Tag Archives: Eat

Columbus Ohio: Still Wandering..

16 May

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We’re in Columbus Ohio exploring downtown, on Fourth Street we pass a beautiful, old building, No. 16 Engine House; a sign out front informs us it’s the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center. The exterior of the building is red brick topped with a decorative layer of gold brick, like frosting on a cake, a fancy tower anchors the right side. Firefighters, corporate and community sponsors raised nearly $700,000.00 to authentically restore the 1908 building; it opened as a museum in 2002. Run by area firefighters, the museum teaches fire safety, prevention and life-saving procedures to people of all ages. Over 1500 area firefighters continue to contribute money through payroll deductions to help finance the project.

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The 1908 interior is still intact with glazed brick walls, tin ceiling and fire poles. Fire trucks include an 1881 Amoskeag steam fire engine, a 1913 Ford Model T American LaFrance and a 1920 Obenchain Boyer chemical engine. Models vary from a hand-drawn hook and ladder to a horse-drawn model and finally a motorized apparatus. Displays capture the everyday life of firefighters; uniforms, equipment, fire alarms. Black and white photos show firemen in action putting out raging flames, display cases hold speaking trumpets, shields, helmets, wood water mains. There are hoses and fire extinguishers; placards do a good job of explaining  what everything is. It’s very kid-friendly, little ones can dress up in firefighter’s clothes, drive the truck, slide down the pole– hey, that sounds like fun! 

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We cross into the back section, this is originally where the horses were kept, one stall remains as an example of how the space was used. We check out the Safety Kitchen, the exhibit pinpoints where most home fires begin. The Safe Bedroom allows kids to practice escaping from a burning bedroom with real smoke effects. We stop and stare into a full-size children’s bedroom as it appears after a fire, I get chills looking at the melted toys, pictures and damaged furnishings. Volunteers interact with visitors, they’re enthusiastic and share lots of interesting information.

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While we’re downtown we decide to have lunch at Grass Skirt, a fun, Tiki-themed restaurant and bar on North Grant Ave. Part of the Columbus Food League family of restaurants Grass Skirt serves up Hawaiian and Asian dishes along with a 4-page, Kahiki-inspired drink menu jam-packed with Rum/Non-Rum cocktails; Mai Tai anyone? Inside lights are low, the custom-made skull chandelier hangs central in the room. Blowfish lights, a waterfall complete with a Sailor Jerry Hula girl, tiki torches, sculptures and a fabulous glowing lava wall make this place kitschy-cool! The S-shaped bar is made from custom-colored concrete inlaid with colored glass and mother-of-pearl. Open shelves hold tiki mugs, pandas and Buddha’s. We wander around looking at the fish floats, pine log tiki carvings, masks and the ship’s rigging–all very Polynesian.

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Paging through the menu we finally make our selections, we watch old episodes of Family Affair on the bar’s flat screen TV until the food arrives. The Island Nachos are a platter of won ton chips smothered with black beans, creamy cheese sauce, pineapple salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole and lime sour cream; every bite is delicious. The teriyaki tofu tacos are really good; marinated tofu, cucumber-mint slaw and avocado-yum! At the end of the meal our server places an upside-down skull on the table, she activates the dry ice and smoke billows out the top and hovers above the table; what a great way to end a dining experience.

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We’re just about out of time in Ohio’s capital city. A quick computer check informs us that north of us in Worthington a vintage shop will be open for another hour or so—let’s go! Off the beaten path for sure, in a 2-story office warehouse complex is Dawn of Retro, a resale shop dedicated to Mid-Century Modern and vintage furniture and decor spanning from the 50’s to the 70’s. The space is a maze of dressers, buffets and china cabinets; from blonde to walnut each one acts as a resting place for glassware, serving pieces, ash trays and the like. Puffy, furry couches in wild 1970’s patterns snuggle up to table lamps, retro arc lamps and starburst clocks. Broyhill, Kent Coffey, classics to funky, orange and avocado green. Dawn has it all stuffed into two floors of space. In a cabinet I find a set of glasses I can’t live without…I can’t wait to get home and use them!

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Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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We’ve dipped south about 3 hours into Columbus Ohio; after spending the night in German Village we take a drive around the area before heading downtown. On Kossuth, a quiet neighborhood street, we pass an unassuming cement block building, a Packard Service sign hangs above the open door, a 1957 Nash Ambassador Custom peeks out onto the street, vintage signs dangle from the ceiling. What is this place? We park at the corner and wander into the building, we are greeted by a gentlemen asking us if we’re his appointment–no, do we need one? He smiles and invites us into the garage, he explains he is expecting a local couple to come have a look around and encourages us to do the same–thank you! The building was built in 1930 for 80 years it was an automotive repair and paint shop, today it holds the personal collection of these two business partners. They own about 40 cars between them, then there’s the soap box derby cars hanging on the wall, signs from gas and oil companies, antique gas pumps, banners, flags, Dodge, Buick, Plymouth and Packard memorabilia, and the largest collection of license plates I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Cars are parked single file against the right wall, at an angle on the left. The Nash is the first vehicle to greet us, look at that rear vent window. The red 1958 Edsel is gorgeous, see those buttons in the center of the steering wheel? P for park, R, reverse, N, neutral, Hi and Lo, believe it or not, that’s how you shift!  The 1956 Cadillac has the gas cap hidden under the tail light, the 56 Imperial is elegant, there’s another Edsel over there–powder blue, cool door-mounted mirror, look at that E mounted on the front fender, sweet. Lots of chrome, huge bumpers, designs resemble aircraft, torpedoes, rockets. The back section holds older vehicles; a bunch of Packards, an Auburn. There’s so much to look at; display cabinets are filled with hood ornaments, advertising and trinkets. Goodyear, Shell, Mobil, neon signs, city plaques for licence plates, how cool. It was sheer luck we happened by when the door was open, the owner was extremely generous with his time and stories. If you’d like to check out the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum for yourself, call 614-271-0888 and make an appointment to stop by.

