Monday
May062013

A2GB Dining Guide: Petoskey

While I call Ann Arbor home, my Michigan heart lives north of the 45th parallel.



As a sprout I spent summers on Torch Lake or the Leelanau Peninsula. I grew accustomed to small towns short on amenities and long on charm. These havens were a cleansing respite, a welcome escape from the concrete brown fields of downstate. From Alden to Northport to Frankfort I fell in love with lake living.  

As a man-child I won the proverbial lottery. I married into 200 feet of frontage on Walloon Lake. What’s even more amazing is the knowledge that this northern homestead sits perfectly between Boyne City, Charlevoix and Petoskey. It’s a Gastronomic isosceles Triangle. And just around the Bay is Harbor Springs, yet another gemstone community. Life is good – and that is not lost on me. 

And now it’s spring; time to put the dock in; time to renew the fishing license; time to plan my summer up north.  In the last few weeks I’ve become completely preoccupied with plans for summer; daydreams about kayaks and coffee, sport boats and sunsets.

Perhaps you too will spend time up north this summer. Perhaps you’re a transplant just learning the grandeur of “up north.” In either case, I thought it might be of interest to share some of my favorite gastronomic landmarks.

Last year I wrote a piece defining two separate “up north’ territories [LINK]. Even in that paradigm, limiting my focus to one territory it too broad for a single post. This piece will focus specifically on Petoskey. In the future I’ll separate pieces for each additional northern community.

 

BREAKFAST

Ahhh, the most important meal of the day... That said it’s rare that I eat out for an up north breakfast. I much prefer watching the sunrise from my kayak and returning home for an omelet with the family. Still, there are times when I find myself in town before noon.  For those occasions I’ve developed two wonderful breakfast rituals.

Julienne Tomatoes: Imagine Marge’s diner meets a northern farm stand. With warm wood floors and vintage furniture JT oozes with charm. The menu is concise; basic fare with loving care.  And while I may loose my man card for admitting it, I’m grown fond of their quiche. JT also makes great sandwiches for a casual lunch.

Twisted Olive Café: There are two distinct sides to Petoskey. Just as Julienned Tomatoes is quaint and humble, the Twisted Olive has an air of sophistication. At JT folks read the bulletin board. At Twisted Olive guests bring in the New York Times. The menu is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean diet. And they make a mean Croque Madame. In the last year Twisted Olive has expanded to include evening service. The menu looks very promising.

 

LUNCH

Really? Who goes out for lunch when you’re on the lake? Get out and enjoy life. Move on.

 

DINNER

While I love to eat at the cottage for the first half of the day, I relish an evening out on the town.  Here are some options for a superb supper.

Chandlers:  There’s no secret that Chandlers is the perennial favorite in Petoskey. It’s the undisputed leader in all of Emmett County. Here’s why I love Chandlers…Psyche! I would tell you all about it, but frankly I’m already annoyed at the crowd of DBs from Bay Harbor who look like they’re going clubbing. Find somewhere else...perhaps Odawa. (HINT: amazing atmosphere, great wine list, even better cocktails, BFF servers and steak tartare).

American Spoon Café: There’s a new option in town from a surprisingly familiar face.  For years American Spoon has been a staple for jams and jellies. Last summer our boy Justin recruited some up north culinary heavies (can you say Tapawingo) and expanded the café from gelato and coffee to full meals. Yes, the gingham shirts and white beadboard wainscoting is a bit puritan-preppie. Having said that they’ve created one of the finer menus north in all of northern Michigan.  And while many things are superb, I am downright nuts for the burger, house made pickles and green bean salad. Enjoy.

Palette Bistro: The fine folks who’ve previously brought you Parkside Grill and Roast & Toast have done a complete remodel of the of former Andante building.  I dare say you may not recognize the place. Fear not, the dining room lakeside view is in tact. I’m particularly fond of the upper level deck and the small charming bar area. Service, menu and bar were solid.

 

PROVISIONING

Here’s the real story. Yes, restaurants are stunning. Still, the best moments exist when we provide for ourselves; when we hunt and forage and cook on an open fire. Here’s a few of my favorite Petoskey food sources.

Jonecheck [Centennial] Farms (tendersweetcorn.com): Have you heard the term, “knee high by the fourth of July?” It’s true. Each July I pass Jonecheck Farm anxiously waiting for August when we make daily stops to buy fresh corn picked daily and a bouquet for the table. Get there early, as they’re prone to run out. You can also pick-up heirloom tomatoes, salad mix and a few other seasonal gems.

