0813 Sidetrack

Familiar
Photo by Michael Greenlee

We found ourselves in an embarrassing spot tonight. Not literally – there’s nothing embarrassing about Sidetrack except perhaps the size of their burgers – but then I suppose you already assumed that. What is, however, embarrassing is running into your neighbors when out to eat and having to face the fact that after a year, you still don’t know their names. And we couldn’t even blame the ludicrously large beers that Sidetrack has on offer.

25 ounce ciders at happy hour, Sidetrack Bar and Grill
Photo by John Kannenberg

See, people in Ann Arbor are friendly. And this is a good thing! But it also means that a couple of our neighbors introduced themselves within moments of us arriving in town last August. We were in the driveway, it was raining, we had frantic cats in the car, and we just wanted to get inside. Introductions were appreciated, but the timing ensured that we forgot their names almost immediately – and have felt too awkward to ask since.

Regardless, we said hello to MIKE and SHAWNA, whose names were revealed when we got home and Shane peeked at the label on their mailbox, and went about our dinner – fried zucchini, an excellent pair of grilled portabella mushrooms topped with gorgonzola, and some sort of delicious fish dish with red beans and rice.  I had a martini, which felt like the only possible drink that could be consumed while wearing a full-skirted and strappy sundress that belonged to my grandma.

We were reminded again why we kind of really want to move to Ypsi – no trouble getting a table at a restaurant with reasonably priced drinks, easy parking, and friendly people.  After dinner we wandered over to the Ypsi coop, which looked and smelled like coops should – a little earthy, a little like produce, and a little like patchouli.  I know I often say that things are just right, but this evening – the dress, the dinner, the coop – was just right.

0730 Hustin’ to the Roadhouse

I was at happy hour at Dominick’s when I got the message from Jenny – she and Richard were thinking about stopping at  Zingerman’s Roadhouse also en route to Detroit for the Maker Faire.  Was I interested in joining them?  Answer:  Yes please!  The only hitch? I was on campus – nearly 3 miles away – with no vehicle.  Fortunately the 30-45 minute wait gave me just enough time to hustle across town.

While I know I should’ve tried one of the many amazing meat offerings on my first trip to the Roadhouse, I regrettably wasn’t that hungry.  The three of us split a basket of sweet potato fries with a delicious spicy mayo, and I enjoyed a bowl of mussels steamed with white wine and shallots.  I envied Richard’s fried chicken and Jenny’s fancied up mac & cheese, and was thankful that we live just down the street and so can try these and other Roadhouse options at our leisure.  I also look forward to trying more of their cocktails, as my Corpse Reviver No. 2 combined several of my favorite drinkity things: gin, Lillet Blanc, and Absente.  What any of those things have to do with corpses, I’m not sure, but I certainly enjoyed it.

In addition to a great meal, it was fun to catch up with friends that I see quite rarely – and to learn about Henry Ford’s hatred of cows.  I had no idea!  A casual Google search turned up this book, which includes the tantalizing quote:

“In 1919 [Ford] advocated the elimination of horses, cows, and pigs.  ‘The world would be better off without meat,’ he said. ‘It’s 75 percent ashes anyway.  Milk can be manufactured chemically.  Every animal used on the farm these days is a waste of time.'”

He goes on to refer to cows as “the crudest machine on the world” and horses as a “twelve hundred-pound ‘hay motor'”. Thank you, Henry Ford, for the car and for allowing your ridiculous statements to be captured by the press so that they could amuse me 90 years later.  And thank you, Jenny and Richard, for inviting me to dinner!

0722 Happy Hour at Cliff Bell’s

cb52
photo by Cigarette Girl Colleen C for Yelp

At some point in 2009, I became Yelp Elite.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but who doesn’t like being told that they’re elite?  Well, it turns out that being Elite is all about community involvement, writing reviews, connecting with other users, and basically being a great spokesperson for your favorite local places and things.  Sign me up!  Oh wait, someone already did.

Anyway, one of the side benefits of being Elite – apart from the satisfaction of a job well done – is the occasional Elite event, usually hosted by a local business and featuring free food, drink, and swag.  We attended our first event back in the fall at Café Habana, where we enjoyed mojitos, tacos al pastor, and a whole lot of this ridiculously good goat cheese dip.  There have been several events since then, but between our schedule and the fact that events often happen in Detroit, tonight was the first event we’ve made it to this year.

