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6 Bites of Ann Arbor, Michigan

6 Bites of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Headed to this college town? Don’t miss these spots!

Ann Arbor, Michigan is filled with authentic and diverse cuisine.

When many people think of Ann Arbor, they may think of the University of Michigan, or simply of a "college town," but the beautiful, charming city is increasingly becoming an ethnically diverse culinary location. With cuisines ranging from Ethiopian to Polish to Italian to Turkish, the relatively small city is brimming with must-try restaurants and a burgeoning, innovative cocktail scene.

Click here for the 6 Bites of Ann Arbor Slideshow!

The town is home to a collection of food trucks, called Mark’s Carts, which share a kitchen to produce their own street food creations. Ann Arbor is also known for its variety of brunch spots, which range from tried-and-true traditional diners to new spots putting a twist on an egg breakfast.

Ann Arbor is a melting pot of cultures, and as a result, the city is filled with authentic international flavors, many of which adding an international influence to American favorites, like burgers and pizza.

Whether you are a student, a local, or a visitor passing through, these spots in Ann Arbor have something unique and delicious to offer. Click through the slideshow to see for yourself!

6 Bites of Ann Arbor, Michigan - Recipes readers love their restaurants - and they cherish memories of closed eateries in Washtenaw County.

Over the past several weeks, I've written about my Top 5 stores that I wish were still open and my Top 5 restaurants that I hope never change (ala the pending Blimpy Burger change).

Drake's - a few decades before I visited it as an undergraduate at U-M.

Combined, those columns generated more than 400 comments from readers inspired to either turn the retail nostalgia to restaurants, or who had their own take on restaurants that they hope never change.

Both columns also prompted several readers to ask, either by email or comments, for a list of Ann Arbor's best closed restaurants.

I'm going to modify that for my own purposes: I've been in town since the mid-1980s and, while I know about many local favorites, I also haven't eaten in many of them. (That's right: I didn't make it to Maude's.)

The former Bagel Factory, now part of the site of Landmark student high-rise on South University.

Lon Horwedel |

And in some cases, I had the chance to visit some reader favorites, but they didn't become my own destinations. (See the La Pinata reference below).

It's also funny that some places never seem to generate a lot of reader response. Are there no Thano's Lamplighter fans out there?

Anyway, this list is based on my own personal experiences. I know many of you will agree with some and disagree with others, and I'm hoping you'll share your reasons.

Here are my Top 5 restaurants that I wish were still open in Ann Arbor:

1. The Old German. It was a townie's delight, located in today's Grizzly Peak space on West Washington, and the decor was dark and intimate. The food? People say they liked it - and that's why I wish I could try it again. I went to the Old German in the weeks before it closed because my husband and his family considered it special and they were sad about its pending closure. He made the mistake of ordering "blutwurst," and the sight of blood sausage didn't help my appetite. I'd love another chance to order from that menu, and then actually eat. (The "other" downtown German restaurant, Metzger's, moved to Zeeb Road in Scio Township. We don't make the "blutwurst blunder" there.)

2. Drake's Sandwich Shop. I can enjoy many of the chain restaurants near campus, but the experience at Panera on North University isn't much different from one anywhere else. You couldn't say that about a stop at Drake's, which created quintessential Michigan memories for generations of students. It closed in 1993, a few years after I had my last limeade with a turkey sandwich in the shop across from the Diag. Now I wish I could take my kids there.

3. Don Carlos Mexican Restaurant. I know many people will mention La Pinata, which served Mexican fare on West Stadium. But for me, the longing is for the steak fajitas and frozen margaritas at the Don Carlos on Washtenaw in Pittsfield Township. The colorful painted bricks of the restaurant now welcome patrons to a laundromat - but once they beckoned crowds to a family-run restaurant that cultivated a passionate following. And no, I never felt the same way about the shorter-lived version in downtown.

4. The Bagel Factory. OK, it's not exactly a restaurant - but it did serve food from its counter, and it had a few tables. This is the location of my first meal in Ann Arbor, when I stopped for a Fragel and papaya juice as a high schooler touring campus. Later, I believe, it expanded - that may or may not have something to do with its demise. It wasn't venerable like Drake's, but the menu was distinctive enough that it created some memories among U-M students "of a certain era." That's me.

5. The Pretzel Bell. I cannot stand that I have no memories about what may be one of the most memorable restaurants in Ann Arbor. I know it was special to students and their parents for decades I know that memorabilia from the restaurant is prized among locals. But I have no idea what it served or what kind of atmosphere made it so special. I did walk past it I heard friends talk about it. And I have no idea how I never ended up at the place on East Liberty (in what's still the Pretzel Bell Building) while this place was open for my first two years in town. (It closed in 1985, according to ArborWiki)

(Paula Gardner is Community News Director of She can be reached by email or followed on Twitter.)

