Hog + Rocks

Back in the day, a very long time before I knew Shane, he was really into electronic music.  I’m not sure if his devotion to electronic music reached the same heights as my devotion to a certain Canadian band, but I do know that he was similarly involved in online communities related to his musical passions, most specifically the IDM mailing list.  His work trip to SF last fall provided the opportunity to finally meet Kiya, one of his friends from the IDM list – as well as a fellow aficionado of fine denim, good food, and good beer.  Calling Kiya a denim aficionado is a bit of an understatement.  He and his wife own amazing denim stores in SF, New York, and, most recently, Los Angeles.  He’s a dangerous – or fantastic – sort of friend to have when you are a gentleman of discriminating denim tastes.  Long story short: we were looking forward to hanging out with Kiya and his wife, and were delighted when they suggested dinner Monday night.

After a full day of walking and driving and photo taking, we were exceedingly happy to be picked up – along with our luggage – by Kiya and Demitra and whisked off in the direction of the Mission.  Our first stop for the night was Zeitgeist, an intense bar featuring the best Bloody Mary in the city.  As we walked in, Kiya told us that the bar goes through more beer than any other bar in the city, which I would believe based on the hipster population density on the patio.  True to form, my Bloody Mary was excellent – though a bit spicy for me – and packed to the brim with snacks:

bloody mary ..
Photo by fatniu

Alcohol blankets in place against the cool SF night, we were off to our next stop: dinner at Hog and Rocks. We were interested in having some good seafood while in SF, and Hog and Rocks specializes in ham and oysters, so it seemed like a perfect spot.  Hog and Rocks has only been open since mid-summer, and I’m guessing this interesting and moderately-priced spot is going to be a lot harder to get into by the time we get back to SF.

We were seated at the bar and directed to three menus: dinner, ham/oysters, and shot/beer. That’s right – shot and a beer. And not in the Irish car bomb sense – more like a pairing of a shot and a beer. All were priced at around $8 – an outstanding price in Ann Arbor, much less in an up-and-coming spot in SF. I had a shot of a very floral gin along with a Sam Adams Light – the ladies’ choice, obviously.  On to dinner, and to a serious consultation of the ham and oyster menu. We decided to order two small plates each, giving us lots of delicious things to sample over the course of the evening. My two came from the ham menu – an Italian speck served with melon, and a Spanish jamon serrano with olive oil, saba, and a nutty mahon cheese. Both were delicious and just the right size for a few bites each. From the main menu:

  • Ham and cheese corn fritters – a little too doughy, but good dipped in a spicy mustard.
  • Sea scallops crudo – didn’t realize that ‘crudo’ meant ‘basically raw’ – the plate wasn’t all that appetizing when it arrived, but the basil and citrus came together nicely with the jiggly scallop.
  • Cast iron octopus – I’d had my cephalopod fill at Flour + Water, but this looked intriguing and apparently tasted even better.
  • Chicken wing confit – the name was enough to convince Kiya that this might be the dinner of his dreams.  The wings were good, but not dream-worthy, though they did feature the house hot sauce.
  • Cavatelli pasta with English peas, egg, and ham – really the stand-out dish for both of us – pure comfort food without the weight you’d expect from a pasta dish.  Along with last night’s succotash, I’m newly convinced that you can make a simple and lovely pasta the centerpiece of a meal without having to feel guilty and/or run a 5K the next morning.

I pocketed the ham menu to see if we can recreate some of the dishes for future snack dinners, though I doubt we’ll be trying the oysters at home.  With plans made for the next day’s Russian River trip, Kiya and Demitra delivered us to our Airbnb room, and we slept the sweet sleep of the tired and full.

If you go:

199 Valencia St (Valencia and Duboce)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7505

Get a Bloody Mary, if that’s your thing. Demitra also highly recommended the tamales sold by the tamale lady on the patio.

Hog and Rocks
3431 19th St (19th & Mission)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 550-8627

Get a shot and a beer and some really excellent ham.

Golden Gate Park

Labor Day dawned beautiful and sunny, and after checking out of our hotel and having another excellent breakfast at Blue Bottle, we hopped on a bus in the direction of Golden Gate Park.