Tannery Creek Meat Market: With so much produce in season it’s easy to overlook the proteins. Thankfully we have the Tannery to keep us honest. This is a classic butcher, a shrine to meat. I feel more masculine every time I enter. And the entire staff is engaging and helpful. Dig it. Side note, they also stock some great craft beers. That one less stop on the way back.

Johan’s Bakery: I’m on record saying that you can’t get a decent bagel in Petoskey. I stand by that assessment. Here’s another option – pastry. My father in law has established a family ritual of finishing brunch at the lake with a Johan’s pecan roll or sticky bun. You may ask, dessert at Breakfast? Sure. You’re on the lake. Live a little. And randomly they have a large parrot in the lobby. So there’s that.

 

 

BEER

I’ll be honest, while Michigan is a top-5 craft brewing state Petoskey has not historically been a source of interest for the brewing enthusiast. It appears that may be changing. In the last few months’ two separate breweries have tapped the scene.

Beards Brewery: While I’ve yet to cross the threshold, all signs point towards an amazing existence. Beards is a small niche brewery in every fashion. Tucked away behind a few shops on Howard St., two buddies have grown their home brewing hobby into an admirable small barrel brew house. I’d heard they are brewing a fair amount of session beers, yet their web site current lists some pretty interesting beers with serious ABVs. In either case – I’m excited of the prospect of having someplace to hideout while Mrs. GastroBoy subsidizes the local economy on Lake Street.

Petoskey Brewing: If these guys have their way every restaurant in Emmett County will be serving Petoskey Brewing beers. They’re aggressively pursuing distribution. Clearly more commercially driven that Beards, still early reports on the beer are favorable. I’m enjoying the photos of their building. They’ve renovated an iconic landmark along 119 that was once, you guessed it, a brewery.  And as a bonus, it’s also easily accessible from the county bike trail. Um honey, I’m going for a long “bike ride.”

 

Honorable Mention      So, that it’s; my primer on Petoskey. Yes, I’m sure I’ve offended some with what I’ve left out. Still, this is enough to wet your whistle. Before I go however, I will give you one last treat. I can’t write a piece about Petoskey without giving some major props to Papa Lou’s. It’s become our go-to joint for watching games during football season. But that’s not why I mention it.

Last season I witnessed something peculiar upstairs at Papa Lou’s. They were installing swings. Think about that. Right? It didn’t make sense. Then I came back in the fall and witnessed something that can’t be unseen. Nothing says Girls Gone Wild, or in this case, Bunko Bettys gone Bizerk, like swings in a bar. Thank you Papa. Thank you for reminding us that Fudgies are alive and well. Here’s your moment of Zen.  

 

Thursday
Apr182013

Food Goes Social

Author’s disclaimer: I am in no way associated to any of the businesses mentioned in this piece.  This is not an advertorial and no animals were harmed in the making of this episode.

 

Guess what I just heard… Some people actually enjoy the company of others. Crazy, right?

 

For years I’ve been called anti-social, a curmudgeon, or simply a dick. Well guess what all you judgmental, emotionally co-dependant bastards? I’m not anti-social.  There’s a clinical explanation for my demeanor.  According to the Myers-Briggs personality test I’m an introvert. More specifically, I’m an INTJ (note: while that explains a lot, I may also be a dick).

As an introvert, I’ve never understood the draw to social events. Yes, I value professional networking. And I can excuse mating rituals (aka blind dates, speed dating, desperate divorcee’s at the Habitat Lounge, etc.). But aside from professional or sexual advancement why would anyone willingly spend time with strangers?

Apparently I’m in the minority. In 2000 I joined forced with the other team.  I married a “People Person.” At first it was thrilling, almost voyeuristic. She talked to real life strangers.  On planes, instead of hiding in a magazine we spoke to the people sitting next to us. At restaurants we chatted-up everyone from the host to wait staff to the table across the way with an interesting scarf. And guess what happened? These people spoke back. We learned things. We laughed. We made friends. Bizarre, right?!

Since that time I’ve been thrust into a constant stream of forced socialization. Apparently when you make a new acquaintance it’s customary to address them on your next encounter. My fortress of social-solitude has been obliterated. I can’t even go grocery shopping without the dreaded “stop and chat.” But I digress.

