A river runs through it: The Detroit Riverfront

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

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Many of the world’s great cities sit on the banks of important rivers. Detroit has just such a river, taking its name from the French, Rivière Détroit, or River of the Straight. The Detroit River flows 24 nautical miles, a natural border between the United States and Canada. It’s been designated a Heritage River in both countries.

Today, this historically important riverfront, on one of the busiest waterways in the world, is also one of the clearest symbols of the city’s resurgence. While there are nearly 14 miles of frontage, the action today is centered on a 5 ½ mile strip that includes the iconic Renaissance Center — seven interconnected, round glass skyscrapers that include the General Motors world headquarters.

The RenCen is also home to a nice Marriott Hotel, where we decided to anchor our two-day stay. Ask for a room on one of the higher floors with a river view, for a spectacular view through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Seriously, this was one of the best views from any hotel I’ve ever visited.

The RenCen offers IMG_4353a food court and several restaurants, including Andiamo, part of an upscale chain, serving very tasty northern Italian food with great views and outdoor seating. I stuck to a Mama’s Chopped Salad, with all of the usual ingredients, plus kale. The lobster ravioli was extremely rich, but oh so tasty.

Trying to exit the RenCen was more challenging that it should have been. I have to admit, I always get lost trying to go from the hotel to the other towers. On a hot summer day, it seemed a good idea to get out on the Riverwalk early. It’s a wonderful wide walkway, great for strolling or running if you are so inclined, and one of the prettiest walks anywhere in the city. The splash pad was filled with kids and their parents enjoying some summertime fun.

Just a block from the hotel, we discovered the custom-made Cullen Family Carousel, which features carved animals all native to the Detroit River —except for a sea serpent and a mermaid. Farther on, we connected to the 31-acre Milliken State Park, which offers picnic areas and shoreline fishing. We settled for a few selfies with the 63-foot-tall lighthouse.

In the historic Globe Building, we discovered the Outdoor Adventure Center. The mission of the center is to bring Michigan’s outdoors to the heart of Detroit, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. What a great place for kids (and adults acting like kids) to learn about fishing, hunting, hiking and nature in a tactile and accessible way. We crawled into a bear den (minus the bear, thank goodness) and had a quick slide through a massive burr oak. The entrance prices are very reasonable for families, and scholarships are offered to school groups to help with transportation costs.

There is something to do on the Riverfront for every age group and taste. Every Sunday, animal lovers are invited to join the Pack Walk for a guided walk at 10:30 a.m. Moonlight Yoga, Riverfront Tai Chai and a fun run occur almost every weekend. And on every other summer Thursday, you can enjoy Riverfront Relaxin’ Music and Movie Night from 6 to 10 p.m. The last Music and Movie Night is scheduled for Aug. 25 and features “A Hard Day’s Night” with a Beatles Tribute band, The Backbeats.

Detroit’s Riverfront is a meeting place for all, giving both residents and visitors a place to enjoy the lovely river on a lazy day or on a day packed with lots to do and see — your choice.

Detroit: one neighborhood at a time

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

As I’ve gotten to know Detroit, I’ve come to understand that just when you find some wonderful part of the city, you cross the next street and find another treasure. Detroit covers approximately 143 square miles, about 100 more than the city of Battle Creek. With 92 different neighborhoods in Detroit, I’m going to have to accelerate my exploration of the city if I want to visit all of them.

I’ve spent time downtown and midtown where most tourists focus. I want to take you further to the southwest, however, and show you more of the “real” Detroit. According to savorsouthwestdetroit.org, Southwest Detroit offers 130 different restaurants, 30 bakeries and 25 markets. Two absolutely great communities in the neighborhood are Mexicantown and Corktown — different, but both built on the bedrock of different waves of immigrants.

With a rapidly growing Latino population, this part of Detroit is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. Immigrants from Mexico began settling here in the 1920s, and by the 1980s the area had received the moniker Mexicantown. The major thoroughfares are Bagley and Vernor streets, and you know you’ve arrived when the buildings start featuring vibrant colors and hand-painted murals dot their sides.

