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ANN ARBOR: Dinner and a Movie

11 Mar

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The cold spell has finally broken, we are celebrating the freedom to walk about leisurely without fear of frostbite with a night on the town in Ann Arbor. The Michigan Theater is mid-way through their Noir Film Series, playing tonight is The Lady From Shanghai, the 1947 film starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. First things first, on-street parking is non-existent on this balmy March night, fortunately there’s a parking structure just around the corner from the theater. With the Jeep neatly parked for the next several hours we head to the Slurping Turtle for some dinner.

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Renowned Chef Takashi Yagihashi opened his second Slurping Turtle restaurant right here in Ann Arbor nearly a year ago. You may recognize his name from such shows as Iron Chef and Top Chef Masters. Yagihashi has successful restaurants in Chicago, including the original Slurping Turtle. He has close ties with Michigan; he operated Tribute in Farmington Hills from 1996 until 2005, in 2003 the James Beard Foundation named him “Best Chef Midwest”. It was those ties and two children in Michigan colleges that brought him back to the mitten. The Ann Arbor location is on the main floor of the old Borders building on Liberty Street.

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The dining room has a bright, clean look to it, matching pendant lights hang above communal tables, there is an open kitchen, counter seating and a few booths. Our server greets us quickly, delivers menus and takes our drink order. There’s a wonderful selection of authentic Japanese Ramen (noodles are made in house), sushi, street food and comfort food. Not really in the mood to Slurp, we choose 4 dishes to share. First out are the Hamachi Tacos: tartare of yellowtail, truffle soy and a taro root shell, really good and a nice starter. The vegetarian Bao is out next, I’m crazy about these steamed bao buns, this one has a tempura mushroom along with other goodies tucked inside, served alongside a tasty little salad; we’d both get this again. The Dragon Roll arrives looking quite tasty; shrimp, bbq eel, avocado, sauce, delicious. Our favorite dish is the Kinoko Mochi; plump tube-shaped rice cakes, a medley of Japanese mushrooms, boccolini, parsnip, sweet bell peppers and Parmesan in a chili soy sauce, fantastic!

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Outside, we cross Liberty and are standing in front of the Michigan Theater, opened January 5, 1928, the marquee looks just as it did then. When the theater originally opened vaudeville and silent films were the regular fare, shows were accompanied by live music from the Barton Theatre Organ which is still in place. During the 30’s and 40’s the theater thrived, movies drew a big crowd, there were also live stage shows and University of Michigan events. Television came along in the 50’s, film audiences declined as more and more people got their entertainment right in their living room from their TV set. In an effort to draw folks back, the Michigan was modernized in 1956; plasterwork was covered with aluminum, polished marble and a false ceiling. The theater stopped operating in 1979 and the building’s future was “uncertain”. Sadly, the Michigan Theater’s story is not unique.

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Folks joined together in effort to save the theater and organ, in the end, the City Council purchased the theater and dissolved the mortgage debt. In 1982 a management team was hired along with a restoration architect to bring the “Shrine to Art” back to life. Classic films, concerts, theater productions and touring shows filled the building, in 1985 the grand foyer and auditorium were restored, heating and electric were modernized, a screening room was added and the balcony was restored to its original 1928 color scheme. Today the Michigan is vibrant and alive, films once again grace the big screen, it is home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and numerous stage productions, the Barton Theatre Organ plays on……

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We purchase our tickets at the ticket window under the flashing marquee, inside, the aroma of fresh-popped popcorn fills the air. With a small popcorn drizzled with melted butter in hand I follow Kris into the Grand Foyer; grand it is! The entire theater is decorated in ivory and gold, here the ceiling is coffered, raised designs sparkle in gold leaf, a dramatic staircase leads to the balcony level, crystals dangle from elaborate chandeliers, a drinking fountain built into the wall is exquisite, the lower portion of the walls are beautiful dark wood panels. From the balcony we have a panoramic view of the auditorium; a red curtain hangs above the stage, the organ is being expertly played, gold leaf geometric patterns decorate the ceiling, a series of arches covered in lovely gold grates flank the side walls. Circular chandeliers with exposed round bulbs light the large space, ornate plaster moldings surround the walls.

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There’s nothing like watching a film on the big screen, especially an old film, this one is black and white. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married when this film was made, her long red hair cut short and dyed blonde for the role, she’s stunning as always. In true noir form, the story has its twists and turns creating suspense and tension, leaving us uncertain ‘who done it’ right up until the end.

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Back across Liberty Street we stop in at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea for a little post movie chill before driving home. This is the first time we’ve been at this location, it’s quite attractive inside; narrow wood panels are mounted to the walls horizontally, a large mirror behind the counter gives the space a big, open feel, toward the rear, a partial wall is covered in lush green plants. Serving coffee, tea, blended frozen drinks, pastries and light food, there’s something for everyone. Kris gets a cold brew and I go with my longtime favorite, coco cafe. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and espresso blended together until smooth, it’s the perfect sweet ending to a wonderful night.

 

CINCINNATI: Back in Time….

17 Feb

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It’s our last day in Cincy; we’ve still got a list of things to do. No trip to the Queen City is complete without a visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center, formerly Union Terminal. Everything about this building is amazing from architecture and history to its present-day use as a museum. Work started on the building in August of 1929, completed March 31, 1933 it is one of the last great train stations built and one of the finest examples of the Art Deco style. When it opened it was served by seven railroads; designed to accommodate 17,000 passengers and 216 trains a day, it was a transfer point for soldiers during WWII, Amtrak still runs a train from the station. Union Terminal cost $41 million to build including the land and readjustment of railroad facilities, the complex and rail yards take up 287 acres with 94 miles of track.

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  The Jeep is parked and we approach the building on foot; no matter how many times we come here, I am still awed by the magnificence of the structure, so grand, elegant, sophisticated. The clock is mounted front and center, two bas reliefs flank the rotunda, one represents transportation, the other commerce. In 1932, Maxfield Keck and his team stood on scaffolding and carved the figures directly into the limestone exterior, it took several months. Inside, the rotunda’s interior dome spans 180 ft with a height of 106 feet, it’s stunning! A series of murals depict the heritage of the US and Cincy. German artist Winold Reiss is responsible for the design of the murals; glass mosiac tiles, roughly the size of a nickle were pressed into a colored-plaster background. Glass tiles were ideal, the colors are brilliant, they will not fade and are easy to clean and maintain, especially important back in the days when smoking in public was the norm, not to mention the smut and smoke from the trains. Reiss also had input to the color scheme of the rotunda dome, a rainbow of yellows and golds, as well as the terrazzo floor patterns.

