After the holidays most of us are familiar with the post-celebratory letdown. The saying goodbye to the getting together, the laughing, the gaming, the feasting. The saying hello to the unpacking, the de-tagging, the washing-drying-folding-and-putting-awaying. The uncomfortable realization that our pants are now one size too tight (or in my case, TWO sizes too tight, since I went into December already a size overboard).
Most people are ready to buckle down, clean up the house and along with it, their diet. Most people are ready to unfreeze the gym membership, and otherwise pull themselves together.
Not us. Not this year.
Instead, we’re veering in the opposite direction. We’re taking a sharp left from the territory of overindulgence to the province of gluttony. After this trip, I’m confident I will not be able to sausage-stuff myself into my jeans at all. My thighs may soon each possess a gravitational pull that rivals a small planet.
So, what are we doing? We’re going to begin taste-testing the 10 best pizzas in Michigan, hitting up three of them in three days, on the first leg of our pizza tour.
We planned this tour last year based on MLive’s 2013 Top 10 Pizzas’s in Michigan. Unfortunately, due to health issues I was dealing with (extreme fatigue, blood sugar issues associated with PCOS), almost exactly one year ago I ended up drastically cutting out wheat from my diet.
In the past year I’ve eaten exactly zero pretzels, cookies, breads or cakes. I’ve eaten pizza three times and have had probably literally a handful of bites of other wheat-flour laden foods. (I have had a few beers, I will admit – but overall I’m mostly a wine gal these days). While I haven’t lost any weight, I have noticed a significant improvement in energy and decrease in blood pressure.
When I told my sister, who happens to be a nutritionist, about our 3-day pizza bingeing plan she told me,
“You’re going to feel like shit for, like, a month”.
“Yep,” I nodded, confirming I understood exactly what I was getting myself into.
I am prepared. Sometimes married couples need to get away and have some fun – energy levels, thigh circumferences and blood sugar levels be damned.
So we begin. Let’s go have some married fun, damn it. We can detox later.
“What music do you want to fall asleep to?”
My husband drives, I sleep.
“The White Buffalo”. Our current favorite band. And we were off.
Michigan is in the midst of an ice storm, which we knew was coming, so we picked a location we could get to just before the ice hit. Our timing was true, about 5 minutes from the hotel the sleet started. We made a quick trip to Meijer before checking in to get supplies since we knew the only time we would be leaving the hotel was when we braved the storm for the sake of pizza.
The coffee pot is for my house, but it was such a good deal, I couldn’t pass it up. Since I’m a suburban-mom-of-two, I was pretty stoked about this exciting start to our trip. Coffee! Coffee!
We checked into the hotel and hit the pool. I ran laps through the water, while Mr. Grouch swam his.
“Are you just going to run the whole time?”
“Are you just going to swim?”
Mr. Grouch and I discussed how much it would cost to put in addition and an indoor pool in our house because we like to talk in depth about scenarios that have no chance of actually happening.
A mom and two kids, a boy probably around eight and the girl around six, walked into the pool area. My eyes were drawn immediately to the six year old. Her eyes were very wide-set. Her teeth were widely spaced apart. Her ankles were hyper-mobile and her feet splayed slightly outward.
I smiled at her.
She waved, took off her cover up and put on her goggles. She stepped to the edge of the pool.
“Jump out!” her mom reminded her.
The girl looked at me and asked, “Ready?” as she gave me the thumbs up signal.
“Ready!” I yelled, giving her a thumbs up in return.
Her brother dove for coins in the deep end while I ran and she swam and we kept going through our thumbs up routine every time she decided it was time to make a leap into the warm water.
“Brianne!” her brother called out, smiling as he showed her that he had captured all of the coins.
I thought of how Brianne looked happy, looked proud of herself for jumping in the pool and doing twists in the water. I thought of how she confidently asked me, “Ready?” I hoped that we as society don’t beat those traits out of her.
Because at some point, if it hasn’t started happening already, Brianne will be segregated from the group. She’ll be separated from her peers and instead of thumbs up and “Ready!” responses from strangers, she’ll likely experience looks of derision. Looks of pity. Or worse, people will just look away.
It’s not right.
Brianne deserves to be a part of the group. She deserves to be confident, happy, proud of who she is. And we deserve to be graced with the gifts she brings. Not just as a six year old. But also as a teen. As an adult. The only way this can happen is if people choose to include. Include. Include. Include. Include. How many of us include people with disabilities in our lives? Not enough. I know, it’s hard, because how does that begin? We need to do a better job connecting those with disabilities with the communities they live in.
Whoa. The pool wasn’t even that deep. Time for some wine before dinner.
Our first stop on our tour was Fricano’s Pizza Tavern in Grand Haven.
