Tag Archives: farmers market

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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St Louis Part III

18 Jan

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One of the best ways to get a feel for a city is to check out the local farmers market. Located on Carroll St in the Soulard neighborhood, this Farmers Market started in 1779 on what was then a flat piece of meadow land. The current building was built in 1929 in the Renaissance Style. Visit a farmers market on any given Saturday and you are sure to observe locals from every walk of life in the city. We began in the outdoor sheds, piles of fruits and vegetables sat atop tables and counters; citrus from Florida, home-grown apples, and Mississippi Pecans for only $3.80 a pound.  Continuing indoors the building has that historic charm, warm colored brick makes up the walls, double doors and arched windows are behind each stall, rectangular windows are placed high in the walls to let in more light, yellow banners hang above each stand telling you the vendor’s name and stall number. They have everything you’d expect from a farmers market, produce, meats, cheeses and baked goods. In addition you can browse a spice shop, pet puppies in the Soulard Pet Shop, buy Cardinal’s apparel, watch mini doughnuts being made, and try some pasta made of things like fruits, vegetables and even chocolate! While we were in the area we took a drive through Soulard, St Louis’s oldest neighborhood. The homes were originally built by the local brewery workers, many now house live music clubs, restaurants and shops. Steeped in French heritage they celebrate Mardi Gras in Winter and Bastille Day in July.

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Next destination Historic Cherokee Antique Row. Located south of downtown, the seven block area is home to Antique, Collectible, and specialty shops, galleries and independent retail. From vintage clothing and Mid Century Modern to antique china and period lighting, the shops are filled with rescued objects. It’s a beautiful street to stroll, homes are lovely, made of brick they are tall and narrow. On the corner of Cherokee and Illinois is a cafe/coffee shop called The Mud House, we stopped in for a snack and a coffee. At the counter we ordered espresso and a slice of  pecan pie, we found a seat by the window for a little relaxation before hitting the street again. Mud House has a warm and relaxed vibe, it is an obvious favorite to locals for both food and coffee. Rejuvenated, we continued shopping, we weren’t looking for anything in particular, more or less just looking. In and out of shops we saw something from each decade, books and records, automotive memorabilia, glassware and pottery. There was a fascinating shop called Saxquest, carrying both vintage and professional model saxophones, they have a sax museum on the second floor, the instruments are quite elaborate and elegant.  One of the galleries exclusively features St Louis artists, they also have a nice selection of T-shirts and city guidebooks.

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It was lunchtime and we were starving; a drive over to The Hill neighborhood would remedy that. The Hill is home to St Louis’s Italian heritage; Italian immigration began in the late 1800’s and continued for another 50 years. The neighborhood is home to authentic Italian bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants and trattorias, even the fire hydrants are painted red, white and green!  There is a wide selection of places to eat in this 50 block area along with coffee houses, a gelato shop, studios and Milo’s Bocce Garden. The neighborhood takes pride in the fact that Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck (Cardinals sportscaster) all grew up in this area. After a drive around we choose Zia’s On The Hill for lunch, we found parking up the street a little ways and wandered in. Named for the owners two aunts (Zia is Italian for Aunt) who were great cooks, Zia’s is a “Hill” staple. Housed in a former grocery store, upon entering you are in the bar area complete with tin ceilings and varnished wood.   Our waitress arrived with a bread basket and drinks, and helped us navigate the selections. The Zia’s salad is a must…crisp lettuce mixed with ham, artichoke hearts, green olives, Italian cheese and house dressing, it was excellent. We split the lunch sized entrée of Tortellini Piselli, they were kind enough to place it in two separate bowls. This stuff is out of this world….meat-filled tortellini in an egg cream sauce with peas and prosciutto ham. The waitress she highly recommended it, I can see why, this is some seriously good pasta. The only sad part was we couldn’t take our left-overs with us.

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We had been meaning to check out an area called Lafayette Square. Centered around the 30 acre Lafayette Park, this urban neighborhood is gorgeous! Amazing homes in the Victorian and Second Empire style grace the streets, the business district is made up of wine shops, nice restaurants, an arts center, brewery and several churches. Oh, there is one other place I should tell you about; Park Avenue Coffee which features St Louis’s own Gooey Butter Cake. Yes, we were full, but we had been hearing about Gooey Butter cake for days now, and here we were face to face with the real thing, there’s only one thing to do…. try it! Made by the Ann & Allen baking company of St Louis, they are up to 73 flavors of “gooey butter goodness”. I wanted to try the original, it was so good I actually started to giggle while eating my first piece; as you would expect it had a chewy crust and a delectable gooey center, the original is a yellow cake at it’s best, melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious, oh so yummy! Now we seriously needed to walk, we couldn’t have chosen a better place than the Lafayette Square historic district. St Louis prospered in the post Civil War years and Lafayette Square became one of the most fashionable neighborhoods. Unfortunately as early as the 20’s the area began to decline; homes were neglected and abandoned, many were destroyed.  At one point there were plans to bulldoze the neighborhood in favor of a highway; but as is often the case locals came together and saved the area from destruction. In 1972 Lafayette Square became the first historic district in St Louis, in 1973 it was placed on the National register of Historic Places. Today this neighborhood is thriving, homes are being restored, lofts are being renovated and condos are being built, Lafayette Square is now being recognized and appreciated for the superb treasure that it is.

