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Gas, Füd, Lodging
Judge Vardigan

Summer 2002
Judge Vardigan, who does not normally drive, toured parts of our füd-filled nation in vehicles including his mom's Toyota Camry (thanks Mom!), an Amtrak train, and a rented white Chevy Malibu smelling faintly of carsickness (thanks AVIS!). Armed with atlas, blue plastic donkey, 89 compact discs, troughs of coffee, a tape recorder, and pen and paper, he brought back the following report, which begins in Michigan. Still to come, in future weeks: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

Michigan | Illinois | Wisconsin | Minnesota | South Dakota
Montana | Idaho | Washington | Oregon

Michigan

Steve's LunchSteve's Lunch
1313 S. University Ave.
between Washtenaw and S. Forest
Ann Arbor, MI
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When I come home to Ann Arbor, I approach downtown cringing for the worst. Many of my favorite places have passed on since I was a kid -- even since college -- and the slow facelift seems more jarring coming at it from a far-off land like San Francisco. The passing I fear most (after Drake's (photo), which is already long gone) is that of Steve's Lunch. I hold my breath every time I make the left onto South U. Once, a few years back, there were wooden walls around it and scary scaffolding and I nearly drove through the window of the Bagel Factory before realizing Steve's was just installing a new sign. Just being able to walk in here is a joyous, relief-filled event in itself.

Nothing has changed inside since I've been coming: 15 stools, brown laquered coffee mugs, brown countertop worn in places from all the elbows. Take a seat near the griddle and watch the owner (I do not know his name but I don't think it's Steve) give the perfect rectangular omelettes a last loving tap with the spatula before plating them. Every so often you'll see his wife(?) emerge from behind a wall, but mainly you hear her call out something in Korean, see him disappear around the corner, and emerge with a dish in some state of done-ness that he then sets to griddling. While the breakfasts are superb, Steve's claim to fame is Korean füd, specifically the bi bim bop, which I have been ordering forever. Order it, watch the waitress write "B3" on the ticket, and sit back. On average, over half the diners are solo. Eating here out of sheer love for food and place.

The BeebServed in a big steel bowl, the bi bim bop features brown or white rice (get brown), spinach, some other kind of green, uniquely seasoned beef, and a crowning fried egg on top. (Available with tofu instead of meat.) You'll be given hot sauce (very hot), sesame oil, and soy sauce in squeeze bottles. I use only the hot and the sesame, in pretty much equal amounts. After that, throw on a shake of pepper and then mix it all up before taking a bite. Later, when there are no orders, the owner sits in his low chair at the end of the counter, next to the empty grill, watching his grateful patrons enjoy their meals, safe for now in one of Ann Arbor's remaining landmarks.

Drake's photo courtesy of Jim Rees.

 

Dunkin' Donuts
Flint exit, I-75/US-23
Flint, MI

Any drive north in Michigan requires a stop here. Tradition dictates it, as does the coffee, which tastes to my tongue somehow different than others I enjoy, coffees you might label gourmet, or West Coast. Dunkin' Donuts' does not taste like Peet's. It could be all the cream and sugar, I guess, which Dunkin' dumps in quite liberally, but you have to let him and believe in him, because Dunkin' Donuts has hit on some truly inspired ratio. This coffee is a treat, and I don't think that's something normally said about coffee. Again, I'm sure, the sugar plays a large role. You can also get gas here, which does not feature any cream and sugar ratio I'm aware of.

 

SugarbowlSugarbowl
216 W. Main St.
Gaylord, MI
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Sometimes when you've been mired in endless exhausting construction zones, praying for creeping miles not to see the red brake lights yet again in front of you, and you finally tumble from the car into some restaurant like this one, the Sugarbowl in Gaylord (opened in 1919), stride stiffly toward a booth and flop down with your skin feeling pickled after so much air-conditioning and your contact lenses dry and shot, and you are served a bowl of something kind of unexpected like this lemon rice soup, and you crumble Saltines in it and what you spoon mindlessly into your mouth is suddenly the most nourishing thing you ever put down your throat, well, that's a special feeling earned only on the road.

The "catch of the day" was a tuna steak. Pretty good. Extensive menu of sandwiches and other American fare. Nothing but booths in here, which I commend. Empty, pretty much, except for me. And now here is the rain the sky hinted at in the construction zone, here are the torrents, the thunder rolling and people outside dashing for cover with newspapers over their heads, here are people dripping rain on the Sugarbowl doormat, here is a total summer washout on Main Street in Gaylord and my waitress is calling it a monsoon, "comin' down heavy duty," and she is right, so I think I'll wait this out over another cup of coffee, thanks.

 

Clyde's, out front.Clyde's Drive-In
US Highway 2
St. Ignace, MI
(On your right shortly after coming off the Mackinaw Bridge, or on your left as you approach it.)

Clyde's Drive-In is exciting not just for being an actual living drive-in, but also because it usually marks a midway point for travelers on their way to vacation destinations. For us, it's always after the somewhat numbing four hours up I-75 from Ann Arbor, and then after seeing that great Mackinaw Bridge bobbing in and out of sight above the trees, the bridge delivering us safely into the Upper Peninsula. You're then a mere three hours from my family's cabin near Boney Falls, three hours on the two-lane US-2 that hugs Lake Michigan and leads you through towns with names like Epoufette, Naubinway, and Kipling. So it's more than just a meal, see. There's an air of anticipation, of giddy knowledge that you're in a great place but on your way to one even greater.

Try a Big "C".It stands on its own as a fine diner too, featuring the Big "C," a truly massive burger I haven't tried to eat in many years. This time I, along with (soon-to-be) reader-eater David "Hoops" Silver, went for the whitefish sandwich, which was just fine, and chocolate shakes, always excellent. Inside dining is counter style with stools, naturally. Clyde's also offers a wild array of fried treasures, including "cluggets" (chicken nuggets) and my favorite, jalapeno poppers.

 

Dobber's Pasties
827 North Lincoln Road
Escanaba, MI
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Once you near the Upper Peninsula, you'll start seeing big wooden signs reading "PASTIES." They are always Somebody's Pasties, such as Mary's (reader-eater Armadillo Joe's favorite). Cornish miners introduced them to the region when the first iron and copper mines opened in the 1850s, and they were designed as hearty, hand-held meals the miners could take underground. Some, it is said, "set their pasties on a mining shovel and held them over head-lamp candles until warmed." Pasties are beef, little cubed potatoes, onions, and everyone's favorite, rutabaga, all sealed up in a pie-type crust. Mine Füd!

My family brought a bag of three to reader-eater Stron and I at the cabin. Barely able to cook for ourselves, we were quite grateful for the delivery. Breaking the surface with our forks we saw the steam wisp out. The smell of beef, onions, potatoes, and everyone's favorite, rutabaga, rushed into the room. Ketchup was applied. We devoured them quickly, wearing headlamps, pretending we were Cornish miners. Later, when my cabin visitors had all left the peninsula, I reheated the third and last pasty. The oven there is basically condemned. The microwave, big as a dishwasher, is possibly the first one ever made. The grill was filled with bees. So I put it in a pan, with a top on it, and snuck a couple slabs of Wisconsin cheddar cheese on top. Now that's a hearty Midwestern meal. You can order frozen Dobber's pasties here.

Michigan | Illinois | Wisconsin | Minnesota | South Dakota
Montana | Idaho | Washington | Oregon

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