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A sign guides us to Tower A, we’ve never been, so we’re excited to check it out; a ride on an elevator, a few steps up and we’re in. This my friends, is the control tower, the train director would sit at his desk, look at the control panel and determine the path of travel of each train through the terminal, lever men would align the switches down at the track level to keep all trains moving safely. The original control panel hangs on the back wall, it’s huge, it has been rewired and is programmed to show how it looked back when Tower A was in full operation, amazing. Showcases are filled with memorabilia from the glory days of train travel, silverware, china, menus and photographs. Parents rest on old train station seats as youngsters ring the (very loud) train bell, bookshelves are cramped with volumes on the history of trains, lanterns and traffic lights hang above. Standing on the viewing platform we see the Queensgate Yard to the right, every day a CSX train brings orange juice from Florida to the Tropicana plant just north of Cincinnati. Straight out is the CUT yard, rows of tracks are filled with freight cars, the Amtrak passenger train uses the platform just below the Tower. Off to the left is the Ohio River and many bridges including the Norfolk Southern Bridge, that route runs from Cincy to Chattanooga. The Control Tower is also the home of the Cincinnati Railroad Club who funded the renovation of Tower A, thanks guys!

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Back on the main floor we enter the Museum of Science and Natural History. An exhibit honors the memory of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the display includes a moonrock collected during his Apollo 11 mission in which he became the first man to set foot on the moon, along with a replica of his spacesuit and tools. As we proceed further we find ourselves in a re-creation of real caves found in Ohio and Kentucky, covering two levels and 500 feet of dark, narrow passages. Floors and walls are textured, it’s chilly and a little damp, walkways open into chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, there’s an underground stream and a waterfall, they even have a bat colony. Next thing you know we’ve traveled back roughly 19,000 years in the Ohio Valley into the ice age and pre-historic worlds. There are dinosaur skeletons, fossils and casts, we walk through a re-created glacier with its Caribbean blue light eerily lighting our way, we follow the ice age trail to the stream table all rocky and uneven. Here the land is barren but for a few trees, wolves roam the landscape, more dinosaurs lurk about.

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Back in the Rotunda we ramble through the building a little more, because of the crowds they have opened several dining room spaces usually reserved for private meetings and events. French artist Pierre Bourdelle is responsible for decorative ceiling designs in the dining rooms and hall, the formal dining room’s ceiling mural is a map of Cincinnati bounded on the edges with all forms of transportation and landmarks of the city. Bourdelle’s artwork consumes 5,496 sq ft of the building, his largest commission. Back in the day, public buildings were always designed to impress, local history and landmarks were often used in decorative ways, a means of connecting people and their community. Union Terminal is an architectural treasure, in November 2014 residents of Hamilton County passed a millage to provide funding for renovations of Union Terminal to keep it functional, now that’s money well spent. 

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For dinner we are crossing the Ohio River into Covington Kentucky and the MainStrasse Village neighborhood to Dee Felice. On the corner of Main and 6th Streets stands the 18th century orange brick building that began life as a pharmacy. Inside, the ornate tin ceiling, black and white marble tile floor and old-fashioned details remain. Long-time Jazz drummer and band leader Emidio De Felice opened the restaurant/Jazz club back in 1984, today his wife and daughter carry on the tradition of serving up live Jazz and Cajun food. We arrive to a nearly full house, musicians are perched on the stage behind the open bar playing Sweet Lorraine. After a quick scan of the menu we place our order, the music continues, many of our Jazz favorites are played. The Pasta Dante arrives; blackened strips of chicken over peppers, onions and linguine sauteed in white wine and topped with feta cheese, it’s delicious! We sip on cocktails, the music comes to an end, time to go.

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It’s still early, we walk Main Street the length of downtown, buildings are distinctly southern in style, narrow fronts, deep in length–shotgun style. With elevated front doors, some have ornate cornices, others leaded glass, they’re snuggled close together. Restaurants and taverns are doing a good business, the neighborhood was originally German, the 6-block district still retains its charm. Kris drives the car over to the riverfront, this is one of our favorite places to walk.  The Kentucky side of the Ohio River was relatively shallow compared to the Ohio side, making it unusable as a public landing for boats and steamships; instead beautiful mansions were built overlooking the waterway. Today a series of parks and pathways line the riverside affording visitors a  view of the best of both worlds, the vibrant city skyline of Cincinnati and the picturesque charm and grandeur of Covington. Until next time…….. 

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Grand Ledge: Fall Fun!

26 Nov

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Once upon a time, in the sleepy little village of Grand Ledge MI, a man by the name of John Burtch had an idea; he built a one-story plank hotel, launched the steamer Dolly Varden and invited the public to discover the beauty and wonder of seven little islands residing in the Grand River; the Seven Island Resort was born. In 1877 Mr Hewings purchased the resort and launched the steamer Gertie, gone was the little hotel, replaced by the more elegant Island House Hotel, complete with a ballroom on the second floor. In addition, amenities such as rowboats, bath houses, hammocks, swings and croquet grounds were added; there was even a mineral spring on one of the islands. In 1886 Julian Mudge took possession of the resort, money was spent freely on a new dam, an addition to the Island House hotel, a causeway was built to join Second and Third island. Mr Mudge built a 3-story pagoda-like tower called the Roundhouse, the first roller coaster in Michigan was constructed over the water, starting at Second island and finishing at Third. Second island was the centerpiece of activity with the hotel, picnic area and fountain, while Third was home to the casino which hosted first run musicals and Vaudeville shows.

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Yes folks, thousands of tourists came by train to this tiny resort town; side-wheel riverboats steamed up and down the river, it was the most popular resort in all of lower Michigan. In 1888 Grand Ledge became the second city, after Lansing, in MI to get electric lights. Eventually the resort became less popular, people now owned cars and could drive to other destinations. In the 1930’s the property was sold to the city, the hotel continued to be used as a community building for another 20 years, sadly none of the original buildings exist today…. In 1976, with the addition of a new gazebo, the island began to be used for festivals and activities such as the annual Color Cruise and Island Festival. Which brings us to today.