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Before you read any further, do me a favor, click on this link: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. Done? Good. We’re in the Town-Franklin neighborhood on East Town Street at a free, public, Topiary Park, we are looking at the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s said painting, in other words, it’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape–it’s the only known topiary of a painting. The garden was started in 1988, local sculptor James T Mason designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, was the original topiarist, she trained the city gardeners how to trim the topiaries. The pond was added in 1989 representing the Seine in Paris, hills were also added to the landscape. The gatehouse came along in 1998 and is home to the Visitors Center.

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I have seen reproductions of A Sunday Afternoon multiple times, here the Parisians enjoying a leisurely afternoon are made of Yew but you totally get the picture. Throughout the park there are 54 human figures, 8 boats, 3 dogs, a monkey and a cat. We walk along taking it all in; flower beds are freshly weeded and mulched, daffodils are in bloom, shrubs are just starting to fill in. I recognize the woman with the parasol and large bustle who resides in the forefront of the painting. Characters gaze out across the grounds, a man in a boat is fishing. They sit, they stand, in solitaire, arm and arm or groups; books, top hats, more parasols, it all comes together when you know what you’re looking at. The painting itself hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. We exit the garden wandering past Cristo Rey High School; decorative brick patterns and stonework surrounding the windows are magnificent, then  onto East Town Street to check out the spectacular homes.

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Now we’re on the near east side of Columbus in the Olde Towne East neighborhood; stately homes line the streets, flowering trees are in bloom, let’s take a walk. This is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; farmhouses once occupied the land, by the 1870’s it transitioned into a subdivision of grand houses built by industrialists, judges, businessmen, lawyers, mayors, governors, you know, the rich and famous of Columbus OH. Back in the day locals nicknamed it the ‘Silk Stocking District’ referring to the residents expensive clothing. By the 1950’s much of the housing was abandoned by the wealthy, palatial homes were divided into apartments, nursing homes or rooming houses; the final blow came with the construction of the highways. Same story, different city. Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Neighborhood Association was able to begin preservation efforts of Olde Towne East in the 1970’s.

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Today the area is once again on the rise; gentrification has begun, new businesses are opening, Main Street is a mix of public and private development. They say there are over 50 architectural styles spread out over 1,000 homes. We walk past gorgeous 2 and 3-story homes that have been restored or are in the process of restoration; wrought iron fences, columns, turrets, ornate moldings and trim grace lavish residences. Edwardian, Victorian, Second Empire, Romanesque, Italianate, well, you get the idea. Most are brick some have leaded glass windows, beautiful stonework surrounds windows and doorways. Streetscapes are lovely; lawns are neatly kept, ornamental shrubs and trees fill the landscape, today Tulips are in bloom. Olde Towne East was the subject of a documentary film, Flag Wars, back in 2003; after many hardships it’s wonderful to see the neighborhood return to its former glory.

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DEARBORN: Glassy..

16 Apr

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We’re in Dearborn for the Glass Academy’s Eggstravaganza; I’ve always wanted to attend one of their events. The 14,000 sq. ft. facility is nestled in an area of vintage tool and die buildings on the west side of Dearborn. A large outdoor sign announces the gallery, there’s a cool Verner Panton design on one of the doors. The studio is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday functioning as a teaching facility, event space and design studio. Staff members create sculptures for private, corporate and public clients. Today the gallery will be filled with chicks, eggs, bunnies and nests.

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A short hallway leads us into a large, open, industrial-feeling space. People are milling about, they go from table to table, egg cartons in hand trying to make their selections. An orange glow emanates from the glass furnace, chairs are empty waiting for the demonstration to begin. Eggs are smooth or rippled, clear or frosted, colors are swirled, striped or mottled; I hold one in my hand and am surprised by the weight. They take up residence in cardboard crates, delicate glass cups and nests. Long-eared bunnies wear spring colors; pink, lime green and yellow. I’m fascinated by the glass nests; clear blue, crystal or pastel they remind me of spun sugar.

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Glassy chicks are today’s theme, they’re adorable! Blown in a rainbow of colors some are transparent, others are frosted, iridescent. Big and small they stand on metal legs; each is unique, as hard as I try, I cannot pick just one favorite. Off to the side a table displays nature-in-glass; percolla reeds, succulents, flowers and sporrela mushrooms–my favorite of the group. The Detroit table is next. Another area exhibits stunning pumpkins and gourds, how do they get the stems to twist and turn like that? Like what you see? You’ll have to come for the Glass Pumpkin Fest in October. A wall is fitted with pegs, dozens of  hanging mugs are for sale, want to make your own? Sign up for the Hot Glass + Cold Beer class. The next table over is filled with Christmas items; trees, snowmen, candy canes, reindeer and snowflakes.

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On my way to the glass blowing demonstration I stop and stare at dozens of hanging glass balls; gold, amber, clear and green spheres strung from the ceiling, cool! The chairs are now filled as spectators watch, listen and learn from master glassblowers. Kris and I stand and watch as a nest is created before our very eyes. It always makes me nervous when they break the glass off the metal pipe; this one is a beauty. Glass Academy offers a variety of seasonal classes, coffee night, custom mug night and events. It’s a pretty amazing place, check it out for yourself.

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Today we’re having lunch at the ever-popular Al-Ameer on W. Warren; it’s one of the go-to places for Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food in Dearborn. Walking through the parking lot we pass cars from 4 different states. Inside we’re seated in a comfy booth, given water and menus, the latter is unnecessary. Our waiter takes our order and within minutes (yes, minutes) we are digging into vegetarian grape leaves, falafel, tabbouli, tahini, hommos and a basket of their to-die-for, straight-from-the-oven bread. It’s delicious, all of it, enough said.

