Tag Archives: Eat

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… 

What’s up in Highland Park ??!!

21 Sep

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Today we’re in Highland Park MI. The 2.97 sq. mile city about 6 miles from downtown Detroit was once a thriving manufacturing city. Henry Ford purchased 160 acres to build the Highland Park Ford Plant which opened in 1909, in 1913 when he started the first assembly line, population swelled dramatically from 4,120 people in 1910 to 46,500 by 1920. In the mid 1920’s Chrysler Corporation was founded in Highland Park, they purchased the Maxwell plant covering 150 acres, the site served as their headquarters for the next 70 years. Population declined when the Davison Freeway opened in 1944, cutting through the center of the city, the trend continued after the 12th Street Riot in 1967, Ford closed operations at the Model T plant in 1973. Chrysler moved its headquarters to Auburn Hills in 1993. The city was left without thousands of jobs and lots of vacant buildings. Nature took over when industry left, open fields and towering Maples are home to birds, pheasants and other wildlife; it’s quiet, peaceful.  We’re on Midland Street, in the old Lewis Metal Stamping Plant, artists Robert Onnes and Robert Sestock purchased the huge building, turned it into artist studios and named it The Factory

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We’re here at The Factory at 333 Midland for BIG SCULPTURE, an invitational show made up of Michigan artists, music, food and drink; over 200 sculptures and installations are on display indoors and out. After we park on the street we approach the front of the building, brick and stone it is Art Deco in style, I like the details around the entryway, the curved end of the building. We enter the yard, towering sculptures dot the landscape in all directions, it’s raining so we head indoors to the 23,000 sq. ft. building. Factories are unique structures; block walls, enormous walls of windows allow the space to be drowned in sunlight, old signs remain from when this was an active plant. I stand still, looking around I can imagine huge machines stamping out parts, noise so loud workers point and nod to communicate; the hustle and sweat that goes into making things. Now days the space is home to 17 artist studios, the tradition of making things here continues. 

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We are greeted by Tim Pewes “Mega Bat” suspended from the ceiling, the space a maze of temporary walls creating mini galleries. We meander from exhibit to exhibit; Peter Daniel Bernal’s “pinata’s” are suspended from the ceiling making a powerful statement. Steve Mealy’s beautiful masks are encircled by a bicycle rim and tire. We enter the ModernContainerGallery, funky pieces light up the back wall. Everywhere we look there’s something wonderful to see, 3-dimensional art hangs on walls, rests on pedestals, sculptures stand tall. Down a hall we find more galleries, frames hold interesting scenes, life-like sculptures of heads wear leaves and acorns by Pamela Day, a wall of sconces by Alvaro Jurado includes antique metal trucks lit by bare bulbs and black rubber tires, the next gallery feels like the outdoors; ivy, sod, moss and greenery dangle, hang, weep from strings and beams reflecting the scene on the other side of the window–it’s quite lovely.

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The rain has let up, we step outside, Richard Bennet’s sculpture rises up to the sky, it reminds me of planets in the solar system, whimsical pieces in stripes bend and curve, I recognize a sculpture by Olayami Dable, the scraps of mirror first grab my attention, his work is unmistakable. I love the tall metal letters that spell out DETROIT, the thick wishbone-like piece, the giant reeds and cattails in the distance. The annex building adds another 12,000 sq. ft. of space; a forlorn-looking man made of wood is chained to a stool near the entrance. Inside a modern wood and metal staircase leads to a balcony in the otherwise wide open space, a child slides on a wooden sculpture laying on the floor. Upstairs we get a better look at the hanging mobile-like pieces, we can take in the whole room from here. Orange cut-outs balance on a white cube, cool clay pieces cling to the wall, Susan Aaron Taylor makes things from felt she creates herself, her animals are lifelike. 

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We’re taking another walk through the main building as not to miss anything. Just outside the entrance I see a metal sculpture mounted on a bare wall, made of tiny metal pieces welded together it swirls, surrounding an outdoor light. Kris points out a glass piece by Albert White, the sun is coming out, lighting up the deep blue glass. We continue our walk past characters, shapes and forms hanging on the wall or posing on blocks or squares; a giant fishing pole protrudes from the wall titled Hook, Line and Sinker. Some of the art is humorous, some of it serious like Sandra Osip’s Hell In A Hand Basket, some of it like Catherine Peet’s Sea Monster is silly and fun. Kris is fascinated by the detail in some of the works; circuit boards, tiny monitors, mechanical pieces all used together to create attention-grabbing works. The exhibit continues until October 22, the Factory is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am-4 pm. 

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We’re having lunch in Woodbridge, Pie-Sci has been open about 2 months now after doing weekend stints serving gourmet pizza at Woodbridge Pub. The Trumbull storefront is decked out in bright red trimmed in black, the color theme continues inside. The menu hangs on a wall, the pizza of the day is described on a small chalkboard near the counter. Pizza is divided into 3 catagories; white pizza comes with garlic oil, traditional red sauce comes on varieties like Meatlovers and Veggie D.  We scan the menu of a dozen combinations, order at the counter then have a seat in the dining area. The soda machine is filled with Detroit City Soda, I sip on diet cola while we wait. Patrons come and go picking up and ordering pizza, it smells delicious in here! At last our pizza is done, we are having the Pulled Pork: white pizza, pulled pork, pickled onion, mozzarella topped with red cabbage coleslaw and Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq drizzle, yum! We also ordered the special of the day, Curry Train: green Zaatar curry, eggplant, mushroom, red onion, mozzarella, also excellent. 

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Our last stop is Will Leather Goods on Second Ave. The attractive store has a cozy little coffee shop tucked inside that serves great coffee, tea and pastries. It’s one of those cool hidden gems you can always count on for good service and good products. The designated coffee shop area is decorated with items from an old Detroit Fire Station; gives it nice character. Kris is having a cold brew while I’m in the mood for a hot cup of java, mine comes with a tasty chocolate square. We move out into the main showroom, relax in one of Will’s comfy chairs and drink up our coffee in one of the most delightful places in the city to just chill.