As a California native, I set a very high bar for authentic Mexican food, and I wasn’t disappointed by a fabulous meal at Armando on Vernor Highway. They have a huge menu with all the favorites and then some. I ordered three tacos — chicken, steak and tilapia. Each had its own perfect flavor and featured fresh corn tortillas and two salsas with varying degrees of heat. The salsa was worth bringing a quart home.

I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere in Mexicantown for excellent Mexican food, but that’s not all you can find. When I need a plantain fix for example, I also love El Comal, which boasts exceptional Central American cuisine featuring Guatemalan and Salvadoran recipes.

If you are counting calories, do not visit La Gloria Bakery. It’s a self-service experience, and I was soon armed with a tray and tongs. My choices included fresh pastries, cookies, breads, empanadas and churros, to name just a few. I really wanted to take home a Tres Leches cake, a lovely squishy dessert sensation, but I resisted.

Since 1991, the purple Matrix Theatre has been an iconic part of the neighborhood arts and culture scene. And don’t miss another much older community hub, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church. The Gothic revival style church was built in 1886 and has some of the oldest stained glass in the city.

For a different feel in Southwest, try Corktown, one of the oldest parts of the city. Like Mexicantown, Corktown takes its name from the original residents, Irish immigrants from the County Cork who came to work in the emerging industries in the 1830s. Today, it’s a bustling neighborhood filled with places to hang out and enjoy the summer. In 1978, Corktown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its brightly colored Victorian townhomes and original Irish businesses.

While it’s not very Irish, Le Petit Zinc is a charming, small Corktown creperie that offers both sweet and savory crepes. This time of year, sit outside on the patio, sip an espresso and enjoy a casual brunch.

Another spot not to be missed is Mudgie’s Deli.

Southwest Detroit — one neighborhood down…only 91 more to go!

Fun’s a Walk Away in Bay City

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

When we can park our car on Friday night and never turn it on again until we leave again on Sunday night — that’s a great weekend. Bay City, a town of 35,000 near the mouth of the Saginaw River and the entrance to Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, certainly fits the bill for just that sort of indulgent trip. In classic Michigan fashion, you can find Bay City right between your thumb and first finger.

The first people — Chippewa, Hopewell, Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi — once thrived along the banks of the Saginaw River. Recent archaeological digs have uncovered artifacts from the earliest permanent settlement, which dates back to 3000 B.C. The first Northern Europeans settled in 1831, when Leon Tromble built a log cabin on the east bank of the Saginaw River. The town was established in 1837 and was incorporated as a city in 1865.

When we rolled in on Friday night, we went immediately to the River Walk and set up our chairs for Friday at the Falls. These free concerts attract people of all ages, as witnessed by the children dancing in the very front and the older folks sitting sedately along the edges of the lawn. It was a great way to unwind after our drive and gave us time to ponder where we wanted to have dinner.

We had already checked into the DoubleTree, part of the Hilton chain. We normally look for smaller bed and breakfasts or inns, but location was everything in this case, and the new hotel was near downtown and on the water. Our room had a water view and was very comfortable, in a taupe kind of way.

The historic downtown boasts of 120 specialty shops and 23 restaurants; I took them at their word and didn’t spend time counting.

We had dinner in mind and decided to try the American Kitchen, primarily due to its charming outside area with lovely flower boxes. It offered burgers and bourbon, a winning combination for hungry travelers. We started with some green bean fries, hoping that would count as a vegetable. We passed on the peanut butter burger, however.

My husband continued his focus on bacon with the Kentucky Derby Burger, topped with bourbon-glazed onions, bacon, hickory barbecue sauce and sharp cheddar cheese. The California Turkey burger called to me, and it came with a tasty dollop of guacamole. After dinner, we strolled around the downtown, noticing that several places offered outside dining, a plus on a warm summer night. The Old City Hall Restaurant proved a cozy spot for a nightcap.

The next morning we went to Maggie’s Omelette House for brunch. Maggie’s is on a side street in a nondescript building, and offers any kind of omelet you can imagine. How about egg white and kale with lots of cheddar cheese? The service was good, the coffee plentiful and it lived up to its reputation.

Of course what would summer in Michigan be without a little rain, so we scrapped the boat trip and walked across the street to the Delta College Planetarium and Learning Center. The $8.75 million facility houses a state-of-the-art Planetarium Digital 360 theater. The magnificent lobby has a floor that displays the major star constellations.

