Tag Archives: Pure Michigan

Detroit: Just A Taste

31 Jan

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Detroit has always been a city of makers; today’s subject is booze. Alcohol was big business in Detroit; in 1850 Stroh’s produced an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels of beer.  The largest distiller was Hiram Walker, (yes he was an American and a Detroiter) he started out as a grocer distilling cider vinegar in 1830, he moved on to whiskey 1854. During prohibition Detroit became a bootleggers paradise, the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places making Canada a short trip by boat, sled or automobile. It’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the US during Prohibition. Bootlegging, smuggling, rum-running, whatever you want to call it, was Detroit’s second largest industry in 1929. 

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Two James Spirits has the unique distinction of being the first licensed distillery to open in Michigan since Prohibition. Today we’re doing a tour, grab yourself a drink and c’mon along. Founders David Landrum and Peter Bailey opened the distillery and tasting room in 2013. The name comes from the coincidence that both of their fathers are named James. The building is an oldie, a Dodge/Chrysler dealer in the ’20’s, an auto repair facility & cab company later in life. We have about 30 minutes to kill before the tour  starts, just long enough to enjoy a Nutty Irishman. Andreas places the cocktail on the bar, a layer of half and half floats above the dark brown spirits, I combine the layers, stirring gently with my straw; I love the way it looks as the cream swirls in the glass. Kris and I chat as we watch lemons and limes being sliced, egg whites dropped into shakers and cherries being skewered; all for your drinking pleasure.

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Our glass is empty, time for the tour. We cross from the tasting room to the distillery, the temperature drops noticeably. My attention immediately goes to the 500 gallon custom-made copper pot still,  it’s a real showstopper. We’re surrounded by heavy-duty shelving stacked with American Oak barrels, stacks of cardboard cases on pallets, tanks, hoses and pipes.  Up first, 28 Island Vodka. The name references the 28 islands in the Detroit River that served as a safe-haven for Detroit’s clandestine distillers during Prohibition. The Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin lets the gin rest in new American Oak for a minimum of 6 months before being bottled.  How about a little rum? Doctor Bird Jamaica Rum  is actually made in the Caribbean then blended and aged in a special moscatel barrique in Detroit.

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Whiskey anyone? Try Grass Widow Bourbon, Rye Dog, Catcher’s Rye or Johnny Smoking Gun. The newest spirit in the arsenal is J Riddle Peated Bourbon. Look at the label for a minute, see that cute little ‘red fox’? Hhmm, J Riddle, could that be James Riddle Hoffa who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Hills? I’m not tellin’. The Nain Rouge Absinthe Verte starts with the traditional 19th Century French recipe and then gets Two-Jamesd. It has great depth of flavor and a pretty green color, I’m a fan of licorice so I really like it. We scope out the production area learning about the distilling process, different grains used and the bottling process. Up a few stairs we have an up-close view of the mash tub, the yellow-ish goop inside bubbles and pops, we even get to taste it. Pipes lead to fermentation tanks, finishing tanks and the gravity bottling machine; It’s all very technical. 

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In 1993 Joe Mifsud purchased the building that now houses Two James and his recently opened restaurant Cork and Gabel. We’ve admired this building for years and are really excited to finally go inside. Joe has a deep affection for these old Detroit buildings, he likes to re-use what’s there in addition to adding other Detroit found objects–like the giant oil drum used for the entryway to the restaurant. What a super-cool way to enter a building, I like the graffiti. I’d describe the interior as rustic industrial, there are old pulleys and other things left from the building’s automotive days, there’s an old bell, even the light fixtures were rescued from an old structure. Chairs are mis-matched, tables are made of old bowling lanes, can you find the Easy Bake Oven? An eclectic blend of old and new giving the place a modern, cozy feeling.We sit at the bar only to learn the kitchen doesn’t open for another half hour, so we order a cocktail… The menu is a fusion of Italian, German and Irish offerings, everything sounds good. When the time comes ours is the first order to reach the kitchen. We start with the Caprese Salad which can be a no-no in January, the tomatoes are ripe and tasty, nice slices of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, set upon pesto; well done and a nice surprise in January. The Schnitzel BLT is huge! A crispy, well seasoned, breaded slice of pork loin sits atop Ma’s rye bread (made in house, it’s fabulous!), slices of crispy thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, bibb lettuce, tomato, the other slice of bread is finished with boursin cheese. Yum!

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Have you ever heard of Brew Detroit? They have a 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Corktown. In addition to brewing their own beer they are a contract brewery, making beer for Stroh’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Bad Ass Beer, Lake Brothers Beer Co and others. Guess what? They do tours too! We pay for the tour and choose our ‘walking beer’, this is the one we get to take on the tour; Kris chooses a stout made with Germack coffee, I’m drinking the East Sea Baltic Porter, it’s delicious. The production area is home to eleven 400-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, they’re gigantic. Our guide talks about tanks, vessels, grain, fermentation, temperature-controlled yeast propagation, spectrometer, alcolyzer and all kinds of other things I’ve never heard of while Kris and I just look around and think, WoW! The place is huge, the tanks are enormous, there’s just so much BEER! We have journeyed from the brewhouse to the canning and bottling line or as they say, from “hops to glass”.

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The tour ends in the merchandise area where we are given souvenir Brew Detroit pint glasses and wooden tokens good for a beer in the tasting room. Taking a seat at the rectangular bar we enjoy a beer while checking out the selection of 30 rotating draft taps of beer, wine, cider and meads. There are pinball and air hockey machines, arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, billiards and foosball spread out over two floors. This place is definitely worth seeking out for a beer, tour or just to hang out with friends.

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It’s dark and it’s cold but we can’t leave Corktown until we check out Winterfest at Michigan Central Station. Ford has put together a celebration of the to-be-restored 1913 train station that includes a 3D light show, fire pits to keep warm and roast marshmallows for S’mores, food trucks and an exhibition of “found” objects from the building. We park on the street and make the trek to the building, a crowd of parka-wearing, scarf and mitten laden pedestrians have gathered around heaters and fire pits to watch colorful images flashed upon the 18-story building. Magically the building comes to life, the past and future splashed across the surface, a train thunders by. It’s graffiti covered, draped in newspaper then covered in blocks of colors, windows appear to light up, a hand draws the Ford logo; it’s a constantly changing canvas of amazement. As much as I’d like to stay, my face is frozen and I can’t feel my toes; it’s been fun.

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Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..

12 Jan

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Every town has its hidden gems, unique places and distinct personality. Today we are in Port Huron to sample the old, the new and a little holiday tradition. The city is undergoing a much welcomed revitalization; frankly I wonder what took so long? An array of restaurants and shops in a picturesque Victorian-era downtown, situated on an international border, sandy beaches, panoramic Lake Huron views, all about an hours drive from Detroit.

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The old Michigan National Bank building on the southeast corner of the Black River and Military Street is in the process of becoming a City Flats Hotel. If you’ve ever been to their locations in Grand Rapids or Holland, you know how exciting this is. The 36-room hotel, ballroom, bar and restaurants are slated to open in May 2019. One of the restaurants, the Kitchen, is open for business; let’s grab a bite to eat. We park in the lot behind the building and enter from the rear, here we stop to admire a rendering of the Ballroom, samples of materials and dinnerware build anticipation of the space. A quick right and we’re in the cafe. Because it’s a casual space you order at the counter. I’m a little distracted by the house made scones and bagels on display, maybe 10 varieties of each (try the bacon, cheddar, jalapeno bagel–you’re welcome). Then there’s the coffee menu serving Grand Rapids-based MADCAP coffee. Ok, ok, let’s have the soup and this month’s special ‘bowl’. I fill our water glasses and join Kris at a table, one wall of the cafe is glass, a balcony overlooks the Black River and offers more dining space in nice weather. We watch the goings-on outside until our food arrives. The Tuscan White Bean soup is excellent; rich flavors, nicely seasoned. Our power bowl is a bed of quinoa topped with hard-boiled egg, avocado, diced red pepper, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. The vegetables are fresh, the quinoa cooked perfectly, maybe tossed with a vinegar-type dressing, delicious. 