 

 

 

DETROIT: Wanderin’ Around Midtown…

15 Sep

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Detroit is buzzing with economic activity; every week there’s news of a new boutique, bar or restaurant opening. It’s hard to keep up but we’re happy to do our part! Today we’re on Third Street, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is open for business in a modest brick building that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Gus’s came from humble beginnings over 60 years ago in Mason TN, today we can enjoy that same family recipe right here in Detroit. The menu is simple and straightforward: fried chicken and side dishes. We order the 3-piece plate and add sides of fried okra and mac and cheese. The fried chicken is mildly spicy, the skin is crispy, it’s the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had–how do they do that? ‘Plates’ come with baked beans and slaw, both are delicious, there’s a slice of white bread too. We enjoyed the mac and cheese, the okra was good though I thought it could use a dipping sauce. Meals are served on paper plates with plastic silverware and cups. Service is fast and friendly.

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Across the street is the fabulous 1949 Art Moderne building that was once home to the Willis Show Bar. The neighborhood fell into decline, drugs and prostitution became prevalent; the building was boarded up in the 1970’s. Today the sleek exterior of burgundy, peach and green enameled-steel panels is visible once again.  The bar and a small retail space are still undergoing renovations, Blossoms (same owners as the Birmingham location) a florist, is open for business, let’s take a look.

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Extra large planters decorate the sidewalk, leafy plants cascade to the ground, tall grasses and ornamental shrubs add eye appeal. Inside it’s like walking into secret space, a garden room where flowers bloom, topiary share space with statues, branches and columns. It’s organic, earthy, charming, beautiful; the space is much deeper that I expected. I take my time looking at everything, items are carefully chosen and artfully displayed. Speaking of art there’s a small gallery of art for sale at the back of the shop. Canvases hang on chain-link fence draped over olive-green walls. Today there are landscapes, cityscapes and portraits, all amazing.

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One of our favorite neighborhood streets in Detroit is West Canfield, it’s just a couple of blocks away, let’s take a stroll. The property that is now the West Canfield Historic District once belonged to Lewis Cass, Governor of Michigan from 1813-1831. His daughters subdivided and sold the land, in the 1870’s it became an upper middle class neighborhood of mostly Queen Anne’s with some Gothic Revival, Italianate and Second Empire added to the mix. The neighborhood suffered during the Great Depression, in the 1960’s concerned residents formed the Canfield-West Wayne Preservation Association. The neighborhood was awarded the first Historic designation in Detroit; it became a Michigan Historic Site in 1970 and was placed on the National Register in 1971. Having said all of that, this is one gorgeous street!

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The road is granite pavers, reproduction street lamps light Canfield at night. Large homes rise 3-stories with ornamental chimneys, pinnacles and turrets. Constructed of high-quality brick they feature ornately carved wood, stone trim, roomy porches and leaded glass windows. Intricate paint jobs in pretty pallets of green, brown, orange and gold  adorn pendant trim, pointed head windows, balusters and balustrade. Slate roofs resemble fish scales, some have simple patterns. Recent rains have returned the lawn to a lush green, hydrangea wear large blooms. Homes are meticulously maintained, a labor of love I’m guessing. The picturesque street (minus the cars) looks much like it did in the 1890’s. Embracing the past for the future. A small group of red-brick buildings are clustered on Third Street, the Calvary Love Mission Station; photos in the windows show Third Street at various points in time.

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Not far away on the corner of W Alexandrine and the Lodge Service Dr is City Sculpture, a sculpture park featuring the large-scale work of Cass Corridor artist Robert Sestok. This is one of those really cool things you drive by and say “what was that?” So you have to park the car and check it out. The sculptures are laid out in a grid pattern, the tallest one comes in at 12 feet and weighs 4,000 lbs. Made up of welded steel, bronze and stainless steel, the recycled materials give each piece its own personality. Each sculpture stands on a concrete base, a small placard gives the name and year it was created. 

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I enjoy walking through the park, Kris and I point out different elements we like in each. Time and the elements have rusted the metal, it makes a nice substitute for paint. The art feels perfectly at home in the fenced off lot, homes on one side a busy freeway on the other. Take your time and really look at the pieces, you may recognize items from their intended use incorporated into the art. There are intricate cut-outs, metal is coiled and twirled, some have pieces that stick out like quills. Sestok is dedicated to exposing the public to his experimental sculpture work in Detroit, we thank him for that. Check out City Sculpture Jamboree September 30, 2016.

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Haven Hill

7 Sep

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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit in 1893, he was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. From an early age he was passionate about art, with Henry Ford as his father he naturally went into the family business, Ford Motor Company. In 1916 he married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, they went on to have 4 children together, in 1919 he became the youngest president of Ford Motor Company, that same year Henry and Edsel became sole owners of Ford Motor Company, not bad for a 26 year-old man. In the early 1920’s Edsel began buying up land in Highland and White Lake Townships with the intention of building a self-sufficient retreat to escape city life; what he created was a 2,422 acre estate called Haven Hill. Today we’re in the Highland Recreation Area for the Haven Hill Festival.

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We park near the Gate House, built in 1927 this was the original entrance to the estate, anybody entering would have to pass through security to gain access to the property, remember these were the days of kidnapping, labor unrest and gangsters during prohibition. Today it serves as a headquarters for the festival. Inside a man is finishing talking about the property, restoration of the remaining buildings, historic photos and renderings cover the walls and tables. Jens Jensen and Genevieve Gillette worked together on the original landscape design, I’m not sure how much of it remains.

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We make our way to Goose Meadow, a line of Model A’s from members of the Livingston A’s Driving Club are on display; Edsel was responsible for the design of the Model A. The brass band is playing in the distance as an 1860’s era baseball game is finishing up. Under a canopy historic photos of Edsel, Eleanor and their children at Haven Hill are on display; in those days Edsel held the world on a string. We take the Jeep up a narrow lane that winds through the park till we arrive at the Carriage House. The building, a charming log cabin nestled into the woods, still looks to be in decent condition, windows are boarded up for protection. Originally intended to house the chauffeur and the Ford family cars, it became the playhouse for Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay.

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Just up the hill is the site of the Lodge, the 6,900 sq. ft. hilltop residence at Haven Hill; only it isn’t there anymore. In 1999 the building burned to the ground due to arson; I find the site absolutely fascinating. Concrete steps lead us under an arch, up a hill to the homes footprint, historic markers are placed about representing the various rooms of the estate, placards display black and white photos of the room in which we are standing. Footings remain, spray paint maps out the floor plan, the grand stone fireplace is crumbling. I stand in front of the photo that includes the fireplace, in my mind I can see the family gatherings that took place, well-known visitors such as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cooper, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Richard Byrd were frequent guests.