If you look at a map of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park (hereafter GGP, too long to type each time) is a giant thumb of green tucked in the middle of an urban sea. Nearly 25% larger than New York’s Central Park, GGP houses a number of museums, dedicated gardens, playgrounds, playing fields, paths, and a century-old lawn bowling club.

San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club

We had no set agenda for our explorations, and so felt free to linger by the lawn bowling field, where a helpful volunteer explained some of the nuances of the game. It is not the same as bocce or pétanque, and the balls are neither strictly round nor intended to be hurled in the air. Instead, ladies and gentlemen of all ages civilly roll the ovoids down the manicured green in an attempt to get closest to the “jack”. The gentleman pictured below has been a member of the club since 1964.

San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club

After a bit of wandering around, we made our way to Crepevine in Inner Sunset to meet Nate and Sharon for lunch. Crepevine reminded me a bit of Aroma or Kopi – neighborhood-y places to grab lunch and a cup of coffee with friends. We were hungry but not enough to commit to individual dishes, so we split a quality tuna sandwich and Caesar salad and drank a lot of water and lemonade to rehydrate before more park exploration. Nate and Sharon tried to show us the Japanese Tea Garden and the Fine Arts Museum, but it was too nice out to stand in lines and pay money to be inside. They did, however, convince us that we had to see the Golden Gate Bridge up close, for which we are thankful.

E & E
Look! I’m irrationally excited about a sign with my name on it!

Golden Gate Bridge
This looks too perfect, right? I mean, when is the sky EVER that blue? Especially in SF?

Nate & Sharon
Nate & Sharon

E & Shane
Cool bridge, u guys!

Despite having generously driven us around not once but twice, Nate and Sharon were up for a final adventure with us: ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, whose salted caramel is supposed to be out of this world. Unfortunately, so is the line, often stretching around the block, especially on a gorgeous day when everyone’s off work. The trick, apparently, is to go to Bi-Rite Market just down the street and buy a pint – but when we got there, the freezer cases were cordoned off, pints of salted caramel taunting us from behind glass panes and a big tape X. Fortunately there was one more option: a walk-up window for the bakery, where you can ALSO get ice cream. We zipped over there and picked up two pints – one for eating, the other as a thank you for Nate and Sharon – of frozen gold. I’m not sure how to describe the flavor of salted caramel if you’ve never had it – but the texture was like the finest soft serve you’ve ever put in your mouth – smooth and creamy, with a hint of salt. I’m glad we tried it, though the runaround necessary to obtain it stressed all of us out.

salted caramel, brown sugar ginger caramel swirl
Photo by roboppy

Many thanks to Nate and Sharon for a fun afternoon of adventure!

If you go:

Golden Gate Park
Bounded by Great Hwy (west), Fulton St (north), Stanyan St (east), and Lincoln Way (south)
San Francisco, CA

Plan to spend at least an afternoon, but more likely a whole day, depending on how much of the park you’d like to see – and if you make it to the Buffalo Paddock (or Bison Enclosure), send me photos.

624 Irving St (between 7th & 8th)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 681-5858

I wouldn’t go out of your way to go here, but if you find yourself on this end of the park and are looking for a inexpensive yet filling and tasty lunch, Crepevine is right for you!

Golden Gate Bridge
US Highway 101
San Francisco, CA

Definitely worth seeing. There’s a visitor’s center on the SF side where I imagine you can buy all manner of Golden Gate Bridge ephemera.

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St (between Dolores & Oakwood)
San Francisco, CA 94110-1531
(415) 241-9760

The salted caramel was incredible. I can’t vouch for any other flavor, but I intend to try as many as I can when next we’re in SF.

The Haight, Sandwiches, and Farmer Brown

I’ll admit it: I was a wanna-be hippie in high school and college. I wore tie-dye and had Jim Morrison posters on my walls. I even have photos to prove it:

My First Dorm Room

Like every kid of my ilk, I had fantasies of packing it in and moving to the Haight, of bathing in patchouli and growing my hair long, of breezy sundresses and good vegetarian cooking. I’ve long since grown out of those dreams, discarded along with the ill fitting tie-dyed t-shirts, the books of Morrison’s poetry, and the nag champa incense (though I did buy A Whiter Shade of Pale on vinyl over the winter), so I’m not sure what I expected when we caught the bus from the Sutro Baths in the direction of the Haight. Lunch, I guess, and to see the sites that I’d imagined had held sway over me at 17.

