First Stop, San Francisco

We were only in San Francisco for two and a half days, but we were able to make to several of our favorite spots. I was hoping for sun, but we got the typical cold and fog of early spring (and summer and winter and often fall). I miss seeing the fog, so it was just as well.

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In Search of Coffee, Part III: Astro Coffee

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Looking towards downtown Detroit.

A couple Fridays ago when the girls were with a sitter, I drove to Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood (though, as Wikipedia points out, the actual city of Detroit is much older) located on the west side of the city. Originally occupied by Irish immigrants in the mid 1800s (most from County Cork, hence the name). At the end of the decade, Maltese immigrants came through, and in the early 1900s, Mexicans.

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Central Station, Corktown.

This up-and-coming neighborhood (according to various news articles I’ve read, most recently in The New York Magazine’s “Post-Post Apocalyptic Detroit”) is a hot spot for cool restaurants (including the always-crowded Slows Bar BQ), clubs, retail stores and yes, a coffee shop in the form of Astro Coffee, which opened three summers ago. Astro Coffee lies at the edge of Corktown, kitty-corner from the abandoned Michign Central Station.

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The 2100 block of Michigan Avenue (Astro Coffee is housed in the green building).

I was really excited to finally visit Astro Coffee. We tried as a family to pop in one Saturday, but a sign on the door told us they were closed for a week-long holiday. This particular stretch of Michigan Avenue was quite busy with business lunchers and some families at Slows and Mercury Bar across the street. As I walked by the front window, I noticed the Ritual Coffee (from San Francisco) sign, which made me both happy and unsure (I have mixed feelings about Ritual. It’s a long story).

IMG_7757 (580x800)Inside, there were some pastry and cookie selections up front, with daily sandwiches (which the flies seemed to enjoy, even with the mesh domes meant to keep them out) along the side counter. I ordered a cappuccino and a sage shortbread cookie.

IMG_7756 (785x800)The clientele was what one would expect. There was the usual one or two people on laptops at the back communal table, a couple regulars at the bar area, a few business folks ordering cups to go. I sat at the counter facing the street. The guy behind me was talking to a friend about such and such picking up his new TV show (yawn) and the older couple next to them were tourists (I’m guessing. They were speaking French).

IMG_7762 (800x800)So what about the coffee? you ask. Delicious! It was full-bodied, and bitter the right way. The crema was thick and creamy and I can’t remember, but I don’t think I needed sugar. The cookie was served on a pretty little vintage plate. It was quite sweet and the sage tasted suspiciously like rosemary, but hey. I was there for the coffee.

The Homes of Grosse Pointe

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Lots of weathervanes, a feature that I love.

The homes of Grosse Pointe are super different than the homes in San Francisco. For all I know the houses here are typical Midwestern homes, but all this is new to me, so nothing here is truly “typical” from my point of view.

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A summer cottage back in the day. Photo credit: GP Historical Society

Initially (and without getting into all the nitty-gritty history, which can be found via the Grosse Pointe Historical Society), Grosse Pointe was first a French colony. After the Civil War, the upper echelon of Detroit started vacationing in Grosse Pointe, taking over farms and building summer homes. In the late 1800s, according to the GP Historical Society, the first year-round residence of Grosse Pointe was established. Huge estates started to pop up all over the Pointes – homes that took up full city blocks and have since been torn down, making room for several more modest homes.

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Typical Grosse Pointe brick home.

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More brick. And those trees!

So, here we are, present day. For sure there is a lot of brick going on. I don’t want to go as far as saying that most homes are brick, because I’m not sure that would be entirely true. Lots of red brick, of course, but also white-washed and sand-blasted brick, both of which I quite like.

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There are also a good handful of farm houses (which I would love, love, love to live in) and craftsman-style homes (also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m not an architect. Some of the terms here I’m using are probably not actually correct architectural terms. And I’m okay with that). A wee handful of stone homes, lots of siding, loads of columns…

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and a bunch of homes built in the 50s and 60s with some midcentury modern homes stuck in there (I used a correct architectural term! I think.).

homes.50smodern (739x800)Typical decoration items are weathervanes, mostly over garages, with mounts ranging from ducks to geese other birds to dogs. There are also many colorful front doors here, a favorite being bright red.

