Ann Arbor - home of the University of Michigan, and a solid food/beer location. Musings from our recent trip to a neighboring Midwest town.
We stayed west of town in a non-descript, Best Western hotel, it did have a pool, a fridge, and free breakfast.
On arrival mid-day, we were looking for lunch - and right by the hotel we found a great surprise place - the Zingerman's Roadhouse. Now, I knew about their original store, the great deli in downtown Ann Arbor. Asked the waitress, she said the Roadhouse has been around for about 4 years. Anyway, they have great above normal roadhouse type food, including burgers of course, but also home smoked pulled pork and brisket, fresh fish, salads, and a long cheese list from their own creamery. They even had some on-tap locals, with sm/med/large glass prices - I enjoyed a nice pale ale (forget the brewer) with pulled pork, and all we had was enjoyed. Now that said the prices here are steep, considering the portions are modest (actually what they should be everywhere not so over the top). The burgers start at $10 and go up fast with additions, my pork platter with sides was ok at $11.50, but overall a pricey place for lunch. Rate it a solid B, very good quality offset by once a month prices (if you were a local).
In the afternoon stops included Bello Vino and the Main Street Party Store. BV is a specialty grocery store with an extensive wine collection and in the far back a very good beer area. Heavy on Michigan beers (why I was there, including Dark Horse, Bells, Jolly Pumpkin, Stoudts), and a good representation of others including Belgians, the best part was the singles rack with fill your own six pack cardboards. Found the last (apparently) Bells Batch 8000, as well as a few others I just wanted to try. A- for this store, great selection, good pricing. The MSPS was equally impressive with some singles as well. A- here. Overall, the only beer maker I couldn't find was Kuhnhenn's, one of my targets.
For dinner we located the local branch of Cottage Inn, famous for Ann Arbor pizza. We shared a sausage/onion regular crust combo, very good. The atmosphere here was just ok, no liquor service, try the original Cottage Inn if you want the full experience, for this branch by the hotel a B-.
After our college tour and meeting with the diving coach at UM, I made the 8 mile run to Dexter to visit Jolly Pumpkin. Their brewery is in a tiny off-road location near downtown Dexter, I was guided in by Laurie Jeffries, the brewer's spouse and head of marketing I believe. They are only open noon - 6pm on Fridays, and were serving on tap both Bam Biere and E.S. Bam. They were selling five different styles of their bomber bottles at wholesale pricing! As it is cash or check only, I ran out of money buying my big format favorites as well as a few Biere de Mars Grand Reserve's, a special offering which is barrel aged for 27 months! I wasn't able to question Ron, but Laurie confirmed that all of their offerings are ales. I've read that all production here uses open (read wild) fermentation, but this traditional method does not impart sourness. The sourness (prevalent in most of their beers) is produced by barrel aging. The barrels harbor both wild yeasts and Lactobacillus among other bacterias. This is why they can't share barrels with "normal" producers. Because of barrel variation, some beers are blended, and they post a bottle log on the website so you can track your particular bottle. Do they use Brettanomyces? Not sure, but whatever they use keep it up. Now ranked the 8th best brewery in the US by BeerAdvocate. Thanks to Laurie for great service, and to Ron for keeping this great brewery running, solid A.
For dinner we tried the noisy Ashley's, self-described as Michigan's best multi-tap. With 70 beers on tap, 15 rotating regularly, and decent bar food with good burgers for the price, I couldn't complain. And the back area wasn't even smoky (we are getting spoiled here in IL). Kids (under 21) allowed until 9pm. You can find to your liking on the tap list, overall a great college bar, comparable to sticking a combination Maproom/Clark Street/Twisted Spoke together in Evanston at NU. Solid A.