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It is the second full weekend in October, the sky a powder blue umbrella overhead, the sun warms our faces as we walk from Main Street to the Island. We purchase tickets, walk across the wooden bridge and find ourselves surrounded by activity. On the right a group of llamas seem to be people-watching from their fenced in area, I stop and say hello, music plays as a group of ladies tap dance in front of the gazebo, a table of cupcakes and baked goods is tempting. An asphalt path straddles the island from one end to the other, we pause at the tip and drink in the panoramic view; nature has begun painting leaves of hardwood trees in red, yellow, orange and gold, the Grand Princess riverboat floats past on the calm Grand River. We take our time walking from the far end, a group re-enacts pioneer days; dressed in period clothing they are cooking over an open fire. A pile of animal skins and a turtle shell rest on a table, examples of items such as clothing and pouches made from the skins lay nearby. Dried fruits, nuts, peas and grains are some of the foods pioneers depended on for survival. The petting zoo is popular this morning, kids of all ages are holding bunnies, petting goats and sheep. A blacksmith invites visitors to watch as he demonstrates how to make a nail, a woman at a loom weaves fleece into yarn, an antique fire truck is on display. Further up locals have set up booths selling arts and crafts, I watch as a woman hand weaves a basket, one artist carves animal faces into walking sticks, a different blacksmith has utensils, hammers and hooks for sale, a man and woman are performing a folk song now at the gazebo. 

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The Grand Princess is getting ready for her next excursion, we purchase tickets and climb aboard, there are two rail-side seats available on the second level, which we gladly claim. A guide will narrate as we navigate the narrow river, she begins with some History; Grand Ledge was named after the river itself, sandstone ledges line the riverbanks are composed of Eaton sandstone and quartzite that was deposited 250 million years ago; these ledges are geologically significant in lower MI. Above the trees we see the bright blue water tower, pedestrians enjoy a river side stroll, up ahead an ancient-looking railroad bridge crosses the river, it is still used today, trees reflect on the river, the view is picturesque. Private homes are built to fit the landscape, wooden stairways are like switchbacks leading down to the water, Coho salmon pass through twice a year. The boat stops at Fitzgerald Park, some of the passengers will get off here and walk back to the festivities, the rest of us stay aboard and enjoy the peacefulness and gorgeous scenery the boat affords us.

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Back on land, it is lunchtime, we passed a rustic looking place in town earlier, so that’s where we’re headed. The Log Jam Inn has one of those old-fashioned signs hanging out front that screams Americana, the building resembles a log cabin both inside and out. The restaurant is doing a brisk business today, thanks to the festival. We are seated in a booth near the door, Kris looks at the menu, I look around. I notice a charming stone fireplace, a Spartans banner hangs nearby (we are only 10 miles west of Lansing), walls are wood panels, each table is adorned with a cute little lamp, shades look like they are made of birch, ours is a canoe that holds the S & P. Our meal arrives, the turkey sandwich is served hamburger-style on a bun, piled high and topped with lettuce, tomato and a side of honey mustard it is satisfying, the portion of fries is generous, good thing because they are excellent.

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Time to get a closer look at the ledges; we drive over to Front Street and park in the lot for Oak Park, here climbers are allowed to scale the 60 ft high ledges. We follow the path down to the river’s edge, the water is on our right, towering ledges on our left, fallen leaves are scattered about. The sandstone quartz ledges are golden in color some of the edges are dark, tree roots resemble hands, their fingers tightly gripping the rock, here and there a trail of crystal clear water springs from the rock, making its way to the river. In some places you can see the layers of sandstone, to me it looks like the inside of a Butterfinger, in one spot the rock has worn away forming an overhang above the path, the sun dances off the river creating a reflections upon the rock face. We come across a group of climbers securing their ropes getting ready for their ascent, two canoes are carried by the current down river. The scenery is stunning here; the autumn leaves of the trees, the golden sandstone are mirrored on the surface of the water. Large rock pieces lay broken in piles, we climb over and follow the path to its end. Once again we are in the park, we pause at the look-out one last time before heading home.

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HAMTRAMCK: Food Week Fun !

6 Nov

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 From goods and services to the food we eat, these days we are all being encouraged to “Buy Local”.  Cities big and small are making it easier to do just that! Hamtramck recently hosted their very own Food Week, home to many affordable and diverse restaurants, the food scene in Hamtramck is flourishing. Nikita Santches of Rock City Pies, has just opened a full service restaurant on Joseph Campau called, what else, Rock City Eatery. Not to worry, in addition to lunch and dinner, he is still making his incredible selection of outstanding pies. The eatery has taken over the old Maria’s Comida space, completely redone, we hardly recognized the interior; dark floor, particle board wall, silver ceiling, crystal chandelier and a poster of Iggy Pop, the place has a casual, hip vibe. Serving plates are vintage and mismatched, as are the tables and chairs.  Our waiter arrives with mason jars, a bottle of water and menus, reading over the selections, it’s hard to decide–everything sounds appealing. I was surprised to learn they also have a liquor licence, we ordered a cocktail to go with our sandwich. Before we know it our Un-Kosher Brisket sandwich arrives; tender braised brisket, apricot schmear, melted Gruyère and Manischewitz onions, so tasty and delicious, served with a side of yummy potato salad, it really hit the spot. It is impossible to resist a piece of Rock City’s Butterscotch Bourbon Pecan Pie, so just give in and enjoy, it’s wonderful!

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With time before our tour of Hamtown Farms, we stop in at the Hamtramck Historical Museum down Joseph Campau a little way. In its early stages, exhibits currently fill the front area only. Photos, memorabilia, antiques and more reveal Hamtramck’s rich history. Located next to the Polish Art Center, the 8,000 sq ft space was formerly the city’s first department store. Maps date back to 1874, a clock from Max’s Jewelry Co. hangs on a wall, if you’ve never seen a real prohibition-era ‘still’, here’s your chance. Large pieces such as a 1925 hand crank phonograph, a wringer and antique stove take us back in time. Dodge Main drew thousands to the area, changing the face of the city. Trunks, trophies and uniforms add a personal touch, new displays are being added all the time. Open Saturday and Sunday, admission is free, come check it out.