Fricano’s claims to be the oldest pizzeria in Michigan. Fricano’s is housed in an old home that had been converted into a restaurant and tavern. It’s the kind of place that has only one menu item, a thin crust 12 inch pizza, that can be topped with up to 6 toppings. It’s the kind of place that only takes cash or check. It’s the kind of place where the waitresses are women in their fifties and sixties, wearing white sweater sets and sitting at a table in front of the ovens drinking tea in between serving customers. It’s the kind of place that has many regulars, like the 5 year old who sat at the bar with his dad, and before anyone said anything, the bartender apologized to the kid for being out of apple juice. It’s the kind of place with an unpretentious entrance that looks like this:
and side-orders that hang from the walls in columns like this:
The original flair is that Fricano’s cuts all of their pizzas with large scissors instead of pizza cutters. We watched the cook snip, snip, snip, before handing the pie off to our waitress.
We ordered the “Everything But” – all the toppings they offer minus anchovies. The locals call this the E.B.A. Even though we were in the middle of a sleet storm, the restaurant continued to fill up while we were there and many stacks of to-go orders were carried out the door. One guy left with a tall stack that totaled 118.78.
The pizza was delicious. The flavor of the sauce and the cheese was phenomenal (the ingredients are a highly-guarded secret), the toppings were fresh. We scarfed that bad boy down pretty quickly.
Staring at the empty pan, Mr. Grouch said, “You should time-stamped those photos. I think it’s only been about 6 minutes”.
“That was delicious”.
“Should we order another one?”
The waitress walked over, “Can I get you anything else?”
“Yes. Another pizza. This time well-done”.
As we were waiting we both acknowledged that the half of the pizza we ate had left us pretty satisfied, without feeling overly full. We were still very excited about the second pizza.
This is why we aren’t skinny.
Note the nice black edges. The extra-crispy was extra-tasty.
Fricano’s Verdict: What they lack in apostrophe, they make up for in flavor.
This luscious evening ended with a full belly and a book – I read 46% of a book that’s been waiting for me in my Kindle for months. Left Neglected. A friend of mine said the main character reminded her of me, but so far all I’ve gathered that means is that I’m a workaholic who doesn’t spend enough time with her kids or husband whose brain doesn’t work correctly. Hm. It’s a good read though, hoping to finish before going home.
When we planned this trip we assumed we’d be eating leftover pizza for breakfast. However we neglected to consider how truly gluttonous we are that we might not actually have leftovers. So this morning we had to go get MORE food. We have a favorite breakfast joint in Grand Haven called Morning Star Cafe. This place is amazing. They’re known for their delicious cinnamon rolls (which we can vouch from previous experience ARE delish) but we opted out of that this year since we’ve got pizza on the agenda for later. What you see below is what the not-so-skinny-but-happily-married-couple considers to be a light breakfast:
Two of the best things this place offers is 1) a full carafe of coffee at the table when you order a cup of joe. They also ask if you’d like a to go coffee when you leave.
And 2) the best damn hot sauce I’ve tasted. The food was fantastic without it, but this sauce really put it over the edge. I’m already on the hunt to purchase a case or so of this stuff. My husband buys his favorite hot sauce in half gallon jugs which I’ve made fun of, until now, since I’m going to start doing the same. We’ll need to clear out some space in order to devote an entire section of the pantry to hot sauce.
After breakfast I read more of my book (I’m reading a book! This is vacation indeed!) – and am glad to discover that this workaholic woman is turning into a grateful, open-minded spirit who basically says, “Screw Normal”.
Cheers to that.
After breakfast we went back to the hotel for more vacation time. Which pretty much looked like this:
And consisted of conversation like this:
“Why isn’t Hellen a word?”
“Because Helen is a name?”
“It’s not a name. It’s a group of people”.
“Oh. Isn’t Hellenic is the word you’re thinking of”.
“No. It’s like American”.
“Yeah…you’d say I’m an American. So you’re Hellenic”.
“Except I’m not A Hellenic. I’m A Hellen”.
“I think nowadays you just say you’re Greek”.
A couple minutes later, “Why isn’t Elven a word?”
“Because elves aren’t real?”
“I’m pretty sure if I put elf, it would take it. Or unicorn. Unicorns aren’t real, and I can still play that’.
“This game is racist”.
“Against Hellenics and Elves?”
“Hellens and Elves”.
“Elven should be a word. I’m pretty sure they use it in Lord of the Rings about a million times”.
After deep conversations like these we hit the pool for a bit before heading to our next pizza joint, Bernie O’s. Bernie O’s kind of looks like a dump from the outside (which is usually my sort of place) and it looks kind of like a freshly painted neat-ish dump on the inside. The atmosphere doesn’t have a whole lot of character. You order at the counter and sit down. It’s the kind of place that has this vibe:
So, a touch like a hospital cafeteria vibe. And then they were a little showy-offey about winning awards the last couple of years, unlike Fricano’s, who let the pizza speak for itself.