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From one of the newest business in town we drive to one of the oldest, the Brass Rail Bar on Huron Ave. Steeped in holiday tradition, this place is a must visit during the Christmas season.There’s parking available on the street in front of the bar, that’s a good sign; this time of year the bar can be packed. I love the old signage on the building, I always wondered about the Beer-Wine Takeout sign… Evergreen roping and ornaments decorate the awning, stained glass windows are aglow. Stepping inside transports us back in time, Christmas lights and decorations cling to every surface. We grab two seats at the bar and begin to take it all in. The centerpiece of the space is the spectacular back bar, made of mahogany and onyx with a Tiffany lamp built into the center, it measures in at a ginormous 13’2″ tall by 16’8″ wide; it’s been here from the beginning when this was Hibye’s Ice Cream parlor. The story goes this way; Tony Hibye purchased it in 1910 from a local drugstore that had purchased it from a local hotel who had it shipped from Italy. Tony, his wife and daughter Helen built a thriving business selling ice cream, candy and fruit; the depression hit, Tony passed away. Helen took over the reigns with the help of her mother and aunt, they went from selling “sweets to suds”; the Brass Rail was born in 1937. Remember the takeout sign I mentioned? Helen obtained a unique liquor license allowing the bar to sell beer and wine when the bar itself isn’t open, you can still come in and buy a 6-pack of beer to go.

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They say while Helen was at a bar in Detroit she had a Tom and Jerry, from then on the Brass Rail made the traditional drink from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Eve, which is why we’re here today. Sitting patiently at the bar waiting to order I take in the sights and sounds that surround me; friends greet one another with handshakes and hugs, patrons are jolly, some don Christmas sweaters, one man wears a string of lights. A wide ledge above the antique wood paneling is the footing for new and vintage animated figures, snowmen, carolers, Angels, bears, toy soldiers and Christmas trees. Ceiling fixtures are surrounded by lighted wreaths,Tom and Jerry’s fill server’s trays. Audible is the constant humming sound of Kitchen Aid mixers whipping up egg whites and egg yolks separately before they are joined with a little powdered sugar, hot water, rum and brandy. It’s finally my turn, a cute little teddy bear adorns my mug, a short red straw and a green stirrer emerge from the frothy mixture that rises from the mug. I look around the room for a clue as how to properly drink a Tom and Jerry, it seems everyone has their own method so I go for it. I take a sip right from the mug, a smile creeps across my face, the frothy top combines with the warm liquid below; it’s a wonderful, slightly sweet, creamy combination of heat, booze and a little nutmeg, in other words, heaven.

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North of downtown, nestled along the Lake Huron shoreline is an Historic neighborhood called Sherman Woods. The first house went up in 1926, today 63 households make up the district. We like walking here any time of year; streets meander past mature trees, over gentle hills, giving homeowners views of the great lake. Each house is completely different from the next, built in different styles throughout different time periods. The neighborhood enjoys 700 feet of private beachfront, a sidewalk allows visitors like us a glimpse of the beautiful lakefront homes. This time of year is even more special, residents go all out with their decorations. The most common decoration, a theme you might say, is a ball made of chicken wire, drenched in lights and strung from high branches in towering trees. It’s hard to describe the sensation, bubbles everywhere, like you’re floating in a glass of Christmas champagne… We take our time walking from street to street, other couples, families, even dogs seem to be delighted by what we see. Darkness has fully arrived and with it a steady stream of cars taking in the splendor. That’s our cue it’s time to go.

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Kris takes the scenic way back, always on the roads that cling to the water. Christmas lights pierce the darkness, each little town has gotten in on the act. We cruise through a light display at a water-side park, oh good, that house near Junction Buoy did the blue lights on the tree. Even the Canadian refineries look like they’re decked out for the holiday. It’s been an amazing evening. Go grab your calendar, turn to December and make yourself a little note; Port Huron, Tom & Jerry, Lights. You’ll have as much fun as we did!

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Ann Arbor: A Manor Christmas

19 Dec

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Earhart Manor rests on the grounds of Concordia University in Ann Arbor. Today the manor is open to the public for a Christmas tour of the home and grounds; all proceeds provide the Concordia Guild scholarship support for the university students. Once a 400-acre dairy farm, the property known then as The Meadows was purchased by Harry B Earhart and his wife Carrie in 1916. H.B. Earhart was the agent for the White Star Refining Company based in Buffalo NY. He purchased the failing company in 1911, moved its headquarters to Michigan and watched the business flourish as the auto industry boomed. He turned the company into a major enterprise that included a chain of gas stations and a refinery in Oklahoma. He eventually sold the business to Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. which later became Mobil; something tells me he did all right. At first the family used the Meadows as a get-away, they moved there from Detroit in 1920. When H.B. retired at the age of 66 he decided to build the home of his dreams on the property, the manor was completed in 1935.

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The limestone home was designed by Detroit architectural firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, the exterior is elegantly detailed with a slate roof, copper eaves and stone detailing; they even hand-chisled the limestone to simulate age. Festive garlands with bright red bows adorn the front entrance. Inside we are greeted by volunteers giving details about the home. I expected the interior to be large open spaces but instead find charming, intimate rooms. The foyer is light filled and bright, decorations stream from the ceiling and walls, a built-in cabinet holds an antique record player surrounded by vintage record albums from Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and others. Albums could be stacked for continuous play, what a cool contraption. Each room in the house has been decorated by a different interior designer; I love looking at all the beautiful decorations. Traffic flow is at a stand-still so we take the stairs to the 3rd floor, stopping along the way to admire the Art Deco handrail, newel and balusters. We arrive at the Ballroom, the barrel ceiling with a skylight is pretty awesome; gold and silver stars dangle from the ceiling. The decorating theme is Nativities, I’ve never seen so many different ones. This is where the Earhart’s would entertain; there’s a stage at one end where a band would perform or the grandchildren would put on plays. A movie projection booth is on the opposite side, since there was no sound system they played family home movies on the screen instead of Hollywood films. 

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The second floor is where the family slept. When they moved into the house 3 of their 4 children had already gone off to college, Elizabeth was already in high school; no need for lots of bedrooms. Today the bedrooms are used for offices and conference rooms and are not open for the tour. Descending the staircase gives us a nice view of the main floor, people have dispersed into other areas making it easy for us to move around. At one end of the hall is the Dining Room, it’s gorgeous. Decked out in cream and turquoise, a pretty chandelier, ornate fireplace and lovely architectural details make the room opulent. A pencil tree wears colored decorations to match the room, Christmas figurines stand in recessed shelves. In their later years Mr and Mrs Earhart took their meals at the small table in the breakfast nook. I’ve decided this is my favorite room.

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The Library is next, wood paneling, full bookcases and deep colors give the room a definite masculine feel. Poinsettia-filled urns flank the fireplace, evergreen roping is draped throughout the space. Two Christmas trees are decorated with white lights, silk flowers and wide ribbon. On one side a bookcase has been slid open revealing a ‘secret’ staircase, let’s see where it goes. Concrete steps and brick walls lead us to the basement Billiard Room, sweet! As you would expect the room is decorated perfectly for Christmas; lots of live greens, baskets of fruit, nuts and pine cones. Candles flicker in the fireplace, antique light fixtures give the room a warm glow. This is where H.B. would hang out with his friends.

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Back up in the main hall we poke our heads into the study, we see another secret passage in the wall. The Living Room is the largest room in the house; surrounded by rich wood paneling with a large fireplace it’s actually quite cozy. A grand piano sits at the far end, the Earhart’s were fond of music, a Christmas tree is set up in front of the bay window, I bet that’s the way the family did it too. When the house was built they incorporated the latest technology for the time; air conditioning, showers with ten heads, vented closets with lights that went on when you opened the door. They say Mrs Earhart was never more than 10 feet away from a call button to summon servants.

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We exit through the glass doors onto the patio, a gorgeous Pewabic tile fountain is built into the wall. The grounds are pretty expansive; there used to be a Peony-lined walk, Rose garden and lily pond. We walk past the gazebo and grape arbor to the greenhouse, this was here long before they built the manor house. You can tell it’s really old by the glass panes and mechanisms used to open and close the windows. One section has Christmas trees for sale, you can also purchase Poinsettia plants, flowering cactus, Cyclamen, ornaments and hand-made cards. Decorated trees are on display in the other half of the greenhouse, they were part of an auction held earlier in the week and are waiting to be picked up.

