Tag Archives: Gothic Architecture

Grosse Pointe: Sweet Music

23 Mar

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As a rule Kris and I never eat at chain restaurants, there are exceptions to that rule; The Original Pancake House on Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods is one such exception. For over 50 years the homey, family friendly restaurant has been a fixture in the neighborhood, feeding hungry diners piles of buttermilk pancakes, golden brown waffles, the signature Dutch Baby, fluffy omelettes and Danish crepes. It’s a Sunday afternoon, we arrive as the crowds begin to thin, we are seated at a small booth window-side. I could eat breakfast any time of day, everything on the menu sounds delicious, we decide on one savory and one sweet item to share.

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Glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and a dish of salsa arrive in an instant, we survey plates topped with ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream as they pass by. First to arrive is the Southwest Dutch Baby, a special today–it’s huge! Stuffed with jalapeno, onions, pepperjack cheese and tomato, cooked perfectly, it’s delicious. The pecan pancakes arrive a moment later, tender and tasty buttermilk pancakes with toasted pecans in the batter and sprinkled on top, served with whipped butter, we add a little maple syrup, outstanding. Tables come and go swiftly, many patrons seem to be on a first name basis with the staff. If you like good, old-fashioned, traditional breakfast food, be sure to stop in.

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Many churches in metro Detroit offer wonderful programs to the community at large. Today we are attending a concert at Christ Church Grosse Pointe, though we have driven by the building for years, this will be our first time inside. We follow the long driveway to the parking lot that connects to the Grosse Pointe South High School lot, cars are just beginning to arrive. The day is beautiful, the sun shines in a perfect blue sky, we wander the perimeter of the building taking in architectural details, bronze statues, the blue-green patina of the steeple and fantastic windows. The building was completed in 1930 as a branch of Christ Church Detroit, called Christ Church Chapel at the time, made of Pennsylvania iridescent sandstone, it was just the beginning of a planned cathedral-like complex. The Great Depression ended plans of further expansion.

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At the Gothic arch entrance wrought iron lanterns flank the opening, heavy wood doors are open, we step inside, our eyes adjusting from light to dark. Here in the narthex we are directed up the great curving stairway to the left that leads us into the chapel. Before us the nave with its main aisle and two narrow side aisles is laid out; gray Indiana limestone surrounds intricately carved English oak, dangling lantern-style chandeliers, exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous wood beam ceiling. We take the steps up one more flight ending in the gallery, two short rows of pews fill the space, it’s like sitting in the mezzanine of a historic theater, the stained glass window behind is extraordinary.

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From our front-row seat we have an overview of the entire church,the high altar is set up for the performance, choir members file in and take their seats. Reverend Van Culin welcomes everyone and introduces the conductor Scott Hanoian; the Christ Church Schola is performing Herbert Howells’ Requiem. The singers begin the piece of music, I have never heard a choir quite like this before, the voices blend perfectly, the sound both soothing and enchanting. After a short break the Choir of Men and Boys, Choir of Men and Girls and orchestra join the group to perform Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, Op.48. The loveliness of the voices is now joined by violins, viola’s, cello’s, bassoons’, a harp and more, soloists make their way to the front of the choir to sing their part. 

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 When the concert ends a church volunteer offers to show us around the building, we accept. We descend the stairway, back to where we came in, this time we walk the other direction and find ourselves in the cloister. The long, stone, arched hall is magnificent, so Gothic, so wonderful. We learn it was inspired by the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral in England, it wasn’t enclosed until 1957. As we walk we pass bookshelves filled with all sorts of books for people to borrow, like a book exchange, reading areas are set up along the hall, sconces emit a warm glow, torchiere lamps line the cloister. Mary shows us the undercroft, a large room located under the nave used for social gatherings, receptions and funerals, it has the same stone and leaded glass window elegance as the rest of the church. We poke our head into a number of rooms including the practice room for the choirs, all are attractive.

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Continuing onward we view more stained glass windows, none of the great windows were here when the church was first dedicated; most were installed in the 1930’s and 40’s, all were gifts. The tradition of giving memorial windows continues today. Throughout the years parishioners and friends have given gifts of sculpture, paintings, antique furnishings, vestments, altar hangings and tapestries; we see many of these gifts on our tour. We enter the education wing, quiet classrooms are empty today, they have a nursery school co-op too. We are led into Miller Hall, a small gathering space used for weddings, funerals or as the Bride’s room, the decor is warm and comfortable with a handsome fireplace. When we have seen the whole building we thank Mary for her generosity and the tour, it was amazing.

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Ending the day on a sweet note we stop in at the Chocolate Bar Cafe on Mack.  Alinosi turned the space into an old-fashioned ice cream parlor back in 1990. Today, Lisa Corbin runs the show serving Alinosi ice cream, toppings and their French superfine chocolates–yum! In addition she serves gourmet cupcakes and special order cakes baked fresh in-house daily. Step inside, the place is decorated in Alinosi’s signature colors of turquoise and pink, it’s the week before Easter, multicolored eggs of all sizes hang from the ceiling, I smell cake, fresh from the oven. The piece de re` sistance is the vintage neon Alinosi sign and menu board–wow! There’s antique soda fountain equipment, stainless steel counters and old black barstools–they even have the old metal water glasses that hold the paper cup insert. 

