|Food I Have Known: Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|November 5, 2002|
Fire and Ice, bite this! Throughout my senior year, me and my six roommates used to starve ourselves on hung-over Sunday afternoons to prep our bellies for the gorging. All you can eat. Mountains of raw meat -- never enough to turn me vegetarian -- and sliced vegetables with about eight different kinds of sauces, half a dozen flavored oils, and many mini ramekins of dried spices. Even though there were so many combinations I could've tried, I always had to go with lamb, onions, scallions, garlic oil, barbeque sauce, spicy tomato sauce, black pepper, white pepper, garlic pepper, thyme and rosemary. Oh, god, was that good. Plus, you could flirt with all the cute, alterna-type boys as they grilled up your food in front of you with their long wooden sticks -- sometimes doing the kinds of tricks you see at a hibachi grill. They all wore shirts that said sassy-sexy things like "I Do it On a Grill," "Natural Born Griller," and "It Takes Bowls to Grill."
I had crab cakes there once and decided never to have crab cakes again, but stick with their stacked, thick gourmet burgers and you can't go wrong. Except maybe in your wallet.
Not Another Café
The real-life answer to Friends Central Perk. Seriously. It had ornate, overstuffed couches, loveseats, armchairs, and pouf cushions in vivid colors and luxey fabric. They also had tons of board games and, in one part of the café, they used to show movies on a big screen several nights a week. The coffee was only so-so, but I really went there for their large compliment of Dunkin' Donuts -- the equal of which you could only find if you had access to a car to get you off-campus.
I don't remember the food. I just remember the Cineplex Odeon-size television screens playing every Big Ten game on that day. The prices were high, the bar tenders were asses, and the dance floor was a pathetic pocket handkerchief of parquet. Still, I went there a few dozen times so I have to mention it. Plus, if you were a jersey-chaser, this was the place to hang out. I got tripped over by Juwan Howard here. Would that it had been Jalen [gasp!] -- be still my heart.
Jumbo pitchers of Miller Ice for $3.00 and chips and salsa for $2.00. That was my Thursday evening meal for two years. If you were hungrier (or drunker), they had these thick, greasy, really bready, breadsticks with ranch dressing to dip them in.
This is the bar you went to if you had a fussy and cultured taste in beers -- I went after a trip to England conditioned my buds to love Boddington over Budweiser -- and deep pockets. They had over 150 kinds -- on tap and in bottle combined. The one time I went there was the day before my graduation, and all I recall is my then-boyfriend buying my older sister shot after shot of tequila slammers. But I know they have good beer. Wexford's Irish Cream Ale (Mathra's choice of choices), McEwan's Scotch Ale (warms you up when the cold sinks deep in your bones like, oh, I don't know, maybe after you've hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinborough. The hard way. When it's 33 degrees. In the rain. And then discovered a nice, paved, gentle path that all the normal people use and those people are giving you and your friends sidelong glances, wondering why you've got mud up to your elbows, rips in your jeans, and are breathing hard and sweating--yes that's what McEwan's is good for.) Caffrey's (Forever unfolding as my personal poison), Beamish, Tetley's, Green King -- Ashley's got most of the good ones. I think they have food as well, but I've never eaten there.
The name says it all. Beer. Sports. Beer. Drunk frat boys. Beer. Not a place to be recognized because of the food -- which I guess they had and I ate -- but Wednesday's were jumbo dollar-pitcher nights and that's what I remember. That and the interactive trivia. I also recall that we had our Senior Bells' night there and I have quite a lot of blackmail-worthy pictures of my fellow Alpha Delta Pi's. There's one in particular that comes to mind: I made Berg get up on a table and proclaim "Prince is the sexiest man alive!" before downing a mug of green beer. Well, it was March and they had a ton leftover from St. Patrick's Day. Green tongues, green pee, green vomit. Touchdown, you color my memories.