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In its second year, volunteer run Hamtown Farms resides on nine vacant parcels of land on Lumpkin near Holbrook. Here we find a small orchard and working farm; raised beds are brimming with vegetable plants, young Paw Paw, Cherry and Pear trees have yet to bear fruit. A large group of people have gathered for the short tour and history of the farm. Our guide, Michael explains how after years of picking up trash, disposing of old tires and mowing the vacant land the community came together to create this welcome green space. Walking through the grassy area Michael points out a Paw Paw Tree, the fruit of the tree is said to taste like a mix of mango and banana, they are looking towards the future when the Paw Paws on site will provide fruit for the community. Raised beds line a gravel area, some are private, belonging to residents, others are for community picking; plants are heavy with ripe, red tomatoes, Swiss chard is tall  and colorful, cornstalks have a few remaining ears. A long row of sunflowers is eye-catching, petals range from pale to deep yellow to copper, all with fuzzy looking brown centers. Hamtown Farms is currently in negotiations with Hamtramck’s Emergency Financial Manager to permanently acquire the parcels, looks like it may be a tough fight. I encourage you to go to their website and read more about it. 

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Back on Jos Campau the pop-up Biergarten is just getting underway in the empty lot next to Lo & Behold. We drop into the shop to see what’s new, owner Richie Wohlfeil has assembled an eclectic array of items for sale. A section of the left wall is covered with old 45’s, next to that, milk crates stacked 5 high hold more items, cardboard cut-outs of Space Invaders hang from the ceiling, handmade shelves support rows of vintage books. You’ll find mid-century furniture, sheet music, art work, movie posters and cool old clothes, but mostly you’ll find old records; Johnny Cash, Sarah Vaughn, The Kingsmen, oldies, rock-n-roll and of course Jazz. It’s a great shop to come wander through or catch a live performance of a local band.

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We exit the store and find the Biergarten up and running, patrons hold plastic cups filled with beer from local breweries. Tables are large wooden spools turned on their sides, votive candles are at the ready when darkness comes. We order at the make-shift bar, the bartender tells us she is a Hamtramck resident and gushes with fondness for the city. More and more folks in their 20’s and 30’s are making the city their home. With such a diverse food culture, more restaurants and a new coffee shop on the way, affordable housing and a renewed energy, I can see why!

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Grosse Pointe: Yacht Club, Red Crown & Dessert

10 Jun

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There’s nothing quite like a drive down scenic Lakeshore Drive on a sunny day; sparkling blue water on one side, grand homes on the other,  the perfect road for a relaxing drive. Recently we noticed a sign inviting the public to an open house at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Shores,we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out. The GPYC is a private marina and sailing club, the Italian Renaissance style clubhouse opened July 4th, 1929; nestled along the Lake St Clair shoreline it is highly recognizable with its 187 ft steeple. Amenities such as a 268-well harbor, 3 restaurants, 4 bars, an Olympic sized swimming pool, bowling alley and Grand Ballroom have earned it the title “number one yacht club in America” every year since 1997. 

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As we pass through the gate the stucco and tile building comes into full view, it’s gorgeous. A bronze statue of a captain at the wheel, Rhythm of the Waves by Wheeler Williams stands in the courtyard of the building. On the lawn is a display of cars, new and vintage Cadillacs look equally at home in the setting. A few muscle cars have also made an appearance ; Plymouth, Ford and Chevrolet are all represented in models such as ‘Cuda, Mustang and Corvette. On the left are a couple of boats that will participate in the upcoming Gold Cup Races that will take place in Detroit July 12-14, an array of vintage boats are arranged in the parking lot.

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 It takes a minute or two for my eyes to adjust from the bright outdoors to inside the clubhouse, it is elegant and distinguished. We traverse the foyer to the rotunda, a recessed archway holds a statue of 3 lovely young maidens on a pedestal donated by a club member. To the right is a sweeping staircase that takes us into the Grand Ballroom, today they are serving Sunday brunch, which, by the way, looks amazing. The room itself makes me feel as if I am in a castle; huge windows are trimmed in stone, a massive fireplace anchors the far wall, flags hang at an angle from short poles mounted just below the stunning wood beam ceiling. Next we wander into the main dining room; the octagon shaped wood floor supports a gold capped column on each corner, in the center the ceiling forms a dome with port hole shaped windows. Light streams in from the large windows lining the perimeter of the room, elegant paintings decorate the walls, wow!

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We exit through the back door, I feel like I am at a fancy resort somewhere far away; the sky is a flawless blue, the water in the harbor turquoise and still, boat wells are stuffed to capacity with the latest yachts on the market; this is the Great Lakes Boating Festival. We walk up and down docks, massive yachts are anchored for the weekend, many invite you aboard to check out the latest and greatest in life on the water. To say the vessels are well appointed would be an understatement! Fine leather upholstery, flat screen TV’s, luxurious bedrooms, the kitchens have more counter space than some apartments. Drawers are custom made and fitted specifically to glassware and silverware, cooktops, microwaves, you name it. Lounging areas are plush, usually done in light colors, rooms feel open and comfortable. After touring several impressive yachts we walked to the end of the dock overlooking Lake St Clair, from this vantage point it looks as if it goes on forever, sky and sea meeting somewhere out on the horizon. 

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The fresh air and sunshine have built up our appetites, Red Crown on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park is now serving Sunday brunch, that’s where we’re headed. Located in a quaint old Standard Oil gas station, the building has been remodeled into a cozy dining space. There are a variety of seating options; patio, main dining room and bar. Though all of them look inviting we choose a high-top table in the bar, by the window, of course. They did a wonderful job making the interior feel comfortable and homey, today the large glass roll-up doors are open, a subtle breeze sweeps through the building. The ceiling has been removed from the bar area exposing wood and brick, natural light fills the room. The restaurant serves “American Comfort Food”; meatloaf, fish and chips, brisket, ribs, nostalgic-type dishes. The brunch menu has a little bit of everything; we order the Butter Lettuce Salad, topped with avocado, grilled sweet onion, spicy fried peanuts, maytag blue and tossed in a smoked tomato vinaigrette, it’s wonderful, a great mixture of flavors and textures. We choose the Smoked Beef Brisket Hash for our entree and we are not disappointed. The brisket is perfectly cooked, fork tender and delicious. Accompanied by caramalized onion, potato and piquillo pepper, a fried egg finishes it off, yum! Adult beverages come in the form of craft cocktails, craft beer and craft wines, today PBR is also on special. Red Crown is a great addition to the charming business district.

