Detroit

434. Tou & Mai – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019TouandMai1 (4)Tou & Mai, satisfying my Thai iced tea cravings!

I visited Thailand in January of this year and became enchanted with one of its signature drinks, the Thai iced tea – a yummy concoction of black tea and sweetened condensed milk. I’d not had one of those delectable babies since being back in the states and had vowed all summer that I’d hunt one down here at home.

It took me until a Sunday afternoon in late September (LOL) to finally focus on this objective. At least I achieved it before summer was officially over – and at least the weather was sunny and summer-like, with a high temperature in the upper 80s.

My Thai iced tea break at Tou & Mai occurred after a browsing session of shops – including Hugh, Source Booksellers, and Nora – in the Midtown/Cass Corridor area of Detroit.

While I knew exactly what I wanted, I browsed the tea shop’s menu while waiting in line. Tou & Mai’s signature offering is boba tea (also known as bubble tea), tea drinks with chewy tapioca pearls and/or jellies added to them.

Tou & Mai’s drink menu is separated into categories: Flavoured Fruit Tea (fruity drinks with a green-tea base); Flavoured Milk Tea (dairy-infused black teas); Real Fruit Smoothie (drink blends including varieties such as Red Adzucki Bean and Creamy Avocado); Extra Special Treat (next-level goodies such as the Litchi Mohito mocktail and the Peaches & Cream slushie infused with vanilla ice cream); and Vietnamese Caffé Latté (which, like the Thai iced tea, incorporate condensed milk).

The Toppings section of Tou & Mai’s menu includes such intriguing drink add-ins as Kiwi Popping Boba, Mango Popping Boba, Coffee Jellie, and Flan Custard.

Tou & Mai isn’t simply a boba tea shop; it’s also what it refers to on its website as an “Asian Mini Mart,” offering grocery items from Southeast Asia such as candy, cookies, condiments, and noodles. It’s also a place that celebrates the owners’ Hmong heritage, selling embroidered, hand-crafted goods made by Hmong artisans.

The Hmong people comprise an ethnic group with its origins in Southeast Asia. I’d admittedly been ignorant of the Hmong’s existence until a few months ago, when I watched an episode of CNN’s United Shades of America featuring them and their story.

The Hmong were recruited by the U.S. government to aid America in the fighting of the Vietnam war. Post-war, many of them fled their homes in fear of persecution for being American allies, and some ended up in the U.S., including here in the Metro-D. According to Tou & Mai’s website, a small Hmong community still exists here today.

So Tou & Mai is much more than the place that quite deliciously satisfied my appetite for Thai iced tea on a sunny September Sunday: it’s a boba tea shop/grocer/celebrator of culture. And it’s definitely worth a visit!

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 102

Detroit, MI 48201

www.touandmai.com

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433. Hugh – September 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019Hugh1 (3)September2019Hugh2 (2)Hugh, in a nutshell, sells pretty things!

A more accurate assessment of the shop based in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood is that it sells items that are both aesthetically pleasing AND functional: well-designed home goods such as glassware, barware, candles, clocks, coffee-table books, and furniture, plus personal care items and accessories.

Hugh’s interior is a well-organized place, pleasing to browse. The woman working the store the Sunday afternoon I visited was welcoming, and while I didn’t end up buying anything, I was especially intrigued by the Chemex coffee makers, elegant glass vessels (which remind me of beakers with their middles cinched) used to make pour-over coffee. Now that I’ve read this post on Hugh’s blog about the history of these coffee makers, I’m feeling increasingly taken with them. Maybe it’s time for a revisit?

If you aren’t in the area, you can still shop for Hugh’s pretty-slash-purposeful wares via its website (which also shows more furniture available for sale than is on display in its brick-and-mortar store).

4240 Cass Ave, Ste. 107

Detroit, MI 48201

(Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

www.thankhugh.com

432. El Club – September 8, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019ElClub1 (2)September2019ElClub2 (4)September2019ElClub3 (2)September2019ElClub4 (3)El Club! The venue in Southwest Detroit is an all-ages club that hosts musical acts on a near nightly basis. It’s also where I saw Stef Chura and Ezra Furman perform on a Sunday night in September.