These days the Haight is kind of like Disneyland for hippies: washed up, sold out, and packed with tourists. The streets are full of shops – ranging from cute boutiques selling lingerie and retro fashions to hip menswear stores to the obligatory headshops – and shoppers, all of whom moved at a glacial pace. We hit Amoeba Music, an epically huge record store near Golden Gate Park, and Shane had a tough time not buying records to bring home. I’m only being minorly hyperbolic when I say that they might have every album released ever. It was intense.

Equally intense the was the bar at The Alembic, our lunch destination, whose awesomeness was matched only by our hunger after a morning of hiking around.

The Alembic

Now THAT is a bar. I ordered a Corpse Reviver #2, partially because it sounded refreshing and partially because it’s what Foursquare told me to do. It did not steer me wrong. Shane ordered a beer which wasn’t memorable enough for me to remember it at the moment, but he enjoyed it. And then lunch: another epic sandwich and two kinds of tasty chips:

Mushroom Bánh mì

Mushroom bánh mì – spicy, nutty, complex flavors tucked in a perfectly crispy baguette – served with cassava chips, also subtly spicy. We neglected to notice that we’d be getting chips with our sandwich, and so shared sumac dusted potato chips with a zesty yogurt dip. San Francisco has seriously spoiled sandwiches for us. There’s not a chance we can go back to the occasional Five Dollar Footlong after this. Not a chance.

After a thoroughly satisfying lunch, we wandered around the Haight for a few hours, picking up a few gifts for ourselves and others, then continued in the direction of Toronado, in the Lower Haight. Shane had committed to at least two trips to Toronado, so this fulfilled the quota. Unfortunately this time it smelled terrible, and I was getting tired and cranky and definitely didn’t want beer – so while Shane got his beer and picked up a fantastic grilled sausage from Rosamunde Sausage Grill next door, I walked down the street for more lemon cookie ice cream from Three Twins.

By the time we finished our snacks, we were both wiped and not feeling motivated to find anything else to do, so we headed back to the hotel and the confines of our very comfortable bed. Shane perused the TV listings, all of which contained curiously concise and helpful descriptions (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Boy wins tour”) for a while I napped a bit, waking up hungry at 8pm.

Our late dinner options were limited by the hour and the fact that it was a Sunday night before a Monday holiday, but fortunately Farmer Brown – recommended by Heather – was open and serving up pretty fantastic soul food just a few blocks from our hotel. After a day of walking and talking and shopping and snacking, it was nice to just take a corner table, share a thyme-infused lemon cocktail, and be quiet together. I was craving vegetables – sunny, light, delicious veg – and found them in the form of a summer vegetable succotash served over creamy polenta. Shane had some equally delicious pulled pork sliders on the house made biscuits. I hear their brunch is amazing, and I’d believe it based on the wonderful late night meal that we shared. Definitely one to check out next time we’re in town.

If you go:
The Alembic
1725 Haight St (between Cole & Shrader)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822

Do yourself a favor and get a cocktail. We split a sandwich, so I can’t vouch for the rest of the menu, but everything we had was delicious.

Amoeba Music
1855 Haight St (between Shrader & Stanyan)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 831-1200

All the records in the history of records. There’s another location in Oakland, I think.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
545 Haight St (between Fillmore & Steiner)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 437-6851

Limited menu – sausages – but everything smelled amazing, and Shane’s weisswurst was outstanding. Buy a sausage here and take it to Toronado next door. You’ll thank me as long as you aren’t sitting somewhere stinky.

Farmer Brown
25 Mason St (at Market)
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 409-3276

Seriously good soul food sandwiched between the Tenderloin and the Financial District. Don’t be skeeved out by the location at night. It was surprisingly delicious.

