches and veggie burgers await purchase in a small freezer, if you’re hungry you’re sure to find a fix here. We purchase our shortbread cookies and we’re off.

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After much anticipation The Red Hook coffee shop opened on Agnes Street earlier this month. Serving Stumptown Coffee, fresh-baked goods from Pinwheel Bakery and Zingerman’s, neighbors wonder how they ever got along without the cafe. Gold letters spell out The Red Hook on the front window, inside, coffee perfumes the air, pastries are arranged on brown paper that covers the counter. The space is bright; walls are off-white, light-colored wood makes up the built-in seating, sunlight drenches the space. I order a dark roast, Kris chooses cold brew, service is super friendly, the coffee is really good; cups in hand we’re out the door. Steps away, the door to Tarot & Tea stands open, we wander inside. The shop has a peaceful, elegant feel to it; silky cloths cover tables, a couple of chandeliers light the room, a frilly framed mirror hangs on the wall; near the back is a reading room behind heavy drapes. The shop offers goods and services; you can relax with a cup of organic tea, have a tarot card or spiritual reading, pick up a unique gift. We browse through the store looking at lovely items such as vintage jewelry and clothing, tea, herbs, crystals, candles, oils and body products. A steady stream of pedestrians wander in and out; open less than a month, people are just discovering the boutique.

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We stroll down Parker towards Jefferson, I love this time of year, the dark green grass a marked contrast to colorful leaves. Well-kept houses are big and bigger, each a different architectural style. Kris likes the variety of porches, some with room for two chairs, others mimic the piazza’s found in old southern homes. Mature trees surround Queen Anne’s, Tudor’s, Mediterranean and Georgian Revival’s; pumpkins dot porches and landscapes. Entrances make a statement; leaded glass, lanterns, arches and carved wood are stunning. West Village is just west of Indian Village (hence the name…) I remember being told many of these homes were built for the children of the wealthy families that resided in Indian Village. Most houses are three stories, brick and stone are the materials of choice, multiple chimneys shoot up from rooftops, columns are popular too. Speaking of columns, The Colonial is a massive gray brick apartment building that looms on the corner of Parker and Lafayette; towering columns stretch from the first story to the third, massive balconies hang from the upper floors, rounded steps lead to the front doors. The building is a least a half-block long, it is divided into 6 units, each about 2,000 square feet. We are lucky enough to have been inside, let me tell you, it’s splendid!

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Making our way to Seyburn we pass tall brick apartment buildings, built at a time when money wasn’t an issue, design details like carved stone, tiles, balconies and lots of unique shaped windows are common. We have been in several of the apartments for open houses, they’re huge, complete with multiple fireplaces, richly detailed plaster, best of all they’re quiet.  A corner house constructed of large stones on the bottom and wood shingles on the top still has a covered entrance from where the carriage would stop and let the family into the house; cars were not common when many of these beauties were constructed. A fancy yellow Dutch Colonial catches our eye, originally (1896), this was the home of Julius Melcher, a notable Detroit sculptor. The centerpiece is, of course, the ornately carved gable, which Melcher did himself. Nearby, another house uses large stones, the huge porch  accessible through wide arches, it reminds me of a lodge. Of course there are the turrets, what is it about a home with turrets that I find so appealing? We walk and walk, stopping here and there to study a particular structure, churches, doorways, capitols, tile roofs, sculptures and facades.

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There is an energy of renewal going on in West Village, the newest example being Paramita Sound on Van Dyke, a brand new record shop that opened over the weekend. Stationed inside an old house Paramita offers new, used and re-issued vinyl records—yes, I said records! We had a chance to talk with the founder Andrey Douthard, he told us besides records, the shop has a listening lounge for in-store performances, the shop will offer beer, listening stations and a chance to listen before you buy, cool! As we head back over to Agnes, we pass the West Village Bark Park, a dog and his owner bask in the afternoon sun. The Parkstone has been a West Village landmark for decades, we pop in to have a look. The lobby remains old school, a round table rests below a chandelier in the center of the space, to the right is the desk, rows of wooden cubbies hold residents daily mail. To the left is a lounge area, through delicate iron gates wide planks make up the floor, plaster molding surrounds the ceiling, a piano sits quietly, a massive fireplace fills the far wall, chairs and couches make up several seating arrangements, just like the old days. 

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At last 4:00 has arrived, that’s when Craft Work, a new restaurant and bar on the first floor of the Parkstone, starts serving for the day. If you are a long-time Detroiter, you may remember the space from when it was the Harlequin Cafe, and for a very short time Coffee and (____) popped up in the space. We are delighted when we get inside and see little has changed; the beautiful woodwork looks freshly polished, built-in shelves hold volumes of books, photos, mementos. The terazzo floor remains, simple globe lights illuminate the room. Stools line long communal tables, this is the bar area, the dining room opens later, we are here for the Happy Hour. For now we are the only patrons, our server is cheerful and knowledgeable about the menu. We place our order, the server returns quickly with Kris’s cocktail, a Lemon Drop, I am tempted by the sugared rim.

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As we wait for our meal, folks start to trickle in, it’s Friday and everybody is anxious to kick off the weekend. First out is the Crab Dip, a delicious combination of spinach, artichokes, crab, mascarpone and spices; the pile of sliced baguette disappears rapidly. The cheeseburger arrives wrapped partially in white paper accompanied by thinly cut fries, the menu listed ‘cheeseburger’ so we’re not sure how it’s dressed. We each grab a half, take a big bite and enjoy the burger. I couldn’t tell you what kind of sauce or seasoning they use, just that it’s scrumptious, as are the shoestring fries, a friend has joined us, she’s savoring a fish taco. Taking our time, we finish our food and drinks, happy to be back in such a handsome, quaint place. What a perfect way to end the afternoon!

HAMTRAMCK: Hidden Secrets

22 Oct

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Hamtramck, at just 2.1 square miles, urban life flourishes here. Perhaps it’s the mix of cultures, customs, religions and ethnicities; immigrants from all over the world have settled here for centuries. Maybe it’s the result of the blue-collar work ethic Detroit is so famous for or the authentic everydayness of life in this enclave. Whatever it is, let’s face it, Hamtramck is cool! Today is the 2014 Neighborhood Arts Festival, it’s not like any other ‘festival’ we’ve ever been to. Activities are taking place from one end of the city to another in storefronts, lofts, galleries and homes; from music to dancing, painting to printing, there’s something for everyone.