 

Social Media Makes Food Social

So perhaps you’re not as lucky as GastroBoy. Maybe you don’t have a personal social planner. Ans perhaps, unlike me, you don't prefer eating alone at the bar. Food is inherently social. How do you find folks to dine with? How do you justify cooking an entire roast when you live alone? Look no further. There’s an app for that.

Have you ever learned a strange new word and then heard it used three times in the next week?  Recently I heard about a new “social media” app for creating meet-ups at local restaurants. Within days I read about a separate web service that helps folks find pub-crawl style restaurant tours; then anther servied came into my news stream, and another. Suddenly there’s an entire  category of social media dining services. 

As an introvert I see these services as riddled with conflict. As a social capitalist I’m intrigued. Each offers a unique consumer proposition. More curiously, each has a built in model for monetization and scale. Can they really make it? Will users flock or is it a ridiculous exploit – AKA – Are they Rad or Fad? Let’s review.

 

Bringing Strangers Together in Public (AKA Meet ups)

BlendAbout.com (find New Places to Eat and Cool People to Meet): Here’s the set-up…BlendAbouts social dining service matches you with like-minded folks for group meals at local restaurants. According to their pitch, there’s no awkward 1:1s – safety in numbers.  So basically it’s a marketing service for group events. Theoretically you’ll receive a special chef’s menu or unique experience.  I call bullshit. While the concept is genius, the reality is a social club for mouth-breathers. Most noteworthy restaurants already offer chef's experience events. And EVERY restaurat accommodates solo diners. Are there really that many folks who need a service to dine out? 

VERDICT: GastrobBoy says FAD.

 

DishCrawl.com: Here's a curious take...DishCrawl distinguishes from BlendAbout by adding the Pub-Crawl format. For a flat fee strangers receive an evening guaranteed to include multiple stops. Frankly, unless it’s on a Tuesday I don’t see the draw for restaurants to participate. Let’s say the facilitators are able to secure worthwhile destinations. What’s the appeal to participants?  How many meals can you have in one night? The success hinges on the facilitators ability to create worthwhile themes within close proximity. I see a lot of beer and cocktails in their future – ergo the Ann Arbor’s Artini event. It may also take off as a turn-key social event for busy friends who shudder athte idea of planning thier own night out. 

VERDICT: Rad (just barely)

AUTHOR’s NOTE: In Michigan Motor City Brew Tours already has the beer angle wrapped up – FTW.

 

Bringing Strangers Together in Private [Homes]

Feastly.com (Authentic Food with Real People): Looking for something a little more authentic and intimate? Perhaps you love to cook Paella but live alone and can’t justify the large grocery bill. Feastly creates a venue for cooks and “feasters” to hook-up for home-cooked meals in a private residence. “Feasters” help pay for the groceries and enjoy a meal unavailable to the masses.  The service is currently in private beta.  Like AirBNB or VRBO, there’s an inherent level of risk. Having said that, I feel as though this is one of the coolest ways technology is being used to bring people together. I foresee niche home-chefs becoming sought after underground stars. It may also serve as a powerful incubator for promising restraunteurs.

VERDICT: Very, Very Rad.

 

Laggards Are People Too

Perhaps this whole social media ‘thang just aint your bag. There are still ways for the less tech-savvy foodies to commune with total strangers.  Here’s a few “web 1.0” Ann Arbor foodie networks.

Bona Sera Super Club     While most of their energy of late has been directed towards running Ypsilanti’s newest café, the power duo of Bad Fairy & Wonder Woman manage to fit in an occasional secret dinner club event from time to time.  The venues are constantly changing and the menus are always epic. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter for the inside scoop.

Tammy’s Tastings / TT Super Club     Theoretically this is similar to Bona Sera, though I have no personal experience. Lately it appears as though Tammy is spending more energy on hosting cocktail classes. Be forewarned, if you attend one of these classes you may be forced to don cheap Hawaiian Lei’s while making Tiki drinks at a “prohibition” bar.

Edible Lab     Imagine all of the best parts about a cooking class combined with the social excitement of a secret Popup café. Welcome to the Edible Lab, the brainchild of local boy Aaron Van Dyke. Recent events have included poultry butchery and Paella making. Here’s hoping Aaron keeps it up for a long time to come.

Café Selma     Of course the best way to commune with strangers over a nourishing meal is by visiting Selma Café. Get there early, pay generously and don’t park within two blocks! THIS JUST IN.... Cafe Selma will be on Hiatus until further notice. Read all aout it here ... [LINK]

 

WILD CARD: MyFab5

Since we’re talking about food and social media I thought I’d mention Ann Arbor’s newest tech start-up, MyFab5. Seperate from in-personal social events there's a host of web and mobile apps designed to make food social. These apps focus on ratings, sharing photos, reccomendations, etc. They are the Yelps, Urbanspoon, Foodspotting, yada, yada, yada.

