Global Flavors, Local Scene at
Ann Arbor Restaurant Week

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week begins this Sunday, January 12th and runs through January 17th. Today, Laura Berarducci from Visit Ann Arbor takes us on a culinary tour of  some of Ann Arbor’s finest global flavors. 

A lot of people are talking about starting diets now that the food-indulgent holiday season has passed. However, for this foodie, the real holiday is about to begin. I invite you to join me on a global culinary adventure — feel free to leave your passport at home.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week kicks off Sunday, January 12 and lasts six delicious days. There are 55 amazing restaurants participating, all of them contributing in their own way to Ann Arbor’s designation of “Best Midwest Food Town.” One of the things that makes Ann Arbor such a remarkable culinary destination is the culturally-diverse options.

Before we pack our bags, here’s a quick over view of how it works. Each participating restaurant offers a prix fixe menu with lunches at $15 and dinners at $28. What’s even better is that many of these restaurants offer 2-for-1 deals! Check out the full list of restaurants and menus at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com and make your reservations early!

Destination: Spain
Restaurant: Aventura

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fennel Photography

This Spanish tapas restaurant and bar is the newest addition to Restaurant Week and the décor is as beautiful as the food is delicious. Head Chef Jules Botham has compiled a menu that is sure to showcase the authentic flavors which inspired owner Sava Lelcaj after a trip to Spain. The menu (dinner only) consists of five courses, including “pintxos” which are small appetizers served on bread secured with a toothpick.  One of my favorite elements of this prix fixe menu is the numerous options presented in each course. You could probably dine here every night during Restaurant Week and have an entirely different experience each time.

Destination: Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, and Austria)
Restaurant: Amadeus

When you walk into Amadeus, you immediately feel like you’ve been transported to a small European café. From the tin ceiling to the large windows looking out onto the city streets, the ambiance sets the stage for the meal you’re about to enjoy. In addition to offerings such as snitzel, placeki, and pierogi, the desserts are one of a kind. The options at Amadeus for Restaurant Week can fit a party of any size – offering 2-for-1 prices, prix fixe options with multiple courses, and even a Sunday Brunch.

Destination: Ethiopia
Restaurant: The Blue Nile

Photo courtesy of VisitAnnArbor.org

Possibly the most unique stop on this culinary excursion is the warm and friendly Blue Nile. However, be sure to leave your inhibitions behind as the etiquette in Ethiopia is to share food from a single plate without the use of cutlery. Instead, tear apart pieces of “injera” — Ethiopian bread with a spongy texture — and pick up the food by pinching it between your fingers. You’ll be provided a hot towel both before and after your meal, so you may as well dig in! While you’re there, be sure to warm up with a hot cup of Ethiopian tea.

Destination: India
Restaurant: Shalimar

I’ll be the first to admit that I can easily overindulge at an Indian buffet, so choosing from a prix fixe menu during Restaurant Week is a nice way to keep myself in line. Shalimar specializes in Northern Indian cuisine with a focus on tandoori and biryani dishes. Both the lunch and dinner menus offer a lot of options and variety; however, with a samosa appetizer on the lunch menu and a Masala Chai with dessert on the dinner menu, I’m going to have a very hard time choosing between the two.

Destination: Germany
Restaurant: Metzger’s

The Metzger family has been serving authentic German cuisine in the Ann Arbor area for more than 80 years. Now located on the west side of Ann Arbor, it is also one of the few restaurants on the list with easy parking. With the dinner pricing so reasonable, be sure to order a stein filled with a German beer from their rotating taps. You’ll definitely want to bring a friend with you since Metzger’s is one of the restaurants providing the 2-for-1 option for both lunch and dinner.

These five restaurants are just a few of the gastronomic gems Ann Arbor has to offer so please take a look at the full list of participating restaurants at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com and design your own adventure. Don’t forget to pack your appetite!

