Late Winter Pie (and other treats) Tour

Pretty Boy and I drove to Ann Arbor, MI last week so I could visit the University of Michigan as a prospective place for me to complete my PhD.  And no road trip of ours would be complete without at series of food related stops.  Pie related stops included: the Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton, WI outside of Madison; Zingerman’s Coffee Bar in Ann Arbor, MI; and Hoosier Mama Pie Company, in Chicago, IL.  Non-pie related stops include Sunrise Donuts in Bloomington, MN; Great Lakes Chinese Restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI; and the Chocolate Garden in Coloma, MI.  Before we left, I researched and planned most of our stops, but on this trip, a few spontaneous ones worked their way onto the schedule: Zingerman’s and the Chocolate Garden.  Almost all of the actual eating happened while we were on the road in my wonderful VW Jetta TDI which averaged 50 mpg this trip, but sadly, this means there are no pictures.

We started at Sunrise Donuts, fittingly enough, right around the time the sun was rising and we were starting our adventure.  A nice selection of donuts.  And I thought they were great!  I liked Sunrise’s crullers better than Sara Jane’s and I liked their old fashions better than Starbucks’.  All the donuts had a great slightly crispy/crunchy crust which I love and was ready to chalk up to getting them super fresh in the morning but the crust persisted to the next morning when we finished the last donut!  Impressive.  I have nothing negative to say: I love donuts and I loved them from Sunrise.

We next stopped outside of Madison for lunch at Hubbard Avenue Diner.  While waiting for our to-go order, I found out it was opened by the same person who opened Monty’s Blue Plate Diner which provided my favorite pie on the Late Summer Pie Tour.  The pie from Hubbard Ave was similarly good.  We tried a slice of the apple-blackberry double-crust and the strawberry-rhubarb with pressed crumble top crust similar to the apple pie we tried from Monty’s.  The fillings were both solidly good and we liked them a lot; the crusts were passable and completely palatable.  Much better than the blueberry we tried from Monty’s but not as tasty as I remember Monty’s apple being.

After my visit to the University, Pretty Boy and I went to Great Lakes Chinese Restaurant looking for dim sum.  And we definitely found it.  I’d say I liked the dim sum at the same level as the best dim sum place in the Twin Cities (Mandarin Kitchen) which I am quite impressed by.  Though I read online that Great Lakes does the traditional carts, only one cart periodically swung around the restaurant when we were there.  The majority of our meal was ordered off a menu.  Almost everything was at the same level as Mandarin Kitchen, some maybe slightly better, some maybe slightly not as good.  The one major leg up Great Lakes had was the Hong Kong style milk tea.  I liked it better than anything I’ve gotten in the Twin Cities, and Pretty Boy was ready to move just for the tea.  We were satisfied and its good to know there’s good dim sum in Ann Arbor!

The next stop was at Zingerman’s Coffee Shop.  We almost didn’t find the chocolate we initially went there for because we entered through the deli and didn’t realize the place was massive.  Once we found the chocolate/gelato/bakery/coffee counter, we tried an assortment of specialty truffles, a mini vegetarian pot pie, and a mini apple pie.  I liked the chocolates though they didn’t leave a strong impression on me and probably not enough to justify the price we paid, but the pies were worth it!  The apple pie filling was tart, spicy, and tasty; the vegetarian filling of root vegetables, mushroom and savory gravy was delicious.  I was also surprised by the crusts.  The flavor was there, and the crust had some nice flake-like layers to it, but it was on the crumble-y flaky, not crispy flaky side.  I also had some spicy hot chocolate that was over spiced for my taste.  Pretty Boy loved his latte.  While the ambiance of the place was really not for me, the food definitely was, and I had to be pried away from the bread counter in the deli.  I hope to go back.

We left Ann Arbor early Sunday without stopping for breakfast.  We finished what food we had with us, but it might not have been enough.  Normally, billboard advertising doesn’t get to me, especially along touristy stretches of road like near the Wisconsin Dells or in on I-94 in eastern Michigan.  I blame my spontaneous call to stop off I-94 in eastern Michigan at the highly-advertised Chocolate Garden on our lack of breakfast.  It was a nice, quick stop, and I’m glad we went.  They offered a ‘tasting ticket’ which between the two of us, meant Pretty Boy and I got to try a perfectly small bite of six different kinds of their chocolate truffles, which aside from tacky home decorations and some drinking chocolate was all they really sold.  We tried white chocolate latte, vanilla rose, Solera double gold, salted dark, dark raspberry, and dark orange.  I liked all the flavors and was really happy that we stopped, but didn’t feel the need to buy anything to take home.

The last stop of the tour was a pretty substantial stop in terms of my pie world.  Hoosier Mama Pie Company was amazing!  I might even rank it higher than the Stockholm Pie Company which has been consistently strong and first on my list since the Mid Summer Pie Tour.  I first heard about Hoosier Mama when their Elvis pie was featured on the Food Network.  I have since recreated my own version of the peanut, pretzel, and graham crust with chocolate pastry cream, bananas and peanut butter cream which is one of Pretty Boy’s all time favorite things that I make.  So we mostly went for that kind of pie which is not the kind of pie I usually include on my tours.  Pretty Boy was devastated when we stopped and they did not have Elvis pie, so instead, I opted for a mini vegetable curry pie and a mini double crusted apple pie.

Definitely the best crust I’ve ever purchased!  Flake-y and crispy and tender and flavorful and nicely browned.  The only thing I could have asked for was slightly more in terms of flavor: more sweetness and saltiness.  But that’s a personal preference, and I’d definitely be completely happy with Hoosier Mama crust any day!  The apple filling was great.  The curry filling was nice, I liked the vegetables, but the curry sauce was over spiced for me.  After we tasted the curry vegetable, it was all I could do not to buy another round of slices, which definitely would have included the lemon meringue.  Normally meringues don’t really speak to me, but the lemon meringue in the case at Hoosier Mama was just shouting to me.

So in conclusion, I like the savory veggie filling from Zingerman’s better than Hoosier Mama.  I liked the apple fillings the same.  I definitely liked Hoosier Mama crust better, though Zingerman’s makes it on the list of decent crust.  Hubbard Ave fell slightly behind the other two places on the list of good filling, but I wouldn’t put them on the good list for crust.  It was a great pie tour and food tour in general.  It was great to spend some time with Pretty Boy and interesting for us to think about moving away from our home in Minneapolis.  I’m happy to have found another great donut place.  I’m still processing my pie rankings being disheveled and the regret for not getting that lemon meringue, but I’m reassured by the high likelihood of another trip to Chicago in the not to distant future.  And still always hopeful for future pie tours and potential new pie contenders.

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