By Keith Edwards
Driving into Ann Arbor on a late spring morning, they’re everywhere—hanging languorously over wide streets and sheltering a glorious mixture of architectural styles. This is why the city is referred to, by some, as Tree City. A friendly university town that’s wonderful for walking, it’s also full of café patios, art galleries, bookstores and an eclectic mix of fine and casual restaurants.
Breakfast at Wilma’s (formerly Fred’s: Get the pun?) provides the most Instagrammable food ever, according to one smartphone-wielding diner. But there’s no trade-off here between photogenic food and taste, as Wilma’s is a vibrant part of the city’s farm-to-table heritage. Ann Arbor has hosted an open-air farmers’ market every Saturday since 1919!
Well breakfasted, I’m ready to explore. A short walk brings me to the Literati Bookstore. It has a cozy, lived-in feel and seems to have been snuggled into its surroundings for decades. In 2019, it won Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year. Intimate and carefully curated, the owner’s passion shows through in spidery, handwritten index cards tucked under some of the volumes. A relaxing coffee shop on the second floor includes an Authors Wall, where caffeine-infused would-be scribes, writers and philosophers have penned thoughts that range from the mundane to the Zen-like.
Over on Main Street I find Shinola, an outpost of Detroit’s own luxury brand. I’m fond of the leather satchel in cognac brown. Or perhaps a fine retro watch? I could do serious damage to my bank account here. Nearby Bivouac is a rustic Aladdin’s Cave with one of largest selections of travel clothing I’ve seen.
A short drive away in neighbouring Ypsilanti, I’m invited to the Casablanca Moroccan restaurant, where Mohamed, one of the two owners, emerges from the cramped kitchen just spilling over with enthusiasm. I sample creamy hummus, saffron chicken and even a spicy omelette. It’s worth the journey just for the bistilla, a traditional, labour-intensive pie of poultry enhanced with herbs and spices, all wrapped in phyllo pastry. Mohamed’s version is made with chicken, and is every bit as good as the pigeon version I had at a five- star hotel in Marrakech.
An afternoon pit stop brings me to TeaHaus, a half retail store/half tearoom presided over by tea sommelier Lisa McDonald. There’s fine artisanal Nepali tea, but my fancy is taken by a Georgian brew. Tea-growing families displaced during the time of the USSR are now back producing quality tea from wild plants. It’s delicate, well balanced and not as grassy as a Japanese green tea. TeaHaus also serves formal English tea, including the whimsically named “English Quickie” of finger sandwiches, a scone and dessert.
Walking off my tea I find a 50-foot-tall, bright red sculpture rocketing into the sky. It’s by Mark di Suvero, one of the 20th century’s most important creators of outdoor and public art. The piece acts as a draw to the well-curated and free University of Michigan Museum of Art. Standout items in the collection include Tiffany architectural pieces, a number of Inuit prints (including the iconic Enchanted Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak), Apsara Warrior by Ouk Chim Vichet (which is constructed entirely out of gun parts) and a curious Man Ray sculpture of a glass bubble emerging from a clay pipe.