Ypsilanti Grub Crawl Oct. 5 offered exceptional fare
I have to thank seven fabulous eateries in Ypsilanti — Corner Brewery, Harvest Kitchen, Aubree's, Cafe Ollie, Sidetrack, Ypsilanti Food Co-op and Haab's — for the immensely wonderful quantities of both food and fun I enjoyed on Oct. 5 when each place was offering hospitality at the very first area Grub Crawl.
The event was sponsored by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, and I have to commend everyone involved for friendliness, organization, and even perfectly sunny and balmy Indian summer weather. Everything about the evening was ideal!
Now, what is a Grub Crawl, you ask? Why, a food lovers' equivalent to a pub crawl! Buy a ticket, get it stamped at each of the participating locations and enjoy portions of the eateries' very best goodies all evening long. This is a Food Floozie's dream come true!
I rounded up Jeremy and his dad, my ex-husband Stuart, for the evening's entertainment. Not only are they endlessly amusing when they're behaving themselves (though extremely trying when they act like competitive siblings), but they're also two of the best eaters I know. A grub crawl isn't the sort of event to bring a picky or a restrained person to, after all.
So we began our adventure by walking to the Corner Brewery. We were greeted very warmly, and invited to sample either a beer or some butterscotch pumpkin pudding.
I don't drink beer, and the boys don't drink at all (Jeremy won't be legal 'til January anyway), so this was an easy choice: pudding all around. It was lusciously thick, rich, and slightly spiced with a hint of the butterscotch shining through. I am never averse to starting dinner with dessert, so we were all happy after our first stop and ready to move on through town to the next place.
We wandered on over to Harvest Kitchen, a subscription meal service offering wholesome, organic meals prepared with locally-sourced ingredients. The appetizer offering here was an eggplant egg roll; then there was a choice of pepper steak, Italian wedding soup or bacon macaroni and cheese to accompany it.
Jeremy and I leapt at the pasta, while Stuart — still following the low-carb Atkins protocol, but not with 100 percent rigidity — chose the steak. The egg rolls were a huge hit: "This egg roll is fantastic! I can't even taste the eggplant!" (from Jeremy), and "I think that was the best egg roll I've ever eaten" (from Stuart). The mac 'n' cheese was creamy, smoky, rich and delicious. We were happy campers, indeed.
Our next stop was Aubree's, where each Grub Crawler could sample a slice of either cheese or pepperoni pizza as well as a cheesy breadstick. The pizza was fresh from the oven, gooey, and perfectly foldable for this native New Yorker who still eats her slice the way she did while growing up in the city.
The breadsticks were almost like pizza themselves, but without the sauce — doughy, chewy, generously covered with cheese. The portions were full-sized, not just samples. This one could have been dinner all by itself!
Our next stop was CafÃ© Ollie, which offered an entire smorgasbord of treats: spicy red pepper hummus with garlic toast, five-cheese macaroni and cheese, coffee roasted almost-locally in Wyandotte and ice cream from nearby Guernsey Farms Dairy ... oh, my!
The hummus was thick and vibrantly flavored, and the garlic toast was a perfect accompaniment. The coffee was excellent, and the mac 'n' cheese — topped with crushed potato chips, no less! — was exceptionally creamy and delicious.
The ice cream was a perfect closer. Stuart ordered Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which he liked very much. I chose Choco Malt Chip, which was sublime. And Jeremy picked McGuire's Irish Mint, a chocolate-mint option, which he pronounced to be the very best sample of this variety that he's ever eaten.
Now, I had known going into this that I was going to have to engage in some serious portion control no matter how good the food was. I only tasted my samplings with a bite or two (well, sometimes three!), hoping to get through my tour of the eateries without feeling as though I might explode. My hearty and hardy companions, though, ravenously devoured what I didn't finish because everything was so wonderful. I warned them to be careful, but...
