Like clockwork, twice a year it happens: exams end suddenly, winter break and summer vacation begin just as abruptly and all of my University friends from outside Metro Detroit leave ASAP to their respective homes. Those who do hang around for any period of time either imbibe themselves emphatically (somewhere between South U and Main Street, of course) or spend an unthinkable amount of time on the couch catching up on the latest Netflix offering, both as a means of numbing the mind following their undoubtedly roughest semester yet.
And who can blame them, really? Exams are stressful. The weather sucks. And at home family and friends typically claim everyone’s holiday time months in advance.
But for me, this time serves as the perfect reminder that there’s so much worth seeing in Metro Detroit, including things without equivalent in Ann Arbor, and even in the United States. Unfortunately, many University students rarely take advantage of this during their time here.
Though you may have missed one perfect opportunity at the end of last semester, an equally good opportunity presents itself right now at the beginning of another. So, before another “worst-semester-ever” really heats up, grab your nearest car-owning friend and burst the Ann Arbor bubble for the first time.
Allow me to make a few recommendations:
Middle Eastern Cuisine
Of any community in Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor might have the best overall food options. From cheap college food and late-night options, to a wide-range of ethnic (or ethnically inspired, in most cases) choices, to some finer dining, Ann Arbor offers something for everyone. But that doesn’t mean it does all food equally well.
Take Middle Eastern food for example. Without pointing fingers, options on- and off-campus in Ann Arbor are of the “good-for-what-they-are” variety. Fortunately, the city of Dearborn, with the highest concentrated Arab American community in the United Sates, is just forty minutes east of Ann Arbor. The crucial stop is Shatila Bakery on Warren Avenue that serves Middle Eastern pastries, cakes, coffee and even its own brand of ice cream. From there, you can simply just Yelp your way to Lebanese food better than anything served in Ann Arbor. That strategy paid off for my last time in Dearborn, as I enjoyed Al-Ameer restaurant leftovers, just a couple blocks from Shatila, for days after eating there for the first time over break.
Considering I could — and have — devoted entire columns to discussing the city of Detroit, I’ll spare you the gritty details and leave with you just a few recommendations. Fortuitously, there are even fewer reasons for students not to visit the city now with the Detroit Center Connector offering weekend shuttle service to Detroit.
For the uninitiated, the Detroit Institute of Arts remains a world-class museum with paintings from Bruegel the Elder, Monet, van Gogh and more. Other things to do in Detroit: Slows Bar BQ is the best barbecue you’ll find (Southern challengers welcome) and Cliff Bell’s, though it’s pricey, kills the Last Word for jazz.
I love Ann Arbor’s breweries as much as the next guy – Arbor Brewery, Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor included. But only Wolverine State Brewing Company holds a candle to the larger stock of incredible Michigan breweries across the state. Now, I won’t ask you all to drive out to Kalamazoo, Bellaire or Grand Rapids to try Bell’s, Founder’s and Short’s, respectively, especially considering their most prominent beers are readily available locally, bottled and on tap. But you should definitely check out a few of the closer, lesser-known options.
I’m admittedly a little biased considering I grew up less than a mile from Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren, but it offers everything that Wolverine State does, but way better. You think Wolverine State is located in an obscure, out of the way location off campus on West Stadium? Dragonmead raises you an unmarked building in an industrial complex adjacent to an expressway service drive. You think Wolverine State’s double-digit in-house taps are nice? This week’s menu at Dragonmead offers 45 of its own brews on draft, each as delicious as the last.
If you’re not up to going to Warren, there is also Bastone Brewery. A solid brewery by itself, Bastone is located in downtown Royal Oak, within walking distance of a number of other bars and restaurants in Royal Oak and, after only a five minute drive, Ferndale, probably the two “trendiest” places outside Detroit and Ann Arbor in Metro Detroit.
Classes are only just beginning, and despite your best-intentioned efforts to “get ahead,” we both know what’s inevitable. So why not make “syllabus week” an extension of winter break, and check out some of what Metro Detroit has to offer?
Alexander Hermann can be reached at email@example.com.