I’ve been to Detroit, MI many times, but I’ve never ventured beyond the city limits. I recently had the opportunity to visit Ann Arbor and I must say that the quaint city, home to the University of Michigan, offers plenty of delights and surprises.
Day 1 – Good Eats & Wedding Crashing (almost)
I arrived in Ann Arbor in the morning and headed straight to my hotel, Weber’s Inn. I must admit that I was a little concerned about the quality of the hotel because the exterior looked dated. It seemed like a place where Don Draper would stay on his way to a client pitch. The interior of the hotel, however, told a different story.
Weber’s Inn, which has operated in Ann Arbor for 75 years, recently completed a $4 million renovation giving it a more current and spacious feel with stylish carpeting, modern furnishings, and gorgeous design touches (I loved the wood paneling around the elevator). There is even a full size moose in the lobby. A Moose!
I checked in and went to my room. Although it was relatively small, it was comfortable and nicely appointed with luxurious bedding and high-end toiletries. After freshening up a bit, I went downstairs to meet my friends for lunch.
We drove to the world famous Zingerman’s Delicatessen (the restaurant was featured in the irreverent comedy, The Five-Year Engagement). Judging by the line that wrapped around the corner, I figured that it was a good choice for lunch. After standing in line for a few minutes, we were allowed to enter the building where we had to stand in another line that snaked through the interior. While we waited, the employees kept the mood light by chatting with everyone and offering samples of their huge inventory of olive oils and vinegars. One of the employees handed me a menu to peruse while I waited. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. I felt as if I were researching for a dissertation on the history of deli sandwiches (click here to view the massive menu). After careful thought, I settled on #48 – Binny’s Brooklyn Reuben. The sandwich included Zingerman’s pastrami, real Switzerland Swiss cheese, Brinery sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on grilled pumpernickel bread.
One bite of this delicious, fully-packed sandwich, sent me into a state of bliss. I can understand why it was voted Best Sandwich. While the sandwich was fantastic, I may have enjoyed the selection of Puck’s soda even more. Made with natural cane sugar and no artificial flavors, the sodas were crisp, refreshing, and tasty.
After lunch, I headed over to Kerrytown Market and Shops to do some shopping. My first stop was Sweetwater’s Coffee & Tea for a quick pick-me-up. I ordered a French Vietnamese Au Lait that was made with Sweetwaters’ dark roasted French chicory coffee and sweetened condensed milk. It was nirvana in a cup.
I strolled through the selection of unique and eclectic shops until I stumbled upon Princess Designs Jewelry & Rock Shop. There, I found some beautiful, handmade, natural stone bracelets. The best part was that they were only $5.00 each. I had to limit myself to only four bracelets. otherwise, I would have cleaned out the store’s inventory.
We headed back to the hotel to relax before dinner. I took this opportunity to explore the pool area at Weber’s Inn. I was disappointed that I didn’t bring any swim trunks. It would have been nice to take a quick dip in the water before dinner. Instead, I relaxed in the lounge chairs and played some video games (They had Galaga. I can never resist a game of Galaga).
Later, I met my friends in the lobby and we headed to Terry B’s, an upscale, contemporary restaurant and bar, located in a Greek Revival style, former farmhouse which was built during the 1850’s. We were joined at the restaurant by Tad and Jodi Geschickter, owners of JTG Daugherty Racing. Although the Geschickters have accomplished many things in racing, they did not set out to be a NASCAR team owners. Tad was planning to be a high school coach and teacher until Procter & Gamble hired him. He started out as a sales representative and somehow ended up working with Tide to sponsor a car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Like Tad, Jodi also had a passion for the sport, and the couple settled in Charlotte to start a team of their own.
During dinner, the Gerschickters shared stories about the ups and downs of owning a NASCAR race team.
“Do want to know know how to make a small fortune in racing?” asked Tad. “Start with a large fortune.” Tad even showed off his origami skills by making a chicken out of his napkin.
Although I could have listened the the Gerschickter’s stories all night, my stomach let me know that it required attention. Everything on the menu looked delicious and I had a hard time making a decisions. The server came to my rescue by recommending the Sesame and Wasabi Crusted Ahi Tuna. It included thick slices of rare tuna, Coconut and cashew jasmine rice, shrimp and Napa cabbage pot stickers, and Asian slaw. The dish was a culinary masterpiece. I ate slowly so I could savor each morsel.
When we returned to the hotel, we noticed a wedding reception going on. Although I had a fleeting thought to crash the party, my better judgement prevailed. I needed to be well-rested for the next day’s activities.
Day 2 – All of My Friends are Race Car Drivers
The next morning, we woke up early to drive to the Michigan International Speedway for the 47th Annual Quicken Loans “400.” I’m a huge race fan and I couldn’t wait to get there. Along the way, I enjoyed the verdant Michigan countryside that was and dotted with red barns.
At the race track, we met the Geschickters again and they took us to their bus where we were treated to a Hungry Jack Pancake breakfast with driver AJ Allmendinger.
AJ was cordial and funny. He signed autographs, answered questions, and posed for photos. I told him that I’d take the wheel if he were having any last-minute doubts (after all, I have driven a race car before).
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I got it.”
After breakfast, we toured the garage and witnessed the pre-race inspections. In the garage area, I ran into former Detroit Lions wide receiver, Nate Burleson and Can Head, a man born with a rare skin condition that suctions almost anything he places on his skin. Essentially, he can stick things to his body without glue.
As the race was about to begin, we headed to the suites to watch. I’ve been to a few NASCAR races where I’ve experienced them from the grandstands and the pits. While these areas had their benefits, they cannot compare to the suites. I was able to watch the race at track level while being protected from the weather (it rained almost nonstop) and without the noise. I also had all of the food and drinks that I wanted. All things considered, this was perhaps by favorite race. The only downside was that the race had to be stopped because of the weather. Unfortunately, my friend AJ didn’t win, but he finished 23rd after starting 31st.
We returned to Ann Arbor and had dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse where I ordered a BBQ platter. Although it was tasty, it failed to live up to my Texas BBQ standards. I did enjoy their selection of fries that included chili cheese and poutine.
Back at the hotel, we noticed a group of elderly men and women dressed to the nines. They were having a “Senior” Prom at the hotel. They were smiling, laughing, and having so much fun. Now THIS was the party that I needed to crash. But after a long day at the race track, going to bed was the most exciting thing I could think of doing.
Join the conversation: have you ever visited Ann Arbor? If so, how did you like it?