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Carrie passed away in 1940, H.B. stayed in the house, they say the greenhouse was one of his favorite places to sit and be with friends. I also learned that H.B. was the primary creator of the Huron-Clinton Metro Authority. H.B. passed away in 1954 at the age of 83. A portion of the Earhart Estate including the manor was sold to the Lutheran Church in 1961 for the establishment of Concordia University. The private university offers majors in four academic schools: Nursing, Arts & Sciences, Business, Education. The school restored the manor and continues to care for it and the grounds.

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Time to eat! Zingerman’s Roadhouse on Jackson rd has been here for 15 years now. It’s the 7th member of Zingerman’s community of businesses in Ann Arbor. While places like the deli celebrate good food from all over the world, the Roadhouse focuses on really good American food with old-time classics like mac and cheese, fried chicken, corn dogs and Carolina bbq. It’s super-busy when we arrive but the wait is short. I’m so hungry I can’t decide what to get, Kris is in a breakfast mood, an omelette it is. The other good thing about breakfast items is they don’t take long to cook. The omelette is fluffy and filled with tasty items like cheese, bacon and spinach, the homemade biscuit is surrounded by little cups of creamed honey, jam and butter. French fries and cheesy grits complete the meal. That was good! Be sure and check out the nifty collection of antique salt and pepper shakers displayed throughout the restaurant. Before we hit the road I stop at the Roadshow, a vintage Spartan trailer attached to the Roadhouse that offers the convenience of a drive-thru or a walk-up window for carry-out or coffee, I’m here for the coffee. It’s been a really good day.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with fun adventures!

St Joseph

5 Nov

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From the tip of the Mitten to the cuff, there is no shortage of charming little towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Today we’re about 190 miles west of Detroit in the city of St. Joseph.  It’s locale, about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, made it a huge tourist destination complete with miles of sandy beachfront and an amusement park back in the day. This lovely port town sits on a bluff overlooking the lake, a pair of lighthouses flank the St Joseph River; inland some of the country’s finest orchards and vineyards cover the rolling countryside. This is the largest non-citrus fruit-growing region in the nation. Every summer tourists swarm the city; they swim in the cool blue water, shop in unique boutiques, eat ice cream and fudge and watch spectacular sunsets. At this time of year the bulk of tourists have gone home, there are no lines, we share tree-lined streets with locals and parking is easy.

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The first order of business is lunch; we prefer someplace with a scenic view, Schu’s on Pleasant Street is perfect. The restaurant has an old-school, resort town feel; lots of wood, a stone fireplace, an upside down boat dangles from the ceiling, and of course, it has a view of the water. Service is speedy and friendly, before we know it we’re enjoying a delicious burger cooked perfectly medium with a pile of crispy fries. When we’re finished I grab my umbrella out of the Jeep and we take a stroll through town. Rain has begun, we duck into Cafe Tosi to grab a coffee, the caramel bomb looks too good to resist, I meet Kris at the table with our drinks, a sweet treat and two forks. The sunny yellow interior is opposite of the dreary scene out the window. The place is buzzing with activity, everybody seems to know each other, I like that. When I think of St Joseph one of the first things that comes to mind is the elegant Maids Of The Mist Fountain. Cherubs join two female statues nicknamed Constance and Hope sitting beneath the largest of three basins as water cascades into the pool below; I really love these old fountains. Built in 1872 by JW Fiske Ironworks of NYC, the owner of the Whitcomb Hotel purchased it out of Chicago and moved it to Lake Bluff Park in 1892, it has become a city landmark.

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By the time we’re finished the rain has stopped; time to explore. Many of the storefronts look unchanged, flowerpots are filled with colorful blooms, water bowls offer furry friends a little refreshment. In and out of shops we go, Michigan-themed shirts, hats, bags and drinkware are found in Lazy Daisy. There’s a cool consignment shop called Re Imagine filled with do-dads, art and craft supplies, fun gifts, repurposed items, jams and honey. The whimsical cows of the ‘cow parade’ make me smile. A couple of shops offer wine tastings from local vineyards, South Bend Chocolate Company has all kinds of chocolate treats, cakes and cheesecakes. No Michigan tourist town is legit without a Kilwins, I can smell the fudge from the sidewalk; this one is doing a brisk business today. We find the antique shops in town have a nice selection of Mid Century Modern pieces. In addition to furniture and accessories this one has a fantastic collection of cameras tucked snugly into wooden cubbies. The only brand names I recognize are Polaroid and Kodak. They have some great movie cameras too along with vintage advertisements.

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Black Rose Jewelry’s storefront is gorgeous; black vitrolite and unique showcase windows that you only find in a jewelry store. I wonder if this has always been a jewelry store. I imagine many businesses have come and gone through the decades. Perennial Accents is a good example, now a kitchen-goods store filled with gadgets, small appliances, linens, colanders and graters, a brass plaque on the floor tells us this was originally Gillespies Drugstore in 1866. Schaller Gallery housed in an attractive brick building sells fabulous handmade pottery. White walls and simple tables and shelves allow the pottery to get all the attention. Teapots, dishes, mugs are all beautiful, you can eat off of art. Our favorite building is an old bank that houses Wanderlust, an outdoor apparel and gear store. We go inside to see if any of the old architecture remains, we’re delighted to find thick moldings, columns and original ceiling details. The coolest part is the safes, they’re gorgeous! Look at the hinges, gears, decorative patterns everywhere, they use some of them for dressing rooms–makes me want to try something on.

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 In 1891 the Silver Beach Amusement Park opened on the land between the lake and the mouth of the St Joseph River, think Coney Island in NY; rides, concessions, games of chance, bumper cars and a boardwalk; they added a roller coaster in 1904 called Chase Through The Clouds. In 1910 a carousel was brought in; 44 hand-carved, life-like horses; it was hugely popular.The carousel operated continuously until 1971 when the amusement park closed. Today thanks to the dedication and fundraising ability of the Silver Beach Carousel Society a replica carousel has been placed at Silver Beach Center, an entertainment center below the bluff just yards from Lake Michigan’s Silver Beach. We park in the center’s lot, the building is part museum, part activity center. Inside large black and white photos and memorabilia  give us a peek at Silver Beach in its heyday; crowds of people on the beach, a rollercoaster, rides and several buildings including Shadowland Ballroom which opened in 1927; a caption reads “This place was so cool”.  People came by car and train to this amazing summer play land. Next we check out the carousel, in operation since 2010, it was built by Carousel works in Mansfield OH. There are only a few riders this afternoon. We watch as bejeweled horses rise and fall to old-fashioned music, there’s a serpent and a peacock chariot for those who prefer an even ride. Rounding boards around the top depict historical themes of southwest Michigan; computer graphics artists created the boards using a montage of colorized, historic photos. Around the carousel we find vintage cars from rides, penny arcade machines and a gypsy who will tell us our fortune for pocket change.

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We only have 1 day in St Joseph so we’re trying to do as much as possible. This area of Michigan is largely agricultural, grapes are plentiful, which means so is wine. The northern route of the Makers Trail runs through Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma and Watervliet. Let’s start with Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery. The view of the vineyard and farm from the tasting room is outstanding. Light rain continues to fall across the landscape, it feels good to be inside. I head straight to the counter to do a tasting, Kris looks around a little taking photos out the large windows, you can see the tractor marks in the freshly mowed lawn, vines are dense with leaves and heavy with dark clusters of grapes. With Kris’s help I taste about 6 different wines, I’m impresses with their Cabernet; I like all of them, seriously. I choose a few bottles to take home and we’re off to the next winery.

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Vineyard 2121 is on Red Arrow Highway, it’s pretty popular on this late Friday afternoon. Wooden steps lead us from the gravel parking lot to the red-sided tasting room. There’s live music on the far side, there are 2 open seats at the circular bar. A group of girlfriends have gathered for a bite of food and glasses of wine. I order a glass of white wine and sip on it while checking out the merchandise; they have many varieties of wine along with t-shirts, glasses, all the usual things one finds at a winery. As we drive to the next place we pass rows and rows of grapevines, they are loaded with fruit, part of me just wants to stop and pick a grape and eat it straight from the vine. It’s harvest season, someone told us that on a nice day an enticing grape scent fills the air–like smelling grape juice. Speaking of grape juice, this is where a lot of the grapes are grown for Welch’s Grape juice.

