Ann Arbor, Michigan, has become a major food zone, so when I was invited to visit as part of a media group, I was gung-ho.
Then, a few days before the tour, I ate something bad. I'm not sure if it was food poisoning or what, but my belly was enraged. Hoping it would quickly pass, I went on the trip anyway.
It didn't quickly pass.
During the first night in Ann Arbor, eating at Logan, an excellent restaurant, I realized I should really not be eating anything. I should have let my tummy settle down before challenging it with food…but the food at Logan was so good, I couldn't resist.
And so, the next day, I avoided eating any solid food whatsoever.
What made this abstinence especially difficult was that on that day, we visited both Zingerman's Deli, one of the most magnificent food emporia in North America, as well as Zingerman's Roadhouse, which served what appeared to be wonderful BBQ prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef, Alex Young.
Zingerman's had been on my mind for years. It's not only an incredible delicatessen, but an incredible business system that also encompasses a bakery, candy store, creamery, coffee operation and farm. In the delicatessen, all I could do was gaze in unrequited desire at the huge offering of charcuterie and cheese.
When the man at the meat counter held up an unctuous slice of corned beef and asked, "Want some?" I had to confess that at that moment, I wanted nothing more in the world – but I couldn't stomach it.
Zingerman's Roadhouse is a BBQ-based restaurant that has been experiencing remarkable popularity since it opened. Chef Young served us what looked like very tasty mac n' cheese, griddled to caramelize all the cheesy nubs; spare ribs, BBQ beef and pulled pork, with grits and greens. He also served what one guy told me was "The best fried chicken I ever ate." It looked wonderful; it smelled wonderful; I couldn't eat any.
With an empty, and still angry, stomach, I went to visit The Brinery, an Ann Arbor-based operation that specializes in fermented local vegetables, like cabbage, carrots and ramps. I explained my sad stomach to owner/Chief Fermentation Officer David Klingenberger, who opined that perhaps a few spoons of his probiotic-packed fermented vegetables might help. "I can't guarantee it," cautioned Klingenberger, but I had nothing to lose, and Klingenberger added that it "just might give you super powers."
"No pathogenic bacteria can exist in a fermented vegetable," Klingenberger said hopefully, and with the usual wild look in his eyes. That was enough for me. Maybe I was hypnotized.
I downed some kimchee, two kinds of sauerkraut, and some pickled dailkon radish. I felt better almost immediately. Now, I'm guessing the power of suggestion was in play here, but I felt good enough to eat some actual food again, which I did, with no apparent exacerbation of my condition.
Did the improvement last? No, not really, but then again, I didn't have any more pickled vegetables to eat. Wish I did. As it was, despite a momentary uptick, I was ill at stomach for another week.
I would very much like to believe that eating fermented vegetables might aid a sick gut. It's so counter-intuitive: eating something sour on a sour stomach. More research is required, which won't be hard.
At lunch in Milwaukee last weekend with two young nieces/nurses-in-training, I was told that sauerkraut is a recommended cure for dogs who have a bad belly. All's I can say is, it worked for me, if only momentarily.
The Brinery's pickled items are available at some Chicagoland Whole Foods stores, the magnificent Publican Quality Meats and a few other well-curated food retail outlets.