Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eating in Your Car - Chick Inn Drive In

I'm so glad that places like this still exist. The Chick Inn Drive In located in Ypsilanti is more than just a landmark, it's a reminder of how things used to be. Long before the drive-thru that is commonplace for most people, there was the drive-in. Same idea, you pulled your car up to a menu and told the voice on the other end of the speaker what you wanted. But then, you just sat there. You didn't move. In a few minutes, out came your order, you paid the car-hop, and sat in the comfort of your Plymouth Fury and enjoyed a nice hot meal. While the Plymouth is a thing of the past, Ypsilanti is still filled with a number of these wonderful drive ins, and the Chick Inn is a longtime favorite. (pictured left - the neon still burns bright at the Chick Inn Drive In)
Opened in 1953 on the corner of Holmes and Prospect, the drive in features a different special every day. Today, being Saturday, the special was the "Hammy Sammy." There are these great old signs surrounding the parking lot (pictured left) proclaiming each day's special feature.
My dear friend Richard (we've known each other since the first grade and are still getting into trouble) and I went out to Ypsilanti after I saw a listing on Craig's List for catering equipment that was for sale. A man who had a catering business was giving it up (getting too old, he said) and he was selling it all, including a number of 100 cup coffee urns. These are just the kinds of things we need for our parish dinners at St. Josaphat, so I thought it was worth checking out. After walking out of the sale with a coffee urn, it was time for dinner.
In Ypsilanti, there are a lot of great places to eat. If it's a drive in you want, you'll find Kluck's, Roy's Squeeze Inn and Bill's (with incredible homemade root beer!) among the offerings. But today, we were all about the Chick Inn. Although you can get one of their chicken dinners, Rich opted for the Hammy Sammy and I went for a Paul Bunyon Burger. We were so excited to eat the food I forgot to take photos - so take my word for it when I say both sandwiches were dee-lish. We sat in the Town & Country and fed our faces. My burger came with fries and cole slaw, the Hammy Sammy came with onion rings and cole slaw. Did I mention we washed it all down with milk shakes?? Old school ones, nice and thick...your cheeks get sore from sucking it through the straw! (I love their sign, pictured left - it has a clock on top that says, "Time to Eat!")
The food came pretty fast after ordering. In the time we were there, three or four other cars pulled up and ordered, but most got their food and went on their way. I couldn't blame them - snow everywhere and cold outside. For us, we enjoyed listening to the radio, savoring the experience of this wonderful spot that was frozen in time , and gossipping away as two old friends are always apt to do.

Eating Detroit - Senor Lopez

A few of us were talking at the office just the other day about food and the fun one gets out of taking in the regional fare when traveling. Ralph and I are fixin' to take a road trip in a week or so and head southeast to North Carolina to see my brother, but stopping along the way to visit some of Ralph's family in Pittsburgh and West Virginia. I've already gotten a number of tips on places to eat along the way, and if time permits, we'll try to take them all in. But the conversation at the office came around to "Detroit foods" and what is special to us here in the Motor City. Some might say the "Coney Island" hotdog is a real Detroit thing. Others mention regional brands of food like Better Made, Faygo and Sanders - but is there a Detroit "cuisine?" (I might argue that a Sanders hot fudge cream puff is one of the greatest contributions Detroit has made to the world of food!).

I think that one area in which Detroit really shines is is wealth of outstanding ethnic foods. Like most big cities with a diverse population, eating in Detroit is often colored by one's liking/disliking of particular ethnic foods. Regardless of what one enjoys, if it's ethnic food you crave, Detroit is a good place to be.

Southwest Detroit has long been home to a large Hispanic community, and it abounds with wonderful restaurants, stores and shops which all celebrate the rich cultures of Mexico. "Mexicantown," as it's known to us here, is but one small part of a large community that has thrived in Detroit.

After some running around, I met Ralph at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants in Detroit - Senor Lopez. Located on a busy strip of Michigan Avenue at Cecil, it sits next to a funeral home and across the street from a Topless Go-Go Bar (location, location, location!!). It's not a big place by any means, maybe about 10 tables. What it lacks in size it makes up for in food, service and value.

One of the things I love about Senor Lopez is the chips and salsa that is brought out to the table when you sit down. Sure, most Mexican restaurants provide this, but theirs is particularly good. The chips, fried golden brown, are salted and fresh. You get two salsas and something else (I'm not even sure what it is, but it's good!). One mild, kind of garlicy salsa, and one with a kick and a great tomato flavor. Then there is a little container, about the size of a shot glass, filled with a thick oil and pepper flakes. This little concoction is smoky and hot and bursting with flavor. (Senor Lopez triad of salsas in second photo)

We both got the taco lunch, which includes two soft tacos, rice and beans for $3.00. Can you believe it? $3.00! Can I just say something about the beans? These are not the typical refried numbers you get at most places, these are whole beans, slow cooked in a very simple thin broth. Very beany in flavor, these are a little larger pinto beans and they taste delicious with the rice. (Picture 3 - my taco plate that included those incredible beans)

You can pick the kind of two tacos you want with your lunch, and even add one or two more on the plate if you like (that's what we did - they are $1.25 each ala carte). Between the two of us we had the Al Pastor (pork), Carne Asada (beef), Chorizo and egg and Cochinita Pibil (pork) tacos. All of them different, all delicious. They are put on small tortillas (they actually double the tortillas up so these tacos are good and sturdy!) and top each with chopped onion and cilantro. Simple. Authentic. Yummy. (Ralph holding up his plate and telling me to hurry up and snap the damn photo so he can eat!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Baking Fun - Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake

So last night, after making some wonderful pasta sauce from a recipe I saw on Smitten Kitchen (a great food blog), which consisted only of a can of San Marzano tomatoes, an onion and butter, I started thinking about what else I could make before the night was over.
Liza, my colleague, friend and fellow foodie at the Honors College, brought in some cookbooks last week that she was putting up for adoption. A wonderful variety, there was a little something for everyone. Of course, I immediately gravitated to the vintage Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens books. The illustrations and photos alone were to die for - not to mention the casseroles galore!
One of the books I gave a good home to was a Reader's Digest cookbook of "great recipes" - and last night after dinner I was leafing through the pages. A recipe for a sour cream coffee cake caught my eye. When running through the ingredients, I knew I had them all on hand and could whip this little number up before bedtime (what good Polish boy doesn't always have sour cream and butter in the house?).

I really should post these recipes, but I always forget. Basically, it's flour, eggs, butter, sugar, sour cream, vanilla, baking powder and soda and cinnamon. The book was from 1971, and this cake was a real transport to a simpler time. Light, moist, a subtle cinnamon flavor and great with a cup of hot coffee.

Don't these photos make you want some? Liza, who not only made our Honors College morning treat possible by providing me the recipe, also takes breathtakingly beautiful (almost pornographic) food photos. She snapped these in the Honors kitchen this morning - and had to make fast work of it because this coffee cake was not long for this world!
Sure, it's easy to pick up an Entenmann's cake - but in just an hour's time you can really create something special to share with those in your world who deserve something special.