(Ann Arbor Observer, July 2009)
You’ve got to hand it to Dixboro. It’s managed to hold on to its identity since 1824 despite being denied the trappings of officialdom—city hall, zip code, mayor. Captain Dix’s little borough is still a distinct character on the road from Plymouth to Ann Arbor, a place that says, “I’ve been here a long time and I’m not going to put up with any of your Wal-whatevers and golden arches.”
The Dixboro General Store, the Button Lady at Gibbons Antiques, the Lo rd Fox, the nineteenth-century church—they’ve long lent the hamlet its unique flavor. But these days, the relative newcomer Moonwinks Café seems to be literally and figuratively the heart of Dixboro. Owners Roberta and Andy Tankanow, mother and son, opened their lively coffee shop in October 2006 in a former saddlery converted into small shops and offices and called Dixboro Shops at the Green. With deep ochre and red walls, upholstered banquettes, well-padded armchairs and well-spaced tables replacing the tack and leather, the café attracts a steady flow of customers. They probably come for the mood more than the food. But the food’s not bad—it includes wholesome lunch and breakfast choices as well as decadent sweets. You order at the counter off a chalkboard menu. An army of mainly teenaged girls rolls up wraps, tosses salads, pulls espressos, and ladles soup.
This is more assembling than cooking—the combining of various goods, many from familiar local sources. The one major exception is the soups, most of which are made on-site. Those I tried could use some tweaking. My butternut squash soup had a velvety texture but was overly sweet. A better choice was the respectable, although somewhat oversalted, chicken noodle. I paired my soup with a crisp salad of greens and water-packed tuna, accompanied by a small cup of mustardy vinaigrette.
Eight varieties of bagels are delivered fresh from Elaine’s Bagels in Berkley. Various versions of quiche, including vegetarian and classic ham and cheese, come from Terry Bakery in Ypsilanti. A broccoli and cheese quiche was chockablock with vegetables but had very little classic quiche creaminess and almost no crust flavor or texture. A chicken Caesar wrap proved to be a tasty and right-sized lunch of tender white-meat chicken dressed with a lemony mix and bound up in flat bread.
Three of us split a monstrous piece of gooey chocolate–peanut butter cake for dessert. Moonwinks also offers lots of classic soda-fountain creations and drinks like frappes and milkshakes made with Ashby’s Sterling ice cream, made in Ludington. Coffee is reliable, since they use Zingerman’s roast.
Lunch is produced quickly, making it an ideal spot for people who work in nearby Plymouth Road offices. But I like Moonwinks even more in the morning. I don’t know if it’s the family connection of the owners, the absence of annoying background music, or the strong community ties—local artists’ work is shown in regularly changing displays, with Washtenaw County commissioner Barbara Bergman’s photos on view in June—but this is an uncommonly pleasant place to sit and read the paper or work on a laptop.
One June morning, I tanked up on a bacon-and-egg sandwich zipped up with spicy mayonnaise on a toasted everything bagel. I had a cup of Harney & Sons tea, a silk sachet of Earl Grey brewed in a deep ceramic mug. Thus fortified, I went to explore the trails at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, a two-minute drive from Moonwinks.
Visiting the gardens is like looking through a time periscope and seeing the region’s Ur landscape that was a magnet to natives and settlers, with gnarled oaks and swift streams still attracting raucous flocks. It’s home to innumerable wildlife—on one walk, after being trapped by a aggressive gander at the trailhead, I retreated to the bank of a nearby pond and watched a beaver swimming. Down-home Moonwinks Café fits right into this sweet countryside.
5151 Plymouth Rd.
Dixboro 994–5151 www.moonwinkscafe.com
Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Bagels and bagel sandwiches $1.25–$4.50, wraps $3.70–$6.95, salads $6.75, soups $3.50–$5.99, desserts $3.75–$4.75
Easily accessible for disabled