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Being an afternoon event, we arrive on Jos Campau just in time for lunch; the longstanding Campau Tower has just re-opened.  Serving burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes, it’s sure to be a hit with the locals. The diner is teeny-tiny, we grab the last empty stools, leaving standing room only, the menu hangs above the grill, one of those old-fashioned numbers with the white letters that press into a black felt background, there’s a lot to read. Besides a good scrubbing and some freshening up the restaurant looks the same as it always has. Now, white cafe lights criss-cross the ceiling, a flat screen TV mounted on the wall shows an old episode of Twin Peaks, stained glass lamps dangle by chain from the ceiling. People stop in placing carry-out orders, it’s a busy day at the Tower. Our food finally appears, the Brotherly Love hot dog, which looks amazing, brisket Bao Bun and fries. Unlike the service, the food was really good; the hot dog is split then covered with caramelized onions, peppers and cheese sauce…yum. The apricot brisket bun, tiny and tasty. The menu selection runs from the expected to the adventurous.  Now let’s check out the festival!

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Atomic Cafe Art Gallery is right across the street; the space is long and narrow, black paint covers the walls in the first gallery, a ping-pong table takes residence near the back, a couple is playing as we look at the art. Paintings are bright and colorful, some cartoon-like, near the back, toilet seats are covered in colorful Marvel Comics and shellacked to a high shine, another grouping depicts Detroit scenes: Scarab Club, Belle Isle fountain, the infamous Kowalski hot dog sign. Through an open doorway we enter the next gallery; Kris and I both walk towards the same piece, 12 boards are covered in a highly textured coating, each piece is a different, brilliant color, it’s hard not to touch. A number of artists are represented, the variety of styles and pieces is welcome, cool, old items have been upcycled into lights, there’s a little bit of everything. A few steps away we drop in at Lo & Behold, the shop has an ever-changing inventory of neat things. Kris spots a gorgeous 1940’s microphone, I follow his lead to have a look, it’s a beauty. The shop is fully stocked with vintage 45’s and record albums today, they also offer cassettes of artists who perform here. I make a note reminding us to come for the live music this winter.

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Tekla Vintage is one of those funky vintage stores that offers everything from home goods to handbags, it’s owned by Hamtramck Mayor Majewski. The store is brimming with wild fashions from the 60’s and 70’s, there’s no shortage of polyester here; one look at a pair of platform shoes makes me laugh out loud, literally….   Glass and mirrored shelves hold lovely Polish items such as dolls, plates and vases. Styrofoam heads wear fashionable hats, guys, you can find a great bow tie here. Some of the fixtures and display cases look original to the store, I’m crazy about the glass front doors with the lucite handles. Continuing on Jos Campau there’s an open studio up on the second floor of a building, Carl Wilson and Marivca Rofick have their work on display. Light pours in from large front windows, art covers the walls, we love getting a peek into these great spaces. At the 9338 Campau Gallery Abigail Alwin plays her cello, visitors are gathered around in the large open room. She plays her instrument and works a series of pedals which allow her to record, then play back a piece of music, looping it so she can add to it, creating a piece with many different parts.

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 Over on Caniff, Public Pool has an exhibit titled “The Last Record Shop”, we have been looking forward to seeing it. Fashioned to look like a record shop, quotes from musicians are painted on the wall, album covers rest on shelves and tables. You must take your time to look at the cover art, satirical and clever, they are great fun. Next we make our way into the neighborhood. A large brick building on Klinger is home to artists studios and Silva Perum Bookstore. When we arrive, adults are guiding children in a number of activities, one man teaches how to ride a skateboard, in the yard kids are drawing and making Halloween masks. Inside we traverse the halls, popping into individual studios, so much amazing stuff goes on here. Time is fleeting and there are still so many things to see; we make our way to Sobieski St.

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A simple, white, 2-story house sits non-nonchalantly, a closer look reveals a series of paintings surrounding the front door. We are welcomed inside by the homeowner who tells us this is her hobby house, a place where she can create, display her art and entertain. She shares the space with another artist, the house is cozy, quaint and a great way to share their talents with the public. Down a ways, we enter the second story home/studio of artist Emily Wood. The hall going up is lined with her framed art, her studio is jammed packed with her work in every medium from paint to pottery to sewing. Kris and I are both in awe of her talent, her painted streetscapes are so life-like. The front room is cluttered with bottles of paint, brushes and works-in-progress, a panel of material sits on a table, the print is her very own drawings of houses in Hamtramck, sweet! 

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We make our way to a quirky little neighborhood in the North end of Hamtramck, a graffiti covered van sits curbside outside the studio of Will C Bevan, a Memphis native who spent the last year in New York before moving to Detroit. His work on display is a series of abstract patterns, very appealing to the eye. It blows our mind to think of what an artistic hub Hamtramck has become, who would’a thought? Filter Detroit is an artist residence owned by a woman who resides in Germany…  For 4 months a year, an artist lives rent free in the back portion of the house, in exchange they must make/leave some sort of contribution, print a book, write a poem, do a painting; in the front room of the house is such a piece, one of the traveling artists created a mural depicting Detroit. An empty lot has become a tree farm of sorts as saplings sprout from the center of old tires.The house next door is called Play House, and for good reason; the house has been completely gutted of interior dividing walls and floors and has become a performance space. We enter from the backyard and find ourselves in a lovely hardwood floor room, a Classical Bengali music concert has just ended, the folks who own the house own several properties on the street, they have big plans for all of them!

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Walking to the end of Moran we see Treasure House, an old 1920’s home, somewhat of a living collage; steps are multi-colored, art pieces, random objects and found items cover the surface, lean against the porch and take up space on the lawn. Across the street an ordinary house has become a monster house; eyes, fangs and large hands  make one wonder what’s inside. The structure is colorful, and oh so interesting with painted globs of slime dripping down the front. Even the fences are tied into the overall artistic statement of the neighborhood, painted up in bright hues, they are aglow in the late afternoon sun. Written words remind us to Keep Singing, Keep Learning, Keep Loving, loose windows and building materials are strewn about. Another house has this awesome life-like painting of a man, it looks as though he is working on repairing the house right this minute, windows are boarded up, random patterns are drawn on the wood. Power House is another public art project, the goal here is to have the house completely functional off the grid. It currently creates its own electricity from wind and solar energy. With so much positive going on in and around Detroit it always makes me wonder why it’s such a secret. Thankfully, events such as the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival allow us to find the amazing behind the perception.