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The terrace patio remains, a photo shows a group of lounge chairs providing a restful place outdoors. Here and there colorful stone remains, random groups of flowers are in bloom. I meander room to room; photos display conservative furnishings, a child’s bedroom holds a canopy bed, crib and rocking chair. A few steps lead to the top of the hill, the view now obscured by trees. We look around for what’s left of the swimming pool and tennis court, the path is overgrown and impossible to pass.  It’s kind of eerie, here we are standing in what remains of the grand lodge where the Ford family spent 20 years, their children grew up here, they had a 3,000 ft tow-return toboggan run, they rode horses and went fishing, such personal stories laid out for all of us to see.

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On the way down from the lodge we notice a pair of pretty cupolas in the horizon, a closer look reveals a group of buildings once used for the Ford farm, now used as the maintenance shop for the Highland State Recreation Area. The Edsel Ford Barn was built in the 1930’s, a large section of it was blown down by high winds in 2008, crews are currently working on restoring the remaining section of the barn. Haven Hill was a working farm, Henry Ford once said “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture America is safe.” Wise words from a wise man… The barn originally housed 1,500 sheep, later it was home to horses and cattle. The barn with its 3-tiered roof is actually quite lovely, I’d love to come back and see it when it’s done.

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Edsel Ford was the longest running president in the history of Ford Motor Company, he introduced the Model A, Mercury and the Continental. He was a supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, Admiral Richard Byrd’s North and South Pole flights, he was the chairman of the DIA. In 1943 at the age of 49 Edsel died at home in Grosse Pointe. Three years later Eleanor sold the Haven Hill Estate to the Michigan State Park System. State budget cuts lead to the closure of the structures in the 1980’s, the riding stables and lodge were lost to fire. Now the Friends of Highland Recreation Area and Michigan DNR are working together to bring the 3 remaining structures back to life, it’s an incredible piece of history that has gone largely unnoticed for decades. 

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On our way out of the park we make a stop at Teeple Lake Beach, a canopy on the beach is ready for a wedding ceremony, the shelter is set up for the reception. The small lake is a pretty sight; wildflowers sprout near the shoreline, the water is almost still, a picturesque wedding venue. We are headed to the Village of Milford for lunch, this quaint little town is home to nice boutiques, restaurants, parks, and a trail system, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists riding through town. The rain has begun, we luck out and get a parking space on Main Street directly in front of Palate. The attractive interior has a rustic, old-fashioned feeling to it, dark wood, brick, wooden barrels stamped with names of local breweries. Servers are friendly and helpful. We are having the Fried Chicken and Waffle sandwich: buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, pickles, 3-pepper gouda, bacon and chipotle aioli all stuffed between two golden malted waffles. The sandwich is delicious, the chicken is crispy and juicy, the cheese and aioli provide a little kick and the waffle is a tasty and tender alternative to a boring bun. Served with a side salad, it is plenty for the two of us. 

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Driving through town we notice the Milford Historical Museum is open, let’s go in. The museum is located in an 1853 Greek Revival home built by local cabinet maker John Wood—seriously. The structure has seen time as a family home, Doctor’s office, village offices and police department, it as been the local history museum since 1976. Milford began as a rural mill community, the Huron River was attractive to settlers from New England and New York. Farmers raised cereal grains, mills processed timber and farm products. The railroad arrived in 1871; there was a door knob factory in the 1880’s, residents manufactured window screens and furniture. Henry Ford created one of his Village Industries along the Huron River and began manufacturing Ford carburetors here in 1938, that’s quite a history for a small town.

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Inside the tiny museum we are greeted by volunteers, near the stairway is an exhibit taken from the old Milford Post office. Up the stairs rooms are furnished in the late Victorian-era, many of the items were manufactured in Milford. I like the rose-colored glass of the hanging light fixture in the formal parlor, the kitchen is full of labor-intensive gadgets. The bedroom has a rope bed high off the floor, the toy room is popular with visitors. The Log Cabin exhibit is a depiction of the Bigelow cabin built in the south end of Milford in 1833. The fireplace was not only a source of heat for the family it was essentially the stove too. It was in this cabin that Mrs. Bigelow started the first school for children in the area.  I always enjoy visiting little local history museums, they share the history and heritage of the town and its residents. Without fail we gain insight into the past helping us to understand the present and have fun while we’re at it.

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Ethni-cities….

31 Aug

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Today we’re in the mood for something exotic; a trip to China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, or Madison Heights… People from all over the world call Metro Detroit home. Arab Americans are the third largest ethnic population in Michigan, Asian population makes up 13.25% of Troy, 6% of Sterling Heights, 5% of Madison Heights. With such a variety of nationalities businesses such as markets and restaurants offer products that span the globe. We’re close to home, but it feels like we’re somewhere far away…

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H Mart on Big Beaver and Dequindre is an Asian grocery store specializing in Korean food; this is like no other grocery store I’ve ever been to. The market has wide aisles filled with brightly colored packaging, cartoon characters or photos help me identify the contents. Glass jars hold unique Asian specialties like pickled mango, pickled garlic and bamboo shoots with chili. Refrigerated items include rows of prepared kimchi, fresh udon and soba noodles, heat and eat specialties. Beverages come in colorful cans; grape cider, orange cider and cream soda.

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Seafood is available live or frozen in the fish market, live lobsters and dozens of crabs have no idea what’s in store for them… The produce section is really cool, everything is colorful and attractive; dragon fruit are bright pink with green scales, another fruit is yellow with white stripes, Jack fruit come whole or cut into chunks-the inside looks like a pineapple with pumpkin seeds. Items represent Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. Cucumbers are long and ribbed, I’ve never seen so many kinds of peppers. There are greens galore; bok choy, mustard leaf, leaf lettuce. 