Some enterprising local minds have come up with a new take on these apps to help “simplify the way people recommend their favorite places and find the best places.” In theory it’s a pretty powerful concept. I travel a lot, and I have a lot of Facebook friends in other area codes. The idea of harnessing their experience is encouraging. Wouldn't it simplify travel planning if you knew what Portland restaurants your Northwest foodie friends prefered? Still, success relies upon each of these folks actively engaging in a rating system.

There’s no saying what makes an app successful…satisfying an unmet consumer need, popular early adopters or just plain luck. Whatever it is, here’s best wishes to the folks at Fab5. Check’em out. 

 

Have you used any of these services? Do they excite you? Disgust you? Click "Comment" and share. 

Monday
Apr082013

The Class of 2013 | A2GB's Spring Restaurant Review

Ann Arbor has long been a dining haven within Southeast Michigan.  Still, I have never seen a time when so many interesting new restaurants opened in such quick succession. I thought you might appreciate the play-by-play from the mind of GastroBoy.

 

Washtenaw Ave. Put’s on Big Girl Pants

Let’s face it, Maple Village is the only real estate uglier than Washtenaw Avenue. I have NEVER been excited about entering the Washtenaw corridor, let alone eating there (save for Satchel’s!). Having said that, this summer we welcome a new chapter in suburban retail – Arbor Hills Crossing. It’s shaping up to be a brilliant estrogen playground housing brands like LuLu Lemon, Hot Mama, Sur La Table and Arhaus. It wouldn’t shock me if the next tenant announced is a colonic yoga spa or some nouveau female-centric beauty merchant (this just in…it’s Running Fit!).

And what’s a fancy shopping trip without some fashionable noshing? Thanks to these boutiques the marketers of Arbor Hills Crossing have been able to lure high-brow dining concepts. Rest assured, there will be NO resurrection of the Hibachi Grill in this “Life Style Center.” Here’s what we know so far (beyond the fact that parking will suck; if at all possible walk or ride your bike).

  • Pizzeria BIGA: You may be familiar with [James Beard recognized] Chef Luciano Del Signore as the proprietor of Southfield’s Bacco Ristonante. It’s a perennial favorite in the Metro Detroit scene. In the last few years Chef Luciano has been growing his empire with multiple locations of a casual yet stylish Neapolitan Pizza concept. It’s not entirely unlike Mani in format, though I would argue that in execution they have significantly different personalities. Expect it to become an instant success.
  • Café Zola East [Name yet to be determined]: This is a curious development. Since opening Cafe Zola in 1996 owners Hediye Batu and Alan Zakalik have been slow to expand. While Zola’s a regular on our dining circuit, it’s a bit too predictable.  It’s become a laughing point that their “specials” never change. They’re simply unprinted extensions of the standard menu. Adding curiosity to “Café Zola East” is the lack of details provided. Will it mirror their current format? Likely not. My guess is that they will create an equally thoughtful menu with a slightly tangential tone, and given the location, it will be mindful of broader tastes (that’s shorthand for catering to less sophisticated strip-mall diners).
  • Concept Yet to Be Announced: It’s been said that there will be three restaurants. While I have NO inside information, anticipate the third to be a more casual (less expensive) concept. Perhaps a café with post-spa coffee, smoothies and anything Acacia Berry. Or perhaps and equally chick-friendly soup and salad concept.

 

NOTE: Don’t forget that right across the street we’ll soon see Michigan’s first Elevation Burger open. Hazzah!

 

Mid-Town Fills In

Despite a cleaver campaign Wafel Shop seems intent on promoting, I refuse to call this the Dessert District (OK - so maybe it's growing on me).  We now have a contiguous stream of interesting concepts along the previously deserted [not desserted – see what I did there?] walk between Campus and Main Street. Two of the last gaps to fill-in saw tenants open their doors in February.

  • Wafel Shop It’s exactly what it sounds like…a shop that sells waffles; amazing, gooey, tasty, desert-style waffles. They’re brilliant.  The Diabetes epidemic is in no danger of ending on this block.  
  • What Crepe? While I love this restaurant, the name may prove deceptive and limiting. Most ethnocentric Americans consider crepes to be “fancy pancakes.” Perhaps the owners have more faith in Ann Arborite’s worldly experience than old man GastroBoy. In either case, I wish them well. The savory side of the menu is a charming and unique addition to town. And adding a bar stop along this lone dry block is icing on the “crepe.”

