Last year when we got engaged, John and I decided to take a trip to Niagara on the Lake, ON. We decided that a short trip at the start of the holidays is our new preferred gift to each other, and so this year we went to Ann Arbor, MI. It was also a convenient place to stop on the way south to Bloomington for Christmas. This was our second trip to Ann Arbor, as we visited it for Music Theory Midwest last summer. Even after two trips, I could definitely spend another weekend there sometime. There are so many restaurants I still want to try.
For lunch, went to Seva, one of the vegetarian restaurants in town. Here's their TLT (tempeh, lettuc, tomato, with cheddar and guac) and steamed kale on the side. Everything there looks SO good. And apparently my aunt Becky is friends with their owner! Small world.
We spent some time wandering around in all the little stores downtown. I felt like we were acting very Canadian, as it was pretty windy, cold, and snowy, but John and I were so excited. "It's snowing! It looks like Christmas! This weather is fantastic!"
Bongs and Thongs, one of the charming Ann Arbor stores.
If we're close friends, then you're likely to receive a card from me from this stationary store, Rock Paper Scissors.
John wanted to take an espresso break before we started tasting beer - obviously the real reason we selected Ann Arbor for vacation. We stopped in at Espresso Bar, whose espresso John raved about. I had some chamomile tea while we wrote a funny note to Sargibso. This place was one of several options for brunch that we considered. It was hard to choose, and I was thrilled with Cafe Zola below, but I could have awesome brunch there every day for a week without repeating a place. Ugh.
Then it was time for the beer tasting to begin. Our first stop was Blue Tractor, a brewery and bbq place.
We both agreed that Blue Tractor was the most consistently good beer we had. It also had a nice atmosphere and a good looking menu - I would definitely go back for dinner. You can read the list of beers on the photo below. I think my favorite was the Sudworth Bock, but I also liked the Bearded Pig Pilsner, which I think would be a great beer to have on hand at a party. One of the consistent characteristics that I generally liked was the crispness. Everything was very crisp, light, and had a nice finish.
The Wassail Ale was also really good and reminded me of the (Canadian) Great Lakes Winter Ale, with some nice warm spice. Neither of us liked the Mint Chocolate Stout, but I think that's because neither of us like chocolate and mint together. If you really like peppermint patties or those minty girl scout cookies, you would probably love this beer. I could tell it was a good beer, but really not for me. I also generally liked the Pitmaster Porter more than I expected (what is happening to me? I like dark beer now? I guess).
The bar tender was impressed with my method of taking notes on a coaster.
We also stopped in at Ashley's, a bar with a ridiculous number of beers on tap and in bottles, not to mention a varied whiskey selection. This is a must-stop place for a beer lover.
They gave us a pretty serious beer guide that started with info on various types of beers, and then page after page of available beers.
I only ordered one beer there: Bourbon Barrel Wizard, from Short's in Bellaire, MI (no picture, so seasonal that they only show up in bars and maybe on site). This beer....where do I even start? It's like Kentucky Bourbon Ale, in that it's aged in bourbon barrels, but it's darker than that beer. The bourbon flavor is a lot stronger, too. Since it's such a strong beer (11% ABV), I just had the one. And I loved it. While we were there it made me think of that quote we learned in undergrad music history. I don't remember it exactly, but at some point, Schubert said something to the effect of, "But who can do anything after Beethoven?" That's how I would describe this beer. How could anything be as good as that?
(It may have been the beer that made me led me to make such a comparison)
We also happened by a liquor store that sold these mini-Rogues. I didn't buy them, but look how cute! The Dogfish Heads next to them are regular sized beer bottles, just for scale. The Rogues would be like bombers for American Girl dolls.
Next stop: Jolly Pumpkin, where we ordered both the flight of 9 beers and a plate of cheese, olives, veggies, bread, etc. Perfect for that point in the day.
After visiting this brewery twice, my feeling is that the beer is somewhat inconsistent. Some of the beers I think are outstanding, but a lot of them are kind of meh. It's not about the sourness - the sour beers are generally my favorites there. I just don't think I'd go out of my way to buy them. The food, on the other hand, is amazing. I really want to stop in Ann Arbor sometime and eat dinner there on our way back from IN. Everything on their menu looks delicious and they have several vegetarian options.
More coaster notes.
In fact, I wish we'd eaten dinner at Jolly Pumpkin instead of at Sava (not to be confused with Seva). Sava was good but not great. The food was pretty good, and the restaurant had gorgeous decorations, but John felt his food didn't taste particularly fresh. Of course, it didn't help that I was pretty tired from walking around all day and drinking beer.
Before hitting the road on Saturday, we worked out in the hotel gym and then went to Cafe Zola for brunch. Both John and I had savory crepes, a spinach and a mushroom crepe respectively. Their menu is pretty huge, with many things that caught my attention. That's fresh squeezed OJ to the right of my plate, and a basket of homemade breads just above it, with almond-hazelnut and herb butter. I would definitely make a point of going back to Cafe Zola.
After brunch we hit the road for Indiana where we're spending Christmas with my family. They have more snow than London, where we have none!
Side note: I counted the walking around as a WALK IT OUT work out, and my run as a FIRST TIME, as it was my first run in Ann Arbor. That meant I got another GYMGO, my sixth! Only one more day of Gym Christmas 2012.