The innaugural Ann Arbor Chowfest was held last Saturday. Despite some initial interest in my post, only one couple actually RSVP'd, so I invited some friends who have the chowhound nature, but aren't actually on the board. All told we had nine people. We met up with chowhounds J and L at the first stop on our Chowcrawl - Sabor Latino.
Spent some time making introductions and waiting for everyone to arrive. J and L just moved here from Chicago a few months ago, so we all shared tips about our favorite places for food of various types in Ann Arbor and Ypsi, and not surprisingly, this conversation continued throughout the night.
The idea behind the event was a Chowcrawl - visit several restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor, getting small portions at each. At Sabor Latino, the obvious choice is the Carne al Pastor taco, and most of the table ordered those. Tamales and enchiladas were also in evidence.
We discussed our plan of attack, and agreed that our next stop would be Prickly Pear, in the hopes of getting there early enough to avoid the rush. But first, we stopped into Main Party store for a visit to the secret wine room. It was very busy, and it took us a while to get someones attention and get accompanied to the back room, but we did eventually manage it. And everyone was as flabbergasted as one would expect. If you're looking for a hard-to-find boutique or high end wine in Ann Arbor, this is _the_ place to go, but be warned - nothing in the back room is less than $30, and most are significantly higher.
On to Prickly Pear. One look at the people waiting outside and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to manage it. But no one was sitting on the patio, so I asked how long the wait would be if we were willing to sit outside. It was late enough in the day to be a little chilly for al fresco dining, but we were only there for the soup, so wouldn't be long. After some negotation with the host, the nine of us set up on the patio. I'm not a huge fan of Prickly Pear in general, but they do one thing absolutely right, and that is their Cream of Garlic and Onion soup. Their other soups are also quite good. Among the nine of us, we ordered 6 bowls of the garlic, 1 bowl of butternut squash bisque, and 1 bowl of mushroom bisque (called "four mushroom bisque" on the menu, although the description only lists three [unless "cheese crust" is a mushroom]).
Next up, Jefferson Market. This is a truly off-the-beaten-path place. It's in a residential neighborhood across from an elementary school. It combines penny candy and little children's toys with gourmet grocery and the reason for our visit: one of the best kitchens in Ann Arbor in the back (IMNSHO, anway). Most of us chose to walk the few blocks to the market. It was a glorious day for walking - sunny but on the cool side so a brisk walk kept you warm but didn't make you sweat. Helped work off the heavy cream soup from Prickly Pear!
Food choices at the Market were more varied. I split some fries and a side of sauteed spinach with blood oranges and goat cheese with S. E got a Chicago-style hotdog. J and L got the salmon dolmas and some sweet potato fries. M and M got the crab cakes. Everything was really good - I adored my spinach dish.
Our last stop was Washtenaw Dairy for ice cream. Once the ice cream cravings had been satisfied (only about half of us were still able to eat at this point), we all split up and went our merry ways. It was an excellent day. And there are many, many places we didn't get to, so I suspect I'll organize another chowcrawl in the future. There are many worthy spots for an Ypsi chowcrawl, for example, although the distances involved would require us to use cars. And we all lamented the fact that we didn't eat in Detroit more often, so a meetup with some Detroit hounds could be really fun too.
I hope you'll join us next time!