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12 Corners Vineyards is my favorite winery of the day. The cozy interior has a knotty pine ceiling, large wooden beams and a stunning view of the vineyard. It’s a big place; there are a couple of bars for tasting, cafe tables for drinking and rack after rack of Estate and Ice Wine, oh and Big Daddy Hard Cider too. I check out the tasting menu, it’s a long list. People around us are super-friendly and share tips on their favorites. We tried a little of everything; red, white and fruit wines. When we were finished and making our decision on what to purchase they served us each a piece of chocolate from Vineyards Chocolate, wine and chocolate? It doesn’t get better than this! 

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Ypsilanti: Calling All Cars

16 Oct

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Once upon a time in the United States over a thousand automobile manufacturers existed; storied names like Packard, Imperial, Hudson, Desoto and Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit. Slowly they faded away taking factories and manufacturing jobs with them. We’re all familiar with GM, Ford and Chrysler and their recently departed subsidiaries; Pontiac, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth. In the early 1900’s there were many other big names; Studebaker, Duesenberg, Nash, Hudson, Maxwell, Stutz, on and on… Some of these were bought up by the Big Three, others were phased out over time. Today we’re celebrating their memory at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum‘s 22nd Annual Orphan Car Show, a tribute to vehicles from manufacturers that no longer exist. The featured brand is Plymouth, introduced in 1928, production was discontinued in 2001 making it 90 years old today. Plymouth was Chrysler’s entry into the low-priced market, during the Great Depression Plymouth significantly helped Chrysler survive through a decade when many other car companies failed. Let’s check them out, what do you like? The Art Deco ’39 has square headlights, daring for its time, the “Mayflower” hood ornament is way cool. The Sport Fury convertible is a beauty, love the copper interior. Maybe you’re into muscle cars, Superbird, GTX, or Duster anyone?

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When we arrive at Riverside Park, beautiful automobiles are parked as far as the eye can see. Throughout the day vehicles will do a Pass In Review; one brand at a time cars drive the park loop, each pausing in front of grandstands, the master of ceremonies speaks about the car and does a short interview with the owner, it’s really interesting to hear the stories of how long they’ve had the car or where they found it, some significant detail, that kind of stuff; Kaiser-Frazer’s are being reviewed when we arrive. Vehicles are parked in groups by brand, the first one we see is Imperial, it was originally a brand of its own till the late 60’s. Let me tell you, the coral-colored ’57 is stunning; look at the fancy lettering, the “I” of Imperial has to be nearly 6″ tall, little crown emblems are here and there, look at the rocket-ship-style taillights. The white convertible with the red interior is gorgeous; Imperials have always been one of Kris’s favorite brands. The late-model DeSoto’s are pretty sweet too, love the 2-tone paint jobs where the roof is a different color. I stand on the side looking down the row of cars, this is the finned era, massive chrome bumpers flank the front and back, space-age-like taillights, decorative chrome molding is everywhere — in those days, beauty trumped cost. Steering wheels are stylish and dashboards are dazzling, like you’re driving a juke box…

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This cluster of DeSoto’s span a decade, from the pale yellow 1940’s model to the heavily chromed grills of the 50’s, they always remind me of a mouthful of big teeth, the Firedome V8 nameplate is snazzy; how about those wide white walls?  That’s a pretty fancy glass hood ornament on the ’42 model. Zigging and zagging in the afternoon sun we see an electric vehicle, a Mercury Lynx, it’s funny, when you read the nameplates you say, oh yeah, I remember those. The Mercury Cougar convertible looks great in blue, did you know that Canadian Mercury’s were called Monarchs? The Lucerne is pretty luxe, I like the big crown badges. Seems like you could do anything back then.

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Pontiac, they always seemed so stylish. The green ’53 is gorgeous, I love the mid-century chief medallion, the hood ornament lights up too, seriously. A mid-70’s Grand Am, 1964 GTO, a red Fiero and a gold 1979 Trans Am are also representing. Oldsmobile, the pride of Lansing, a late 50’s Super 88, seemingly wearing as much chrome as paint, is glistening in the sun. The 1965 442 is a great example of Oldsmobile’s contribution to the world of musclecars. I’d bet they caused their fair share of trouble on Woodward avenue back in the day.

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The Packard plant on Grand Boulevard is well known in the Detroit area, for years urban explorers have taken clandestine trips through its hallowed halls. Tours are offered to explore the decaying remains and offer hope for the future. Somewhere along the way I wonder if the resplendent automobiles that rolled down the assembly line have been forgotten in the process.  Always known for their elegance and signature grille, Packard’s have always appealed to me. The ’31 is lovely in beige and tan, how about the Art Deco styling cues of the 1940. I could see myself in the two-tone turquoise 1956 Four-Hundred, the instrument cluster looks like it’s out of an airplane…

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In 1954 the amalgamation of Nash and Hudson Motors formed the beginnings of American Motors Corporation. At the time it was the largest merger of corporations in US history. Hard to believe that the ultra luxurious early 30’s Nash in front of me is a distant relative to the Gremlin! The burgundy Hudson Hornet looks more like a custom with its chopped fastback roofline; it must have looked really slick when it appeared in 1950. I love the medallion on the Marlin Fastback, so mid-century. I’ve got to admit, I think the Gremlin and Pacer are really cute cars; I get a kick out of the one with the Levi interior.

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There are so many cars here, so many brands…We pass a group of Corvairs, they were assembled at the Willow Run plant. In the Brass Era we see a 1913 Cole, a 1911 Ann Arbor and an EMF, none of which we’ve ever heard of before.  The 1929 Willy’s Knight is fabulous, it even has a Knight for a hood ornament. There are all kinds of Studebakers; a ’27 Roadster, a President in blue, a Super Hawk and the unusual 1963 Avanti which came with a super-charged engine from the factory. Edsels are distinct, the taillights on the 1960 Ranger unlike any others. Each vehicle is adorned with a million little details, hood ornaments are works of art, trim pieces, door handles, shifters, fabrics, wheels and dashboards are thoughtfully designed. You knew a Plymouth from a Mercury, a Nash from a Hudson. You could get practically any color of the rainbow, inside and out. The good ol’ days.

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Ypsi is home to really good restaurants, today we’re eating at Bona Sera on Michigan Ave, they serve creative Italian fare with a southern twist. Two walls of windows allow lots of natural light to fill the space, primary colors are used on the walls and in the decor, potted plants give a sense of warmth, paper lanterns and a tin ceiling add a bit of whimsy. Everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious, we order the waffle served with Calder’s whipped cream and a pile of fresh fruit. we are not disappointed. The biscuits and gravy are fantastic; buttermilk biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and topped with two over-easy eggs, it looks like I licked my bowl clean. 

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River St is bustling today, coffee shops, a food co-op and shops have livened up the district. Cultivate Coffee and Tap House serves, as you may have guessed, craft coffee and draft brews, we’re here for the coffee. I read the list of selections while I stand in line, I order two cold brews; Kris has found us seating at a community table towards the back. The space is cozy and attractive and very busy today; I’d say the sales of beer to coffee is about equal. Feeling revived after a nice meal and a coffee it’s time to hit the road.  

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Metamora

21 Sep

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This year Metamora Hunt is celebrating its 90th year. We’re here for the 10th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour, a self-guided tour that allows participants an up-close, personal visit to 6 area farms. Metamora Hunt Country is the area from Ray Rd to Sutton Rd and Metamora Rd to Havens Rd; proceeds from the tour go toward maintaining the bridle paths. We start at the Hunt Kennels on Barber Rd where we purchase tickets and pick up our maps; the first stable is just down the road. Red House Farm was established in the 1880’s by the Morse family, the current owner added a horse stable and a smokehouse. As soon as we arrive we see the namesake Red House trimmed in white, porches are adorned with fancy spindles and trim, seasonal wreaths hang on the doors. The in-ground pool behind the house surprises us, it’s so inviting it’s hard not to be tempted to dive in. Perennial gardens are jam-packed with tall grasses, Black-Eyed Susan, butterfly bush and Russian sage; the Cleome are stunning.