 

 

The Rise of Quality-Casual

There’s historically been an affluent, almost elitism surrounding great taste. If diners were pinched for time or money they were relegated to the greasy-spoon, fast-food, take-out hell.  Thanks to the culinary revolution we’re finally starting to see real flavor progress in the lower ticket dining space.

  • Lunch Room: The fine folks behind one of Ann Arbor’s favorite food carts are graduating to brick and mortar, filling in a sweet space behind Monahan’s fish market. Look for them to get mobbed by Commi-High kids and vegan-minded folks visiting the farmers market. Thanks for proving vegan doesn’t mean bland.
  • Juicy Kitchen: Speaking of adding a healthy-conscious bend to flavorfully casual, the West side recently welcomed Juicy Kitchen. This is another example of incubating businesses taking the next step in 2013. Congratulations. Author’s Note: though they often sell out, Juicy Kitchen carries some killer all-natural energy bars made in Detroit that make Cliff bars look like feces.
  • Belly Deli: Let’s face it, there hasn’t been any real flavor innovation in the sandwich category since the 1990’s Mediteranean Aioli-Pesto-Ciabatta-Panini craze.  Now the sandwich category has finally caught up with the rest of the food world and started mining Asian flavors. Virtually overnight Bahn Mi has become the newest 'it girl', a Vietnamese Lena Dunham. The fine folks at No Thai are the first one locally to dedicate brick and mortar to the concept.  Their Belly Deli concept (Gourmet Asian Sandwiches) is well played. Expect many more players in the new category. Go Sans Street go! 

 

Cart Craze Continues

Our Hero Mark Hodesh and his Mark’s Carts have done more than revitalized a quiet block of downtown, they’ve made going out for lunch cool again.  And while it would be poor form not to acknowledge Ann Arbor has long had hot dog carts, this may finally be the year Ann Arbor sees food carts take residence along city streets. 

  • Mark’s Carts Class of 2013: Mark’s Carts will be back in full force this season. As of today I’ve already had some warm buns from Sans Street. I’m beyond excited to hear that Satchel’s BBQ is joining the ranks. We’ll also see a new authentic Mexican cart named El Manantial, though they were not at the April 1st preview day so I have little perspective. The roster rounds out with the return of forementioned Sans Street, Hut-K, Cheese Dream, Darcy’s Cart, Beet Box and A2 Pizza. What are you waiting for – get the hell outside for lunch this summer.
  • Number 9 Burgers: I was pulling for Rodney that his opening would have been on the 2012 highlight reel. Alas – this is the year. Keep your eyes peeled for a shiny new cart somewhere near campus.
  • Kitchen Sink Cart: According to Twitter and sparse website kitchensinkcart.com, Ann Arbor should anticipate another witty-named cart serving…um, I have no idea. Still, the prospect is charming. Go Andrew Go.

 

Wild Cards / Death Watch / In Memorial

  • Seva: Perhaps you’ve heard the news…our long-time staple of Liberty Street hippi food has lost their lease. Don’t fret. The grape vine is alive with rumors about their next home. Stay tuned. I’m more nervous about the Comedy Club. They’ve been able to inhabit the basement for years. It’ll be tough to find a new adequate and affordable home.
  • Blimpy Burger: Unless you live under a rock you’ve definitely heard this news. U of M is now the owner of Blimpy’s building. As a result Blimpy will leave the space sometime around art fair. The real estate hunt is on. Even Vegas odds makers are having trouble handicapping this one. Cross your fingers.
  • The Melting Pot: Really? It’s still here? When is this lease up and WHO is eating there? Are there that many U of M students and visiting parents who lack taste?
  • Kuroshio: For the record, I wish nothing but good fortune on this family. Having said that, every sign (including picket signs) points towards a difficult way forward. Godspeed. 
  • Mercy’s: This team is trying to do what no man (or woman) has done before, succeed with a fine dining restaurant in the heart of campus. Without even considering the menu I question whether that location can drive sustainable traffic at a fine dining price point.  I hope it can. They’ve made it two years and the Mercy family are fabulous people. They’ve recently opened for lunch. If you’re near campus please stop in.
  • In Memorial - Grand Traverse Pie Company [E. Liberty location]: It breaks my heart to see good money go down the drain. It’s even worse when you know there’s hard-earned family savings at stake. The fine folks behind this endeavor, and now Rocky Mountain Chocolate as well,  have learned a difficult lesson in business and site planning. I’m happy for the Pie Co. that their Zeeb Road location remains.