I’d been wanting to experience El Club since I read about it in Hour Detroit a year or two ago and was thrilled when I saw that one of my favorite contemporary musicians, Ezra Furman, was going to be performing there. I ordered tickets right away – and was even more psyched when I saw that closer to the show date, local artist Stef Chura and her band were added to the bill. I was familiar with her music and knew she would rock out!

I’m not familiar, in general, with the artists featured on El Club’s events calendar. I presume most of them are up-and-coming performers or those who appeal to more niche audiences. I’m admittedly not at all hip to the alt-music scene – though after my visit to El Club, I want to be!

The venue’s concert floor is relatively small, looking to accommodate no more than a couple hundred people – and that’s frankly part of its appeal. It’s what makes seeing a show at El Club exciting – you’re going to be right down there on the floor, in the action, a part of a live musical experience that is much more visceral, more alive, than being stuck up in the nosebleeds at some slickly produced yet lifeless stadium show.

The show I attended at El Club was billed as starting at 7 – but that ended up being when the doors opened for the night, which my friend and I discovered when we arrived at the club about 45 minutes early, the sole early birds in sight (LOL). Our early arrival did make parking simple; there’s a lot across the street from El Club where parking is free, so we parked there.

Killing time was easy, as beautiful Clark Park is only a few minutes’ walk away, and we sat on a hill there and watched people being led through square dances by a bluegrass band. It was a surprisingly moving experience, people of all ages and races coming together to joyfully perform these old-timey dance moves.

Back at El Club once the doors opened, I got a beer from the bar (which is a full bar serving beer, wine, and liquor), and my friend and I hung out on El Club’s picturesque patio with its garlands of lights and mural swirling with vibrant colors.

We were waiting not just for the show to start, but for the pizza to appear, because El Club serves slices of the pie. I was under the impression that El Club makes the pizza, but on that night, it arrived via outside delivery. Regardless, it was fresh and delicious.

Sometime after 8, we heard an explosion of music – the show was starting! Stef Chura and her band had boarded the stage; they played for about a half hour to 45 minutes, and they killed it!

Stef Chura’s voice mesmerized me; its got this alt-’90s vibe that I really dig, and I legit found myself thinking “I wanna be a cool rock star like her!” (Maybe in my next lifetime.)

After about a 20-minute break, Ezra Furman and his band hit the stage and also rocked out HARD. It was exciting to see a guy whose music I’ve admired for so long playing that music right in front of me. I actually found myself exclaiming a few times, “He looks the same as in his pictures!” (LOL – bless me with my obvious, fan-girling statement!)

As Ezra thanked us in the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night to support the arts, I felt a proclamation welling up inside of me: “I am going to CHANGE my life: I’m going to see live music more; I’m going to visit El Club all of the time!” I had drank the El Club Kool-Aid – and it felt good.

Flashing forward nearly a month: I haven’t been back to El Club since that night; I’ve let daily life with all of its routines and obligations pull me back into its orbit. But I’m still excited by the memory of my visit there and scan its newsletter every week, seeking the act that will make another magic moment out of my everyday life.

4114 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.elclubdetroit.com

429. El Taco Veloz – August 31, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019ElTacoVeloz1 (2)

August2019ElTacoVeloz2 (2)El Taco Veloz is, hands-down, the BEST visit of Blog Year Six of 100 Places in the D thus far.

I’m OBSESSED with this Detroit-based purveyor of Mexican cuisine after visiting it during Labor Day weekend. I’ve exclaimed over a lot of fantastic tacos on this blog, but I seriously think El Taco Veloz’s Al Pastor tacos are the BEST tacos I’ve ever eaten. They are PHENOMENAL!!!!

It’s hard to know how to categorize El Taco Veloz: is it a restaurant, or is it a food-truck-based business? The answer I’ve arrived at is that it’s both.

When you pull up to El Taco Veloz’s given location on Toledo Street in Southwest Detroit, you see a gated parking area. Mind the wholesale produce warehouse to the right of the lot and the semi-trucks rolling in and out of it, and look towards the rear, where you’ll see two food trucks parked. Those are the El Taco Veloz kitchens/ordering stations.