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Bay City: Time Travel…

14 Oct

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Today we are about an hour and a half north of metro Detroit in the waterside town of Bay City. The annual River Of Time event is taking place this weekend, we’re here to check it out. For three days re-enactors from around the Midwest show up dressed in period costumes to live as people did in earlier times. Spanning 300 years of history, period camps are set up along the bank of the Saginaw River in Veteran’s Memorial Park creating a time-line history. From the Native Americans through the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, we get a glimpse of both everyday life and American history through music, skill demonstrations, church services and skirmishes.

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Making our way to the west side of the river, we park the car on a grassy expanse and walk to the park. The first thing I notice is the amount of white tents scattered throughout, I pick up the scent of logs burning on an open fire, a woman in a hoop dress passes by, a man in a Civil War uniform seems in a hurry to get somewhere; so much going on. Individual camps are roped off, there are no signs or placards with descriptions of the camp or era it represents, just men, women and children going about their business like they would have at the time. It is noon, almost time for the mid-day meal; fires dance under cast iron cookware, steam rises from pots, tables are being set. A costumed player is telling stories to folks gathered around, I see what appears to be ancient medical instruments spread out on a table, by the looks on people’s faces, I’m not so sure I want to hear what he’s saying. A group of men representing the 1st New York Regiment wear Revolutionary War costumes, it’s nearly 80 degrees outside but they don’t seem to mind. An asphalt path leads us through the park, the river is on one side, grass on the other; camps are spread out on both sides. On the left, a huge variety of food covers a table, Indians with face paint and mohawks look anxious to dig in. Every camp has something cooking; kettles rest on metal grates, bread bakes in a clay oven, a deep, oversize cast iron pot is stuffed with simmering meat, potatoes and vegetables, all eyes are focused on the stew.

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A young man stops among the crowd and begins to play his fiddle, a gentleman smoking a pipe taps his foot to the music, a woman in a rocking chair carves something out of bone. The Folk Music Society of Midland plays under a canopy along the Saginaw River, Weeping Willows dot the shoreline, the water is as smooth as glass, the sky flip-flops between powder blue and a grouchy gray. From their hats to their shoes, soldiers look so formal, everything appears authentic, right down to the buckles. A metal worker has built a makeshift chimney, roaring flames heat wrought iron that will be formed into hooks and tools, we all watch with fascination as he works. Many have sat down to take their meal, others have finished and trade lively conversation around the table. The World War I, II and Vietnam camps are expansive; here the tents are green, military vehicles are randomly parked, bed rolls, rifles, helmets and rations are displayed. Off to the side a man is sitting in a foxhole reading a book, he seems happy enough…. Soldiers answer questions, a group of men sporting different uniforms have pulled up chairs and share stories. 

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One thing that becomes clear very early in our visit is how simple, yet difficult, life was. Before there was refrigeration, running water, electricity for goodness sakes; food was prepared as it was needed, washing was done in the river or in a large bowl that was filled with by a pitcher, clothes were cleaned in a tub on a washboard and hung to dry, you had to hunt for meat, grow your vegetables; this is big news to the current generation. The Trombley House is open today, the oldest surviving building in Bay City, it was built about 1836. A crowd has gathered near the Log Cabin, on the porch Abe Lincoln is about to deliver the Gettysburg Address, how cool is that? The Fife and Drum Corps is approaching; fifers, drummers and flag bearers perform authentic songs written before 1800, Sutler’s Row offers goods for sale: animal pelts, antlers, beads, pouches and the like. We continue to zig zag through time; bacon cooks over an open flame, a woman spins wool into yarn, a young girl plays the bagpipes, visitors are walking to the cannon….

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We follow the crowd to find the cannon pointed toward the river, men work together stuffing something down the barrel, when they cover their ears, we cover ours; I jump about a foot in the air when it goes off, Kris just laughs….. I’m glad that’s over. We take a stroll on the River Walk Pier, from here we can see all the activity on both sides of the river, there’s a lot of building happening on the east side, new construction too. As we get back to the park a Colonial skirmish is taking place, it’s very intense, one does not want to get in the way. We move in the opposite direction for one last look around. They say this is Michigan’s largest living history encampment, it is definitely unique, from the people to the cannon and canoe, the costumes, housewares, instruments and campsites, indeed, it is history come alive.

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The sky has returned to a lovely shade of blue, walking back to the car we notice the elevated River Walk, looks like fun. An elegant white crane stands in the shallow water, ducks paddle along at a leisurely pace, the boardwalk leads us to Middle Ground Island. A party is taking place under the pavilion, friends gather on benches in the park, we admire the panoramic view. We make quick work of the walk back, it’s time to eat!

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Kris and I are both fond of restaurants that have been part of a city for generations; Krzysiak’s House on Michigan Ave is just that sort of place. Started in 1979 by husband and wife team Don and Lois they have been serving authentic Polish and traditional American cuisine for decades. So popular, the building has been expanded 5 times; their website states they serve 700-900 customers per day, wow! Walking in the front door we find ourselves in a little retail space selling an assortment of items, the hostess greets us and takes us to a table in the dining section. Krzysiak’s is known for their outstanding buffet, today is Sunday so it is filled with Polish specialties in addition to an assortment of salads, soups, side dishes, desserts; it’s really quite remarkable! As tempting as the buffet is, we order off the menu instead.
As we wait for our meal to arrive we take a look around; hand painted murals cover most walls, one features family members, the cathedral wall reflects photographs taken in Poland, the scenery is quite lovely. Everywhere I look photos and mementos cover the walls, pretty stained-glass windows made specially for Krzysiak’s are aglow in the sunlight; it is apparent the heart and soul of the family has gone into the restaurant. I dig into a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the homemade noodles are outstanding. Huge platters of food follow; the Polish plate comes with Golabki, Pierogi, Polish potatoes (fried with cabbage and other tasty things), Polish sausage and Kraut, you could feed a whole family from this plate alone! The potato pancakes are large and delightful, sour cream is the perfect addition. The food is authentic, made from scratch, hearty and delicious. The experience of eating here is a treat.

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Before we head south we take a drive through downtown, Bay City is definitely on the move, new stuff is happening all over town. We park on Saginaw St and notice a new artisan cheese shop has opened. Artigiano sells cheese, wine and craft beer, not to mention specialty items and condiments from local businesses. The shop adds an urban flair to general feel of Saginaw St, very nice. Across the street we stop in at Brewtopia to get a couple of coffees for the road. Sticking with the urban flair, the shop has exposed brick and a white painted tin ceiling, large windows give it a light and airy feel. Coffee beans are roasted in house, they provide a nice selection of teas, fruit smoothies, muffins, cookies and desserts. At the counter we meet the new owners, friendly and ambitious they are excited about the positive momentum in Bay City; so are we.

