We finally found an opportunity to stop briefly in Ann Arbor for a corned beef sandwich at the senses-overwhelming Zingerman’s deli. As good as I remembered. Also got a burger on the way home at a place we’ve meant to try — Redamak’s in New Buffalo near the Michigan/Indiana state line.
Category Archives: Detroit
This summer’s adventures in downtown Detroit included an excellent egg-centric brunch at Parks & Rec Diner, a fun little spot way downtown in a former, you guessed it, city of Detroit parks and rec office in a surprisingly elegant castle-like stone building. Cheerful spot with good service, lots of young people in vintage-inspired outfits (later learned there was an LGBT festival nearby) and creative egg dishes (a creamy bright yellow hard boiled duck egg accompanying a mound of smoked salmon atop a lightly flavored crime freise sauce, and a heap of thick brown eye from the famous Avalon Bakery; Turkish eggs – perfectly poached with olives, tabbouli and homemade pita).
Onto the Guardian Building, an Art Deco beauty that was more impressive than anything I saw recently in Miami’s South Beach. Who knew?
We took a free walking architecture tour that began at the Guardian and focused on the deeply cut ornate stone reliefs by an artist named Parducci that adorn buildings by famous Detroit architect Albert Kahn. We got as far as the Penobscot building and then had to break off early so I could get to my 40th high school reunion at the always stunning campus of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills.
It was amazing to see 30 some people including some from Australia on the walking tour by Pure Detroit. next trip, I hope to take a tour of the Guardian Building and maybe even dare to ride a bike around the area. I really think this time Detroit is “back” but it’s at that fragile stage where there’s a lot more work to be done but also a palpable sense of potential and discovery. I hope it doesn’t tip either way (back into decay/decline or forward too fast into overdeveloped. Tricky to manage.
We began the morning with the world’s best bagels (sorry NYC)…Detroit bagels, which are smaller and chewier than New York’s,and the onion bagel has the onion bits baked mixed into the batter, not burnt bits on the outside. The egg bagels are superb too. But irony of ironies, the bagel store on Woodward Near Ferndale has the unfortunate name, New York Bagels.
We took Noah for his first viewing of the famous Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), which was even better than I remembered from years ago. A knowledgeable docent was conveniently stationed in the courtyard and provided all kinds of interesting information, including where to find Diego himself among the workers and the comic book character Dick Tracy. We also saw a really fun photography show on American Road trips.
Dinner was at Chartreuse, a charming place on Woodward near the DIA, with a rustic earthy decor (and lots of chartreuse) and inventive food, using fresh produce and local products. We had delicious ribs (with” togarashi, soy mirin glaze, raw potato and seaweed salad”) and pork (Niman ranch tenderloin, clover fed pork shoulder, salsa verde, cheddar jalapeño grits, black beans, radish), good appetizers and dessert. And I bumped into my high school choral director who I hadn’t seen in years. Another treat!
The NYTimes shines a spotlight on a Detroit-area restaurant Mabel Gray. It’s located in Hazel Park, which I recall less about than Faygo, a Detroit-area pop (aka soda) from my youth that the restaurant reportedly serves. Surely they also serve Vernors!
It’s named after Alice Gray (middle name Mabel) who was known as Diana of the Dunes – who has a compelling story (see below).
Alice Gray was one of the best and brightest. She was born November 25, 1881. She graduated from South Division High School where she and two of her classmates were known as “the college class”. She came to the USNO after completion of her degree in mathematics at the University of Chicago…. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1903 receiving honorable mentions for excellence in astronomy, mathematics, Latin, and Greek… If the monotony of computing was difficult for other bright women, it must have been especially difficult on Alice Gray, she was to say the least, a free spirit. Not much is known of her work here at the Observatory, though she was known to have had an intense interest in astronomy and wanted to pursue her studies in tide research. … Miss Gray was known to wear her hair cut short and also worked in pants!
In 1905 she apparently left Washington for Germany to continue her studies at the Gottingen University. It was in Germany that she became interested in a “walking commune”, which was a movement that encouraged people to give up material possessions and live off the bounty of the land.
Alice Gray returned to the United States and went to work in Chicago as an editorial secretary for the Astrophysical Journal which was published by the University. Miss Grays real fame came later in her life when in 1915 at the age of 35, she gave up on civilization and became a recluse in the Lake Michigan Dunes. “In solitude when we are least alone,” a passage from Byron served as inspiration for Alice Gray when she took over an abandoned shack with little more than a jelly glass, a knife, a spoon, a blanket, and two guns. Alice reported that Lord Byron’s poem provided “my first longings to get away from the conventional world, and I never gave up the idea, although a long time passed before I could fulfill it.” The press dubbed this beautiful and well educated daughter of a Chicago physician “Diana of the Dunes” perhaps in reference to Diana, the goddess of the moon and Miss Grays habit of moonlit skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan.