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With the temperature in the 80’s we decide to cap off our afternoon with ice cream, there’s a new place over on Fisher Rd called Sno Go,  we’re going to give it a try. Located in a cute little red brick building, the interior walls are covered in photographic murals of snow covered mountains. Excited patrons have the run of the place; cups are available in 3 sizes, the rest is up to you. 10 flavors of frozen yogurt and custard are dispensed at the back wall, if you think it’s hard choosing a flavor (or two), wait until you see the selection of toppings. Similar to a salad bar a dozen or so items such as cookie dough, snow caps, Heath Bar, Whoppers and the like are chopped into bite-size pieces, mounted along the left wall you will find bins of sprinkles, nuts, gummy bears, pretzels and such you can add to your cup. You’re not done yet, your creation isn’t complete without a little hot fudge, caramel, peanut butter or butterscotch. I saved the best part for last: containers are a flat price, pick the $2 cup, and when you get to the register it’s $2, no scales, no surprises here. We fill our cup with an assortment of ice creams and toppings, we have a seat outdoors and dig in, oh yeah, we’ll be back! UPDATE: I am sorry to say Sno Go is now closed.

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Suburban Beauty: Holland Ponds

10 May

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It seemed as thought Winter would not let go of its stronghold over southeast Michigan. As I considered the possibility of having to wear a winter coat in May, something wonderful happened; Spring arrived! Anxious to get out and enjoy nature Kris and I paid a visit to Holland Ponds, located in Shelby Township. This park has a fascinating story. Holland Ponds 200 acres was actually three parks in the prohibition era; Green Glen, Swiss Valley and Warsaw Park. Back in the 1920’s parks along the Clinton River were popular recreation areas for Detroiters looking to escape the city; with picnic areas, live music, bars, dance pavilions, swimming and fishing, it provided great entertainment for very little money. Carloads of folks would head to the parks on hot summer days creating traffic jams on Ryan road, it is estimated that the three parks combined drew as many as 15,000 people in one day, wow! Eventually the parks were closed to the public because of contamination leakage from the nearby G&H Landfill; it was one of the worst contamination sites in the nation. The EPA swooped in and the area became an EPA Superfund site, an ecological success, in 2001 the 200 acre site was declared free of contaminants and transferred to Shelby Township; hence Holland Ponds was born.

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Today the park is home to ponds, marshland and woods, there are hiking trails, wildlife and the largest Great Blue Heron Rookery in SE Michigan. We begin our visit with a walk on the main trail, there are ponds on both the left and the right. On the left Canada Geese float silently by, an anxious mother to be sits on her nest shifting back and forth trying to find just the right spot. The muffled sound from a woodpecker calls our attention to the other pond, we watch as he pecks away in a stand of dried out reeds. In the distance we notice several turtles perched on a log getting their daily dose of sunshine. The park is filled with a series of connecting ponds, each one a different shape and size, the next one seems to be the turtle’s favorite as they are atop logs all across the pond; my favorite is the big turtle with the little one resting on his back. A Hawk calls out overhead, we look up into the powder blue sky to catch a glimpse as he flies gracefully above, a black bird with orange stripes on his wings serenades us as we stroll, frogs trill with amazing volume as gun shots penetrate the air, oh, did I mention there’s a shooting range near by? Not the best planning….. We enter an open area, wooden bird houses are mounted on posts, there is a bevy of activity as tiny birds fly in and out of the entrances. The grass has turned green seemingly overnight, the heavy rains have made it soft and lush. We hike on a dirt path into the woods, signs of spring are everywhere; wild daisies have pushed through piles of dead leaves to greet us, tiny purple flowers are intermixed in areas of patchy grass. 

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We walk until we come to the wooden stairway that leads us down the long slope of a hill, a bridge carries us across yet another pond. As Kris looks into the water he calls me over, a huge turtle rests on the bottom perfectly still, he looks ancient. The trees are full of buds, within days they will burst into bloom, bright yellow dandelions dot the landscape.The river is high and moving swiftly downstream as sunlight dances on the surface. We pause at the shoreline, the water is clear, a large fish is just below the surface. We follow the well-worn path a bit longer stopping off and on to take in the wonder of nature. If we continue on we will end up at Yates Cider Mill, no time for that today. We retrace our steps and end up close to where we started on the main path. We go right instead of left, this is where the Heron Rookery is located. We walk carefully and quietly as we stare out at towering trees, ah ha, there they are! Nests are large, there is much activity taking place. some of the chicks have already hatched and it appears to be feeding time. Parents take turns guarding the nest and feeding the babies, we watch this intimate process through the camera lens as to get a closer look. In this one area we count at least 20 nests, we observe elegant egrets as they come in for a landing  a short distance from us. Photographers with tripods and zoom lenses are here to capture the beauty. The park is filled with wildlife from deer, fox and heron to muskrats, frogs and ducks; we’ve even seen ginormous beavers here. It’s a great place to get away and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

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Next we are heading to downtown Rochester for the Michigan Earth Day Fest. Celebrating earth-friendly habits from buying local and organic to wellness products and services, there’s something for everyone here. White tents are lined up in rows in an open area, aisle ways are crowded with pedestrians carrying cold cups of lemonade and bags of kettle corn. We meander through displays of beeswax candles carved into shapes of beehives, mushrooms and tiny animals. One booth is selling handbags, totes and notebooks made of vintage vinyl records, they’re super cool, one handy craftsperson constructs charming birdhouses and outdoor pieces from tree branches, I can’t help but stop and smell the handmade bars of soap! On my right I see three full-grown greyhounds, I make eye contact with one and cannot resist his plea to be petted. The dog is sweet and gentle and looking for a home, I try that same pleading look on Kris, but alas there will be no greyhound coming home with us today. Toward the back of the exhibits brave boys and girls don helmets and harnesses as they climb tall rock walls, they’re really good at it, the petting zoo is crowded with children longing to hold the baby goat or feed the baby camel. We indulge in free samples of granola, salsa and pickles, I think it’s time for lunch.