Bay City: wonderful riverfront, great restaurants and nice hotels, all within walking distance. If you need any more reason to visit, Bay City will host the Tall Ship Celebration, Michigan’s largest gathering of tall ships, starting Thursday.

Nothing Plain About Plainwell

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Every Michigan town has something to offer, especially in the summertime. Plainwell, 20 minutes north of Kalamazoo, is a charming little town of 3,800 with lots of choices for a weekend visit.

Start planning your visit by checking out two websites, Craigslist or VRBO, to book a cottage on Pine Lake, which is actually four lakes connected by small navigable channels. With 11 miles of shoreline, it is one of many terrific lakes that make Michigan such a great summer escape.

Our friends booked the nine-bedroom Ivy Lodge for a big weekend celebration. The wooden frame house had a lovely sand beach, two docks and a wide, second-story porch for outside dining. For a special event, the large property allowed the whole family plus friends to stay for a lake weekend. If you need less space, there are many other rentals available.

While you can cook in your lakefront cottage, I don’t know why you would, because there are several restaurants nearby. The Old Mill Brew Pub and Grill on Bridge Street was once the site of the largest buckwheat mill in the United States, and now it houses a charming restaurant. They make their own craft beer, and you can enjoy the suds inside or on the outside patio. We chose the Crazy Beaver Cream Ale and the Island City IPA for our beverages.

My husband had The Big Pig: Pulled pork, grilled ham and crispy bacon topped with grilled andouille sausage — all on a kaiser roll. I settled for the more sedate olive burger — a patty topped with a mix of green olives and mayo — along with an order of onion rings for the table. I really wanted to sample the Old Mill “Jim Dandy” Rootbeer Float, but I couldn’t find any room.

Another dining choice was the Four Roses Café, for a local farm-to-table menu. The café is owned and operated by Plainwell locals, Tom and Jan Rose. Be sure you come hungry. We sampled the filet mignon with two sauces (a red wine mushroom and Béarnaise) and the Great Lakes Whitefish Grenoble, our own best local fish with a diced tomato, lemon and caper treatment.

Push yourself to sample their pies. We ordered the Black Bottom Pie and the Amaretto Coconut Cream Pie and had no regrets except for our bulging stomachs.

Of course, Plainwell is the self-proclaimed ice cream capital of the state. They do offer two terrific family-owned ice cream parlors, the Plainwell Ice Cream Co. and Dean’s Ice Cream.

Plainwell Ice Cream makes 65 flavors, and you can buy its products around Michigan. Be prepared to wait, because the secret is out about how good their ice cream is.  The business has been in the Gaylord family since 1978, and family members still work at the store. Blueberry Marble was my favorite flavor, followed closely by French Silk — a summer dream in a cone.

Dean’s Ice Cream is another long-standing community icon, opening its doors in 1945. With three locations in the area, you can order any of their 34 flavors. My husband couldn’t pass up a hot fudge sundae. Dean’s is also a tasty lunch stop for a burger or a bacon and grilled cheese, with fries, of course.

Returning to the deck at the rental cottage, we watched the sunset and enjoyed a cool breeze off of the water. Nothing beats a Michigan summer, and there is nothing plain about Plainwell, either.

Finding Magic in Marquette

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Yoopers, a term for describing folks who live in the Upper Peninsula, are a hardy all-season people. But many of us trolls, living south of the Mackinac Bridge, need to make our way to the far north while the sun still shines.

Summertime is something that comes late and leaves early in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it provides a spectacular experience for those inclined to explore the northernmost part of the Mitten State.

I never have enough time to really do justice to the U.P. when I visit because it has so much to offer, especially for enthusiasts of the great outdoors. A few highlights come to mind: Lazing around any of the three contiguous Great Lakes (Superior, Huron and Michigan), and biking, climbing or hiking miles and miles of pristine natural areas.

Mapping my U.P. route for a recent visit reminded me that getting there would be a real commitment. Driving time from Battle Creek to Marquette is seven hours. While the cliché may be true about getting there being half the fun, I decided to fly to Marquette instead and started my exploration there.

The largest city in this part of the state, Marquette boasts a robust 20,000 population, and it is also home to Northern Michigan University. The charming historic brownstone buildings along Washington Street confirm the age of the city, founded in 1849.

