Ann Arbor is a college town, which means that summer is a wonderful time to visit. Thanks to the mass exodus of tens of thousands of University of Michigan students, the leafy, liberal town reverts back to a more peaceful version of itself. Throughout the lazy days of summer, the pace slows down, parking spots open up, and tables at typically bustling bars and bistros magically materialize.
Blessed with farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, ethnic eateries, craft breweries and top-notch cocktail bars, Ann Arbor is ripe for the picking when it comes to culinary road trips. We dropped in for a glorious food- and spirits-filled weekend.
After dropping off your bags, head downtown for dinner at Grange Kitchen & Bar (118 W. Liberty St., 734-995-2107, grangekitchenandbar.com) for farm-to-table dining done right. In this adorable storefront bistro, chef-owner Brandon Johns draws maximum flavor from the season’s best offerings. Start with crispy fried Great Lakes smelt ($8), served atop a schmear of garlic scape aioli. Look to the chalkboard for specials like grilled leg of lamb ($25) with local beans and greens, or staples like pan-roasted duck breast. Better yet, let the chef decide by going with the 5-course tasting menu ($55).
Following dinner, make the 450-foot walk to Ravens Club (207 S. Main St., 734-214-0400, theravensclub.com), where classic cocktails are crafted with care and served up in a sleek, seductive space. Grab stools at the attractive bar and order up a stellar New York sour ($9) or the dreamy Rose for Emily ($9), an artful blend of bourbon, rose water syrup, and rhubarb bitters.
Serious coffee aficionados start their day at Comet Coffee (16 Nickels Arcade, 734-222-0579), which is tucked into a 100-year-old shopping arcade. There are just a dozen seats at this spare and tidy shop from which to sip your pour-over ($3.90) or cappuccino ($3.30), but that’s fine because you should order your java to go.
A half-mile walk through town will land you at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (315 Detroit St., 734-794-6255), a 90-year-old tradition and the genesis of most of the great meals cooked up in homes and restaurants throughout town. Grab a flaky croissant or twice-baked biscotti from a bakery stand and stroll the aisles filled with fruit and veggie vendors, dairy producers, heirloom meat farmers, specialty food products, and flower peddlers.
Directly next door is the Kerrytown Market & Shops (407 N. 5th Ave., 734-662-5008, kerrytown.com), a great place to kill a few minutes until lunch. The first floor is home to an upscale grocery, fish market, and coffee shop. Upstairs there are shops devoted to olive oils and vinegars, spices and teas.
The mere utterance of the word Zingerman’s (422 Detroit St., 734-663-3354, zingermansdeli.com) in Ann Arbor — heck, most of the Midwest — spurs uncontrollable fits of glee in fans of this local deli. That’s because it’s so much more than a “deli.” All the best things to eat in the world seem to be jammed into this food-lover’s utopia, including cheese, meats, breads, chocolates, olive oils … Beat the crowds that begin lining up shortly after 11 a.m. for over-stuffed, gourmet, earth-shatteringly delicious sandwiches. Service here is so good that they literally wrote the book on it: Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service.
Get to Downtown Home & Garden (210 S. Ashley St., 734-662-8122, downtownhomeandgarden.com) before they shut their doors at 5 p.m. Originally a farm store from the late 19th century, this amazing storehouse of awesome is an urban homesteader’s dream. From gardening and canning supplies to cook’s gear and even chicken scratch, this old-meets-new warehouse stocks it. What’s more, DH&G is the linchpin of a mini fun zone that boasts Mark’s Carts (211 W. Washington St., markscartsannarbor.com) and Bill’s Beer Garden (218 S. Ashley St., 734-369-8001, billsbeergarden.com). Grab some dinner from one of the eight food carts (Asian, Indian, Mexican, BBQ …) parked in a small enclave just around the corner from DH&G and make your way back to the beer garden, a novel use of an after-hours parking lot just two years in existence (see beer sidebar).
For another look at Ann Arbor’s maturing cocktail scene, make the short stroll over to The Last Word (301 W. Huron St., thelastwordbar.com) an appropriately inconspicuous façade that belies the warmly festive speakeasy within. A cadre of sharp-dressed bartenders shake, rattle, and stir classic cocktails like, what else? The Last Word ($9.50), a gin-based infusion with green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime.
Angelo’s (1100 E. Catherine St., 734-761-8996 , angelosa2.com) can be murder on a hangover; there’s the wait for a table, the occasionally gruff service, and the constant tossing of dirty dishes into bus tubs. But the food — heaping platters of well-crafted home-style breakfasts like corned beef hash ($8.95), huevos rancheros ($8.75), and banana walnut pancakes ($6.99) — will set you straight in no time.