Laura Berarducci is the Director of Marketing for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been an Ann Arbor resident for more than 30 years. She loves to plan walking food tours with out-of-town friends. For more information about Ann Arbor and its 300+ area restaurants, check out www.VisitAnnArbor.org

6 Must-Visit Upper Peninsula Coffee Shops

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to Do in the U.P. describes six Upper Peninsula coffee shops that are perfect for a quick pick-me-up after a busy day.

Have you ever needed to grab a coffee while traveling and just haven’t been able to find a place? I know I have. And because I care about my fellow coffee lovers, I’m here to give you the skinny on where to get your caffeine fix while exploring the Upper Peninsula.

Dead River CoffeeMarquette, MI

Dead River Coffee is primarily a coffee roaster, and if you’re timing is right, you might catch Theo (the owner) roasting a batch of beans as you order your favorite coffee drink. (The smell is amazing!) Grab a pound of his popular “Harbor Girl” roast for the road. 119 W Baraga Ave. Marquette, MI

5th and Elm - Calumet, MI

This cool coffee shop is housed in a nicely restored historic building in downtown Calumet. Formerly a gas station, the building now houses one of the two 5th & Elm locations (the other is in Houghton) and serves up ice cream and sandwiches as well as coffee. 501 Elm St. Calumet, MI

Moose Jackson CafeIron Mountain, MI

Moose doubles as one of the town’s social hubs. It’s often busy, especially around lunch time when sandwiches, wraps, salads and paninis fly out of the kitchen as busy lunchtime chatter fills the space. They do a great job getting orders out, though, and the food is good enough for this to also be a very legitimate breakfast or lunch spot. 221 E A St. Iron Mountain, MI

Stone Cup Coffee House & Stones Deli – Escanaba, MI

Are you seeing a trend here? Yes, most of the coffee shops in the U.P. also double as restaurants. And the Stone Cup Coffee House & Stones Deli in Escanaba is no different. This is a great place to grab a mouthwatering breakfast or lunch as well as a quality coffee. 1222 Ludington St. Escanaba, MI

Falling Rock Cafe’ – Munising, MI

The Falling Rock is a true gem, nestled in downtown Munising, just south of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Part coffee shop, part bookstore, this is a place where you could easily spend a couple hours. They also serve a wide selection of ice cream for those hot summer days, and a full menu of soups and sandwiches if you’re in the mood for lunch. If you happen to be visiting Pictured Rocks and mother nature rains on your parade, grab a coffee, crack open one of their more than 1,000 new and used books and relax for a while. 104 E Munising Ave., Munising, MI

The Serving Spoon – Menominee, MI

Tucked inside a house along Menominee’s historic waterfront district, The Serving Spoon is a breakfast hotspot as well as coffee shop. From here, it’s just a short drive (or nice walk) to Menominee’s North Pier Lighthouse. 821 1st St. Menominee, MI

Now that you’ve got a good idea where to get your caffeine fix in the U.P., I’d love to hear about any other great coffee shops out there. What’s your favorite Michigan coffee shop?

This post was written by Jesse Land, publisher of the Upper Peninsula travel website Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.

 

 

Experience Authentic Mexican Flavors at Grand Rapids Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids is coming up August 14-24! Today, Kirsetin Morello of Grand Rapids gives us a behind-the-scenes look at one of the participating restaurants. Read from her below and learn more by visiting ExperienceGR.com.

Alambre Especial. Photo courtesy of El Granjero Mexican Grill

When Mercedes Lopez-Duran was a little girl, she imagined she might go to the head of the class when she grew up—as a teacher. Instead, today she’s the head of a thriving, local restaurant. Lopez-Duran is the owner and creative chef at El Granjero, a Grand Rapids restaurant that prides itself on serving delicious, authentic Mexican dishes like grilled cactus, and bright pink, sweet Jamaica (pronounced ha-my-cah) juice made from the Jamaica flower.

Lopez-Duran’s path to restaurant ownership and culinary creativity took a few twists and turns. As a young woman she entered the business world rather than teaching, working as a secretary in an accounting office. She later pursued schooling to become an accountant herself, but married before she embarked on a career filled with numbers and balance sheets. Once married, Lopez-Duran stayed home and it was more than a decade before she returned to the workforce.

