Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Week We Ate (The EID Week in Review)

Porsche repair waiting area.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'm one flattered motherfucker this week.

Looks like my Pied-Pipering of the poutine scene has finally paid off: both the Freep AND the News saw fit to run stories on it this week. Welcome to the party, guys. Let me know what else I can research for you. In other news, my long-researched Poutine Hot List comes out this week. Yay for my timing. [Freep / News]

Detroit CBS Local ran a story on Great Lakes Coffee this week using the exact same intro I did, except for much less effectively since an corporate media outlet covering the local scene SHOULD be running a story on it regardless and one should also have an established brand and public identity before assuming anyone cares whether or not you add your voice to the chorus. Nice try though. [Detroit CBS Local / EID]

Dan Gilbert disciple Josh Linkner lists "5 incredible people remaking Detroit." Once again, not a single black person highlighted in a story about a city more than 85% black. But he did squeeze in a couple of nods for his and Gilbert's lovechild Detroit Venture Partners! [Forbes]

Cafe Muse is expanding! They've already hired on a new chef to oversee the added space which will be the same but different, part of the restaurant but separate, and with the kind of edgy beer, wine + cocktail list you've come to expect from Muse but even more of it. [Cafe Muse FB / EID FB]

MGM Detroit announces the new restaurant that will replace Wolfgang Puck Grill: TAP, a "sports pub" serving "stylish" comfort food with 50 beers (draft? bottle?) including (some? many?) local brews. We are underwhelmed. [MGM Detroit FB / Marx Layne PR email blast / EID FB / HuffPo / Curbed Detroit]

Not food but a way to make sure you don't get fat: the Detroit Riverwalk broke ground on its final phases of construction this week, HUGE news for locals, tourists, bikers, walkers, Detroit and the world at large. But at least Detroit. Maybe Michigan. But definitely Detroit. [We Are Mode Shift]

The assistant food editor of Food Network Magazine visited MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids and ate at the Original House of Pancakes and Hunter House Hamburgers in Birmingham after her Porsche broke down and they had to wait for repairs. Yes, life is hard for the assistant food editor of Food Network Magazine. [Food + Femininity]

The Bottom Line Coffee House is now open in Midtown. [TBL FB / Dig Downtown FB]

Awwwwwww!!! Old people are so much better than kids. [Eater National]

Our Co-MFIC lurvs northern MI too. [NY Post]

Every ending is a new beginning. AJ O'Neil, who used to own AJ's Music Cafe in Ferndale before closing it in March, will be starting a new cafe in Highland Park where he will keep selling his signature "Detroit Bold" blend. [HuffPo]

Sours. They're a thing. Jolly Pumpkin is bringing sexy lambics back. [BeerPulse]

Mash opened in Ann Arbor. It's in the basement of Blue Tractor. Basically they traded mojitos for bourbon. Otherwise, same. []

Mae's got a patio. It's adorbs. [Mae's FB]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

[EID Feature] This Cider House Rules: Tandem Ciders

Dan Young, owner of Tandem Ciders. All photos from Tandem Ciders.
When you think about "hard ciders," your first thought is probably that sickly-sweet alcoholic apple juice from the likes of Woodchuck and Strongbow, multinational corporate producers that make all of their ciders from apple juice concentrate and flavor it with -- what else? -- more apple juice concentrate. This is akin to forming your entire opinion of wine based on Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. Cider -- as in "the hard stuff," as in the real stuff - can be as delicate and nuanced as a fine wine, and we Michiganders are in a unique position to appreciate the majesty of the fermented apple.

"One measure [of the growing craft cider industry] is that now the large conglomerate beverage companies are adding ciders to their product portfolios," explains Gary Awdey, president of the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Association. "But what I find much more encouraging is the increase in the number of small craft producers, and that’s somewhere that Michigan really excels. Michigan and the Great Lakes region is really the major cider region in North America. It doesn’t reflect in the volume of sales but is a good representation of the true variety that is being offered. There is a higher density of craft cider producers [here] than in other areas. Michigan residents have much easier day trips to cideries."

As the country’s second- or third-largest apple-producing state (depending on who you ask), Michigan is home to hundreds of different varieties of apples, from the table standards to rare antique and heirloom varietals. We also currently have the largest number of craft cider producers in the country. Many wineries and breweries are getting into the cider game as an alternative to beer and wine, and there are also larger-scale operations focused entirely on hard cider production. Unlike most beer and spirit producers, which are still forced to buy much of their hops and grain from out of state, Michigan ciders are made with Michigan apples picked and pressed by Michigan people running Michigan businesses for Michigan customers. Michigan’s craft ciders are dry, delicate, and above all else wholly Michigan.