My overnight destination was the Landmark Inn, its brick exterior visible from many parts of the downtown.

A member of Historic Hotels of America, the Landmark is a small boutique hotel with 62 rooms and nine suites, having opened its doors in 1930. Everyone who was somebody—including notables like Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington and the Rolling Stones—stayed at what was originally known as the Northland Hotel.

The warm dark wood paneling, crystal chandeliers and oriental carpets in the lobby were part of a top to bottom renovation done in 1995. My room had a spa tub and a king-sized bed that required a short step-stool to reach.

To get a sense of place, I visited the downtown Marquette Regional History Center with its exhibits and displays of Marquette County’s past. Where else can you visit a beaver pond exhibit, an authentic Ojibwa wigwam and an early settler’s cabin (moved from a local homestead)? Through September, the center is hosting a great display of area folk art.

For sustenance, I settled on Sweet Water Café, which offered breakfast — my favorite meal of the day — until 3 p.m. Their focus on fresh, local and made-from-scratch meals sounded wonderful. It was a difficult choice between building my own omelet and the Rise and Shine Sandwich, which united bacon, fried eggs, tomato and cheddar cheese on a wheat bun. The sandwich won me over and filled me up, especially with grilled potatoes on the side.

There are lots of dining choices in Marquette, from Cajun cooking at the Lagniappe to Doncker’s, with its old-fashioned soda fountain and luncheonette.

Getting outside is, of course, the main area attraction, and the miles of secluded beaches and bike trails won’t disappoint. While I could have rented a bike, I opted for a rental car instead and started down scenic Lakeshore Drive to Presque Isle State Park. The park is a 323-acre forested oval shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Superior at the very northern tip of the city.

I also recommend a guided tour of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. The view from atop the lighthouse is not to be missed. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll appreciate why so many locals have embraced the motto, “Lucky to be from da U.P.”

Dinner and a show just a drive away

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

132843_168286879874752_3559077_oDate night at my house occasionally involves a movie and popcorn at the local movie theater. Sometimes, after a long week of work, we don’t have the energy to leave the house, but instead flip on a late-run movie and order a pizza.

With spring in the air, however, we could all make a little more of an effort to improve our cultural and culinary IQ.

Drive in any direction and you can find an outstanding meal and high-quality, live theater and music of all genres. Following are three of my favorites.

Our own little town of Marshall boasts two live theater options, and several great restaurant choices.

With its recent refurbishment, the Franke Center for the Arts is a gem of a small theater venue, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. In 1921, the Center started out as the Brooks Memorial Methodist Church. The Marshall community came together in 1998 to save the historic building, and the Marshall Civic Center Trust was born.

Many small Michigan communities, such as Marshall, build their cultural life around an iconic place like the Franke, and its appeal is built on the strength of local patrons and volunteers. The Marshall Civic Players are putting on “Boeing Boeing” this weekend and next.

Another choice for live performances in Marshall — Great Escape Stage Company — is a tiny theater in the round. You can buy tickets right now for an almost participatory theater experience. “The Light in the Piazza” opens May 19.

Right down the block is the venerable Schuler’s restaurant, where fresh new plates join traditional favorites on the Winston’s Pub and Centennial Dining Room menus. The prime rib sandwich is my favorite. During the season, Schuler’s outside seating area beckons the pre-theater crowd.

Another popular Marshall destination is Zarzuela’s. The tapas and sangria are perfect theater-night complements.

Kalamazoo has several live theater and music venues. My favorite is the State Street Theatre. Since 1927, the theater has been an anchor of downtown. Many acts have tread its boards, including vaudeville, big band, ballet and opera. In 1985, a group of concerned citizens came together to “Save the State,” and another landmark venue was preserved.

Kalamazoo has a diverse and well-established food scene, with personal favorites Rustica, Zazios and Bold leading the way.

Before catching one of the music acts at the State this spring, try new destination Principle Food & Drink for dinner. Principle is a rustic-chic hangout serving cocktails and food they call “elevated comfort grub,” made with local ingredients. As a starter, the cheddar biscuits are to die for. And if you like veggies, I suggest the beet salad or spring pea soup. Small plates such as the crispy chicken thigh (with hash-roasted new potato, garlic sausage and romesco sauce) bring fresh flavors to the table. The real appeal is Principle’s mixology, however. The Smoked Sazarac is a show-stopper, with infused smoke from a small device adding to the presentation and flavors.