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Old Magnolia Farm is just as beautiful as I remember it. 100 acres of riding trails, wooded areas, hay fields and of course the elegant home and stable. The grass is green and lush, the split-rail fence is black, gentle, rolling hills make up the terrain; you’d swear you were in Kentucky horse country. We stop in the tack room with its casual sitting area, cold bottles of water and sugar cookies in the shape of horses set out for guests. Horses appear content in their luxurious surroundings, they don’t seem to mind the extra attention from today’s visitors. We stroll along the covered walkway leading from the stable to the main house, mounds of Hydrangea wrap the corners of the home. Standing in the front yard we pause to take in the sight, there is tons of architectural detail, from the wrought iron on the second level to the more than a dozen arches surrounding the front porch, shrubs are perfectly manicured, flower-studded urns flank the front patio–sigh. Yeah, it’s that beautiful.

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Black Fawn Farm covers 15 acres, the stable and house match in grey with crisp white trim and black shutters. They have a great horse weathervane. Outside I visit with the animals, a donkey shares yard space with horses, he’s doing his best to get his share of attention. There are 5 fenced paddocks, a carriage barn and a horse barn with a pretty southern yellow pine interior.

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Stonehedge is home to many of the country’s top Arabian horses, it’s also a prominent breeding facility. The long, rustic-looking stable sits on wooded property, inside, horse stalls wear the name of each tenant; as I pet each one I call them by name. We wander around the barn complex into the arena, we end up in the indoor round pen designed by the owner, definitely unique.

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Stonefield Farm is 80 acres of land, the home, designed by architect John Vinci, is built in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Horizontal in nature the structure looks as if it’s built into the landscape, there are lots of windows to overlook the property, landscaping is naturalized. It’s s bit of a hike back to the barn built earlier this year. I’m going to make it up and say the barn is built of Pine, whatever kind of wood it is, it’s lovely. We enter through a sliding door and find ourselves in a cozy family room type space. That same beautiful wood makes up the interior, couches look comfy and inviting, there’s even a mini kitchen. The stable area has that same cozy touch; the wood and wrought iron stalls give the barn a very open feel, I could definitely hang out here.

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Stump Lane Farm has been owned by the same family since 1956, the name comes from the grass lane lined with tree stumps set on end, you can find more tree trunk sections embedded into the cement in the old section of the barn. The house is a beauty in white with black shutters, flowers spill from window boxes. We walk over to see the horses, the white fellow catches a glimpse of us and trots over for a visit. Before we leave we cross the road and watch the herd of cows in the pasture. The little ones seem as curious about us as we are about them.

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Let’s eat! White Horse Inn re-opened in November of 2014 after a complete restoration, with its equestrian theme and homage to the days of fox-hunting and stagecoaches it’s the only proper place to eat today. As much as I love the interior, the weather is patio-perfect. Striped umbrellas hover over wrought iron tables and chairs, the exterior of the beautiful stone fireplace and weathered cedar adds a lovely touch. We start with the Orchard Salad; mixed greens, blue cheese, diced apple, candied walnuts and dried cherries splashed with maple vinaigrette. I love the different textures and the balance of sweet and tart. There’s a grilled cheese sandwich on special today; thick bread grilled with a blend of cheeses, sautéed onions and jalapeno peppers, the bread has a nice crunch and the filling oozes out with every bite, yum! The waffle fries are excellent.

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After much anticipation Metamora General has opened right across the street. Brought to you by the same folks who own White Horse, the store is a blend of neighborhood coffee shop, convenience store, boutique and wine shop–you really have to see it to get it. It is no surprise the shop is beautiful; from the relaxing patio area with casual seating and fall decor to the interior with its opulent chandeliers, cafe tables, grey subway tile and the handmade wood floor. The shop is still in its infancy, you can get an espresso and drink it in the quaint surroundings, pick up a bottle of wine and a gift your party host, find a scarf or new handbag or grab one of Max’s donuts and a fountain drink for the road. Eventually there will be more food items and wine by the glass so stay tuned.

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One more stop… Red Barn ~ Metamora is this great home accessory, found objects, antiques, furniture, gift shop located inside of, you guessed it, a big red barn. Outside Kris checks out the old tractor, I head inside, it’s extremely charming–that may have something to do with those strings of white lights I’m always telling you about. Items range from wicker chairs, antique bed frames, art deco, old signs, bird cages, milk glass, vintage mirrors, milk glass, candles, well, you get the idea. The owner has a great eye, she chooses quality merchandise and arranges it in a very appealing way. Every time we come there’s always something new. The stable tour only happens once a year but you can take a nice scenic ride to horse country any time.

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Detroit: This is Weird….

3 Sep

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To some Weird is distasteful, uncomfortable, unpleasant. In others it piques their interest, curiosity, a sense of adventure. Kris and I definitely fall into the second group, which is why when we learned Detroit was hosting its first Weird Homes Tour we purchased tickets immediately. WHT are given in Austin, Portland, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans; 10% of gross ticket sales go to a local non-profit. Addresses are not given out until a day or two before the event. The tours are self-paced, self-driving visits to homes of artists, architects, collectors; you never know what you’ll see.  

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We decide to attack the map from east to west; I feel like I’m on a scavenger hunt, I’m really excited about what we’re going to see today, one never knows what hidden gems are right under our nose… I love when things exceed my expectations, the first house definitely does. From the art gallery just inside the front door to the art on the walls, bold colors, vintage furnishings, to the hand painted murals to the pool on the roof, all I can say is Wow! Down a narrow hall, we enter a vast space filled with great pieces of furniture arranged around a very modern and unique fireplace. The building is constructed of grey cinder blocks, huge windows make the space bright, a circular theme is carried out in the round kitchen, circular stairway and black and white spiral on the kitchen floor. The owner created much of the art work herself, including the fireplace; furniture and accessories have been collected for more than 20 years. We exit through a doorwall onto the patio, a small table and chairs rest against a mural, up a flight of metal stairs we reach the roof. On the deck another mural serves as a backdrop to a small circular pool surrounded by lounge chairs and seating areas, greenery fills planters, massive trees in the distance make us feel far away from the city. What a way to start the tour!

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The next stop couldn’t be more different. The owners of this quirky Victorian home have lived here for about 30 years. Through the Detroit Land Bank Authority the owners were able to purchase the rubble-filled side lot for $100. They’ve turned that space into a gorgeous cut flower farm called Detroit Abloom . Their office is located here along with a flower arranging shed, a hoop house and a root cellar. A few blocks away they have a larger flower farm, a few blocks from that is their vegetable garden; yep, farms, in a neighborhood, in the city. We walk under the purple pergola and step into the hoop house to find baskets of heirloom tomatoes and bars of lavender soap for sale. The place is amazing, so green and lush, so many plants, so many beautiful things. We walk next door to the multi-hued home, the purples and blues give it a whimsical feel. Inside we find all of the lovely characters of an old home, wet plaster walls, archways between rooms, built-ins, hardwood floors.

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There’s a funky little house near Eastern Market that seemed to just pop up one day out in the middle of nowhere, it’s the next house on our tour. If you’ve been to eastern Market you’ll recognize the house immediately, its covered in colorful hand-painted murals, lots of bright blue, red and a guy’s head with a house coming out of the top–yes, that one. The 900 sq. ft. home was built by Cranbrook Architectural Masters students; the home is their thesis statement. We spend a lot of time walking around the outside admiring the paint job, I really like the green and blue, lacey, spiro-graph-thingy’s all along the bottom. I learned that it is built of a mix of modern and salvaged materials and the upstairs wall is finished with tongue and flooring from a 1913 house. Want to see it for yourself? You can book a stay here through airbnb.

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You’ve probably heard about homes and businesses being built out of steel cargo shipping containers. Did you know that these containers naturally meet all building and safety codes? Using containers saves about 25% over lumber construction, buildings go up in about half the time and can cut energy costs by 70%. How do I know this? I learned it at the next house on the tour. We’re at the Model Center of Three Squared, this 2,800 sq. ft. home itself was constructed of 6 containers; 3 layers of 2 side-by side containers, 3 more were stacked to create a balcony on each level. The exterior has that sort of modern look about it, it’s attractive in olive-green and russet. The open-concept interior is well laid out, family room, kitchen, island, dining room, all well decorated; my favorite thing is the black and white photo-wallpaper of the old Corktown Neighborhood sign. It’s really nice, the corrugated walls add interest. Giant blueprints of the home line the stairway wall, this is actually 2 units, a 2-story, 2 bedroom unit (the first and second floor) and a 1-bedroom unit on the third floor. 

