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Into the Blue

September 9, 2019

Hello Ann Arbor!

The FLB has been on vacation for far too long. It’s time to shake off the dust, and get back to the occasional business of writing about food on the Internet.

For those who are still following from Upstate New York or other places around the world, Ann Arbor is the land of the University of Michigan. Almost everything here is colored maize and blue. The football team is the Wolverines. And “Go Blue” is the local battlecry.

Even though I have spent precious little time in this city on the banks of the Huron River, I thought it might be fun to share some initial impressions. And as I mentioned before signing off in Albany, there is still some unfinished business there as well.

But first thing’s first.

There are a few notable differences out here. People say pop instead of soda. Boston cream donuts aren’t a thing, rather they are called chocolate custard. That is to differentiate them from chocolate cream donuts, which are filled with something between buttercream and frosting. I experienced something similar in New Jersey, and know that Albany Jane loves these sickeningly sweet specimens. Hot dogs are called Coneys, but they still come with the mustard, onion, and chili sauce combo I’ve grown to know and love from the Watervliet triangle. Except out in Michigan, their weiners are full sized.

The shops that sell coneys are also called “Coneys”, and they are kind of like diners. But oddly we also have places which are just called “Diners”. Perhaps one day I’ll better understand the Diner and Coney divide, because right now that’s a regional curiosity.

We have 7-Elevens, and Vernors flows from the Slurpee machines, which is kind of awesome. Still, we miss Stewart’s for its eggs, milk, and ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, I still haven’t found anything as good as The Dutch Udder out in these parts. So if you’re in Troy, hopefully you can hop in there and have a scoop for me.

Yes, Ann Arbor has decent pizza places. There are event spots to get pizza by the slice. And just in the nick of time, we’re getting a Joe’s Pizza from NYC right on the edge of campus. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet made the pilgrimage to Detroit for the all important Detroit-style pizza tour. But this unique Motor City variation is having a moment. Not just here, but all around the country, and I’m thrilled to be at the epicenter of it all.

More than pizza, the go to, inexpensive, delicious, quickly served food in these parts are pita wraps. The pita parlors around this town are amazing. It’s like a pita paradise. And I’m not even talking about driving into Dearborn for the brick oven baked to order pita from Al Ameer. These pitas are like more burritos, not quite as long as one’s forearm, which are slathered with garlic sauce and stuffed with things like falafel, grilled eggplant, hummus, feta, tabouli, and shawarma. The best part is you can find excellent ones for around $5.

Besides that, I have been exploring are the area’s independent donut shops. While I have my favorite of the four, what I really want is a franken-donut that combines the custard of one, with the shell of another, and the chocolate icing of a third. Alone, none of them quite measure up to Bella Napoli or The Cookie Factory. Although there is one spot in Ann Arbor for glazed donuts which beats the glazed at all the places I’ve left behind.

Speaking of sweets, the middle easters sweet shops of Dearborn are a treasure. I’ve only been to two, and it’s lucky they are a bit of a drive, otherwise I’d need to buy larger pants.

Sadly, I’m still far from a Wegmans. The closest one is over a four hour drive away. However, we do have an Ikea nearby. More importantly, there is a local place with dim sum carts for weekend brunches, and an Ethiopian restaurant right in the heart of downtown.

When I asked a local about unique regional foods, the only thing they could come up with was beer. And it’s true, there are a lot of breweries in the area. I’ve tried a bunch of their beers, but have only visited one of the breweries. Interestingly HOMES has a chef from Buffalo, and I’m told he makes good wings. Soon, I hope to put them to the test.

And yes, there is Zingerman’s, and it’s a fantastic place that’s filled with all kinds of delicious delights. I’m an unapologetic corned beef and pastrami snob, so I’m not evaluating the place on the quality of its sandwiches. But the cases in the deli are filled with simply remarkable products. I’ve only been once, and parking was a nightmare. However, after talking with some people who live in that neighborhood, I think I’ve figured out the solution to the problem.

Even out here people obsess about parking. The good news is that downtown Ann Arbor has a ton of it. Seriously, I think Albany could learn a thing or two about the urban design of this community. As it turns out, when you build plenty of parking, people come from all around.

Whew! All of this is just barely scratching the surface of what I discovered in August. I suppose this is what happens when you give up daily blogging.

But there are a few guest posts waiting in the wings, and maybe, just maybe, I can convince someone in the Capital Region to take on the final Tour de Cider Donut before it’s too late in the season. There was a volunteer months ago, but I need to confirm they are still interested. Plus I have a few new food rants that I need to get off my chest. And then, I’ll be happy to elaborate about some of the above thoughts on Ann Arbor’s food and culture.

All of which is to say, the FLB is back for now, even if it may be on a more limited basis. Go Blue!

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian S permalink
    September 9, 2019 2:03 pm

    Careful what you wish for on the parking side. I know what you are expressing, but parking built poorly in the wrong place can destroy an otherwise wonderful area. Glad you are still kicking!