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A short drive away from Calhoun County is the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. This high-quality regional theater is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the product of actor Jeff Daniel’s dream to create a strong local repertory theater. Now the theater is a community landmark with a significant economic impact on the surrounding county.

The same year Purple Rose opened, Craig Commons created the Common Grill as a dining destination for theater-goers. Both the theater and the restaurant have thrived. Try the fresh oysters for a special treat before the show.

These are just three area choices. So many more communities offer similar “dinner and a show” experiences. Try them the next time you and your significant other are looking for an evening out.

Eating ribs and brisket — Michigan style

 

Pork ribs and a beer at Darkhorse's Spring Smoke Off

Pork ribs and a beer at Darkhorse’s Spring Smoke Off

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

It’s everywhere, an undeniably growing culinary and tourism phenomenon — barbecue.

This moment of clarity occurred as I walked through the Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s 6th annual Smokefest last weekend in Marshall, where I munched on a dazzling array of ribs, brisket and smoked butt while sampling Dark Horse’s brews. I marveled at the diversity and sheer number of barbecue “pitmasters” at the Smokefest. These folks arrived early Friday with portable tents, and barbecue equipment, settling in to feed a packed crowd. Thousands of dollars were raised for charity, and a lot of napkins were dispensed to satisfied BBQ enthusiasts.

Barbecue events are increasingly popular everywhere, and it turns out you don’t have to wait an entire year for another opportunity to lose yourself in an orgy of pork ribs and beef brisket — Michigan style. People who are serious about this food category travel a sauce-soaked circuit of sorts, sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

The KCBS sanctions more than 450 barbecue contests worldwide and requires participating teams to cook four meats: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket. Teams on the circuit are also angling for a spot at the fall Jack Daniels Invitational World Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Throughout the summer and beyond, people (like my husband) who adore barbecue can spend entire weekends following amateurs and pros while debating the fine points of sauce.

It turns out the sauce is crucial, and all real barbecue aficionados seem to have a favorite style — Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas. The styles dovetail with the self-proclaimed barbecue meccas, but you don’t have to be in any of those locations to experience great meat.

To start your barbecue odyssey in Michigan, how about a visit to Pork in the Park on Friday, May 20, in Wyandotte, a small town south of Detroit? You can grill with the mayor.

That same weekend, on the other side of the state, St. Joseph hosts BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass: A Taste of Michigan, where you can spread a blanket and listen to music while sampling a collection of local barbecue, craft beer and Michigan wine.

Three weekends of barbecue begin on June 10, when you visit the lovely village of Clio in Genesee County for the first-ever Elf Khurafeh Shrine BBQ Competition, Music Festival and Mud Bog (think a monster truck rally with mud).

On June 18, the Detroit suburb of Lathrup Village hosts its first Summer in the Park, with 30 rib-cooking teams competing while visitors sample arts and crafts and enjoy the ribs.

The next weekend, try a much larger event, the Auburn Hills Barbecue Cook-off. This event is part of the annual Auburn Hills Summerfest, a full festival with live music, a 5K run and a kid’s sidewalk art contest.

July 15-17, the action switches to the Big D (Detroit) for those who like their ribs with Rhythm and Blues. Local barbecue experts flock to this unique event in Hart Plaza downtown, where they can listen to talented R&B performers while noshing on ribs, brisket and chicken.

The following weekend, you can combine your ‘que with the blues in Birch Run at the Blues, Brews and Barbecue event. This one is for the biggest purse in Michigan — a cool $10,000 for the competing teams.

I’m sure I’ve missed as many events as I’ve discovered. One thing is certain, however. For a summer in barbecue heaven, Michiganders can indulge in finger-licking ribs plus the trimmings of your choice, be it mud-bogging or the blues, so don’t wait to stop and smell the smoke.

Spring comes to Mackinac Island

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

It is April, and that means the horses are returning to Mackinac Island. The island’s 500-plus horses arrive throughout the month by ferry.  It’s a gradual process of transporting hundreds of horses from the Upper Peninsula farms where they winter to their summer jobs on the island.

