48 Hours In Northville And Plymouth
History lives in the far reaches of Western Wayne County. There, two small towns that preserve Michigan's heritage while leading double lives as Motown suburbs. Northville and Plymouth are charming villages with strong ties to reality.
Their once classic downtown shopping districts have morphed over time into less functional retail offerings, but both towns have avoided the "ducks and doilies" syndrome. You can still buy real clothing on Main Street even if Northville's former drug store is now a pet spa. Plymouth has a real movie theatre on its central square.
The upside of this suburban transformation? You can get a decent meal or buy a bottle of wine in both villages – something that couldn't have happened forty years ago when Northville was too small to support a wine shop and Plymouth was as dry as its Puritan namesakes.
But the past isn't far away. The two villages are linked by a gorgeous parkway and a series of parks along the River Rouge. Edward Hines Drive retains its 19th
century beauty despite being a commuter route. Cass Benton Park is just as much fun for tobogganing today as it was when its huge hill was part of Cass Benton’s farm a century ago. Friday afternoon
Northville is arguably the heart of Michigan – geographically, that is. Eight Mile Road, aka Base Line Road, was a line drawn across the Lower Peninsula by early 19th century surveyors when they mapped Michigan for future development. The counties were drawn north and south of the base line and Eight Mile forms part of the boundaries of many counties today.
Just south of the venerable road, Northville holds many lovely historic houses, some from the earliest days of the Michigan Territory. Take a walk or a slow cruise through the neighborhood between West Main Street and Eight Mile Road on downtown's western edge. Beautiful Greek Revival-style and Victorian homes line Main, Dunlap and Rogers Streets. They aren't mansions, simply comfortable family homes of another age, well-kept and well-loved. The streetscape in the historic district has remained largely unchanged since the turn of the 20th century.
Along the way, you'll find Gardenviews, another kind of revival, at 202 W. Main St. The garden décor store was once a gas station. Now it's an airy, light-filled place filled with garden ornaments, vases, fountains and home accessories on a floral theme for indoors and out – everything for the garden except plants, chosen with a good eye for design. Check out a fascinating non-garden item: the Northville Historical Society’s book, Greetings from Northville, A Postcard Album by Francis Gazlay.
Back downtown, boutiques for pampering your home beckon. Tutto: Everything for the Home has great accessories and small pieces of furniture, 141 N. Center Street in The Old Church Square. (In March, Tutto will move around the corner to 115 N. Center St.) Scottie's Kitchen is just across the way in the former Methodist churchyard, now a courtyard of small shops. It holds a well-edited selection of home essentials for kitchens and dining rooms and offers a full schedule of cooking classes, 149 N. Center Street.
Feeling peckish? Go directly to Edward's Café, 115 E. Main St. Lovely salads, imaginative sandwiches, soups, cookies, pastries and tortes await, all accompanied by espresso or less caffeine-laden options. Edward's lemon bars are pucker-luscious following an exemplary Caesar salad. In fine weather, the tiny outside tables provide sustenance with a view of Main Street action.
From there, stroll west on Main Street. The Dancing Eye Gallery, 101 N. Center Street, holds handmade tiles, art jewelry and other artisan-created goods. Just beyond, Urban Blues, 114 W. Main St., stocks denim and casual women’s clothes for fashionettes who are truly young or who may be matrons but wish to avoid looking matronly.
At the other end of Main Street, just four blocks away, Long Bath Design Gallery is the kind of idea showcase you’d expect to find only in larger cities. It’s loaded with kitchen and bathroom fixtures and accessories – and the staff is expert - Long began as a plumber and still practices the watery art.
On the first Friday of each month, take advantage of extended hours to enjoy one of the last free thrills: visual arts in downtown Northville's galleries and shops. The next First Friday Art Walk takes place on March 6 from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. The arty evenings often include artist appearances and demonstrations.
Dine at Little Italy Ristorante, another historic courtyard, at 227 Hutton Street. The restaurant and market, in a restored Victorian house, overlook the former high school football field. The extensive menu is reliably good. Spiedini Romana, shrimp cocktail and calamari fritti – like the rest of the food – transcend the ordinary. The pastas and soups are sublime. Try ravioli in brodo and linguine bottarga, for authentic Italian flavors. The big-name Italian restaurants in Detroit should aspire to this level of quality.
Looking for some after-dinner drinks? NOMI, at 133 W. Main is the kind of nouveau cuisine du jour joint you'd expect in a town that caters to the above-35 set. Still, their fruit infused cocktails are well worth sampling.
If you're looking for something with more of a heart beat, you'll need to head into neighboring Novi. If you're dressed for it, The Dirty Martini Lounge, at 42705 Grand River Ave, is suburban Detroit's stab at Las Vegas lounging.
Afraid the kids might get antsy? On the way to Plymouth, stop at B&W Variety, 43067 East Seven Mile Road, in Highland Plaza. Dime stores are a distant memory – Northville's is a bakery now – but B&W is true to its name, its motto (Whole Lotta Stuff) and to budget prices of old. Give each kid $5 and turn them loose. You won't hear a peep for the rest of the day.
