We flew up to Ann Arbor last weekend for the Nebraska- Michigan football game. One of my friends, Ariel, married a man who is a Michigan fan to the same degree that my husband is an Alabama fan. Which is an enormous degree of fandom. They came down for the 2009 South Carolina-Alabama game, so we made our return trip this year. Ariel’s husband has dubbed it our “Big Ten-SEC Exchange Program.”
Of course it was a blast, one that included great friends, great football, a great city, and great food.
Our first impressions were all positive when we landed in Detroit on a nonstop flight from Birmingham. (I’ll admit, they pretty much had me at “nonstop.” A rare treat in a small city like B’ham.) The A concourse in the McNamara terminal of DTW airport is airy, modern, comfortable, and pleasant. We noticed a wine bar and sleek diner mixed in with Starbucks and shops, accented by huge potted trees and a bright red transportation tram running quietly on an open track overhead. Many signs are in both English and Japanese, because DTW is Delta’s primary gateway to Asia. (I assume the auto industry might have something to do with that as well.)
Downtown Ann Arbor was nice too. It was bigger than I’d expected (but not quite as new, fresh, or polished), and made up of tree-lined streets, their branches adorned with small white lights. There appeared to be plenty of interesting shops, restaurants, coffee bars, and entertainment. I saw very few chain stores or eateries.
We ate one night at Seva, which has a woodsy interior accented with little light green string lights. It touts fresh, imaginative vegetarian cuisine. I personally didn’t find the menu incredibly imaginative, but it did include a variety of tempting options. I ordered the Kermit’s Lagoon drink from the juice bar, which combined cucumber, celery, parsley, spinach, kale, and apple. It was tasty and pleasant, vegetably but not overly so. David chose the tempeh burger with basil-cashew pesto, cheese, and yam fries for his entree. I enjoyed Rennie’s peanut-kale salad: kale, carrots, butternut squash, and red peppers marinated in peanut-cider vinegar dressing and topped with peanuts. Yum. I couldn’t tell if the kale was slightly cooked or raw but softened a bit by the marinade, but either way it was definitely more delicious than some of my previous attempts at eating raw kale. (Once I tried to make a chilled soup my sister swears by. It called for “one bunch” of kale. My bunch must have been way bigger than what they had in mind.)
Perhaps even more delicious was Sadako, a Japanese restaurant. My husband and I both ordered one of the specials that day, which was deep-fried tofu with scallions and a vegetable sauce. It was fantastic. The tofu didn’t taste fried at all, just soft, warm, and flavorful. I thought the scallions and sauce were nice complementary accents- you didn’t notice them individually too much, but the overall taste of the whole roll was outstanding. I also got the “green grass” roll (seaweed salad on top of a cucumber, asparagus, and avocado roll) and the vegetable roll. David ordered another of the specials, the “candy cane” roll, which was topped with alternating red and white fish. The servers were friendly and accommodating, and the restaurant filled up really quickly around noon on a Sunday.
Of course attending our first Michigan home game was the centerpiece of the weekend. I liked the stadium even more than I thought I would. They call it the “Big House” because it is the largest in the nation, and it is like a huge, wide, shallow serving bowl. There are no hedges and no advertisements; it’s just you, the field, two big replay screen/scoreboards, and approximately 111,000 of your closest friends. Now, I love Bryant-Denny and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I have to admit it was a nice change of pace to have no flashing screen ads or billboards, and instead just a simple, unadulterated focus on the game with some catchy music now and then. Our seats were cozy- once you squeeze yourself into the row, you’re nestled in tight with bodies all around you. Which isn’t a bad thing, because it can be a bit frigid! I bought roasted, sugared almonds from a vendor in the aisle and enjoyed the warmth and camaraderie, not sneaking out to the restroom even once.
Residential streets ran right up to the stadium, their front yards overflowing with cars and tailgaters. We were impressed by someone growing broccoli right next to the sidewalk! We chatted a while with one Alabama fan, and our friends saw another fully decked out in Alabama gear, head to toe.
Though it was chilly coat weather, it wasn’t a bad time of year to visit Ann Arbor. The sky was gray, but it never rained, sleeted, or snowed on us, and the wind chill was only in the 30s. The trees were caught between fall and winter, some bare like gray, bony skeletons and others still clinging to a quarter or a half of their brightly-colored leaves. Of course there were also evergreens, what looked to be pines and spruces.
All in all, it was an easy weekend trip with well-timed nonstop flights, and a fun place to visit. If you go, be sure to pack all the navy blue and maize-colored clothing you own!