Cliff Bell’s, recently named one of the best bars in the country by Playboy (link totally SFW), was our host for tonight’s Elite happy hour.  Opened in the 1930s and recently restored to its former glory, Cliff Bell’s is exactly what you’d imagine if you heard the words ‘swanky jazz club’.  My grandparents lived in Detroit in the 1940s, and I can imagine that in their day, Cliff Bell’s was a place to see and be seen.  The event was cosponsored by local distillery Valentine Vodka, so we enjoyed vodka cocktails along with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, most notably shrimp cocktail.

Shrimp cocktail!  This is actually the second time in a week that we’ve found ourselves at an old-timey kind of establishment, eating shrimp cocktail and drinking strong drinks, and I really couldn’t be happier.  Tacky as it may be, shrimp cocktail is a tasty reminder of another generation’s idea of elegance, and one I’m happy to embrace.

So thanks, Yelp, for a literal and gustatory flashback to a more glamorous time.  We’re looking forward to the next event!

0716 Knight’s

Makers Mark Manhattan. Rocks.
photo by Eric Murray

I’d tell you more about what we ate tonight, but the drinks from Knight’s pretty much obliterated that meal and any semblance of healthy eating.  I’m not sure why we haven’t been to Knight’s before – it’s literally right down the street from us – but between the strong drinks, high quality meat, warm rolls, and did I mention the drinks?, I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

0609 ¡!Eve¡!

Tonight was a rare treat – a dinner out! with friends! on someone else’s dime!  Suz and Molly took me to Eve for an official dinner-type function, and we ate like, well, like some kind of A2 royalty.  I’m a little too tired to figure out what kind of royalty exactly – I suppose the sort that likes fresh and local cocktails, good bread, and appropriately extravagant entrees.

This was my first time at Eve, despite hearing only good things from friends and having our curiosity piqued by the titular Eve’s appearance on Top Chef last year.  It’s a lovely space – quiet and intimate with a lot of natural light – and the cuisine draws on North African influences.  I had the Moroccan scallops, which were dusted with a spice blend, seared, and served atop coconut rice, with seasonal grilled vegetables and some sort of creme fraiche.  They were delicious –  really a great flavor profile and texture, especially in combination with the sweet veggies, the aromatic rice, and the tart-creamy creme fraiche.  I also had a ¡LA FRESCA! cocktail – raspberries, mint, and maybe basil muddled with a vanilla-y syrup and maybe gin?  Couldn’t really tell – it was just refreshing and delicious.  Also a good excuse to remember how to make the upside-down exclamation point. Truly a wonderful dinner with great company, though quite out of our price range even for special occasions.

0605 Leland Palmers and A Very Market Brunch

Olivia has already done a great job of documenting what we baked, so I’ll focus on the rest of this morning’s bakefest: brunch.  Also the Leland Palmer, featured in this month’s Bon Appetit.

Leland Palmers

I can’t fairly say that I was a Twin Peaks fan ‘back in the day’, as I didn’t discover the show until 6-7 years after it aired, but at that point, I more than made up for lost time.  My dorm neighbor and I binged on Twin Peaks while studying for our art history final – and all the rest of our finals – and it’s fair to say that Twin Peaks has had a more lasting impression on me than most of what I was studying for that week in 1997.  I dressed up as Laura Palmer for Halloween one year (“she’s dead, wrapped in plastic”), and the only recurring nightmares I’ve had as an adult have involved Bob (to whom I would provide a link, but it’s too scary). One of the most exciting parts of our trip to Seattle last year was the daytrip out to the Double R Diner, where Mel and Ray and I had cherry pie in honor of Agent Cooper:

This cherry pie is a miracle

This is all to say that when I saw a drink named after Laura Palmer’s creepy dad, whose hair turned white from an intense shock, I had to make it, even if it is only spuriously connected to the show.  The drink recipe comes from a Brooklyn bartender who was inspired to doctor the classic Arnold Palmer while nursing a hangover with said drink and with old episodes of Twin Peaks.

With jasmine tea, two kinds of citrus, gin, limoncello, and a honey syrup, the Leland Palmer is sort of a halfway point between gin-and-juice and the more refined Arnold Palmer – floral and a little bit boozy, dangerously refreshing – just the sort of thing that could land you in trouble if you drank too many of them on a hot summer day.  Today, though, we exercised restraint – not that we needed to, what with a ridiculously delicious and also good for us and also super local brunch like this:

Brunch
Over-medium egg over rapini and a slice of excellent toast, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and radishes, and a couple of perfect strawberries

Oh yeah, and the final product of our baking day – brioche a la Jefferson Market filled with vanilla cream and chocolate chips:

Final product

Thanks, ladies, for another month of good baking and good eating!