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It was time to get back to the hotel, our New Year’s Eve plans consisted of relaxing at the hotel, eating dinner in, and having a drink at the bar to welcome in the new year. If that doesn’t sound very exciting to you, let me tell you where we were staying:  The Marriott at St Louis Union Station, and it’s  no ordinary hotel. Take a moment and click on the link to see the exterior of the building, go ahead, I’ll wait…….Amazing isn’t it?  While the grand Romanesque exterior is made of Bedford Indiana limestone and is quite impressive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  Enter the building, climb a few stairs and you are now in the Grand Hall, the 65 foot barrel-vaulted ceiling is magnificent with its gold-leaf detailing. The detail is incredible; Romanesque archways, fresco’s, mosaics and art glass windows. The most significant window can be found above the main entryway; hand cut Tiffany glass features 3 women representing the main US train stations during the 1890’s: New York, St Louis and San Francisco. Union Station was built for $6.5 million in the 1890’s, during the 1980’s the building underwent a $150 million dollar restoration. The place is seriously gorgeous!  This is probably the best experience I have ever had at a hotel; from the minute we arrived until we left, the service was exceptional. Everybody was kind and helpful, friendly and outgoing. The room was beautiful, clean, quiet, everything you hope for on a vacation.

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We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Station Grille, New Year’s Eve. The food was outstanding, the service top-notch.  The dining room is elegant, all the wood is still original. The menu is well-rounded, one of our favorite items was the Charcuterie Plate; house made salami, pork loin, grainy mustard, pretzel bread, olives and pickled vegetables, excellent! I was also unaware that St Louis is known for its toasted ravioli, Station Grille’s is superb, love the sauce.  After dinner we set out to explore more of Union Station itself. Each evening we would walk around a bit and marvel at the grandeur of the place, tonight we headed out to the Midway and Train Shed areas and to visit the Memories Museum. Opened September 1, 1894 Union Station was owned by Terminal Railroad Associates of St Louis. The building housed a hotel, restaurant, passenger waiting rooms and railroad ticket offices. At the time of its opening it was the largest and busiest railroad station in the world, at its peak the station combined passenger services of 22 railroads. In 1903 the station had to expand to accommodate people arriving for The World’s Fair in 1904.  The Midway at 610 ft long and 70 ft wide once served more than 100,000 passengers a day, today the passageway is a mall with shops and restaurants. At 11.5 acres the train shed was once the largest roof span in the world.  The shed also houses retail shops, restaurants, a portion of the Marriott hotel, and a lake, it is truly a remarkable feat of engineering. The Memories Museum really puts things into perspective as to what train travel was like in the late 1800’s, it was no easy task. Trunks would be loaded onto wagons and taken by horse to the trains to be loaded. People did not have cars back then, so even getting to the station was a feat. The museum has great displays of dishes, period clothing and trunks, menu’s and train schedules… it’s all fascinating stuff. The museum is always open, located in the midway and shed area you can wander through at your leisure.

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Finally we migrated to the lounge in the Great Hall, there isn’t a prettier bar in St Louis. Todd, our bartender, whipped me up an awesome White Chocolate Russian, Kris a VO & Coke, as we watched all of the activity going on around us. People were dressed to the nines, they’d stop in for photos in front of the towering Christmas tree, or drinks on the way to their next stop, it seemed everybody was having a good time. While awaiting the arrival of 2012 we soaked in every bit of ambiance this place offered. Happy New Year !

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Give St Louis a try; a great Midwestern town with way more to offer than meets the eye ! Hmmmmm, sounds familiar, time to head back to Detroit …..

Selfridge Air Museum, New Baltimore Farmers Market, Bad Brad’s BBQ

3 Sep

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The tiny community of New Baltimore MI, located on beautiful Anchor Bay, is about 45 minutes north east of downtown Detroit. There have been subtle changes over the last few years making it more appealing to tourists and day-trippers. We take the scenic route whenever possible, in this case that would be Jefferson to M 29, then turn onto Washington Street into town; historic buildings line the two-lane stretch, American flags hoisted high on poles wave in the lake breeze, straight ahead lies a playground, beach, and tree studded park. Go right down to the water; walk to the end of the dock and gaze out over the blue water of Lake St Clair, fisherman cast their lines in hopes of a big catch, swans paddle gracefully by all the activity.