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No visit to Dearborn is complete without stopping at Shatila for something sweet. The sun streams in from surrounding windows and reflects off the marble floor, Palm trees as high as the ceiling sprout from the perimeter, their trunks wrapped in tiny white lights. Mediterranean and French pastries are the specialty here, I go one way, Kris the other, meeting in the middle. The line moves quickly on this Sunday afternoon, before we know it we’re enjoying bites of rich  chocolate tart and a pistachio torte. It almost feels like we’re sitting on a patio outdoors. We take our time, savoring the flavors, the surroundings and the day.

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The Palace: Nice knowing you…

6 Apr

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In 1988 a brand new, state-of-the-art arena was built in Auburn Hills; businessman Bill Davidson spent $90 million, entirely paid for with private funding, building a new, permanent home for the red-hot Detroit Pistons. In turn the Detroit Pistons rewarded him with their first NBA championship in the 1988/89 season, they followed that up with a second, consecutive championship in the 1989/90 season. The third one took a while, it came along in the 2003/04 season. Mr. Davidson passed away, then in 2011 Tom Gores and Platinum Equity became the principal owner of the Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment. The Pistons final regular season game at the Palace will be played April 10, 2017, the 2017/18 season will be played at their new home, Little Caesars Arena in Downtown Detroit.

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We’re at the Palace for a tour, we have great memories of this place; we’ve seen dozens of Piston games with friends and family, Kris was here for the ’04 Championship game, he and I watched as the Detroit Shock won their first (of 3) title–those were good times. We’re in the 117′ tall Dodge Atrium, to the left replicas of the Pistons 3 Championship trophies are encased in glass, our guide is here and she’s ready to go. Our guide explains the Palace is an all-encompassing entertainment venue hosting concerts, family shows and sporting events; did you know Sting was the first musical act to perform here?  The first stop we make is a suite reserved for performers and family members of players; lots of room to stretch out and make yourself at home. We pass Hooper’s cannon as we make our way to the Piston’s locker room, the oversize door is illuminated in blue LED light. We’re in a long hallway, pictures of current team members and legendary players cover the walls, we slide into the locker room for a peek. The Pistons logo is front and center on the floor, comfy-looking chairs rest in front of each roomy locker, the white board the coach uses is a clean slate. Player’s shoes are on the floor, I can’t resist comparing mine to theirs, I laugh, my foot is completely dwarfed by the size 22.

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Further on, a photo captures each of the team’s championship rings, that’s some good-looking  jewelry. The next room is home to a hot tub and massage tables, the last room in this area is the player’s lounge. This is where the players hang out, the space is handsome, masculine; dark wood covers the floors and walls, sleek furniture, a gorgeous two-sided fireplace and a humongous flat-screen TV fill the room, very nice. On to the hardwood… There’s something really cool about standing on the actual playing surface of a professional sports team, looking around, the floor seems so small, the 3-point line so close to the basket, it’s like some kind of optical illusion. The floor is laid in sections, I can see how the pieces fit together. This is where it all happens; games are won and lost, trophies are held high in the air, fantastic plays are captured to be shown later on ESPN. Championship banners and retired jersey’s hang high above the court, American and Canadian flags join the group. The Palace 360 scoreboard was installed in 2014. Looking out, the arena feels vast, LED ribbon boards encircle the lower and upper level.

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The visitor’s locker room is comparably laughable to the home team’s; plain, bare, open wood lockers and folding chairs– I’m sure some high schools have nicer locker rooms! The PNC Courtside Club is luxe; lots of chrome and marble, button and tuck banquette seating. Hot food is served to courtside-seat-holders before the game, cocktails, dessert at half time, not a bad gig. In the studio I recognize the backdrop where coach VanGundy fields questions from reporters, another area is used for recording interviews, it’s all so familiar from seeing it on television. Moving along we check out the suites, they’ve all been renovated with wood floors and contemporary furnishings, kind of reminds me of a hotel room; the view is awesome. The Palace was considered the first of the modern-style NBA arenas, with multiple tiers of luxury suites it set the standard for every arena built after it.

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We walk past the control room with its array of wires, components and computers, a chair sits on a platform for a spotlight operator. Up here we have a spectacular overall view of the arena with an up-close look at the championship banners. The Fan Duel Club is a full-service open-air lounge on the 3rd level, stats and player photos decorate the walls. We take an elevator back down to the main concourse level, there have been a lot of upgrades since the new ownership. The East Terrace hosts the Blue Moon Bar and Atwater Biergarten, there’s no shortage of places to eat or drink here. We say one last goodbye to The Palace of Auburn Hills; this building has seen 3 NBA Championships, 3 WNBA Championships, big stars have performed here, live albums have been recorded here. It has been the place to go for nearly 30 years. Thanks for the memories…

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We’re having a very late lunch at Lockhart’s BBQ in Lake Orion, the sign on Lapeer Rd (M-24) tells us we’re 6 miles away. We arrive at the charming red-brick building in time for Happy Hour. The restaurant is named after Lockhart TX, the bbq capital. Here in Michigan the owners have come up with their own unique blend of Detroit and Texas resulting in superior flavor and tenderness. We sip on $3 cocktails and beer, indulge in the complimentary jar of pickled cucumbers, carrots, and onions as our food is prepared. The #3 sandwich is set before us, it’s so tall I’m not sure if I can bite it…. loaded with sliced brisket, sliced red-hot link, fried onion rings, dill pickles, white cheddar and bbq sauce on a homemade bun, I find a way to get the perfect bite. It’s absolutely delicious, a great combo of flavors and textures. The cornbread is top-notch, moist and tender, served warm. The side of tater tots drenched in queso, sprinkled with green onions makes a nice companion to the sandwich. I’m glad we came here. It’s been a good day filled with old, familiar things and new experiences.

