ROMEO: Hay There….

30 Sep

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We are in the Village of Romeo, the Romeo Historical Society is sponsoring a Barn Tour today; this years theme: What Can You Do With A Barn? Let’s see……….

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We purchase our tickets at the Archives building on Main Street, there are 7 sites on the tour, barns were constructed between 1840-1940. Locations range from Romeo to Bruce and Washington Townships, it’s self-guided so we grab our map and go. The first barn is just a few blocks down Main Street, the red arrow on the Barn Tour sign guides us to a charming, white, Greek Revival home, the lawn a lush green carpet, Mums and Sedum steal the show in the landscape. A long driveway leads us to a blue-painted barn, open doors invite us inside. As people mill about we take the narrow stairs to the second floor, here we can see the way the barn was constructed; the home and barn are built of Cedar that was milled right on the premises. Pumpkins and assorted gourds sit atop bales of hay, Autumn has arrived.

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Downstairs the main part of the barn is used as a workshop and storage space for the owner’s vintage automobile; tool boxes, antique lanterns and other old pieces decorate the space, back in the mid 1800’s this is where the family kept the carriage and through a doorway is where the horses stayed. In this space is  a section for garden supplies; Hydrangea hang upside-down to dry out. Wood-working and automotive tools are found throughout the small room, sunlight sneaks in through tiny windows. 

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We drive out to the furthest point on the tour, the drive takes us past beautiful farmland, homesteads, vegetable stands and pastures. There are 2 barns on this stop, the first was converted into the family home back in the 40’s, we leave our shoes on the front porch and step inside. The abundance of wood, exposed hand-hewn beams and brick fireplace give the home a cozy feel; a large, round object is attracting lots of attention. A woman stands beside it asking people to guess what it is, everyone is at a loss; she gives in and tells us it was a light bulb tester, then she opens it up to reveal its current use: a super-cool bar! The home is filled with lovely vintage items spreading the owner’s personality throughout. And then there’s the barn…..

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Music drifts out from the large, open barn, off to one side a gentleman plays guitar and sings for today’s visitors. Smack dab in the center is a customized Edsel, it’s gorgeous–didn’t I just see this car on the cover of DDEAF magazine? The space has been completely opened up from floor to ceiling, rusted and tattered vintage signs adorn the walls, I think the Meyer’s Bar-B-Q sign in the loft is my favorite. An old Ford is parked in a corner, an antique tractor, engines and drive trains occupy floor space; it reminds us of the American Pickers place in Nashville. On the way out we take a peek at an old pick-up parked in its own private slot, sweet.

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Across the road is a complex of old barns redesigned into fantasy buildings; not what we expected to see out here. Each one has a unique design; window frames are unusual as are roof-lines and facades. We begin at the back of the property, the largest of the buildings, it’s easy to make out the original structure; pointed peaks give way to arched entrances, it almost looks forgotten. Inside a shiny red Chevelle awaits its next outing, cars and trucks in varying condition are tucked in here and there. A huge workshop looks as if it holds the right tool for any job. We roam from building to building, an early 60’s T-bird looks as if it hasn’t moved in ages.

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We enter a rust-colored building with Gothic-style windows and find ourselves in a large entertainment space; on the slate-tiled floor a billiard table looks ready for a game, a disco ball mingles with antique light fixtures, up a step, a bar sits empty, wood beams and posts the only reminder of the building’s origin. Interesting faces are carved into trees, ivy has begun to claim an old tin-roofed wooden shed.

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We arrive at a traditional red with white-trim barn on Fisher Rd, a group of banjo players are gathered near the barn entertaining tour-goers. We stop to listen to the group play, it’s the perfect complement to the setting. Inside, the barn houses 2 show horses, ribbons are proudly displayed on the wall, horses are in their stall; they seem happy for the attention. I wait my turn, petting each of them, they’re beautiful animals.

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The next stop was once the old Brabb Family Farm circa 1860, a number of the structures remain, though not in usable condition. A bright red Farmall tractor is parked in front of the largest barn, behind the steering wheel a blonde-haired boy poses for pictures. On the backside we have a look under the barn, Swallow’s nests made of mud cling to the walls. Silos are roofless, stamped into the concrete is “Smith Silo Co. Oxford Mich”, love that kind of stuff! In the smaller barn burlap bags are displayed, companies located in Detroit, Battle Creek and Utica are represented, old photos are on exhibit,the corn crib is to the right, old pitch forks, crates and wire baskets are at rest. The land here is magnificent, green and rolling, surrounded by woods.

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Our last stop is the Jack Frost Auto Museum on Campground Road. We’re told Jack A Frost was an electrical supplier and manufacturer in the early 20th century. He produced lighting and power accessories for the automotive and motion picture industries; his friends included Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. After WWI he built his home and orchard on 70 acres here in Washington Twp, and by the way, he loved automobiles. The current owner shares that same love of cars, he runs a full service auto sales, restoration and repair shop on the premises.

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We enter the first brick building and are greeted by a red Lincoln with a white convertible top, wandering to the next room we are face to face with a variety of vehicles; a couple of old Lincoln Continentals, a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a Javelin in the restoration process and an eye-catching 1970 AMX in Big Bad Blue. The room is a mix of fluorescent lighting, old chandelier and ancient looking sconces. Making our way to the next area we pass an antique Buick in yellow and black still wearing wood-spoke wheels. The next area is a collage of items; big round headlights, advertisements, machinery, a silver antique Peninsular heating stove and in a showcase ribbons, trophy’s and awards belonging to Mr. Frost. A Victorian music box is wound up and playing for us as we continue to peruse the collection of hood ornaments, lanterns and photographs. Walking up the driveway we check out the old stone barn that was converted into the caretakers house.

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We are having lunch at Brown Iron Brewhouse on Van Dyke in Washington Twp, an American craft brewhouse serving up beer and ciders from coast to coast; they have 60 taps in addition to wine and craft spirits. Food is new American smokehouse style. The main dining hall is huge, the open ceiling and concrete floors give the space an industrial feel, sturdy wood tables and benches encourage community dining. There is a special Oktoberfest section on the menu today. First out are the Crispy Cheese Curds, they are delicious! Beer battered, they are light and crispy, they go perfectly with the house made buttermilk ranch. The Beast Mode Burger is beef brisket fresh-ground in-house, topped with smoked corned beef, applewood smoked bacon, beer cheese and a fried egg, it’s quite a (tasty) mouthful! Served with brewhouse fries, it’s enough for two to share. Time to head home; we’ve had a wonderful, surprise-filled day in the country.

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Along The St. Clair…..

22 Sep

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We are driving up M-29 to the city of Algonac, the water speed capital of the nation. You may not know this but Algonac is the birthplace of America’s supremacy in powerboat racing. The city played a leading role in shipbuilding;  from sailing cargo ships to large pleasure-craft, racing boats and landing craft, including the craft used in the Normandy landing. This is where Chris-Craft was born; in 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the world’s largest builder of mahogany-constructed power boats. Between 1921-1932 Christopher Smith (Chris-Craft) and Garfield Wood built 10 Miss America’s in Algonac. Gar Wood established the world water speed record of 124.91 miles per hour in 1932 in the Miss America X.