Tandem Ciders opened in October 2008 on the Leelanau Peninsula in northern Michigan. As part of the Leelanau Wine Trail, they had a lot of explaining to do that first year of business when people came in looking for Riesling. But all of that is changing, says owner and cider maker Dan Young (who owned Tandem with his wife Nikki Rothwell). "Customer perceptions are changing from, 'What is this?' to 'Hey, this is great to have a cider!'" he says. "We'll ask people, 'Hey, are you tasting wine today?' [and they'll say] 'No, we're here for cider.' It's not just wine drinkers who run into us."

They'll still get confused consumers wandering in wondering if it's "like beer," but they're easily converted. Dan has had customers thank him for making cider and giving them another drinking option ... one that is "like beer" in that it is carbonated (usually--Dan also makes a flat cider available only in the tasting room) but also offers a different flavor profile, is naturally gluten-free and lower in alcohol (unless fortified with brandy--Dan makes one of those too), pairs well with food but can just as easily be enjoyed on its own, and has the complexity of wine and the body of beer while being something different altogether. Plus, it's perfect year-round. "People are realizing this is another drinking option and it's good to have."

And the best part is, it's truly local, utilizing all Michigan fruits. While many other cider makers will incorporate other fruits into their ciders (like raspberry or cranberry), Tandem uses exclusively apples (though they do make a "perry" -- cider made from pears -- in the fall). Dan wants each product to be an expression of the apples he uses, whether traditional cider apples like Sheep's Nose and Fameuse, classic table apples like Northern Spy and Red Delicious, antique apples, even crab and wild apples. Dan notes that there is much more awareness of ciders now, which he attributes to the growing craft beer movement. "20 years ago when microbrews came out it was a hard sell because people had no way to wrap their heads around it," he says. "[Now breweries like Short's and Right Brain are experimenting with different flavored beers] and people see something made from apples and say, 'Oh hey, great!'"

Dan also attributes cider's popularity with Michigan's rich agricultural heritage and Michiganders' inherent connection to the land, with agriculture as Michigan's second-largest industry. "... Michigan is known for its huge manufacturing base. Agriculture has been overshadowed by manufacturing [but is still a huge part of people's lives here]."

Tandem works with several local growers on Leelanau for the many different varieties of apples they use in their ciders. They've recently planted 12 different varieties of traditional hard cider apples and have their growers planting more traditional varieties for them, in addition to the heirloom and heritage varieties they also use. "Cider fruit is interesting -- [the apples] taste horrible when you bite into them; they're very tannic. But once they're fermented it leaves a lot more body and depth behind."

They'll continue making ciders out of popular table varieties too; their hottest seller is the Smackintosh, made predominantly with the same household staple Macintosh apples everyone knows and loves. "People just connect to that and remember their childhood stopping at the cider mill and eating those Macintosh apples."

In addition to the Smackintosh, which has a lot of residual sugar, Tandem makes a variety of different ciders highlighting different flavor profiles from the bone-dry Crabster (made with crab and wild apples) to the moderately dry Farmhouse (classic cider apples) and the semi-sweet and highly complex Early Day (a blend of six cider and table varieties).

Because of the unseasonably warm weather the state experienced in March followed by frost in April, Michigan has reported losses of upwards of 90% of their apple crops for the year (though actual growers say it's more like 75% statewide -- still huge). Up in Leelanau, they still have about 40% of their crop. What does this mean for the cider industry? "It's not going to be a big growth year," Dan says. "We're not going to be making any extra." He adds that last year's crop was so abundant he was able to make enough so that he will still have plenty to sell throughout this year and keep his business going.

"[Sometimes] there's apples coming out of everywhere and we don't have enough boxes to put them in, and some varietals are known for being really biennial. Downstate was hit really hard for fruit but I think we'll be okay," adding that it's the major producers who supply corporate chains like Meijer and McDonald's who are scrambling. Dan at least is resourceful. "Last year we picked a lot of wild apples. We picked some that were incredibly tasty and some that were incredibly tannic and bitter [but made for great cider]. We're already marking wild trees [for this year] and will definitely be doing more of that."