Fifth Anniversary ribbon cutting at El Granjero. Photo courtesy of El Granjero Mexican Grill

When Lopez-Duran decided to return to work, she ditched the accounting idea and turned to her passion: cooking. She inquired at restaurants in Mexico City, but without restaurant experience was only able to find work as a dishwasher. Her new manager assured her that if she worked hard she could rise through the ranks. Such a roadblock might have dissuaded a less determined person, but not Lopez-Duran. Three days after she began her new dishwashing job, she received her first promotion.

Mercedez Lopez-Duran and her daughter, Paola R. Mendivil. Photo courtesy of El Granjero Mexican Grill

In time, Lopez-Duran moved from Mexico City to the United States, and took a job waitressing—her first time serving tables—at Tacos El Ganadero in Grand Rapids.  (At 5’ tall, she didn’t meet the requirement for Mexico City restaurants that waiters be at least 5’ 1”!) When the owner of Tacos El Ganadero decided to close the restaurant and move out of state, Lopez-Duran was concerned about the other employees losing their jobs and decided to buy the restaurant rather than allowing it to close. “Working in the kitchens, my mother always thought about having her own restaurant one day,” says her daughter and El Granjero co-owner, Paola R. Mendivil. “ She just didn’t know it would be so soon!”

Although it’s quite a leap from waitress to owner and cook, Lopez-Duran was undaunted. By that time, she’d worked in restaurants for 15 years and she understood how to run the kitchen. “All the time I was working,” she says, “I was learning.”

Lopez-Duran and Mendivil changed the restaurant’s name to El Granjero, which means “the farmer” in Spanish, to reflect their desire to have farm fresh ingredients on the menu. Lopez-Duran’s creativity didn’t stop with her initial menu overhaul: she still seeks inspiration for new dishes today. On a recent trip to the Mexico City region, she found exciting, new, authentic dishes to try, including quesadillas made with Jamaica flower.

Customers can try her inspired creations during Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids, which runs from 8/14/13 – 8/24/13. For just $25, two people will be able to sample several different tastes during a 3-course authentic Mexican dinner that includes a shared appetizer, two main dishes (one selection includes the quesadilla with Jamaica flower), and two delectable desserts

Molcajete. Photo courtesy of El Granjero Mexican Grill

For a sweet treat, try their Fresas con Crema, which showcases Michigan strawberries (it’s similar to strawberries and cream, but with a slightly different sweet sauce). The Fresas con Crema is Mendivil’s favorite dessert but Lopez-Duran favors the Chongos Zamoranos, a sort of sweet, curdled milk made with whole milk, sugar, and cinnamon. During Restaurant Week, you can try either, or both—or try the third dessert option, a Mexican-style gelatin that made with spiked eggnog, called Gelatina con Rompope.

Whichever option you choose, you can’t lose at El Granjero. With a farm-fresh focus and customer-oriented service, you’ll be sure to enjoy an authentic meal from the Mexico City region, right here in Grand Rapids. And don’t be surprised if Lopez-Duran herself takes your order—she’s as likely to wait and clean tables as she is to cook and create dishes in the kitchen. “I like doing everything,” she says. “I don’t like things to be the same all the time. I like to be moving.”

El Granjero shared this Fresh Cactus Salad recipe for our readers:

El Granjero's Fresh Cactus Salad recipe. Click to enlarge.

Click here to find a list of all the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, along with the special menus they’ll be offering.

Other profiles in our Restaurant Week series:

Pat Wise, Executive Chef at Grove

For more things to do in Grand Rapids, visit michigan.org.

Kirsetin Morello is a writer, author, and blogger who’s called Grand Rapids home for more than a decade. She’s enthusiastic about yoga, basketball and travel, and is a reluctant runner. Kirsetin, her husband, and their three children love to explore everything West Michigan has to offer. You can find her online at www.KirsetinMorello.com.