At this point, we were starting to feel the effects of our multi-course meal. We were not complaining, oh no! We fully intended to see this adventure through to the end and to taste every tantalizing tidbit offered to us. But we were going to have to be a bit more restrained, a bit less voracious and enthusiastic.
But then we got to the Sidetrack. Oh, my word! We were graciously greeted by owner Linda French. When I introduced myself and told her that I'd written about how much I'd enjoyed the monthly "Opera on Tap" extravaganza and the exceptional carrot cake (prepared by the amazing pastry chef Bryant Stuckey of Decadent Delight), she gave me a big hug and welcomed my little family as though we were a part of her own.
There were three different beer samples being offered at one end of the bar, with rich and spicy tastes of pumpkin pie waiting at the other end. But the grand attraction was the buffet table in the center of the room, hosted by Linda's daughter Jessica and by long-time master chef Walter Love.
There we found yet another variety of macaroni and cheese, this one also very rich and featuring thick slices of kielbasa. Next to it was cheeseburger soup, hearty with ground beef and creamy with lots of cheese in the base; it was our unanimous favorite.
Then there was tender Yankee pot roast served atop perfectly lumpy — so you know they're real! — mashed redskin potatoes. And the final offering was barbecued pork sliders that Jeremy declared to be better than my own famous-among-friends shredded pork.
Rather than one single taste, we were informed as soon as we arrived that we could eat as much as we wanted to — seconds, thirds, whatever. The boys had seconds on one or two items, but I couldn't finish everything, although I tried each item and enjoyed it all immensely. I can eat more than most people think a skinny girl can, but this was quite a test of my abilities!
We walked (waddled?) across the street to the Ypsilanti Food Co-op for eatery number six of the seven on our list. Since this is primarily a grocery store that offers some prepared foods, I wasn't quite sure what to expect; so I was delighted to find a buffet table laden with gorgeous, nutritious items!
There was a roasted root vegetable salad of vibrant orange and green that featured a dressing with a subtle hint of cumin. Excellent roll-up sandwiches were filled with spiced chickpeas. A vegan walnut spread was a great complement to the crisp-crusted whole grain bread baked by the River Street Bakery next door.
The pumpkin bread was a very nice accompaniment to everything; however the orange-glazed gingerbread was so stellar — moist, spicy, and with a perfect citrus glaze — that it easily won my heart. There were also crispy sweet potato and quinoa fritters topped with a brightly flavored yogurt-cilantro sauce. It was truly a feast!
Finally, we took the trolley that was so conveniently offered to help transport Grub Crawlers from site to site. It was provided by Golden Limousine International for those who chose not to walk, either because of distance or because of feeling sluggish from their gleeful ingestion of goodies.
The boys fell into both categories, as our final destination was a bit further away than the cluster of the other restaurants (four of which were in the same block, with another across the street). I would have preferred to walk off some of the overload of calories I was happily fortifying myself with, but I kept Stuart and Jeremy company for the ride on the quaint and charming trolley.
Although it's an institution, I have to admit that I had never eaten at Haab's before... and that's quite a shame. I can't explain it, I've just never had occasion to go there; but that has now been rectified, and happily so.
From the very flavorful black bean burger with a spicy chipotle sauce to the crispy fresh salmon cake, the food was very good. The zesty gazpacho was full of vegetables; and the butternut squash soup — which is only available from Sept. 1 through Jan. 1, because it is made with Michigan produce in the prime of its season — was so rich and creamy that I had thought there might be cheese in it. (There isn't.) The cream cheese apple blondie was sweet and spicy, and a lovely way to end both the tasting and the evening.
The Grub Crawl was so much fun! I highly recommend enjoying treats and meals at each of the participating restaurants; they offered such exceptional fare and so proudly represented Ypsilanti at this fabulous event.
Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures in the kitchen. She was thrilled to have her post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread named as one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal.
Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. Her newest feature is Frugal Floozie Friday, seeking fun and food for $5 or less ... really! Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here.