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Shutters are also extremely popular and colorful shutters seem to also be “in” (particularly dark teal-ish and mauve). Other popular decorations are the American flag (don’t see much of that in San Francisco)…

IMG_6944 (636x800)…and stone statues flanking the porch or front door or driveway. For example, two crouching lions or two regal dogs, or perhaps one dog holding a basket in its mouth, etc.

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photo credit: trulia.com

Something I really love here are the trees and plant life. San Francisco had trees and Golden Gate Park was gorgeous, but the trees here are enormous, reaching way up to the sky. And summertime trees are so full (and full of life) and bright. And they are everywhere. On every block. It seems like every house, big or small, has some kind of garden going on. Almost daily I see people working in their yards – weeding, putting mulch down, planting new flowers. It’s nice being part of a community that cares about nature (well, except for the pesticide thing. sigh).

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So there’s your short (and hopefully sweet) tour of the neighborhood. Coming soon in a future post, I’ll take you inside some of the homes we visited (and some we didn’t) on our house hunt. Helloooo, wallpaper!

Detroit: A Small Photo Collection

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Cass Corridor

I’m slowly building my photo collection of Detroit. Like many outsiders and newbies, I’m really drawn to its buildings. I’ve always loved abandoned structures and old buildings (and the unknown stories they hold), so of course I am oohing and ahhing over all the broken windows and overgrown plants and everything. On one trip into town, I was yelling “STOP!” to my husband (who was driving) at almost every other block (and although I’m sure he was rolling his eyes, he did stop. most of the time.).

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Street Art, Midtown

One thing I noticed about the buildings (especially downtown but also some of the apartments on the outskirts), is that they are SO. BIG. And so tall! It’s not like I haven’t seen tall buildings before. I’ve been to New York and all over Europe. I’ve seen big. But I guess I haven’t been around it in so long, that they seem incredibly massive and looming to me. Plus, there are codes in San Francisco because of the earthquakes, so big and tall doesn’t really happen there (unless you’re at Macy’s. haha).

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Courthouse. For sale.

There is beauty in the breakdown, the hardship. But there is also a great energy to the city that these photos don’t show. It’s an energy that’s hard to capture in photos or even explain in words; its vibrancy is understated. There is definitely a pulse here. It’s a cool-as-a-cucumber kind of pulse that has nothing to prove to anyone, yet is warm and inviting at the same time (I’m going to figure you out, Detroit!).

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Midtown

I’m super excited to continue discovering what this town is all about and sharing my perspectives with you.

In Search of Coffee Part II: Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company

GL.menuLast weekend, the whole family piled into the car for a ride to Detroit. I’m still trying to get my bearings, so my husband took us the long way into town – Lake Shore to Jefferson, and then we drove around downtown and up Woodward to Midtown. I’d read a few things about Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and wanted to see if it would live up to the hype, so we stopped for a snack and of course, a  cup of coffee.

GL.coffeeMy husband ordered a pour-over and I wavered between a cappuccino and a macchiato before choosing the later. I got an almond croissant, the girls got blueberry muffins and my husband had some kind of apple pastry (I think).

The cafe sits on a corner near the DIA/Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. It’s a beautiful space, with exposed brick walls, wooden floors and ceilings and industrial accents everywhere. There is bar seating at the counter and the main room has several community tables and some smaller tables and chairs off to the side.  There was also outdoor seating, as well as bar stool seating along the main window inside. The people there were pretty hipster, but not to the point of being annoying. Quite. The staff was also hipster, but not pretentious, which was refreshing.

GL.barMy husband loved his coffee. He said it was rich and thick, like you could almost chew it. Mine was excellent as well, although next time I’ll get the cappuccino. The macchiato was perfectly made, but I love steamed milk when it’s done right and I’m sure this place would do it right. The pastries were okay. Nothing to write home about. But I didn’t mind, as we were there for the coffee, anyway.

GL.wineTypically, this cafe isn’t the best place to bring kids, but because it was a Sunday afternoon, they didn’t have loud music playing (which I’m told they sometimes do) or too much of a crowd (which I’m told they often have).  Unfortunately it’s too far from home to be a regular hangout for me, but we will definitely be back.