Behind the El Taco Veloz trucks is a building, which contains a dining area with tables where you can enjoy food ordered from the trucks.

From one of these food trucks, I ordered six Al Pastor tacos to go, which cost under $11 – an awesome deal, especially considering the supreme deliciousness of the tacos, which I was about to discover.

I’d ordered the Al Pastor tacos to share with my dad and brother, who I was on my way to visit. But I couldn’t resist eating my two tacos right away, while they were still super fresh (sorry, Dad and Bro!). So I hunkered down at a table in El Taco Veloz’s dining room to do just that.

Opening the foil-covered to-go container, I revealed the six steaming-hot, fresh-off-the-grill Al Pastor tacos. Grilled corn tortillas were loaded with marinated shredded pork topped with cilantro and diced raw onion and accompanied by sliced raw radishes, sautéed onion, a grilled jalapeño, a lime wedge, red salsa, and a creamy, spicy green sauce (alllll that goodness for under $11!).

The experience of biting into one of those Al Pastor tacos . . . the written word cannot do it justice. All I can say is, WOW!!!! The flavor explosion these babies are bringing is just exceptional. These are not only very probably the best tacos I’ve ever eaten – they may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, period!

Driving away from El Taco Veloz after consuming two of those magical Al Pastor tacos, I literally could not stop exclaiming to myself over how amazing they were. Every 30 or so seconds during the first several minutes of that drive, there’s me declaring “Those were SO good!” to no one but me, myself, and I. That’s how enchanting these El Taco Veloz wares are: they will make you talk out loud to yourself!

Worth noting: El Taco Veloz is a cash-only establishment (and SO worth that trip to the ATM!). AND it has a second location from which it peddles its glorious goodies: a counter inside Midtown-based convenience store Marcus Market.

6170 Toledo St.

Detroit, MI 48209

428. Nora – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019Nora1 (3)My trip to Nora was a visit-within-a-visit!

After purchasing a ticket at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August and finding myself a half-hour early for the movie I was there to see, I decided to make a quick jaunt to nearby Nora to check it out and kill some time before the show.

It took some brisk walking to and from the theater and the shop based in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit to make the visit happen, but: mission accomplished! I was able to browse Nora’s beautifully curated collection of books, home goods, beauty care, clothing, greeting cards, accessories, and other items.

A striking collection of conically-shaped taper candles in various sizes and colors caught my eye, and I opted to purchase a turquoise one in the smallest size. The woman working the shop that day (who I presume is the owner) was friendly and welcoming in her interactions with me, as she was when I returned several weeks later to select another of the candles to accompany the first one (which looked like it needed a friend to join it on its perch on my family room table).

So, the verdict is in: whether you only have a few minutes to spare or time for an expanded browsing session, Nora is worth a visit! It’s an ideal place to pick up a thoughtful gift or eye-catching item for your home.

4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 109

Detroit, MI 48201

www.noramodern.com

427. Cinema Detroit – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019CinemaDetroit1 (2)August2019CinemaDetroit2 (3)August2019CinemaDetroit3 (3)Cinema Detroit is doing the good work, bringing interesting movies to the Metro-Detroit masses!

The independently-run, non-profit movie theater based in the Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit occasionally screens films that the corporate theater chains show (it ran BlacKkKlansman when it came out last year, for instance). But most of the movies Cinema Detroit features have a smaller reach – think indie films, documentaries, cult classics. Cinema Detroit curates its films with care, favoring those that are thoughtful or artful or have an impactful message rather than those that net mega dollars.

Take the movie I saw at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August, The Farewell, a comedic drama about a Chinese family’s decision to hide its matriarch’s cancer diagnosis from her. The movie got some mainstream attention – likely in part because it starred Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians fame – but it’s no flashy superhero-packed blockbuster. It’s in parts funny and heartwarming, but it’s also quite dark at times, and it poses an important moral question: is it wrong to hide from a loved one that she’s dying? Or is it a kindness, a shouldering of the burden so that she doesn’t have to? The Farewell is a thinker of a film.