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Next is 168 Asian Mart on John R in Madison Heights, it claims to be Michigan’s largest Asian market. Floors, ceiling, shelves are painted white, aisles are wide, the store goes on as far as I can see. Stacks of beautifully decorated metal tins hold Moon Cakes, customers compare one to another. We find ourselves in the produce section, I like the chartreuse color of the spiny durian. There’s a line to order in the food court, menu boards include color photos, metal trays hold freshly prepared items including dim sum and noodle dishes; it looks delicious. Roast ducks hang from chains, you can even buy a whole roast pig for $168.88; tables in the cafe area are full.

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Fresh seafood includes fish swimming in aquariums, lobster, squid shrimp and turtles; all are available frozen too. There are aisles of rice and noodles; Geisha grace the packages of Jasmine rice, Kung Fu is a brand of instant noodles….Awesome. Chinese tea comes in ornate tins, Sake is packaged in pretty bottles, animal crackers feature ox and camels and are seaweed flavored. We see Ding Dong’s, La-la’s and green tea mochi, Kit Kat comes in raspberry, green tea and sweet potato varieties. The frozen section is home to popsicles in flavors like durian, black bean, lychee, mung bean, sour sop and guava. Wouldn’t it be great to take a bite of each?

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All of this shopping has made us hungry, we’re off to our favorite Indian restaurant Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen on Dequindre. The eatery has been in business for over 20 years serving up some of the tastiest food we’ve ever eaten. Located in a strip mall the interior walls are bright pink and orange, very cheerful looking, menu boards hang on the wall, so much to choose from. Their Samosa’s are the best, we get the samosa chaat: 2 potato and pea turnovers topped with yogurt, onions, sweet and spicy chutneys. Along with that we order the Thali, a traditional Indian meal consisting of rice, bread, various dishes and dessert. Selections vary from day-to-day, we choose vegetarian options, paneer makhani: homemade Indian cheese in a thick tomato gravy, mah ki dal: very tasty lentils, yogurt and cholay: curried chick peas; rice pudding is for dessert. When served, a steel tray with multiple compartments is filled with little bowls containing the flavorful dishes, the food is outstanding.

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We are now in the Middle East, Dream Market sells groceries, produce and prepared foods representing that part of the world. We walk through an area with bulk bins, tins of candy rest on high shelves. In the produce section  we see the familiar and the not-so-familiar, cucumbers come in a variety of lengths and textures. Throughout the market murals cover the top portion of the walls, most are of smiling women pushing shopping carts, holding up canned goods or packaged items; I wish grocery shopping was as much fun as they make it look! The store sells a huge variety of tea, grains such as barley, harina and bulgur are sold in bulk, lentils come in an array of colors. 

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Sweets include cookies, cakes and candy, dates are popular and can be purchased covered in milk or dark chocolate, coffee is sold in colorful bags. Our nose leads us to the in-store brick oven, flat pieces of dough have just been placed inside, in seconds it begins to rise into individual loaves. When properly browned it’s removed to a basket where anxious customers wait until it is cool enough to handle. If I wasn’t so full I’d eat some right now! The deli counter holds dish after dish of prepared food: grape leaves, chick peas, salads with olives, falafel, everything looks so good. 

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Across the parking lot we see Palm Sweets, let’s check it out. Kris and I love Middle Eastern pastries; this bakery has everything from baklava, birds nest and fingers to burma, moshebek and asabe zainab. The middle display cases hold fancy layer cakes, tarts and bars. The section closest to the door features coffee and ice cream, they offer the usual chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, but we want something different, something like baklava or white pistachio ice cream. The friendly woman behind the counter helps with our decision, white pistachio it is, just one scoop, we’ll share. We take a seat at a high-top table, the interior is lovely; booths, tables, a fireplace surrounded by couches and chairs rest among attractive decor. The ice cream is scrumptious. We have plenty of souvenirs from our adventure: Laksa noodle soup from Singapore, sweet potato Kit Kat from Japan, pistachio baklava; best of all is how much fun we had seeing, tasting and experiencing something totally different.  

 

 

Metamora: Horsepower !

25 Aug

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Seldom will we write of an event in back to back years but it’s a perfect day, the sights are fresh and we owe it to this hidden gem to give you another look… We’re about 50 miles north of Detroit,  Metamora Hunt Country spans Lapeer and Oakland counties through rolling hills, narrow dirt roads twist and turn through the woods; the south branch of the Flint River meanders past scenic pastures, historic farms and magnificent stables, elegant, statuesque horses roam the land. We are attending the Metamora Hunt Stable Tour. Metamora Hunt was organized in 1928 after the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club and Bloomfield Open Hunt were being pushed out by development of the surrounding land. Mounted fox-hunting has been active in the Detroit area since 1911; it’s full of tradition from the attire to the hounds to the hunt itself. Today we will visit the Hunt Kennels and 7 stables, I have the tickets, let’s go!

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Woodwind Farm is a 300 acre parcel that was once part of the 1,000 acre dairy farm owned by the Booth  family (Detroit News, Cranbrook). Blue-grey buildings have crisp white trim, the barn was built in 1879 and originally held cows, today horses call it home. The interior is divided into stalls, dark wood covers the walls and ceiling, the floor is brick. We make our way to the loft, beams are thick and carefully fitted together, the smell of fresh-cut hay permeates the air, we gaze out at the surrounding country, I’m surprised how green everything is after our heat wave. Outside, horses go about the business of grazing, paying no attention to the sudden influx of humans.

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We drive from stable to stable on natural beauty roads, long driveways lead to homes we cannot see, cows and horses wander patches of land divided by split-rail fences. Next to a pretty white house is our next stop, a big, old white barn. The wood-lined interior is divided into stalls, what makes this one unique is the floor made from tree stumps and concrete. Old farm equipment is resting after years of hard work. The owner introduces us to her horses, one is over 30 years old. Cheridon Farm takes up 275 acres of hillside and meadow. A herd of Scottish Highlander Cattle are clustered together to the left, the guy with the big horns and bangs seems to be checking us out, on the other side the Red Angus don’t seem to notice us. The cattle barn is void of cattle but we do spy a bird’s nest tucked into the rafters, it seems it’s lunch time and mama bird has a trio of hungry babies waiting.

