Dining Guides

Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Michigan Way

Here’s a whole ton of Valentine’s Day ideas. YOU probably have some other ideas – share them in the comments or right here or on our Facebook!

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. - Confucius by Church of One
Wheresoever you go,
go with all your heart. – Confucius
by Church of One

Next Tuesday, February 14th is Valentine’s Day – a day for lovers, sweethearts, paramours … and chocoholics. Like it, love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is an annual tradition that will see over one billion valentines will be given out worldwide, 85% of those by women. However you choose to celebrate the holiday, consider making it a little more special with something from Michigan.

There’s plenty of delicious Valentine’s Day recipes from Pure Michigan at Michigan.org. The Food Network also offers up some culinary advice for Valentine’s Day complete with a full Valentine’s menu. Lansing’s WLNS CBS channel 6 website has a complete Valentine Day section on their website where you can learn all kinds of useful information including (who knew?) that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. The folks at the Grand Rapids Press and mlive.com have some tips for Valentine’s Day cooking with kids.

We have to remind you that February is National Cherry Month and cherries make a great and healthy way to bring the distinctive Valentine red into your celebrations. An affordable and tasty non-alcoholic beverage are cherry sparklers made with Michigan cherry juice and sparkling water.

On the adult beverage front, a whopping 95% of wine drinkers agree that wine makes a perfect gift, and you can’t go wrong with a  Michigan wine or  Michigan beer! The folks at MyNorth offer a listing of Northern Michigan sparkling wines to set the tone for your celebration. While bubbles are big, beers can also be appreciated. Dianna at Promote Michigan has let us in on her Love Affair with Michigan Beer, which features all kinds of special and regular brews from Michigan’s brewmasters. You can stay awake Ann Arbor Brewing’s Espresso Love featuring coffee, cozy up to the Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale from Atwater Brewing or go a little lighter with Dragonmead’s Redwing Raspberry Wheat. This is a great feature so definitely check it out!

Ginny, You Are My Shining Star by docksidepress
Ginny, You Are My Shining Star by docksidepress

If you’re left scratching your head over what to buy him or her, check out the ‘Valentine’s Day Gift Giving Guide‘ from WLNS.com.  Don’t forget the furry friends in your life either! You can be a homeless pets Valentine when WXYZ-TV 7 in Detroit hosts their Annual Valentine’s Day Telethon to support the Michigan Humane Society. Tune in or donate online with the Michigan Humane Society!

If that’s not enough and you really want to get your Valentine on, check out Absolute Michigan keyword Valentine for food & gift ideas.

For a little eye candy, you should check out the Valentine slideshow from the Absolute Michigan flickr pool!

We also have a large number of Michigan web sites to check out (though if we’re missing one, be sure to add a link to it).

Flowers & Florists - say it with flowers

Chocolate - there’s also candy companies

Candles - lighting the way for romance for thousands of years

Jewelry -silver & gold, platinum and bronze, pick your favorite.

Wow, you actually made it to the end of this post – don’t forget to buy yourself a little something for Valentines Day!

Taste the Local Difference encourages you to Spend 10

local-difference-2011Absolute Michigan sponsor and local food partner Taste the Local Difference has released their 2011 Local Food Guide. The pocket-sized guide is packed with information about more than 300 businesses that feature local food: local farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, farmers markets and retail businesses and food artisans in the 10-county region stretching from Manistee to the Mackinac Bridge.

You can download the guide as a PDF or pick it up at farms, markets and other places that feature local food across Northwest Michigan. A highlight is their Spend 10 Local Dollars Campaign, which encourages people to make a pledge to spend $10 weekly on local food products. Taste the Local Difference project director Janice Benson says:

“The guide helps people find local food, and combining that with a commitment by families to spend at least $10 each week on local food will significantly boost our local economy. We have a lot of great produce throughout the summertime, but we also have meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beverages, and much more that is available to us all year long.”

DoF Asparagus by RichardDemingPhotography
DoF Asparagus by RichardDemingPhotography

You can get all the details and  make the pledge, search farm markets & businesses for all kinds of products, view tasty recipes and more at localdifference.org. Try some of these ways to make a difference in your community with $10 or more a week!