Sutro Baths

At the turn of the 20th century, the wealthy former mayor San Francisco opened an elaborate pleasure complex at the far western end of the peninsula. As with many of the delights featured at the Musée Mécanique, the Sutro Baths represented a cultural shift – the dawning of an era where leisure was accessible to more than just society’s upper crust. The complex went through several incarnations until they were demolished in 1966. In 1980, the entire property was incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the Baths are now part of a complex of parks that wraps around the western tip of the peninsula.

After breakfast at Blue Bottle, we hopped on the Geary bus and took it allllllll the way west, then spent an hour or two of an incredibly beautiful day climbing around and taking photos. Exploring the Sutro Baths is like climbing through the pieces of a forgotten time.  You can’t quite picture from the ruins what the place was like in its heyday – it has in many ways been reclaimed by the elements.  Say what you will about ruins porn, but this is somewhat different than the exploitative way that ruined buildings are used as societal commentary in cities like Detroit.   This ruin feels deliberate, not sad, and like it is curiously in harmony with the crashing waves.

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths




If you go:
Sutro Baths
Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, California 94121
(415) 386-3330

Take the 38 Geary bus. You’ll be on it for what seems like forever, but for $2, it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get out to the baths. Bring a picnic lunch or at least a water bottle and snacks, as you’ll probably get thirsty and maybe hungry from all the walking around.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Obsession

Let’s not talk about the cocktails we had in the hotel bar last night, or about the quantity of chili almonds that I ate while drinking those (bourbon) cocktails. Suffice to say that I woke up this morning feeling toxic and in need of coffee and greasy breakfast – but a goood greasy breakfast. While Shane was in the shower, I concocted a plan for the day, and we stumbled down the street in a hung over haze in search of breakfast at Blue Bottle’s Mint Plaza shopfront. Little did we know that we were about to encounter a coffee dreamworld.

A $20,000 syphon brewing system, where water heated by a halogen lamp rises up through the grounds to make a perfectly smooth cup of coffee:

Syphon Pot

An iced coffee system that redefines slow brewing: water passes through the grounds one drip at a time over the course of eight hours. Eight hours!

Kyoto Iced Coffee

And, of course, perfect pour-over coffee and espresso drinks made with care. Such was our infatuation with this place that we actually had breakfast here two days in a row – but I’ll spare you two posts’ worth of drooling and instead give you one overly-enthusiastic one.

Blue Bottle Breakfast #1

Breakfast #1: a grilled ham and gruyere sandwich for me and a fabulous frittata with goat cheese, sweet corn, and red pepper puree for Shane. I coveted that frittata. I dream of that frittata. Fortunately he shared a few bites, and we shared two syphon pots of Amaro Gayo and Guatemalan Guya’b, enjoying the former much more than the latter. As we were sitting in the front window enjoying our breakfast, we spotted the owner of one of our favorite Ann Arbor coffee spots standing in line for his own breakfast. What are the chances?!

Shane's first cappuccino

Breakfast #2: less hungry and less hung over, so we shared the dreamy frittata and thick slabs of ACME toast, along with two beautiful cappuccinos – Shane’s first!  His tastes in espresso drinks previously leaned in the vanilla latte direction, so this was a revelation, and the beginning of a beautiful obsession.


If you go:
Blue Bottle Mint Plaza
66 Mint St
San Francisco, CA 94103-1800

Go for brunch on Sunday or to just admire the beautiful coffee equipment – while drinking amazing coffee, of course.

Saturday Night in the Mission

We were in and out of so many spots in the Mission that I feel like it might be easier to just give you a far-from-exhaustive list. We went back to the Mission later in the trip, so if you don’t see your favorite spot on the list, fear not! We probably visited it and have either forgotten to include it here, or will be talking about it later.

826 Valencia
826 Valencia St (between 19th & Cunningham)
San Francisco, CA 94110-1737
(415) 642-5905

The front is a pirate store, with an entire wall full of mysterious but helpfully labeled drawers containing the sorts of things you might need or might encounter on a pirate ship. There’s a “take a boot, leave a boot” bucket by the door, and a periscope through which you can glimpse the horrific sea monsters that populate the Mission. The back is a renowned literacy center founded by Dave Eggers.