DETROIT: A Night At The Redford

7 Oct

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There are four words a person living in the Detroit metro area need never utter: “There’s Nothing To Do”. Sports, we’ve got them; Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, hey we even have Roller Derby! There’s the Symphony, Opera, Broadway shows, concerts, festivals, tours. Special events like Dlectricity, Detroit Design Festival and Noel Night attract people from all over. Detroiters’ love films, we have wonderful, unique venues such as New Center Park, The Detroit Film Theatre, Cinema Detroit and The Redford. Any night of the week, 7 days a week, you can enjoy a craft cocktail, pop-up dinner, live Jazz, bicycle tour, gallery opening, Riverwalk, poetry, lecture, you get the idea….. The last week of September had so much going on I couldn’t fit everything into the allotted squares of my calendar, don’t you love it? 

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It’s Saturday evening, we jump in the Jeep and make our way down Grand River. Making a right on Lahser, we quickly scan the street for an open parking space; once parked, we meander into Sweet Potato Sensations, a family run bakery and cafe. Cassandra Thomas began her home business baking and selling sweet potato cookies, 16 years later she opened a storefront on Lahser, the current location is about 5,000 sq ft. The menu has grown to include sweet potato pie, cheesecake, cobbler, ice cream, cupcakes and more. Cassandra’s daughters Espy and Jennifer have joined the family business; it has blossomed. Folks are warmly greeted as they enter the cafe, large refrigerated cases display today’s offerings. Now serving Saturday and Sunday brunch, we were happy to learn we could still order off the menu this evening. With her usual smile, Espy takes our order then disappears back behind the counter. The cafe is busy tonight, the Redford is showing West Side Story, which is where we are headed after dinner. First to arrive is the black eye pea and collard green soup, it’s outstanding; good thing we got a bowl! Served with a chunk of sweet potato corn bread, I could make a meal of this alone. Before we know it, our chicken and sweet potato waffle is set on the table, the combination of fried chicken and spices from the waffle smell wonderful. First thing I do is tear off a piece of waffle, crisp and tender it reminds me of pumpkin pie, the chicken is hot, Kris carefully picks up a piece and manages a hot bite, mmmmmmmm, delicious, he says. From there it is each man for himself, using forks and fingers, we eat and we eat until only a pile of bones remains; we are full, but more than that, we are content.

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Across the street at the Redford, it is nearly show time, the marquee dazzles with its flashing lights, a long line leading to the ticket window remains, I take my place in line as Kris gets some photos. This is no ordinary movie night; along with showing the ever-popular West Side Story, Rita Moreno is making a special appearance before the movie, signing books and posing for pictures at intermission, how cool! For one panicked moment, I wonder if they will sell out before we get our tickets, luckily, that isn’t the case; in all the years we’ve been coming here, I don’t think I have ever seen this many people attend a show. Inside, the 1928 movie house is lovingly cared for, restoration is an ongoing thing, the grand foyer is gorgeous from the elegant chandeliers to the hand painted ceiling and walls. We are relegated to the upper balcony to find an open seat, no worries, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. From here we have a panoramic view of the house; stars twinkle in the night sky, the Barton theatre organ is belting out tunes, a Japanese garden motif surrounds the stage. It is after 8 pm and folks are still trickling in, the announcer introduces Rita Moreno and the crowd erupts into applause. For the next 15-20 minutes Ms Moreno shares stories of growing up in Puerto Rico, then her move to New York with her mother. Her talents as a singer and actress were recognized at an early age. She told great behind-the-scenes accounts about the making of West Side Story, she had to learn to dance for the film as her  experience was limited to traditional Hispanic dance; she divulged some fascinating stuff, but if you want to more about her relationship with Marlon Brando or Elvis, you’re gonna have to buy the book!

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At intermission, as long lines form for autographs, we dash next door to Motor City Java House to grab some coffee. Our speed and agility got us there ahead of the crowd; I order our drinks and some yummy dessert as Kris nabs us a table. By this time the rush was on, patrons were ordering coffee drinks, tea and dessert, some for here, some to take back to the theatre; our window of time has closed, we finish our carrot cake and we’re outta’ here! Outside the entire block is aglow from the marquee, I love the Redford, each and every time we come here I marvel at its beauty and detail; the wall sconces, stairways, old-fashioned exit signs, painted panels…..sigh…..

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Back in our seats Ms Moreno is again brought onto stage, she is the only Hispanic actress/singer to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony. She won the 1961 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Anita in West Side Story. Next thing we know, the guys in the projection booth cue up a clip from the Oscars, we see a young Rita accept her award. The volunteers here at the Redford really do an amazing job of running the theatre and hosting special events such as this one, we thank them for that! The lights are dimmed and the curtain goes up, a local dance troupe is performing  “America” from the movie; you know, the one where the girls sing the praises of living in America while the boys defend their homeland of Puerto Rico, it’s definitely one of the more popular production numbers in the film. Girls twirl about the stage in red frilly dresses, guys are decked out in black suits, we all watch with admiration as they leap into the air. The audience shows their appreciation with a long round of applause. Ms Moreno compliments their skills, poses for a few pictures and bids us all farewell. At 82 years old, she still sparkles; she’s vibrant, witty, clever, entertaining and continues to work on new projects.

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Settled into our seats we watch the conclusion of the movie, there are so many wonderful, magnificent, sensational aspects to the film; Jerome Robbin’s spectacular choreography, I am especially fond of the Sharks and Jets numbers (Jet Song, Cool), Leonard Bernstein’s musical score, Steven Sondheim’s lyrics; songs like Maria, Somewhere and Tonight. The 1957 Broadway production marked Sondheim’s Broadway debut–not bad for a beginner. West Side Story was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 10 including Best Picture for 1961. And here it is tonight, in a lovely old theatre in Detroit, star-studded and complete with red carpet.

 

 

 

DETROIT: Dlectricity Redux

1 Oct

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Tonight Midtown Detroit is putting on a free, amazing, festival of light, sound and art; everybody is invited! Dlectricity (inspiration for the name comes from Detroit’s own, long gone, Electric Park) features more than 35 world-renowned and emerging artists whose work will illuminate historic architecture and public spaces along the Woodward corridor from the Detroit Historical Museum all the way to Orchestra Hall, for two consecutive nights.  It is a balmy September evening in the city, we arrive early enough to secure a parking space within decent walking distance of the activities, as we near Woodward we begin to see flashes of light and color, foot traffic is picking up, let’s check it out.

