As published in The Florida Villager
When you think of Ann Arbor you think of the University of Michigan but there is so much more afoot on the streets of this university town. Whether you are a Wolverine alum, parent of an incoming student or just traveling in the vicinity of Ann Arbor, one must stop and explore this vibrant and eclectic midwestern community.
First stop on my tour was Blimpy Burger, which is a landmark burger pit stop. Small in comparison to other burger haunts but offering a seat in Ann Arbor history, it serves up its famous burgers in a sundry of ways and sizes.
Exploring downtown with its outdoor dining, sidewalk cafes and unique shops was a lesson in self-control. Wandering down one of the side streets, I found myself in front of an old bookstore called West Side Book Shop that dates back to 1888. Venturing in, I made my way through the labyrinth of books to a room where the sound of typewriter keys broke the heavy silence. “So sorry,” I whispered, as eyes looked my way. A smile crossed his face and for the next hour, as I sat on a small wooden stool amongst the old prints hanging on the wall, he shared his bookshop stories.
Next, my travels brought me to a fabulously fun store called Rock, Paper, Scissors. Cupcake Station, where you can choose from 21 varieties of cupcakes (Hint to Moms of University of Michigan students) and Michigan Theater, a grand old theatre, built in 1928 with its opulent gold staircase rounded out my walkabout. Making my way back into the center of town, the music from one of the bistros lured me into lingering just a bit longer before my watch told me I should go.
A short drive away in Chelsea is the Purple Rose Theater. Founded in 1991 by Chelsea native and actor, Jeff Daniels, the theater is his vision of a company that develops acting opportunities for Michigan theatre professionals. Grabbing a bite at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub was enchanting. This pub was designed and built in Ireland. The menu is authentic Irish fare with the flour to make their bread being imported from Ireland. Captivating my palate were The Grange, The Earle that offered French and Italian Country cooking, Vinology with its fine wine tastings, Mani Osteria Bar where you are treated to a sundry of “sharing plates” and Frita Batidos which offers Cuban food like you will never have in Miami.
Visiting Motawi Tile was a learning experience. I had no idea how tiles were made and found the tour quite interesting. I got to see first hand people working at different stages of the tile making process. Each tile is handmade and the selection and design of Nawal Motawi’s tiles are very impressive. Her tiles are made with local clays and glazes using her own recipes for colors.
There was a stop at well-known Zingerman’s Deli and Morgan and York, both specialty food stores that have everything imaginable for the discerning palate.
Afternoon activities included lunch at Mark’s Carts and a visit to The Brinery, where I was treated to one of David Klibenberger’s workshops on fermenting. His store is one of many of the area’s local shops and specializes in brine-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, which are hand mixed, no machines allowed.
Microbreweries, which make up an important part of the food scene in Ann Arbor, were next on my circuit. Pacing yourself is an art that you need to acquire sooner than later. Don’t ask me how I know this. Antiquing was fun at Materials Unlimited, Schmidt’s Antiques and Salt City Antiques and kayaking on the Huron River brought me to a place of peacefulness I hadn’t felt in a long time. As I kayaked down the river, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to stumble across such an amazing place as Ann Arbor. Who knew?