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Just last summer the Algonac-Clay Historical Society opened a Maritime Museum right on St Clair River Drive in a building donated by Fifth-Third Bank, let’s have a look. The 8,300 sq ft space is loaded with nautically themed displays; several boats are set atop water-like flooring, easels display photos, brochures and newspaper clippings, walls are covered in framed boat designs, photographs and flags. Placards tell the stories of the boats; Winning Ticket was won in a local raffle in 1949–check out the vintage Vernor’s cooler. The Aqua Lady is a cool 19 ft Sports Express Cruiser made by Chris-Craft in 1958 as a kit boat. The inside looks surprisingly roomy; a 2-burner stove, storage and banquettes surrounding a table, pretty cozy! Last Gar is a gorgeous wooden boat with an interesting tale to go with it. Outboard motors, racing boats and a showcase filled with trophies are at our disposal, I learned that Gar Wood won the coveted Harmsworth Trophy 8 times.

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On display is a boat dashboard; covered in gauges, shifters, controls and a steering wheel, visitors take a turns being captain. Further on we find another Chris-Craft Kit Boat, this one built by the Algonac High School shop class, next to it is a boat from 1909, both look brand new! There are model ships, a workbench with tools, more literature and facts on Chris-Craft manufacturing. Engines and replacement parts give us insight on what we cannot see ordinarily, it’s fascinating to be able to see the boats up close, there’s so much detail.

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Outside, we make our way to the riverfront, the 1800 ft long boardwalk offers benches that overlook the lovely blue water. We sit and watch as the City of Algonac ferry transports cars across the St. Clair River to Canada and Walpole Island; pleasure boats zip across the water under the afternoon sun. Time to head north. Back on M-29 we pass the house that Gar Wood once lived in; I like being able to connect the past to the present.

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We are having lunch waterside at Anita’s Riverfront Grille in Marine City. The patio is host to picnic tables with umbrellas that hug a view of the river, colorful flowers and vines topple over the sides of planters, live music is provided by a singer playing guitar. We sip on cold drinks as freighters float downriver, swimsuit-clad boaters skip over the water’s surface in speedboats, smaller boats take a more casual approach, checking out the shoreline as they pass. Our Combo Platter arrives, we waste no time digging in. The wet burrito has a chunky sauce with beans, very tasty, The chicken enchilada and soft taco disappear quickly as does the rice and beans. 

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Today we are visiting the Mariner, a former movie palace built in 1927. The current owner completely restored the building which is now home to the RMS Titanic exhibit and multi-use venue that houses fine models, historical items, antiques and art. A new period marquee welcomes visitors, a 1917 popcorn machine and peanut roaster reside in the lobby area, 46 original 1930’s style mohair theater seats have been installed along with antique light fixtures. The place is pretty amazing. We begin our visit in the galleries; each one displays the finest quality models of automobiles, ships, aircraft and locomotives, the detail is unbelievable. America-themed posters hang on the walls, shelves are lined with books, there’s a jukebox, a transparent clock tower with a bell and a cuckoo clock. Case to case we study miniature war ships, farm equipment, engines and machinery, all are available for purchase. 

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The main attraction, of course, is the exhibit: Titanic – The Building Of An Icon. First a quick review: The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg, broke into 2 pieces and sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In 1995 the builders of the Titanic approached Fine Art Models (of Marine City) to build the “builders model” of the Titanic. “One very important fact surrounding this model is that by agreement with Harland and Wolff, this model would never be displayed with the artifacts brought up from the Titanic gravesite. Furthermore, the exhibit of this model would never be seen as an effort to profit from this tragic event.” The model has traveled to museums and charitable events across the United States, raising over $5 million to date for non-profits and charitable organizations.

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The 18 ft, 1500 lb Titanic model is housed in a glass case, it is the centerpiece of the gallery. We walk around looking at actual photos of the interior and exterior of the ship, reading placards, getting our fill of information before really examining the ship. Completed in 2002, it took 7 years to build the model; artisans worked directly with the original builders, using original drawings. The decking is real wood, so is the deck furniture, the entire superstructure is constructed of brass, 3,376,000 rivets (yes, that’s 3 MILLION) are all placed in their correct location, it boggles the mind. Looking at the model it’s easy to imagine the excitement the passengers must have felt boarding this remarkable vessel, I can almost picture well-dressed couples, strolling arm-in-arm on deck. The story of the Titanic has captured the attention of people all over the world for decades, what an incredible opportunity this is to see the legendary ship (in miniature, of course) up close, to take it in, knowing its ultimate fate.

DETROIT: Recycled

16 Sep

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Beauty can be found everywhere. From the most obvious places like Detroit’s riverfront and Belle Isle to the less conspicuous alley or neighborhood garden. Today we are visiting places off the beaten path, the nooks and crannies of the city. Lincoln Street Art Park and Sculpture Garden is just a short distance from New Center; murals, sculptures, a fire pit and gardens all reside in the shadow of the iconic Fisher Building. We park on the side of Lincoln St, walk over to the low-cut lawn and have a look. 

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With curiosity as our compass we walk through the park, on the backside of an old industrial building, boarded up windows are decorated with murals, Lincoln is spelled out over several. Graffiti, street art and elaborate scenes cover concrete surfaces, we recognize certain artists work from other places in the city; the owl is one of my favorites. Over to the left a field of painted poppies covers a wall. In a mulched garden daylilies are out of bloom but lovely metal-sculpture flowers bloom year-round.

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The dinosaur sculpture is imposing; a closer look reveals chairs, a cart, step stool and a bevy of salvaged materials used in the construction, he’s huge and seems to patrol the park, keeping watch. It’s like visiting an art gallery, we wander from piece to piece, me going one way, Kris the other; each fascinated by what we see. A rusty metal sculpture reminds me of a rainbow, Kris admires the vintage steering wheel. Discarded items are put together in unusual and pleasing ways, the gypsy with wings, the combination of fluted sheets of plastic and metal rods, old pieces of wood. 

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We walk Lincoln St to the underpass, more artwork by well-known artists. In the center brick pathways lead in both directions along the elevated train tracks, I wonder what they were used for. The golden tower of the Fisher building seems as though it’s only a stone’s throw away, the U-Haul building is visible too. The entire expanse of concrete before us is a collection of colors, forms, letters, designs, all mashed together; the face of the American Indian is captivating. We climb the elevation to the train tracks and get an entirely different perspective on our surroundings; the sculpture park below us looks small, contained. Train tracks stretch out for miles in opposite directions, one way leads to the city, the other looks so rural. Walking further we pass ancient looking lampposts, an old water tower watches over us, we reach the next overpass, cars whoosh by below us on Trumbull, a train rumbles by the next track over, my heart pounds with excitement.

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Investigating the underpasses reveals a wonderful collection of characters; storm troopers, panda’s, a flamingo, a doughnut with a cigarette sipping a juice box. Arches create frames, every surface is considered a blank canvas. Fel 3000 ft has created an amazing scene of buildings, bridges, skyscrapers; a city in motion. An image of a child all in blue on one side, on the other, a letter begins Dear Dad. The next underpass is completely covered in primary-colored cubes, the way the sun is lighting them is extraordinary.

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Recycle Here! on Holden resides in a huge building built by the Warren Motor Car Company in 1909. The company folded pretty quickly, the Lozier Motor Company moved in. During WWI the building was acquired by Henry Leland (creator of Cadillac) for airplane engine production, he then used it in the manufacturing of Lincoln automobiles. Dietrich Inc was the next to inhabit the structure. In 1926 Dietrich was the largest semi-custom production-body business in the country, producing 16-25 bodies a week for customers such as Chrysler, Packard, Lincoln and Pierce Arrow. Though all details are fuzzy there’s a big chunk missing in the timeline after Dietrich left; eventually a grocery distribution company bought the building which brings us to current owner, who purchased the building and turned it into the recycling center.

