leave your inhibitions at the door
Ann Arbor is a lot like Austin and Boulder – independent-minded, often granola-ish, college towns that relish in being different than the rest of the state. In fact, all three towns have bumper stickers that say “Keep (town) weird”. A2 residents love to support local businesses and fight so hard against “outsiders” and “chain stores”. But it’s an interesting paradox – in trying to keep A2 independent, the town is actually not at all progressive. The world is full of interesting new developments in culture, but we tend to only embrace the things that are mid-70s A2. Or at least it seems like it.
(I know I’m painting with a very wide brush. Not all residents are like that. But there are enough of them here to support stores/events straight out of 1973 – e.g. Birkenstock store, Food Co-op, and hippie bookstores. Need another example? Two words – Drum Circles)
Although I moved here 5 ½ years ago, I still consider myself somewhat of an A2 outsider. So I feel it’s my civic duty to provide a healthy dose of “OPEN YOUR FUCKING EYES” to the local population.
That means that I’m not going to drink the Kool-Aid and say Zingerman’s is the Master of the Universe just because they’re an A2 institution. They’re good, but methinks that the adoration here is a wee excessive. On the other hand, I’m not going to automatically discount a restaurant because it’s from Ann Arbor – like Chicagoans do with their pizza and New Yorkers with their delis. A2’s a big enough town with enough deep pockets to sustain a vibrant food scene; it just has to stop listening to Ann Arborites.
There’s a lot to love with A2 restaurants and just as much to hate. So let’s start my first dining post on a positive note. Last week we celebrated C’s something-something birthday. It wasn’t necessarily a milestone, but Boom Boom and friends organized something anyway. (My money is on their being tired of seeing my shirtless, chiseled physique at the pool.) So the plan was to go out, get some cocktails and a late dinner at 9pm. I know, I know, that’s when you wake-up in Ibiza, but we all have small kids.
These two places definitely rock. If you go, mention that you heard about them through my blog. You aren’t going to get shit for it. But, if enough of you say it, I might.
Dominick’s – 812 Monroe St
This place is something of an institution in Ann Arbor. Open only from April through October, it’s right on campus in what had to be an old house converted to a restaurant. There are some houses right next door, including the Delta Delta Delta sorority, where “H, wielder of the Black Box” was a sister. Because of its proximity to residences, it has to close at 10pm and they get you out of there at 9:59. Funny thing is, all the people who live around the place are college students, so I seriously doubt anyone would be bothered by a later closing. There’s indoor seating indoor, but you definitely want to get a table on one of the decks (front and back), or the beautiful back patio. 100% atmosphere.
One of the first times I was here, an aging hippie told me an interesting story about Dominick’s. The original Dominick’s was in Ypsilanti, A2’s funky next-door neighbour. Legend has it that one of the employees wanted to buy the place from the owner. The owner agreed, but with the stipulation that they change the name. New owner lops off the –ick and renames it “Domino’s”. That employee was Tom Monaghan, who eventually grew it to become one of the world’s largest pizza chains. Wikipedia confirms the name change and Ypsilanti origins, but doesn’t say if there’s a link to this one. Wikipedia is also silent about the existence of a hippie in A2, but you got me for that one, silly goose.
If you’re drinking, your choices are draft beers and sangria served in mason jars of various sizes instead of pitchers and glasses. The Sicilian and her husband started us off with Sangria and two excellent microbrews – Bell’s Oberon and Short’s Brewing’s Humalupalicious, a hop-laden IPA. Sangria is a Spanish creation made with cheap red wine, slices of fruit, sugar or honey, and the optional dose of brandy. Not sure if they use brandy, but they definitely go cheap on the wine. I’m told it’s none other than that staple of college (and hobo) drunkenness – MD 20/20, aka Mad Dog. Actually kinda tasty, but you can start to feel the hangover after a couple of sips. It was a little on the steep side – $70 for all three ½ gallon jars. Side note – one of the later jars of beer was completely skunked, but they gladly refilled it.
Since we were going to dinner, we just ordered a few apps to take the edge off – bruschetta, pesto dip, pizza bread, and a bowl full of olives. Not great, but not bad.
Even though the food was average at best, some of the beer skunked, and the sangria’s made (allegedly) from Mad Dog, the atmosphere MORE than makes up for it.
Sava’s – www.savasrestaurant.com
I threw Boom Boom’s milestone birthday party there a few months ago and we had mainly appetizers. The quality of the food was really good and I vowed to go back. Until now, we’d only gone there for brunch, which was topnotch and very reasonably priced – highly recommended.
To clarify, this is not that fool vegetarian place named Seva’s. This is in the former Zanzibar restaurant on State and is named after it’s young, easy on the eyes owner – Sava Lelcaj. She started a few years ago with a small sandwich and crepe shop across the street, but had to move when the building was taken over by CVS. Luckily for us, she was able to move to where Zanzibar was. I say “lucky” because it’s really good and because the old Zanzibar was a prime example of what is wrong with A2. It had its heyday back in the 90s and the menu was extremely tired. The décor was an abomination – cheesy African murals and cloths, bamboo bar, fake palm trees. Yet, A2 residents adored the place.
But on to nicer topics… Sava and crew took out the cheese and made it into a clean, tastefully decorated space. There’s a huge mezzanine level that hosts private parties (including Boom Boom’s) and a private dining room with a huge table that seats 20 (where we were for C’s). Unfortunately, I was pretty loaded by the time we got there so my food and wine descriptions are going to be , how shall we say, shitty. But I did take pictures – us Asians are known for that. If anyone there recalls what they ate better than I did, please comment.
I think we went through at least four bottles of Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc. Sorry, I can’t give you full tasting notes – the copious amounts of beer and Mad Dog made sure of that. But I do recall it being very good, especially at $32 a bottle – that’s on the cheap side for a restaurant. I also had one of my favorite beers – La Fin du Mond, a Belgian-style Trippel from Quebec.
They have a nice selection of signature cocktails as well, although I was a little bummed that the special drink we had for Boom Boom’s party – The Cougar – was not on the menu. The Sicilian had Sandia Sucia – fresh juiced watermelon, muddled mint, and Stoli. We’re definitely going to make those for the pool. Her hubby had a Ramon Gin Fiz – Tanqueray, egg white, lemon juice, orange blossom water, cream, soda. Sounds utterly disgusting but was really refreshing.
Despite the wide variety of menu items, I was in the mood for a burger. I opted for the Maize and Blue – a thick, juicy handmade patty topped with bleu cheese and fried egg, served on a light brioche bun. The name sucks, but the burger was fantastic.
Because it was a big table, I was able to mooch off others. Here are some of the other things we had:
- Mediterranean Trio – hummus, tabouli, tzaziki
- Sauteed calamari – a welcome break from deep-fried
- Coconut Shrimp with orange marmalade dip
- Rigatoni Bolognese – nice rich meat sauce
- Capellini Marlon – Saffron butter, lobster and shrimp. Very rich and at $16 a definite steal
- Smoked Chicken with Marsala reduction
- Sesame Tofu Salad – Boom Boom ordered this and it was blah. I guess that should’ve been expected… it’s tofu, for Rama’s sake.
- Crepe with apples for the birthday girl, but I think Boom Boom and yours truly got the best of it.
I love this place. The atmosphere and drink menu are solid and the service was very friendly and attentive. Is the food the best in A2? No, but it’s pretty damn good. What I can say with absolute certainty is that the value is tops. My burger was $7. The capellini was a mere $16. Both rivaled anything I’ve had at the “better” A2 restuarants at easily ½ the price. And, as I mentioned earlier, the breakfast is terrific. Go there.