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A few roads over we enter a 300 acre equestrian estate called Perfect Sky Ranch. Wow. We park near a charming, large wood building with a metal roof, the lawn a deep shade of green, Hydrangea in full bloom. Walking around the property we find ourselves on the patio outside the stable; a waterfall flows into a pond, surrounding planters are stuffed with colorful annuals, butterflies flock to the (aptly named) butterfly bush, the family home is in the distance.

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We follow fellow tourists to the recently built indoor arena, wow again. The building is huge, cedar lines the walls, the ceiling white, the footing is a special HT fiber that helps keep down dust, keeping the under layers moist; it’s the softest surface I’ve ever walked on, I’m thinking this is what it would feel like to walk on a cloud…..In addition to Warmbloods and quarter horses, a cool, red, 1956 Ford resto-mod pick-up truck also lives here. The stable and tack room are quite attractive, as you would expect, horses have an open window in their stall so they can see what’s going on outside. I see one peeking out and take it as in invitation to pet him, he enjoys the attention, I am enamored by his beauty.

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The next farm, White Fences is different from the rest as it is a carriage driving facility. There’s a weekend house, carriage house and a barn with a dazzling tack room. Carriages are parked on a gravel lot, some are open, others covered, they bear ribbons, gloves. We take a closer look at the antique wooden carriage in the center, a smattering of decorative paint remains, I can only imagine how stunning it must have been.

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Jim, the owner invites Kris and I to go for a ride on the surrounding trails in his golf cart, and we’re off. Jim put in all of the landscape and trails you see, the land is absolutely gorgeous; blue spruce, ponds, stone walls. We drive over steep hills, take sharp corners, pass hazards; the trail twists and turns through deep woods and open meadows, picturesque, glorious. Before we leave we visit with the boys, such handsome ponies!

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Next we are on a 600 acre piece of land that used to be the settlement of Whigville. A gravel road takes us through the property, the view is heavenly. Black fences divide land into sections, there’s an outdoor arena and a 12-stall stable, freshly groomed horses wear coats secured with velcro. It’s such a tranquil setting.

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Rattlewood Farms has both an indoor and outdoor arena, they train for both dressage and hunter/jumper disciplines. Fences hug the contours of the land, we stop at the first building, inside the electro-groom waits quietly for its next task, horses are being brought back to their stalls. Outside, a young lady is practicing in the ring, her horse wears braids, how fetching. We drive further on stopping at other buildings, horses graze, we pass a group of black cows doing the same. That reminds us, time to eat!

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The only place to eat after such a divine tour is the White Horse Inn on High Street. The Inn was founded in 1850 and operated continuously for 162 years. Closed in 2012 for a complete renovation it re-opened in 2014, the new owners have done an amazing job. Our favorite place to sit is a little high-top table in the bar area, it has a great view of the fireplace and cozy sitting area which is trimmed out in red, white and blue for the summer. Today we are having the best Wedge salad ever: crisp iceberg, Maytag blue cheese, house dressing and candied bacon, excellent. The BBQ pulled pork sandwich is slow-roasted pork, bourbon BBQ sauce, pickled onions, jalapeno, on an onion roll, delicious. The steak fries are pretty darn good too! We eat slowly, taking in our surroundings, this is the kind of place you like to linger. We have truly enjoyed our time in the country. See ya next year!

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Wandering Through Wyandotte

18 Aug

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We’re in the historic waterfront community of Wyandotte, about 11 miles downriver from Detroit. We begin our visit with a scenic stroll along the water; the sun is blazing overhead causing cicadas to break into song, seagulls glide above, boats zoom past as we gaze across the river at Canada. It’s quite beautiful here, in Michigan we’re spoiled by the abundance of blue water surrounding our state. Out on the fishing pier we stare at Grassy Island, a Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, further out is Fighting Island, a Canadian Island that looks equally uninhabited. Freighters pass on their way to or from Lake Erie. 

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Over on Biddle Ave we arrive at the Ford-MacNichol Home Museum. Built in 1896 the home is a wonderful example of Queen Anne Architecture, it also serves as history museum for the city of Wyandotte. The 2 1/2 story house features a lovely wrap-around porch, Tuscan columns and a corner turret. First let me tell you a story. In the late 1880’s while drilling for natural gas, huge salt deposits were discovered under the city. Over in Pittsburgh John B Ford, founder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, got word of this, you see, salt is critical in the creation of soda ash, which is used to make glass. JB Ford established the Michigan Alkali Co. to manufacture soda ash for his factory. His son, Edward Ford, founded Ford Plate Glass Co. in Toledo, which eventually became Libbey Owens Ford. This house was built for Edward’s daughter Laura and her husband George P MacNichol. Let’s go inside.

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As you can imagine, money was no object, the interior is stunning. Occupying 6,600 sq. ft. are 32 rooms, 6 fireplaces, 65 windows and 53 doors. They had indoor plumbing, a coal furnace, and both gas and electric lights; furnished with period pieces, the home is quite elegant. The large living room is decorated in olive-green, the carpet was reproduced from an old piece of the original, curved glass fills the windows in the turret area. Throughout the house walls are covered in boldly patterned wallpaper, the textured style in the foyer is still original, framed portraits and hair art hang on the walls. Each fireplace has a different color tile, the antique Delft Blue tiles are gorgeous, each one unique.

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The huge mirror in the dining room was rescued from a house being demolished down the block, volunteers carried it down the sidewalk, right into this house, the Limoges china is incredible. The music room is home to antique instruments, another splendid fireplace and an early phonograph. Past the butler’s pantry is the kitchen, used only by the domestic help the room is quite plain. An old toaster and waffle iron rest on burners, large pots, an iron and washboard remind us how much work simple tasks used to be. Vintage bottles and tins from the Michigan Alkali Co. rest on shelves.

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The basement contains exhibits and items that tell the early history of Wyandotte; from the 1700’s when the Native American tribe known as the Wyandot roamed the land to the beginning of industry and manufacturing. Placards tell us stories, show us photographs, items are displayed under glass. Eureka Iron Works was the first company in America to use the Bessemer process which created steel rails. Michigan Alakli Co manufactured chemicals and salt based cleaning products such as baking soda and lye. In the 1930’s it merged with J B Ford, becoming the Wyandotte chemical company, which operates today as BASF and remains in the city. Over 300 steamers, tugs and ferries were built between 1870 and 1930, the hulls were made here, tugged to Detroit, then outfitted in the shipyards.