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Detroit artist Carl Oxley is responsible for the Recycle Here! signature bumble bee, you will see the bee everywhere throughout the premises. The building’s walls are a continuation of the art we’ve seen in the park, artists have used their imaginations creating characters and scenes from silly to scary. The art carries us right inside the building. The interior is like some kind of funky gallery you take your garbage to, sort and dispose of it. Everything here is fair game; walls, dumpsters and vehicles are covered in colorful designs, a portrait of Bozo hangs next to one of a sunglass-wearing Yoda, Mc5 and Elvira are close by.

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Huge cardboard boxes overflow with empty glass bottles, there’s a place for newspapers, magazines, plastics and batteries. A tangle of mufflers and exhaust pipes are the beginnings of a sculpture, paintings hang throughout the center. An endless stream of residents show up with bags and boxes of recyclables, music plays in the background, children are having a blast throwing things into their proper containers, neighbors and friends exchange friendly conversation. Outside used tires are stacked and used as planters, we walk around the immediate area, a manhole cover for the public lighting commission is dated 1916, buildings and bridges look long forgotten, a giant rat made from old pallets is situated on the lawn; artists have left there mark all over the district.

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Tucked inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is Cafe 78, a collaboration between Wright & Company and MOCAD, the dining space serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. We park in the lot and enter the building, people are milling about, an event has just finished. The museum is closed while the work on Woodward continues, the cafe remains open. The bar is the focal point of the wide-open space. We sit at the counter and sip on icy-cold water waiting for our food to arrive. The super creamy Mac and Cheese is served in a small ceramic bowl, corn and thinly sliced scallions are mixed in, a shredded cheese and breadcrumb topping add flavor and texture. The peameal bacon sliders are served on brioche buns with a honey mustard sauce, it’s a great flavor combination. The tomato mozzarella salad was larger than expected; a rainbow of summer’s juiciest tomatoes and red onions sit atop creamy pesto, topped with fresh herbs, sunflower shoots and olive oil–Delicious.

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8 Degrees Plato Beer Company on Cass had their soft opening Friday, we’re checking it out. The bar and bottle shop sells craft beer, mead, cider and has an area dedicated as the tap room. The building was most recently home to Mantra and Showcase Collectibles in the old Chinatown neighborhood; after a great deal of hard work, time and renovation the building looks amazing! The exterior features large windows surrounded by stone, old lettering on the building remains intact, inside they were able to keep the original tin ceiling and terrazzo floors. The reclaimed mahogany tables came from the former Agave restaurant as did the bar top, the bar back was constructed with oak from Cass Tech bookcases, shelving is made from old bleachers and antique bakers racks, old subway tiles and windows all work together creating a quaint, cool atmosphere.

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The 16 tap bar allows for a wonderful selection, we order 3 small pours: Oddside Mayan Mocha, Starcut Squishy and Right Brain Beaubiens Ribbon Farm sour mash red ale. Honestly, they were all great, but the Starcut Squishy semi-sweet cider with cherries really hit the spot, so we ordered another, full-size this time. It’s fascinating to just walk around looking at all the bottles; Michigan Craft Beers, regional beers, imports, Belgians, the list goes on. You can have a growler filled or pick up bottles, cans, 4 packs, 6 packs, cases– room temperature or ice cold. They sell snacks too, think Better Made chips, crackers, jam and jerky. 

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The transformation taking place in Detroit right now is incredible, astonishing. Buildings with impressive history or once beautiful facades and interiors, shuttered for years, are being uncovered, repurposed and used again. The recycling continues……..



10 Sep

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Northville is about 30 miles northwest of Detroit and has a surprisingly industrial heritage. The city was the location of Henry Ford’s first Village Industries factory. Mr Ford purchased the former Northville Mills building in 1919, eventually that building was razed and a larger one (designed by none other than Albert Kahn) built across the street that would provide valves for every Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle built. The theory was by having small factories in rural communities a farmer’s income would be stabilized through the winter months, they were given a leave of absence to return to working on the farm. In 1972 Ford Motor Company donated the original building site to be used as a Historic Village, Mill Race Village was born.

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Operated by the Northville Historical Society, Mill Race Village is populated with buildings that were slated to be razed, preserving  architecture, furnishings and the lifestyle of the 19th century. On our way into the village we pass the Bell Pier, the 24″ bell was manufactured by the American Bell Foundry that operated in Northville from the 1890’s to the 1930’s; they were well-known for their dinner bells, bells for churches, factories, schools and farms. Crossing the wooden bridge we find ourselves in an old-fashioned village. We wander into a small home built circa 1889 that is now used as weaver’s studio, lovely textiles such as rugs, tablecloths and blankets are on display, a woman demonstrates how a loom operates. Pretty flower gardens fill front yards, huge Hydrangea bloom in beds, Black-eyed Susan’s and phlox add bursts of color.

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The Yerkes House built in 1873 is a gorgeous example of the Carpenter Gothic style; the green and tan beauty is adorned with ornate trim and decoration, I’m particularly fond of the pointed windows. The size of the home, furnishings and housewares convey the wealth of the family, the floating staircase is my favorite feature. Next we walk over to the river, water gently flows from one level to another, don’t miss the view!  The Hunter House built in 1851 is classic Greek Revival, it was moved to the village in 1972 from its original location on Main Street at Griswold.

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More people arrive as it gets later in the day, making it look like a bustling village. The New School Church is air-conditioned, we are grateful for that. This building has served many purposes from church to school, a barracks and then as the Northville library for 70 years. It can be rented for weddings, parties and meetings. Wash Oak school was the typical one-room schoolhouse we have all heard about, rows of desks await children, the flag hanging near the blackboard only has 47 stars. There’s activity at the Hirsch Blacksmith shop, a “smithy” is demonstrating his craft for visitors. The other side of this replica building houses rotating exhibit space, Kris and I enjoy the Silver Springs carbonated beverages display, fruity drinks such as the Lime Rickey were bottled right here in Northville.

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One of Northville’s oldest structures, built circa 1831, the Cady Inn was once a boarding house and stagecoach stop before it began serving hungry diners. These days the Historical Society Offices and Archives are located here; this space is also available for rental. The temperature continues to rise; at the General Store we purchase bottles of cold water and admire the original tin ceiling. This was the last timber-framed building standing in downtown Northville before being taken apart piece by piece and reconstructed on this spot. Outside we quench our thirst as we watch a resident squirrel enjoy an afternoon snack. Next door we stop in at the Interurban Station; this tiny building was originally the waiting room for Farmington’s transit system. A map of the interurban train line hangs on the wall, thick red lines trace routes from Detroit to Port Huron, Flint, Toledo and Ann Arbor.

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Downtown Northville still retains that small-town atmosphere despite its recent growth spurt. Grand Victorian era homes fill neighborhood streets, most built before 1930; old-fashioned street lamps and benches line Main Street, very quaint. We are having lunch at Garage Grill & Fuel Bar, a cool Art Deco style gas station-turned restaurant. Built in 1940 as a Gulf Oil gas station, it’s had many incarnations through the years: Sunoco gas station, Chrysler dealership, dry cleaner and what we remember it as, a garden shop. After a complete renovation it opened in 2012 as Garage.