0604 Marathon Night in the Kitchen

I had good intentions for tonight.  They involved sitting on the couch with my knitting and watching The Straight Story or maybe The Jerk and a leetle bit of prep for the Saturday bakefest.  Instead I spent literally the entire evening in the kitchen, save the 15 minutes when I ran cookies over to SELMA.  The. Entire. Evening.  I mean, there are worse ways to spend a Friday night – this just wasn’t what I had in mind.

First, cookies for Saturday’s hoop build and also for a Couchsurfing potluck.  SELMA’s stopped using white sugar since there doesn’t appear to be any sugar available that is local AND non-GMO – so I tried to find a recipe that used other kinds of sweeteners.  This recipe, from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, uses corn syrup, apple butter, and brown sugar – all of which are a little bit more wholesome, even if they don’t hit the local/non-GMO mark entirely.  I made a double batch – which should have been 40 cookies, but resulted in 66 dense and chewy cookies.  To be honest, they tasted more like fuel than like a treat, which is probably A-OK for hoop builders and race runners.  I probably won’t make this recipe again, though.

Between cookie tasks, I prepped the ingredients for Saturday’s brunch cocktail, the Leland Palmer.  I’ll tell you more about that once we actually consume them, but the prep involved a good amount of juicing, playing with jasmine tea pearls, and the last of our honey.

The last of our [x] turned out to be a theme of the evening – over the course of a few hours, I ran out of honey AND flour AND milk AND raisins AND probably some other stuff that I’m just blocking out right now because it was so ridiculous.

Finally, and perhaps in a kitchen that was too hot, I made the pastry cream for Saturday’s bakefest.  Having helped with the pastry cream for both the croquembouche and the homemade Twinkies, I figured I’d be in good shape – but the damned cream just refused to thicken.  It smelled fantastic, though, and after a few frantic texts to Olivia, I decided to leave well-enough alone and just put the cream in the fridge for further examination on Saturday.

Somewhere in there, I realized that it had gotten late and I was hungry.  In lieu of dinner and in the spirit of using up the extra egg whites from pastry cream, I made a quick omelette with the last of the garlic scapes and the last tomato.  Let me draw your attention to one important fact in this paragraph: this was the first time I think I have ever made a successful omelette.  It was delicate.  It folded in half.  It was delicious.  Perhaps the secret is more whites than yolks, and also benign neglect – I was so busy with everything else that I couldn’t really stress out over the eggs or the sauteeing scapes, and as a result, everything was perfect.

Recipe:
Oatmeal Cookies from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook
Leland Palmers from Bon Appetit
Pastry Cream from Martha Stewart

0510 Happy Hour at Grange

Benton’s Old Fashioned, originally uploaded by dansays.

Dinner tonight was a real treat. First, Karin was in town, which is always an excuse for excess laughter and bacon. Second, instead of cooking at home, we decided to try a new happy hour – at Grange. Third, did I mention bacon? How about poutine? Fancy cocktails? Because we had all of those things.

Grange is a relatively new addition to the A2 restaurant scene – new enough to merit  Current’s award for Best New Restaurant – and while we’d tried bites of their food at the HomeGrown Festival last fall, we hadn’t been to the restaurant proper.  Their happy hour deal is $2 off cocktails, wine by the glass, and the bar menu, which seemed just right for a pretty affordable dinner with a friend (thanks, Karin!).  We got to Grange right around 6 and found the upstairs bar practically empty, meaning we had our server’s undivided attention, which came in handy as I felt the need to grill her about everything on the menu.  I ordered their signature drink: the GKB Manhattan, comprised of bacon infused Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, orange bitters, and brandied cherries.

I’ll be honest with you – I love bacon as much, if not more, than your average girl, but I’m pretty on the fence about bacon in drinks.  My cocktail was not un-enjoyable, but the bacon-infused bourbon left a strange mouthfeel reminiscent of the greasy burned bits that are left in the pan after you fry bacon and drain off the rendered fat.  How’s THAT for an appetizing description?  My dinner – an excellent fried egg sandwich with chile mayo on thick slices of challah – was actually a pretty nice pairing to my weird drink, so I’m thankful I ordered in that direction.

Shane had the French 75 – a sweet/tart gin-based cocktail with lemon and sparkling wine – and the duck confit poutine – a pile of fries topped with soft cheese curds, bits of duck, and a thinner gravy than I would’ve expected.  Karin also had a very nice Dark and Stormy along with the fried egg sandwich, and we all split a bowl of savory fried chickpeas – the real highlight of the meal for me.

Despite winning the Current award, Grange has gotten pretty mixed reviews on Yelp, and I can understand why: there was nothing wrong with our food, per se, but I had a vague sense (like that strange mouthfeel) that it could’ve been more right.  You know what I mean?