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DETROIT: Showtime

14 Mar

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We’re in Southwest Detroit to catch a show at the Matrix Theatre on Bagley. Founded in 1991 by Shaun and Wes Nethercot, the company’s mission is “to build community, improve lives and foster social justice. Matrix Theatre Company teaches, creates and shares theatre as an instrument of transformation”. In addition to professional theatre the company also includes the School of Theatre, Matrix Teen Company and the Community School For The Arts which teaches play writing, performance and puppetry for all ages. Members of the groups collaborate to create new plays about important community issues such as teen dating violence, bullying, gang violence, immigration/deportation, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, ethnic intimidation. They also bring awareness to the history and culture of Detroit. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, for years I have admired the mural on the wall; a young girl blowing dandelion seeds into the air, her eyes closed tight concentrating on her wish, other dandelions join the dance in the breeze. The orange brick building stands 2-stories high, a wrought iron hanger holds the Matrix shingle. Inside the lobby is compact; here you can pick up your ticket, grab a candy bar and a cold pop before heading into the performance space. Intentions is sold out today, we spy two open seats next to one another and claim them. The theatre is one of those intimate spaces where the people in the front row are practically on stage; you can’t help but feel the energy from the actors.

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For the next two hours Nell, Gabe, Maya, Leif and Lou share their lives at Tillerman House with us. Tillerman is an intentional community/urban farm, the characters share common values but each one views life a little differently. The entire story takes place in the common area of the house. Playwright Abbey Fenbert has created a funny, entertaining, honest look at the effect change has on human beings. I too experienced change; I felt one way about the characters at the beginning, then as things happened and the story evolved I saw a different side of them, altering my view. Things are always shifting, we’re always looking for balance. The actors are marvelous, the story timely, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

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We’re having an early dinner at Ima, a new Japanese-influenced restaurant that took over the old Rubbed space on Michigan Ave. Serving signature noodle soups, rice bowls, curries and small plates, the restaurant has received high praise from diners and critics alike. The communal tables are full but two seats have opened at the bar overlooking Michigan Ave. The menu is simple and concise, making for easy ordering. We are having the Golden Curry; silky curry sauce, root veggies, ginger pickle and roasted tofu, it’s fantastic! The Boombap is Ima’s version of Bibimbop; a fried egg, shitake, slaw, cucumber, ginger beef all served atop a bowl of rice with pepito chili sauce on the side, it’s outstanding. A line of people waiting has formed, we finish every last grain of rice and we’re off.

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Bobcat Bonnies is on the other side of Michigan Ave, something about the name has always intrigued me, tonight I finally get the chance to check it out. The space was formerly The Red Devil and O’Blivion’s after that, see those names did nothing for me… We’re stopping in at the neighborhood spot for an after-dinner-drink. We grab a couple of seats at the bar, order drinks then chat with the bartender and the couple next to us. The place has a very comfortable, chill vibe. I like the orange brick, the geometric patterns of the tile and the original wood ceiling that’s over 150 years old. This is a nice way to end the evening. Oh and I did find out about the name, Bonnie is the grandmother of one of the partners, rumor has it she likes to drive a bobcat around her farm in Ohio–sweet!

HOWELL: Gettin’ There…

3 Mar

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All across America big cities and small towns are experiencing recovery, revitalization, rejuvenation. People are drawn to the unique things each has to offer; theater, dining, craft beer and cocktails, music, recreation. Tonight we are in Livingston County, about an hour northwest of Detroit in the city of Howell. At 4.95 sq. miles this historic town has a picturesque downtown with a lively dining scene. We have the evening all planned out starting with dinner at The Silver Pig. We’re parked behind the restaurant, a swanky mural of a cabaret performer covers a corner of the wall, the piglet at her feet assures us we’re at the right place. The entrance is marked with a silver awning, a pig juts out at the corner. Inside the decor is dark, quaint, definitely urban, I like it.

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The menu and list of specials is concise, making ordering easy, the cocktail list is impressive. With a little help from our server our order is placed and cocktails served, while I sip on Strawberry Fields, enjoying the muddled strawberry, lavender and honey, Kris is relishing one of the best Old Fashioneds he’s ever had. We snack on the house Truffle popcorn until the Sweet and Sour Cauliflower arrives, absolutely delicious in a spiced orange marmalade glaze with red jalapeno. The pepperoni pizza is served on a cooling rack straight from the brick oven, it’s crisp and extra flavorful with Hungarian peppers. All around us small plates and shellfish towers are being served, everything looks great; we’re definitely coming back.

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We exit through in interior door, cross a hall and cut through the sister restaurant Diamonds Steak and Seafood, looks pretty fancy, I’m adding it to our list of things to do next time we’re in Howell. We pass through the front door out onto Grand River, it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, the Howell Opera House is about a block down and our destination. Built in 1881 the Victorian 3-story structure was once the center of entertainment for the surrounding communities. In those days live shows like Hamlet and Mikado were performed on stage, the theatre hosted speeches–Henry Ford once spoke here, dinners and graduations. In 1924 the 800-seat theatre was closed by the Fire Marshall. While the first floor was used as retail space the second-floor auditorium was used as storage space for the local hardware store; it sat dark for more than 80 years.

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The Livingston Arts Council purchased the building in 2000, in 2007 after a complete renovation of the first floor the building was reopened and is now used for public activities such as tonight’s Acoustic Cafe. Olivia Millerschin is performing at 7:30, the lobby is packed with people to see the show. The open space is set up with rows of chairs theatre-style, small tables are inserted into the rows here and there for the comfort of patrons needing a place to rest a beverage or snack purchased in the lobby. Large round tables at the back of the room are already filled with people. Icicle lights are draped around the room, a small stage is set up in front, microphones, amps and instruments are all in place. 

