I have been wanting to take my girlfriend Bonnie to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan for a while now. This past weekend, I finally had my chance.
My original plan for dinner on Friday night was to eat at Budapest Hungarian restaurant in Toledo. But we got off to a later start than desired, so we wouldn't have made it before its 8:30 closing time. Luckily, there is always Tony Packo's nearby. I have been here many times before, so I knew just what to order....a stuffed cabbage, a hot dog with chili and cheese, a side of dumplings with paprikas and two sides of German potato salad. Everything was as good as always, especially the excellent potato salad.
For Bonnie, things were complicated because as a good Catholic, she doesn't eat meat on Fridays. And Tony Packo's is meant for meat lovers. She still seemed happy with her vegetable chili and sides of mac & cheese and mashed potatos w/ gravy. As usual, I was too stuffed for dessert, but she loves apple dumplings and was excited to see it on the menu. Unfortunately, she took one bite of it and pushed it away. The only explanation was that it was too chewy.
From Tony Packo's, it was a short ride back to our hotel, the Sleep Inn in Oregon, OH. Here is Tony Packo's website for those interested: http://www.tonypackos.com/
Bonnie wasn't happy that I wanted to leave the hotel no later than 6:30 the next morning, but since I promised her a great breakfast, she accepted it with grace. So we headed off to Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, MI.
I have been to Zingerman's around a half dozen times and have always had a very good meal. But this visit was the best food I have had there.
If you haven't been there before, Zingerman's can be a little overwhelming. As soon as you walk in the place, the smell is intoxicatingly good, with all the cheeses and breads on display. And the menu is so large, it would take you a half hour to read all the signs hanging over the ordering counter. So I have taken the strategy to just order the first thing that really appeals to me. I ended up ordering the D - $'s Cuban Conundrum, which has typical Cuban sandwich ingredients, except it was on a grilled paesano roll. While it didn't make me feel like I was in Little Havana, the sandwich was delicious.
Bonnie prefers breakfast food for breakfast and got the French toast. The bread used was two extremely thick slices of challah bread and she swooned over how good it was. We also got sides of Garlic potato salad and potato pancakes, both of which were outstanding. We agreed that this meal was going to be tough to top.
Zingerman's also has a really good coffee and bakery area, but other than Bonnie's hot tea, we were too full to get anything.
Another thing I like about Zingerman's is how friendly the employees are. They are obviously very happy to be working there and seem to enjoy interacting with the customers and encourage questions.
I should point out how expensive Zingerman's can be. I got the smaller portion of the Cuban sandwich and it was $11.50. But considering how big it still was and the quality, I feel I more than got my money's worth. http://www.zingermans.com/Index.pasp
It was time to head to Bronner's, the world's largest Christmas store. I dropped Bonnie off a little after 10:00 and told her I would be back in about three hours. Since I love visiting college campuses, I headed for Mt. Pleasant, MI, where Central Michigan University is located. I walked around a little bit and bought a few things in the student bookstore. While I was headed back to the highway, I came across a....
Grand Traverse Pie Company! I have eaten at the one in Traverse City, MI and loved it. So, I stopped in, had a bowl of minestrone soup and two slices of pie. They look like they have about 25 types of pie everyday, but only have about 10 available to sell by the slice. My piece of banana creme pie was perfect, but thought the Key Lime (I originally ordered the peach crumb, but they ended up being out) was just average. I did take a slice of chocolate creme back to Bonnie. http://www.gtpie.com/
So instead of being gone three hours, I ended up being gone for almost five. Still, she didn't even come close to seeing all 27 acres of store. I would have let her shop more, but we needed to head to the hotel to get dressed for our dinner reservations in downtown Detroit. http://www.bronners.com/
After relaxing for a few minutes and then putting on our dress clothes, we headed into Detroit to eat at The Caucus Club. The Caucus Club is located in the beautiful Penobscot Building and has an old money, clubby feel to it. Still, the service was friendly and attentive, but it should be considering we were only one of three tables with customers. I overhead the waiter say to another table that a half dozen other restaurants have opened and closed in the same area in the last two years. Not a good sign!
Anyway, I got the baby back embers (ribs), which came with both bbq sauce and what they call Caucus sauce. The waiter described it as a warm Russian dressing. But the ribs had a nice dry rub on it and I didn't even need the sauce. I should also mention that the portion size was huge! My Caesar salad and Manhattan clam chowder were also both quite good. Bonnie was less enthusiastic over her grilled salmon and salad, but enjoyed the Lyonnaise potatoes. With drinks, dinner came to $82.00, minus tip. http://www.caucusclubdetroit.com/
After spending the night at the Comfort Suites in Southgate, we just relaxed at the hotel all morning. We headed off to Ypsilanti to eat at Haab's, which hasn't appeared in a Roadfood book since 1992. We both loved this place! Haab's has a great old feel to it (opened in 1934) and even though it is casual and informal, it still has an elegance about it.
According to the old Roadfood book, they specialize in "chicken-in-the-rough" and are one of the few places left still licensed to make it. When it didn't appear on the menu, I asked our waitress if it was still available. Apparently, even though they can still make the dish, they can no longer call it chicken-in-the-rough. So they now call it simply chicken-in-the-basket. And it was delicious! As juicy as the meat itself was, the crusty, golden skin was even better. Other highlights were the draft root beer, cabbage soup and homemade bread. http://www.haabsrestaurant.com/index.htm
After a brief stop in the beautiful new Eastern Michigan University student center bookstore, we headed to Dearborn to see Henry Ford's house Fair Lane. Even though it pales to other American mansions, it was still a nice tour and Bonnie seemed to especially enjoy it. http://www.henryfordestate.org/
Finally, it was time to head back to Pittsburgh. But not before one more side trip. We stopped in Sandusky, Ohio to eat at New Sandusky Fish Company. Still not really hungry after such a big lunch, we split a shrimp & perch dinner. Like the review on Roadfood said, the perch was very tasty, but the shrimp and sides (we tried the fries, cole slaw and hushpuppies) were ordinary. We had a nice early dinner sitting in the gazebo across the street from the place (everything is take-out) and still had a reasonable view of the lake. http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Writeup.aspx?ReviewID=3781&RefID=3866
From there, it was a three hour drive and I arrived home shortly before 9:00PM.
We both agreed that Zingerman's edged out Haab's as the best meal of the trip.