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Folks are gathered around the plaza of the historical museum, the film, The Legendary Leland Club, is being shown on the side of the building, we watch a few minutes then begin the trek down Kirby to see what else is going on. This side of the DIA a piece called Sash is being projected onto the building, the horizontal design cycles through all the colors of the spectrum. Making a right on John R the sidewalks are crowded with people, fluorescent glass tubes are formed in the shape of a house on the CCS campus, across the street the DIA loggia is aglow in blue LED lights, designs of different color and shape dance on the walls. A crowd has gathered in front of the Michigan Science Center to see Kelly Richardson’s submission, The Erudition; it’s quite an attention-getter. The scene is eerie, otherworldly and tranquil at the same time; a lunar-like landscape is the backdrop for towering holographic trees that blow in a fictional wind, stars twinkle in the night sky, parts of it seem so real, I just want to stand there and keep looking at it. On the Farnsworth side of the DIA, kids are playing a Detroit version of the game Minecraft; by choosing virtual textured cubes of wood, iron, diamond and lava, players construct and deconstruct the city into an array of make-believe structures.

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I would say the main attraction of the festival takes place on the Woodward side of both the DIA and the Detroit Public Library. The front surface of the opposing buildings act as a screen, Mindfield tells a story from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman, simultaneously, one on each building; it is visually stunning. Colors, shapes, scenes, faces,  flash in front of us, we watch one side, then the other, the story is played in a continuous loop, bystanders are enveloped in music and light. Walking toward downtown, we pass a robotic sort of installation called Mechano Shards, as the name suggests 20′ tall shimmering crystal-like shards, made from clear plastic and filled with air move in synchronized patterns, it’s interesting to watch the human interaction; children seem fascinated, some stand in the middle as shards close in around them, they laugh and think it’s cool. We continue our direction, passing the WSU Welcome Center, people peer in windows at the display, we see bicycles wrapped in colored lights cruising down the street. The large green space at Woodward and Warren is host to a bevy of things; a video plays on a big free-standing screen, a large-scale projection covers a building, Design Village features the work of independent Detroit designers, in the distance a white glow attracts visitors to what appears to be a giant television; here anyone can play the part of Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

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Everywhere you look buildings are awash in light and color, sound and motion, sidewalks are thick with people, across the street, the bell tower of the First Congregational church is lit. The JVS Building is covered in ever-changing images of colorful, cell-like clusters, putting me in the mind of science and biology. Kris takes photo after photo, not an easy task in a crowd, we continually point things out to one another. When we reach Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company we stop in for a drink. In addition to serving freshly roasted, single origin, organic coffee they offer a nice selection of artisanal beer, craft cocktails and natural wines. The place is packed, the line at the register long, Kris notices two empty seats at the bar and leads me there. Scanning the drink menus, we quickly make a decision and place our order, it feels good to be sitting. The front of the building is all windows, giving one a great view of the hustle and bustle outside, Edison-style lights give the room a warm glow, exposed brick and wood plank ceiling make it cozy. Kris sips an Old Fashioned, I am enjoying a great Spanish red wine, a steady stream of customers come and go. 

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Illuminated sculptures titled Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, are grouped in front of the Max M Fisher Music Center, an up close look reveals they are made from plastic shopping bags, when we reach Parsons St, the “MaxCast” of Let’s Dance has just ended, guess we didn’t time that well! A giant waterfall cascades the length of the Bicentennial Towers, nearby, the Majestic Theater is aglow with laser, spiro-graph-like patterns in red, green, blue and yellow. The street in front is blocked off, lasers occupy lanes, as we stand there on the avenue I turn away from the show and take in the liveliness, movement and life that is becoming a regular occurrence in Detroit. The people who are here tonight reign from all over the metro, state and US, the city is becoming a destination, a place that draws individuals in with these type of events, shattering the one-sided, negative image so commonly associated with Detroit. There is an overwhelming sense of community out here tonight, and for that I am glad.

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 Making a right on Garfield we pop in and out of MOCAD and N’ Namdi, one of the coolest installations we see is on the back of the Garfield Building, Sound Spheres. Supernatural 3D images and shapes continually evolve and blossom from one form to another, wouldn’t it be spectacular these projections were permanent? Inside the Catherdral Church of St Paul acoustic simulations are projected onto the surface of the chancel, simultaneous to the visual segment, a precision-timed audio piece composed to excite the natural acoustics of the space is pumped into the room; it’s pretty awesome sitting in the 1907 structure watching sound take form. In the courtyard outside, plastic storage containers are stacked one on top of another, lit from within they take on a mysterious glow. Retracing our steps, we make our way back to the Jeep, we pass multi-generational families, hipsters, students, 30-somethings, all gathered here to enjoy what the best of what the city offers; fun, art, new experiences, great food, excellent drink and a night on the town!

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DETROIT: ArtPark??

23 Sep

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Have you heard about downtown Detroit’s new art gallery?  Housing an amazing collection of street art created by 27 artists from around the world, it’s open 24 hours a day, free admission, there’s no heat or air conditioning, but you can park your car in it. Yes, I’m talking about “The Z”, Dan Gilbert’s Z-shaped parking garage that zig zags from the corner of Broadway and E Grand River to the corner of Library and Gratiot. Bedrock teamed up with Library Street Collective, bringing street, mural and graffiti artists to design a most unusual parking structure. The massive, white structure is super cool, each level is color coded, at night the stairwell atrium is lit in a rainbow of colors, vertical LED lights illuminate each floor, it’s definitely one-of-a-kind. Not to mention, it does add 1,300 much-needed parking spaces to downtown. 

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Entering the garage on foot, we take the elevator to the roof, even the elevator buttons are color-coded, exiting the enclosure, the air has a chill not representative of September, the sky looks grouchy, a gust of wind rushes past us. Standing still for a moment we take in the panorama of the city, it’s spectacular; skyscrapers, steeples, stacks, the light posts of Comerica Park in the distance, wow! On the Library street side we can see the Skillman branch of the library, other rooftops are littered with cooling units and little rooms that stick up; at 10 stories high we have a birds-eye-view. Graffiti covers both elevator banks, Slow Motion is the work of Wais, an artist from St Petersburg Russia; being out in the open, the array of colors, swooshes, and shapes create an interesting contrast to the surrounding buildings. The plan is to walk down to ground level crossing back and forth from side to side, seeing as much as we can. As we enter the structure, the concrete has been painted along with several long walls, we feel a need to stop and look at each piece, they really draw you in.

