Kalamazoo. Who would’ve thought it’s actually a real place? I’m sure every Michigan native who’s reading this right now thinks I’m crazy/naïve/bad at geography (and at least a couple of those are probably true), but for most of my life, Kalamazoo was always one of those funny words that people used to describe an imaginary place. In fact, a lot of people I’ve talked to recently (Michiganders excluded, of course) responded essentially the same way when I told them about my recent excursion: “I always thought that was made-up.”
Well, it’s definitely not made-up. And that’s good news, because the real Kalamazoo is actually pretty cool. A mish-mosh of historic neighborhoods, city life, and repurposed spaces, this city is a hub where old meets new. In fact, the very first stop my husband and I made when we took an afternoon trip to K-zoo was the Vine Neighborhood, a conglomeration of lovely, old homes and popular, new eateries. Destination of choice? An awesome restaurant called Crow’s Nest.
While my husband and I were new to Crow’s Nest, it was obvious that the rest of Kalamazoo was plenty-familiar with the establishment. Upon arrival, the line for a table started at the top of a two-story building, ran down a tall staircase, and out the front door to the sidewalk. Thinking there was no way we’d ever get a table, my husband and I started talking to a couple of girls who stood in front of us. They both had only good things to say: “It’s our go-to place . . . totally worth it.” Luckily, my husband and I took their advice as cues to stay, and within ten minutes or so, we were whisked past a couple of larger parties to our very own table (being a party of two sometimes has its advantages).
Upstairs, the dining room was charming and comfortable—exposed brick walls, old hardwood floors with just the right amount of stains and scuff marks, and white-trimmed windows with brightly-colored curtains. After taking in the utter cuteness of it all, I immersed myself in choosing an option off the amazing breakfast menu (seriously, how can you decide when everything sounds so good?). I finally decided on the Schooner, an egg scramble filled with lots of goodies like prosciutto, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers. Meanwhile, my husband ordered a meat-filled, gravy-topped omelet known as the Agriculturalist, and we rounded off the smorgasbord with a plate of banana bread French toast.
Oh, my goodness. Everyone: GO TO CROW’S NEST AND ORDER SOMETHING RIGHT NOW. No one was kidding when they explained to me how good this place was. Sure, we all have our favorite restaurants, but Crow’s Nest is one of those that sticks in your memory as having truly exceptional food. No wonder there was a line to get in—I mean, hello—who else makes French toast out of a hunk of banana bread and serves it up warm with walnuts and a caramelized glaze? If you know of another place, let me know. I’d love to be friends with them, as well.
Boxing up our leftovers, we embarked on a drive to Air Zoo, located just outside the city in Portage. Lured in by the prospect of a hot air balloon festival, outdoor car show, and a museum filled with airplanes, my husband needed no convincing when it came to joining me on this excursion. It was the promise of a real-life SR-71 Blackbird that really reeled him in, however, and after we spent a little time looking at classic cars, the discussion changed and I got an earful of reasons why this aircraft was so cool. It was kind of like listening to a little boy babble about Power Rangers or whatever kids actually like these days (I really don’t know the answer to this one).
Lucky for him (us?), there was one of those gigantic SR-71 wonders nestled inside the building, along with a wonderland of other flying machines. World War II fighters, spacecraft replicas, even a piece of real-life moon rock—it was an aviation/aerospace lover’s heaven. In addition to an up-close-and-personal plane museum, Air Zoo also featured carnival-like rides for kids, a 4D theater with movies that put you in the seats of World War II pilots and NASA astronauts, and several flight simulators. While we didn’t spring the extra $6.50-each for unlimited rides, I kind of wish we had now just to try my hand at flying an aircraft. Ah, well. Maybe I’ll play pilot next time around.
Afterwards, we made our way back into the city for a closer look at downtown and a little souvenir shopping. We stopped by a shop called The Spirit of Kalamazoo, a fun place that sells ice cream and college apparel. Finding a photo of a button I loved (“Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo”), I asked the store clerks if they had any more in stock. Unfortunately, they were temporarily out, but were kind enough to call another store a few blocks down to see if they carried any. The second store did, so I was sent off in search of Nature Connection, another lovely business within walking distance. Not only did this shop have the button I was looking for, they also carried scads of Michigan souvenirs and locally-made products. Gathering a few gifts for family members, I made it out of the store with Christmas ornaments, stationery, and local honey, to name a few items. What I really had my eye on, though, was a beautiful, Michigan-shaped, wooden cutting board. I didn’t snatch it up that day, but it’s on my Christmas list.
Any Kalamazoo lovers out there? Which sites would you suggest I visit the next time I’m in town?
– By Jennifer Bowman, Contributing Writer