leave your inhibitions at the door
This isn’t exactly a new restaurant nor is it the first time I’ve been there. But it’s a pretty cool place that really speaks well for the town. Plus, the pix have been sitting on my hard drive for a while and who am I to waste the few good pix I’ve actually taken…
Frita Batidos opened in 2011 and is the brainchild of Eve Aronoff. If you were watching Top Chef in 2009, you may have noticed her. That is, if you didn’t blink.
Those of you in Ann Arbor will remember her other place – eve the restaurant – that was nationally recognized for its use of fresh, local ingredients, and classic preparations. Her fans included such national luminaries as Alice Waters and Mario Batali. I ate there a few times and had mixed feelings about the place. I was definitely impressed with the quality of the food and service and her vision. However, having recently moved from Chicago I think I was a little spoiled as places like that were a dime a dozen. So in comparison it wasn’t particularly innovative and was pretty expensive for what you got. Apps, mains, desserts, and drinks for two easily approached the $175 mark for two people.
In 2011, her lease was up and she couldn’t agree on new terms with the landlord so she closed up shop. I’m not sure I completely buy that as the only reason, but I’m not going to quibble. Closing up the restaurant did allow her to pursue an idea that she had brewing for ten years – Cuban streetfood-inspired cuisine.
Everything in the place is white, with some grey accents. With the brick walls and sparse décor, it’s pretty open-spaced which can get pretty loud at times. Add to that, the tables are communal picnic tables which aren’t necessarily comfortable. Because of all those reasons, a lot of townies hate the space. Me – I love it. Mainly because it’s different. Even the beautifully decorated Kuroshio isn’t that far removed from many other places. This is so unlike anything else in town and if you’re going to do things differently foodwise, you should really look different, too.
Yes, they have alcoholic drinks. And I did have some tequila there late one night. But that’s all I really remember.
What I can accurately recall are the Batidos – Cuban tropical milkshakes made with different fruit and ice cream. These things are da frickin bomb – sooooo deliciously thick, creamy, full of flavor.
Other flavors include passion fruit, mocha, and cajeta. For a couple bucks, you can get a splash of rum in them.
So now to the Frita part of the name… Fritas are Cuban burgers made from beef and spicy chorizo, topped with shoestring fries on an egg bun. In addition to the beef and chorizo versions, Frita Batidos also offers chicken, fish, black bean, and breakfast and serves them on an airy brioche bun. Diners then have an option to get different toppings – fried eggs, avocado spread, cheese, etc. I usually get the beef with a fried egg and cilantro-lime salsa.
Another favorite is the “Inspired Cuban”, seen in the above picture. It has chipotle mayo, lemongrass roast pork, bacon, tasso ham, gruyere, and cornichons on Cuban bread. It’s absolutely bursting with flavor. You can either get it alone or as a 1/2 sandwich combo with a side of “The Best Snack Ever.” I don’t know about best, but it’s pretty good – layered coconut-ginger rice, black beans, muenster, and cilantro-lime salsa.
The Churros are so good that they needed a special shot-out in this review. Now, I’m not sure if there are any churros that I’ve encountered that I DIDN’T like, but these are in a class of their own. It’s fried and rolled in cinnamon and sugar like usual, but the dough has nutmeg and orange zest in it. They don’t come through too much in the flavor, but very strongly in the aroma. So between the different tastes, textures, citrus, nuttiness – all that – it’s more than just a donut.
Their really good on their own, but what pushes them into Shiznit land is when you order the Churros Espanol. That’s when they pair them with their Chocolate Espanol. It’s a super thick, rich hot chocolate that’s been infused with cinnamon. It’s a little thick to drink as hot chocolate although I’m sure I could manage. But when paired with the churros, I had to do a six-to-midnight. That good.
The churros are huge and you get three of them when you order with the chocolate. It’s really a meal in itself. Not a particularly healthy one, but a meal nonetheless.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of Frita Batidos. Just about everything on the menu is unique and unavailable anywhere else. More importantly, everything is executed really well. But it may not be for everyone because, as a dining experience, it’s kind of a tweener. On one hand, it’s too casual for an evening out or special. On the other hand, fritas and batidos for two easily get up past $30. Add to that any sides or cocktails, and that’s a pretty pricey lunch or snack. I’m not saying that the food isn’t worth every penny, it’s just that you’ll have to adjust your expectations a little.