 

Dream Sequence

Ok – here’s my last thought. What does Ann Arbor still need? What else could succeed in this congested and competitive market? Here’s an idea. Follow me…

Chicken and the Egg: New concepts have no chance in suburban retail locations; leases are too valuable for developers to take a risk on an unproven concept and customers are too “white bread” to support something new unless it’s already made head-lines somewhere more urbane.  As a result, our major retail areas are crowded with bland national chains (ala Red Robin).

Only here’s the problem…traffic patterns limit the most successful suburban real estate opportunities to isolated islands. The neighboring “B” locations get marketed aggressively, but usually result in an ugly churn of failed concepts (ala Passport Lounge, Damon’s). As a local resident it’s a frustrating eye-sore.

I have another frustration. As a proponent of incubating small businesses (aka entrepreneurial cheerleader) I am all too aware of the challenges associated with a young company trying to grow. Let’s assume they had access to capital, It takes time to build tribe (loyal customer base). How do they nurture awareness and trial while maintaining sustainable cash-flow?  

It takes a Village:  I’ve been taken with the recent rise in pop-up and collaborative markets. This commercial model is not new. Since Rome it was the bedrock of community. In the last few generations it’s been chased out of America by more efficient corporate models. While I have no ill will towards capitalist success, quite the opposite, I do lament the lack of opportunity for small merchants.

And while I’m heartened by the rise of new collaborative markets, most of them serve seasonal or niches customers (Mark’s Carts, Lunasa, Liberty Local). Few if any have become sustained markets. The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale comes to mind, but even that can only support two days a week.  What if…

Let’s use the recently vacated Damon’s building as a case study. I can tell you with fair certainty that no desirable national chain wants that lease. Yes, it has proximity to a mall, many hotels and a busy thoroughfare. It also lacks visibility and requires a significant capital investment in remodeling. Chances are it’ll attract a second tier casual dining concept that will struggle to hit appropriate financial multiples and eventually some corporate suit (AKA non-local banker) will justify closing when the lease is up. And the cycle continues. Here’s another option…

Let’s pretend a local food-based 501(3)c decided to get involved (*cough* Selma – I’m talking to you Lisa).  Let’s assume they could sweet talk the broker into leasing them the space. How would they use it? As a not-for-profit they have creative leeway in setting up their business model.

  • Retail: Let’s say they allocated a portion of the space to retail. Yes, there could be a small boutique of items supporting the local food shed, but more importantly it could provide a valuable indoor retail outlet for our local CSAs. CSA members and farmers would no longer need to negotiate complicated rendezvous locations. The collaborative would support a shared “merchant” who mans (or womans) the shop. Farmers are free to go back to the land and grow.  Farmers would also have shared access to commercial refrigeration. Customers would have access to their locally grown produce seven days a week. Win Win.
  • Dining: Social engagement is a critical aspect to the local food movement. Selma has proven the power of brining community together while breaking bread to raisie bread. Imagine a portion of the space becomes a “community dining room.” Local organizations could use the space for fund-raising meals and meetings. Or Selma itself could sponsor regular revenue-sharing meals. Imagine if each Tuesday a different elementary school PTO partnered with a CSA to have a farm-dinner. Our kids would learn about nutrition and wellness while proceeds went to support our community. Like the retail space, there could also be a small, perpetual café or take-out counter to help sustain traffic and create an outlet for local produce.
  • Entrepreneurial Incubator: Here’s the final win on this three-legged stool. Because the space was previously a large restaurant, it has a large commercial kitchen, a scarce resource in Ann Arbor. It is very easy to conceive a schedule that includes plenty of time to sub-let the kitchen to local start-up ventures. Not only does it help distribute overhead costs, it provides yet another opportunity to build tribe and support local start-ups.

Am I crazy? Is this too kumbaya for Ann Arbor? The more I type the more I get excited about the potential. There any many, many viable partners. I think there’s a practical business plan here. You tell me (this is where you rush to the comment section and reply). 

 

That’s all I’ve got today - I'm just realizing that my dream sequence made this a pretty long peice. Thanks for hanging.  What else are you excited about? For the record, Vellum and Isalita both opened in 2012, ergo their absence in this piece. And let’s face it, no one wants to read another word, particularly from me, about either. So there. Be kind and kick me a comment.  Ciao. 