Alice Gray survived in her ramshackle shack by building driftwood boxes and selling them to buy bread and salt. She ate fish she caught and gathered berries and edible plants from her surroundings. She patronized the local library, and spoke in public about her interest in natural history and Dune lore. In 1916 she told a local reporter that “I wanted to live my own life a free life. The life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight for the means of living.”
In 1920 she met Paul Eisenblatter who went by the name of Paul Wilson, a fellow recluse, and by 1921 they were sharing a shack they called Wren’s Nest. Some accounts report that the couple were married in 1921 but others can not confirm that fact. Alice Gray Wilson never lost her free spirit, and there are several reports of her having fiery confrontations with both the press and the law including one in which she received a fractured skull.
Civilization infringed on the couples privacy and reporters hounded her relentlessly even her manuscripts were taken from their shack. Eventually “Diana of the Dunes” and the “Giant of the Dunes” as Mr. Wilson became to be known because of his towering six foot five inch height, made plans to escape to Texas via raft. These plans were never realized because Mrs. Alice Gray Wilson died of uremic poisoning after many years of kidney trouble on February 8, 1925 at the age of 43. Mrs. Wilson’s last request to be cremated and have her ashes scattered over the dunes was denied possibly because her family would not allow it and Mr. Wilson did not have the money to fulfill her wish. Reporters continued to plague the couple even after her death when the final assault by reporters at Mrs. Wilson’s funeral caused Mr. Wilson to pull out a gun and threaten to kill himself as well as a reporter and Chester Dunn, a nephew of Mrs. Wilson. Nobody was hurt, but Wilson was jailed and Alice Gray Wilson was buried in Oakhill cemetery near Gary Indiana.
Another busy day exploring Detroit. We went to The Heidelberg Project, a crazy art installation that is located on two blocks of inner city Detroit that looks more rural than urban these days, with many vacant lots full between the occasional inhabited house in various degrees of disrepair. Some of the houses have become canvases outside (the polka dot house was my favorite) and then there are piles of strange objects strewn across he lots — old appliances, lots of stuffed animals, dolls, signs painted as clocks, shoes.
Interesting to see white non detroiters walking around a neighborhood they would ordinarily never feel comfortable walking through.
We went on to Eastern Market, had a coffee at Germack’s and walked though the old Hirt building that is now Devries Market, great old red brick building with wood floors and tons of Detroit Classic foods (vernors, sanders , dried Cherries).
Couldn’t resist driving home along Woodward avenue, stopping around 7 mile to see the fancy houses along the Detroit golf course, then to Sherwood. Forest and Palmer woods. Even stopped at my old pediatrians office which was in a house on seven mile and park side.
We did do a little exploring in ferndale (rust belt market) and Royal oak (atomic coffee, which has very good homemade lemonade and comfortable cheerful white and orang patio furniture.) Also had frozen custard at a stand on Woodward near 14 mile that had sanders hot fudge.) Yes, I am going to roll home.
First stop Shinola, where we admired the sleek decor, the watches and bikes and almost total absence of price tags. next door at willy’s, a high-priced boutique, then to jolly pumpkin for a light lunch in cool post industrial decor (Korean short rib pizza with arugula; curried potato chips.
we dropped by the Avalon bakery on the Wayne state campus which I’ve heard about for years. Amazing to see all the development going on. And really nice to see people walking around downtown where Hudson’s used to be and eating outside at a cafe.
Next stop: Pewabic pottery, a national historic landmark and a drive down Iriquois Street in Indian village lined with gorgeous well tended homes and gardens and yards and then, a stones throw away on charlevoix, classic urban blight with crumbling old houses and weed strewn empty lots.
onto Hitsville USA: the Motown museum in two of the eight houses where berry Gordy built his empire. A really fun tour full of music and interesting stories and memorabilia. It’s a very low tech exhibit which ai appreciated – you got to stand in the recording studio where many soon to be famous performers created their hits and the old 1960s office and living quarters. Our tour guide was young and enthusiastic and the tour ended with us all winding and dancing a Motown tune. Two Japanese tourists and a Brit among us.
Tonight we went to slow’s BBQ, in the shadow of the former crumbling train station, once a symbol of Detroit decay and now a symbol of its revival, as it is being rebuilt and repurposed.
Forgot to mention that we started by dropping by my great grandfather’s old house on the still elegant Boston Blvd.
Decision #1: i90 skyway (about $7 tolls total) or i94? My dad suggested the tollway so we tried for the first time. Not the worlds best road (construction) but maybe not as bad as i94 thru Gary.
Decison#2:all important where to eat lunch? We stopped in the pretty lakeside town of st. Joseph and found a good place Cafe Tosi (good tuna melt…tuna with artichokes, feta) and muffuletta.
decision #3: where to stop for fruit. Exit 39 on i94 in Michigan at the stand we think is called fruit acres for good peaches and blueberries. Free samples are not slices of fruit but a whole peach or apple or whatever.
Decidon#4: dinner in Chicago last night. We ate at one of our old favorites…Andy’s Thai kitchen.