Ann Arbor vibe: Where social consciousness meets creativity

There’s a definite vibe in Ann Arbor — one where social consciousness and creativity converge. And so I mapped out interesting places in the eclectic Westside to immerse myself in all this trendy city has to offer.zingerman camp bacon t-shirt

A first stop is the Selma Cafe, located in the home of Jeff McCabe and his wife, Lisa Gottlieb. The cafe is open Friday for breakfast in their historic home. Local chefs, such as cookbook author Max Sussman, formerly a chef at Zingerman’s and the now-closed Eve who is now chef and co-owner of Samesa Restaurant in Williamsburg, volunteered to create wonderful meals using local ingredients, sometimes serving up to 180 meals during the event.

On a mission

Proceeds from these breakfasts support the area’s Community Sustainable Agriculture operations, including building hoop houses — inexpensive structures that continue the growing season once the weather turns cold.

A moveable feast


At my next stop, I eat freshly baked Welsh scones topped with Devonshire cream and housemade plum and vanilla rooibos tea jam at the elegant TeaHaus, on Fourth Street north of the downtown. The TeaHaus features a wall of drawers filled with more than 200 varieties of tea leaves from around the world.

Also on the same street is the People’s Food Co-op, a community-owned natural foods grocery store, where customers can stock up on at least three types of kale and four varieties of sprouts, among other items, and enjoy a Fair Trade coffee and meal at its Cafe Verde.

Across the street is Fourth Ave Birkenstock selling the low-carbon transportation alternative with just two moving parts and featuring one of the few in the nation to have a Birkenstock shoe repair team.

Around the corner on Ann Street is Vicki’s Wash & Wear Haircuts & Heavenly MetalDSC_0316 (1), a gallery and gift shop featuring a range of global art works, including furniture, jewelry, clothing, purses, shoes and gift items. Tucked away in a front corner of the store is the lone salon chair where you can get your hair cut by owner Vicki Honeyman, a film school graduate who morphed into hair styling and retail more than a decade ago.

Later, I drink lattes with Ari Weinzweig, a Russian history major who eschewed grad school and instead co-founded Zingerman’s Deli, which grew into the food empire of seven businesses. The food emporium features expensive imported olive oils, freshly baked breads, retro pimento cheese and chopped chicken liver. Each year, 10 percent of sales go toward community projects and another 5 percent goes into a community chest for employees.DSC_0047

Though so far I’ve been able to walk to all these places, all within a radius of a few blocks, for my next stop I hit the road to chat with Alex Young, the James Beard Award-winning chef at Zingerman’s Road House, part of Zingerman’s mega-business, which is located off the Jackson Avenue, Exit 172 of I-94. Young not only creates fantastic meals, he also has a farm where he raises heirloom and organic produce and animals for his restaurant. Young’s next goal is to grow ancient grains such as farro, an Egyptian precursor to wheat.DSC_0188

A jump onto the interstate and a few miles later on the southeast side of town I’m at Motawi Tileworks, where owner/designer Nawal Motawi creates tiles using local clays and glazes mixed on site and offers tile-making workshops.

At dinner that night, chef/owner Brandon Johns of the farm-to-table restaurant Grange Bar & Kitchen in downtown Ann Arbor is serving one of his best-selling menu items — fried pig’s head served with gribiche, a French mustard mayonnaise sauce. I don’t ask for the recipe, but Johns, who stops by my table, gives me a brief description anyway, including such steps as boiling and then removing the meat from a pig’s head. I sigh with relief to learn that eyeballs are not part of the recipe. Trust me, you don’t want to know any more about the process, but the dish is delicious.DSC_0059

Creating a custom tour is easy. Go to the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website,, and make a list of what sounds intriguing. It’s a wonderful way to while away a day with an adventure both enriching and enlightening.

Chorizo with Blue Cheese and Dates

Courtesy of Chef Brandon Johns, Grange Kitchen & Bar

1 pound Spanish style dried chorizo sausage

½ pound blue cheese, Cabrales is recommended

8 Medjool dates, pitted and halved

Toothpicks or skewers

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Slice chorizo into 16 pieces and lay flat on cutting board. Fill center of date with cheese and place cut side of date on top of each chorizo. Skewer each chorizo with toothpick.

Place skewers on baking sheet and place in oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until sausage is warm and cheese is a little melted. Serve immediately.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse Mac & Cheese

Courtesy of Chef Alex Young

Coarse sea salt

1 pound macaroni

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup diced onion

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 pound grated raw milk cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta and stir well. Cook until the pasta is done. Drain and set it aside.

Melt butter for the sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat being careful not to scorch the butter. Add the onion and bay leaf and sauté until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Add the flour, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.

Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When the flour and milk have been completely combined, stir in the cream. Keep the mixture at a gentle simmer (not at a high boil) until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the mustard, cheddar cheese and salt to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes and set aside.

In a heavy bottom skillet over med-high heat, get the pan very hot. Add olive oil and when it begins to smoke add the cheese sauce and the drained cooked noodles. Toss thoroughly and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you have approximately 15 % of the mixture golden brown. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Remove from heat.