  2. Joel Miller permalink
    September 9, 2019 2:06 pm

    I went to Dutch udder for the first time two weeks ago.

    The best chocolate shake I have ever had. Nothing else comes close!

    Enjoy those Coneys. They are famous!

  3. Jenny permalink
    September 9, 2019 2:29 pm

    Having spent 7 formative elementary-school years in Ann Arbor, I am looking forward to hearing about how the city has changed in the (gulp) 39 years since I left. Back then, I was a picky eater, so I am not sure how many of the local delicacies I would have actually sampled. But I was a hot dog eater, and I have never heard them called “coneys”, so I wonder if that is a name that has developed since 1980, or if my parents simply kept me away from the Coneys. I

    • September 9, 2019 3:00 pm

      According to a brief history of Coneys published on Eater, in 1919 American Coney Island opened up in Detroit, and after a family rift in 1936 Lafayette Coney Island opened next door. Apparently a place called Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson makes a claim to the original Coney dog. Maybe I need to make the drive to Jackson and check it out.

      • Jenny permalink
        September 18, 2019 3:26 pm

        I guess my parents were sheltering me! Thanks for the research.

  4. Michelle B permalink
    September 11, 2019 9:12 am

    Glad you are settling in! Very timely… will be visiting UMich next weekend with my daughter.

  5. -R. permalink
    September 11, 2019 11:57 am

    Good to hear you’ve found some tasty things to eat. I’m certainly a bit envious of the middle eastern options at your disposal. Looking forward to more updates.

  6. Dave permalink
    September 14, 2019 6:56 am

    Thought the hot dogs would be called “michigans”

    • sean permalink
      September 18, 2019 4:22 pm

      @Dave : Oddly enough, I never heard of a hotdog being called a “michigan” until I moved to Albany. And I lived in Michigan the first ~20 years of my life. We just called them hotdogs, or sometimes coney-dogs if you went to the places that were famous for them in Detroit. Never just “coneys” and, like I said, never even heard of “michigans”. I wonder if it’s like the old joke about what do people in brazil call brazil nuts?…. Just nuts?

  7. sean permalink
    September 18, 2019 4:26 pm

    Daniel : AA now has a Buddy’s Pizza which is a great intro to detroit style pizza. I recommend the Super Pizza as a wonderful starting point to diverge from. Also, HOMES brewery makes AWESOME beer. Their food is pretty good too, but they’re the best beer in the state.

  8. Sean permalink
    September 18, 2019 4:29 pm

    Coney Island restaurants in SE Michigan (or their variants) always have a greek section / influence to their menu and can sometimes be open until odd hours of the night (we frequented these places in high school). Diners fall back into more traditional american food classifications and operating hours. At least, that was my understanding growing up in that area.

    If you’ve loved the Arabic food so far, wait until you also try the good Indian food. You’ll laugh when you compare it to what you had back here in Albany. Unfortunately, I experienced them in the reverse order so now I’m sad.

    • September 18, 2019 4:47 pm

      “Always” is a dangerous word. As it turns out, there is a Coney in Ypsi that turns the Coney tradition on its head. It’s called Antonio’s and it’s Latin American: https://www.yelp.com/biz/antonios-coney-island-ypsilanti

      As far as Capital Region Indian goes, my British friend Ewan swears by Taj of Glenmont, and I found that many things on the chaat menu at Parivar were quite satisfying. But the secret to happiness in the Capital Region dining scene is to figure out the best dishes at each place, and avoid the stinkers. Because the sad truth is that almost every menu needs some serious editing. They’re just too damn long. Happy hunting.

  9. Janis permalink
    September 25, 2019 1:18 pm

    Hi Daniel – Glad to hear you are enjoying my old stomping ground, which I’m sure had changed quite a bit since I was stomping around in the 80’s. When you start exploring Detroit Style Pizza, I highly recommend Loui’s in Hazel Park, which I have found to serve the best Detroit Style pizza. The old school atmosphere, wait staff and clientele adds to the experience. It’s just north of 8 Mile (the Detroit City limit, which I’m sure you already know from Eminem) and east of Woodward Ave. Try to get there during an off hour or early dinner hour as lines do form at the peak dinner hour. Hazel Park is also just down the road from “Fashionable Ferndale” and trendy Royal Oak and are worth exploring, making the trip worth the drive. Buddy’s is top-notch but just doesn’t have the charm or flavors of Loui’s. Would love to hear your thoughts. Good luck with your exploring – Cheers!

    • October 13, 2019 9:34 pm

      Hey Janis! Great to hear from you. Loui’s is already on the radar. I’m just trying to assemble a crew, because I would love to hit a few of the important pizza places all in one mega day of pizza eating. Amazingly, I’m finding that Ann Arbor has a pretty strong gravitational field, and it’s been challenging to get too far beyond its borders. But I’m sure I will prevail, and I’ll make sure to let you know.

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  1. What’s Up in the Neighborhood, September 14 2019 – Chuck The Writer

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