  • Buying local meat, fish, eggs, and produce from your local grocer, restaurant, or farmer.
  • Ordering a glass of local wine, cider, or other beverage that includes locally grown items at dinner.
  • Ordering a menu item that includes locally grown items at a restaurant.
  • Becoming a member of a CSA farm.
  • Ordering food for office lunches and parties that includes locally grown items.
  • Purchasing locally grown food products for holiday gifts and entertaining. (Jams, honeys, cheeses, dried cherry mix, salsas, etc.)
  • Buying local cream for your daily coffees and local teas that include locally grown herbs and fruit.

We’ll add one more – check out Absolute Michigan’s Michigan Grown section and search for all kinds of great Michigan products that can help you help your neighbors!

Michigan Culinary Tourism

Mack-in-touch Apples by (  Jennifer  )
Mack-in-touch Apples by ( Jennifer )

A month ago, Absolute Michigan participated in the the Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations conference (read our live blog) where the Michigan Culinary Tourism initiative was launched. For the video below, we spoke with Melody Johnson of the International Culinary Tourism Association, keynote speaker Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s, Linda Jones of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council and a number of attendees to get a sense of what culinary tourism can mean for Michigan.

Check out the Michigan Culinary Tourism page for links to foodie tours and other resources.  We’re also wondering about your thoughts on how culinary tourism can play a role in Michigan’s future – let us know your thoughts and interesting culinary experiences in the comments!

This video features photos from several photographers from the Absolute Michigan pool: blondieyooper, richard deming photography, photoshoparama, oldog_oltrix, southen, detroit derek, trish p and jennifer. Stay tuned to absolutemichigan.com/Culinary for the latest on Michigan’s booming epicurean industry!

Live at the Michigan Culinary Tourism Conference

Click here for a video from the conference!

Michigan Culinary TourismAll day today the Absolute Michigan team is at Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations, Michigan’s first conference on Culinary Tourism. The conference was a hot ticket, and nearly 200 tourism industry stakeholders are getting ready to learn about Michigan’s new initiative to increase tourism. You can learn all about the Michigan Culinary Tourism Inititative at that link and read on for updates as we have them!

Zingerman's Delicatessen
Zingerman’s Delicatessen by Ashley Dinges

1:30 pm The lunch keynote speaker is Ari Weinzweig of one of the giants of Michigan ‘s food scene, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. Ari is definitely a fast talker, and related that he got started washing dishes at Maude’s, and at that time, Tang and Space Sticks were his culinary adventures. He met co-founder Paul Saginaw at Maude’s and –  5 years after opening a deli in a town that wouldn’t support delis  at a location with no parking that people couldn’t find – was hailed as a genius. Today the Zingerman’s empire does $38 million in annual sales.

Ari says that (for him at least) all tourism is culinary. He relates  some “natural laws” from his book A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business that he thinks relate to building an authentic culinary destination. Natural law #1 is that an inspiring, strategically sound vision leads to greatness. He cautions that although  great visions come  from the heart, you need to develop your vision with enough richness and depth that people can understand what you’re talking about. He shared a bit of the vision for the West Side Farmer’s Market. With lines like “All these products have a story and none of them have traveled very far to get here,” it’s really clear that vision is a big part of what drives Zingerman’s.

His 2nd law is “You need to give your customers some really compelling reasons to buy from you.” He quotes Jim Hightower “Ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but 2 yellow lines and a whole lot of dead armadillos.” He  recommends that we seek to create offerings that have appeal for tourists AND residents to create a more resilient and dynamic customer base.

He closes with his belief that the customer experience is the most important thing. He breaks a recent study regarding employee attitudes toward their workplace into football terms: of the 11 players on a football team, only 4 know where the goal is, just two care who wins the game and all but 2 are just as likely to be  rooting for the other team as their own! Does this sound like your business? If it does, what can you do to change it? Ari suggests that maybe Michigan could steal a page from Hawaii and adopt the Ojibway word for welcome and become “The Aaniin State” … because someone has to be the most welcoming place in country!

Cheers,  ©n.walmsley
Cheers, ©n.wamsley

11:45 am – At the Building Lodging & Tour Packages session, Heather Price of Sandhill Crane Vineyards talked about the “Big Grape Bus” wine event they offer through the Pioneer Wine Trail in SE Michigan and all the pieces   – wine & food pairings, transportation, lodging and entertainment – that come together to create a compelling event. Steve Timmer of the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City echoed the importance of providing an all-inclusive experience and listed some of the things that his resort does including focusing on bringing local wines into their wine shop and even working with attendees on a cooking show.