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I am especially excited to be here, as a child growing up in Detroit my family always had Alinosi chocolates and ice cream. There was never an Easter basket without their foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, solid milk chocolate bunnies and even bags of jelly beans wearing the famous gold label. Childhood memories come flooding back, it feels familiar, nostalgic. We have a seat at the counter and watch one of the girls decorate giant gourmet cupcakes (next time I’m getting one) as our treats are being made. I start to drink my double chocolate malt as the finishing touches are put on Kris’s Clown Sundae–I wonder how many of those I ate through the years….. Kris spoons up Michigan Pothole ice cream doused in hot fudge and marshmallow topping, he makes short work of finishing it off. At the end of the day both my sweet tooth and spirit are satisfied.


DETROIT: Hidden Gems

24 Feb


Nestled away on Woodward near the Palmer Woods neighborhood is one of Detroit’s hidden gems, La Dolce Vita. Serving superb Italian cuisine, the building goes unnoticed by most passersby, but don’t be fooled, the restaurants excellent reputation keeps the place packed most of the time. We are having an early dinner on Friday evening, I made a reservation in advance. We turn in behind the building and are greeted by a valet, Kris hands him a $5 dollar bill, we head inside as the Jeep is whisked away. The warmth of the building is soothing, the outdoor temperature is hovering at 5 degrees. The host takes us to our table, large chandeliers light the patio-looking room, archways separate the dining area from the bar. Everything on the menu sounds delicious, we make our selections and nibble on fresh-baked bread. Windows overlook the garden area, the snow is piled high, in the summer there isn’t a prettier place in the city to have a meal than in their courtyard. Service is impeccable, our glasses are never empty and empty dishes are cleared quickly. Kris is having the Petto Di Pollo Alla Sorrentina; sauteed chicken breast, roasted eggplant, mozzarella and a veal-demi marinara sauce to die for. Truly outstanding, the chicken is so tender, no knife is needed. I ordered the Gnocchi Alla Bava, being a fan of both pasta and potatoes, I cannot resist. Without a doubt this is the best gnocchi I have ever had; tender pillows of heavenly deliciousness smothered in a six cheese cream sauce, I found myself grinning with every bite. We definitely have to come here more often!

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We have tickets to see the UDM Theatre Company perform Somebody/Nobody by Jane Martin at the Marygrove Theatre; this is the second hidden gem of the evening. In the early 1970’s the U of D Theatre Company and Marygrove consolidated their Fine and Performing Arts departments, they updated the existing theatre by extending the stage to accommodate larger productions. First, let’s talk about the building. Marygrove is an independent, Catholic, Liberal Arts College. The Liberal Arts Building, designed by Oscar D Bohlen, is a soaring Tudor Gothic structure that was built in 1927 of Bedford stone. The building contains classrooms, offices, studios, a library, bookstore, theatre and Sacred Heart Chapel. It is filled with traditional Gothic features such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, high ceilings, carved decoration, corbels, capitals, tranceried windows…..ah, the beauty of it all!

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We have time to wander before the play begins; Tavernelle Rose marble runs from floor to ceiling in the main lobby, long arched corridors with gray Missouri marble floors lead us past classrooms. Brass lettering hangs on classroom doors identifying each subject, doorknobs and hardware are detailed, ornate and original as are the light fixtures. The chapel doors are open, we quietly amble in. Chandeliers line each side of the chapel, the ceiling of wood beams brings warmth to the neutral colored space. The altar, inset under another Gothic arch is elaborate, highly detailed, amazing. Candles flicker in glass containers giving the room a sense of peace. On the walk to the theatre we pass hand-carved Carrara marble statues tucked into niches in the wall, there are 8 throughout the building. Patterns repeat throughout the interior in stone, wood, plaster bronze and wrought iron; French fleur-de-lis, Oak leaves, acorns, harp, laurel wreath and the Cross, little has changed in the building over the last 87 years. It smells like school to me, books, paper…. posters are hung on walls, the heels of my shoes make clicking sounds as we walk.

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Inside the theatre we are shown to our seats, renovated in 2002 it radiates simple elegance. Classically styled with a proscenium stage and sprung floor it has everything budding thespians could want; dressing rooms, green room, stage manager room, rehearsal studio and box office. Wood panels are dark, the ceiling a soothing shade of blue, bare light bulbs glow in detailed metal fixtures, all very quaint. The lights are dimmed and the show begins, set in an L A apartment, we immediately meet the lead character Loli; a country girl looking for fame in the big city. Quickly, Sheena appears, a Hollywood starlet grown tired of the nonsense that comes with being a celebrity. Each longing for the other’s life, they form a unique friendship. Along the way we are introduced to an agent named Galaxy, a stalker and cousin Joe Don; the play has really funny moments and some hilarious one-liners. We love coming to this theatre, simple to get to, easy parking and beautiful, intimate surroundings.

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