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  From now until October 23 you can visit the Farmers Market on Sundays from 8am-1pm. I can’t get through a summer without homegrown vegetables, so we came to get our fix! There’s nothing like a farmers market to show off the bounty of a Michigan summer; piles of zucchini that are at least a foot long, pickles overflowing from round wicker baskets, brightly colored peppers, corn, tomatoes, purple onions and peaches! Baked goods have their place here as well; breads, pies, cookies and granola all entice you to buy. How about a hot dog, or an ear of roasted corn, come hungry! There are perennials and crafts too, one booth even sells cookies for dogs.

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After shopping at the market take some time to visit some of the local businesses; Washington Street Wine House is one of the newer businesses and a great addition to the area; quite charming in a historic building complete with a tin ceiling and hardwood floor, they offer tastings, bottles, and a variety of wine accoutrements tastefully laid out in the space. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, I’ll bet you leave with at least one bottle. Stahl’s Bakery is a short walk up the street to the corner of Washington and Main; the smell of fresh baked bread and cookies will lure you in, tasting the samples on the counter will convince you to buy. Famous for their Belly Button Cookie, Stahl’s has been hand baking for 78 years. We were lucky enough to meet the cookie baker on our visit, she was kind enough to take us back where the real work is done; a giant mixer stands on the floor as tall as me, probably older than me too, stacks of huge metal bowls wait to be filled with butter, flour and sugar, an over-sized oven remained warm from the previous days use, a wide butcher block table sat empty this Sunday, worn and warped from years of use. Here is my advice for you: Get the Belly Button cookie!! Thin and crisp, the color of dark brown sugar, its buttery taste and chocolate chips will win you over. 

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Just a short drive away on M 29 is Bad Brads BBQ, our lunch destination. The weather was perfect for outdoor dining so we had a seat on the patio. This is not your ordinary patio; the sizable space offers a variety of seating from picnic tables, high top tables and stools to square tables that seat 4 comfortably, the one thing they all have in common are the thick wood plank tabletops, quite fitting. A brick and stone fireplace sits at the furthermost edge of the patio, a pond with a trickling waterfall is centrally located, there’s even a bar out here. The menu is just what you’d expect; an array of meats smoked in house and made from scratch accompaniments, house made sauces in squeeze bottles rest on each table. We tried a little of everything; The BBQ chicken salad is awesome, smoked chicken atop crunchy greens served with their own BBQ ranch dressing, spicy good! We had a sandwich with their pork; smoked to perfection it was tender and juicy, served with their homemade spicy corn chips it’s a great combination. I liked the spicy sauce best, Kris’s favorite was the sweet. When you eat at a barbecue place you have to try the Mac and Cheese; served in a small pie tin the top was browned and a little crunchy, noodles firm, coated in a mild and creamy white sauce. Servers were friendly and attentive, our glasses were never empty. Be sure and check out the cool artwork by Detroit’s own Jerome Ferretti inside.

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We left on southbound Jefferson and took it all the way to the Selfridge Air Museum and Air Park, this place is cool. I know zero about planes and yet I find this place fascinating. Activated as a military installation July 1, 1917, all branches of the military, active and reserve units alike, are represented on the Base. Selfridge trained pilots, aero mechanics, aerial photographers and gunnery personnel for World War I. Many famous names in aviation history are associated with Selfridge, Charles Lindbergh completed his training here.  The museum is open to the public April through October on weekends from 12:00 – 4:30 pm, adult admission is $4. When you arrive at the Selfridge ANGB gate you will stop at a booth where they will ask you to park you car and then come inside where they will look at your drivers license, car registration and proof of insurance, and issue you a pass, then simply drive over to the museum parking lot and go inside.

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The museum is laid out in chronological order starting with the Wright Brothers. The base was named after aviation pioneer Lt Thomas E. Selfridge; the first military officer to pilot an engine-driven aircraft, and while flying with Orville Wright, the first to meet his death in powered flight. There are great historic photographs throughout the venue, glass cases are filled with uniforms and memorabilia, full size engines are on display along with coordinating diagrams. Climb into the cockpit of a real F-16; It had to be  a tight fit for the pilot, you will be astonished by the number of buttons, switches and levers that surround you. As you proceed through time you will see an old military Jeep, rockets and missiles, taking you all the way to the space age and up to the present. When you are finished indoors, exit through the door to the Air Park.

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Dozens of vintage planes sit at rest in the park, signs tell the significance of each. The day we were there the Lockheed C-130 Hercules was open to visitors; the interior is immense, a full size Jeep is stored inside and is barely noticeable. The cargo bay door is fully opened and will surprise you with its gigantic gateway. Go up front to the cockpit and have a seat, wow! Volunteers are available to answer your questions, and more importantly (to me, anyways), to tell you the stories of the aircraft. I am truly captivated by such things. The array of planes is vast,all the way from World War I to present day, it’s wonderful to be able to get up close to see them. The Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft was also open, take advantage of the opportunity and go inside. If you like planes you could easily spend a couple of hours here. The museum preserves the heritage and tradition of the Air National Guard in Michigan and the military units past and present headquartered at Selfridge ANG Base. Come see for yourself. 

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