I like to drive the old Chicago Boulevard — once a wood-planked route connecting Detroit and Chicago — to get to the southeastern Michigan town of Tecumseh.
In autumn, leaves swirl through the air on the main thoroughfare, made wide enough for those horse-pulled wagons to pass each other. They envelop me, like a snow globe of jewel-colored confetti, as I pass by the town's elegant Victorian-era commercial buildings and rows of historic homes in myriad styles — Queen Anne, Romanesque, Gothic and even a Greek Revival built in the 1830s.
The vibe here, albeit on a much smaller scale, is similar to nearby Ann Arbor with a celebration of food, culture and history. Clothing boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, a winery, a cheese maker, a chocolatier, public art and even an English-style tea room are all part of Tecumseh's thriving downtown. I arrive for my one-day journey, ready to digest all that Tecumseh's local food scene has to offer.
I'm headed in the right direction as I step inside Boulevard Market and Four Corners Creamery. Vintage food posters from France and Italy suggest the Old World care that goes into the large rounds of cheeses and sausages stacked on top of gleaming display cases. The rich aromas of coffee and freshly baked bread fill the air as I peruse the shelves of wine and gourmet goodies, sampling charcuteries and house-made cheeses.
I first met owners Erika and John Aylward years ago when I wandered into their shop. Now whenever I stop by to browse their gourmet food selections, Erika and I stop to chat about what's new.
This time she has just returned from Modica, Italy, where she learned to make chocolate. She is now roasting, shelling, stone-grinding and tempering Costa Rican chocolate beans with organic sugar and cocoa butter to create Peppalo, her single-source chocolate bars (made with beans grown in the same location). Her newest creation is a Peppalo chocolate bar that she cold-smoked with freshly cut applewood for a nice balance of smoky and crisp apple taste.
One of the few artisan cheese makers in the state, John shows off his Cocoa Capra: goat cheese rolled in grated cocoa nibs that add a bittersweet layer to the creamy tang of the cheese. He is also working on a goat Gouda, which will be aged for three months in a red-wine must (the juice of the pressed grape before it is fermented). Before I go, I make a note to come back as soon as it's ready.
Since I couldn't make it to the Olympics, I get my Anglophile fix next door at the British Tea Garden & Rooftop Cafe. It's a cozy spot with wall murals showing scenes of the jolly old England countryside — stonewalls, hedges and manor homes dotting the rolling hills. People sip their imported loose-leaf teas and dab their fruit scones and crumpets with homemade Devonshire cream, a delicious, rich cream high in sinful butterfat. I try the cottage pie, a meat and vegetable pocket filled with gravy and topped with a mashed potato crust.
For dessert, I walk down the street to Pentamere Winery, housed in a recently remodeled Victorian-era commercial building with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and retro drop-ceiling lights. The samples are generous and — better yet — free, except for the $1 charge for ice wine. There are 17 selections — way too much for me — though I definitely make a point to sip the Tasters Guild Medal Winners such as Le Griffon — a Bordeaux-style red blend of Great Lakes-grown cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot — and their dry riesling.
After buying a few Le Griffons for a friend, I head to Evans Street Station, once an old fire station, to meet friends who are driving down from Ann Arbor for dinner.
While I read over the menu, executive chef/owner Alan Merhar stops by to tell me about some of the vegetables he's picked up that morning — parsnips, which will become chips, and red cabbage, soon to be caramelized with onion to accompany duck from a nearby farm.
I'm still trying to decide what to order when my friends arrive. We talk about the small-town charm of Tecumseh, the ability to experience food, shops and public art in close proximity to one another. It's a great place to get a little taste of everything.