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The 9th floor is the fuschia level; a tree that grows baseballs is depicted on one wall, on another a colorful bird is sizing up a worm that is part caterpillar, part car. The longest wall has all kinds of stuff going on; a car/bug is upside down in a human hand, arms protrude from a skull with a baseball bat in hand, a Tiger and a ball are in a ring, creating a story of sorts; this is the work of Ukraine artist Interesni Kazki. Endless Frontier reminds me of the kind of landscape paintings one would see in a museum, the work is beautiful, there are several scenes of uninhabited, far away places. The whole experience of walking through the structure is unique, we are intrigued by the art on the walls, scenes of Detroit are framed in the garage’s rectangular windows. Pausing at one opening, we watch men at work restoring a building, Woodward Ave is in the distance, the David Stott building  rises high above other buildings.

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The 8th floor is the purple level; on one wall, solid color triangular designs remind me of a kaleidoscope. A lengthy mural looks as if one scene has been painted over another; advertisements in blues, orange and yellows seem to be peeling away revealing a black and white scenario featuring lightning bolts, stars and a flag, putting me in the mind of superheros. From this level we get an up-close perspective of decorative terracotta designs and other architectural details of surrounding establishments, occasionally a skyscraper looks as if it is posing for the camera, completely encased by the frame of a window. On the 5th floor we are greeted by a familiar character, Dabs Myla’s happy-faced paint can. It feels as if we’ve stumbled onto a secret cocktail party, the short wall is made up of a repeating pattern of flamingos, a winking sun and martini glasses complete with an olive. The rest of the party is on the other side, the streetscape of a tropical city, palm trees and mini skylines play host to swanky characters with a 1950’s flair, love it!

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Each and every level affords us a different perspective, the varied angles of the parking structure show us tight spaces closed in by tall buildings. Remember, this was built upon empty lots, it sprouted up between buildings of various ages and styles; fire escapes hang tight to an old, brown brick edifice, rusty bars run the length of the windows. Now loft space, remnants of their former use remain, old chains and hooks, a lone stained glass window, pencil thin ladders lead to the roof top, seedlings sprout from gutters. It’s like we passed through some magical door giving us a whole new perspective on our surroundings. A huge colorful piece runs the length of the space, it is so pretty I can’t help but stop and stare; it reminds me of a Monet, as if someone painted a lovely flower garden with a feather duster or powder puff, colors blend one into another it’s so soft and soothing, like a sunset. Colors grow deeper as they travel down the wall until they look hot, like Summer, like fireworks. 

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Some pieces are very geometric, giving a 3-D effect, others are pale and have a look of fluidity. Back to the Roots by Edgar Saner looks straight out of Mexico City.The 4th floor is the lime-light green level, there’s a snazzy piece with a cool tunnel-like effect. The 3rd floor has a fun, cartoon-like mural called Ice Pop, by B from Athens Greece, makes me want to join the party! From here the Harvard Square building is in full view, we can take in the details such as medallions, wrought iron and symbols decorating the Beaux Arts beauty; Detroit has a fantastic variety of early 20th century architecture!

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On the 2nd floor the artwork reminds me of bare trees in a forest with stunning, colorful backgrounds, it’s one of my favorites. On ground level near the exit/entrance is one of the most complicated, intricately detailed pieces; people, animals, patterns, objects, one flowing right into another, it’s outstanding. If you’ve ever seen a Highlight’s magazine, you know they have those pictures where you have to find the hidden objects, this is kind of like that. Colored in pink,red, grey and black, by How and Nosm from Spain, this one is surreal. We walk outside and take the sidewalk to the entrance/exit in the other section of the Z, here Pose and Revok have painted a huge comic-book like piece titled  If You Think You Can Do A Thing. Done in primary colors, it’s a combination of words like struggle, talent, love and rats along with faces and eyes of ones who themselves look like they are struggling. The more you look, the more you notice, it’s a lot to take in, but a pleasure to do so. In the alley behind Vicente’s we notice lights strung above, artists have done murals here too, we recognize the similarity of pieces in the GRCC. We wonder if this will be an outdoor eating space in the future, which reminds us, it’s time for lunch!

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Johnny Noodle King opened to much fanfare September 12, we happened to drive by that day to find not only a line out the door, but groups of folks sitting on the ground waiting for a table. Not expecting to have any better luck today, we drive by the tiny, red-painted brick, cafe on W Fort Street and were surprised to see nobody waiting outdoors. Kris parked the Jeep and I ran in to see how long the wait was, since it was near closing time, we were told it was about a 15 minute wait and we were the last people to be seated for the day, yay! On the way in, Kris takes pics of the exterior; a giant noodle bowl perpendicular to the building has a pair of chop sticks wrapped in neon noodles along with a red neon ‘noodles’ sign, as you may have guessed, this is a Ramen restaurant, the first in Detroit. While we wait we watch photos of Detroit landmarks appear on a flat screen TV on the back wall, each photo is embellished with a giant bowl of noodles in the foreground. The cafe used to be Johnny Ham King, I like that they kept the Johnny and the King part. 

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The menu is simple, and for that I say thank you, it can be overwhelming to turn page after page reading descriptions of dishes. They serve Bowls, Sides and Drinks, what more do we need? Kris suggests trying several different things; we order the Red Curry Bowl, the Carrot Ginger Bowl, the house made pork gyoza and the onigiri. There’s no soda pop here, we get the house saki and a Mandarin and Seville orange jigger. Basically, Ramen is Japanese comfort food, it is broth served with long, thin, springy wheat noodles and toppings. You have to have a great broth, which, they do, the toppings make the Ramen unique, they are. Everything is delicious! Toppings like egg, pork belly, cauliflower, pickled dakion, and nori add tremendous flavor and texture; portions are hearty, most likely you’ll be taking some home. Owned and operated by the same folks who bring us Green Dot Stables, it’s no surprise Johnny Noodle King is an instant success.

Roadtrip: M-53ish….

