There’s a bumper sticker that reads “Ann Arbor: 25 square miles surrounded by reality”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that fair city, allow me to explain the joke. Ann Arbor (or A2 as it’s known in shorthand), home to the University of Michigan, is a liberal enclave where people are SO like-minded that after spending some time there, you’re apt to be lulled into forgetting that other places aren’t as progressive. For someone coming from another city (especially Detroit), going to Ann Arbor is akin to going to Disneyland’s Epcot Center; like visiting a staged example of what a mid-sized Midwestern city could be if everyone shopped at a food co-op, recycled, volunteered, or was otherwise groovy. Everywhere you go, there is evidence of A2′s crunchy leanings: a yoga studio every other block; houses painted various shades of the rainbow; people biking and walking more than they drive. The city hosts an annual Hash Bash (they’re known for their lax marijuana laws), has a high school where kids aren’t given grades, and allows people to keep chickens in their backyards.
Saturday Scarlet Oaks had a show in A2: a fundraiser, held in an urban barn (see photos above & below), in which people were asked to donate art supplies as part of their admission. It was a gorgeous day out, so my friend Melissa and I decided to head out there early so we could wander around, get some food, and basically be tourists. Lest you get the impression by my comments above that I’m somehow hating on Ann Arbor, let me assure you that’s not the case- there are few better places a drive’s distance from my house to spend a sunny afternoon. The downtown area is eminently walkable, and features scads of cute shops, restaurants, cafes etc.
The city is as close as one can get to a food-lover’s paradise in the Midwest. In addition to many great restaurants (several in the budget category- this is a college town after all), A2 boasts a lovely farmers’ market and several gourmet shops. Most notably, it’s home to the nationally-known Zingerman’s mini-empire (deli, restaurant, dairy, and bakery), whose philosophy leads them to source and serve only the best quality slow and sustainable foods. Folks here are very active in the local and organic food movements- a blogging friend runs a business called Locavorious, selling local foods frozen at harvest to be eaten through the winter months; another blogger runs Preserving Traditions, a group that hosts workshops on canning and such. Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers is in Ann Arbor and its environs.
Our singer Steve grew up around Ann Arbor and knows all the good spots, so at his suggestion we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Sadako. He and his wife had raved about how good it was, and how cheap (for sushi)- a rarity. (I realize “cheap” is not necessarily a word you want to associate with sushi, but trust me, the quality was not proportional to the low prices!) We ordered off the lunch specials menu, opting for bento rather than sushi rolls. For a mere $7.45, I got an incredible amount of food: miso soup, a small side salad, 2 gyoza, an assortment of tempura (including 2 shrimp), teriyaki-glazed salmon with vegetables, and 4 pieces of California roll. I was pretty much in awe of what a great deal this was, and felt a little guilty that I couldn’t finish everything. I made a valiant effort though, and finished most of my bento. Note to self: in the future, only eat half the miso; it’s good but fills valuable stomach space that could be better spent on tempura!
Happily sated, we continued across town to Kerrytown, the neighborhood which houses the farmers’ market, Zingerman’s deli, and some other shops. Melissa wanted to visit Hollander’s, a huge shop specializing in paper goods. (As I left, I happened to see that the entire upper level is devoted to kitchen/ housewares… a good thing I didn’t notice sooner, as I probably would have spent an entire paycheck and/ or browsed so long that I would’ve been late for our set!) I bought a set of postcards with illustrations of vegetables from old seed packets, which I’ll frame and use as kitchen decor.
After Hollander’s, we headed up the block to Zingerman’s where I was hoping to find verjus. The place was ridiculously packed; the line winding through the shop and several feet out onto the sidewalk. The helpful employee I asked told me that they didn’t currently carry verjus, because they hadn’t yet found a brand up to their standards! We geeked out on vinegars, and he gave me a few outstanding samples, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to part with $20 for a bottle. Next visit I’ll save my pennies in anticipation of dropping some serious cash there. (Ahem, if you ever need a gift idea for me, they have gift cards!)
Our show was a lot of fun; it’s always a nice change of pace to play during the daytime and not in some smoky bar (19 more days!!!). Unfortunately for the fundraising effort there weren’t a ton of people there, but the sound was good and we got an enthusiastic reception. After our set, we grabbed some carry-out and beer and headed to a friend’s house to sit on the porch and enjoy the last few rays of sun before heading back to the reality of Detroit.
As you might expect, living in such an idyllic town does not come cheap. Although property values have taken a hit as they have everywhere, they are much higher in A2 than most MI cities, and ironically, economic and ethnic diversity is the casualty of this gentrification (lower-income folks who work in Ann Arbor mostly live in neighboring Ypsilanti).