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How about some lunch? We go from the shipping container house to Detroit Shipping Company, a restaurant collective, beer garden like space made from 21 refurbished shipping containers on Peterboro. Right now there are three food-truck-style eateries, two full service bars, indoor and courtyard seating and a gallery. At Brujo Tacos and Tapas we order 3 of today’s tacos. I grab a table and wait for the food while Kris gets us a beer. The corn on the cob from Coop Caribbean Fusion is outstanding! Cooked perfectly it’s loaded down with tamarind aioli, toasted coconut, queso fresco and cilantro; seriously the best corn we’ve ever had. The tacos are delicious; bbq chicken, the pickles on top are a nice touch, lamb chorizo, just the right amount of spice and curry vegetable, a nice twist on a taco. When we’re done eating we take a look around, it’s a really great place, upstairs in the West Gallery the featured artist for August is Jacinto, “A Detroit State of Mind” we really like his work. We walk through lounges and exit to the balcony overlooking the courtyard, what is it about those strings of white lights that we all like so much? Armadillo Printwear does on-demand screen printing, stop in pick out a shirt, a design and bam they print it up for you while you wait. They are also responsible for all of the Detroit Shipping Co merch. A coffee and ice cream shop along with two more restaurants are in the works, come check it out.

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Back on the road we arrive at our 5th house on the tour. Wrist-banded tourists from across the country mill about the 3-story craftsman style home in a vibrant, historic neighborhood. The owners, both artists, have a fascinating collection of art and novelties like the antique pigeon racing clock from Belgium. There are mini-collections everywhere; yarn sculptures, pigs, pop bottles, lots of odd do-dads. The hand-made, stop motion, photography pieces were created by the owners.  Upstairs everyone is marveling at the beer-cap-mosaic floor in the bathroom, must have been fun getting supplies for that one…

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The Bankle Building on Woodward in Midtown Detroit is not your ordinary building. This is the half-time home of automotive designer and artist Camilo Pardo. Inside, large automotive oil paintings are a blast of color against stark white walls, a messy work table and blank canvases are a sign of works-in-progress. Tulip chairs, Egg chairs, chrome sculptures show the artist is clearly a fan of mid-century and pop art. The art in the adjoining space is more female-centric. We even get to see where he stores his ’67 Mustang.

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The next house is a little further away but worth every mile to get here.  The exterior of the home provides no clue to what we’ll see inside, kind of mysterious.  Immediately we understand the owner is a collector with an amazing talent for displaying her treasures. Every wall is a collage, each room has a theme. The yellow room is an homage to music; boom boxes are grouped together, she even has a boom box pillow, cassette tapes, vinyl albums and then the unexpected–necklaces, fun right? Every room holds another surprise; video games, religious items, Jazz, framed magazine covers, a sassy red couch. The basement is her showroom for her business Dollface Couture, along with her statement clothing we find a far-out couch, a burger telephone and a sweet doll collection. Fun and stylish indeed.

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We’ve reached the last home on the tour, as soon as we see the exterior and the vintage green Oldsmobile in the driveway we know we’re going to love it. Mid-Century and Magnificent is the description in the booklet, they nailed it. The house was built in 1963, miraculously it has made it to 2018 without any remodeling. The couple that lives here now totally get the house, they’ve embraced and furnished it just as it would have been 55 years ago; it’s awesome. Look at the fireplace, the bar, the original Nutone built in radio, the booth-seating in the kitchen, and the light fixtures…Did I mention the geometric wall of mirrors? How cool is that. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the owners have been collecting mid-century decor for a couple of decades. It has been a wild, wonderful and delightfully weird day, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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FLINT: Touring..

3 Aug

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Today we are about 66 miles northwest of Detroit in the city of Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event. You have undoubtedly heard of the water crisis that started in 2014 and is still ongoing. Progress is being made; the city is back on the Detroit water system, lead pipes are being replaced, water is being monitored closely; it’s a process. A century and a half ago Flint was a center for the lumber industry, revenue from lumber financed the local carriage-making industry. As horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles, Buick, AC Spark Plug and Chevrolet all took up residence here. By 1908 Buick became the largest manufacturer of automobiles thanks to William C Durant, founder of GM. The city thrived, beautiful buildings sprouted downtown, lovely neighborhoods were built. Then as it often happened to industrial cities, factories closed, moved away, jobs left; Flint was devastated. Today manufacturing still leads employment with medical and education not too far behind. These days the city is reaching out to the youth who attend U of M Flint, Mott, Kettering and Baker, making it more appealing for them to stay put with a revitalized downtown that includes new retail, coffee shops, cafes, trendy restaurants and breweries. We’re excited for the opportunity to show you the positive side of Flint.

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We purchase a wristband for $1 each, this gets us into historic buildings, bus tours and cultural institutions; a program lists attractions, participating restaurants and bus routes. The 7-story  Ferris Wheel Building is our first stop, built in the late 1920’s the Art Deco structure was the home to Pringle Furniture, Gainey Furniture and most recently Ferris Bros Furs; hence the name. At approximately 40,000 sq. ft. the building has been vacant for nearly 40 years. Now a shared workspace, the building is home to entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, a community meeting space and event venue. Foster Coffee Company is located on street level in what is basically the lobby of the building, a large seating area fills the main floor of the adjoining building, tables and counter seating along the front window are in the Ferris space. We order a couple of cold brew coffees, choose a vanilla bean scone and take up residence in the front window; the scone is outstanding and pairs perfectly with the rich, smooth coffee. Kris gets up and takes photos while I peruse the program, there’s a ton of things to see and do!

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A guided tour through the building is about to begin, we join the group. Everything is painted white as far as I can see, work tables and lounge areas are scattered throughout the main floor, black and white photos show the building when it was the fur company, Flint-centric items connect the past to the present. The office of 100K Ideas is to the right, they offer budding entrepreneurs guidance and assistance to take their business from ‘napkin sketch to prototype’, a few examples of success stories are on display. The tour moves upstairs, adjustable glass panels and doors allow tenant space to be reconfigured as needed, rent is paid on a month to month basis, if you don’t need an office you can just have access to the work areas for a smaller fee; currently there are over 40 members of Ferris Wheel. Up a couple of stories floor to ceiling windows provide a panoramic view of downtown, cozy seating areas are set up near front and back windows creating a waiting area for potential customers; a community kitchen is on each floor.  There’s a bit of a buzz on this floor as models race to and fro preparing for a fashion show. We take the stairs back to the mezzanine level overlooking the main floor, a new group of tourists has assembled in the lobby. It’s good to see so many people out exploring today.

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A short walk down Saginaw St. is Cafe Rhema, they are participating in today’s event with a discount for ‘tourists’, it’s lunch time so let’s check it out. This is the former Economy Shoes building, it was the first building to be renovated in the downtown area; there’s a small marquee on the front of the building with the name of the cafe spelled out in free-standing letters above, velvet ropes and a red carpet lead us to the door. Inside it looks like a place right out of the Roaring 20’s; charming seating areas have antique furnishings, vintage lighting, black and white photos complete the decor, it’s so pretty. The cafe serves craft coffee and espresso drinks, bubble tea, baked goods, sandwiches, salads and waffles. We order at the counter, employees are dressed in period clothing–think Great Gatsby, very cool. We sit at a community table with other couples also doing the tour today, we talk about what we’ve seen so far until the food arrives. The Puttin’ On The Ritz waffle is baked with apples and cinnamon, topped with whipped cream and maple syrup, it’s really good. The Prohibition Pig is a panini with honey-roasted ham, bacon, house infused bourbon bbq sauce, cheddar, sweet and spicy mustard on bread from Crust Bakery in Fenton, delicious! On our way out we stop at the counter again just to check out the desserts, they look amazing but we can’t eat another bite. Kris notices the taps, one says Espresso Root Beer, the other Brown Sugar Bourbon, turns out they make their own soda pop too. We try a sample of each, they’re excellent. The cafe is one of those really unique places you feel lucky to have found; from the staff to the menu to the decor, everything about it is well done.