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The interior decor plays homage to the structures origins; air pump, gas pump, vintage toys, photographs and a bunch of automotive memorabilia. The hanging light fixtures are pure deco, did I mention the booth seating is done in Levi’s? Just as we finish our salad our Big Sicilian pizza arrives, no pizza stands here, just Texaco oil cans! The pizza is covered with pepperoni, house-made sausage, prosciutto, bacon, red sauce and mozzarella, so flavorful, absolutely delicious! On the way out we have a peek at the fully restored 1930 Ford Model A in the back, sweet.

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Walking down Main Street we stumble across Browndog Creamery & Dessert Bar, we know what will happen if we go in, but we can’t resist. The shop makes small-batch ice cream and desserts all in house; the baked goods are tempting, but what’s better on a hot summer day than ice cream? Flavors are unique, french press mocha, triple vanilla, pumpkin road, and one I had to try, New Holland Poet Oatmeal Stout—-it has a nice taste. In the end we walked out with one of those waffle cones dipped in chocolate, smothered in sprinkles and filled with Cookie Monster ice cream. Don’t let the blue coloring throw you, it’s pretty tasty, a vanilla-ish base loaded with a variety of cookie pieces. We join other leisure-seekers in the attractive town square; tall grasses and trailing petunia emerge from large urns, we finish our ice cream cone to the sound of water splashing in the fountain, such a nice place to relax.

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It seems no matter where we find ourselves in the metro area we are always learning, always discovering, and  best of all, having a great time!

DETROIT: Woodward…Under Construction

5 Sep

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Detroit’s Main Street, The All American Road, a Pure Michigan Byway, the first mile of concrete roadway in the country, M-1, all of these descriptions refer to our very own Woodward Ave. If you’ve been downtown the last several months you’ve experienced first hand the major changes taking place along the thoroughfare. First we have track construction for the M-1 Rail Streetcar line; the 3.3 mile circulating streetcar route will travel along Woodward Ave from the Central Business District (Congress), through Midtown, New Center and up to the North End neighborhoods (W Grand Blvd). There will be 20 serving stations serving 12 locations when completed. I can hardly wait. The second thing you’ll notice on Woodward is the ongoing rehab/restoration/reconstruction of historic buildings lining the avenue. 

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Today we’re taking a walk to see what’s new, what’s happening, in the rapidly changing-for-the-better district. We park the Jeep using one of those new fancy parking meters (ugh!), here’s a tip: memorize your license plate number….We start our walk just north of The Spirit of Detroit Statue, looks like the Vinton building is in line for renovation, the number of structures under construction on this block alone is mind-blowing. Scaffolding, paving equipment and orange traffic cones dictate where we can go. Office workers on break watch the progress as they relax in funky seating areas surrounding the Chase Tower–(now known as the Qube); there are so many people milling about.

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Several buildings on the west side of the street near Gratiot are in the process of being renovated; a peek through the telephoto lens of our camera reveals existing staircases with decorative wrought iron. Orange-striped barrels, chain link fence and men in hard hats make up the streetscape. We stand on the sidewalk trying to take in all the changes, luckily many buildings retain their original architectural splendor. On the next block we are amazed at the progress that has been made; just a few short weeks ago the corner building was faceless and minus windows, today it is nearly finished, stainless steel trim frames the windows and facade. A map of the new M-1 Rail line is displayed in an empty storefront.

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The Wright-Kay Building has always been one of our favorites; designed in the Queen Anne style by Gordon W Lloyd, it was completed in 1891 as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music. When the music store closed the Wright-Kay jewelry firm took over the building from 1920-1978. Six stories tall, constructed of brick and brownstone, I have always been fascinated by the corner turret reaching from the second to the fifth floor; at one time there was a ballroom on the second floor.Today the street level is home to John Varvatos, a high-end men’s clothing store–everybody should check this place out!

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The first thing you’ll notice is the huge chandelier, well, it’s actually many chandeliers wired together, creating a very dramatic effect. Everything revolves around the color black, it works fabulously; the space has a masculine, industrial, elegance, there’s so much eye candy we don’t even know where to look. Vintage accents are everywhere; display cases, tables, frames and light fixtures. Photographs of Rock-n-Roll stars hang on dark walls, they are available for purchase. Of course there’s the clothing, I don’t want to undersell that; t-shirts, jeans (made in USA), jackets, scarves and shoes are all attractively displayed, I could pick out at least a dozen items for Kris. Music is a big part of the store; a drum set, guitars and amps stacked two-high rest on a riser. We take the fancy stairway to the second floor, immediately we are greeted by guitars waiting to be played by customers. Further back a seating area surrounded by new and vintage guitars, amps, receivers, turntables, speakers and headphones welcomes us, Kris is mesmerized; I page through coffee table books about music and fashion. 

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 We pop into the David Whitney building, now the 126 room Aloft Hotel and 105 premium residences. Built in 1915 this 19-story building epitomizes America’s Golden Age. A 2-year, $92 million historical renovation has brought the original grandeur back to the building. The main attraction is the 4-story, gold-leafed atrium; lit by skylight, adorned with a fanciful clock, marble and terracotta, it truly is stunning. We exit the building and cross over to Grand Circus Park, the Russell Alger Memorial Fountain is lovely, umbrella’d tables with chairs are available on surrounding concrete. Across Woodward the Thomas Edison Memorial Fountain looks inviting; water spills over into a large basin, the sound is relaxing. Crossing back to the Whitney building our attention is diverted by a giant pink layer cake blocking Washington Ave; a crew is in the process of filming a commercial for Ford Motor Co celebrating the 10th birthday of the Fusion. We watch and we watch some more waiting for the big moment when the Fusion blasts through the cake, alas our hunger gets the best of us–guess we’ll have to wait to see it on TV.

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Central Kitchen + Bar located in the Michigan National Building has only been open a few weeks, we’re giving it a try. The lobby of the building is done in that mix of modern decor and original architectural elements that Dan Gilbert’s buildings have become known for, the lighting is super-cool, we’re fond of the whole effect. The restaurant continues with the same theme of new and old, concrete columns are left as-is, the unrepaired embossed ceiling is painted white, there’s a great black and white photo of old Detroit on one wall. We sit at a table just inside the roll-up door panels, casual seating areas reach out onto the sidewalk along with additional dining space. The lunch crowd is gone, the vibe is chill.

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Lunch arrives without delay, both of us grab a slice of the flatbread; thin crust smothered in fig jam, covered with crispy-roasted brussel sprouts, sprinkled with goat cheese crumbles and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, it’s delicious! The Chickpea burger is a thick vegetarian patty topped with tomato, feta, arugula, capped with Greek yogurt and served on a grain bun, tasty. While eating we look out over Cadillac Square, individuals peer inside the restaurant as they pass, there’s more foot traffic than vehicle traffic; something that hasn’t occurred in a very long time. Before exiting the building we drop into Roasting Plant for a post-lunch coffee. Smack dab in the center of the narrow space is the Javabot, this is where the beans are roasted, stored and blown through a series of custom-designed pneumatic tubes to be sold by the pound or the cup; you can help but be fascinated watching the process.