One attendee (whose location shall remain nameless) wondered what to do when your area has little to offer in terms of culinary tourism. Steve suggested focusing on PR to invite food writers and the media and of course to leverage social media wherever possible. I asked him about if he had a sense whether today’s traveler is more or less interested in packages. He said that while packaging remains an important part of travel marketing, he’s finding that people are less interested in packages, preferring to design their own experiences. To me, that suggests that it’s really important for all players in the culinary travel industry to make their services and offerings clearly available across a wide spectrum of media, including that most old-fashioned of media: making your friends and neighbors aware of what you do!

The Bar @ Hopcat
The Bar @ Hopcat by stevedontsurf

11 am The “Marketing Your Culinary Destination” featured Dianna Stamfler of Promote Michigan, Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions and Paul Stermer of Fair Food Matters. An audience member asked Sam how he got his nearly 300 volunteers. He answered “It’s all about fun. We take care of them pre and post event and engage them as partners to market and develop the events.” He also suggested engaging your fans to help you grow your social media network. The audience seemed to agree that social media is a vital component of an overall strategy.

Dianna mentioned that it’s the first-ever  Michigan Beer Week in Kalamazoo.  It’s been developed  in conjunction with the Winter Beer Conference and bars, restaurants and retailers will be teaming up to offer beer tastings, tap takeovers, brewer meet-and-greets and other special events.

Charlevoix Michigan Peppers
Charlevoix Michigan Peppers by DTWpuck

10  am Melody Johnson of the International Culinary Tourism Association was next up. She shared examples from all over the world of how everyone from third world nations on up the economic ladder are turning to culinary tourism as an economic driver. She cited rocketing technological advancements and our exploding interest in food as two prime drivers and talked about FLOSS (Fresh Local Organic Sustainable and Self-absorbed food). With  your average meal travelling 1500 miles, FLOSS is a concept that can  help keep food local.    Melody also gave a shoutout the the new “Boyne Appetit” marketing effort for Boyne City.

She showed three pictures – a museum, roller coaster and nice plate of food, and reminded attendees that food & drink IS an attraction as well, illustrating it with her discovery of Founder’s apricot wheat – a beer that she had last night with dinner and very much enjoyed. It’s not something you’re likely to find outside of Michigan, so to have it again, she’ll have to return. “The Michigan Experience” is what visitors are seeking – unique and memorable experiences that a tourist can brag about when he or she returns home.

9:40 am Steve Loftis of the Michigan Restaurant Association offered some thoughts about where Michigan’s restaurants are and what will be on their radar in 2011. One of his recommendations is that restaurants look to younger/technologically savvy members of  their staff for  ideas on more effectively using technology to acquire new patrons, but also to work more with existing customers.  He also stated that “the L word” should be on everyone’s mind as they work with their menu, trying to add more local offerings.

grits & bits (pre-syrup)
grits & bits (pre-syrup)
by jenny murray

9:15 am Linda Jones of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council opened the conference with an introduction to culinary tourism. One new resource for culinary tourists that she pointed out are the Michigan Foodie Tours.
The foodie tours feature local food and unique experiences from the whitefish and pasties of the western UP to the 200 restaurants of Ann Arbor.

7 am Last night I had a chance to talk with Melody Johnson, a founding member  of the International Culinary Tourism Association. Melody is the organization’s Community Manager and helps partners develop collaborations and inititiatives to capitalize on their culinary tourism assets. She gave me a simple thought to frame the day: “You always need to keep in mind what your customers  want to be successful. When people are coming to Michigan, they are wanting Michigan. They want authentic culinary experiences, the flavors and experiences that they can only get here.”

Although saying “It’s the food, silly” may seem a little simplistic, as the nation’s second most agriculturally diverse state, Michigan is in a unique position to tout itself as an unparalleled food destination. The local food movement has already started many on the path to promoting the strength and quality of Michigan food & drink and this effort will hopefully encourage many more to  “make it a Michigan wine/beer/fill in the blank.”

Michigan Culinary Tourism taking off!

Great Lakes Echo is a project of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. The site uses Creative Commons reporting to to help the news community cover the environment of the Great Lakes watershed. Absolute Michigan supports the mission of Great Lakes Echo and will feature articles they produce. This article by Yang Zhang was originally published as State’s resources spark culinary tourism. The photos are from the Forest Grill in Birmingham’s Facebook page.

Forest GrillMiles of coastline, beautiful beaches and spectacular sand dunes. But traveling in Michigan offers more than that.