Candy Store Collective
3153 16th St (at Albion)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-8143

Chic little boutique with a secret motorcycle room in the back. Shane tried on an UHmazing leather motorcycle jacket with no price tag – always telling – and had to leave it behind when it clocked in at around $450.

Little Otsu
849 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7900

We both love Little Otsu, which is packed full of sweet stationery and other letterpress goodies.

Needles & Pens
3253 16th Street (between Dolores & Spencer)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-1534

Heather’s review of Needles & Pens mirrors my experience: I’m glad such a store exists in a place where there is a market for zines and crafty goods, but I didn’t find anything I loved.

Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids
766 Valencia St (between 18th & 19th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 252-9990

I missed this exceedingly cool toy store the last time I was in SF – a nice combination of whimsical and educational toys for kids of all ages. The grown up Paxton Gate is right down the street, though we didn’t stop in.

Princess Animal and Serendipity
803 Valencia St (between 19th & Cunningham)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Princess Animal: (415) 206-1036
Serendipity: (415) 401-8760

Like Little Otsu, Serendipity is full of sweet paper goods – with a BONUS YARN STORE in the back! We happened in as Princess Animal – the yarn store – was having their opening reception, so we had a glass of wine and kids’ snacks – Little Debbie cakes, jelly beans, licorice whips, popcorn – while I perused the yarn and commiserated with the owner about my fear of DPNs. I suspect I would’ve made a knitty friend on the spot if we were SFers. Alas.

Self Edge
714 Valencia St (between 18th & 19th)
San Francisco, CA 94110-1735
(415) 558-0658

If you’re a guy and you’re into high-end Japanese denim, I suspect that Self Edge will be your holy land. Shane falls into both camps – and is long-time Internet friends with the owner, who we hung out with later on our trip. Self Edge’s jeans will make your jeans feel inadequate in price, fashion, and function.

Ti Couz Creperie
3108 16th St (16th & Valencia)
San Francisco, CA 94103-3328
(415) 252-7373

Our last stop in the Mission – a light dinner of crepes and drinks. I had a lovely dinner at Ti Couz in 2008, and was eager to share the experience with Shane. We ordered buckwheat crepes – the ham crepe for me, and the Crepe Gourmande for Shane – with mushroom sauce added to both. Simple and flavorful, with a lush richness added by the mushroom sauce. I had a small bowl of pear cider, and Shane enjoyed the Ti Couz 10. I wasn’t as blown away this time, but maybe I was less hungry? Or maybe we’ve just had so much good food in the years since that Ti Couz didn’t measure up as well as I remembered. Either way, it was a nice dinner.

Toronado and Dress Up in the Lower Haight

We were in a bit of a daze after the farmer’s market, so we took a midday nap, and woke up all discombobulated about time and place and whether or not we were hungry. That’s the problem with naps sometimes – you wake up and have lost all sense of your day. Shane was a bit more awake than I, so he set to work making a plan for the afternoon and evening while I rubbed sleep out of my eyes.

After a frustrating wait for the MUNI (below ground, not above, as we discovered), we headed over to Chow, which Karl recommended as having simple, good food. As we came up out of the MUNI station and oriented ourselves, Shane said “I think I’ve been here before.”

Me: “Really?”

Shane: “Yeah, I came here and had lunch at some place called ‘Eat’ or ‘Grub’…”

Me, now smiling: “Or ‘Chow’?”

Shane: “Yeah……..”

Hilarious. We had a quick lunch on the patio – a cup of French onion soup for me, and a beet salad for Shane. With all the fantastic meat and pasta and pizza on offer, we hadn’t had many vegetables and, not to be gross about it, we were both starting to feel the effects. A light and simple meal really helped.

Next stop was Toronado, a kind of grubby beer bar in the Lower Haight. I feel like this photo conveys everything you need to know about Toronado:

Cool Dog U Guys

As Shane put it, it’s just one of those places that you either get or don’t get. It’s a cheap neighborhood bar with no table service, grumpy bartenders, and an amazing beer list. You can bring outside food – many people had sausages from the place next door – and you can bring your dog. You can sit in the corner and drink your beer undisturbed, but if you make an ordering gaffe, you’re likely to receive gratuitous eye-rolls from the bartenders. You can go there if you’re a tourist, but it’s pretty clear that the bartenders would prefer that you didn’t.

