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.

GL.outside

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

josefs.coffee

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.

Peets

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).

starbucks

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!).

morningglory

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).

josefs.building

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)

 

 

Hawaii: the Food

For my family (as is the case with most, I imagine),  a carefully planned and prepared meal equals love. The first night of our stay, my Auntie Melinda steamed a large uhu (aka parrot fish, and you can see why) that she got for $39 at Tamashiro Market on an outdoor gas wok as part of our huge dinner spread. After steaming, the fish was topped with oil, green onions and cilantro. My sister and her family came over and also her husband’s parents, who were in town for their annual visit.

Haupia Pie

Haupia Pie. Yum.

In addition to the usual sides of salad, rice and veggies, there was Korean meat jun (the only dish bought vs. made), thin strips of beef coated with egg and flour, fried and served with dipping sauce. AND miso butterfish (black cod), a white, flaky fish marinated with miso, mirin, sake and sugar and then baked or broiled. AND rainbow jello and a haupia “pie,” a layered dessert starting with a macadamia nut crust, then Japanese sweet potato (purple), then haupia (a coconut milk and sugar concoction with a custard-like texture).

Halo Halo + Coffee Mug

Halo-Halo + Coffee = Breakfast of Champions

Waiting for me in the fridge the next morning was a Filipino specialty, halo-halo (“hodge-podge” in Tagalog). There are so many different versions of this dessert. Basically, it’s a concoction of condensed milk plus a bunch of wacky ingredients (kidney beans, rice, gelatin, yams). Auntie’s not-too-sweet version is filled with tons of grated cantaloupe, papaya, avocado and coconut. There are also tapioca beads, palm fruit and some strange pink Japanese gelatin that I always pick out. I put an ice cube on the bottom (if I’m lucky, as I was this time, Mom will have frozen fresh coconut water cubes), dump a bunch of halo-halo on top and eat it with my coffee. Super YUM.

Ramen noodles

The perfect bite.

I love, love, love noodles. Italian pasta and Japanese ramen are at the top of my list. I can make Italian food all day long, but don’t know how to make ramen broth. Whenever I go to Hawaii, I always ask my sister to come with me to Goma Tei, a small noodle shop in Ward Center. We usually sit at the counter and I always get the same thing – Tan Tan Ramen, a basic spicy broth with char siu (Chinese-style bbq pork), green onions and greens (broccoli rabe or spinach or some Asian green that is very similar). SO good. Salty, with a hint of sesame and just enough heat.

Menu at Goma Tei

Menu at Goma Tei

That meal may very well have been my last taste of homemade ramen for 2014. (And dare I say 2015? No way. Surely not). And who knows? Maybe there is a hidden noodle shop in some Detroit alley that makes the best ramen noodles East of the Mississippi. Maybe. But… probably not.

If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, I urge you to try some of the local flavors. They might be weird, they might taste icky, they might taste awesome, but they will most assuredly be made with love.

Gung Hay Fat Choy: It’s Gonna Be a Biggie

Chinese Building on Waverly Place

Building on Waverly Place, Chinatown.

Chinese New Year is a big deal in San Francisco. Public schools are closed, Chinese food is gobbled, firecrackers are popped and at the end of the two-week celebration, a huge parade (the largest outside of Asia) featuring lion dancers, a 200-foot long Golden Dragon, stilt walkers, marching bands and acrobats floats through town.

I’d planned on kicking off the lunar year with an invigorating run. That plan got squashed when I woke up with chills and congestion. Thankfully, I’d scheduled our sitter to come for a few hours, so I took myself to lunch at Woodhouse Fish Co. on Fillmore Street. I ordered the deep-fried fish tacos and a hot water with lemon.

