FLINT: Farm Fresh………

16 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DETROIT: Holiday Style

9 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

 

DETROIT: It’s always something…..

2 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

DETROIT: Southwest Sunday

26 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DETROIT: Food n Funk…..

19 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

ROMEO: Terror On Tillson !!

6 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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