Cinema Detroit specializes in such films. The other movie playing that day was a documentary on Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which I’m kind of kicking myself for not returning and seeing because she’s one of my favorite authors. (Her writing is so beautiful, and her fictional characters are so wonderfully strange! That’s my Toni tangent of the post.)

The movie theater is housed in a brick building with its own gated parking area and a beautiful mural emblazoned on its side, featuring flowers and a quote by Detroit-born poet Robert Hayden: “Undiscovered suns release their light.”

Entering it, I immediately took a liking to it. Cinema Detroit definitely emits indie-theater vibes with its lobby with its homey mish-mash of sofas and stuffed chairs and its combination ticket/concessions counter, where admission (reasonably priced at $9) is sold alongside popcorn and Faygo pop and candy.

Within Cinema Detroit, there are two viewing rooms: the main theater, which appears to be – from the photos I see on Yelp; I didn’t see it in person – a traditionally laid-out theater with cushy red chairs; and the screening room, which is where I viewed The Farewell. That room (captured in the third photo shown above) is a more intimate setting, a small space with a collection of couches and chairs that could seat about 12 to 15 people, depending on how cozy you want to get.

There were eight or nine of us in the screening room viewing The Farewell that afternoon, and from my chair in the back row, I had plenty of room, as I only shared that row with one other person. But if you want to make sure you get your preferred spot to view a movie in the screening room at Cinema Detroit, it wouldn’t hurt to show up early.

I left Cinema Detroit that night jazzed up by the experience I had there. Arts and culture, for me, make life more vibrant and compelling, and it’s exciting for me to have discovered another way I can experience them. Thanks, Cinema Detroit, for doing the good work!

4126 3rd St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.cinemadetroit.org

426. La Pecora Nera – August 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019LaPecoraNera1 (3)August2019LaPecoraNera2 (2)Ravenous hunger brought me to La Pecora Nera on a Thursday afternoon in August. With its hefty, hearty sandwiches, the downtown-Detroit-based deli is an ideal place to satisfy such hunger.

After over-caffeinating myself at Madcap Coffee (SO worth it, BTW), I hit that phase of the coffee-drinking experience where my temporarily-distracted appetite suddenly whooshed into awareness, craving ALL the things.

After scanning La Pecora Nera’s menu, that craving narrowed down to a hankering for its Reuben Italiano sub, which I enjoyed on the deli’s pretty, street-facing covered patio. It was delicious, packed full of flavor with its corned beef, cabbage slaw, pickles, mozzarella, and house-made Thousand Island dressing. I devoured it – and it, in turn, devoured my hunger.

La Pecora Nera’s menu features much more than that Reuben Italiano. It also offers a variety of other subs, such as the Italian Meatball with its crispy fried onions and  homemade marinara and the P.L.T., a luxe B.L.T. with pancetta replacing bacon and herb-and-garlic aioli dethroning garden-variety mayo; entrée salads; morning-centric items (breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, hash browns, muffins – available in the a.m. only); coffee and espresso drinks; and gelato (because satisfying one’s sweet tooth is never sweeter than after you’ve enjoyed a whole lot of savory!).

1514 Washington Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48226

(Closed Sundays)

www.lapecoraneradetroit.com

425. Madcap Coffee – August 22, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019Madcap1 (3)August2019Madcap2 (2)Madcap Coffee – what a delight it is to recount my visit last month to this coffee shop in Detroit. It’s also making me crave their coffee something fierce!

Coffee shops, with their ability to make me feel as if I stepping away from the oft-chaotic world into one of tranquility and divine caffeination, have long enchanted me. So it’s always a treat to visit a new one, especially when the shop is independently owned (because we heart indie and Michigan-owned establishments here on 100 Places in the D!) and as fantastic as Madcap Coffee is.

Us Metro-Detroiters are fortunate that the Grand Rapids-based coffee chain recently opened a location in downtown Detroit, because Madcap Coffee brews some good coffee. The cappuccino and nitro cold-brew coffee I enjoyed there were excellent.