As you might’ve guessed by now, I’m much less into beer than Shane is – so after a while, I excused myself and wandered around Haight Street.  This particular stretch of Haight has a handful of cute shops, though none that stand out as must-see destinations, and I eventually found myself in a very funny game of dress-up at Trunk, a cooperative boutique selling one-of-a-kind items from local designers.  Here’s a thing you might not know about me: I can be convinced to try on just about anything in the right circumstances.  Those circumstances include clothing swaps and being asked by a salesperson: “Do you want to play dress up? I want to see what this looks like on.”  Among other things, I tried on a GIANT shaggy fur parka, a pink corset with pink laces, a pretty fantastic structured jacket made from men’s suits, and a very slinky, very tight top-dress with a bunch of mysterious dangly bits.  Very funny and very fabulous.

At a loss for what else to do with our evening, we headed in the direction of the Mission, stopping at Three Twins for ice cream.  It wasn’t really ice cream weather, but a sample of their lemon cookie called my name, so we split small scoops of it and their chocolate mint.  The flavors were fresh and delicious, and I spent the rest of the trip trying to get lemon cookie out of my head.  Now that I’m blogging about it, I’m craving it all over again.

If you go:

215 Church St (between 15th & Market)
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 552-2469

Simple, good food.  Shane liked their milkshakes, though he didn’t have one this time.

547 Haight St (between Fillmore & Steiner)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2276

Cash only.  You’ll probably have to shark a seat.  Make sure someone hasn’t tied their dog to it, and that it doesn’t smell like barf.  If you’re not put off by these things, you might be in for a fantastic beer-drinking experience

Three Twins
254 Fillmore St (between Laussat & Haight)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 487-8946

A small is two scoops, so I recommend getting lemon cookie and whatever else suits your fancy.  You can buy pints from the  freezer case, or have a pint scooped for you.

Move to SF and hate it?

I spent some time skimming this post and feeling pretty irritated about a variety of comments.  I’ll try not to get all irritated on you, but I didn’t want this particular brainstorm to go to waste, especially as it helped me crystallize a few things I’ve been stewing on lately.  Perhaps this content is better suited for our blog, as it pertains to our life here in A2, but I wanted to be clear that these are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the rest of Team Beers.

The question that kicked off the post I liked to was this:

Have any of you moved to the Bay Area for tech and hated the atmosphere? How long did you stay and where did you move to after?

The response that seems to be getting the most traction cited the cost, lack of casual food, abysmal parking and public transit, hordes of tourists and gutter punks, and lack of seasons. The author of this response left SF to return to A2, finally settling in Chicago. I haven’t lived in SF or Chicago, but do feel fit to comment on A2 after a year of living here.

Most of the times people ask us about living in A2, we give sunny responses. And they’re mostly true. There are a lot of very good things about A2, but there are also frustrating things, and I’d like to list some of both of them for you here.  Many of my points will refer back to the post response mentioned above, as that’s what’s kicking around my head at the moment:

The Good:

  • There are jobs – unlike much of the rest of the state – and the median family income is keeping pace with the national average.  Many of those jobs are at a top-tier research institution.
  • People are educated.  Extremely so – 71.3% over 25 have at least a college degree, compared to 27.4% nationwide [1].
  • People are green-minded.  The city composts, single-stream recycling was implemented this summer, and there are at least 13 community gardens available to residents for a pretty reasonable price.
  • As usually goes with the above, it’s a very liberal city.
  • There’s a very active local food movement, with three farmers’ markets during the week, several “underground” food collectives or organizations focused on local food, and restaurants that focus on farm-to-table.
  • Public transportation covers most of the city, and Amtrak runs to Chicago a couple of times per day.  The Detroit airport is easily accessible by car and shuttle, though I haven’t taken the latter.  I can’t vouch for the availability or cost of cabs, as I only ever see them on campus.
  • There’s a lot of green space, between the Arb and the many surrounding parks. I heard somewhere that you’re never more than 10km from a natural source of water in Michigan, which is pretty cool.
  • Access to great (an affordable, if you work for the U) healthcare at the U of M.
  • Great schools.  When Shane interviewed here, he was told that there are no bad school districts, just good and better ones.
  • Relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, if that’s your bag.
  • Michigan is an amazing state for beer.  We tried to drink west coast beers exclusively when we were in California, and were told a few times that there’s more that they can’t get from Michigan than that we can’t get from California.  So, go us!