As one of Michigan's largest dedicated hard cider producers, Tandem is still by no means a massive operation and distribution remains limited, but southeast Michiganders can find their products at the Produce Station in Ann Arbor and the MI General Store in Ypsilanti. Many of their products are only available on draft in the Leelanau tasting room, as if you really need another reason to visit northern Michigan this year. (You do. It's this.) And hey, this place is something Mario Batali and I can agree on.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

[HOT LIST] Old Mission Peninsula

Sunset on Old Mission. All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Mario Batali has been yammering on incessantly about Traverse City once again, which is great and all but based on his "favorite picks" it sure does seem like he never makes the journey from his pad on the Leelanau Peninsula around the bay and onto Old Mission all that often. Old Mission (along with its sister Leelanau) is pretty much the crown at the head of Traverse City. And if the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is the most beautiful place in America, then Old Mission Peninsula is the most beautiful place on the planet.* It is 19 miles long and divides Grand Traverse Bay into East and West Bays. At its widest point it is three miles wide; at its narrowest points you have truly breathtaking panoramic views of both sparkling bays over the sloping vineyards and fruit orchards. Say what you will about Napa, Tuscany or Bordeaux, they look like an Ohio cornfield compared to this. (It's true. I've been. They do.)

In fact, do say what you will about Bordeaux; the world’s most esteemed winemaking region happens to sit along the same circle of latitude, the 45th Parallel, as the Old Mission American Viticultural Area (AVA), and world-recognized winemakers are taking up the challenge of making world-class wines in this region. The peninsula has seven wineries (though two more have been approved) and only a smattering of restaurants and hotels (well ... "inns"). The rest is preserved land (a state park and lots 'o farms), so Old Mission will stay frozen in this tranquil state of un-development forever. If late summer travel plans take you "up north," make this one of your highlights.

#1 Mission Table + Jolly Pumpkin
Do your life a favor and have dinner and many many drinks on the deck at Mission Table. With places like Trattoria Stella and Cook's House in Traverse City stealing all the thunder, Mission Table never seems to gets its due. Executive Chef Paul Olson is a quiet genius: he just does his thing, tending to his herb garden out back, cranking out some fan-freakin’-bloody-tastic farm-to-table seasonal dishes. This restaurant is a true representation of the indigenous flavors of Michigan. Think tender, succulent lamb loin with oven-roasted cauliflower, or crispy pork belly with housemade kimchi, roasted brussel sprouts, and a poached egg ... as one friend put it, "Paul should Iron Chef the shit out of Batali." As I put it, "I fucking love Paul." Attached to Mission Table is the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant and Brewery, which is DUH IT'S JOLLY PUMPKIN. (And all their beers are also available at Mission Table; the deck is shared.) Oh, the deck? Overlooking West Bay, quiet, surrounded by trees, sunlight reflecting off the water -- some people meditate. This is better.

#2 Chateau Chantal 
Chateau Chantal is an estate winery and bed + breakfast. The Inn is connected to their tasting room, and guests are free to conduct their own wine sampling after-hours (this is northern Michigan, where people still believe in the honors system). The chef-prepared daily breakfasts are fantastic, and during the summer you can follow it up with their lunchtime "tapas tours" through the vineyard. They also have what might actually be one of the most stunning patio views in the state: order a glass of wine and a plate of cheese from local creameries and chill on the patio overlooking the bay, or check out their prix fixe seven-course wine dinners held several nights a week through October.

#3 2 Lads Winery
It's fun and young (four years old this year), and it also has the best damn view on the peninsula. 2 Lads' sleek, ultra-modern tasting room is perched atop a hill overlooking the bay with absolutely no obstructions. You might find it difficult to pay attention to the pourer's spiel when right behind them is a massive window showcasing this spectacular view, but do try to pay attention: 2 Lads specializes in cool climate reds and sparkling wines, and winemaker Cornel Olivier (originally from South Africa) believes that Michigan's reds can one day be on par with Bordeaux. Genius? Or insanity? It may be a fine line, but it sure does have a nice view.

Here's more of me gushing over Old Mission wines.

Actually here's more of me gushing over Old Mission to New Yorkers.

#4 Peninsula Grill
For casual fare, the Peninsula Grill offers classic American grill cuisine of serious excellence (try one of the flatbreads), along with a solid selection of local wines and beers. Longtime bartender Johnny even promises he’ll remember what you drink for next time.

#5 Tesoro Inn
A lot of people don’t like B+Bs because they’re a little too…folksy. The Tesoro Inn is the ultimate anti-B+B B+B. Owners Jane and Les Hagaman have created the kind of bed and breakfast experience that will appeal to even the most ambiance-sensitive. Jane is an artist and interior designer; Les is an accomplished fine dining chef. Their home is beautifully decorated with their own Asian-inspired art pieces and multi-colored slate floors, yet is also comfortable and inviting with warm tones and soft textures. For those of you seeking the “foodie” experience, their three-course farm-to-table breakfasts and homemade evening desserts (left on your nightstand next to the following day's breakfast menu printed on gorgeous cream-colored stationary) will make you want to make yourself at home FOREVER. But book early: the word is out on this three-year-old spot and they only have three guest rooms.