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On the second floor we peek into the grand master bedroom complete with fireplace. The tower room contains the Attic Gallery, filled with items representing Wyandotte history, sports, recreation and prominent businesses, I don’t know what to look at first. The room itself is cozy, lots of wood, team photographs, architectural elements, paintings, memorabilia. My favorite is the Wyandotte Plays exhibit; toys from All Metal Products company, better known as Wyandotte Toys, fill a case with trucks, cars, planes, animals–all painted red, yellow and blue. The company operated here from 1921-1957, it seems plastic became the favored material from that point on. The Melhouse Ice Cream pieces are pretty sweet too, the actual building has been restored and is now an architectural firm in town. Wyandotte has a pretty amazing past! We take the main stairway down past stained glass windows and stop for one last look around, the Victorian grandeur has been well-preserved, as has the history of this city.

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Time for lunch. Just down the street is Dangerously Delicious Pie’s Wyandotte location. The Detroit location inside Third Street Saloon closed August 1, we can get our Pie fix here until the new Detroit shop opens in the fall. The walls of the modest space are bright red, seating is available at the counter or tables scattered about the room. The same delicious varieties are available with a few seasonal choices thrown in. We order at the counter, take our seat and in about 10 minutes our food is delivered. I’m trying out the Crab & Cheddar, that unmistakable flaky crust holds a filling of crab meat and cheddar cheese in a quiche-like base, yum! Kris barely says a word as he digs into the Hot Rod Potato, tender potatoes, peppers and a spicy sauce make this one of our favorites. Large slices are served with a generous heap of salad greens with house dressing, the price for all of this is still just 7 bucks.

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We saunter up and down Biddle Ave wandering in and out of boutiques, galleries and shops. Both Sanders and Stroh’s are tempting, it’s Whiskeys on the Water that draws us in. This bar/restaurant has only been open since March but has already developed a loyal following. The original 1924 stone bank building is now an industrial-modern space decorated in brick, metal and reclaimed wood; huge windows bring sunlight into the large space. We sit at the bar and order cocktails, an Old Fashioned for Kris and the house version of a Moscow Mule for me. The after-work crowd begins to drift in, we sip our tasty cocktails as the Olympics are broadcast on flat-screen televisions.  Relaxed and refreshed, it’s time to go home. Good things are happening in Wyandotte, come see for yourself! 

 

 

Port Huron Pleasures

29 Jul

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It’s HOT! We need to escape the city, Port Huron provides a perfect waterside respite. Today it’s 10 degrees cooler here with the breeze coming off the big lake. We’re at the Vantage Point Farmers Market that takes place along the St. Clair River from May-Oct 29. This Michigan-only market features fresh produce, gourmet products, art and plants, along with a splendid view of the river and Canada. We park at the end of the lot facing the Black River, the promenade begins here; native plants fill elevated beds, a brick fireplace kicks out heat in cooler temperatures, picnic tables provide pedestrians a place to watch the boats go by. There’s a line at the Fresh-cut Fries truck, others have opted for ice cream, a double dip is certainly in order today. 

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We reach the row of white canopy tents, tomatoes, squash, lettuce and cucumbers are plentiful. You can buy Honey, Maple Syrup; Green Barn Winery is giving out samples. Pasta and jars of red sauce mingle with dog treats from Fritz’s Bone Appetite, Gielow pickles and bison meat. There’s a nice variety of produce, baked goods and ready-made foods from Brownwood Farms and Great Lakes. Power boats, jet skis and sailboats are out playing in the water, the Huron Lady II is out for a cruise, freighters come and go to Lake Huron. An announcers voice comes from speakers, he tells us about the current freighter in view, where it’s headed what she’s carrying, how cool! Ears of corn are selling quickly, squash come in a rainbow of colors, cherries are sweet or tart varieties, all sizes and shapes of eggplant are represented. Perennials, trees and flowering shrubs congregate at the far end of the market; the hot pink Phlox is gorgeous, purple cone flower, Shasta daisy and tiger lilies are waiting to be planted in someone’s yard. 

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We dip into the Great Lakes Maritime Center, a little air-conditioning will be nice. People fill tables and chairs arranged along the front windows, some are eating lunch from the deli, others sip on cold drinks, the donuts look delicious. Videos and displays tell stories of the Great Lakes, this is the headquarters for BoatNerd.com, a live underwater camera provides us with a view of whats going on under the St. Clair River. The center documents historical events such as the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald; near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 ft sent the ore-carrying vessel 530 ft down to the bottom of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, is the song playing in your head now? Mine too. The floor is covered in a wave-patterned carpet, a map showing all of the shipwrecks in the area is inset. Display cases are filled with all things Great Lakes; ship models, rocks, diving equipment and memorabilia.

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Back outside we take a leisurely stroll on the Blue Water River Walk. This entire stretch of shoreline was given to the St. Clair Community Foundation by local philanthropists James and Suzanne Acheson in 2011. Since that time the 1-mile stretch of land has been cleaned up and transformed into a public park where native plants flourish and a naturalized shoreline welcomes visitors. We are on the pedestrian trail, the old railroad ferry dock once used to help transport goods back and forth to Sarnia Ontario Canada in the early 1900’s has been restored and turned into an observation deck. We look out over deep blue water, a cabin boat is out having fun, another freighter makes its way to Lake Huron, a few white, puffy, clouds are clustered together in an otherwise clear sky. The shoreline is dotted with tiny beaches and secluded landings, one is at lake level, I stand still and let the waves wash over my feet, cooling me off. Butterflies draw nectar from flowers, shrubs bear groups of fuzzy red berries. Placards teach the public about the structures, plants and wildlife found in the St. Clair River ecosystem. I had no idea mink lived here…

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The fishing pier is just south of the US Navy ship Grayfox, we have the pier to ourselves, the panoramic view is stunning, relaxing. Public art shows up in the form of a 7-foot-tall iron horse named Sugar, a 1,000 lb metal sturgeon named Stella Clair, a mural featuring native fish covers the River Rats Club building. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s Lace and milkweed stand in the foreground of the river. Wetland restoration is ongoing and currently fenced off; the ducks don’t seem to mind. This is part of the Bridge to Bay Trail System which continues to grow and improve every year. 