The Bad:

  • It’s expensive.  Not as expensive as a big city, but more expensive than a small city deserves to be.  Median home values are higher than the national average – $245,000 compared to $192,400 – and monthly owner costs run to $1908 if you have a mortgage, $697 if you rent.  How can anyone afford to buy a home when the median home value is five times the median income? [2]
  • Lack of racial diversity.  This is a very white town.  Like, whitebread white.  Pure driven snow white.  72.8% white and 14.7% Asian, with the remaining 12.5% divided amongst all other racial groups, including those people who identify as bi- or multi-racial.
  • No good music venues.  OK, there’s The Ark, but it caters to a very specific audience, and frankly, we’re not that audience.  I know we got spoiled by the 9:30 Club, but if Champaign can put together an impressive line-up for a festival less than five years old, Ann Arbor really should be able to have a decent show once in a while.
  • The roads are in terrible condition.  This is an endemic problem in a depressed economy, of course, but my boss has lived on our street for 15 years and said that for as long as she can remember, we’ve been on the list for repairs that never seem to happen.  Sure, you can ride your bike to work, but you’ll be safer doing so on the sidewalk because at least the homeowners are held liable.
  • Along with the relaxed drug laws, you get things like Hash Bash.
  • I love Big 10 football more than all other sports combined, but the crush of traffic and humanity on game days here rivals anything we experienced in DC, including Obama’s inauguration.
  • I can’t fairly complain about the weather.  I mean, I could, but we moved to Michigan, and that means months and months of snow and cold.  I can complain about the “homeless” kids that hang out downtown as soon as the weather turns nice, though.  It’s one thing to be actually homeless, and it’s another to play at it, gutter punk style.
  • Lack of neighborhoods in the city sense, though they exist in the suburban sense.  The only exception that I know of is Kerrytown.
  • There’s no Galaxy Hut – or any reasonable equivalent.  And by that I mean, there are no casual bars.  Or at least none that we’ve found.  You want to go grab a beer and maybe food at 5pm?  Good luck.  Most days the patios of the downtown restaurants are already full when I walk or ped by at 4pm.  Expect an hour wait if you want to get dinner at 6pm.
  • And because it’s expensive, there’s little hope of a Galaxy Hut opening up.  It’s too expensive to charge reasonable prices if you have good beer, good ingredients, and good real estate.

The Mixed Bag:

  • There are seasons!  But along with the gorgeous spring and fall, we get a hot and humid summer – nearly as hot as in DC – and a cold and snowy winter that feels like it will never end.
  • Ann Arbor meets both the positive and pejorative definitions of ‘foodie’.  There’s a whole lot of good food, but it’s expensive and (often) pretentious – or at least over priced.  There’s no reason for a brew pub to charge $6 for a beer made in house.  There’s no reason to have multiple delis charging $10+ for a sandwich, even if it’s an excellent and quite large sandwich .
  • On a related note, there are ample excellent grocery options, but many are priced accordingly.  There’s a co-op, but you generally can’t do all of your shopping there.  There’s a Trader Joe’s, but it’s on the opposite side of town from us, and you also can’t do all your shopping there.  There’s no reason we need two Whole Foods locations, but we’ve got ’em.
  • Along with all of these good things comes attitude like nobody’s business.  It’s an extremely self-satisfied town.  In fact, I think it’s fair to describe Ann Arbor as the Brooklyn of the Midwest.  Move here, get your hippie-crunchy on, and don’t let anyone forget that we have great food and pot is legal.  Buy and proudly wear your Keep Ann Arbor Weird t-shirt.

When we first moved here, my eye doctor – a long-time resident who has been in practice in the area since the early 70s – told me that Ann Arbor used to be better.  It used to be more inclusive and less judgmental.  It’s as if the city moved too far to the left, and now anything to the right – in terms of politics, greenness, food, transportation, etc – isn’t good enough.