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Going back toward the car we dodge more barricades, stop for an up-close look at rail construction and admire the new mural on the former Compuware building before heading into Detroit Water Ice Factory .The brainchild of Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, the icy dessert shop recently opened to great fanfare, get this: every penny of profit goes back to fellow Detroiter’s through Goodwill and S.A.Y. Detroit. The menu board hangs behind the counter, eager young servers offer us samples, we comply. Flavors have catchy Detroit-ish names like Woodward Watermelon, (not Chet) Lemon, Honolulu Blue raspberry, you get the idea. I decide on the orange with a swirl of soft-serve vanilla ice cream through the middle; a delicious, refreshing treat! 

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Folks soak in the late afternoon sun on the patio of Townhouse; built out from One Detroit Center the glass enclosed space is pretty spectacular–it even has a retractable roof, you can literally dine under the stars! The decor is very modern, urban, chic. We sit at the bar, Kris has a cocktail while we people watch. We’ve seen a lot today and it all looks great, in two weeks Woodward will look different and again two weeks after that. It’s been a blast catching up on the progress, c’mon down and see it for yourself.

METAMORA: Horsin’ Around….

27 Aug

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Today is an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of day. Instead of a rabbit hole we are in Lapeer County, Metamora to be exact. The area is known for its striking beauty; the landscape is one of mature trees, century old barns, elevation changes and gorgeous countryside. You can board your horses, golf at an award-winning golf course, hunt pheasant, learn to drive a carriage, ride a horse and stay at a bed and breakfast. The opening day of formal hunting is a big event, a tradition here since 1928, they still do things the old-fashioned way with the blessing of the hounds and riders wearing formal hunt attire. The Metamora Hunt Stable Tour is today, our ticket gets us an inside look at 8 stables tucked into the tranquil terrain.

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Kris is at the wheel of the Wrangler as we meander narrow, rolling, scenic dirt roads. Let me start off by saying I know next to nothing about horses, hunts or hounds; we are drawn to the tour by the sheer beauty of the area and curiosity of the lifestyle. Our first stop is the Metamora Hunt Club kennels on Barber Rd; here we buy our tickets, walk the grounds and visit with a couple of the horses. Standing at the fence they come right to us, being an animal lover I’m excited to see the horses up close, they’re magnificent. Over at the kennels a constant stream of hounds pass through the dog door from the building into the yard. They are playful, active and anxious for attention from the humans standing at the fence. A quick look at the map to get our bearings and we’re off.

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Ordinary mailboxes line the road, the canopy of trees conceal the majesty of the land and homes beyond, when we reach the next address we make our turn onto a single lane, gravel drive, even rows of Pine trees line the sides making a dramatic entrance. Structures on this 30 acre property are Tudor style, putting us in the mind of a gentlemen’s farm. The stable, built in 1981 has a timely feel to it, a group of young women in riding pants and tall boots are gathered outside talking polo. There are no horses in the stalls right now; a guide invites us into the tack room for a cold beverage and a snack. The tiny room is extremely cozy, wood-paneled walls, saddles, ribbons and trophies add to its appeal. Outside we walk the property, a series of jumps is set up in one area, horses visit with old friends in another, the house sits leisurely in the distance.

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Old Magnolia Farm on Hosner Road is next. Built in 1860, the large white house sits under a blue summer sky, a series of arches enclose front and side porches, detailed cut-outs in the wood trim and wrought iron make it fancy.  The current owners had the facade restored to its original grandeur; while they were at it, they built a stable too….. The buildings are lovely; the sight of the stable against the backdrop of pristine pastureland is breathtaking. Lanterns hang from the extravagant covered walkway, flowers burst from urns along the way. Inside, the stable is done in knotty pine with a stamped concrete floor; there are 6 stalls a wash stall, feed/washer dryer room, workout room and tack room that also serves as a lounge. We climb up to the hayloft stacked with fresh-cut hay, it smells nice, through the window we peer out over the grounds, there are 100 acres of riding trails, wooded areas and hay fields. Downstairs we stop in the lounge, cold drinks and horse-shaped, sugar cookies await us, it’s air-conditioned too! Out back horses graze, black split-rail fencing follows the slope if the land.

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Quail Hollow Farm on Oakwood is next, here they breed Oldenburgs, which originated in Germany, and Labrador Retrievers. We follow others on the tour to the stable area, an old turquoise Chevy pick-up is stored in a garage, window boxes overflow with geraniums and lobelia. The farm is home to 10 horses, 4 dogs, 3 Shetland sheep and chickens along with 3 Morgan horses. Haystacks fill one area of the stable, we are greeted by the dogs as we make our way out to the sheep, they’re people friendly and come right up to us. The horses are wearing fly masks, this protects their delicate eyes from the annoyance of flies, they can see out of them easily. I visit with the animals while Kris is hard at work taking pictures.

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Back on Barber Road, Willow Pond Farm is stunning! The stone and wood  gambrel roof stable is painted a placid green with white trim, black split-rail fencing surrounds the greensward. A jockey statue stands by the open stable door, inside we are treated to imported English stalls and South American Foxwood, it looks like fine furniture. A horse is in his stall facing us, he takes pleasure in the breeze the large fan creates. Upstairs in the hayloft trap doors allow bundles of hay to be dropped directly into each stall, through the windows we look out over the well-manicured lawn and stately home. We visit with another horse in his stall, this one faces the outdoors, he’s perfectly groomed in chestnut-brown with a white diamond shape on his head. This gentle giant is delighted to have so much attention, I think he’s posing as Kris snaps a photo. Weeping Willows surround the family pond, they even have an Olympic sized outdoor ring on the property.

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We arrive at Bedrock Stables and park in the shade, an American flag mounted to a white Victorian home flutters in the breeze. On the other side of the driveway two large red barns await us. The homestead was established sometime in the mid to late 1800’s, the barns actually pre-date the house, originally used for farming, one is now a stable the other a Bed & Breakfast. We start in the stable, a woman points out features of the building, we’re excited to learn a Kentucky Derby contender is in one of the stalls. Next door the barn is now used as a bed and breakfast and meeting space; the interior oozes a rustic charm. The wood and beams are still original from around 1860, visitors parade through the guest bedrooms, kitchen and dining space, I carry my glass of lemonade to the silo, this is super-cool! With just a table and chairs the view looking up is something else. The open stairway leads to the second floor recreation room complete with pool table, juke box, bar and large stone fireplace surrounded by a comfy seating area. The barn is often rented out for weddings, what a lovely setting.

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Springbrook Farm consists of 200 acres, the main residence, built around 1860 still stands gracefully on the property. The old dairy barn with its gambrel roof has been converted for horses, it is believed the structure is a “Sears Kit Barn” dating back to 1929. The stalls are knotty pine, antique-looking light fixtures are mounted to the kelly green ceiling. The hayloft is completely open, trusses visible, impressive, Kris likes the old tractor and antique farm equipment. We walk the peaceful grounds, the panoramic view from here is spectacular, heavenly; meadows, fields, woodlands, highlands, downs, knolls, well, you get the idea. The rich beauty unexpected, picturesque. Following the trail we end up at a HUGE red building under construction, this will be the 30,000 sq ft indoor riding arena. The agricultural fields have all been turned into hay fields. On the walk back we visit with the horses and admire their view.

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Our last stop on the tour takes us to Fiddler’s Green on Sutton Road. This enchanting small farm includes an eye-catching Saltbox style house, a three-stall barn and a carriage barn. The yard is surrounded by attractive flower gardens and quaint seating areas. The owner greets us in the stall barn, she tells us her two horses are rescues, they certainly look content. The tack room is painted barn red with a white ceiling, ribbons hang above a dresser, there are horse statues and paintings, quite dashing. The property is landscaped wonderfully, an attractive mix of colors and textures, walking back we see carriages parked near the stone wall.

