Nate Wood: Finding the hidden holiday treats of Ann Arbor

By Nate Wood, Daily Food Columnist
Published December 4, 2013

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, people: parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, caroling out in the snow … and in the world of food, there’s a lot more going on than just chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Say what you want about commercial businesses capitalizing on the holiday season; if it means I get those holiday treats I’ve been waiting 10 months for, then I don’t care.

As a kid, I remember feeling like the holidays had really only begun when my mom came home with a carton of eggnog. It was super rich, probably imitation stuff that I had to dilute with skim milk to make drinkable, but every November, I’d look forward to slurping the concoction from those gaudy, winter-themed glasses (envision pixelated pine trees beneath a sky of uniformly arranged snowflakes) that were dug out from the back of our cabinet at only this time of year. It wasn’t the eggnog that I cared about, but instead what it symbolized.

Truthfully, I haven’t changed much in that regard: I still get really into this whole holiday cheer thing. And here to help are a number of local eateries and national chain restaurants, which oh-so-generously shove “limited-time” products in my face decorated with bright-red ribbons and jolly, happy snowmen. But hey, like I said before, I don’t care. So — in no particular order — I present my top-six picks for Ann Arbor holiday treats.

Achatz Handmade Pie Company Turkey Pot Pie
Forget Banquet!, Achatz’s handmade pies are the way to go. An independent business with a number of locations scattered throughout Ann Arbor and metro Detroit, Achatz Handmade Pie Company is currently offering its seasonal turkey pot pie filled with everything you love about Thanksgiving. A combination of shredded turkey breast, verdant green beans and sweet notes from golden sweet potatoes and plump cranberries is wrapped in rich, salty gravy and topped with an herbed crouton crust. And yes, they’ll ship it to you. Does it get any better than this?

McDonald’s Eggnog Shake
I know, I know, how classless for a food critic to suggest ordering anything at McDonald’s. But let me reiterate a recurring theme: I don’t care. The eggnog shakes here are actually the best. The eggs, the nog and the shake probably aren’t real, but I know for a fact that the chemically preserved cherry on top is … well, mostly, anyway. Just try it; don’t think about it.

Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory Peanut Brittle
Nothing says Christmas like peanut-brittle. Whether you’re planning on enjoying the treat yourself or just stuffing it in party-favor to-go bags, Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory (who knew that was even a word?) has perfected the art of peanut-brittle pulling. Watch the video on their website to see why — instead of making a huge, molten mess yourself — you should probably just leave candy-making to the professionals.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Not to be a hipster about this, but I liked Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes (we’ll call them PSLs) before they were cool. And you want to know a secret? I know how to make them even better. Listen. Normally, a grandé-sized drink at Starbucks has four pumps of flavored syrup. Take advantage of this knowledge (and act obnoxiously pretentious in the process) by asking your barista for a “Grandé Pumpkin Spice Latte, three pumps pumpkin spice, one pump white mocha” instead of your standard PSL. Modeled after a cappuccino I had in Traverse City a few years back, this customized Starbucks drink will — I promise — be your new winter favorite.

Iorio’s Gelateria Bourbon Caramel Gingersnap Gelato
Though this really shouldn’t require any persuasion on my part, allow me to sing the praises of this boozy holiday muddle of awesome: Taste the dense, silky gelato swirled with sweet and sticky caramel. Freshly baked gingersnap cookies add a welcomed hearty texture, and the dash of strikingly dark, barrel-aged spirits the perfect taste-bud punch. Am I making myself clear?

Roos Roast Holiday Blend
To wash everything down, grab a locally roasted bag of beans and brew a cup of joe. The Holiday Blend at Roos Roast is mildly spiced to trigger those warm clove, cinnamon and nutmeg notes, just the pick-me-up your Monday mornings are probably looking for. I went through a full pound during Fall 2012 final exams. Don’t judge me.

And with that, I say, ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.’ Deck the halls; we need a little Christmas. Joy to the world! Still not feeling the holiday cheer? Go check your heart; it’s probably three sizes too small.