Tasty treats from Michigan

This blog has been quiet for a while. I’m  a bit overwhelmed with a number of things right now—one of which is preparing to move back to Detroit in May!!!

I’m looking forward to being able to show you all more of Detroit—my Detroit, that is; everyone experiences it differently—once I’m living there again. And it will look different to me for having lived in a very different place the last eight years.

It’s an interesting thing, living away from home. You see your home in a new perspective—and often, you see quite sharply some things you had missed. For example, I lived for a year in Virginia Park (a neighborhood in Detroit off Rosa Parks and Virginia Park Street, just north of Grand Boulevard). In all my years in Michigan, in Detroit, and even within walking distance, I never visited the Motown Museum. I always liked the Motown sound enough, but it wasn’t the music of my own subculture. And besides, the museum was always there; I could visit it any time. So I never did…until one year while visiting home from California. Now I want to recommend it to everybody!

The same is true of most of these goodies. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of pride in Detroit and Michigan, and stores catering to Michigan-made items have flourished. In addition, locally based stores like Meijers (headquartered near Grand Rapids) have createdor expanded sections devoted to locally made goods. Eastern Market has long been a great source for food and other items from Michigan (and Ontario, Ohio, and Indiana). Here’s a sampling of the deliciousness I’ve discovered, during my annual trips home:

Berry Wines

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Click on the image for a Google search of “Michigan Water Blues.” True to the blues, there are a million different versions. Jelly Roll Morton’s version says that “Mississippi water tastes like turpentine, but Michigan water tastes like cherry wine!” I rather like Jeff Daniels’ version on his album, Keep It Right Here. (He has another version as well.)

 While I lived in Michigan, I never tried cherry wine. I’m not much of a wine drinker. But now that I live near Napa Valley, my Michigan pride made me want to find a wine that Northern California does not offer.

Turns out there’s raspberry wine, too!

The wines pictured above—two cherry and one raspberry—still represent the sum total of Michigan wines I’ve tried.

The Traverse Bay Winery cherry wine is my favorite so far. I’ve brought extra bottles back here to California and shared them with the natives—much to their delight! It’s a little stronger than your average grape wine, apparently (17% alcohol by volume). Not too sweet, but still suitable for a dessert wine. And, much like cherries, it tastes nothing like that fake cherry candy flavor. It has the flavor of Michigan tart cherries, exactly the flavor you want it to have. Plus alcohol.

The Leelanau Cellars raspberry wine, on the other hand, is really sweet. While it’s not cloying, it does taste just like candy, or like perfectly sweet raspberries.

The St. Julian Wine Co. cherry wine is disappointing. It’s OK, but not one to share with wine snobs Northern Californians. I ended up using it in baking (like brownies and homemade apple sauce).

As far as I know, these wines aren’t available outside of Michigan—unless some of them can be ordered online, I don’t know. (I do know that ordering wine online involves some complicated process to prove you’re of legal drinking age and all that.) You can get them, and others I have yet to try, at Meijer, or at Detroit’s new Whole Foods; I was impressed with the Michigan wines selection at both stores.

Preserves

And another way to get your daily servings of fruit, particularly if you don’t drink alcohol, is jam.

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Click on the image to visit Slow Jams’ facebook page.

I don’t know whether this brand, Slow Jams, existed when I moved in 2005, but I just discovered it this past summer (2013) at Eastern Market. You can purchase it in the market proper or at Rocky’s. The flavor I tried is rhubarb ginger—OMGOMGOMG it’s so delicious. “Homemade in small batches,” this jam hails from Grosse Pointe. There are plenty of other flavors to try, and if you find the booth on market day, you can sample them!

Their facebook page lists the following flavors:  Spiced Apple, Blueberry Lavender, Blueberry Peppercorn Sage, Blueberry Cardamom, Cran-Cherry, Cranberry Red Onion, Tart Cherry, Cherry Thyme, Peach, Peach Rosemary, Peach Cilantro, Peach Basil, Raspberry, Raspberry Jalapeno, Raspberry Lemon Verbena, Raspberry Basil, Strawberry, Strawberry Bomb, Strawberry Balsamic Peppercorn, Strawberry Vanilla, Rhubarb Ginger, Sweet Pepper, Blackberry, Blackberry Ginger, Tomato, Green Tomato.

Peach basil sounds interesting! I’ll try that when I get back home.

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Click on the image to link to their website, which includes all their products, recipes, and more.

Here’s another that’s become a staple for me in recent years, a treat to pick up whenever I’m back home: Food for Thought’s Organic Michigan Tart Cherry Preserves.

There are whole and half cherries in there (sans pits, of course), with just enough jelly as well. Spread it on a Belgian waffle, and every nook will have a cherry in it. I find it also makes a nice pairing with Nutella for a new spin on PB&J. (I use whole wheat bread, ‘cause something has to be healthy in there.) Meijer sells this one, as do various stores specializing in Michigan products, such as Heart of Michigan in Howell.

Mustards

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Click on the image to go directly to their online store, where you can buy all sorts of blueberry products—stuff you’d never imagined, like this mustard, or the basics, like preserves and syrup.

Here’s a strange taste sensation: blueberry mustard. I still can’t decide whether or not I actually like it. It’s not repulsive, though. More adventurous eaters than myself will probably know what to do with it. I bought it from Heart of Michigan’s website. The Blueberry Store makes all kinds of blueberry products, though. I feel like I’ve had their preserves, but I don’t have any on hand.

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This time clicking on the image will take you directly to their online store. They really have an interesting array of products!

Food for Thought’s Organic Cherry Honey Mustard sounds like such a wonderful idea. It’s good, but you can’t really taste the cherry much, so that was disappointing. Maybe I got an off batch. Use it anywhere you’d use honey mustard. When you do taste the cherry, it does harmonize; they use tart cherries.

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Click on the image for the website of Sansonetti Sauces, a family-owned business that makes mustards, vinaigrettes, barbeque sauces, and more. I’ve only tried this one, so far.

Sansonetti’s Roasted Red Pepper Mustard is quite good—and not too hot, which I can promise you, because I (a “supertaster” very sensitive to heat) can enjoy it. Also, roasted red peppers are never all that hot. Just delicious! It is indeed a Michigan product, despite the “Napa Valley Gold Medal” on the label (which means it won the Gold Medal at the 2010 Napa Valley World Wide Mustard Festival, their website explains). If you want heat, layer it with other hot ingredients in your sandwich, and spread it on thick. I find it quite delicious on a veggie burger or on a sandwich with crisp veggies (like spinach and onions).

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Click on the image for their website, offering “artisanal fruit preserves and condiments.”

Once you get past the strange disconnect of your mustard looking like some kind of berry jam (well, not exactly; it looks like you mixed mustard into your jam), this cranberry mustard will delight you. It’s the perfect blend of tangy and sweet – but not too sweet. Both the mustard and the cranberry flavors come through nicely. I’m a vegetarian, so I would use this on a sandwich with lots of fresh, crisp veggies;  but I imagine it would be perfection on a turkey sandwich—especially, next November, on those Thanksgiving leftovers.

Sweets

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That’s olive oil in the background on the right. Bad photography. Oh well. Still, you can click on the image to link to the Sanders website, where their famous dessert toppings are just a fraction of what you can break your diet (or Lenten fast in a month or so) with.

OK, I’m bending my own rules a bit. You know this is one I had tried while in Michigan! I grew up with the stuff. I’m just including it here because Sanders.

You can buy this in many places—Meijer, your local grocery store (in Michigan, anyway), and many sweets shops and specialty stores, such as Heart of Michigan, Rocky’s, and RJ Hirt DeVries and Co.  You can also order it, and any of their products, from their website.

What I’d never tried before, because it’s so expensive, is Sanders’ candy. A coworker ordered me some for Christmas the year before last, knowing how much I love Sanders. He bought me the peppermint bark, which I can honestly say is the best peppermint bark I’ve ever had, and the salted caramels. The salted caramels were also the best of any I’ve ever tried. They were so good, even this chocolate addict could eat just one piece per day and be satisfied with it. I’d never experienced that in a chocolate before!

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Click the image to visit their website!

A friend sent this to me along with other goodies this past Christmas. She probably got it at Rocky’s or somewhere in Eastern Market.

You can’t see the actual honey very well in this photograph, but it’s honey, and you know what that looks like. This honey is a rich amber color. The flavor is bolder than most honey you might buy at the grocery store, so if you prefer mild honey, it might take some getting used to. But it’s perfect for spreading on bread with butter (which is my main use for honey). I’m not a tea drinker, but I imagine it might be better in some teas than in others, given its strong flavor.

The label you see here is the only labeling on the jar. However, their website indicates that their honey is raw. Even cooler: “We take care of 100 beehives in the backyards, schools and community gardens of Detroit and suburbs. We provide you with raw honey and pure beeswax candles.” They also say you can buy their honey at Avalon Bakery, where (if you’re in Detroit) you can pick up some great bread to enjoy with the honey!

Sources, and other stuff I haven’t personally tried:

I didn’t include any products by Cherry Republic above, but as you would expect from the name, they make various cherry products. I’ve tried their cherry salsa, and at first I liked it, but then got sick of it pretty quickly. I think it was too sweet for my taste in salsa.

Traverse Bay Winery‘s home page, should you wish to browse their products. Theirs is the cherry wine I highly recommend, and which met the enthusiastic approval of the NorCal folks who sampled it.

Leelanau Cellars, who make the raspberry wine above, make a wide variety of wines, which you can check out at this link.

And, should you not trust my judgment, you can check out St. Julian’s cherry wine here, or look at their other selections, which might be tasty for all I know. Maybe the label design should’ve been a giveaway.

To purchase these products and more: In addition to all the links from images above, you can visit the following stores in person or online.

Heart of Michigan, located in Howell.

Rocky Peanut Co., located in the Eastern Market Historic District in Detroit.

DeVries and Co., formerly R.J. Hirt (but still in the family), is located at Eastern Market. They don’t appear to have a website/online store, but are on facebook.

Eastern Market, where Detroiters have been getting good local food since 1891.

Meijer, Michigan’s answer to Walmart. Located throughout the state, and a few places in some adjoining states.

Some Michigan/Detroit based foods can also be found at other shops like Pure Detroit (which seems to always have Sanders sauces, and blends from the Detroit Spice Company), even though they’re primarily a clothing/attire brand.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Detroit Bold coffee, although I’m not a coffee drinker (and have never tried Detroit Bold. I don’t like coffee, so the fact that I wouldn’t like it shouldn’t reflect on them.) It’s a great story, though, and founder A.J. O’Neil is a great guy, very supportive of his hometown, Highland Park. Check it out on facebook, too.

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Maccabees at Midtown

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I can’t say too much about this restaurant, since I’ve only been there once. We had brunch on the Sunday of my visit to Detroit and, as I’d mentioned a couple posts ago, I had strep and couldn’t swallow very much. Which was a shame. The pancakes I’d ordered were delicious.

Mmm...pancakes.

Chocolate chip pancakes with a berry-infused maple syrup, and a mimosa to drink.

My friend Paula had planned on our eating here for Sunday brunch, since we were meeting my sister and her boyfriend. It’s a place she’s been impressed with.

There weren’t many people in the restaurant when we arrived, and only a few more when we left. The area where we were sitting was very brightly lit, thanks to the building’s large windows, but based on the rest of the interior, it seems to me like more of an evening venue. However, I didn’t see any non-brunch menus. But you can check them out here!

Interior of Maccabees at Midtown

The server walked into the frame just as I pushed the button. I do that all the time at my job, too.

The service was excellent. So were the mimosas, which came with brunch.

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Sunday in Midtown: Brunch all day, complete with cocktails!

The restaurant is, as the name suggests, in the Maccabees Building, which is owned by Wayne State University these days. (It used to be owned by the Detroit Public Schools.) Adjacent to the WSU campus, it is located in that part of Midtown otherwise known as the Cultural Center, because of all the cultural institutions there: the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Film Theatre, the Detroit Historical Museum, Wayne State University, the Detroit Public Library‘s main branch (which houses the Burton Historical Collection), the Michigan Science Center (formerly the Detroit Science Center), the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Scarab Club, and the College for Creative Studies. Am I forgetting anyone? Well, the Maccabees Building is kitty-corner from the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Episcopal), which is worth a visit, if only to see its Pewabic tile floors.

So here’s my suggestion: Go to church at the cathedral (beginning this fall, the main service is at 11:00 on Sundays), have brunch at the Maccabees, then go to a museum or two. The DIA will absorb a whole day quite easily, and you still won’t have seen everything. If you’d rather breeze through a couple museums, I think the Detroit Historical Museum and the Charles Wright Museum of African American History would go together nicely, although you could spend an afternoon at just one of them as well.

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The Maccabees Building, taken from across the street at the DIA (near the Farnsworth entrance). The restaurant is located just to the left-hand side of the large, front door in this photo—conveniently right off of Woodward.

I still wish I’d been well enough to finish off those pancakes. They were delicious.

Grand Trunk Pub

Grand Trunk Pub and restaurant, August 2013

In the days before rail service was consolidated under Amtrak, different lines were run by different companies, often using different stations. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad line passed through Detroit (not to be confused with Michigan Central), and its station was located on the Detroit River at Brush and Atwater, near where the Ren Cen is now. Railroad lines used to operate a separate ticket office in the business district, and the Grand Trunk operated it rather close to the station—first, at Woodward and Jefferson (where One Woodward Avenue, formerly known as the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company building, a Minoru Yamasaki design, now stands); and then at 612 Woodward Avenue in the Traub Brothers Jewelry building.

Grand Trunk Pub

Currently, that building, and an adjoining one, houses the Grand Trunk Pub, formerly known as Foran’s Irish Pub.

Interior of pub/former ticket office

The pub has plenty of atmosphere. Its owners have done some restoration, with sensitivity to the building’s history and an interest in the railway theme.

Restaurant interior

The restaurant side is a little hole-in-the wall spot, but the good kind. “Gourmet pub grub” is what the menu says.

Veggie burger

Foreground: Veggie burger with grilled onions and a side of Better Made chips (and one fry stolen from the other plate).
Background: A shaved turkey sandwich with a side of fries.

One of my favorite things about their menu is that they source much of the food locally, and include Detroit classics and favorites, such as Better Made potato chips as a side, Faygo to drink, or Sanders Hot Fudge on the “Michigan Mud Pie.” The prices are also quite good.

As a vegetarian, I often don’t have a lot of options in this sort of place, where the fare is primarily sandwiches and burgers. However, the Grand Trunk Pub has a unique approach: you can substitute a veggie burger patty on most of their specialty burgers, or you can have a basic veggie burger with the toppings you prefer.

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.15.53 AMThis is a snapshot from the menu on their site. Click on it to visit their online menu.

For dessert, the bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce is pretty good (especially for $4.25!), but I prefer the Michigan Mud Pie (just $5). Pro tip: We ate dinner at the Grand Trunk Pub, then went over to the Riverwalk for a while, walked around there (as you do), and returned to the Grand Trunk for dessert!

Michigan Mud Pie

Michigan Mud Pie, shown here with a scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. We were given a choice.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce.

 

Motor City Brewing Works

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Motor City Brewing Works is a brewery in Midtown, at 470 W. Canfield, across the street from TJ’s (Traffic Jam and Snug). It’s been there for years now, but I’d never been. We ate there last night.

I’m not a beer drinker, so I can’t comment on the beer. But I had a great pizza. The pizzas are about the size of your average dinner plate, and they’re perfect for one person. Since they’re not in the least bit greasy, they don’t make you feel overstuffed. I opted for the “build your own,” and had carmelized onions, roasted red peppers, and spinach on mine:

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The veggies were only 75 cents each to add to the pizza. Between the two of us, we had 2 pizzas, a beer, and a Diet Coke, and the bill was just over $20. Not bad for dinner!

MCBW has a great atmosphere and very friendly waitstaff.

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Here’s a look at their menu:

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