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My growling stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. We drive over to Freighters Eatery and Taproom located in the Double Tree Hotel (formerly Thomas Edison Inn) on the riverfront. The large restaurant has a perfect view of the Blue Water Bridge, St. Clair River and the entry into Lake Huron, in other words, it’s perfect.  We sit by the window, the menu is filled with locally sourced items, they use Michigan vendors and suppliers whenever possible. Appropriately so, a freighter passes as we wait for our meal, diners take photos from the patio, it’s a big deal for someone who’s never seen it before. Our Mesa Chopped Salad arrives; crisp greens are tossed in chipotle ranch dressing, blackened chicken, grilled sweet corn, peppers and fried garbanzo beans, tortilla strips join the mix, yum! We also have a side of salt and pepper fries, they’re really tasty. When we’re finished we head out to the boardwalk; from under the bridge we watch cars zoom by going from one country to another, sailboats fill the Lake Huron horizon.

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Back downtown on Quay St. The Alley Room has just opened for the evening, a cocktail sounds good about now. Although the same owner has had the place for years, it has undergone several incarnations. Currently the menu consists of pizza, sliders and a good meatball sandwich (so I’ve been told). The attractive, rustic interior features an antique tin ceiling, brick walls, wood floors. We sit at the bar, the Moscow Mule is on special, sounds good to me, Kris is in the mood for an Old Fashion, they don’t have all the ingredients so he makes do with what they have. A couple of friends arrive unexpectedly, what a nice surprise; we strike up a lively conversation as we finish off our cocktails. Outside, the sun is low in the sky, the temperature has dropped, giving us more relief. We’re lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful water here in Michigan, Port Huron is less than 70 miles from Detroit making it a quick and easy escape from big city to sandy beaches. There’s only so much summer left, what are you waiting for?

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Clinton River Ridin’

22 Jul

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We’re back in Macomb County, Sterling Heights, to be exact, re-visiting one of our favorite suburban gems, the Clinton River. Starting at Edison Ct. we hop on our vintage bikes and begin riding the path through Clinton River Park; we’ll travel about 16 miles in all, come along for the ride….The asphalt trail hugs the riverbank following the twisty path created by decades of erosion. The shady trail leads us through tunnel-like paths that run between mature trees, random shrubs and wildflowers. The park is located on a floodplain, after heavy rains it can take days for the water to recede, this year the lack of rain has left water levels low, places where water usually collects are bone dry, islands have formed here and there in the riverbed. Dodge Park, the jewel of the city, is located on the other side of the river. We journey through past Jaycee Park then under the M-53 highway, Riverland Park is next; fluffy white seedlings from cottonwood trees have collected along the edges of the path, lone joggers move to the rhythm of the music that fills their ears.

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The path dips under Riverland Drive, wooden bridges keep pedestrians and bikers above the marshy ground below, we pause at the small deck that juts into the river, no fishermen here today, the water is clear and still. We steer our bikes onward, wild berries are almost ready to be picked, weeds have grown tall, chipmunks scurry from the path. Now we cross under Van Dyke into the city of Utica at Heritage Park. Clinton River Canoe and Kayak Rentals picks up here, shuttles you upstream to your drop-in point and you paddle back, sweet! Crossing the wide bridge we look down and see kids in swimsuits playing in the water, cyclists nod as they pass, a robin serenades us. We dip into a neighborhood, climb a hill, make a right and we’re crossing the river again, this time an old green iron bridge leads us into downtown Utica.

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We cross Auburn Rd, this is a new section of pathway, the Clinton River Hike and Bike Trail links Utica and Shelby Twp. Immediately we are back in a tranquil park setting, the river moves lazily downstream, rhubarb plants are tall and have gone to seed. This section was just completed in December 2015, vacant land now transformed into an oasis. A steep hill takes us down to a cement block tunnel, on the other side we spill into River Bends Park. It’s absolutely gorgeous here; elevation changes, wide turns, ivy clings to tree trunks. In some sections a wooden fence lines the path, concrete gutters draw water away from the trail. We twist and turn along the fresh asphalt pavement, maples and pines watching over us, grassy areas are drenched in sunlight, benches invite everyone to take a rest.

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The scenery is beautiful, we are immersed in nature, our minds free to enjoy the songs of birds, honking Canada geese, Black-eyed Susan’s, Common Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed with its bright orange flowers, tiny daisy-like blossoms on tall weeds. The ride is gentle, parks laid out before us, one after the other, always something pretty to look at. Everyone shares the trail; pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, skaters, dog walkers and stroller-pushers all enjoy the welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. I see something moving in the grass, is that a turtle or a tortise?  The new section of River Bends catches up with the old, next thing we know we have reached the 22 Mile entrance of the 626 acre park. This section offers picnic areas, shelters, volleyball and horseshoe pits, a 9-hole disc golf course is set up on the east side of the river. The abandoned Historic Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal borders the eastern boundary of River Bends Park.This is where we turn around, it’s time for dinner, a new restaurant opened in downtown Utica so we’re going to check the place out.

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We reach Danny J’s Brick Tavern, the building was constructed in 1901 and started life as a hardware store. Since the late 1970’s it has traded hands numerous times serving as a bar most of that time. Today the building is coated in fresh red paint, a black awning displays the tavern’s name. The attractive interior is exposed brick, wood floors, a silver tin ceiling and a wood-fired oven in the front corner; seating consists of high-top tables, booths and low tables that can be joined together for groups. Our server places our order; waiting, we look out over main street Utica, women wearing spandex carry Yoga mats as they pass on the sidewalk, couples are out for a stroll, cars come and go from parallel parking spaces. The crust on our Danny J’s Deluxe Pizza is thin, chewy and cooked to the perfect shade of brown. Generous amounts of toppings include pepperoni, sausage, bacon, green pepper, onion, mushroom, we add banana peppers, yum!

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After dinner we slowly pedal our bikes to Memorial Park down by the river. The quaint setting includes gardens, brick pavers, tables, benches, a clock tower and hanging planters, don’t you love the smell of Petunias? There’s a lovely view of the river from the lower level, if you’re lucky nobody will be on the swing. After a brief rest it’s time to pedal. We go back the way we came, as the sun gets lower in the sky nature takes on a new look, the temperature has dropped, we spot a deer resting in the woods. For most of the way we don’t see another person, it’s quiet except for the sound of leaves shifting in the breeze. Ducks and geese travel in groups downriver, everybody has somewhere to go; for us it’s time to go home. It’s been a splendid evening in these magnificent parks, we’ll be back soon.