17 Sep

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From now until the white stuff starts falling from the sky, we take advantage of every nice day we get and hit the road. Today is perfect; blue sky, sunny, t-shirt temperature, let’s go! There’s still a lot of country surrounding the big city of Detroit; Kris points the Jeep north toward Imlay City, on the way we’ll stop to check out a unique collection of balloon-tire bicycles, classic cars, toys and lots and lots of old stuff located on the grounds of a quaint make-believe town called Chestnut Hollow. The father and son duo, Jerry and Jerry, have been collecting for over 40 years; when a building could hold no more, they simply built another one. Each unique and old-fashioned looking, they are designated as blacksmith, pool hall, general store, etc. creating their own personal village. There are no official business hours, I get the phone number off their website and give them a call; they say they’ll be there most of the day, we’re welcome to stop by.

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Driving down Bordman Rd we spot the Chestnut Hollow sign, up the driveway a little, we are warned: Beware Of….. the rest is missing, it appears a giant something has taken a bite of the sign, I like a good sense of humor, this is going to be fun. Gravel crunches under the tires, veering right, we spot our hosts, ask where to park and make our introductions. The younger of the Jerry’s will be our tour guide, his father is in the process of mowing a large expanse of land. Stepping inside the first building, we come face to face with a beautiful green, early 1940’s, Ford  sedan delivery. To the right an antique Coke machine is for sale, around the corner from that is a 7-Up machine. Stuff is everywhere; old sleds hang from the ceiling, vintage strollers, car parts and signs fill up the space. A glass case is jam-packed with parts and accessories. Walking over to the building that houses the bicycle collection we pass the Pool Hall; antique stoves and weathered barrels take up residence on the porch, vintage signs are hung on many of the structures, rusty bike frames lay in piles.

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When the door is unlocked, we enter classic bicycle heaven. Wall to wall balloon-tire bikes are laid out in rows, vintage posters and calendars are hung on walls, a traffic light hangs in the corner. Prominently mounted on a shelf above the other two-wheelers is a Bowden Spacelander  in Outer Space Blue; they only made 544 of these fiberglass frame beauties, making them very collectible. One must be conscious of  where one steps, it’s a tight squeeze between Roadmaster, Elgin, Monark, Murray and Columbia bikes, Jerry claims this the largest collection of balloon-tire bikes around, I don’t doubt it. The frames are sturdy looking, they sport features such as front and rear fenders, tanks, skirt guards and large (comfy-looking) seats. Many have springer front-end suspension, head badges are fancy, designs are highly detailed. Kris’s favorite thing is the headlights, some are Deco, others, space-age, all of them are super cool! While wandering I come across an antique cigarette machine; dark wood and mirrored it’s gorgeous, Jerry tells me it is still full of matches, sweet. An airplane hangs above us,  a room to the side has hundreds of tires, bike seats and rims. Here and there we pass once cherished toys, cameras and long-forgotten games.

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The next building seems to specialize in TV and movie memorabilia; autographed photos, a hat from Forbidden Planet, foreign posters and items used in films are proudly displayed. From room to room we admire collections of King Kong pieces, robots and other objects from Lost In Space, lunchboxes, Erector sets, aviation pieces, even a little bit of Abbott and Costello. Back outside the old Ford is sitting in the sun, looks ready for a ride, veteran gas pumps and some old milk cans take us back to another time. It’s impossible to see everything; from funky to fabulous, there’s just so much! We thank our hosts for allowing us to visit, then continue toward Imlay City.

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Seems everybody’s talking about Mike and Matt Romine’s gastro pub called The Mulefoot. It doesn’t get more fresh and local than this; they raise the Mulefoot pigs used in the pork dishes themselves, produce comes from the family garden and nearby farmer’s fields, even the money raised to open the place came directly from community members, how awesome is that? Seems the twin brothers have shared a life-long interest in food, both growing and preparing it. After culinary school then working in some of the finest restaurants in the US and abroad, they returned to their hometown of Imlay City to open a place of their own. The former banquet hall has been transformed into a hip, stylish, yet comfortable space. Old barnwood, and animal skulls remind us we’re in the country, the art work is bold and colorful. The food menu changes frequently in keeping with the seasons, Michigan craft beers and spirits are featured along with about 50 wines.

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It’s Sunday, everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious; Kris picks something sweet, I choose the savory. Our server is friendly and outgoing, he takes the time to explain the restaurant’s farm to table philosophy. I sip on a glass of luscious red wine recommended by the sommelier; now, as fancy as that sounds this is really a very chill, blue-jean friendly place. Our food is brought to the table, the kitchen was nice enough to split both dishes for us…..I love when they do that! I start with the MF Huevos Rancheros; house-made chorizo and beans in a yummy sauce topped with a chunk of bread and a fried egg, it’s sooo good! Make sure you get a little bit of everything on the fork at once for a perfect bite. The french toast, made with homemade bread, of course, is topped with strawberries and whole almonds. Fried in the perfect temperature butter it creates just the right crunch when you bite into it. The strawberries are fresh, not mushy, and lightly sweetened, the almonds nice and crisp. We had a chance to talk with Mike before leaving, his knowledge of food is incredible. From making vinegar from apples to sauerkraut and homemade walnut liquor, his enthusiasm for all things food is contagious!  I’d advise making a reservation, word is getting out……

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We get on old Van Dyke and begin going south, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down this stretch of road since I was born; surprisingly, things haven’t changed that much. In Almont we see an open farm market, Blake’s, and pull into the lot. A large bin in front holds the biggest ears of corn I have ever seen, bushel baskets are filled with ripe, red apples in several varieties, mums and mini pumpkins are piled on a table reminding us Autumn is right around the corner. Following the aroma of donuts being fried, we are drawn inside. The building is fully stocked with fresh peaches, plums, tomatoes, jars of jam and honey; it’s very cute inside. In the distance, hot donuts are calling our names……At the bakery counter we watch as the donut machine is being filled with batter, the batter is then dropped into the hot oil, it travels down the short river of fat where it is then flipped, cooking the other side. Finally the hot bundle of goodness lands in a wire bowl where it will cool. It’s a simple and effective process that leaves one longing for one of life’s tastiest treats: cider mill donuts. Kris and I eat one each, if it hadn’t been for brunch beforehand, there’s no telling how many we may have eaten. The batter has a hint of vanilla, the outside is slightly crunchy, the inside still warm, in other words, perfect! Can’t ask for a better ending to the day.

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FENTON: Daytrippin!