Stepping inside Madcap’s sleek, stark interior, I’ll admit that I mentally prepared to be met with pretension. Instead, I was greeted with warm friendliness by a barista and received some of the best customer service there that I have in recent times. Silly me, pre-judging a place based off of its décor!

Madcap continued to wow me with its coffee. Its cappuccino was rich, creamy, and flavorful.

Being a lightweight, I could have stopped right there, having achieved my caffeine quota for the day with that cappuccino, but I couldn’t leave Madcap without also sampling the nitro cold-brew coffee, which I had spied whilst waiting for the cappuccino and which intrigued me – because, nitro cold brew?! It tastes as amazing as it sounds, luxuriously rich and creamy; it goes down easy.

I visited Madcap for a few hours, first while perched at a counter seat inside, then at one of the outside tables scattered before its storefront, where I basked in the sun while sipping my nitro cold brew and tapping away at my computer.

Not only does Madcap have interior and exterior seating, it also has interior and exterior ordering counters. The front of the shop opens up to make it open-air, and people can walk over to the counter there and order off of the street rather than entering the shop. Presumably, this part of the coffee house will be closed during the cold-weather months, but in the meantime, it’s a cool feature.

I left Madcap Coffee with a bounce in my step, invigorated by new-place vibes and caffeine pulsing through my veins, happy to have discovered another coffee-house haven.

1413 Farmer St.

Detroit, MI 48226

www.madcapcoffee.com

424. Lafayette Coney Island – August 18, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019LafayetteConeyIsland1 (2)August2019LafayetteConeyIsland2 (2)My chronicling of my rendition of the Detroit Coney Challenge continues with my visit to Lafayette Coney Island, American Coney Island‘s neighbor and competitor in this gastronomical rumble.

Researching online in the writing of this post, I discovered that Lafayette Coney Island was opened in 1936 by Bill Keros in response to a rift with his brother, Gust Keros. The brothers had opened American Coney Island together, but after their falling out, Gust maintained ownership of the restaurant while Bill went off on his own – just next door (awkward!). So the Lafayette vs. American rivalry has its origins in a family rivalry.

Lafayette doesn’t look like it’s changed much since its 1930s inception. Its long, narrow interior with its mint-green walls accented with white tiling and shiny metal shelving emanates Depression-era vibes. Framed photos of notables who’ve noshed on Lafayette’s wares crowd the walls and are a reminder of the decades that have passed in the restaurant’s 80-year existence.

Lafayette’s menu is even more abbreviated than American’s (which is pretty spartan itself). It essentially focuses on its pièces de résistance: its chili and the Coney dog, loose Coney burger, and French fries it tops. A few other food items are offered, such as potato chips, pie, and donuts. And like American, Lafayette Coney Island serves beer.

When my friends and I took a seat at one of Lafayette’s long tables, we were promptly greeted by a server, and our orders were taken. Our food was brought out shortly thereafter.

As I mentioned in my post on American Coney Island, I don’t like hot dogs, so I modified the Coney Challenge to suit my tastes, subbing Lafayette’s loose Coney burger (called a Loose Hamburger on its menu; it’s basically a Coney dog with ground beef replacing the hot dog) for the Coney dog. My friends ordered Coney dogs, and, as we did at American, we got an order of chili fries to share.

Our food appeared quickly, and I dug in with surprising gusto considering I’d consumed the same meal just 15 minutes prior.

My appetite was not disappointed. Lafayette’s Loose Hamburger was AMAZING! Its chili was richly flavored and reminded me of National Coney Island’s chili, which I grew up on and love. It formed a powerful flavor combination with the spicy ground beef, savory mustard, and generous heaping of diced raw onion. The fries were tasty, too, slathered as they were with that luxurious chili.

After finishing my meal, it was time for the verdict. Which Coney Island restaurant won out for me: American or Lafayette? I compared both experiences:

-I found American’s vibrant red, white, and blue interior more striking than Lafayette’s, and I preferred their fries over their neighbor’s.

-BUT, I favored Lafayette’s chili over American’s. I found it to be notably more nuanced in flavor.

