Ann Arbor restaurants serve some of the best cuisine and beverages created by renowned chefs and top brewers. To share a taste of the Ann Arbor experience, we teamed up with our friends and travel bloggers, Chuck and Brenda at Life in Michigan, to take part in this year's Ann Arbor Restaurant Week.
Join Chuck and Brenda on their culinary adventure as they share their first-hand experiences:
During Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, we visited a selection of the city's most celebrated dining spots. From the traditional Korean flavors at Miss Kim to the innovative fusion at Peridot and the cozy charm of Blom Meadworks, our experience was nothing short of a culinary delight. As an added bonus, we went behind the scenes with Behind the Mitten.
During Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, we visited with Chef Ji Hye Kim, the owner of Miss Kim restaurant, located at 415 N 5th Ave in the Kerrytown district of Ann Arbor. Here, Chef Ji Hye Kim, a four-time James Beard Award nominee, crafts Korean cuisine with a unique twist. Her Restaurant Week specials were not just meals, but stories on a plate.
The space is warm and welcoming, but the real treat is the food. Miss Kim serves Korean dishes that have evolved from traditional roots to reflect the vibrant and engaging personality of the chef. Every dish had a story. I’ve started thinking of our interview as “Lessons in Korean Cooking.”
The first is about the Korean “Banchan,” which Chef described as “a catch-all phrase for all the little things that show up on your table besides the main course and main starch.” She explained that banchan is generally seasoned blanched or fried vegetables or fresh salad, and then you get an array of pickled vegetables or kimchi vegetables.
Chef treated us to three Korean side dishes turned into appetizers.
Chef pointed to a broccolini and walnut dish and said, “I really wanted to use fish sauce because fish sauce on greens can be so delicious. But it's not the most familiar combination that people may see. I wanted to highlight that on the menu. It's a little funky, a little savory. I don't use a straight-up fish sauce. I make a fish sauce caramel with it. So then it's a little sweet to balance out the funky and salty.”
I pointed to a sprig of garnish. Chef said, “It's garnished with a little bit of cilantro.”
“Really,” I said, “You typically don’t find Cilantro in Korena food.” Chef said, “That is a common misconception...It's not really a misconception, but it's actually true. But there's one town called Kaesong, where North Korea and South Korea is divided. That North Korean city loves cilantro. They put cilantro in a lot of things that would have normally had scallions. And they make cilantro kimchi.”
“I love finding those little culinary factoids. Sometimes I feel like a culinary detective,” Chef said. “It makes you look at the cuisine that you ate all your life in a different light. The more I dig, the more I realize how little I knew before of Korean food. I love taking those little factoids and then somehow find a way to make it better.”
Everything we tasted at Miss Kim was exceptional.
We snagged a reservation at Chef Duc’s new restaurant, Peridot, at 118 W Liberty in Ann Arbor. Prepare yourself for a fusion vibe of craft cocktails and Vietnamese-inspired food.
Every seat in Peridot is fantastic, but for a transcendent experience, sit at the bar and marvel at the mixologists at work. I ordered their Vernazza, a lovely gin drink. It is one of Chef’s favorite drinks on the menu. Peridot’s restaurant week menu for two didn’t disappoint.
We just had to add the Ketchup Fried Rice from the regular menu. We learned from Chef Duc that it is one of the more popular dishes. “I threw it on as a kind of a whim that has homage to my dad this time.” Growing up, both of his parents worked long days. His mom was the cook, but sometimes, his dad had to fill in. Chef said, “There are times where she's working. He's not much of a cook. He would always make fried rice. But he would always add ketchup to his fried rice.”
Chef Duc considered not calling this nostalgic dish “Ketchup Fried Rice.” But his partners said, “Just call it that. So we did, and it's actually one of the more popular dishes.”
Peridot is perfect for bringing a group of friends, ordering a variety of small and large plates, and then sharing family style.