Bubbling under Brys Estate, The Boathouse, Peninsula Cellars, Black Star Farms Tasting Room, Chateau Grand Traverse, Old Mission General Store, Bowers Harbor Inn

*Eye for an eye, hyperbole for hyperbole.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Week We Ate [The EID Week in Review]

The "maids" of Chou Anime Cafe in Midtown.
Easy Like Sundae has officially opened in downtown Ferndale. The first four comments on Downtown Ferndale's photo? Not, "Congratulations!" Not, "Welcome to the neighborhood!" Not, "So excited to have another great business down here!" Not, "Go Ferndale!" No: "Are there any VEGAN options?" Seriously, you guys, I'm trying to be supportive of your lifestyle choices but you can be profoundly f-ing tedious sometimes. How about we congratulate them on opening before we start brow-beating the vegan/lactose-free/gluten-free agenda, hm? It's FROZEN YOGURT. [Ferndale Patch / Easy Like Sundae FB / Downtown Ferndale FB]

Detroit finally gets mass transit! Sort of. The Detroit Bus Co. puts the "pub" in public transportation. [Thrillist Detroit]

The Corktown train keeps a'rollin, with or without the train station. [Curbed Detroit]

I wrote the preview on Local Kitchen + Bar (almost ready!) but Curbed picked it up, which is always worth noting -- especially since that bitch just surpassed me in followers this week. [EID / Curbed Detroit / Curbed Detroit FB]

MotorCity Wine turns two! [MLive]

The solidest of dudes filmed a short at the solidest of places: check out Solid Dudes Kitchen as they win at Green Dot Stables. [Solid Dudes Kitchen]

Pumpkin beers have started coming in and I apparently have too much time on my hands. [EID FB]

Three Andiamo restaurants (including the flagship Warren location) will be changed over to the mouthful-of-a-name, Joe Vicari's Andiamo Italian Steakhouse. [Macomb Daily]

Phil Cooley, former model and most interesting man in America. [Vice]

A Travel Channel writer names the 7 best beer destinations in the country and includes Traverse City, citing Short's (in NOT-nearby Bellaire) and Mackinaw Brewing Co. (RLY?) as reasons. He also included Beer City USA TIE city Asheville, NC, acknowledging its title as Beer City USA while conveniently failing to mention it was a TIE with ... wait for it ... Grand Rapids. Clearly this person thought it best to suckle at the teet of Batali than do any actual reporting. Why the snub, chum? (All that being said I still love Traverse City more than anywhere and anything else.) [Travel Channel / MLive / The Daily Meal]

Speaking of Batali, he makes his picks for the 9 best restaurants in the world and included not one but TWO places in Traverse City, the Cook's House and Frenchie's (a sandwich shop). That's right folks, according to Joey Tribbiani Mario Batali, a sandwich shop in Traverse City belongs on the very same list of the best restaurants in the world as Le Bernadin and Le Louis XV. The kicker is he's really NOT being paid off by the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau. (I asked.) [The Daily Meal]

The Brinery stimulates our gastronomy AND economy. [Concentrate]

Suburban nightclub South Bar closes after yet another shooting. Oh, Birmingham... [Downtown Publications]

NPR gets all NPR-y about Detroit coney dogs. [NPR]

Beer is good for the economy. [MLive]

The Bottom Line Coffeehouse will be opening in Midtown next week. It's now Facebook official. [TBL FB]

More importantly, Anthology needs a roaster and we need Anthology. [indiegogo / Anthology FB]

The Detroit News has been in a cryogenic slumber since 2005. They should really read Curbed more. [DetNews]

Motor City Street Eats announces their Dearborn summer schedule. [MCSE FB]

Mae's poured their patio this week! Sitting in the sunlight will make us feel less bad about sucking down butter burgers and salted caramel cream-filled chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. [Mae's FB]

Maria's Comida has announced they will be closing the restaurant on August 18 and transitioning over to a manufacturing facility for their "Maria's House Made" salsas and barbecue sauces. Last chance for a ghost pepper burger! [Maria's FB]

I have a feeling if I ever make it to Tokyo my head will explode. Perhaps this place can ease me into it. [HuffPo]