Back on the road, it's a short hop to Plymouth with river and reservoir views along Northville Road. To fortify yourself, have breakfast at the Omelette and Waffle Café, 580 Forest Avenue, a local favorite for its namesake foods, as well as pancakes.
Plymouth's downtown has one mall-like amenity – free parking. Smart. Take advantage of the perk and get ready to wander. All the action starts at the park – Kellogg Park, that is, an old-fashioned town square surrounded by shops and restaurants.
Take either one of the streets that feed into the square – Penniman Avenue and Ann Arbor Trail are each lined with retail that appeals. Haven City-Country- Cottage, 863 Penniman, is shabby chic at its most irresistible. Martha Stewart would approve of the vintage interior furnishings and accessories, and unusual gifts. New and recycled accessories will give your house great personality – without residual cuteness.
Detour to Sweet Afton Tea Room and Restaurant, 450 Forest Avenue for lunch in a highly civilized atmosphere. Not just tea and cookies, it offers excellent food in a cozy and welcoming room.
While you’re on the block, visit Three Dog Bakery, 550 Forest Avenue inside Westchester Square. Yes, it's a bakery for pets, even though the treats on display look like something any human would be glad to sample.
Then return to Ann Arbor Trail, where the choices are eclectic. If your blood sugar is dropping or the doggie bakery caused an itch that must be scratched, grab something at Boule Artisan Bakery, 880 W. Ann Arbor Trail. Breads fill the giant rack in the front window, while inside cookies, scones and pastries could fill any gaps left between bread bites.
Two neighboring stores reflect definite points-of-view. Maggie & Me, 926 W. Ann Arbor Trail, overflows with women's clothing and accessories. Colorful, funky, it's a boutique of long-standing for comfortable yet chic fashion that never stales.
Home Sweet Home, 825 W. Ann Arbor Trail, is another overflowing treasure chest – this time of gloriously over-the-top home goods and accessories in a Victorian mood. Vintage china, starched embroidered linens, velvety cushions, antique and new goods-in-the-mood fill the shop. Architectural artifacts are also on offer, all with a welcoming attitude. You might think this sounds like the kind of place that would make a manly man’s skin crawl but on the contrary, it seems to bring out the male nesting instinct.
As a matter of fact, we did have Italian food for dinner last night. And indeed it would have been rare to sample Italy’s national cuisine in Victorian times. But we're not living in Victorian times and two park-side restaurants offer superior contemporary Italian fare, so let’s go Italian again at one of two sister restaurants: Fiamma Grille and Compari’s on the Park, 380 and 350 S. Main Street.
Fiamma is an elegant steak and seafood spot with a great selection of appetizers served in a beautiful soaring dining room. Next door, the more casual Compari's menu is traditional with a twist. In fine weather, each has an outdoor café that surpasses the diesel dining cliché.
After dinner, visit the historic Penn Theatre across the square at 760 Penniman Avenue. The films are a mix of first-run hits and vintage cinema in an atmosphere that's far from the madding cineplex, a great way to find yourself in the dark. Afterwards, have a cocktail at 336 Main or the Box Bar, both on the square.
Need to discuss the movie over a brew. Saunter over to Box Bar, 777 W Ann Arbor Trail, and take advantage of their large international beer selection. You can compare how much Northville and Plymouth, with their postcard perfect downtowns, seem like Twin Peaks... without the peaks and creepy dancing dwarves, of course.
Bunk at the Hilton Garden Inn, 14600 Sheldon Road, and find deals on winter stays that include breakfast for four in the Great American Grille – adequate for fueling before an early afternoon browse of Lincoln artifacts at the Plymouth Historical Museum, 155 South Main Street, open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm.
The museum has its own noteworthy Lincoln collection and through November 2009, it's hosting "In the Presence of Lincoln" highlighting original furniture from Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois home, along with Lincoln ephemera on loan from U-M's William Clements Library.
Along with more local historical fare, the museum's permanent collection includes artifacts from Lincoln’s youth, Lincoln family genealogy and photos, handwritten documents and items related to his assassination.
Can the weekend be over all ready? Yep, it's time to leave small town life behind and readjust your attitude to the workaday world. Know that you can come back any time for a taste of village life with big city advantages. Cider in the fall, ice sculptures in the dead of winter, art year-round – it's all part of vintage village scenes in Northville and Plymouth.
Constance Crump is an Ann Arbor writer whose work has appeared in Crain's Detroit Business, The Ann Arbor News, The Detroit Free Press and Billboard Magazine. She is a regular contributor to Concentrate. Her previous article was Metro Detroit's Middle Management Shifts Gears
Mom and baby strolling
A couple walking through Kellogg Park
Three Dog Bakery baked goods
View of Penn Theatre from Kellogg Park
Unless noted, All photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.