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We drive over to Walnut, one of our favorite restaurants, Smackwater Jack’s, has re-located from Lexington to Rochester, we have been anxious to visit the new place. The corner building is large, the interior, spacious and tastefully decorated. The menu board hangs above the register; we are happy to see the old familiar menu. We order a small New York pizza and a Greek Market Salad. Smackwater now sells local products from Cherry Republic, American Spoon and Leelanau Coffee, I check out the selection as we wait for our food. The pizza arrives showing off that famous braided crust that we love so much; crunchy outside, tender and chewy inside, it’s as good as we remembered! We grab ourselves a couple of iced coffee’s for the road, it has been a wonderful day filled with beautiful scenery and delicious food, what more could you ask for. UPDATE: Smackwater Jacks is now closed

Grosse Ile

9 Nov

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Residing in the south end of the Detroit River with Michigan to the west and Ontario Canada to the east is Grosse Ile. Purchased in 1776 by William and Alexander Macomb from the Potawatomi Indians it seems the island is relatively unknown to the general masses, I’m guessing the current population of just over 10,000 people prefer it that way. Grosse lle is one of those places we love to take a drive to from time to time; from West Jefferson Ave pay your $2.00 and cross over the toll bridge that has welcomed folks to the island since 1913. As soon as you are on the island you will notice life takes on a slower pace here; made up mostly of residential and open spaces Macomb Street is the only district zoned for business and where residents go to shop, gather, eat and visit the Post Office.

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                                                                                                               Sunday was another gorgeous Autumn day, perfect for a drive to and around the island. Coming across the bridge we noticed dozens of swans taking in the sunshine. Off the toll bridge we made a right turn and followed scenic West River Drive along the shoreline. It’s hard to decide what direction to look; on one side is the beautiful blue water and what remains of the last bit of fall foliage, on the other side are lovely homes, some of which have been enjoying this panorama since the 1800’s. We made a left on Groh to head to the other side of the island but were distracted by a sign that read “Alpaca’s”. Located at the NE end of the Grosse Ile Municipal Airport is the Gibraltar Bay Alpaca Farm. I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to visit with animals, so Kris pulled into the parking lot and we went to check it out. The extremely friendly owner greeted us at the gate and asked if we’d like to see the Alpaca’s, we said yes, he led the way. He took over from the original owner 12 years ago and has a visible fondness for these animals. Some are his, some are boarded there; each one has a name and it’s own distinct personality. We started with the boys, boys and girls are kept apart and each have a large area in which to graze and roam. As we got closer to the gate a few curious Alpacas came over to see what we were all about; these animals are striking, large eyes surrounded by long lashes give them a gentle appearance, they are mild mannered and these boys in particular seemed to enjoy the attention from us humans. Next it was over to the girls section. The girls were a little more nonchalant, they would look over at us, some would walk towards us, and then go back to what they were doing. They are sheared on the farm by the owner, he gives each one a little different look that fits their character; it’s easy to pick out the glamour girls! There were a few youngsters running around, they are a bit more apprehensive, and just adorable. What a cool experience just to be there among these docile creatures. Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, there is some wonderful Alpaca merchandise for sale. The farm is open daily from 10am to 5pm and is definitely worth seeing.

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We continued east on Groh to East River and made a left, this is where many of the elite built homes for Summer or year-round living. One of my favorites is the Victorian Wedding Cake House, located on East River between Parkway and Macomb, you can’t miss it… it’s stunning! The architectural styles vary from the very old to the very modern, somehow each looking like that’s exactly where they belong. Whatever your taste, I’m sure you’ll find something that appeals to you. If you look closely you can catch a view of the Detroit skyline in the distance. The people who built and lived here combine to create an amazing history of the island.

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Next stop the Grosse Ile Historical Museum; housed in the former Michigan Central Grosse Isle Depot building this tiny museum retains it’s historical charm inside and out. Since 1969 pertinent items reflecting life on the island have been stored and displayed here, it’s kind of like visiting your grandparents or great aunt. Take a little time to really look around, volunteers are happy to answer your questions and even make suggestions as to what to see while on the island. I always enjoy a little local museum, it makes me feel as if I know a place a little better for having stopped in.

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The day was flying by and we were past due for lunch, the business district was mostly closed down on a Sunday so we drove back over to West River to eat at Sharky’s Tavern. Located south of the free bridge, it’s across the road from the river and the closest thing to riverfront dining you’ll get. The casual restaurant seems to be a meeting place for locals to hang out, have a few beers and catch up. The menu has a nice selection of salads, sandwiches, and their famous Walleye Chowder. It was too nice a day to order soup, it somehow puts me in the mind of cold weather. We actually thought it was nice enough to eat out on the patio, but being November it was closed for the season. We ordered typical lunch fare; a club sandwich and the Traverse City salad. There’s something so appealing about a club sandwich, and this one was good, just the right amount of everything, and perfectly cooked crisp bacon. Our waitress couldn’t have been nicer and the service was great. Before returning home, we took one more lap around, soaking up the picture-perfect views. Grosse Ile, an island getaway just a half hour south of The D!

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Halloween in Romeo

3 Nov

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It was another beautiful Fall Sunday, which means we had a chance to visit yet one more cider mill. This time we went north to 32 Mile to Miller’s Big Red, the oldest U-Pick apple orchard in Washington Township. You’ll recognize Miller’s immediately by the giant smiling apple wearing a green hat. We took a walk through the greenhouse first to check out the pumpkin selection, it was the day before Halloween, so the pumpkins that remained were displayed down the center aisle. Families walked about pushing their cart deciding which ones would serve as their jack-o-lanterns. It seems the children always go for size, the bigger the better, dad reluctantly agrees as he loads it on the cart and pushes towards the check out. Next up, the cider mill; they were not pressing the apples but it was still interesting to see the equipment and the cider making process. Miller’s offers a nice variety of goodies; fresh baked pies, breads, caramel apples with nuts, sprinkles, or candies. There are jams and jellies and of course cider and donuts! It’s impossible to leave the building without a warm donut and a cup of cider, for me that is the essence of Autumn. Groups of people were arriving, some heading to the petting farm, others gathered for a hayride, all enjoying the mild temperatures and brilliant colors of an October day in south eastern Michigan.

