From Collegiate to Culinary: Ann Arbor’s Food Scene Grows Up

Choice Tables

I know Ann Arbor like the back of my hand, a cliché I use with gusto, as that is how Michiganders point out where they live in the mitten state. I grew up here, went to college here, met my husband here and visited here frequently during the 20 years we lived overseas. Seven years ago, we moved back here (to A2, as locals call it), drawn to its small city charm and big university culture. Our only worry was that our palates might protest having lived in Brussels, Cairo, London and Paris. Though we were longtime fans of our still-thriving student standbys — Zingerman’s Deli for a Reuben, Dominick’s for a sangria, and a double patty at Blimpy Burger — we knew little about post-1980s Ann Arbor restaurants.

Happily, we discovered a food frontier that did not disappoint. In our nearly three-decade absence, the dining scene had grown from collegiate to culinary. Living in a state brimming with agriculture and a town teeming with academics, the food movement felt both authentic and educated, as evidenced by an early “sustainably sourced” brunch we enjoyed at the Grange Kitchen and Bar, where we learned from an earnest waiter and Ph.D. candidate that even the spicy bloody mix in the “Michigan Mary” was produced locally, and lovingly, in Detroit.

Despite this, until the past few years we continued to harbor some lingering nostalgia for a few of our favorite restaurants abroad, though the opening of Spencer, a restaurant that serves fantastic cheeses, temporarily eased our lactose lust. Then, as if by magic, a whole new crop of Ann Arbor restaurants sprouted, each filling a different gastronomic gap in our lives.

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