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Finished with the tour we are ready for a late lunch; Kris makes his way down pretty roads ending up at The White Horse Inn on High Street in the village of Metamora. You may have read about the Inn or seen something on the local news about this place. Founded in 1850, it operated continuously for 162 years closing in 2012. New owners came in, shored the place up and put on addition; much of the materials used in the renovation came from the owners own wooded lot in addition to recycled wood from a nearby century-old farm. Jean Louis Sauvat flew in from France to do the charcoal images of horses in the main dining room. The doors re-opened to the delight of those who have been coming here for years and those dining for the first time.

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Step inside the building and feel like you are in an up north lodge, the grand stone fireplace takes up a large wall, wide plank floors and a wood beam ceiling make the space welcoming, homey. There’s a sitting area to wait for a table or just hang out with friends and have cocktails. The bar surround is made from reclaimed wood, high top tables fill in the space between the bar and main dining room; this is the section we like to sit in. After placing our order I page through a coffee table book on Lake Superior, the dining room is filling up quickly. Our lunch arrives, the maurice salad is reminiscent of the one served by Hudson’s; iceberg lettuce, thick strips of ham, turkey, swiss cheese, pickles, hard boiled egg and of course that signature maurice dressing. The black bean quesadillas are served with salsa and sour cream. The food is good, but the ambiance is what makes this place special. 

DETROIT: Building Stuff…

19 Aug

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Good things are happening in Detroit; from neighborhoods to the riverfront to downtown it seems everybody has a stake in making the city a better place. As one of Detroit’s most charming neighborhoods West Village hosts tree-lined streets and lovely historic homes that encourage leisurely walks to the corner market, meeting a friend for coffee, a delicious meal or slice of pie. Today Better Block Detroit is sponsoring a community event in the village to help stimulate improvement projects and encourage new business to take up residence in the area. Along with Pop-up businesses in vacant storefront spaces, day-long events are planned to encourage kids to participate in health and fitness activities. 

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We park on Kercheval in front of the old Detroit Savings Bank; engraving along the top of the building reads “The Oldest Bank In Michigan”, indeed it was, it went on to become Comerica Bank. The important-looking structure has recently been renovated; the main floor will be retail with residential lofts occupying the second floor. Inside, three pop-up businesses are set up, showcasing the available space; terazzo floors have been polished to a high shine, a crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the large, open room, sunlight pours in from large front windows, folks mill about checking out the merchandise for sale. First things first, Coffee and (____) is selling cold-brew coffee and delicious pastries, Kris and I each get a coffee and we split a chocolate cupcake–yum! Mor & Co, a lifestyle store hoping to take up permanent residence in the city, offers a variety of outdoor, fun-friendly items for purchase: sidewalk chalk in the shape of downtown skyscrapers, aloe after-sun spray, woven blankets for the beach or picnic and bug-repellent candles. Common Threads Clothing is selling Detroit-themed t-shirts, tanks, hoodies and hats—all Made in America! A florist is setting up permanent shop in the space facing Van Dyke.

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Outside, we admire the building; a covered patio is taking shape along the side where the drive-thru window was once located. Clusters of pedestrians weave through neighborhood streets, a Preservation Detroit Bike Tour is in progress, vegetables growing at Fish Eye Farms are plentiful. Coe St is closed to traffic, Rollerblade clad skaters gather speed as they approach the wooden ramp in the center of the street, each performs a trick, skateboarders follow suit; skaters show off their skills zigzagging between orange cones. Metro Central Christ Church is having a clothing swap, demonstrations focus on renewable energy and sustainability such as solar power and rainwater harvesting, it’s a greener world these days.

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Over on Belle Isle the Great Lakes Chapter of the Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc is hosting an event outside the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the theme is “Made in Michigan”. At one time there were 33 companies that produced outboard motors in Michigan, more than a dozen in Detroit alone. Outboard motors were an important part of recreational boating heritage; to put this in perspective remember that before the advent of the inexpensive, portable outboard motor, boating was a rich man’s sport. Did you know the world’s first commercially viable outboard motor was invented and marketed by Grosse Ile resident Cameron B Waterman in 1904. We did it all in Detroit, from ship building to stoves to rowboat motors and the automobile, there was nothing this city couldn’t manufacture! 

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Members from across the region have arrived to show off their motors; names like Sea Gull, Sea-bee, Cadet, Sea Queen and Chief identify the models. Rows of motors are held in place by stands, metals are highly polished, paint gleams. Older models are lettered in beautiful script, trimmed in gold. Caille was one of Michigan’s most successful companies, there are many “Red Head’s” here today. There’s a wonderful exhibit of Oliver outboard motors complete with huge signs that would hang in the showroom and outside the building. You can see the way the motor works in the older models, parts are exposed, in the later years the mechanics were shielded by covers in bright colors and cool graphics. As we pad our way across the lawn we pick up bits and pieces of conversation; friends become reacquainted, ask about projects, owners share stories of where they got the motor, how long they’ve had it and how many others they’ve acquired through the years.

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Our attention is diverted to the Detroit River as a series of powerboats skip across the river, splitting the difference between the US and Canada. Brightly colored graphics cover the hull, they sound powerful, lengthy roostertails shoot out behind them, cameras come out and everybody stops what they’re doing to watch, even the helicopter flying overhead. After a couple of passes we go back to what we were doing; we see motors built in 1906, 1924 and 1928. The “Detroiter” was made in St Clair Shores on Mack Ave, the Gierholtt in Marine City, Algonac and Saginaw also manufactured outboards. Several boats are parked in front of the museum; a gorgeous antique wooden boat trimmed in red has a Mercury outboard, the all wood Thunderbolt gets lots of looks, the aero craft looks crude with its multiple rivets. Parts lay on blankets in the swap meet area, shifters bear names like Quicksilver and Shipmaster. It has been fascinating to see the show, but now it’s time for lunch.

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Parks & Rec is a little 30-seat diner that recently opened in the triangular, castle-like G A R Building on Cass and Grand River. The building itself was constructed in 1897 for Civil War veterans, it had shops, a bank and meeting space along with a small auditorium. The last occupant of the building was the Detroit Parks & Rec Department more than 30 years ago. The interior pays homage to its former use with green metal park chairs, tables inlaid with checkerboards, an old shuffleboard with discs and cues mounted to a wall. An old billboard complete with the image of the fountain that welcomed visitors to Belle Isle hangs on the back wall. Milk glass lights, quilted stainless steel and a retro-style countertop give it that old diner feel.