The state’s wines and beers, fresh fruits, fish and other local flavors are attracting visitors as well.

“Culinary tourism is an exciting new area of economic development for Michigan,” said Linda Jones, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Council.

On Jan. 10, a diverse range of businesses and organizations will celebrate their culinary assets and share ideas to promote culinary tourism at a statewide conference.

Jones said other states promote their culinary assets more aggressively than Michigan, such as Oregon, New York and California.

Culinary tourism includes cooking classes, foodie tours, events and festivals.

The Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance is one initiative boosting local industry.

Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations at Travel Michigan, said quality food is part of the traveling experiences people look for.

crispy sweetbreadsMichigan’s diverse agriculture, hunting and fishing provide fresh foods, which creates this experience, Lorenz said. His office is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

For example, Culinary Escapes, a Detroit-based company, offers walking tours to restaurants, markets and local food purveyors in downtown Birmingham, Detroit and Royal Oak from April through October.

Learn Great Foods in Petoskey offers themed retreats, tours and cooking classes. One is Maple Madness Weekend on the Parsons Centennial Farm in Charlevoix, where participants learn how to make maple syrup.

Karel Bush, promotion specialist at Grape and Wine Council, said Michigan’s 75 wineries also are travel destinations where people enjoy lush green valleys and savor award-winning wines.

Bush said there are wine routes along the coasts, such as the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine. Another is the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail along Lake Huron.

Experts said great dining and learning experiences attract more tourists and extend their travel time in the communities.

Lorenz said: “They go out there and spend money that help retain and build jobs.”

Jones said culinary tourism benefits the whole state, particularly areas with major visitor attractions.

Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, said the number of tourists in her region has increased because of the development of food-related businesses.

Behind the scenes at Forest GrillThe bureau serves Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Boyne City, which are well-known for wines, whitefish and morel mushrooms.

For example, people pick mushrooms in the woods and learn how to cook them, Dakins said.

“Farms and farmers’ markets create jobs and also are a stop for tourists,” Dakins said.

Cooking classes in restaurants and hotels have attracted many customers, Lorenz said. For example, Zazios in Kalamazoo has a Chefs Table, where customers learn from a chef how to make food and then eat it.

Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs at the Michigan Restaurant Association said developing culinary tourism is particularly important to the hospitality industry.

Deloney said many people have a misconception that they must go to New York, San Francisco or Chicago for both great travel and dinning experiences.

“In Michigan we have lots of fantastic restaurants, too,” he said.

Deloney said the conference will increase awareness of Michigan’s dining destinations and build connections among businesses.

The Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations conference in East Lansing is being organized by the Culinary Tourism Alliance in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Travel Michigan and the Restaurant Association.

Michigan Rated #1 in Social Media Tourism Promotion

pure michiganTravel Michigan has announced that it has earned the top-ranking amongst the 50 official US tourism office Web sites in the use of social media. In a recent study, How Social is Your State DMO (national break down pdf), How Social is Your State DMO (Michigan by city break down pdf) conducted by Gammet Interactive, Michigan takes the top spot for the use of popular social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and others.

“We’ve extended our efforts to stay connected with travelers. Social media allows us to get the Pure Michigan message out to potential visitors on other platforms,” commented George Zimmermann, Vice President of Travel Michigan, a business unit of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “It opens another line of communication with travelers.”

In addition to the most popular state tourism Web site, michigan.org, visitors now have other means to stay up-to-date on Michigan tourism deals, discounts and events.

Connect and get the inside scoop on where the fish are biting, what greens are running fast and how you can make your visit Pure Michigan at the newly launched blog, Pure Michigan Connect. Read about bloggers’ experiences along the nation’s longest fresh water coastline or experience at a small town celebration. Take a minute to comment on the blog posts, or submit one of your own.

Follow @PureMichigan on Twitter for the latest events and breaking news, along with some fun behind-the-scenes information on all the things going on with Michigan tourism. Search hashtags #puremichigan, #MIevents, #MIdine, #MIgolf, #MIfish, and #MIwine, for all the latest.

Join the Pure Michigan Fan Page on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all the latest events in Michigan and talk to others with the same love for Michigan. The fan page is another great resource for planning a trip.

In addition, visitors can now enjoy all the photos from the Pure Michigan Photo Contest on Flickr, or watch all of the Pure Michigan commercials on YouTube.