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We walk through downtown, cross the Flint River on a pedestrian bridge to Carriage Town; this is where the automotive industry got its start in Flint. It’s funny how things come together. There were men with ideas, movers and shakers; Durant, Dort, Louis Chevrolet, David Buick, Alfred Sloan. The Durant-Dort Carriage Company, founded by Josiah Dallas Dort and William Crapo Durant, became the world’s largest volume producers of horse drawn carriages, which eventually evolved into automobiles and from all of this General Motors was born in 1908. Ok, that’s extremely simplified but you get the picture. We have arrived at General Motors Durant-Dort Factory One, it’s open to visitors today, let’s see what it’s all about. Originally established in 1886 as the Flint Road Cart Company, this historic Flint GM plant is referred to as the American automakers birthplace. The red-brick building has been completely restored; it’s now home to the Kettering Archive Collection which contains about 100,000 historical documents, photos and artifacts related to Flint’s GM history and the Factory One Conference Center. Statues of Dort and Durant stand close by, keeping an eye on things.

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A National Park Service sign in the lobby dedicates the building as a Motorcities Automobile National Heritage Area, a volunteer shows us which way to go. We’re in a large museum-like room, there’s a lot to look at. Glass cabinets display Flint football memorabilia; programs, trophies, a football and a varsity letter. Framed black and white historic photographs of factory buildings, people and advertisements hang on exposed brick walls. A small collection of items belonging to David Buick are grouped together, antique automotive parts and modern pieces sit side by side, vintage advertisements rest on easels. In the reference area leather-bound manuals fill bookshelves, they even have the mini-carriage used for the Fisher Body logo–next time you’re in the Fisher Building in Detroit look for the logo. 

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In the conference center you really get a feeling for the age of the building, look at those original wooden beams; much of the original structure still exists. Beautiful antique automobiles take center stage, I like the white wheels and tires on the midnight blue Buick, I’m happy they saved the original stone lettering from the Buick factory. You had to have lots of windows to let sunlight in back in those days, the whole room is awash in natural light. A short film is about to start, we take seats at round tables to watch. The film takes us through Flints early days as a mecca of the wagon industry, how David Buick’s plumbing expertise helped him to design his internal combustion engine, how Durant bought up several automakers and brought them together under GM, did you know he lost GM not once but twice? Every time I watch a historical film like this my mind wanders to the local road names, I say to myself, oh, that’s where Dort Hwy came from or I didn’t know there was really a guy named Chevrolet. History is fascinating and we’re having fun at the same time.

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The Thumb: Be Cool…

21 Jul

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It’s in the mid 90’s… again; we scan the weather forecast, looks like the Lake Huron breeze is going to help us out, low 80’s on the thumb coast. We point the car north and aim for the tip of the thumb, in less than 2 hours we’re looking at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Huron. Kris zig zags his way north and west to Caseville Rd, we make a right on 25, this is where the view gets really good. The lake is gorgeous, a kaleidoscope of blues and greens, cars fill cottage driveways, beach-goers have their arms full carrying towels, coolers and floating devices, I swear I can smell Coppertone in the breeze. We follow the shoreline north and slightly east, public parks and beaches are in high demand today. We catch glimpses of the lake between cottages; many look like they were built in the 1950’s, others are new and stately like something from HGTV. We reach Port Austin, park and walk out to the lake. The town is buzzing with tourists, lines form at restaurants and cafes, we have something else in mind.

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A short drive from downtown Port Austin on Grindstone Rd leads us to The Tap Room At Bird Creek Farms. The 40-acre farm grows alfalfa for local dairy farmers, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, edible flowers; their largest crop is garlic. The large white farmhouse has an inviting wrap-around porch, pretty planter boxes and colorful hanging pots; all of the activity is out back. The covered deck plays host to a corrugated metal bar, mismatched bar stools and tables; a brief menu lists today’s food offerings, a chalkboard lists beverages. Kris is drinking B Nektar’s Zombie Killer, I’m having Blake’s Flannel Mouth; crisp and cool it’s perfect for a day like today. Before long cardboard serving cartons arrive filled with Sausage Gravy Poutine Fries, traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos and Baja Tacos. Everything is very tasty, they even manage to keep the fries crispy under all that yummy gravy. 

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Continuing our lakeside journey we drive on to Grindstone City. In the mid 1800’s two companies operated out of two quarries producing grindstones; by 1888 the population rose to 1500 people. Unable to survive the Great Depression the companies folded. There are two buildings left in the Historic District, one of them is the 3-story grain mill, the other is Rybak’s Ice Cream Store built in 1884 by Capt. A.G. Peer. Visitors sit on benches placed on the deep front porch when we arrive, each has their hands full eating humongous ice cream cones. The building is charming in that very old-fashioned way; floors creek, black and white photos line the walls, antique lights illuminate the space, posts are quite decorative. There are a variety of items for sale, candies, cards, gifts and notions; I’m here for the ice cream. I study the list of Guernsey flavors and choose the mint chocolate chip, it has some kind of dark chocolate cookie chunks in it too, it’s sooo good! I have to eat it quickly before it all melts.

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White Church Gallery is just across the street, I meet Kris inside. The building is a simple white church with red-trimmed Gothic-style windows. Inside purple paint covers the walls, a mix of old and new light fixtures hang from the ceiling; the way the light is coming in right now everything seems to glow. In the front room a gorgeous Art Nouveau cabinet is used to display the works of Michigan fine artists. We wander around on wide-plank floors looking at photography, lovely jewelry, life-like paintings, stained glass and  attractive wooden bowls.

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We are headed south and east on 25 passing through Historic Huron City. This was a lumber town back in the mid 1800’s, several of the original buildings still remain, they are maintained through the Lyon Phelps Foundation. The buildings are open to tour on Saturdays in July and August from 11 am – 4 pm. The Pointe Aux Barque Lighthouse is next. The original lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shores of Lake Huron in 1848,the light keepers house was separate from the tower. This area was complete wilderness back then, winters were rough, storms were wicked. The weather and a fire took their toll on the building, a new structure was built in 1857, this time living quarters were attached to the tower. The light is still in use making it one of the oldest, continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.

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The house and tower have been completely restored, it’s now a museum open to the public and it’s free. Let’s go in. We walk around in the house where the light keeper lived, rooms are tiny, I like the turquoise stove in the kitchen. Artifacts are on display; models of ships, books, newspaper articles, blueprints of the building and a lens. The sleeping quarters are upstairs, there’s an old wood-burning stove to keep the family warm and a pitcher and bowl for washing up. You had to maximize space so rooms were multi-purpose, beds share the space with a sitting area and desk. Back on ground level we learn more about the history of the lighthouse and the people who lived here. 

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Outside we walk around the grounds, in 1875 a Class A lifesaving station was built south of the house, it was the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes. In 62 years of service the crews performed over 200 rescues. Walking toward Lake Huron I stop and read the signs telling us about shipwrecks and storms, the Great Storm of 1913 also referred to as the “White Hurricane” is legendary, it was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds. It killed 250 people, destroyed 19 ships and stranded 19 others. Today the lake is calm and beautiful, bluish-green water laps at the rocky shore, trees cling to the coast line, wildflowers grip the sandy soil, the water is clear to the bottom. Kris traverses the rocks, you can see how they’ve broken away from the shoreline. Notice their unusual coloring, almost like they’re rusty, moss covers the ones closest to shore, it’s slippery so he has to be careful. Meanwhile I stand on shore looking out into infinity.