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The restaurant shares the chef and kitchen staff of the adjoining Republic Tavern, they bake their own pastries and breads, make their own preserves and pickles, they even cure their own bacon. Open 7 am to 3 pm daily, the menu is filled with breakfast favorites. We are having the liege waffles, 2 petite waffles made from rich batter, chunks of sugar give them a delicate crunch, topped with real maple syrup and a sprinkle of powdered sugar they are super delicious– served with 2 eggs, we ordered ours scrambled, it’s a nice combo. The Hash was also very good, we ordered our eggs over medium and added sautéed onions to the hash, the eggs were cooked perfectly, soft enough for the yolk to soak into the hash below but not runny. Served with tasty toast and housemade ketchup, we really enjoyed our meal. The desserts looked really good too, next time………

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Mount Clemens…ish

12 Aug

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It’s another day of exceptional weather here in metro Detroit, let’s get out and enjoy it. Not far from downtown Mt Clemens in Macomb County we are visiting George George Memorial Park off of Moravian in Clinton Township, this is not your average park! A tall fountain faces Moravian, water spills from a large basin into a shallow pool, grass is green and freshly mowed, landscape shrubs hug the arborvitae fence line. Just inside the gate we park the Jeep, the sun spreads warmth across our face and shoulders as we make our way to a pond on the left. At least a dozen ducks stand on the shoreline as others leisurely paddle through the water, we traverse the outside edge of the pond encountering look outs and seating areas along the way. A main walking path is paved, it takes you through the center of the well manicured, landscaped grounds; a large playscape to the right entertains children of varying ages, Black Eyed Susans bloom in perennial beds.

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The fountain plaza is delightful; jets of water shoot skyward from an elevated pool, water pours over the sides into a recessed area, more water flows over and out of boulders. Trees and other greenery sprout from a little center island, singular arcs of water criss-cross the narrow canal on the backside. Lush hostas thrive in shady areas while tall grasses take satisfaction in the bright sun. A photographer takes photos of a baby boy in this perfect setting. The further we walk the more natural the landscape becomes; wildflowers take the place of formal gardens, fields substitute lawns. The ground becomes a bit marshy, a natural pond is off to one side while the earth slopes upward on the other. A footbridge crosses the Clinton River, the sides are dense with trees, branches lean toward the water, a vehicle bridge is in the distance. We cross a couple more bridges over smaller waterways, the only sounds we hear are insects. The path ends as the property nears Groesbeck, time to turn back.

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A different photographer is taking pictures of a woman on the bridge, what a lovely background, it’s a perfect day for photos. Queen Anne’s Lace and cattail grow freely in the meadow, bumble bees race from flower to flower. We pause for yet another photographer  taking a family portrait, looking over the side of the bridge we spot a tiny turtle; algae clings to his glossy shell as he rests on a branch, ducks approach to see if we have anything to feed them. Back in the center of the park the pavilion sits empty, attractive wood beams compose the ceiling, we look through open arches onto the park grounds, a cherub stands on the peak of the structure. We pass beds of beautiful daylilies in yellow, red and cream, the sound of children’s laughter is carried on the breeze. Vine-covered arches straddle the path, folks arrive with coolers and  baskets filled with goodies for a picnic lunch. The 30 acre park is an absolute gem. There are seating areas in the sun or shade, by water or gardens; it’s a perfect place to take a walk, have a picnic or curl up with a good book.

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In a few minutes time we are in Mt Clemens, the Jeep is parked in a nearby lot, we are having lunch at Three Blind Mice on Main Street. We have always been fond of this building, the current owners did a wonderful job refurbishing the now 115 year-old structure when they took it over. Originally known as The Green Tree, it opened in 1900. Inside, the walls are American Oak, the floor original Pewabic tile, the bar top is made from wood the owners removed themselves from burned houses in Detroit. The place is full of old stuff like church pews, barrels from distillery’s like Old Grand Dad, Maker’s Mark and New Holland, fixtures were rescued from Salem Memorial Church in Detroit; it’s cozy and inviting. We take a couple of seats at the bar and check out the menu; one of the owners also owns the Bad Brads restaurants, that means the food should be tasty. 

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We study the rows of bottles while we wait for our lunch to arrive, a ladder mounted to rails allows bartenders to reach every bottle, Kris spots the Blanton’s and orders a shot. I guess you’d say the signature item on the menu is the Spamwich, don’t judge till you’ve tried it: panko coated and deep-fried Spam, golden hash browns, scrambled egg, pickles and spicy mayo on toasted ciabatta–it’s really good! We split the sandwich and the Michigan cherry salad; all the usual suspects– blue cheese crumbles, dried cherries, candied walnuts with greens and a very tasty vinaigrette. Housemade dressings and sauces, Guinness Stew, cheese soup and full entrees, definitely not the average bar food.

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At one time Mt Clemens was very wealthy, know for its mineral baths, there were 11 bath houses and several hotels at its peak. The bath houses operated from 1873 until the last one closed in 1974. There was a pottery factory that employed 1000 people and a train station, both closed now. The city is also the county seat of Macomb County, home to Circuit Court, Judicial Court and law offices, keeping it an active city. Neighborhoods are filled with beautiful historic homes; Cass, S Wilson, Moross and Belleview are some of our favorite streets— let’s go for a walk. I’d say the Tudor is the most popular architectural style, brick and trim color vary from house to house, several sport awnings. Mature trees line long neighborhood streets, urns, window boxes and planters overflow with colorful annuals. Well-kept front yards are the norm, many have lovely gardens, stars and stripes grace several front porches. Walkways in brick, stone and slate lead to elegant front doors, back yards are huge.

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Homes reflect a variety of time periods and styles; Tudor,Victorian, Colonial, Farmhouse, American Foursquare, Craftsman and even Mid-Century Modern, no two are the same! The Atwood House at 53 Moross erected in 1835 is thought to be the oldest house in Mt Clemens, possibly Macomb County. A wonderful example of Greek Revival, dark green shutters and blue porch ceilings accent the gorgeous white residence.Check out the French Chateau style house at 124 Belleview, it was built in 1932 of Bedford Indiana Limestone. The Charles E Doll house at 121 Belleview was built in 1926 and is a stunning example of the English Tudor, the lot backs to the Clinton River. Catty corner at 207 Moross sits a 1931 Tudor built by another member of the Doll family. I could go on and on, but instead, why not take a ride to Mt Clemens, park on one of the charming streets and experience it for yourself.

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DETROIT: Summertime Fun

4 Aug

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Since June and running through September 2, Detroit has been entertaining locals and visitors alike with fun activities: Beach Parties, live musical performances, movie night, volleyball, fitness classes and food truck gatherings  with Summer In The Parks. Every day brings new offerings to Campus Martius/Cadillac Square, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Paradise Valley—and it’s all FREE! This evening we are headed to Campus Martius to see one of Nick Cave’s Dance Labs. Best known for his “sound suits” Nick Cave earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, his show Here Hear will be at Cranbrook until October 11, 2015. Cave has spent the summer in Detroit working with local dance companies and musicians; tonight’s performance pairs Hardcore Detroit with Odu Afrobeat Orchestra. 

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We park about a block away from Campus Martius, this is Detroit’s point of origin, all major avenues radiate out from this point; I guess you could say it’s the heart of the city. The 2.5 acre public square is buzzing with excitement; green folding chairs set up in rows on the lush lawn hold anxious spectators, the beach bar is serving up cocktails in clear plastic cups for the occasion, funky plastic chairs host barefoot individuals in the warm, soft sand. The Compuware building looms tall behind the stage, a large screen at the back of the stage assures even those farthest away can enjoy the show. Performers take their place and the music begins. Dancers dressed in Cave designed sound suits move to the beat of the music, these vibrant-colored fabric sculptures twirl, rise and fall in rhythm. Lengthy fur flows with the music creating its own choreography. Six dancers move in unison, then take turns solo; one individual wears gloves and a mask in white, duplicating signature Michael Jackson moves. Two young children are brought on stage to join in, the audience shows their approval with loud applause.

