Sips, Sandwiches, and Shops - Take a Quick Trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan

12:32 PM Life in Between 0 Comments

February 29, 2016

The grass felt cool under my bare legs as I tossed my pack to the side and stared up at the August sky. After a 17 mile hike I was ravenous, feeling every deep growl of my stomach as the minutes passed. It was then I let my mind fast forward to my upcoming trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. But, I was far away from civilization. I had trekked all the way to the top of Swallow Fork Trail in the Smokey Mountains, and all I wanted was a chicken sandwich.

As I pulled out my half-eaten bag of trail mix, two men who looked to be in their early twenties ambled toward me. "Where you headed?" said the tall one. It's not unlikely for people to become chatty on the trails, so I responded and offered some of my snacks.

"I'm going back to my camp after this. We are staying at the bottom of the mountain near the stream," I said as I stuffed my face with M&Ms. "Where are you from?"

"Ann Arbor. We spent all our vacation money to come and hike the Smokies." He took out his water bottle and began to guzzle.

"Get out! Ann Arbor? I am headed there in a few weeks," I exclaimed as I searched for my phone. Under the influence of extreme hunger, I had only one more question to ask. "Where should I eat when I go?" They both looked at each other and grinned in agreement.

"Zingerman's," they sang in unison.

And that is what led me here...

Mid-Morning: Head over to the Kerrytown District for a Zingerman's Deli sandwich.

If I could marry any sandwich, it would be one from Zingerman's Deli in Downtown Ann Arbor. Located in the Kerrytown District, it's been serving up patrons for almost 30 years--making artisan sandwiches, breads, pastries and other delights. What started as a deli has grown into an empire, spreading across the culinary map in the form of a coffee shop, bakehouse, roadhouse dinner cafe, candy, creamery, catering services and more. It's impossible to step foot in Ann Arbor without being exposed to the magic of Zingerman's.

The deli itself beckons you inside with the smell of fresh baked bread, aged cheeses and warm deli meat. The walls are lined with a breadth of Zingerman-inspired cooking ingredients and food. Hundreds of pastas and spices are up for grabs as you make your way back to the counter to order your (giant) sandwich.

Unable to shake my southern roots, I immediately ordered the "Abra's Nutty Yard Bird," A chicken-salad symphony of a sandwich, the Yard Bird included chunks of hand-cut Amish chicken, mayo, onion, celery and locally grown organic sunflower sprouts on lightly toasted pecan raisin bread. And just for fun, I added a traditional Jewish treat--Baked Potato Knish. My trip companion decided on the Zingerman's Reuben. It was a delicious tower of corned beef, Switzerland Swiss cheese, Brinery sauerkraut & Russian dressing on grilled, hand-sliced Jewish rye bread.

The previous day, I took a trip to Zingerman's Coffee Roasters and was incredibly surprised by what I found. There were so many choices and methods to choose from. Coffee addicts could create custom drinks from beans around the world, and add an extra touch of personalization by experimenting with different brewing methods. I spoke with one of the baristas about the story behind the brew.

"It all started with our deli," she said. "Our founders were working at restaurants in the area and said, 'We can do better than this.' And that's exactly what they did." She continued as she handed me my Ethiopian coffee.

"Now there are 15 different businesses under the Zingerman's name. We are all together, but we are all separate entities. The coffee company started in 2003, and this particular site has been here since 2009. Like parents, the original owners still watch over what we do. We have a business model that many want to emulate--it's a way of life. We are rivaling the university for who gets talked about more. Of course they are still winning, but we are not far behind."

We were even lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the roasting facility. Check out a quick clip here: Zigerman's Coffee Roasters - Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Afternoon: Explore the city.
After enjoying our meal, we decided to explore downtown. I was amazed at the influence local artists had on the landscape. The streets were framed by giant murals, something that made every street corner bright and, at times, thought provoking. Some covered entire buildings with colorful depictions of life in Ann Arbor.

I felt inspired, I wanted to know more about the city as it introduced itself to me. I knew where I wanted to visit next. One of my favorite parts of discovering a new city is looking for used bookstores. Years ago, when I was living in New York City, I would stalk the Upper East Side hoping to find new, undiscovered shops. I think what I really wanted was to wake up in the movie, "You've Got Mail". That never happened, but I was able to find many hidden book nooks that were nothing short of magical. In Ann Arbor, I was surprised by how easy it was to find a bibliophile's paradise.

The Dawn Treader Book Shop on Liberty Street is the perfect spot for collectors of rare books. The shop has been in operation for more than 22 years and offers around 70,000 titles to choose from---including everything from fantasy to the history of Iceland. It's all there at Dawn Treader.

I noticed that people in the store were abandoning their search and dashing to the front of the store. The owner was reading one of his favorite stories and acting out each character with great enthusiasm. It was hard to resist listening as his voice resonated through the paperbacks, and he began selling the tale like a traveling snake oil salesman. We all believed it. We all wanted to hear more. It was easy to tell he was passionate about the store and had spent many hours rifling through the pages of distant classics to engage his audience and make the shop come to life.

If combing through bookshelves isn't your style, there is always something new to uncover on every street. I passed many interesting shops, but one that stood out--that's definitely worth a look--was the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Shop. The best thing about this shop is that it gives back. In fact, all proceeds go directly to free student programs offered at 826michigan, a tutoring and writing center.

The shop was covered in gadgets and gizmos (the Little Mermaid would love it here...bad joke, sorry) and the staff was incredibly friendly. I had a long conversation about Doctor Who, but we were never able to come to an agreement on who the best Doctor was. I still say David Tennant. But, I digress...

Everything from apparel to toys and games is up for grabs in the quirky store, and it all helps out a great cause.

I looked at my watch and noticed how many hours had passed; I was starting to get hungry. On every trip, I try to visit at least one restaurant that's unique to the area. I had already found Zingerman's. Now it was time for something completely different.

Evening: Order a burger the "right way" at Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger.
I had heard about a burger joint near the University of Michigan campus that sounded like great place to sit down and enjoy a greasy dinner in a college town.
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger is famous and frequented by University of Michigan students during all hours of the day. One of its many appeals is that the staff WILL NOT let you order unless you follow a very specific protocol. They ask you a series of questions and you MUST answer in the correct order:

  1. How many patties do you want? 
  2. What kind of bun do you want?
  3. What grilled items do you want? (onion, pepper, mushroom, etc.)
  4. Cheese and condiment choices WILL COME LATER.
It's very important that Blimpy customers remember the proper way to order. It's posted on the wall before you step up to the plate, but I won't lie and say I was completely confident. No one wants to look like an idiot when ordering a burger in front of seasoned professionals. College kids in line ahead of me had no problem spouting off the order and getting their burger fast. I may have needed a little help. In the end, I had the burger and my stress melted away into globs of cheesy goodness. 

After Dark: Check out the University of Michigan Campus.
The University of Michigan campus is just as beautiful at night. And, if you are anything like me, you will immediately think you are walking through the pages of Harry Potter. Praised by College Ranker as one of the Top 50 College Wedding Venues, the campus comprises some of the most ornate buildings in the country.

We spent the evening searching the steps of libraries and grand halls. As the sun set and lights shined from each window, students packed up their blankets on the quad and headed back to their dorms. It was a wonderful evening to be in Ann Arbor.

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