Woodhouse Fish Co. restaurant

As I waited, I witnessed at the table to my left, an exchange between potential business associates, meeting in person for the first time. “It’s so nice to put a face with the voice,” and similar niceties. The woman, a second generation San Franciscan (a rarity, as she pointed out) was upbeat and bubbly. The gentleman, who had never been here before, got a short rundown of some of the city’s history (the African American community on Fillmore Street during segregation, the influx of Japanese and Japantown, the Italians in North Beach, Chinatown). The conversation quickly turned to all the different foods we have at our fingertips, thanks to the mix of cultures. “I love my city,” she said. “I’m always discovering new places.”

fraiche.inside

After lunch, I popped in next door to Fraiche, my favorite frozen yogurt shop. Organic, of course. I always get the same thing: a regular natural (plain, nonfat yogurt) with olallieberry puree and mochi, a Japanese sticky, starchy dessert made from rice flour. (I overheard them saying to a customer once that it was a secret recipe, but I know how to make it. I’ll share sometime). But today I opted for a Blue Bottle cappuchino.

fraiche.window

I tried to concentrate on my library book (The Tiger’s Wife), but it was a beautiful day and I kept staring out the window, watching traffic and passersby. I thought about the woman at lunch and how proud she was of her city and how I share her fervor. Is the move going to be a huge letdown? Am I really going to venture out and discover all the cool places in Detroit? Or am I going to sulk in my kitchen (aka my office) and long for home?

I’m keeping an open mind. My friend Christine says not to think of it as being better or worse, just different. I can live with different.  No matter what, the Year of the Horse is going to be a biggie for us. And so it begins…Gung Hay Fat Choy!

820 Jones Street: My First San Francisco Apartment

Apartment Building

Photo Credit: Anomalous_A at Flickr (Click to view his full photostream.)  Number 56 is on the right (with the window open), second floor from the top.

I moved to San Francisco at the end of 1996. I had been living in Reno, Nevada for two years and was itching to get out of its eerie strangeness (if you’ve ever been for an extended amount of time, you know what I’m talking about). I worked as Publishing Coordinator for Addi Galleries’ publishing division (limited edition fine art prints). When they announced that a new location (now occupied by the Martin Lawrence Gallery) was being built in Union Square, I jumped at the chance to relocate as the new gallery’s Administrative Director (for a cool $13 per hour).

366 Geary - former location of Addi Galleries.

366 Geary. Addi Galleries’ San Francisco location. Photo: Martin Lawrence Gallery

In one extended weekend, I set out to find my new apartment. My whirlwind search was a success (reminder there was no Craigslist yet); the rental agreement 820 Jones Street, #56 was signed at the end of my trip.

I believe the rent was $875, which covered 420 square feet of studio space, including a separate-ish kitchen, huge walk-in closet (which some tenants used as an office) and tiny bathroom. The basement housed a coin washer and dryer, and also the garbage bins, which more often than not had huge roaches scurrying about. (I have a phobia of roaches. No, seriously. Have you ever woken up to find yourself squishing a flying cockroach just inches from your mouth? Didn’t think so.)

The ad in the paper (the paper!) said the apartment was in Nob Hill, but some would say it was really in the Tenderloin. I think technically it’s Lower Nob Hill, (“Tendernob” came into use in the early 2000s, a term I’ve never liked nor used), but I always told people I lived in Union Square, as it was a short three and a half block walk to the actual Square.

map820

I had the corner unit, so I could see across the street to Sutter. Back then, the Commodore Hotel (now a residence hall for the Academy of Art) ruled the block, with its popular Red Room nightclub (all red decor, as one would guess).

Commodore Hotel

The Commodore Hotel. Photo credit: Phil H. via Yelp.

Next door to the Commodore was the Titanic Cafe (now the Cafe Bean), a small diner that served breakfast and lunch only. Sometimes on weekend mornings I would sit at the bar and treat myself to a their buttermilk griddlecakes for $5.75. It was the first time I saw the sign, “Tipping is not a city in China”.

titanic.logo

My first few days in the apartment were spent trying to keep warm (one of the windows didn’t shut and my radiator was jenky) and to function on very little sleep. I didn’t yet have a futon; I slept on a bed made of my bathrobe and towels, and used my comforter for covering (why did no one tell me about heating blankets!? I would have bought one in two seconds!). I also didn’t have curtains for I can’t remember how long.