However, the food was nothing at all like hospital food. We ordered their signature pizza, The Twist, which has apparently launched them into semi-pizza fame of late. It’s an odd combination of toppings – chicken, bacon, jalapenos, banana peppers, pineapple and ranch dressing.
We took a bite and looked at each other’s reaction.
“Huh,” I said, with a small smile. I am usually not a fan of pineapple on pizza, but the combination of ingredients surprised me by being much tastier than I anticipated.
“…huh,” he grinned back.
“Huh,” I stared at the pizza as I chewed.
“It’s good. Weird, but good”.
“I think that’s the best way to describe this. Oddly good”.
The couple of pieces were great, but the overall tone of the pizza was a little sweeter than I go for. However, this place had one huge saving grace – and that is their pizza crust. Their pizza crust was by far one of the best crusts we’ve ever eaten, it had the perfect crunch to it.
Bernie O’s verdict: If you love pineapple, this is absolutely the pizza for you. If not, still go to Bernie O’s for the crust, but get your favorite toppings. And maybe take it to go.
On the way back to the hotel, Mr. Grouch says, “Only took an hour, start to finish”.
“That’s because we eat like pigs,” I reminded him. “We’re a good match,” I added.
“We complement each other. My awesomeness cancels out your annoyingness,” he chuckled.
“Oh my God,” I rolled my eyes.
“I keep losing weight and you keep gaining weight,” he adds, touching on a sore spot at the moment.
“Pretty soon we’re going to be able to share jeans”.
“Oh, shut up!” I admonish him, before reconsidering, “Well, actually, my parents can share jeans,” proving my point about us being as good a match as they are.
“I think we pretty much feel the opposite about everything”.
“We do. Except the important things. Like pizza tours”.
For our final day of this leg of the pizza tour we woke up and hit the pool one last time before checking out of the hotel.
“Coffee,” I said, as we hopped in the car.
“I know! We talked about this four times yesterday, about getting coffee on the way”.
I just looked at him.
This is one of those you-have-to-be-married-to-get-this type of conversation. When something benign like the word “coffee” drives the other person nuts. After a while, the couples that make it figure out not to take that kind of overreaction personally.
I know we probably did talk about it four times, because my mother and my grandmother do the same thing, so it’s basically in my DNA to repeat the same exact information multiple times, which I completely understand IS annoying. So I ignore the mini-rant and then he ignores my mini-rant later about how getting road rage is so ridiculous.
“Jesus Christ. Is he really not going to let me in? What a dick. I’m going to let in this red truck in too, just to piss him off”.
“Seriously? How can you get worked up about driving?”
“I don’t get worked up about driving. I get worked up when people are assholes”.
“People will always be assholes. It doesn’t do you any good to get all pissed off, just plan on them being assholes and be okay with it”.
“Ah, the red truck turned the other way. He got lucky”.
This is what a successful marriage looks like folks, getting pissy about coffee and driving and just moving on and leaving the piss behind.
We continued our drive and headed to Harmony Brewing Company for a late beer-and-pizza brunch.
The brewing co. was a small place, pretty cozy and cute. Our waitress was a lovely little delight who chatted with us about the mlive pizza ranking process (apparently the guys tried pepperoni pizzas at each place they visited, to compare apples to apples, so to speak, along with whatever specialty pizza the staff recommended), and the movie Amelie (she thought I looked like her, and told me I missed out on “a gem of a movie” since I hadn’t seen it). We talked about dyeing our hair to hide our grays (she was the same age as me) and how we were both Hop Heads, (people who love the hoppiest of beers. She recommended their Crossroads IPA, and it was fabulous. It was strong and hoppy, but had a much smoother finish and none of the bitter aftertaste compared to most of the hoppy beers I’ve tried.
We got The Crispy Pig and a Margherita pizza
Both were delicious, we both loved the sauce and the toppings. The meat on the Crispy Pig was spectacular, particularly the prosciutto. Mr. Grouch really liked the crust, but I didn’t think it was really anything special, it was a thin-crust, not super crunchy, and pretty floury tasting.
We listened to more White Buffalo on the way home and the vacation was over. Immediately the girls were in our arms (Uppie!), demanding bananas and cups of water and wiping dripping noses on our shirts. It’s a good thing they are so darn cute and their heads inexplicably smell like cinnamon. Sniiiiiiiiiiiif. Ahhhhhh.
I managed to unpack the new coffee maker and make a fresh pot of coffee all with one hand, because my arms were full of cute (and highly needy) baby and Pegasus (or Peg-sis).
Cheers to gluttonous vacations with fantastic husbands.
A few days away is long enough. After that we start missing the demands for attention and the weight in our arms and the cinnamon-smelling heads.
Cheers to being home.