With my metabolism revved up by a carbohydrate laden breakfast and my companions not dining nearly as gluttonously as myself at the Zingerman’s family of restaurants our most recent trip through Michigan entailed a number of small bites and stops between lunch and dinner. From the streets of Ann Arbor to Detroit’s Eastern Market and finally up to Birmingham for dinner our travels led us to no less than four stops prior to the Boston College versus Miami of Ohio matchup at Ford Field in the Men’s Frozen Four. First amongst the stops, actually situated between our visit to Zingerman’s BakeHouse and Zingerman’s Deli was suggested by my aunt, an avid fan of the Food Network.
Known largely for her victories in multiple large style cake competitions, my aunt was excited to know that Food Network’s “Last Cake Standing” winner, Courtney Clark’s Cake Nouveau was located on Ann Arbor’s 4th Avenue, just blocks from Zingerman’s Deli. Not desiring a whole cake we were happy to know that Cake Nouveau also specializes in cupcakes and a daily cookie selection and entering the small shop after browsing the pet shop and food co-op next door my aunt actually uttered the phrase “Is this what heaven smells like?” as hefty tones of vanilla, citrus, and cinnamon poured from the kitchen.
Browsing the pictures of many beautiful cakes we were shortly greeted by an elderly woman who told us a little about the store and took our order – two cupcakes and a cookie to go. Consuming the still-warm cookie, blueberry almond, as we left the store I must say my first impression was a wonderful one. Similar to an oatmeal raisin cookie but with a nutty essence, blueberry sweetness, and heavy hints of cinnamon and nutmeg the cookie went very quickly with each of us eating a third.
Saving the cupcakes for later, actually during second intermission break around 10:00pm, I must say the cakes were vastly less impressive than the cookie. First tasting the Cherry Limeade and then the Chocolate Elvis I will first say that the cupcakes were quite small – especially for their $2.50 price-tag. Secondly, while the frosting to cake ratio was appropriate I found the frosting to be largely lacking in flavor aside from “Sweet.” Finally, while the cakes were soft, they were more “muffin” in their density. Overall I would say the Cherry Limeade was the superior of the two, largely because of the gelatinous lime filling, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for either, especially with Zingerman’s and Cupcake Station nearby.
Following our morning in Ann Arbor we decided to make our way west to Detroit and having heard absolute rave reviews about Dave Mancini’s Supino Pizza at the Eastern Market we made our way into the small shop shortly after 12:30 – lunch service was winding down and we quickly grabbed a seat at the window. Speaking directly to Dave himself (he was working the ovens and hand tossing the dough, but the cashier had stepped out for a smoke) I asked how long for a half and half pie and was told “about 20 minutes.” Placing our order and taking a seat we watched as multiple pies came out of the enormous oven and I told my mother about Dave’s history, ironically, as a Physical Therapy major and how he went to Italy to truly perfect his craft. Midway through telling the story our server stopped by and gave us some additional information about the innovative décor – fashioned from old doors and school furniture.
A short 20 minutes passed as we chatted and the place began to fill up again as our pizza arrived – a pizza that was enormous, loaded with toppings, and looked and smelled sublime. Unable to settle on one pizza our split was one half “Bismarck” and one half “Smoky.” Prepared in four quarters and served piping hot I quickly plated a slice of Smoky for both my mother and my aunt before taking half of the Bismarck for myself. Crispy along the edges and saturated to a point just short of soggy in the middle I took a bite of the soft baked Egg, Proscuitto, hand pulled Mozzarella and Tomato sauce mix, chewed, swallowed, smiled, and sighed – wonderful. Looking up I saw a similar look of delight on the faces of my mother and aunt as they indulged in the sauceless potency of Garlic, Speck, Mozzarellla, Smoked Gouda, and Ricotta.
As someone who simply loves great food made with top notch ingredients I can honestly say I’ve never really fancied “pan” pizza versus deep-dish versus Neapolitan versus New York style – each has their own merits when done right. Similarly to my feelings about style, I’m really not sure whether I preferred smoky or Bismarck as both were absolutely flawless. Each somewhat charred, a fork and knife absolutely unneeded, a subtle hint of yeast and salt in the crust, and toppings that highlighted and complimented the care of preparation – my only regret is that I didn’t have room for more slices and selections.
Checked in on frequently by our server and paying a mere $17 for a pizza that handily fed three (with one slice of each pie left over) there really is no more I can say about Supino’s Pizza – what I will say is that although I have no particular preference for “pizza style” I do have a preference for great pizza and on that note I will say that only Batali’s Otto challenges Supino for best Pizza I’ve ever tasted – and at a fraction of the wait, price, and distance from home.
Following the Eastern Market we turned our sites northward, to the small town of Birmingham. With dinner plans at Forest Grill and a good knowledge of the area from various art shows we found free parking and took to walking the streets of the city – browsing the boutique shops, checking out watches, and visiting a few more eateries, the first being Schakolad, a large chocolate shop with a small but unique selection of chocolates, gelato, and gifts. Chatting with the pleasant attendant we opted for three 1oz squares of bark to sample their wares – dark chocolate almond, pistachio cherry, and white chocolate Oreo. Tasting each during the course of the hockey game I must say the pistachio cherry was unique while the others were rather standard. Good service, good prices, good product – good, but not great.
Moving along, just across the street actually, after a long visit to Universal Watch we found ourselves at yet another Cupcakery – this time the Birmingham wing of Cupcake Station. Having heard good things about their cakes from my mother and aunt who visited the Ann Arbor store we made our way in only to find the store actually quite busy – a good sign. Kitschy and pleasant décor, an open viewing window of the baking area, plenty of seating, and unique apparel plus at least 14 cake options we browsed for a bit as a large group of teenage girls made their selections and moved to the front of the store to eat.
Receiving no pressure at all from the staff we spent a while weighing the options (and gauging our capacity) before we settled on a half-dozen minis at $1.50 a piece. Approximately 1/3 the size of a standard Cupcake Station cupcake the mini cakes certainly are not a deal, but the ability to try multiple tastes justified the cost and our selections ranged from fruit to chocolate, filled to unfilled, and frosted to “topped” with all but one being very impressive (the Lavender Vanilla which, to me, tasted like soap – but my mom quite liked. Sampling Peanut butter and Chocolate, Cream Francaise (dark chocolate with French buttercream filling,) Banana Split (strawberry filled,) Simply Red (Marshmallow filled, Buttercream topped,) Samoa (Vanilla Bean, Caramel, Chocolate, Coconut) and the previously mentioned Lavender Vanilla each cake was soft with good moisture, balanced with nuance only enhanced by the topping, and most importantly – sweet without being cloyingly so. Notably, the Red Velvet (Simply Red) was not a traditional Red Velvet, but it was quite excellent and my favorite of the group.
When it was all said and done our eating adventure through Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Birmingham spanned the course of many hours, miles, and venues yet almost all of them were worth the effort – and the best was yet to come. While many may feel that the Midwest is “flyover” country, for many of us it is home and while the best parts may be further apart than in San Francisco or New York the discerning eater can certainly find the gems – besides, I’m pretty sure you can drive from Detroit to Ann Arbor or Birmingham faster than you can traverse Manhattan.