I arrived during the week between Christmas and New Years, so the city was even louder than usual and had a weird energy that made me uneasy. On New Year’s Eve, the the town went wild with people yelling, honking car horns and throwing calendars out windows (a tradition that has since stopped).

Inside view of 820 Jones Street

The inside of 820 Jones Street #56 on move-in day.

Soon I was sleeping through the 5am garbage collections, the wailing fire engine and ambulance sirens and the late-night revelers (whose sidewalk voices sounded like they were in the apartment). I looked forward to watching the transgender prostitutes walk the streets on weekends, getting into cars with their “dates” and arguing about who was on who’s turf. (This weekend ritual only lasted a year or so. I faintly remember some movement to “clean up” the area, which pushed the girls from Jones Street to Polk.)

820 Jones Street building

One last look.

Coincidentally, 820 Jones was also my third San Francisco apartment. In 2000 I lived at #51 for about five months. This was during the dot-com boom and the rent was up to $1100. I saw an online ad dated October 2013 for a 3rd-floor unit. The rent was $1895.

I drove by it the other day on the way to get my hair cut. I pulled over and got out to take a couple photos and say goodbye. I had forgotten it was painted my favorite shade of pink – a realization that made me suddenly so happy. I smiled all the way back to my car.

Eliza’s Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers and MenuIf you’ve never had pot stickers from Eliza’s, I’m feeling very sorry for you right now. I grabbed some of these in the middle of a frantic errand-running morning and devoured them in the car. And maybe I brought a container of rice vinegar from home so I could add the sauce packets to it because I am that obsessed about how a dipping sauce should taste like. They are perfectly flavored with ginger, pork, scallions, garlic (could it be that simple or are there secret ingredients?) and are juicy on the inside without being soggy on the outside.

My love of pot stickers started when I was a kid. Growing up in Hawaii, I had access to a variety of dumplings: Korean mondu, Japanese gyoza, Chinese won ton, pot stickers. I loved them all. I’m one of those people who gets food cravings, and pot stickers is at the top of the list (along with steak, which is totally random). When I was pregnant with Lucy, all I wanted were pot stickers and hot and sour soup from Eliza’s. If dumplings are on the menu, they will be in my belly.

Restaurant 18th Street

Eliza’s old location next to Chez Maman. Photo credit: airbnb.com

I’ve been going to Eliza’s since the late 90s, back in my SF Weekly days, as I now call them (as many of us do). They used to have a location on 18th Street on Potrero Hill, sharing a wall with Chez Maman.  Whether there were just two or a whole crew, we always ordered the pot stickers, aka “pillows of love.” While we were waiting for our orders, we would all mix our own dipping sauces using our preferred combination of the three condiments on the table (soy sauce, vinegar, chili paste). They didn’t give you little bowls for the dipping sauce, so the only thing we had for our sauces were flat appetizer plates. What this meant was that every time someone lost part of their pot sticker (which happened often, especially given the slippery plastic chopsticks), it would splash onto their plate, splattering the culprit and sometimes the whole table.

My love for these dumplings run deep. How am I going to satisfy my pot sticker, my Eliza’s pot sticker craving in the middle of the Midwest?! Does Detroit even have a Chinatown?

Abandoned building

Image credit: detroit.curbed.com

Yup. Here it is. According to Curbed Detroit, vacant for 14 years, Chinatown can be yours for just $500k. Although someone wrote in the comments section, “I didn’t know Detroit had a [Chinatown]. Where did all the Chinese people go?!? Troy?!?” Great.

I’m not sure Operation: Find the Best Pot Sticker in Detroit is even going to get off the ground. I could try to make my own version, sure, but it won’t be the same. *Sigh* Eliza’s, you will be missed.