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25 leads us through Port Hope and Harbor Beach, the beaches, lake and piers are shrouded in swimsuit clad visitors. We stop in Lexington to get something cold to drink, to our delight the Cadillac House Inn and Tavern is open. The building has been completely renovated back to its 1859 glory. When it opened July 4, 1860, it was such a big deal they celebrated with a parade and a steamer ship brought guests all the way from Detroit for the occasion. The 3-story Italianate structure has never looked better! We enter the building and are greeted with a blast of cold air, the dining room is busy, guests are in a waiting area to be seated. There are empty bar stools at the bar, perfect. Kris orders a craft cocktail with Gin, blueberries and lemon, I’m having a Kalamazoo Stout. I like the simple interior; antique-looking lights, wide moldings and wood beams. It feels good to sit back, cool off and enjoy a drink. It’s nice to see people embracing the old Cadillac House once again. It’s been a full day of Lake Huron adventures, we’ve enjoyed good food, good booze lake breezes and unbeatable views.

Up North: Bay View Wine Trail

28 Jun

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Today’s excursion takes us to northwest Michigan’s Bay View Wine Trail. We picked up a brochure in town with a list of all of the wineries and an area map, let’s go. Heading east out of Charlevoix we quickly find ourselves looking at beautiful countryside, roads are smooth and absent of traffic. Rudbeckia Farm and Winery is tucked away on 190 acres of farmland and open fields, a small metal building welcomes visitors. You can sit outside, have a glass of wine and something to eat, play Bocce or corn hole, go for a walk, you can even fly a kite. We’re here to do a tasting. Inside we have the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, he tells us the story of how he went from living on the east coast to having his own winery here in northern Michigan; let’s just say it’s a dream come true for he and his wife. We taste wines and continue our chatter, they serve both wine and beer in Riedel Crystal tasting glassware. We enjoy everything we try, decisions made, we make our purchase and it’s on to the next place.  

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Walloon Lake Winery is family owned with 7 acres of grapes on the 36 acre farm; they produce boutique wines made from cold-hardy grapes. I really like this place and always look forward to coming back. The building is unique, made from stacked cordwood, it’s pretty inside and out. Sunlight floods the tasting room, it has an open, airy feel, lots of wood, Michigan-themed artwork, wooden crates hold bottles of wine and Walloon Lake Winery merchandise; their logo, of course, is the shape of Walloon Lake. The resident dog greets us at the door, he checks us out then finds a place on the floor to take a nap. We begin the tasting process, I find I like everything they produce here; before long I realize we’re going to need a box… We go out to the patio to take in the view, it’s absolutely gorgeous; vineyards, rolling hills, valley’s, wooded areas, check out their tractor–sweet! 

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The drive to the next winery rewards us with stunning vistas, changing elevations, farms and plenty of fresh country air; Kris could drive forever up here. Up ahead we see a historic red barn with the American flag painted on the side, this is Resort Pike Cidery And Winery. The petite red building in front of the barn is the tasting room, white lights and flags dangle from the pergola that covers the patio. Their logo is part apple, part grape, love it. The interior is compact, rustic and casual feeling. The back bar is home to 20 taps delivering sparkling wines and ciders, they make root beer too! We have the place to ourselves so we can take our time tasting and talking, that’s one of the perks of coming up north before the tourist season is in full swing. One more bottle to add to our box…

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We traverse inclines and slopes, twists and turns through tranquil surroundings, Mackinaw Trail Winery is next. The building is larger and fancier than the previous wineries, situated on 30 acres, 15 of them are dedicated to growing grapes. Family owned, the winery is best known for its fruit wines. Having been awarded over 50 medals and 6 Best of Class awards it is one of Michigan’s most awarded and recognized wineries. The tasting room is spacious, there are tables and chairs, multiple shelves filled with bottles of wine and a large bar for tastings. At this point we’ve had a lot of wine and we’re starting to get hungry so we get an order of pretzel bites, served with mustard and a cheese sauce for dipping I find myself wishing we got 2 orders. I’m not really fond of fruit wines but I have to admit Michigan wine-makers produce some really excellent varieties. We go down the list choosing and tasting, I like to try and get something different at each winery we visit; we’re bringing home a bottle of their Estate Grown Frontenac Gris.

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Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery will be our last stop before lunch. We turn in off of Atkins Rd to find a farmhouse-looking-building in saddle brown with red trim with a breathtaking view of  22 acres of farmland, an 11-acre vineyard and lush green pastures. The 60′ long outdoor patio is empty today, I imagine it’s in high demand on the weekends. The quaint interior is done up in wood, stone and warm colors. One of the owners is behind the bar, we strike up a conversation immediately; turns out they relocated from Rochester MI to Petoskey to take on this amazing adventure. You can’t go wrong with a Michigan Riesling, the 2016 Whitecap is really nice too, but the 2017 First Crush, an Estate Sweet Rose is the one we’ll take home. 

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Walloon Lake Village is just a hop and a skip from here, when we asked for local restaurant recommendations Barrel Back was suggested every time. This is our first visit to Walloon Lake, I’m looking forward to checking it out after we eat. Barrel Back Restaurant sits on the shore of Walloon Lake, the building is shared with a marina; the restaurant is on the upper level, the lower level is Tommy’s, a water-skiing and wake-boarding Pro Shop. The term ‘barrel back’ refers to the boat design of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s wooden boats, think Chris Craft. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, we opt for the patio, looking around I think you have a view of the lake from anywhere you sit. Food is prepared using a number of wood-fired appliances including a pizza oven, grill and a rotisserie smoker. We order off the happy-hour menu and are eating in no time. The black bean nachos are topped with tomato, sweet onion, pepper jack and provolone cheese, salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, yum! The Asian lettuce wraps are equally delicious, Asian-spiced ground chicken, peppers, cashews, black sesame seeds and romaine lettuce to scoop it into. I’m so glad we found about this restaurant.

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A little Walloon Lake history. The lake itself is glacier formed, they say the water is so clear you can see the bottom 30′ down. The late 1800’s were the heyday of Northern Michigan’s lumber industry, over a 20-year period all of the White Pines were cut down, the industry then moved south to hardwood forests. That left railroads with trains and nothing to transport, hey, how about people? The railroad companies turned northern Michigan into “Vacationland”, they built hotels and resorts creating a destination for city folk to escape the summer heat. They ran publicity campaigns drawing people from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. They touted crystal clear water, beautiful views, great fishing and boating. In 1891 Walloon Lake Village was accessible by a spur from the main trunk line of the railroad. People came, and they continued to come, year after year, many built their own cottages, visitors became residents. Ernest Hemmingway’s family had a cottage here, he spent his first 22 summers at Windemere on Walloon Lake. He often used the area as a setting in his short stories featuring Nick Adams. The cottage is still owned by the Hemmingway family.

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The village was hit hard by the most recent recession and a number of other ongoing factors. Developer Jonathan L Borisch stepped in and rescued the village where he spent his childhood summers. He and his son have opened retail shops, Barrel Back Restaurant, many businesses and the 32-room Hotel Walloon; let’s go inside. From the street you’d swear this was a historic hotel, the architect did a marvelous job capturing that back-in-time elegance that’s so sorely lacking today. The lobby is a wonderful blend of old-fashioned opulence and modern flair. To the right is a lovely seating area with turquoise-painted wood panels and ceiling, bold fabrics and a red-clad chandelier, I feel like I’m on Mackinac Island. The hotel manager spots us and comes over, we explain that we’re ‘just looking’, we are offered a tour. The hotel is stunning, everything is gorgeous, impeccable, every last detail has been thought of. The hallway to the elevator features wainscoting and tin ceiling. Rooms are spacious, comfortable and inviting, there’s an underlying historical feel in the space. Lots of painted wood, wainscoting and serene water views. Instead of taking the elevator to get back to the main floor we opt for the stairway through the hall of mirrors. We’d love to come back and stay at the hotel.

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Across the street are a few small businesses, the antique and sweet shop are both original cottages from back in the day. We take a look through  Vintage Mercantile, they have an eclectic mix of items from vintage toys to glassware, metal signs to furniture; I like the old wagon out front. Sweet Tooth lives up to its name; candy, ice cream, fudge. There’s an old-fashioned ambiance here; glass jars filled with colorful candies, pretty wooden shelves, antiques here and there; a black and white photo shows the cottage back in the 1940’s. You can even purchase a shovel and pail for playing in the sand. Of course it wouldn’t be vacation without ice cream… We take one more look at Walloon Lake, the sky has become overcast, the sun hidden behind the clouds, the water placid. Northern Michigan is filled with treasures from charming small towns and magnificent lakes to picturesque landscapes and did I mention wine?