I remember them for their amazingly rich and wondrous chocolate peanut butter pie and delicate cream cheese puffs with flakes of crabmeat. This is the kind of place you took your parents to if you knew where to go. It was off the beaten track in the Kerrytown area -- not too far from Zingerman's -- and you ran into far fewer students being squired around by their thick-walleted parents after a football game. They served a beautifully presented dish with dabs of reduced sauces and thickened balsamic vinegar.
I don't think I can do justice to this Eighth Wonder of the modern world. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, well, I can only feel pity for you. Sandwiches so thick, you couldn't get your mouth around them, nor could you eat both halves in one sitting. Glass jugs of homemade pickles so wonderfully sour, you couldn't unsquinch your mouth for a week. Brownies so dense and heavenly, you didn't ever see a point in living if you couldn't have them every day. I now get them flown into Boston on a specially-commissioned Lear jet. If you were to ask for avocado on your sandwich, which I did often, there was none of this business with one slice that was brown and mushy. Damned if you didn't get the whole avocado fanned out in perfectly ripe, buttery layers. Nothing that came out of this deli sandwiched somewhere in the Midwest was ever mediocre. The fact that a visiting friend of mine ordered a B.L.T. when he had piles upon piles of delectable meats, aiolis, and breads is mediocre, but that's his loss. For what it's worth, this deli got so much acclaim from the miles of hungry UM grads, that even New York foodies pay homage and respect its very existence.
Good Time Charley's
You got a free frozen alcoholic drink on your 21st birthday and their menu had these incredible bread sticks called Count Twists. They were thick as my forearm, cheddar cheese baked into the dough, and all these flavored creamy sauces to dip them into.
Amer's Mediterranean Deli
This was one of a long list of places to go if you got the late night munchies brought on by studying, drinking, or just the general staying-up-late-and-being-engrossed-about-talking-about-nothing while-playing-PONG-and-Burger-Time-on-The-Blonds'-Intellivision. Most of their food and coffee was too expensive to just nosh on, but they did have this scallion cream cheese that had the complexion of an Orion Slave Girl. Remember the Horse of a Different Color in the Emerald City? Okay, well, remember when turned green? That was the color of this cream cheese. I don't know how they did it but it was so yummy. I used to get it on a toasted bagel with two large deli pickles on the side -- wrapped in that great butcher's paper -- for only $3.00.
Huge, dripping, massively greasy pieces of pizza wrapped in foil for the incredible bargain basement price of $2.00. And they were open until 3 AM. AND they were right on the walk home from the bars.
The Fleetwood Diner
Strangely enough, in my internship at Milkweed, I was researching the permissions for a poetry anthology called Night Out: Poems about Motels, Hotels, Restaurant and Barsand I came across a poem called "Fleetwood Café." I couldn't believe it was the same place until I realized that the author, Charles Baxter, is the same Charlie Baxter who taught me creative writing at UM, the author of The Feast of Love. In my four years at Michigan, I only went to the Fleetwood once, but it was memorable. Before graduation one of my roommates to be a Northwest flight attendant and she put up a poster-sized list of: "Things I want to do with my roommates before I leave" and one of them was to go to The Fleetwood. We went and had greasy breakfast food at a tiny counter at 5 AM. I wish I still had that metabolism because that was some good eats.