At the end of Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, we stopped at Blom Meadworks, which you will find at 100 S 4th Ave Suite 110. The atmosphere is cheerful and casual. We grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered their Restaurant Week special - Drinks & Nosh for two for just $36. Their flight suggestions paired perfectly with the delicious snacks they served: MI White fish, Hand Pie, and a winter Citrus Tart.
You may think, “But I don’t like mead; it is too sweet." Have no fear. This isn’t the pancake syrup mead you might expect. Contrary to common perception, the meads here are dry and sophisticated, akin to fine wines.
Blom Meadworks is the perfect place to kick back with friends while enjoying their outstanding beverages. They take cider and mead to a new level of awesome.
Behind the Scenes with Behind the Mitten
We also joined Amy Sherman and John Gonzalez on their travel radio show and podcast, "Behind the Mitten." The show offered an intriguing glimpse into the culinary scene of Ann Arbor, featuring interviews with local chefs and restaurateurs. Listen to the full radio episode recording:
During the show, they interviewed Chad Wiebesick with Destination Ann Arbor, Vicki Joling with Ann Arbor's Main Street Area Association, Chris Pawlicki and Theresa Zavisa from Old Town Tavern, Chef Duc with Pacific Rim, and Andrew Husted from Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery.
Behind the Mitten is a great show packed with stories and 'behind the scenes details'. Here's who was featured:
Pacific Rim By Kana
At Pacific Rim, Chef Duc shared a few items from the Restaurant Week menu, which you can also find on their regular menu. “The spring rolls have been on our menu from the beginning, and that's kind of a homage to my mom,” Chef Duc shared. “She's a great cook, and even among her Vietnamese friends, she's kind of famous for her spring rolls.”
We also tried a pork belly dish that is more Chinese in flavor and their Korean marinated ribeye. Chef Duc explained, “You take a ribeye steak, and you marinate it in a traditional Korean bulgogi or galbi marinade. And then you sear it off and slice it. You serve it with the veggies, rice, and Korean chili paste. It's essentially an elevated version of a Bibimbap.”
All were amazing!
Old Town Tavern
Pawalicki shared a bit of Old Town Tavern’s history. His dad bought the place in 1972 from the Merkel family in Chelsea and redid everything. “He built the bar, the tables, the booths, the everything. He did the same thing with next door when he bought Mr. Floods,” he said.
Zavisa said, “Nothing we do here is small, first off. Everything we do here is quite large portions.” I can personally say she is 100% correct. They have great salads, burgers, sandwiches, and a stellar dinner menu. "Everything we have on our menu is from scratch,” Zavisa shared.
Old Town Tavern is our go-to comfort food joint.
Jolly Pumpkin has locations all over Michigan, but the Ann Arbor location was originally set up with brewing in the basement when they opened in 2009, Husted shared. They don’t do that anymore. “I think it was the pinnacle time of craft beer and getting into weird things with people, which is what we do really well.”
Sherman said, “For people who don't know about Jolly Pumpkin, you guys make some very distinctive beers that are truly unique in Michigan.”
Husted said, “We do wild ales. Most people refer to them as sour beers. There's a little bit of a difference. I won't go too deep into the technical details. But, essentially, the beer is fermented wild. It's often described as like a farmhouse sour.”
Don’t let the word “sour” scare you away; the beer list has something for everyone. They also serve a selection of North Peak Brewing Company’s beers, from a Marzen to an IPA. Come hungry, as Jolly Pumpkin serves up great flatbread pizza.
Ann Arbor's 2024 Restaurant Week was an unforgettable journey –from the traditional to the contemporary, each restaurant showcases the best of its menus, proving why Ann Arbor remains a top destination for food lovers.
THE CREATORS & AUTHORS:
Brenda and Chuck Marshall have been chronicling the beauty and culture of Michigan for over ten years. Their stories, filled with local insights and experiences, are published on LifeInMichigan.com. In addition to his writing, Chuck is passionate about photography and has become a prominent documenter of Michigan's vibrant music and craft beer scenes. Together, they promote Michigan one story at a time.
Life in Michigan: https://lifeinmichigan.com