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At just 21 years old Olivia is already a music veteran, a singer, songwriter and musician, she’s been performing her music for years, you may have seen her on America’s Got Talent. Tonight is the CD release of her second full-length album Look Both Ways. Olivia’s been very busy, she played 200 shows across the country in 2016. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing her music live in an intimate setting. Her show is a mix of old and new original songs, she does a cover here and there of a variety of genres from Blue Skies to Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady; her rendition of Over The Rainbow is magic. In addition to being an amazing performer she has a great rapport with the audience, you can’t help but like her. Check out her video on YouTube for “When” recorded right here at the Howell Opera House.

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After the show a small group of us are led upstairs for an informal tour of the actual theatre. Remember, this place was built before electricity, one day they closed the doors and that was that, today it sits pretty much the way it did back then. It looks and feels old, even the air smells old (not in a bad way), it’s like time just stopped in this room. The proscenium, a simple plaster arch, the original curtains are still in place, except for some water damage the painted ceiling is still in tact; the overall decor is true Victorian.  Get a look at that unusual chandelier, we’re told it’s the original, it was gas-lit and then re-worked once electricity arrived. There is no lighting system, sound system, no plush seats. The floor creeks under our weight, ordinary poles support the balconies, old screen doors left behind by Sutton’s Hardware stand in a corner. Antique showcases house original playbills and other memorabilia. Doors at the back of the auditorium lead to the original lobby; patrons would enter from street level then take the stairs to the second floor theatre. Here we see more photos of what the room looked like back in the day, it was quite lovely. Our guide tells us the theatre is haunted, they say 6 different ghosts inhabit the space… there was nothing unusual during our visit. They say it will take about $6 million to restore, funding it is a constant challenge, it will be a beauty when it’s done.

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Across the street is a sign for Fog’s Pub with an arrow pointing to the alley; we walk around the block, go down a short stairway and find ourselves in the basement of the Heart of Howell Building. The compact space is cozy and charming, reminiscent of a speakeasy; the decor is a mix of wood, stone and vintage items. They offer a full food menu, classic craft cocktails, a giant beer list, wine and of course dessert. Craving a sweet ending to our evening we are sharing the Lava Cake. The warm chocolate cake is served on a rectangular platter alongside a mound of whipped cream and fresh berries, yum!  It was a great idea to come out to Howell, we’ve had a wonderful time in the vibrant historic district. Come on out and see it for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Glass Art

21 Feb

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The Scarab Club opened it’s doors on Farnsworth in 1928 joining the year-old DIA building in Detroit’s newly formed Cultural Center. The beautiful Arts and Crafts structure was designed by architect and member Lancelot Sukert. Home to an artists club, gallery and studios, artists and art lovers meet here regularly to socialize and talk art. Back in the early 20th century Detroit gave birth to a new art form: automotive design and with it the evolution of automobile advertising art. Many of the original founding members of the Scarab Club were automotive designers, illustrators, graphic artists, photographers, architects and automobile company owners. It’s only fitting that American Dreaming: Corvette, 7 Generations and Beyond is on exhibit in the main gallery.

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The documentary, American Dreaming, about the Detroit artists who designed cars from 1946-1973 is in the process of being completed; the film covers Ford, GM, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker, Nash and Hudson, this exhibit focuses solely on the Chevrolet Corvette. Introduced in 1953 the Corvette became the iconic American sports car. Here we see original drawings and models created by General Motors designers, the fact that these drawings still exist and are on display for all of us to see is incredible. In the design studios talented men and women put pencil to paper sketching cars straight from their imaginations. Studios were closely guarded, manufacturers considered the drawings company property, artists were not allowed to keep their work, instead most was destroyed. Once the artists figured out what was happening they found a way to sneak their drawings out, it was risky, you could lose your job if caught. They took their chances.

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Just look at the photographs of the framed sketches; side pipes, flames shooting out from dual exhaust pipes, bold colors, sleek designs all expressing the American optimism of the time. Concept cars were futuristic, they could fly through space, drive on elevated super-highways, they were race cars for the ordinary guy. Cars were beautiful, elegant, glamorous, exotic. One of my favorites is the gold Corvette with the #1 by Allen Young, the 1956 by Brock looks like a cousin of the Batmobile; drivers wear helmets, their faces carry the look of speed. We see the Corvette from all angles, some drawings focus on tail lights or the grill, monotone or color they’re all incredibly cool! The plain white paper has yellowed over the years but the designs look as fresh as if they were done yesterday. These rare, vintage drawings still capture our attention. Concept art is finally getting its due and being recognized as fine art.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at Bucharest Grill on Piquette Ave. This wildly popular restaurant began as a take-out counter inside The Park Bar. After a parting of ways Bucharest has branched out with 3 Detroit locations. The food is all handmade from original recipes, they serve Romanian dishes, Middle Eastern cuisine and hot dogs. Everything is fresh, fair-priced and delicious! Shawarma is a must, throw in a couple of hot dogs and we’re set.

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We take a seat at the window overlooking Piquette while we wait for our food to be prepared, it doesn’t take long. The chicken shawarma is the best I’ve ever eaten; grilled marinated chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, pickles and to-die-for garlic sauce all wrapped in a pita. The Hamtramck is a kielbasa dog topped with braised red cabbage, bacon and spicy mustard tucked into a sesame seed bun, so good. The Detroiter is knockwurst drenched in coney sauce, grilled onions and cheddar cheese on a sesame seed bun, yum! This place is always packed but they get you in and out quickly. Amazing art and tasty food; not a bad way to spend the day.

