Down on Main Street
by Anne-Marie Macloughlin
When Bob Seger wrote his song Mainstreet, he was inspired by Ann Arbor, where he grew up. This pretty town is a unique blend of Midwestern rural and cosmopolitan urban. There are still lots of small family farms nearby, but it’s also a college town, home to the University of Michigan, one of the eight original ‘public Ivies’ . Cultural attractions, shopping, and fine dining make this the perfect getaway, only four hours drive from Toronto.
Food and Drink
From the day of my arrival to the night before departure, food and drink of all kinds featured heavily in this four day trip. The Ann Arbor area is home to more than 300 restaurants, with new ventures opening on a regular basis. This is just one reason why Midwest Living recognized Ann Arbor as one of the best food towns in the Midwest and continues to be a top destination for food lovers from across the globe. Too many to mention in this article, the following is just a sample, so to speak, of the many cultures and tastes available to tempt the hungry traveler.
Ayse’s Turkish Cafe (aysesturkishcafe.com). Ayse (pronounced EYE-shuh) Uras opened her café in 1993. She specializes in Turkish home cooking with lots of vegetarian options like lentil soup, yogurt soup, and vegetarian stews— as well as meat and seafood, and homemade desserts.
Ayse writes out on a menu board what she’s cooking just before lunch and dinner, as she likes to cook according to what she can get from her butcher and the farmer’s market, basing her menu on what’s in season. But there’s always eggplant and good Turkish coffee. And for the adventurous, pickled beet juice.
The Slurping Turtle (slurpingturtle.com) recently opened, and has already earned a name for itself amongst the lunch crowd. In Japan, slurping is expected; you’re supposed to “slurp the noodle.” Turtles are good luck; they mean long life. The crunchy Hamachi Tacos, Pork Belly Bao, and Duck Fat Fried Chicken are just some of the goodies on offer. Nom nom nom.
Dinnertime can overwhelm with choices on Ann Arbor’s main street. At Logan (logan-restaurant.com) I was seduced by the NY strip steak, artfully placed on a bed of airy mashed potatoes and served with a ginger cream sauce and ponzu dressed carrot salad. Sommelier Kevin Hobart kept us well watered with a selection of apropos wine.
For the beer and cocktail crowd, Ann Arbor and surrounding areas are saturated (no pun intended) with various watering holes to suit all tastes. The Chelsea Alehouse Brewery (chelseaalehouse.com) is located in Chelsea’s historic Clocktower Complex. It opened its doors in December 2012 and features American and English style Ales, and a wide variety for the beer connoisseur. Basic pub grub and a wall of tankards owned by patrons to use whenever they visit, makes this a laid-back meeting spot.
The Last Word (lastwordannarbor.com) is a speakeasy-style bar, with an array of deadly cocktails, including the eponymous namesake – Gin, green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur and Fresh Lime. After a rich dinner and stroll along Main Street, where better to end the night.
If a taste of Mexico is more your thing, check out Habana Cellar Lounge (cafehabanas.com), where you can enjoy a salty Marguerita in the candlelit basement bar, a cool refuge from the scorching summer heat, with its colourful Deco posters. Also, if tequila is your thing, Isalita (isalita.com) can arrange group tastings with a selection of Mexican snacks and the wisdom of Jeff Westerman, “The Tequila Guy”. After ‘sampling’ four or five different kinds, I was in my happy place.
Ann Arbor has many half-day trips available for a variety of interests. I decided to brave the Huron River in a kayak, what looked like a leisurely way to spend an hour or so. Having paddled in a circle and wobbled precariously for five minutes, our guides at the Gallup-Argo Canoe Livery www.a2gov.org/government/communityservices/Parks-Recreation/play/pages/canoeing.aspx) took pity on me and I was allowed to double up with an experienced paddler. The trip took about one and a half hours, and even with the slightly scary cascades (small ‘rapids’ that drop the kayaker down a level to the next pool), the scenery and a lone heron following us made for a tranquil time out.
For the artist in you, the Motawi Tile Works (motawi.com) will get the juices flowing. Founded by Nawal Motawi in 1992, as well as many original designs and custom orders, the Tileworks are partnered with The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to create art tile that is adapted from his portfolio of work. Motawi has also translated several of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s famous glass designs. Given the opportunity to create one of my own, I realized how art is sometimes easier said than done. Still, it’s an original.
The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (ypsiautoheritage.org) is a car-lover’s Nirvana. The museum is located in pretty Ypsilanti, which is also home to many delightful antique stores.
The collection includes 30 vintage automobiles with a historical connection to Ypsilanti. A 1933 Hudson Terraplane K Series Coach is the oldest in the collection, up through a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice Police vehicle manufactured at Willow Run. Beautifully restored vehicles just beg for a photo opportunity.
For a small town, Ann Arbor has a wonderful shopping vibe, with nary a chain store in sight. Spend the afternoon browsing some of the town’s most unique shops, including Falling Water (fallingwatermi.com), known for their large and varied selection of greeting cards, beautiful jewelry, unique hand crafted and fair trade gifts from around the world, and friendly and helpful staff. Vault of Midnight (vaultofmidnight.com), billed as ‘Earth’s finest comic books and stuff since 1996”, for the geek in you.
For a slice of the past with a cosmopolitan vibe, look no further than Ann Arbor, Main Street USA.