An Ann Arbor Restaurant Serving ‘Food of Substance’

Home to a major university and the Zingerman’s Delicatessen empire, Ann Arbor isn’t exactly a dining wasteland. But until recently, it wasn’t the kind of town where you’d walk into a restaurant and find dill flowers in your cherry soup or fennel pollen in your semolina cookies.

At Spencer, the tiny wine-and-cheese bar and restaurant that Abby Olitzky and Steve Hall opened downtown last October, you’ll find just those sorts of dishes, part of a rotating menu of small plates bearing the kind of pretty, hyper-local, seasonal food that’s still relatively uncommon here. “We get customers who come in and say, ‘This food feels San Franciscan — I hope that’s not weird,’ ” Ms. Olitzky said.

Given Spencer’s DNA, it’s not weird at all: Ms. Olitzky, a pastry chef, met Mr. Hall, a cheesemonger, when the two were working at neighboring restaurants in San Francisco, Ms. Olitzky’s hometown. “I courted her with a loaf of Zingerman’s rye,” said Mr. Hall, an Ann Arbor native (and Zingerman’s alum). The pair came to Michigan with the idea of doing something in Detroit, but quickly became enamored of Ann Arbor. They designed Spencer as a neighborhood hangout replete with coffee, pastries to go, and whitewashed walls, trimming the restaurant only with fresh flowers and two 19th-century oil portraits.

Like its décor, Spencer’s food is an Instagram fantasia: at a dinner in early August, that bowl of chilled cherry soup, its crimson surface streaked with crème fraîche and dotted with pale-green ground cherries, was greeted by a chorus of iPhone cameras. But it’s also food of substance: A salad of arugula, Tongue of Fire shelling beans, pickled red onion and fried bread crumbs boasted flavors as robust as they were balanced.

A plate of farmers’ market cucumbers and melon got a joyous umami nudge from a Beldi-olive tuille and creamy blobs of whipped feta. Cherry tomatoes and pickled tomatillos, meanwhile, delivered an acid kick to ribbons of hamachi crudo garnished with lime zest and shiso.

All of the food was ferried to diners by the cooks who made it, another twist that has made Spencer something of a conceptual leap for Ann Arbor. “Portion sizes and words like ‘crudo’ were definite challenges” at first, Mr. Hall admitted.

“There was a bit of hand holding” with their diners, Ms. Olitzky added. “But we cook what we want to cook. I would rather have to hold a hand than not do it.”

A quick Ann Arbor history lesson

Ann Arbor was founded in 1824 by a pair of land speculators, before Michigan was even a state. The town became the seat of Washtenaw County just three years later in 1827, and was incorporated by 1833. Ann Arbor lost a bid to become Michigan's state capital, but instead became the new home of the University of Michigan in 1837 after the university moved away from Detroit.

The rest, as they say, is history – and in fact the history of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan has been closely linked since 1837.

In the 1960s and 70s, Ann Arbor became a focal point for political activism (especially among left-wing liberals), which I think has influenced the city to this day.

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Ann Arbor police will no longer attend seminars led by controversial ‘killology’ trainer

Retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an expert on human aggression and roots of violence, speaks during Silent Observer's Crime Stoppers USA Training Conference at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (Cory Morse |

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor Police Department officers will no longer attend seminars led by controversial law enforcement trainer Dave Grossman, Police Chief Michael Cox said.

Grossman is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and director of the Killology Research Group whose stances on lethal force have been controversial.

Cox said he has never attended any of Grossman’s training seminars, but comments from Grossman that he’s heard and seen in the news are “totally outrageous.”

Grossman has traveled the country since 1998 speaking to police groups and churches. Before Grossman was scheduled to speak at Oak Pointe Church in Novi recently, a video circulated online depicting Grossman telling a class that police can have “the best sex” after killing someone.

“Both partners are very invested in some very intense sex,” Grossman said in the video. “There’s not a whole lot of perks that come with this job. You find one, relax and enjoy it.”

Grossman, who was scheduled to speak about the psychological effects of being involved in a fatal shooting, is credited with popularizing a “warrior mentality” in law enforcement, encouraging police to see society as a collection of “sheep” who need protection from dangerous criminals.

Grossman’s books argue police officers are “sheepdogs” who protect society using their natural “gift of aggression.” Therefore, he argues, police must squash their hesitancy to use violence and even kill when necessary.

While it’s been a few years since AAPD sent any officers through Grossman’s training, Cox, who came to Ann Arbor to become police chief in 2019, said it won’t be happening under his watch due to what he’s heard and seen.

Lisa Jackson, chair of Ann Arbor’s Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, said she checked with Cox after hearing Grossman may have trained police in Ann Arbor.