The Pizza House
Their tag line is "A Taste of Chicago, right here in Ann Arbor!" but they will always be vintage Ann Arbor flavor to me. They have these things called Chipatis, and if you don't know enough about Middle Eastern cuisine to know what they are, you'll have to go to their site and check out the blueprints to appreciate this creation. It's basically a very large, wheat pita -- baked so it puffs up -- sliced open and filled with a massive salad. They even have this special sauce, Chipati sauce, which is unlike any other sauce I could name or describe. It is orange and has flecks in it. It is spicy, but pleasantly so -- not hot-hot spicy. The sauce is so popular, you can even go on the site and mail-order the sauce, although last I checked they seemed to be having issues with their bottler. I ordered a Chipati once or twice and it ended up being food for a week. However, my weakness was really for their bread sticks. These things were brushed with garlic butter, baked to give a slight crisp to the outside, and inside they were all warm, soft, chewilicious heaven. We always ordered them with some sort of sauce on the side. You have a choice of Chipati sauce, marinara, or ranch. We usually ordered one ranch and one marinara and double-dipped the sticks in each sauce. Of course, every once in awhile I'd be annoying and get health conscious -- usually when cramming for Women in Literature from 1700-1800, when I felt the wrath of God would soon be upon me because I had to recognize on sight poems written by women, who all seemed to have the same name (Lady Wortley Mary Montagu Nicholas Worsley) and, who wrote about how society and their husbands wouldn't give them a room of their own to write in -- and order a Greek salad in addition to the usual sticks and sauce. To this day, their Greek dressing is unparalleled.
Popular for frozen daiquiri's and margaritas on the first really nice spring day. Remember those days when you pleaded with your professor to hold class outside? Having a standing arrangement with your roommates to book it to Dominick's on such days right after your last class of the day was the thing to do. Architecturally, it's a old Swiss Chalet design, and if you couldn't get outdoor seating on the top-most balcony facing the law quad, well, you might as well just go home and drink warm beer. When my parents were students, they loved it for the hoagies. I have a slight recollection of once having sustenance there that was something other than liquid, but my memory is pretty hazy, since I recently ate at Mathra's Haven.
The Bagel Factory
One word says it all: Fragels. Deep-fried bagels smothered with cinnamon-sugary goodness and studded with raisins. Oh. My. God. When my parents came into town, The Bagel Factory was always their last stop, so they could load up on Fragels for the trip back to Minneapolis. I note that Bruegger's has made an attempt at mastering this creation, but they have fallen far short of the original.
I'll gladly pay you Wednesday for one of those hamburgers today. Situated behind West Quad, this little box of a greasy spoon institution has served poor but ravenous students amazing burgers for well over forty years. In addition to burgers oozing with juices and tender flavors, Blimpy also offered deep-fried vegetables (the mushrooms were piping hot mouthfuls of goldenily-crispily delight -- dipped in mustard or ranch dressing, they took me closer to cholesterol heaven then I've ever been), and thick, homemade pies.
The safe date place. This is where you took a guy or a guy took you when you wanted to "get to know each other better" outside the confines of beer goggles. They peddled extremely rich ice cream in wonderful flavors that you could feel clinging to your arteries as soon as you swallowed. I love ice cream but I went to this place only twice and I'm still full.
The Gandy Dancer
Every college town has one -- the ultra expensive place you take your parents and you hope you won't get carded if you've brave enough to order wine. Princeton has Alchemist and Barrister, Harvard had Upstairs at the Pudding -- now opening this November in it's new location an name as Upstairs on the Square --and the University of Michigan has The Gandy Dancer. The 109-year-old Michigan Central Railroad Station was renovated into a lovely restaurant with high-ceilings and chandeliers. The newer Amtrak station was built a few yards away so you can have your dinner and watch the trains come and go. Don't laugh -- that was a sight that made my dad really excited since he's collected model trains as long as I can remember. He even used to drag me around to the Minneapolis hobby shops -- all the while talking tall about the extensive layout he planned on creating in our basement. I don't remember too much about the food. It was definitely good, though, and had a lot of Lake Michigan fish featured.
The Little Brown Jug
A landmark in Ann Arbor since 1938, and the very first restaurant I visited in Ann Arbor. Its scarred oak walls are covered with old jerseys, team photos, and news clippings from a bygone era (read: my parents' and grandfather's era), which represented all that Michigan was to me at the time of my first campus visit. In fact, it still represents what Michigan is to me and its piles of alumni. Before I got my letter of acceptance in the mail, I ate a grilled cheese sandwich dipped in ketchup, while my little sister ate pancakes. It was eight o'clock at night and deep down I felt that throb that told me I couldn't go to any other school.