While officially off-season and subject to our changeable weather, the early spring is a great time for a visit to the island. Prices are lower, and crowds sparse. During April and May, it can also be a very romantic time, in the sun, mist, rain (or even snow), and minus the hordes of school children that come later in the year.

I loved staying at Island House Hotel, a Mackinac tradition with 160 years of hosting visitors. The porch was a wonderful place to rock and to look out over the harbor. We were traveling with a group, so we choose a suite with a private balcony overlooking Mackinac Island State Park. The suite had two bedrooms, one with a king bed and the other with two queen size beds. The suite also had two bathrooms, one featuring a Jacuzzi-style tub. Up to eight people can squeeze into the spacious accommodations. Island House opens on May 6.

Our daughter has turned into a breakfast fanatic, although she now prefers being served about 10:30 a.m. Accordingly, we slipped into the Pancake House on Main Street for a rib-sticking brunch. I stuck to the more traditional Western Omelet, but we also sampled their “famous” Banana Nut French toast, which was about as rich as it sounds. Lots of hot coffee was consumed as a prelude to renting bikes and riding around the island.

For folks who don’t ride bikes regularly and who just want an afternoon outing, the island is paradise, with a flat, circular, 8.2-mile route around the island and past landmarks Arch Rock and Devil’s Kitchen. You can rent a bike of any speed or type. I always look for the one with the soft seat. There are also more than 70 miles of dirt and paved trails on the island.

All of this fresh air required a search for an outstanding burger, so we stopped at the Huron Street Pub and Grill. The Bacon & Bleu Burger called my husband’s name, while I sampled the Father Marquette, a lightly fried whitefish sandwich. Both were good, and the onion rings a must order. The Pub had a really nice selection of beers on draft, too.

After a little fudge sampling, we stopped at JL Beanery for an afternoon coffee and a view of the water while we plotted our evening. We had never done the tour of haunted island sights, but it was a pleasant night for a stroll, and we learned about the history of the island and some of its previous residents, happy and unhappy. When the streets of Mackinac Island get quiet, it is very possible to imagine that you aren’t alone.

If you want lots of non-spectral company, plan your trip June 3-10 for the 68th Annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. Some years the only things that don’t show up are the lilacs, which bloom on their own schedule. The celebration’s signature event is the Lilac Festival Grand Parade.

For me, visiting Mackinac Island has become a rite of spring … a magical escape to a simpler time and one where no cars are necessary. Just ask the horses.

Ann Arbor Offers Something for Everyone

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

Many people, when they think about Ann Arbor, remember a visit to the internationally known art fair in July or a football game at “The Big House.” Both are great reasons to visit Michigan’s sixth-largest city, but those experiences just scratch the surface of what Ann Arbor has to offer.

For several years, our family’s annual trip to Ann Arbor started with a brunch at Zingerman’s Road House. Right off Interstate 94, the Road House features “really good American fare.” My husband loves the fried chicken and barbecued beef; I love their mac and cheese and their black bean burger.

After stuffing ourselves, we usually visit the Treasure Mart, a terrific consignment store found downtown on Detroit Street near the original Zingerman’s Deli (another great stop). During my last visit, I bought a wrought iron table and chairs for our deck for a pittance and an antique dresser for less than $100.

Consigned items in the store get an automatic 10 percent discount every month, so you can find some great deals.

If we are lucky and the season is right, we also squeeze in a stop at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, where we can take home locally grown produce, plants, jams, home decorations, furniture, pottery and candles — all of which are on display in the open-air market.

The first week of April offers other unique reasons to visit Ann Arbor. That’s the weekend when foolishness is on parade in the city.  The April 1 FoolMoon Friday, a 10-year tradition, is a street party from dusk until midnight, when hundreds of people make luminaries of all kinds and march into downtown with all of the other “fools.” On Sunday, April 3, the FestiFools takes place from 4 to 5 p.m. and strange giant puppets loom over downtown on Main Street. Sounds like fun, right?

To make my point that Ann Arbor offers something for everyone, serious art lovers can visit the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where 150 years of collections are a gem. The university also offers a Museum of Natural History for those more interested in the natural world.

