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Rubin: Fresh thinking at a zoo and a bakery

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

You do not have to dress like an animal before you pedal a bike through the Battle Creek zoo and drink beer, but if you want to befuddle the residents, it might help.

Last year, says Binder Park Zoo’s Kari Parker, “people got a little wild with their costumes” at the event known as the Tour de Zoo.

That’s a fine thing, but you have to wonder if the real giraffes took notice when a fellow rode past on a long-necked bike decorated to look like them. And did the alligator snapping turtles nip at the masked quartet dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Binder Park Zoo, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, sits on 433 acres of scenic forest, swamp and prairie. It has a train, a tram, a merry-go-round, and a highly active institutional imagination.

The creativity is a necessity when you’re one of only four accredited zoos in the United States that doesn’t receive any tax dollars.

Come Oct. 15, for instance, Binder Park will host its seventh annual Bonteboktoberfest, cleverly combining an Oktoberfest celebration with an appreciation of the spiral-horned African antelope known as a bontebok.

As for the Tour, it made its zoo debut last year, and nearly 300 people showed up to ride, gape, listen to music and stop at hydration stations for samples from the New Belgium Brewing Company, maker of the appropriately labeled Fat Tire.

Tour de Zoo Two rolls out from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, and it seems worth mentioning even if the zoo and the ride are a bit of a hike from Detroit — 120.3 miles from the Detroit Zoo, to be precise.

At $30 per person, it’s open to all ages, though the ride includes hills, tight turns and a variety of surfaces. Check for registration and information.

“It’s not every day you get to ride your bike through the zoo,” Parker notes, and it’s not every zoo that relies entirely on admissions, fundraising and grants to keep the doors open and the sloths sustained.

That is not, for the record, a jab at the Detroit Zoo, which collects about a third of its $35 million annual budget from a tri-county millage.

The Detroit Zoo has more than 2,500 animals from 270-plus species, in contrast to Binder Park’s 600 and 140, and sees nearly 1.48 million visitors per year in contrast to 230,000.

Binder Park’s budget is only $4 million and it conducts fewer programs, so any comparison would be apples to aardvarks. Or, beer drinkers to bontebok — though that might actually be closer.

Unlike other antelopes, bontebok are not talented leapers. But they’re good at crawling under things, and we’ve all had nights like that.

More inspiration — this time, the sweet kind

As previously noted, creativity is good. So is cheesecake, which brings us to Patrick Peteet.

Peteet, 45, owns Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes, which began in Oak Park six years ago and expanded to West Bloomfield in 2014.

All of his cheesecakes are baked twice. Since I’ve never even baked one once, I can’t tell you how creative that is, but I can tell you they’re excellent.

On the demonstrably creative side, he sells heart-shaped cheesecakes for Valentine’s Day and invented cheesecake paczki for Fat Tuesday.

Recently, he started churning out cheesecake banana pudding — 200 pounds of it every Saturday, says the counter clerk at the West Bloomfield store on Orchard Lake Road at Maple, “and you’d better get here early.”

A few days ago, the counter clerk dreamed about a Creamscicle-flavored cupcake. Since she’s Patrick’s mother, she called and described it to him.

“The next day,” says Marcia Peteet, “he said, ‘Come get it.’”

Patrick’s latest inspiration is Stage-Deli-meets-“The-Godfather”: cheesecake cannoli.

“My brother brought over six last night,” Marcia says. “Don’t you know I ate four right away?”

They’ll be available in the shops soon, she says, possibly this week; call (248) 325-9244 or (248) 545-2253 to check.

He’s made them in apple and chocolate chip so far, and he’s working on peach, pineapple and raspberry.

Don Corleone probably wouldn’t recognize them, but who ever called him creative?

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn