“The sins of the Midwest: flatness, emptiness, a necessary acceptance of the familiar.”
“But the Midwest: It is quietly lovely, not preening with the need to have its attributes remarked on. “
Miss Eydie has been touring and singing in America’s heartland since the early days of The Manhattan Transfer and have been able to observe a gradual renaissance of midwestern cuisine from the familiar meat and potatoes and regional specialities to a healthier, farm to table mentality, but still embracing the heartiness and comfort of the foods of the region.
My girl group, JaLala, (myself, Laurel Massé and Lauren Kinhan) was booked on a whirlwind spring tour starting in Boston and NY, but then heading off to the heartland of America.Well, not exactly the corn fields of Iowa or Kansas, but a lovely itinerary of Chicago, Minneapolis, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
After a jam packed,tiring yet satisfying day of traveling, working with the Chicago Children’s Choir and then finally our evening concert, we were all ready for a feed of legendary proportions, and nothing could have been better than our late evening visit to SABLE KITCHEN & BAR. Chicago has got some incredible eating and drinking establishments, like Tru, Alinea, and the legendary Charlie Trotters. But Sable, run by chef Heather Terhune, it was the perfect choice for a large group of ravenous culinary hoolighans,since everyone could order a small plate of exactly what they wanted ,but also share in the wide range choices of other diners. Believe me…this food was exactly what musicians wanted after a long day of work….duck fat steak fries, short rib sliders with root beer glaze, shrimp and grits, bacon wrapped dates, lobster roll, buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with bourbon maple syrup, ( drooling yet? I am. ) mini lamb burgers, tuna tartare tostadas with Meyer lemon crema, roasted brussell sprouts, deviled eggs, fried cheese curds, (you heard me) and the hit of the evening , a sweet corn creme brulee, whose silky texture and cornessence (made that word up) had us swooning. There were also plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options, masterful cocktails, a great wine list. Fun for the whole family!! What impressed me was not only the nearly flawless execution of the food, but the playful thought behind the creation of the menu and the communal spirit which is encouraged-I also loved the fact that much of the menu was organic and used local farmers and providers for the fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. This is the work of a great chef/owner- Kudos and a tip of the Miss Eydie toque to Heather Terhune. And big thanks to our hosts Judy Hanson and Bryan Farina.
The Zoo- home of WMU, Gold Company , my dear friend Dr. Steve Zegree, and a wonderful small European styled bistro called RUSTICA. After our fantastic afternoon of working with Gold Company , we head there in high spirits… and we are not disappointed-The atmosphere is warm and convivial and there is Maple leaf Farms duck breast , and a local take on bouillabaisse with Great Lake whitefish,shellfish and a tomato/fennel broth. I am a sucker for the mushroom farrotto, which I often make at home-this version had 3 kinds of mushrooms, garlic , herbs and a splash of Marsala….The 30 wines by the glass was also a much appreciated feature.
And so we head off to Ann Arbor, for a special gig at the Kerrytown Concert House, a lovely post concert gimlet at THE GRANGE and a much needed day off . My friend and fellow music aficionado Jessica Sendra has promised me a whirlwind culinary tour of Ann Arbor, and as per my request, a visit to a restaurant she had not yet frequented in her job as community content co-ordinator and food columnist for AnnArbor.com. After a short visit to the hotel gym to make sure my chewing muscles are toned and at the ready we head off, cappuccinos in hand , to Zingerman’s South Campus. O dear God how I love Zingerman’s -and now to discover this “campus” which houses all the ancillary buisnesses of Zingerman’s is just the kind of thing Miss Eydie loves. Another thing Miss Eydie would love is another great cappuccino, so our first stop is the “cupping lab” where you can get for instance, a great “pour over” of custom beans, an espresso, a mocha, or a bottle of cold pressed coffee…a slamming strong iced bottled coffee that doesn’t quit and will grow hair on your chest. I breathe deeply,take it all in , especially the “laboratory ” section where some heavy research on coffee drinks seem to be underway .
There is a pile of books being sold in the middle of all the coffee and coffee paraphernalia…and I take a gander. What an intriguing title -” A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building A Great Business.” Jessica then points out that the author himself, Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig is sitting sipping an espresso spitting distance from where we are standing. As I get closer, I see that he definitely has that sexy lapsed anarchist look…and has made the leap to responsible capitalism quite gracefully. How great is this? A food nerd like myself being able to clink coffee cups and chat. I talk about the legendary Brooklyn Ebingers Bakery, and Leon’s Bakery on Knapp St.,where we would get a freshly sliced Jewish rye every weekend for our salami sandwiches and our morning toast.
He looks at his watch and realizes the rye breads are just coming out of the oven next door ….and offers me one as a gift,claiming that is it as great as the idealized rye breads of my youth. I like his chutzpah and I admire his claims. We shall see Mr. Weinzweig,we shall see.
On to the Creamery ,where we ogle Detroit Street Brick, The Little Ypsi, Headwaters Tomme and are able to taste some of the delectable Bridgewater, which clever Lauren had bought the day before at Zingerman’s Deli before our JaLala concert . MMmmm….looks like a giant Italian wedding cookie with its mold-ripened outer rind, but inside, creamy cow deliciousness studded with peppercorns. I gasp as I turn around and see the gelato tubs – local honey, ginger, John Do Ya?, ( gianduja) maple pecan, and all made with the same local milk that is used for the cheese.
I need to pick up my rye bread offering….so we follow the smell next door and walk into the Wonderful World of Carbohydrates. There they are….all the warm, caraway studded Jewish rye breads looking like slightly flattened footballs. There are trays of them and I try to pick out my special bread…try to hear the grains calling out to me…”Take me with you Miss Eydie…smother me with cream cheese and lox, with herring, make me into a Reuben, toast me for croutons, slice me, slather me with peanut butter, with Nutella, with key lime jelly.” I finally pick one out of the litter and wrap it tenderly under my arm like a football.
Next stop….lunch. There are so many choices in Ann Arbor – we take a walk around town to eyeball the lunch menus.One top contender is the Cuban street food-inspired, Fritos Batidos,
opened by Top Chef contestant Eve Aronoff. Batidos , tropical milkshakes, are fresh fruit, crushed ice, and sweetened milk and come with or without rum! The flavors are mouthwatering: coconut cream, cajeta, passion fruit, mocha or lime. Then there are the fritas….traditionally made with chorizo served with shoestring fries and an egg on top. At Frita Batidos , there is this traditional one, but also there are scrumptious choices like fish, black bean, chicken and beef. Don’t forget the plantains and garlic cilantro fries!
We walk by Mark’s Carts, a courtyard lot devoted to different food trucks…the smells are intoxicating and it’s hard to pass up the artisinal grilled cheese , the head cheese hoagies, the Asian street food and the vegan delights….but we do. …and its because we have decided on a lunch at MANI OSTERIA & BAR. We start with the house pickled tomatoes, a fantastic choice,the pickling liquid lending a sweetness to the local tomatoes – these red beauties were complemented by some whipped ricotta and tapenade. I then had the zuppa di primivera, incredible chicken stock, little strands of prosciutto, bitter greens, cannellini beans and a poached egg….very reminiscent of a stracciatella,the famous Italian egg-drop soup. There is a wood fired oven, so of course we must try the classic Margherita pizza, which we ask for with burrata instead of mozzarella….MMMmmm …a chewy crust with a nice wood burn on the bottom . San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and the creamy burrata make this a transcendent experience. We may or may not have shared a cannoli plate…three little beauties : chocolate lemon/ricotta and pistachio. Double espresso please!!
Lest you think after this morning and afternoon of tasting that I timidly crawled back to my hotel and didn’t eat again till breakfast, let me assure you that was not the case. I stayed in Ann Arbor an extra day just to sample the delights of the region with Jessica as my guide and so, a slap – up dinner was planned. Our thinking led us to somewhere Jessica and her partner Karen had never been..I thought it might be more fun to travel a bit outside Ann Arbor’s environs and so we headed to THE ROOT in White Lake, Michigan. The menu is designed around local and seasonal cuisine and showcases the many wonderful foods available in Michigan. Again there were loads of vegan choices, but also tasty items like milk- braised Michigan pork belly, foie gras with onion jam, smoked meatloaf made with Michigan beef, and a Michigan honey and ancho chili barbecued wild lake trout. There were also tasting menus, one vegan and one house, very reasonably priced and 4 courses long with an option for a beer or wine pairing.
Getting ready to leave for Albuquerque and my Manhattan Transfer touring the following day, I reflected on all the satisfying music making with my JaLaLa ladies and our band, the fine company, the talented young people we hopefully inspired and learned from, and all of the wonderful culinary experiences that were enjoyed…and I stopped and realized the most fulfilling moments of the trip were spent in an Ann Arbor hospital singing acapella to musician/bassist Andrew Kratzat,who suffered a terrible trauma after he and his fiancé were hit from behind by a semi truck last July. He has had to relearn all basic functions and was not expected to live…his family contacted us through a mutual friend and asked if we would possible stop by and see if the live vocal music would have any positive effect . We watched ,with hope and tears, as Andrew’s hand started to twitch as he heard us sing, and he as he tried to mimic the playing of the string bass. I am happy to report that as of now, Andrew has made tremendous strides towards recovery, somewhat due to an experimental trial with the drug Ambien. Miracles do happen…and it was yet another reminder to live every moment fully.
What possibility does THIS moment hold for you?
Your faithful correspondent,
SABLE KITCHEN AND BAR
505 NORTH STATE ST.
236 SOUTH KALAMAZOO MALL
KALAMAZOO, MI. 49007
ZINGERMAN’S ( ORIGINAL DELI)
422 DETROIT ST.
ANN ARBOR, MI. 48104
117 WEST WASHINGTON ST.
ANN ARBOR , MI. 48104
211 WEST WASHINGTON ST.
ANN ARBOR ,MI 48104
MANI OSTERIA & BAR
341 EAST LIBERTY
ANN ARBOR, MI. 48104
THE ROOT RESTAURANT & BAR
340 TOWN CENTER BLVD.
WHITE LAKE, MI. 48386