9 Sep

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It’s a hotter than expected September day, a good excuse to escape the city and head north for the day!  We are taking a northwesterly scenic route through the country; roads wind, twist and turn past long-standing barns, fields of corn, old-time churches and historic homes. The mild summer has left the landscape green, horses graze behind split-rail fences, here and there maple leaves are thinking about changing colors, the ride is peaceful and relaxing. We arrive at the Heavenly Scent Herb Farm in Fenton, an unexpected surprise on White Lake Rd. A 1910 barn is painted to look like three European storefronts; the rustic, quaint, interior is filled with lovely things for the home; candles, cement statuary, charming decor items, body care products and spices. Pumpkins and Halloween items are on display. There’s a buzz of activity; chairs and tables are being set up for a wedding that will take place later in the evening. We head outside for a stroll through the gardens, there’s beauty in every direction. Pathways lead us through a series of themed gardens; metal sculptures, ground covers and annuals fill large beds, hanging baskets overflow with pastel-colored flowers. An old shovel has been transformed into a piece of art; a hummingbird design as been laser cut into the rusty metal blade, items on display are available for purchase.

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We find ourselves in a charming mushroom-themed garden, it’s the kind of place I imagine Tinkerbell and her friends would live in. Wandering through a narrow gateway we pass a small pond, wood benches encircle large tree trunks, mounds of Hostas show off their lavendar-colored blooms. Mobiles hang from decorative hooks, climbing vines cover arbors, flowering shrubs and funky metal roses grow side by side. The pergola is quite a sight, a gravel pathway is laid out underneath; purple and white flowers are tucked in among lime green leaves in raised beds that run along each side of the structure. We hear the gentle sound of trickling water, up ahead an elegant fountain serves as a focal point. Enormous dahlias in peach, yellow and pink are stunning, bunches of white alyssum perfume the air, a statue of an angel is nestled among the greenery, sedum are beginning to bloom. It’s worth a drive to just come and see this place.

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We park on Shiawassee Ave in Fenton’s downtown area, there’s a lot of activity going on here these days; new shops and restaurants are joining picturesque neighborhoods in drawing folks to town. We amble down the sidewalk, mature trees cast shadows over manicured lawns, enchanting Victorian homes are decked out with urns, flowerbeds and hanging baskets. Each house is architecturally different, some sport columns, others have turrets or balconies, windows are leaded glass, many exhibit sizable American flags.

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Near the Jeep, a row of cute little shops have open doors, inviting people to take a look inside. La Petite Maison is a pretty, little, home decor store. The space is set up like a home with different rooms; new, old and repurposed items accessorize each room in shabby-chic style. The Iron Grate features home goods such as candles, linens and pillows along with an adorable kids section done up in primary colors. Next door is Fenton’s Open Book, you guessed it, it’s a bookstore and next to that is Sweet Variations chocolate shop. We walk through each shop satisfying our curiosities, its late afternoon, time to catch lunch.

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Fenton Fire Hall on Leroy St is the latest addition to Fenton’s growing restaurant scene. The building has stood on this spot since 1938; behind the building is a park and a waterfall, across the street is the fetching Community Center designed by Eliel Saarinen. Brought to us by the same folks who run Clarkston Union, Union Woodshop and Vinsetta Garage, it’s an extremely popular eating spot, which is why we are having lunch at 3 pm on a Friday. To our relief, we are seated immediately, the place smells wonderful, a mix of wood-fire and meat. The menu offers a nice variety without being overwhelming, we decide pretty quickly. The interior pays homage to the origins of the buildings, much of the stylish decorating features the color red, old hoses make up a light fixture, the firehouse theme is carried out well throughout. It doesn’t take long for our food to arrive, metal baking sheets piled high with food are set down before us, just looking at it makes my mouth water! First up, the Korean Pork Tacos; three Detroit-made flour tortillas are filled with the house pulled pork combined with their own Korean bbq sauce, topped with cilantro-lime slaw, the tacos are outstanding, nice choice Kris! The Gather is a house-made vegan patty, wood-fired veggie goat cheese spread, broccoli sprouts, shitake bacon, all stacked on a house-made bun, it’s really good. Then we come to the fries, freshly hand-cut and perfectly deep-fried they are wonderful as is, dipping them in the Fire Hall mayo, takes them up to a whole other level.  When we are finished, we walk up to the roof-top deck strung with lights overhead, you can eat up here, have a drink at the bar, shoot a game of pool or just have a seat and overlook the park. In the stairwell, black and white photos of Fenton’s crew of firefighters hang on the walls, a nice tribute. The lower level has a cozy lounge area with original wood paneling, tables line the wall of roll-up doors, funky red upholstered barstools are pulled up to the bar.

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Just outside is the original pump house, today it serves as an ice cream stand: Pumphouse Custard. What makes this unique is the house-made ice creams, custards and sorbets are made with liquid nitrogen… really! The list of flavors is long: Faygo Rock n Rye, CEO Stout, 24 Carrot Cake, Blue Moon, Gimme S’more, well, you get the idea. You can get it in a cup, cone, sundae, malt or shake. After many samples and much deliberation, Kris chooses the honey cinnamon flavor to have as a malt and I try the Strawberry Basil Bash…. tasty!? Umbrella’d tables with milk crate legs are set up on the patio, eat there or go for a stroll like we are. We walk across the bridge to the park, metal sculptures and colorful potted plants dot the landscape, ducks float in the stream, a photographer is busy taking senior pictures for a group of girls. Yep, it certainly is a nice set up they have here.

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Back on Holly road we pass a sign with an arrow directing us to the Great Lakes National Cemetery, we make the turn to check it out. Off Belford Rd we spot the stone wall and avenue of flags; American flags as far as the eye can see. Turning into the cemetery we are taken aback by the rows of white headstones. Open to the public during daylight hours, we realize we don’t have much time as dusk is beginning to fall. We drive as far as the main road will take us, the landscape is one of rolling hills and a lake, 544.3 acres in all. Burials began in 2005, by 2013 there were over 16,000 interments; any member of the armed forces of the United States who dies in active duty, or  discharged veterans, are eligible to be buried here. A public information center is located about midway into the cemetery, specific gravesites can be found using an automated gravesite locator kiosk.

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We get out of the car and begin to walk around, it’s beautiful, solemn, peaceful; benches overlook the lake, ducks, swans and other waterfowl are having conversation. Rows of above ground columbariums are near the water, we read the names of those who have passed on. Meandering on, we pass hundreds of gravesites, all branches of the armed forces are represented, as are wars ranging from WWII, the Gulf War and Afghanistan, along with Korea and Vietnam. The oldest birth year I spotted was 1911; many of the deceased were moved here from another place when this cemetery opened. They say they average 10 burials a day, which surprised us. One feels very patriotic walking these grounds, feelings of both gratitude and sadness fill my heart. 

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