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Just a short drive away you will find the charming Village of Romeo. The actual downtown and original neighborhood have changed very little from the 1850’s when wealthy timber families were building Victorian beauties up and down local streets. Drive through the village on any ordinary day, the homes are nurtured and well-kept with large trees that line the streets. It is all quite peaceful and takes you back to a time when things were simple and slow-paced. But, drive through in October and things look a little different; skeletons and ghouls reign as front yards are turned into cemeteries, clusters of carved out pumpkins rest on porches, the windows of houses are boarded up, and entire homes are wrapped up in webs of what must be gigantic spiders. This is Tillson Street in October! For over 20 years and counting Terror On Tillson has become one of Romeo’s biggest tourist draws. Beginning early in the month neighbors begin the slow and complicated process of decorating for Halloween, you might be asking yourself, what’s she talking about? It’s Halloween, how complicated can that be? Well, let me first say, these are no ordinary decorations! I would compare it more to a movie set than decorating, scenes are elaborate; from graveyards complete with wrought iron looking fences and clever headstones, to a cornfield complete with scarecrows, and a grand masquerade ball. There’s a castle and a pirate ship, one house even has an electric chair. The creativity is awe-inspiring; fog machines, spooky music, cellar doors clamor and light peeks through as something tries to escape, nearby a hearse is parked on a lawn. It is absolutely amazing, really. If you have small children I would recommend visiting during daylight hours, at night the scariness level goes up a whole bunch of notches, adults gasp as they are startled by special effects.  One house sells T-shirts, a neighborhood cookbook, and refreshments, with all of the proceeds going to academic and athletic scholarships for Romeo High School Students. The homeowners pay for everything, including the candy they pass out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They estimate they get about 2000 children! The street is closed off at that time for safety reasons. It is truly a unique event that you have to see for yourself.

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CHECK OUT MORE HAUNTING PHOTOS HERE

Thee Office Pub & Cookery is located on South Main in downtown Romeo. They say as a small town Romeo is unique because the downtown never suffered a major fire, therefore many of the buildings and their interiors are original, most with ornate tin ceilings. Thee Office Pub is one such example, exposed brick walls, rich dark wood and decorative ceiling give it that historic charm. Opened since 1980 it is a neighborhood favorite, on our visit it seemed as though patrons and staff were all old friends. The menu’s offerings include sandwiches, homemade soups, burgers and pizza. On the suggestion of a friend we ordered a small pizza with our selected toppings and an antipasto salad. The pizza was 8 good-size slices, the crust thin and tender, very good. The antipasto could probably feed more than 2, but we were really hungry. Crisp lettuce, chunks of ham and salami, peppers, onions, tomatoes and shredded cheese, delicious.  All in all we had a great afternoon get away.

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Fall Fun; Wolcott Mill, Romeo Farm Markets, Lipuma

4 Oct

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We are just entering the splendor of Autumn; there’s no better time for a drive in the country! Nuzzled along the banks of the Clinton River in Ray Township sits Wolcott Mill; built in 1847, it is one of the few remaining historic grist and feed mills. The mill is located within a 2,380 acre park and is part of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, another great reason to purchase a yearly Metro Park Motor Vehicle Permit. Park in the designated lot and follow the walkway; the setting is picturesque, lush green grass, tall maples already turning red, a pedestrian bridge over the river as you overlook the large white structure with it’s signature water wheel.  Inside are exhibits dedicated to the history of Wolcott and the items it produced right up until 1967; you really get a great feel for the area and the times. From this room go through the door into the mill itself, it is still complete with all of the grain grinding machinery that was used for its operations. Informative signs and samples of the grains take you through the process of making both flour and feed, it’s really interesting to see how it’s done.

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The surrounding park area offers 3 scenic walking trails, parts of the trails follow the north branch of the Clinton River while other sections lead you across fields, through woods, and over wetlands. The longest of the three is Settlers Trail which is 2.2 miles.  There is also the par 72 Wolcott Mill golf course, and situated a short drive away is Wolcott Farm, check out our previous post on the Farm here.

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We left Wolcott Mill and took 29 Mile Rd west to old Van Dyke, then went north into Romeo. I love this section of the road, especially at this time of year; Van Dyke is bordered by fruit orchards, cider mills and farm stands. Somehow the village of Romeo has managed to maintain its small-town feel among all the new development going on around it. Our first stop was Verellen Orchards on the east side of the road, we walked into the market and were  greeted by the aroma of apples. The length of the storefront showcases variety after variety of apple piled neatly into bags,  showing off their colors; reds, yellows, golds and green. Opposite is a glass case offering up baked goods; donuts, pies, and other goodies. I made my purchase and we were onto the next market. The largest by far is West View Orchard and Cider Mill, along with the standard cider mill fare they have an ice cream and candy shop, a petting farm, corn maze, and all sorts of other family activities. On a warm fall day cars will be lined up on Van Dyke waiting to get in! It was early and the temperature was still chilly so we had no problem getting parked.  We stepped into the store to have a look around; shelves are stacked with homemade jams and jellies, bags of apples are lined up on a table, hot cider perfumes the air as trays of donuts are brought in and empty trays are taken to be refilled. There are deep dish pies in fruit or cream flavors, flips, breads and of course pumpkin logs. We picked up a few donuts and cups of cider and went outside to sit and eat, yum! Next stop, Van’s Valley Produce. Just a bit further north, their Autumn display is gorgeous; huge pots of mums blooming in burgundy, yellow and rust colors, multi colored pumpkins and gourds are stacked upon one another in an eye pleasing fashion, scarecrows and hay bales add a touch of whimsy. Large carts of produce are arranged outdoors: fresh picked cauliflower is massive in size, acorn and butternut squash are plentiful, indoors you can find tomatoes and other market fare. It is impossible to drive by without stopping, I wished I could buy everything ! Residential Romeo is is made up of magnificent Victorian homes; drive up and down through neighborhood streets taking in the beautiful historic setting. Tillson street in particular has a grand reputation for it’s amazing Halloween Decorations, they even have a website! The week of Halloween is probably the best time to check it out, it’s unbelievable, and worth the trip.