The deliberations done, my verdict was in: in my personal Coney Challenge, Lafayette Coney Island takes the prize as being the premier Coney Island institution in Detroit. YAY, Lafayette!!! Thanks for doing your thing so well and for serving Metro-Detroiters the Coney goodness for over 80 years!

And thank you, American, for doing your thing, too; you are definitely awesome yourself! 🙂

118 W. Lafayette Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48226

423. American Coney Island – August 18, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019AmericanLafayetteConeyIslands1 (3)August2019AmericanConeyIsland1 (2)August2019AmericanConeyIsland2 (3)“American or Lafayette?” is an age-old question in the city of Detroit. We love our Coney Island restaurants here, and American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are two of the city’s oldest.

Until last month, I’d never eaten at either American or Lafayette Coney Island. I grew up on National Coney Island, feasting on its loose Coney burger, chili-cheese fries, lemon-rice soup, and Sanders Hot Fudge cream-puff sundae (a revelation!) through my childhood and teen years. But I’d never visited either of the iconic Coney restaurants perched next to each other on Lafayette Boulevard downtown until a Sunday afternoon in mid-August, when some friends and I initiated our own Coney Challenge.

I’m not sure if there are any official/generally agreed-upon rules to the Coney Challenge, the practice of engaging in back-to-back meals at American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island to decide which establishment’s Coney hot dog one prefers. I know this is what me and my friends did: we started our taste-testing at American.

Stepping into American Coney Island on that Sunday afternoon, I took in the dining room crowded with patrons. I immediately dug the aesthetics of the place. American Coney Island’s ambiance is, true to its name, characterized by the patriotic colors of red, white, and blue. There’s a retro feel to the place – not shocking considering American Coney Island is over 100 years old (it’s been in operation since 1917). Still, the black-and-white checkered floor, kitschy swag on the walls, and paper caps worn by the staff definitely harken back to another era, one where diners reigned supreme.

One thing that surprised me at American Coney Island was the size of its menu. Compared with the ample menus of other popular local Coney Island chains such as National and Leo’s Coney Island, American’s menu is pretty abbreviated. There’s the Coney dog plus fries (plain or topped with chili or cheese or both); a loose Coney burger; Greek salad and gyro and spinach pie (Coney Island staples!). There’s soup and a few desserts and a couple of other things, but American Coney Island appears to be sticking with what it sees as the essentials.

I was also surprised to see a bar counter toward the back of the American Coney Island dining room and to find out that it serves beer. I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, as I’ve always known National Coney Island to serve beer and wine – so why shouldn’t alcoholic beverages be a part of American Coney Island’s formula? It was cool to see Michigan-brewed craft beers being served alongside the iconic Coney dog.

Speaking of that Coney dog: it’s time for full disclosure around my part in the Coney Challenge. I didn’t eat a Coney dog at either American or Lafayette Coney Island, because I don’t like hot dogs. So at each place, I ordered instead my childhood-classic alternative to the Coney dog, the loose Coney burger (called Coney Loose Burger at American), which consists of spiced ground beef served in a hot dog bun and topped with chili, diced raw onions, and mustard. It’s essentially a Coney dog with ground beef subbed for the hot dog – and it’s DELICIOUS!

So at American Coney Island, I put in my order for my Coney Loose Burger; my friends put in their orders for their Coney dogs; and we got an order of chili fries to share. The food came out in a matter of minutes, in true Coney Island fashion.

The food was hot and fresh. I enjoyed the Coney Loose Burger with its rich chili, spicy beef, fresh raw onion, and zesty mustard. The fries were especially tasty: crisp on the outside yet soft on the inside, with that chili goodness slathered on them. MMMMM!

In my opinion, the meal at American Coney Island was a success. The ambiance was awesome; the service was fast; the food was delicious; and the bill was cheap (I am ALLLL about those Coney Island prices! Man, is it affordable at both American and Lafayette!).

To find out which restaurant won in my own personal Coney Challenge, look out for my next post, in which I’ll highlight American Coney Island’s neighbor, Lafayette Coney Island – and crown a champion!

114 W. Lafayette Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48226

www.americanconeyisland.com/home.htm