Having a world class university in your town also means that top notch performers come through town frequently.

Another benefit of a college town is the wide array of interesting restaurants at all price ranges.

At my favorite spot, the Original Cottage Inn, pizza is plentiful. According to the proprietors, the Cottage Inn was the first restaurant in Ann Arbor to serve pizza. Lots of folks also like Pizza House, because it is a cool place to hang out to watch the game, and it’s also perfect for big parties.

If you’ve developed a thirst during your visit, beer of all flavors can be found in Ann Arbor, including craft beer at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and the Arbor Brewing Company Brewpub.

No Thai!, on South University Street, is still a great choice for a casual meal, and West Main Street offers dining alfresco (once the weather cooperates) at restaurants like Café Felix.

Or try Gratzi, a wonderful Italian restaurant, which has been part of the dining scene for almost 30 years.

If it is a weekend trip you are planning, I can recommend the Stone Chalet, a charming 10-room bed and breakfast with delicious hot breakfasts. Filled with antiques, it’s not stuffy or chintz-filled. Choose a room with a fireplace, while the temperatures are still a little chilly.

My other favorite, The Campus Inn, will be re-opening this spring under a new brand, Graduate Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor offers something for every taste and every budget, and it is just a short drive away.

Grand Rapids Offer Museum Magic

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

To battle March cabin fever, a road trip to Grand Rapids is an excellent antidote. Very few cities of this size can offer five museums within a few blocks of downtown and lots of choices for a tasty lunch or early dinner. Let me give you a quick run down of the choices for a very-full day trip.

The modernistic Grand Rapids Art Museum built its new building in 2007. At the time, it was the first “green” museum in the United States. Their collections range from the Renaissance to Modern Art, with a special focus on 19th and 20th century European and American art. Until April 17th, you can see a special exhibit of rarely-exhibited 20th century ceramics, tableware, jewelry, textiles, bookbinding, and graphics, called “Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise.”

If you have children in tow, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is the place for you. The Museum offers interactive experiences that keep hands and minds challenged and occupied. The building has a long expanse of plate glass so you can look in on all of the fun. On a recent trip, the children we were with enjoyed an exhibit called “Little GR.” In this exhibit, they could see Grand Rapids at their scale, including a Fox Motors auto service center, Chemical Bank, Bistro Bella Vita Jr., a Meijer grocery store and the Grand Rapids Public Library Lending Library.

Being a kid at heart, I love to ride the giraffe on the 1928 hand-carved Spillman Carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, right on the Grand River. Founded in 1845, it is one of the oldest history museums in the United States. You can while away a number of hours stargazing at the Chaffee Planetarium on the second floor.

The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts offers its visitors an opportunity to interact with contemporary art in a variety of mediums. Right now, you can see a wonderful show featuring established and emerging Michigan artists. It’s called “Coming Home.”

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum isn’t open until June 7th, but there will be lots of time left in a summer of electioneering to plan a visit and to get a sense of Michigan’s own (and the nation’s 38th) president.

All this art and culture fun makes me hungry. There are lots of restaurants downtown, including one of my favorites, Angel’s Thai Café. It’s a simple, small place where I start off with a bowl of Tom Yum made with mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, tamarind and chili paste. The Bangkok Chicken is another good option — a breaded chicken breast stir-fried in a tangy Thai sweet and sour sauce and served on a bed of broccoli.

Another great choice has an odd name, the Electric Cheetah, but that is the only thing that is odd. What I love about the Cheetah is that the menu offers two polar opposite choices: The Marconi Zone, featuring their seven-cheese house blend pasta and The Green Zone, where you can choose The Health Hutt with quinoa, lentils, wilted spinach and seared salmon. I’ve tried both, and they are equally delicious.

If you are in the mood for a pub atmosphere, visit the Green Well Gastro Pub on Cherry Street, where craft beer can be paired with tasty, upscale pub food with a locally sourced healthy flair. The cold weather prompted me to order the Cherry Street Pork Posole, which features slowly braised pork served in a tomato broth with hominy. I love the sides of tortilla chips and guacamole on this dish.

In Grand Rapids, you can feed your soul with art and history while indulging your hunger with a wide range of tastes.