I was starting to put together this post with some brief thoughts about food and eating in Ann Arbor when the blog-surfing Shana pointed out the voluminous commentary on annaborisoverated.com about the quality of the food experience in Ann Arbor. The post and the reactions were exciting to us here at G3 because it was exactly the ambivalence reflected in the commentary that got us started on all this. Ann Arbor is a GREAT food town! Ann Arbor is perpetually in the culinary doldrums of mediocrity! It is SO challenging to eat well here! It is SO easy to eat well here. And so on. We’ve been taking a little while to get this blog in shape (come on people, we have day jobs. We have scholarly publishing to do and digital libraries to build. There are children to care for and aged relatives to visit. You think we spend all our time thinking about food? Well, we pretty much do, but not writing about it) but we are dedicated to exploring both our frustrations and our excitement about cooking and eating in this town (and a few other towns as well). Hope we can get some of that aaisoverated energy going here.
Quick aside before getting to the meat, as it were, of the post. I know that after a dozen years on-line I should always expect polemics, but good lord, why are so many people so lacking in nuance when they think about the food in this town? Where’s the ability to grasp complexity and shades of difference here?
Enough of that. A couple of quick stories/thoughts that give out some flesh on these musing about AA bones:
1. My work group went out to lunch on Friday to mark some important life events (births, deaths and birthdays) that had snuck up on us. We wanted a nice place for seven to sit and get some good food and it needed to be a reasonable walk from central campus. We decided to go to Arbor Brewing Company. I like their beer a lot but a) we weren’t going to drink at lunch — we’re not that kind (mostly) and b)since my last two restaurant reviews said “nice place to drink but I don’t want to eat there”, I’m not going there this time. So, I love their menu. It’s a nice selection of pub food with all the right words — they’re sourcing local as much as they can and working cooperatively with other local merchants like Everyday Wines. Did I say I love their menu? I do. And I hate their food. Every time. Then I wait a while and go back thinking last time was just a fluke. And my hopes are dashed again. It’s not just me. One of my more tolerant staff members remarked as we left “well, that sucked.” Stale rolls, dry chicken, over-cooked burgers, cold fries. The list of horrors goes on. The pickles were good. The server was a nice lad. And it was a fine place for seven to sit. But, my lord, how can a place have such good principles and bad food? And why do we put up with it? Are we so easily bought off by a good pint of beer?
2. Inspired by a recipe on Orangette, a ripe avocado, and my vow to try more winter greens, I wanted to make an escarole salad this week. No escarole at the Co-Op, at Sparrow’s, or at Trader Joe’s. No escarole at Whole Foods, but I had a nice talk with a produce guy, who explained the inconsistent supply of California greens this year and told me, regretfully, that I was unlikely to get escarole anywhere in town. I was disappointed but felt educated and picked up some baby spinach to substitute. Later in the day, I stopped in at Kroger (it was a big shopping day) for aluminum foil, and there, lo and behold, some perfectly acceptable organic escarole. Now, given my choice of patronizing one mega-business or another, I’d rather spend my money at Whole Foods, but the attitude is pretty irritating — “if we don’t have it, who would?” Um, Kroger?
The salad rocks by the way. Try it out. Although I used some coarse pink Hawaiian sea salt and it was little too crunchy. Go for a smaller grain. And note that I was able to get escarole in AA. That’s something.