Monday
Apr012013

Peaches

It's Easter... Spring Break. Most of the GastroBoy loyalists are on vacation and as such are liable to miss any new post – a shame since my latest work is a doozy. With that insight I've decided to hold back my new work until after the resurrection festivities.  In its place I'm sharing a meditation on lyrical poetry.

 

I'm a drummer. That means I'm in the rhythm section. I keep the beat. I don't care about lyrics. Never have.  Still, this whole writing hobby has made me mindful of words.  For the first time in my life I’ve started listening to what the pretty frontman, or woman, is actually saying. 

This afternoon while air-drumming on the arch trainer I was moved (sorry if you were down wind). I was taken by the lyrics of a song. While most little ditties on my ipod are superficial party jams, this piece was different. It has depth. There was a story, dare I say parable.  It had meaning and heart-felt emotion. I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me. I had to share. Check this out..

 

Peaches

It's a coming of age tale…the story of a boy, a wayward sole. He’s lost, disenfranchised. After years of working for the man, trying to emulate a superficial ideal, he realizes peace and contentment do not exist in the fast-paced dog-eat dog culture of urban America.

Eventually there’s boiling point. He’s had all he can stand and he can’t stand any more. It’s time to make a change, a spiritual-intervention. He decides to the leave the city, move to the country, pursue a simpler life.

Here’s where it get’s interesting. Our protagonist quickly finds that life in the country is not quite so simple. The stresses of the city have been replaced with back-breaking labor and ignorant frustration. The locals see him as an intruder and he struggles to fit in. Our hero begins to question himself and the decisions he’s made. His prospects for a good life seem bleak and his mood turns dark.

It’s often said that the darkest days are before the dawn. As we begin worrying about our hero’s mental stability and mortal survival the story takes an unexpected twist. Enter the farmer’s daughter… the forbidden fruit.

This is a wrenching saga filled with epic peaks and desperate valleys. In the end love prevails and comedy ensues. It’s a feel-good story for the ages. There’s even a cameo by a pig named Arnold. I hope you find it as moving as I have.

With no further ado, I give you Peaches.

 

Friday
Mar222013

OBERON DAY 2013!

Author’s Note: This piece was originally written after the 2011 Oberon release. Since the majority of all-y’all didn’t read my work two years ago I’ve decided to dust it off, give it a spit-shine and re-post. Enjoy.


[Soundtrack: Andy Williams, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”]

Today is my Birthday. I’ve always relished this time of year. No, not because I’m showered with love and material gifts (though I do appreciate both), more importantly it’s springtime in Michigan. People who live in more temperate climates can’t appreciate the glory of a sunny 50-degree March day.

After a long gray winter nothing is more euphoric than getting outdoors, soaking up the sun and communing with fresh air. Drive by campus and you’ll see throngs of co-eds frolicking like it’s summer; wearing shorts, having a barbecue, throwing the Frisbee and generally blowing off steam with reckless abandon. Canadians call this “patio weather.” And it’s my birthday. Take that Valentine babies.

Of all my nostalgic and over-romanticized birthday memories (like touching a boob in eighth grade!), nothing compares to the March days spent sitting on a porch in Kalamazoo’s student ghetto celebrating another annual milestone, the release of Bell’s Solsun. 

 

History Lesson     Bell’s Beer was founded in Kalamazoo, MI in 1985 after Larry Bell figured out he could not only make, but sell some pretty amazing craft beers. The early years were modest. While he was never at a loss for new and more stunning recipes, the practicalities of bottling and commerce limited his ability to package every beer. Bottling lines cost money and the scarcity of capacity prompted some creative solutions.

 

22 ounces of Love     In the late eighties and early nineties craft beer was in it’s infancy. The most commercially viable brews were what current connoisseurs would perhaps consider the least interesting. Larry’s fermenting tanks and 12 oz bottle lines were usually maxed out producing these more-marketable varietals; Pale, Third Coast, Amber and Porter. More robust flavors, with smaller appeal, were relegated to the “seasonal” tank, and a 22 oz bottling line. 

The two most popular flavors from this 22 oz line were a lightly fruit-and-spiced wheat ale (Solsun) and a richer, dark, smoothly-toasted dark ale (Best Brown). The differing style lent well to opposing seasons, summer and winter. Somewhere in that era evolved a now sacred Michigan tradition of offering Solsun spring through summer and Best Brown in the fall and winter. Gloriously, the release of Solsun often coincided with the first days of patio weather - and often my birthday.