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In Search of Coffee Part I: Josef’s European Pastry Shop

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Josef’s

I love a good cup of coffee. Rephrase. A good cup of espresso. Regular drip coffee makes me too shaky (if you haven’t heard, drip coffee actually has more caffeine than espresso. true story). Specifically, a cappuccino if it’s done right, a dry cappuccino if it’s done mostly right, or a macchiato, if the barista doesn’t know how to make a proper dry cappuccino.

I was pretty spoiled in San Francisco in that regard. The city has an abundance of independent cafes to choose from, many of which are snooty about their bean varieties (which, although annoying, does make for a good brew). It’s unusual for a restaurant not to offer espresso drinks, and you can often get your cappuccino fix at non-coffee establishments. For example, Fraiche, the frozen yogurt shop, offers the highly regarded Blue Bottle coffee (Oakland), along side their organic yogurt, homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies.

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Peet’s in the Village. If only the inside were as inviting. (photo credit: http://www.peets.com)

Finding a perfect cup in the Grosse Pointe/Detroit area wasn’t going to be easy, I knew, from my previous trips here. There used to be a chain in town called Caribou Coffee, which made a decent cappuccino, but it was hit or miss. One of their Grosse Pointe locations was taken over by Peet’s (Berkeley), which I’m sad to say completely turned the cozy cafe (fireplaces, armchairs, community table) into a sterile space with boring furniture (and no fireplace).

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The local Starbucks. (photo credit: http://www.starbuckseverywhere.net)

The other location was taken over by Starbucks. All things said and done, I’d rather not do chains. Although, as mentioned in my Top-Twelve post, I have to admit that the Starbucks in town makes a better cappuccino than any San Francisco Starbucks (confounding!).

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Morning Glory (photo credit: http://www.morningglorygrossepointe.com)

Oh, Morning Glory. How I want to love you… Nestled in a small shopping district called The Hill, this newish (2012?) coffee shop’s interior is inviting and eclectic and fun (and they have a lovely outdoor patio for warmer days). The baristas are really sweet. But… the coffee. As one Yelper reviews, “the latte was drinkable, which makes it good for this part of town (where the options are Starbucks and stay home).” Hysterical and pretty much spot on.

I don’t know where they are getting their coffee beans or what they are doing to them, but the taste is bitter (in a bad way) or burnt and the foam lasts about two seconds. And forget about getting a cup to go, which is served in styrofoam (eeek!), which ruins the flavor even further. To their credit, their blueberry scone was buttery and fresh tasting, and their country eggs (scrambled with cheese and bacon) was excellently cooked (not overdone in the least, which is often the case at a place like this).

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Josef’s (photo credit: http://www.josefspastryshop.com)

One morning while I was driving around with the girls, I spotted Josef’s and made a mental note to check it out. My online searching told me that the shop has been around since 1971 and that the original owner sold the place in 2008 to two brothers from Montreal. I took the girls there on a Friday afternoon. We were the only ones there when we walked in, and the woman behind the counter was warm and friendly. There was a loooong counter filled with pastries, cookies, pies and cakes. I asked if all of them were made in-house. She said yes. All of them? Again, “yes” with a nod and a smile.

josefsThe girls chose a smiley face sugar cookie and a sugar cookie dipped in chocolate and filled with jam. I opted for the almond croissant, telling myself to enjoy it, even if it wasn’t La Boulange. I was thrilled to spot their espresso machine and ordered a cappuccino. It was perfect – success! And the croissant. Delicious. It was flaky and buttery, and the filling had just enough almond flavor not to be overwhelming (and not too sweet, either). It wasn’t La Boulange, it was better. I was so happy, I started chatting with the woman about San Francisco, coffee, the kids (normally you couldn’t pay me to talk to a stranger. Not even a nice one).

So there you have it. The search for a good cup of coffee in Grosse Pointe is over. For now. I’m going to keep checking out places as I see them, but when I’m out and about and need a pick-me-up, I’ll head for Josef’s.

(Coming Soon: Part II of In Search of Coffee, featuring Detroit’s Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company)