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LANSING: Old Town & More

14 Jul

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We are in Michigan’s capital city, Lansing, interestingly enough, Detroit was originally the capital of Michigan. Due to concerns over Detroit’s location, such as its proximity to Canada and the desire for a more central location, Lansing became the capital in 1847. The city became an industrial hub with the founding of Olds Motor Vehicles in 1897; factories produced auto bodies, wheels and parts, Lansing produced Oldsmobiles until 2004. The city also manufactured plows and other agricultural tools; the Lower Village Town, now called Old Town specialized in making these tools, the oldest of Lansing’s villages, the first home in was built here in 1843. Factories closed, jobs disappeared, beautiful Victorian buildings were abandoned,Old Town fell on hard times. As is the case with many urban areas across the country these days, new life has reclaimed this charming district, turning it into a destination with public art, eateries, boutiques and galleries. Let’s look around.

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We park on Turner, fancy gold lettering fills a windowpane advertising the Creole Coffee Company, inside, diners scoop up forkfuls of shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict. We approach the counter, order two cold brew coffees to go and check out the space while we wait. Vintage signs hang on exposed brick walls, antique-looking lighting illuminates the dining area. This restaurant is part of the Potent Potables Project, a group of 3 men changing the face of dining in Lansing. This establishment serves breakfast and lunch daily from 8 am – 2 pm, oh, and the coffee rocks. Walking to the end of the block we notice murals and sculptures, at the corner we make a left on Grand River.

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Up a ways at N. Cedar is Preuss Pets, the coolest pet shop we’ve ever been to and always worth a visit. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is jam-packed with gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, fish and birds. Displays are creative like the lime green, blue and orange school bus with the frog at the wheel or the red convertible atop the aquarium supplies. I look around from cage to cage, the gerbil is taking a break from running on his wheel to get a drink, little brown bunnies are taking a nap. The fish section is huge, colorful fresh and saltwater fish glide through the water, each aquarium is unique, you can buy live coral, the shapes and colors are amazing. A small parrot is doing gymnastics on his perch, canaries sing songs, a cockatoo greets me with a ‘hello’, I bid him farewell and we’re off. The Old Town General Store is filled with Michigan goodies from beer and wine to gourmet food and merchandise. Metro Retro is a collection of funky items both new and vintage, the old Glamour magazine covers made into wall hangings are neat-o. 

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Architecture is purely Victorian, lovely buildings with ornate brick and trim make up the streetscape, hanging planters overflow with petunias that perfume the air, banners give a shout out to Old Town. We make a left at the Brenke Fish Ladder, built in 1981 it allows fish swimming up the Grand River to bypass the dam. The river is also a popular spot for fishing, catfish, carp and sunfish all call the river home. The Lansing River Trail invites pedestrians to stroll alongside the mighty Grand, Michigan’s longest river; looks like the turtles are sunbathing today.

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Back on Turner we head to Meat BBQ for a late lunch. Seated on the patio we sip on cold soft drinks under the afternoon sun, a large platter of nachos arrives: tortilla chips bear the weight of pulled pork, bacon, brisket, bbq sauce, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapeno, avocado and a drizzle of sour cream, Dee-licious! Though the nachos really would have been enough we added on sides of blue cheese potato salad, yum, and sweet and spicy cole slaw, good. The bar at The Creole is open and it’s Happy Hour. The restaurant doesn’t open until 5 pm, so we have the place to ourselves. Kris orders an Old Fashion, it’s the French 75 (champagne, lemon, gin) for me. We nurse our cocktails in the charming, air-conditioned, New Orleans-like space; the bartender tells us about the building which is over 100 years old. The Creole takes up the other side of the Creole Coffee Company and is also under the Potent Potables group. The lease actually states the walls cannot be changed, they are the work of former Creole Gallery owner Robert Busby, love that! We talk about Old Town, Detroit, food, craft cocktails and the Detroit City FC, a good time was had by all…..

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Next we pop in and out of independent shops that line the district; Craig Mitchell Smith has a beautiful array of glass art pieces, we walk through to Bradley’s Home and Garden with its modern furnishings, Lead Head Glass terrariums, Tessino jewelry and Lori Mitchell figures. October Moon is a great gift shop with a little bit of everything; specialty food items, linens, dishes, handbags and unique cards. Lamb’s Gate Antiques is filled with a wide variety of cool pieces; lamps, dishes, collectibles, furniture, toys– I like the sweet old ceramic figurines.  We have come full circle, the Jeep awaits.

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Our last stop for the day is the WJ Beal Botanical Garden on the grounds of MSU in East Lansing. Founded in 1873 I read that this is the oldest, continuously operated, university  garden in the country. Prof. Beal established the garden as an outdoor teaching and research laboratory. We are on campus following W Circle Dr, we park near the library, Beaumont Tower looms in the distance. Walking past the fountain we come to the entrance of the garden, the metal gate and surrounding fence look straight out of a fairy tale. A pergola offers shade to visitors and plants alike, benches invite passing pedestrians to sit for a while. Grassy paths run between garden beds, plants are planted in collections of economic, systematic, landscape and ecological groupings–I honestly don’t know what any of that means, but they sure are pretty to look at!

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Familiar flowers like Phlox, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Allium, Foxglove are in full bloom, a leafy shrub is covered in small, white flower balls, bees are busy at work collecting pollen, the butterflies are crazy about them too. Flowers vary from spikes and individual clusters to cone-shaped and narrow-petals; all stages are represented from bud to finished bloom. A mirror-like pond reflects the attractive surroundings, dappled sunlight reaches through trees onto the well-maintained lawn. We spy a bunny in the shade having an afternoon snack, a butterfly reading a plant label, daylillies in assorted colors and a gazebo offering us a panoramic view of the grounds; a peaceful respite tucked away in the big city. We’re keeping our eye on Lansing, so much happening in Old Town, businesses are starting to get a foothold in the new R E O Town district too, we’ll keep you updated.

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