Imagine strolling through the Farmers Market on a hot day while cooling off with little spoonfuls of ice cream flavored with brown butter, sage, berries, lavender, basil, rhubarb, chamomile, or lemon balm. Grange Kitchen pastry chef Melissa Richards makes it possible by taking her unusual “farm-to-table” frozen novelties on the road–and on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, she and her husband push their shiny new food cart uphill from the Old West Side to the market.
Raised in Michigan, graduated from U-M with a BS in biology, and trained at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education, Richards opened Sweet Dirt in June. Her confections are sophisticated in execution, more flavorful than sweet, and more creamy than cloying. One unusual flavor is “popcorn,” made from cream and milk steeped in batches of the popped stuff and completely recognizable as such. Likewise for the fennel ice cream, only slightly more licorice-like than a dinner vegetable side.
Based on creme anglaise (except for the sorbets), the little cups aren’t cheap at $4 and up, but they’re satisfying on many levels. Findable on Facebook by searching “A2sweetdirt,” she’ll also make large batches by special order, including the bourbon ice cream that’s popular at the Grange but–like cigarettes, dogs, and bikes–not welcome at the market.
Along with herb-flavored ice creams, food-centric beers are now flowing through town. Coriander–a staple spice of Asia and Africa–was the marquee ingredient in house brews recommended by servers at both Wolverine State brewery and Jolly Pumpkin in July (Michigan Beer Month, if you didn’t notice). Summery and crisp-tasting in both iterations, Wolverine’s coriander lager has lemongrass in the mix and is named “Virtuous.” Jolly Pumpkin’s “Luciernaga (Firefly)” is one of its sour-style Belgian brews that need no extra tartness. The seasonal brews are ripples in a wave of foodish beers–I recently sampled bottles or drafts containing chocolate, coffee, oatmeal, fruits galore, rose hips, vanilla, pepper, and other botanicals. You can even find local beers as smoked as your main-dish brisket.
Bill’s Beer Garden at Ashley and Liberty (now open every night but Monday) is a great place to assess the state of the art because many top brews from across the mitten are on tap. The Dark Horse (Marshall) “Raspberry Ale” is full of the fruit’s bewitching flavor but not its sweetness. New Holland’s syrupy “Dragon’s Milk Stout” is aged in actual bourbon barrels, and at 10.0 ABV (alcohol by volume), is so potent it comes in a smaller flute.
“I didn’t drink beer for twenty-five years,” admits Garden namesake Bill Zolkowski. Passionate about wine, he had “no interest in the fizzy yellow water” that passed as American beer until visionary enterprises like Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewery began making Michigan a top state for brewing arts. Now he evangelizes about Michigan beer with the fervor of the recently converted.
As the craft beer and artisanal food movements continue to grow, it’s getting hard to draw a line between the two. I’m reminded of old tales of monks surviving on a glass of beer each evening … It just might work with a daily pint of Primordial Porter from Original Gravity Brewing Company. Brewed just down the road in Milan, it’s basically a rich roasted malty meal in a glass.