Jackson learned from the chief that eight officers employed by AAPD in March 2017 and five officers employed by AAPD in June 2018 went to hear Grossman speak, she said.

The past events calendar on lists a March 2017 appearance in Ypsilanti and June 2018 appearances in Dearborn, Mount Pleasant and Parma.

One of Grossman’s all-day seminars that some AAPD officers attended in 2018 was called “The Bulletproof Mind” and it was intended to cover topics such as post-traumatic stress, surviving gunshot wounds, survivor guilt, “new killers in the 21st century,” violent visual imagery, “reality versus fantasy” and “games that are more dangerous than movies,” Jackson said, citing an event pamphlet provided by AAPD.

Of the handful of AAPD officers who attended, Cox said he thinks one doesn’t work for the department anymore.

“And also, based on my understanding of the course, the nature of the course had to do with not about police killing people, but really about the mindset of people who kill in general, video games, the nature of violence in the country in general and understanding some of the people that might be out there killing people,” Cox said.

That’s what was advertised on the pamphlet and the subject matter seemed relevant, Cox said, though he couldn’t attest for what was actually said during the training.

AAPD wants its officers trained to be patient with people, especially around de-escalation, Cox said.

Cox said he’s heard “sound bites” of remarks from Grossman that are “pretty horrible,” but he doesn’t know if Grossman was just having a bad day and he doesn’t want to judge Grossman’s entire life’s work by them.

“But I do know that the sound bites that I did see, that is not the kind of thing that we would ever want to send any officer or any person, for that matter, to go and hear,” Cox said. “In my opinion, it was offensive.”

Funny story:

Ann Arbor is also the first place I ever flew to on an airplane when I was 11 or 12. It was for a future problem solving competition with a group from my school.

I have so many wonderful memories from that trip. But one of the strongest is of getting on an airplane for the first time ever and without my parents.

The flight attendant started into the safety talk. But of course, I’d never head this information before.

I knew if anything happened on that plane, I would have to fend for myself since my parents weren’t there. I was listening as if my life depended on it.

I remember feverishly poring over the safety information card in the back pocket of the seat in front of me. I was flabbergasted that everyone around us looked bored out of their minds, absentmindedly looking out the window or chatting while a flight attendant went through the demonstration.

I wished she would slow the heck down.

I studied my chair to sort out how the seat cushion could be pulled apart for a floatation device. (Because obviously, the chances of a water landing between Iowa & Michigan are super likely. Haha!)

After my nerves subsided, I filled a roll of film with picture after picture of the patchwork quilt that is flying over the Midwest.

Whenever I get on an airplane and people disinterestedly look away while the flight attendant shows how to buckle the seat belts, I think of my sixth grade self trying to make sense of it all.

It only took about 3 decades, but I was back in Ann Arbor!

I can see why I was so charmed by it as a kid. It made me wonder if it set the tone for the kinds of towns I’d like, since I first visited at a transformative time when I’d never experienced that vibrant, college town atmosphere before.

Food options in Ann Arbor are a little fewer on Sundays. But I wasn’t sad at all about our visit to Detroit Street Filing Station.

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7 Comments on &ldquo Winter Travel: A Long Winter Weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan &rdquo

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such a lovely town! and it’s got a cat cafe, great!:)

Any town with a cat cafe filled with adoptable cats gets a thumbs up in my book!

Ann Arbor looks like such a cute little winter town! That Law Library is particularly impressive. And the food sounds delish too!

Ann Arbor is a great town year-round, but I liked it in winter a lot! And yes, it has a pretty amazing food scene!

I love reading about your adventures abroad, but because I am originally from Michigan (Grand Rapids) and my best friend is from Ann Arbor, it is also fun to read your Ann Arbor posts! I have been to a few of the places that you have mentioned! I love how you feature such a variety of destinations and types of travel on you site!

A couple of other places in Michigan that would be fun to visit/ write about are Mackinac Island (a historical island between the lower and upper peninsula where cars are not allowed tourists get around via bikes and horse-drawn carriages) and Frankenmuth (a German touristy town with the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s). Have you been to either of those places?

I like to travel just about everywhere, whether it’s somewhere far away and exotic, or somewhere closer to home every destination is interesting for different reasons! So I’m happy to hear people enjoy my domestic coverage, too!

I haven’t been to Mackinac Island or Frankenmuth yet, but I’m hoping to find time to do a big Michigan road trip in the next year or two!

You absolutely should take a road trip around Michigan! It is a beautiful state! I also recommend South Haven, a town on Lake Michigan!

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I’m just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a “normal” life with a desire to discover the world beyond my Midwest bubble. I aim to inspire people to find ways to fit more travel and adventure into the lifestyle they already have. Learn more about me here.

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