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The production comes to an end, folks mingle, a reggae band starts to play at the opposite side of the park; the soldiers and sailors monument looks on with approval. Water sprays from the big fountain throwing mist into the air, refreshing the lucky ones it reaches. Across the street in the Sports Zone a volleyball game is in progress on the sandy court, four basketball half-courts are filled with guys going one on one, shooting free throws and showing off their skills; nearby benches offer pedestrians respite and court-side seating. The Bagley Memorial Fountain sits silently in Cadillac Park, carved in granite by Henry Hobson Richardson back in 1887 as a drinking fountain, it originally sat at the corner of Woodward and Fort, it has been on this spot since 2007–I’d love to see water flow from the lions mouth once again. Gardens line both sides of the park; Hydrangea, Purple Coneflower and neatly maintained shrubs create a pretty landscape.

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Greektown At Sundown is the latest activity to join Detroit’s summer line up. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now until September 6, Monroe Street in Greektown will be closed to vehicle traffic from 5 pm until 2 am between Beaubien and St Antoine. Musicians, street performers and artists will replace cars on this pedestrian friendly block. Eight restaurants now offer outdoor seating on newly constructed patios, Ikea provided the furniture and umbrellas, Shinola has installed bike racks. We arrive at twilight to a scene of bustling foot traffic, the hum of conversation, and laughter; strings of clear lights criss cross Monroe, the glow grows as darkness sets in. Food is on our mind and Santorini Estiatorio is where we are having dinner.

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The restaurant’s patio is full of diners, the roll-up doors are open to the sidewalk, tonight we will dine al fresco. Waiters work at an accelerated pace on this busy Friday night. We place our order and sip on chilled Reisling as we watch folks eating ice cream and carrying white bakery bags pass by; we are surrounded by the sound of Greek speaking patrons, very cool. Long, white rectangular plates of food are set on our table, squares of Spanakotiropeta (spinach pie), Moussaka (layers of eggplant, potato and beef in a bechemal sauce) and Pastitsio (macaroni, spiced ground meat, parmesan and bechamel) and a couple of Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves in lemon sauce) make our mouths water. Without hesitation we dig in, the food is wonderfully fresh and delicious, it disappears quickly.

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Out on the street darkness surrounds us, signs and city lights shine bright; we gather with others to watch a street performer breathe fire then twirl batons of fire. Policemen on horses patrol the street, there’s a line to pet the beautiful animals. We stop in at Krema for something sweet. The modern space serves up Greek pastries, Gelato and Coffee, what else could you want? Their signature pastry is Bougatsa, a breakfast pastry made with phyllo and semolina cream, they also make a Kremnut—kind of a combo of a croissant and a doughnut, filled with tasty things like custard, nutella, key lime and strawberry. One custard for me please, Kris cannot resist the Nutella Gelato. We eat our dessert sitting at a table watching the line ebb and flow, gelato seems to be the most popular item tonight. I have to say my Kremnut is really good, the dough tender with lots of tiny air pockets, the custard filling is just the right amount of sweet, the gelato is equally as good.

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It has been a long time since we have seen Greektown looking so vibrant and attractive. Restaurants have opened balconies and rooftops to visitors, Ikea has a wonderful window display and pop-up shops appear here and there along the street. Bicycles with illuminated rims are pedaled through the district, friends group together in street-side chairs, everybody is having a good time. It’s a celebration of summer and you’re all invited!

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PORT HURON: Boat Night

21 Jul

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It’s the eve of the 91st running of the Bayview Yacht Club Port Huron to Mackinac Race, Port Huron is wall to wall people, the banks of the Black River are thick with boats, a forest of tall masts pierce the sky; the excitement is palpable. 250 teams have entered the race sponsored by Bell’s Beer, they will sail either a 259 nm Cove Island Course–for faster, bigger boats, or a 204 nm Shore Course–for all others, taking them from lower Lake Huron to Mackinac Island. Bayview Yacht Club is celebrating 100 years of sailing in 2015. What began as a 3-story tin boat house in 1915 on Motor Boat Lane is now 1,000 members strong, occupying a 5,000 sq ft clubhouse on the Detroit River near the mouth of Lake St Clair.

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We park our car on Military Street and walk to the Black River, downtown is swarming with pedestrians, walkways on both sides of the river are overrun with activity. We cross the drawbridge and head down to the water, it’s an amazing scene; the sky is powder blue, a few puffy, white clouds hang low, a steady procession of boats travel up and down the river,  huge sailboats are anchored two deep parallel to the walkways, everyone seems to know one another. We walk to the farthest drawbridge then slowly, taking our time, walk back, observing the bash that is Boat Night.

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Dockside picnic tables are crowded with beer cans, bottles of wine and tasty looking edibles, leashed dogs seem unfazed by all of the activity. Crews arrive with sleeping bags, back packs and supplies, they talk strategies and routes getting ready for the morning start, Bell’s decals cling to the bow of participating boats. We traverse the wide sidewalk passing live performers, family BBQ’s and restaurants and bars filled to capacity—everyone is having a good time. Lovely condos line the south side of the river seizing the best view of all. Boats have arrived from Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Chicago and Detroit, many are personalized, one has a giant Detroit Lions decal. Flags from sister yacht clubs cling to the rigging, colorful spinnakers flutter in the breeze. The old Michigan National Bank building (aka Bank of America) hovers in the background, come August it will begin its transition into a City Flats Hotel.

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Back on street level, the main drag through downtown is closed to vehicles, the area is teeming with visitors and vendors, games and activities. Human mannequins grab our attention, we make our way to the live mannequin contest sponsored by Salon Pizazz. Talented stylists have created exotic, make-believe characters, extravagant hairdo’s, whimsical, eccentric costumes all combine into surreal mannequins; my two favorites were the young ladies who looked like fire and ice–very cool! We direct our steps toward the lake, traffic is still heavy on the river; vintage wood boats, pontoons and a pilot-boat all join in the fun. Each restaurant we pass has a line, doors and windows are open to the street, smiling patrons are wedged inside. As we near the lake we remember a little out-of-the-way place, riverside.

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Vinomondo Wine Bar and Brew Pub is a nice place to catch a light meal, a glass of wine or pint of beer while relaxing waterside. We are happy to see open tables available on the deck, we choose one with a view of the Black River and Lake Huron—perfect! We order as the sun goes down, an orchestra plays Big Band standards under a canopy nearby, Kris sips on Kiwi Pear wine, tables fill up quickly. As darkness arrives so does our dinner, the panini is made with turkey, brie and slices of Granny Smith apples, the bread is crisp but tender, the brie warm and gooey. Our flatbread pizza is covered with a sun-dried tomato bruschetta, prosciutto, tiny pepperoni, yellow pepper rings and mozzarella, a tasty combo. Looking out, city lights dance on the water’s surface, clouds create interesting patterns in the night sky, lights from carnival rides glow in the distance. When we finally get up to leave our table is snatched quickly, the inside of the restaurant is empty, every patron is on the deck on this spectacular July night. 

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Back on Military Street we stop in at The Raven before hitting the road; a combination cafe and coffeehouse that also serves cocktails. The interior is a wonderful combination of wood, wrought iron, stained glass fixtures, book shelves, photographs and movie posters. A musician is singing on the balcony above the door, the tune sounds straight from the Delta. Kris orders an iced coffee and a brownie, I can’t resist the Rioja on the wine list. As we sit and listen much of the talk is centered around the boat race, this is the biggest night of the year for Port Huron and the city is a wonderful host.

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