And I think that’s what’s rubbing me the wrong way.  I like Ann Arbor a lot, but I don’t love it.

[1] All statistics, unless otherwise cited, are from the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, by way of American Fact Finder
[2] Interestingly, CNN has totally different numbers for both household income and median home price.  They’re probably more up-to-date, but I have a hard time believing that the median household income has nearly doubled in the 2-4 years since the American Community Survey.

Ferry Plaza and the Most Perfect Sandwich

When I dream of San Francisco, it is more often than not about the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.  While Michigan ranks highly in agricultural diversity despite our relatively abbreviated growing season, California’s a whole other animal.  If you’re eating strawberries in January, there’s a good chance they’re from California.  Same thing if you’re eating asparagus in the October.  The climate is moderate and  the growing seasons long, and the farmer’s market evinces this bounty.

"Take a picture of me with this giant carrot!"

We haven’t seen strawberries in the market since late June, but they were at Ferry Plaza, as were avocados and intensely wonderful plums (flavor grenade!) and giant carrots and lavender salt and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and so many other things that we just couldn’t buy, not with a week to go until returning home and no source of refrigeration.

But first things first: coffee and breakfast. If you walk around the right side of the Ferry Plaza Market on a Saturday morning, you’ll be hit by a wave of delicious smells: roasting vegetables, frying eggs, and coffee. Coffee worth pretentious descriptions and standing in a long line. Blue Bottle actually has three locations at the Saturday market – the permanent stand in the Ferry Plaza building, plus two outside kiosks at opposite ends of the market. Shane queued up and perused the coffee descriptions while I scoped out the other locations, where the lines were just as long.


Used to the pour-over options at Comet, we were a little confused when we got to the front of the line and couldn’t choose our beans. We walked away with two damned fine cups of coffee and some good advice on beans to try next time. Because oh, there will be a next time.

Blue Bottle

Coffee in hand, we followed our noses to the Roli/Roti food cart, where we encountered a beautiful sight:


Have you had porchetta? I thought I had, but my memories had nothing on this. Using the rotisserie technique that most of us have encountered in grocery store chickens, the pork roasts slowly and evenly, and the skin turns into crisp flavorful candy. The owner, son of a Swiss Master Butcher, handed us scraps of meat as we waited in line, and we were sold. Sold sold sold.

Most Perfect Sandwich

Oh my god, you guys. I know I can wax hyperbolic about food on occasion, but this sandwich! It really might’ve been the best sandwich either of us have ever had – and remember we live in the land of Zingerman’s. The pork was moist, herb-infused and intensely flavored, with a fair portion of crispy skin. On top of the pork, crunchy greens and some sort of jammy onions, all of which is piled onto an ACME roll. We dug in, giving a sticky thumbs up to the owner when he called out to see how we liked it.

If you go:
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 291-3276

The farmer’s market is best experienced Saturday morning (8am-2pm), though it also runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-2pm.  In addition the Ferry Building has many permanent vendors and restaurants, including Cowgirl Creamery, ACME Bread Co., Boccalone, Sur La Table, and Slanted Door.

Variety of locations, but appearing at the Ferry Plaza Market on Thursdays and Saturdays

RoliRoti is in the running for The Great Food Truck Race – they’re not on the show currently, but might be on a subsequent season? I’ll admit to making a huge mess of my phone trying to vote mid-sandwich.

I promise I’ll try to keep my nerding out about football to a minimum here.  I promise.  But there are three things I need to bring to your attention.


And second:

Shane <3 Herky

And finally, in light of Iowa’s continued dominance in the annual Cyhawk game, I would like to note that one of Iowa’s offensive linemen– Josh Koeppel – was HIT BY A TRUCK on 8/30 but played in Saturday’s game.  I’m not sure if this is a testament to Kirk Ferentz’s faith that Koeppel was ready to play – or that Iowa State is just that bad.

Fingers crossed that this post is wrong and the Hawks win on Saturday.  With Herky on their side, how could they not?

Herky the Hawkeye
Photo by smcgee