 

Solsun vs. Oberon     Here’s another interesting lesson. This glorious Solsun that I speak of was, as the muggles refer to it today, Oberon. Go back to the photo above and read the label.  Those are vintage 22 oz bottles from my personal cellar.

Facts are hard to verify without talking to Larry Bell himself, but here’s what I understand. At some point around 1996, Bell’s received a cease and desist letter requiring an end to the name Solsun. It infringed upon the trademark of a Mexican beer named Sol. So, in the summer of 1997 Solsun was released as Oberon andsince it had grown in popularity and Larry had invested in more bottling capacity, the new name coincided with a new 12-oz six pack.  

Now here’s where the conspiracy theory starts. Avid (or rabid) Bell’s fans believe the cease and desist was actually angry retaliation over Bell’s refusal to sell his charming and marketable company to Heineken, the macro brewer who had recently acquired Sol. Heineken, like other Macro-Brewers of the day (Anheuser now InBev and Miller now SABMiller), was in a competitive land-grab to purchase small, marketable brands in the new “micro brew” category. I cannot confirm nor deny this legend. But it makes for great dramatic effect. In either case, I was imprinted early. I will always refer to it as Solsun. I continue to confuse young and oblivious waitresses when I order “Solun, no I mean Oberon.” 

 

Innocence Lost 

Oberon Launch 2011Last night, after reading a tweet that Monday was Oberon Day I sought out one of the four bars in Ann Arbor entrusted with a keg of Fresh Oberon. I found myself conflicted by what I found. As I sat there taunting buddies with text-photos I noticed that all of the waitresses were wearing Bell’s Oberon bumper stickers on their asses (here’s where you make the obligatory reference, “I only read it for the articles”). Suddenly Bells felt just a little bit like “Bud.” 

Then I checked facebook and saw that a suburban Mom had just posted a photo of Oberon at Trader Joe’s. What the What? No, Larry never sold to Heineken, but our little craft beer has gone “MACRO.” While I celebrate the commercial success that has come to Larry and the Bell’s team, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit violated.  In that moment I understood the badge of honor held by esoteric band groupies who protest that you’re not a true Nirvana fan if you don’t own an original Sub Pop pressing. And while I’m at it, screw DTE Energy Theater. It’s Pine Knob goddamnit. But I digress.

Great craft beer is for sharing. And perhaps even more importantly, Oberon is proof that commercial success is happening in Michigan. We should embrace the bumper-stickered asses (figuratively, anything else is just plain naughty) and exalt the mass-market Oberon nation. 

Back in 1997 when news of the impending name-change broke Solsun fans everywhere including A2Gastroboy made a pilgrimage to Kalamazoo. In a mad dash to the Eccentric Cafe we bought-up all remaining memorabilia. I prized trophy from that trip is a sweatshirt bearing the original Solsun name. Every spring I wear my Bells hoodie with smug pride knowing I’m special. I’m elite. I was there first.

Viva la Oberon.

    Temporary Tattoo circa 2012, Hoodie circa 1996

 

2013 RELEASE DETAILS

Ready for your own fresh Solsun / Oberon? Monday March 25th is the 2013 Oberon release date. Here's a run down of the local festivities compliments of the Bell's marketing staff. 

Follow The Sun, Follow The Flag Oberon Pub Crawl: Multiple locations, Ann Arbor 
Celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer starting with Oberon and BBQ at Rub Pub (11:30 AM) and from there we will head to: Conor O'Neil's (1 p.m.), Old Town Tavern (2 p.m.), Arena (3 p.m.), Buffalo Wild Wings on S. State (4 p.m.), Saca's (4:45 p.m.), Red Hawk (5:30 p.m.) and Ashley's at 6:15 p.m.

 

 

POST SCRIPT       Here’s a fun bar room trivia winner. Oberon was named after the character in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night’s Dream, a role Larry Bell is said to have acted in a school production of the play. 


POST-POST SCRIPT       If this moving essay wasn’t enough inspire a trip to your local craft brewer (or Trader Joes!), consider this fact. It was Larry Bell who, with help of coarse, was able to get then Governor John Engler to sign legislation allowing consumption on-site. In 1993 Bells became the first brewery in Michigan since prohibition to serve beer by the glass. John Engler even made a visit to the Eccentric cafe to commemorate the moment. It was the bizzaro-world version of Elvis is the White House.