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                                                                                                                           The sun came out and with it the crowds, it was time for lunch so we hit the road. There’s a kitschy little hot dog place in Rochester we thought would be fun to eat at, so we drove to Lipuma’s on Main Street. It seemed a lot of people had the same idea and when we arrived there was a short line out the door, thankfully it moves quickly. Once you eat here, you’ll always come back; the list of hot dogs and toppings is long, fries are pile high, service is fast, and the food, delicious. The building is nestled next to Paint Creek; they have a large covered deck overlooking the running water, when it gets chilly they enclose it and add portable heaters, in nice weather you can sit outside at picnic tables along the creek. I have one warning for you: Beware of the Ducks! Well, okay, it’s not like they’re a real threat, but than can get very friendly, and they like hot dogs…… As a matter of fact there was one female who came right up on the deck waddling from table to table looking for a snack, when nobody gave in she went right back out. When we finished our Chicago, New York, and Mexican dogs with chili fries we strolled out to the water, for a moment the ducks were excited to see us, they came over to see what we had to offer, when they realized we were empty handed they retreated back to the creek. The sky had finally cleared, a perfect way to cap off a wonderful afternoon.

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Southwest Detroit Murals, El Barzon, The Alley Project, MexicanTown Bakery

29 Aug

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Friday was the perfect Summer day; Bright sunshine, blue sky, and a light breeze; the kind of day that compels you to be outdoors. Southwest Detroit is a  wonderful area to explore, it has a character all its own; lively and vibrant, bright colors and appealing artwork abound, even in the most unsuspecting places. We started our adventure at the recently opened Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, part of the $230 million dollar Ambassador Bridge  Gateway Project, the project itself provides bridge travelers a stunning introduction to Detroit. The pedestrian bridge is an asymmetrical 155 foot high pylon cable-stayed design, it is actually the first cable-stayed bridge in Michigan. From it you have panoramic views of downtown, St. Anne Church (the second oldest Catholic parish in the U.S.), and of course the Ambassador Bridge. The east side of the bridge features a towering metal and concrete sculpture; a dynamic tile mural highlights the crossing showcasing the Detroit River, Detroit landmarks and the local flavor of the neighborhood. The bridge unites the area after many years of separation with the building of I-75, now locals and visitors alike can enjoy the district on foot.

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From there we wandered around Mexican town east of the bridge in search of the murals that decorate Southwest Detroit; a drive down Bagley and Vernor reveal fantastic ironwork and art. Cross over I-75  further into Southwest; the area is dense with restaurants, shops, and local businesses. Large murals occupy the entire side of buildings; a bright purple wall is the background for a portrait of a woman and her guitar, children’s imagination’s are illustrated on one wall, a giant rendering of a farmer in his cornfield reaches out to passerby’s on another, public benches are decked out with mosaic tile decor and embellish the area.

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After a combination of walking and driving to take pictures, we were ready for lunch. We strayed from the beaten path a little bit to Junction and Michigan where El Barzon is located. When you walk through the door you will notice this is not your typical Mexican restaurant; a bit more upscale with white tablecloths, glass stemware and a rose on each table. When you are seated you are offered a wine list and menu, open the menu to the unexpected; one side is traditional Mexican dishes, the other side Italian. Servers are very attentive, our water glasses were filled quickly and the chips and homemade salsa arrived shortly thereafter. Immediately we dug into the chips eager to try both the red and the green salsa; red being spicy, this is a smooth sauce bursting with flavor and just the right amount of kick to it. The green on the other hand was very light and fresh tasting, it had a creaminess to it that I would bet came from avocado, both are delicious! We didn’t stray from the Mexican page and ordered a Tamale; over-sized, moist and flavorful. The enchiladas; filled with cheese and topped off nicely with a green sauce, this is not your usual melted white cheese that oozes out when you cut into the enchilada, but more of a mild crumble type, oh it was so good. We also tried the Pozole, served in a large bowl, it is a spicy broth base with pozole (hominy), vegetables, tostadas, and chicharrones, and we chose the chicken; break up the tostadas and use them like crackers in soup, then top with the vegetables, a little radish, some avocado, so tasty. We have to come back and try the Italian one day soon.

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Refreshed and refueled we were ready for more exploration, this time through the neighborhoods.We had previously noticed a number of residential fences painted with delightful murals designed to beautify the area. This time we came across a building with an impressive graffiti-type mural; the owner explained to us that students from Wayne state were going around to local businesses and offering their services for free, how cool is that? That’s when we stumbled onto The Alley Project (TAP). This walking gallery is awesome; spanning one full city block the project takes you through the alley behind Avis past a multitude of garages serving as canvasses for high quality multi-color murals, Wow! On July 4th of this year The Alley Project opened a common art space comprised of two empty neighborhood lots for neighbors and artists; providing places to sit and gaze at the billboard style displays, there are also raised flower beds and a gravel pathway that takes you from the street to the alley. This is definitely worth checking out!  

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CLICK HERE FOR URBAN ART SLIDESHOW

We parked on Vernor in front of Cafe Con Leche and walked the short distance to the MexicanTown Bakery.  We love this place; the scent of fresh baked goods perfumes the air, tall metal racks with a dozen shelves hold the most recent items to come from the ovens, the wall to the right is cabinet after cabinet filled with sweet delights. Further back are rows of Mexican groceries and canned goods, everything you need to cook and authentic meal. Each time we come I like to try something new, I haven’t found anything yet I didn’t like; cookies, pastries, rolls and cakes they are all delectable. Kris really likes their chocolate cookie covered with tons of mini chocolate chips. Me,I don’t know what it’s called, but I’ll tell you my new favorite; when you look at it you will see that it is covered in granulated sugar, I mean it looks like it was rolled in sugar and then rolled again, really. There are two halves and they are held together with a raspberry filling that has squeezed out the sides. Take a bite to reveal the yellow colored dough, it is more crisp and crumbly than soft and chewy, the cookie part reminds me in the slightest way of a chinese almond cookie in color and flavor. The combination of flavors and textures is just right and went perfectly with my iced americano from the coffee shop.

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