Michigan.org continues to be a source for Michigan travel information, featuring more than 12,000 attractions, events, hotels, resorts, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses.

Travel Michigan, a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is the State of Michigan’s official agency for the promotion of tourism. Travel Michigan markets the state’s tourism industry and provides valuable visitor information services.

Be A Tourist In Your Own Town – Lansing, May 30th

Be A Tourist In Your Own TownWe wanted to draw attention to this annual event in Lansing as it is something every city in Michigan should consider emulating. It is just too easy to grow into the mind set that where you reside there is absolutely nothing to do or that you have already seen it, done it, surfed it. We wager to bet that there are plenty of area attractions right under your that offer new experiences or old ones that need to be rediscovered. This kind of local exploration is a great way to reconnect with your community, save a few dollars while at the same time pouring a few back into your community’s economy which in turn keeps your area of the Mitten prosperous and interesting to visit.

So we present to you:

Be A Tourist In Your Own Town brought to you by the fine folks at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. Consider organizing one in your area!

About Be A Tourist In Your Own Town

Fifteen years ago, the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau created this event to increase community awareness of it’s attractions and the tourism industry’s impact on the area. So once again the doors are open for you to explore culture and creativity in mid-Michigan.

As Lansing celebrates its 150th anniversary, take this opportunity to enjoy attractions that highlight both Lansing’s unique history as well as its innovative and progressive future. This year they have included old favorites such as Impression 5 Science Center, Potter Park Zoo and the Michigan Historical Museum, and added new hot spots like the FRAG Center, MSU’s Breslin Center, WKAR Studios and taste the new “Capital City Sundae” ice cream flavor at the MSU Dairy Store. You can view a complete list of the participating places to go and things right here.

How it Works:

For only $1 you can purchase a “passport” which allows you FREE admission to more than 60 area attractions, local businesses, and special activities on May 30, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. **Ages 3 and under do not require a passport. Get from place to place with CATA. For only 50 cents you will receive a stamp which will allow you to ride the Be A Tourist routes for the rest of the day for no extra charge.

Check out a slideshow of the Lansing area from the Absolute Michigan Flickr pool!

M is for Monday … and Midwest, MCS, Michigan Agriculture and MORELS!

Morels ! by cedarkayak
Morels ! by cedarkayak

The latest issue of Midwest Living feature on the Best Midwest Food Towns served up a platefull of restaurants in our region that might entice the culinary tourist. Their editors selected Traverse City as the #2 town and Ann Arbor #3. Also featured were a collection of recipes from Traverse City including Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce With Pasta and a Creme Fraiche from Shetler’s Dairy.

The Detroit City Council’s proposal to demolish Michigan Central Station as a means to bring in Federal stimulus dollars seemed to many to have all the brilliance of a plan to get rich quick by selling both your kidneys. Now the Detroit News reports that developer Manuel (Matty) Moroun is proposing to lease Michigan Central Station to the United States government for redevelopment. The Department of Homeland Security offices for Customs and Border Protection are seeking to lease almost 50,000 square feet of space in the Detroit area to house personnel.

Of surprise to nobody – outside of State government at least – the Detroit News is reporting that Michigan’s agricultural industry is bucking the trend of decline:

The state’s overall agricultural industry — which includes not only farming but also food processing and biofuels, wineries and beer-making — grew 12 percent to $71.3 billion in revenue in 2007, following several years of single-digit growth; 2008 figures are not yet available.

…Some 100 agri-food businesses have started in Michigan during the past five years, according to the MDA.

Imagine what we could do if we really invested in building and promoted our agricultural bounty.

Edward Vielmetti has a tasty post that includes Michigan’s morel festivals and the book How to Find Morels by Milan Pelouch. Even more about morels at Absolute Michigan keyword morel!

Michigan Ethnic Restaurants


A view of Greektown, a District of Detroit by DetroitDerek

We profiled four great Michigan ethnic restaurants this week:

How many did we miss? Probably close to a bazillion – help us (and them) out and give a shout out to your favorite ethnic restaurants in Michigan in the comments!

Michigan Fine Dining Restaurants

awesome view by St. Laurent Photography
awesome view by St. Laurent Photography

We’re checking out Michigan’s restaurants for the whole month of February 2008. This week we took a look at four of the many great fine dining establishments in Michigan:

There are many more that we didn’t include. Our hope is that YOU will add a link or a note in the comments below calling out some of the fine restaurants that you really enjoy.