DETROIT: Just Another Night…

11 Feb

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Today we’re downtown to check out a couple of new places. Our first stop is in the former Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street. The original building opened in 1927, a lovely three and a half-story example of Classical Revival architecture. An eight-story glass and marble annex designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the International Style was added in 1951. Today the building houses the Detroit News and Free Press, the Rosetti architectural firm (they did the building renovations) and our reason for being here, Maru Sushi.

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It’s late afternoon, there are only a few other diners in the 4,500 sq. ft space, sunlight pours in through two-story-tall windows. The room is designed to look like a fisherman’s net with metal netting acting as dividers and a wave-like light fixture. Japanese artwork, raw concrete walls, natural stone, marble accents, decorate the soaring, open space. The original revolving door entrance to the building has been reinvented as a private booth–sweet. The menu is filled with rolls, sashimi, nigiri, sharing plates, soups, salads and noodles. We’re having the Spicy Tuna, Flaming Crab and Archer rolls. Everything is super-fresh, nice flavor combinations and generous in size. 

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After lunch we wander around the building; the flooring is a combination of original terrazzo with new stone-like paths. A series of wooden ribs sweeps across the ceiling, the reception desk is surrounded by mirrors, rough rock makes up a portion of a wall, bright red accents add a splash of color. Gorgeous marble walls and columns are backlit creating a striking effect. The second floor is open and overlooks the lobby, here we get a birds-eye-view of the restaurant, first floor and Fort Street; sitting areas are comfortable and attractive. I’m glad to see they maintained the integrity of the original Mid-Century Modern style.

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A short walk and we’re in Capitol Park. Did you know this is where Michigan’s State Capitol Building was originally located? Detroit was the state’s capitol from 1837-1847 when it moved to Lansing–hence the name Capitol Park. We stop in at The Albert, a 12-story luxury apartment building. Designed by Albert Kahn (of course), built in 1929, it was originally called the Detroit Griswold Building. It went from an office building to senior apartments to 127 market-rate units and renamed after the architect who designed it. We take the stairs to the 3rd floor common areas; here residents can play games, watch TV, throw a party or just cozy up in a corner and read. The large open space is decorated in bold colors, the outside wall is glass with a spectacular view of Capitol Park. Sitting areas, dining areas, I love the open coffer revealing the buildings original terracotta floor slabs above. The terrace offers outdoor seating and a community BBQ, whatever somebody’s cooking sure smells good! On the main floor we take the back exit to the alley, now we just have to find the right door….

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Detroit’s newest addition to the craft cocktail scene is Bad Luck Bar. The latest offering by the Detroit Optimist Society (Sugar House, Wright & Company) is definitely unique. In the alley a red light glows beyond a glass block window, the snake drawn on the door below the address assures us we’ve found the place. The tiny lobby is separated from the bar by a velvet curtain, a neon eye symbol illuminates the space. The host leads us through the compact, elegant room and seats at the bar. Cherry wood walls are finished with a hexagonal pattern, handmade hexagonal lights hang low from the ceiling, illuminati symbols are tucked into the decor; it feels very upscale. In keeping with the Bad Luck theme there are 13 choices on the cocktail menu, rare and unusual liquors are incorporated into creative combinations. We order our drinks then sit back and watch the show. Kris is having “Death”, I can’t tell you what’s in it but when all the measuring and shaking is complete it’s poured into a skull Tiki-style glass and set on fire, how cool is that? And it tastes fantastic. I’m having the Empress, again I have no idea what it’s made with, it served in a tall fluted glass ad garnished with housemade lavender popping sugar, it’s so good! Come here for the drinks and the experience.

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LuminoCITY Detroit runs until February 18, be sure and check it out! It’s hard to describe, fortunately we have good photos to share with you. It’s called a large-scale interactive art installation experience, I call it awesome. Beautifully illuminated shapes and designs of different sizes are placed in sites around downtown, they twist and flow to a curated light show. Right here in Capitol Park is Arcade, it sort of reminds me of a roller coaster; up and down, sharp turns, each section glows in a different color. Light Weaver sits on the old Hudson’s site, horse shoe shaped structures change colors, first it’s all blue then it becomes red, pink, yellow and orange, whimsical circles dance on the surface.

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180 Beacon on Woodward is a pretty deep-blue ring, it makes me want to jump through it, which is kind of the purpose of the installation. It encourages people to walk around the city, go from one structure to the next, discover something new, stop in at a restaurant, shop or bar. In Grand Circus Park 360 Beacons is a twist of primary colors, across the street is Gateway, the largest piece of the group. A huge multi-dimensional, multi-colored, patterned rainbow greets all who pass. We stand and watch as the color palette transitions from warm to cool, textures and shapes are projected across the surface. Art, technology and design working together, making Detroit a better place.

Canton: Pro Football Hall Of Fame

2 Feb

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We are in Canton Ohio in search of a late lunch. We want to eat someplace authentically ‘Canton’, Char from the Canton Classic Car Museum told us about Bender’s Tavern on Court Street; the sign on the red-brick building says “Canton’s Oldest and Finest Restaurant” it’s exactly what we’re looking for! The Jacob family opened Bender’s Tavern in 1902; it’s now run by the 4th generation of Jacobs. The interior is gorgeous; leaded glass windows, coffered ceiling, lots of polished dark wood, a mural on the top third of the wall, the bar runs nearly the length of the room– I don’t imagine much has changed over the last 115 years. We’re seated in the second booth from the door, the room is cozy, everyone is friendly. The restaurant serves fine food and wine, the seafood is flown in fresh from Foley Fish in Boston MA; we just want something simple, hearty, like a burger. Bender’s gourmet burger is a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib served on a brioche bun, yum. A pile of fries and a housemade root beer round out our meal perfectly. I’m glad we came here. 

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Well-fed and rested we’re ready to tackle the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did you ever wonder why the PFHOF is located in Canton? Let me tell you a story….Back in the early 1900’s professional football leagues were regional, you had teams on the eastern seaboard or in the Midwest that would play each other. Football was huge in Ohio, they had their own Ohio league. Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs and the successful Ralph E Hay Motor Company had a bigger idea, a national league. He invited owners of 10 teams from 4 states to meet with him at his dealership, they were told to bring $100 each to cover legal expenses to form the league. The meeting took place September 17, 1920 among Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce Arrows. The men were unable to cover the $100 price tag, fortunately automobiles had made Hay a wealthy man, he wrote a check for $1,000 and the American Professional Football Association (in 1922 the name was changed to NFL) was formed. Hmm, automobiles paid for the birth of the NFL.

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The PFHOF opened in 1963, the building has a distinctly Mid Century Modern look to it; over the years it has grown to 118,000 sq. ft. The large glass entryway is located at the center of the structure, we push our way through glass revolving doors into the lobby; the current special exhibit is the football “Card Collection”, do kids still collect and trade sports cards? In the main museum the story begins with the NFL’s First Century; pre-NFL uniforms, leather helmets (if you can call them that) and shoulder pads are on display. From the beginning to the early 20th century we learn about game pioneers, great players and coaches. A statue of Jim Thorpe “The Legend” takes center stage. I check out a list of firsts: 1921 Fritz Pollard is the NFL’s first African-American head coach, 1922 and 1923 Bulldogs were first 2-time champions of NFL, 1929 the first night game is held, the first indoor game was held in 1932.

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Black and white photos are blown up wall-size and cover gallery walls, I’m a huge fan of nostalgia. Exhibits move us through the decades, placards are filled with interesting facts and stories. We watch the evolution of game footballs, jersey’s, helmets and cleats. We read about the Dolphins undefeated season in 1972, we look at drawings of formations and plays. Who do you like? Elway, Reggie White, Montana, Brady, Manning, Gonzalez–they’re all here. Showcases hold a kickoff ball from a Bengals home opener, Ref uniforms, Paul Brown’s sideline jacket, a Duluth Eskimos coat, they even have a team photo of the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions: Detroit 59 Cleveland 14, the game was played December 29 at Briggs Stadium–how cold were those fans?

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We move into the Hall of Fame Gallery, the space is dimly lit, the granite floor gleams, illuminated shelves hold bronze busts of every inductee. Just standing here you know you are witnessing something special, these men were the greatest at what they did, they set records, changed the game, became familiar faces on our TV screens. The first face I recognize is Joe Namath followed by OJ Simpson. Each bust is labeled with the player’s name, the position they played and the teams they played for. I move ahead, there’s one player in particular I’m looking for, there he is, Barry Sanders. For you Detroiter’s, 20 of the inductees have played for the Lions, remember Lem Barney, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Curly Culp? 

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The movie in the Super Bowl Theater has already started so we move right into the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. This section recaps every Super Bowl played to date, it’s also the most crowded section in the museum. The first Super Bowl was held in January 1967, the Packers triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, this time they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win in Super Bowl III, they beat the Colts 16-7 and became the first AFL team to win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Display cases are filled rare artifacts such as tickets, hand-written letters, magazine covers, uniforms, gloves and shoes.

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Next we come to the section where they have every Super Bowl ring on display; as you would imagine in the early days the rings were simple and elegant, they get bigger and bigger as years go by. Funny, I couldn’t find one for the Lions…The largest Super Bowl ring ever made was for the New England Patriots (XLIX), it contains 205 diamonds with a total weight of 4.85 carats, pretty snazzy. Guess what? The rings are custom-made by Jostens, you know, the people you bought your high school ring from. In the Pro Football Today gallery we get a look at lockers filled with items belonging to Greene of the Steelers, Favre of the Packers, a Colts locker and HOF inductee Eddie Debartolo of the 49ers. The next hall spills into the HOF Store, here you can buy merchandise from all 32 teams; at 7,500 sq. ft. you could get lost in here. We’re back where we started. It’s time for us to hit the road.

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We’re staying in Cleveland tonight, it’s only about an hour drive. We check in at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast and get situated. We’re having cocktails at Porco Lounge and Tiki Room on 25th Street. At one time big cities across the country had cool Tiki bars; Cleveland’s famed Kon Tiki closed in 1976, Chin Tiki in Detroit hung on a little longer. Many of the things in Porco came from those establishments–the Polynesian cocktail tradition lives on! The compact space is filled with Tiki paraphernalia; it’s fun to sit and look at everything. There’s a waterfall near the entrance, a large Tiki glows in blue l.e.d. light surrounded by tropical plants. Bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, a Blowfish light hangs central over the bar, the back bar is overstuffed with liquor bottles. Drinks are made with fresh-squeezed juices, mixers and house made syrups. They’re garnished with fresh fruit, tiny umbrellas, mine has an alligator stirrer. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful, the drinks were great. A fun way to end another day of adventures on the road.

DETROIT: St. Hyacinth

20 Oct

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We’re north-east of downtown in a section of Detroit known as Poletown; today is the annual Banana Festival at St. Hyacinth, impossible to pass up. Here’s a little history: “Polish immigrants arrived in Detroit in the 1840’s, in 1872, 70 Polish families lived in the city, by 1907 Detroit Poles numbered over 60,000; the majority living here in Poletown.” Many of the Polish families attended St. Albertus, as children grew up, married and had families of their own the need for an additional parish was undeniable; St Hyacinth Parish was founded in 1907. Through the years the parish outgrew one building after another, in 1922 local Detroit architectural firm Donaldson and Meier was hired to design a new church. 2 years and $300,000 later the first Mass was held in the stunning Byzantine Romanesque church you see on Farnsworth today; the interior decoration was not finished until 1928. Let’s have a look.

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It’s a beautiful October day, the sun sits high in a powder blue sky, fluffy white clouds seem hurried to get somewhere. St. Hyacinth looms large on the corner of Farnsworth and Mc Dougall, the orange-brick building is topped with multiple cupolas, weathered carved wood doors mark the main entrance to the Roman Catholic church. We walk around to the side entrance, the door is open, an invitation to go inside. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust from outdoors to indoors, I stand in one spot, turning myself around 360 degrees hardly able to process the beauty before me. For now it is us and the caretaker, as he lights candles and turns on chandeliers Kris is already snapping photos. Stained glass windows are placed high in the walls, each tells a story, I’m fascinated by the colors in the glass, the earthy pallet includes browns, burnt orange and goldenrod. The organ loft at the back of the church is tucked inside a blue-painted arch, as if it’s high in the sky or better yet, heaven. Organ pipes spread across the wood balcony, unusual black metal chandeliers hang from chains nearby.

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Walking through the nave, walls and ceiling are painted off-white, I note colorful mosaics on the wall, ornate plaster trim, columns with Corinthian capitals decked out in gold and silver leaf; everything is richly detailed and decorated. Large medallions occupy each of the three cupolas, figures are boldly painted on a background of gold leaf; the one nearest the sanctuary represents the New Testament, the middle cupola depicts eight Polish saints, the arches here are decorated with four small medallions representing Apostles Peter, James, Paul and Andrew. The third cupola represents the Old Testament, Patriarchs and Prophets are joined by four angels, each is amazing. Beautiful statues are found throughout the building, it is the Statue of the Immaculate Conception that stole my heart. Carved of Carrara marble from Italy  this lovely lady came to St. Hyacinth in 1980 when Immaculate Conception was demolished to make way for the GM assembly plant. Kris and I are both mesmerized by her, she’s so delicate, so serene, she looks Art Deco in style, I’m very glad they saved her.

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Standing in front of the communion rail I stare at the main altar in the Sanctuary, Corinthian columns flank the Triumphal arch, the Last Supper is engraved in the free-standing altar, further up in the Apse, two mosaics produced by craftsmen in Venice make up the entire decoration. The first encircles the altar, it has a gold background and six medallions representing the sacraments. The other mosaic in the center of the Apse is the great medallion which represents the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it’s over 10 feet in diameter. It’s hard to stop looking, there’s so much to take in; marble walls, angels holding multi-globed lights, the blue dome with its gold stenciled patterns.  In 2001 Dennis Orlowski was commissioned by the parish to paint a Polish-American Heritage mural over the main entrance doorways of the church; a gift from St. Hyacinth to the Polish community of Detroit and recognition of Detroit’s 300th birthday. The mural features each of the 6 original Polish parishes, portraits of Fr Kolkiewicz, founding pastor of St. Hyacinth, longest-serving pastor Fr Skalski, Pope John Paul II and the patroness of Poland Our Lady of Czestochowa. More and more people have entered the church, time for us to move on.

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The Banana festival is in high gear, I can tell by the number of folks carrying banana cream pies back to their car. We enter the school building which was closed after 81 years due to the lack of students. The building is alive and well today with parishioners, former students and visitors like us. Walking up the short stairway we are greeted by a table of Polish-centric items, clever graphics and sayings are found on hats and t-shirts. Classrooms are filled with items donated to the church for a rummage sale, they have everything from glassware to treadmills to old books and computers. The classroom-turned-bar is pretty popular as is the cafe area serving up kielbasa sliders and for sale banana desserts. The basement is filled with pay-to-play games and a silent auction. Growing up in a family with names that end in ski, icz, w’s that sound like v’s, j’s that sound like y’s, I feel pretty at home!

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Kris and I are fond of the surrounding neighborhood, kind of quirky, it has a distinct personality; lets take a walk and check it out. Houses in the area were built at the turn of the century, making them over 100 years old, while many working-class Detroit neighborhoods have suffered this area has managed to stay stable. It’s a quiet day with not much activity, we walk past wood-sided homes with bright-colored trim, lawns are mowed neatly, every porch is host to groups of flower pots. Empty lots have been transformed into gardens, it’s not unusual to see large hoop houses, multiple lots are combined to form what appears to be a farm; haystacks and compost piles are common sights. Rows of Swiss Chard look ready to be harvested, tomato plants cling to stakes and wire fencing. We pass a community garden and a Little Free Library. This is a close-knit neighborhood with residents who share the same lifestyle philosophy, it’s not a trend but a way of life.

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Homes are whimsical, artistic, like the one painted burnt orange with a gorgeous mural covering the second story. Window frames come in red, peach and shades of blue. Big yellow dots with orange centers are scattered on a fence, artists have claimed the ground level of a commercial building. The giraffe must be the neighborhood mascot, we see him in yards, sides of houses and on buildings. We walk past bee yards, rain barrels, well-behaved dogs, blooming flowers, greens and fruit trees. Farnsworth Orchard is in this neighborhood as is Rising Pheasant Farms. Through hard work and dedication this neighborhood has survived Detroit’s ups and downs; it’s unlike any other–that’s the way residents like it. We like it too.

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We’re having lunch at Tony V’s Tavern on Cass in Midtown; parking is easy and there are plenty of open tables on the patio. The front of the building has a roll-up door making it a great destination for outdoor dining. Tony V’s specializes in New York Style thin crust pizza, now we just have to decide which one to get… There’s a bevy of activity around us, we sip on Diet Cokes as diners finish up in time to get to the football game at WSU, others take a seat at the bar to watch U of M football. Our Mediterranean pizza arrives, a thin crust topped with olive oil, feta, kalamata olives, sliced tomato and prosciutto, delicious! We take our time eating and linger on the patio for as long as we can, who knows how many days like this we have left…