Restaurant reviews and food news from Ann Arbor Observer reviewers M.B. Lewis and Lee Lawrence, and assorted opinionated Ann Arborites.Saturday, February 16, 2013
So, it's the week after Valentine's Day in Ann Arbor and you're watching big Charlie Brown snowflakes fall outside and thinking of heading out to see who has chocolate heart boxes on clearance. At least that's what I'M thinking....
I'm thinking it while warming my hands on a mugful of one our great local indulgences: Sweet Gem's Spiced Hot Chocolate (from the confectionary tucked away in the corner of Morgan & York on Packard). I bought a cute tin ($10) of it in fall and am now down to the last of the 8 ounces. Pretty good self-control, I'd say, since it's a perfectly addictive blend of 70% dark chocolate powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. MMMmmm. It's not the only Mexican-inspired hot chocolate in town, but it's one of the few I know that you can buy powdered as opposed to by the cupful.
If I do venture out this aft to shop, maybe I'll include a stop at Arbor Farms or Busch's or 10,000 Villages, all of which offer decent coffee w/ real cream free to sip while you shop. I'll need that warmup after cleaning 2 inches of snow off the car.
Enough groaning and moaning! I actually like snow, and I like believing it may possibly mean global warming isn't as bad as we feared.... But it is mid-February in Michigan, and we have to summon some strength to get thru several more cold dark weeks before the first forsythia bust into bloom.
I offered some other winter indulgence ideas in the January Observer's "Baker's Dozen" article: http://arborweb.com/articles/the_baker_s_dozen_full_article.html
What do you have to add??
posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 3:48 p.m. | 0 comments
Thanksgiving dinner was an tradition-busting event for my family this year. Instead of cleaning house for days, grocery shopping in a frenzy suited to black Friday, and more exhausting tasks to feed family by the dozen, we got invited by fairy godparent grandparents out to Weber's. If you are NOT among the more than 3,200 locals who visit this Ann Arbor landmark for its busiest day of the year--tally courtesy of VP for food and beverage operations Michael Weber--perhaps you will be interested in this short account of the experience.
I was nervous in the early going. We made our reservation in time for the family-style tables packed into the very noisy downstairs ballroom (they had to start saying no a week before the holiday, VP Weber told me), and we waited a half-hour to be seated. One family member had missed the memo that we wouldn't be ordering off the menu (that only happens upstairs). Water, wine, etc. were slow to arrive, and we never got the right number of dinner plates, so I used a salad bar mini-plate available for the grabbing. The knife to cut the turkey tableside could have been sharper, especially since the bird was a little dry and inclined to shred.
On the other hand, the side dishes were excellent: bright al dente steamed green beans, fine cornbread stuffing, rich mashed potatoes, and totally acceptable poultry gravy. Bowls of sides were replenished as we finished them and asked for more, which happened a lot. Coffee and pumpkin pie came when we wanted it (and thanks for having creamers on the table ahead of time, Mr. Weber) And we got to bring the turkey carcasses home for soup and pickins--the best! I considered it all a good value for $21 per person. My patrons tipped above the 18 percent gratuity.
"We've learned a lot since our first Thanksgiving, when we only served 200 and it wasn't as smooth as it is now that we serve thousands," VP Weber told me. He's clearly devoted to and proud of the Ann Arbor business his grandparents founded 75 years ago.
You won't be able to take advantage of this info on Christmas Day, since Weber's closes then. But New Year's reservations are still available, and brunch on Mother's Day and Easter are also big productions, VP Weber said. And with only 2000 served on those days, you might have a bit more space to maneuver at your seat.
posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 2:19 p.m. | 0 comments
Paul Saginaw stops painting outside the new part of Zingerman's Delicatessan, leaving the rich burgundy paint spread about two-thirds of the way across the wooden front door.
He's about to show off a bigger spread: the Deli's new "Annex," budgeted at $6.7 million, is opening soon. The 10,400 square foot addition sits behind the original deli on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley, and will take over as the place where Zingerman's famous sandwiches are made.
On Saturday October 20, the Annex looked nearly complete, painted in mossy greens and pumpkin pie and fall tones, a palate chosen by Saginaw's wife, Lori. Signs for Thanksgiving and holiday foods already hung near four check-out stations, double the number in the current deli. Staffers will take orders on iPads. "We've been working on it for a year," Saginaw said, though two men who were tinkering with some Apple tablets and other tools noted that they started programming them in July.
The kitchen is huge, gleaming--and about 10 times as big as the original next door. And there's another one in the basement, which Saginaw said will be used mostly for catering, along with a huge walk-in cooler and an electrical panel that looks like it could power a Google office. So far, Zingerman's staff has used the new kitchens mainly for prep work, carrying trays of sliced tomatoes and peppers over to the original building. They're operating under a 90-day temporary certificate of occupancy.
Nancy Rucker, Zingerman's facilities manager, has called it "the sandwich line of our dreams."
"We have no real opening date," Saginaw said, because of all the last minute inspections, details and equipment deliveries. But he hoped it might be as early as Monday, Oct. 29, after a week of "test-run" orders from family and friends.
Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig founded Zingerman's 30 years ago, and have created a "family of companies" that make and sell candies, cheeses, cookies and bagels, business training and books.
But the Deli is the heart of the enterprises, the mecca where people line up before U-M football games and to celebrate birthdays and out-of-town visitors. The original building dates back to 1902, when it was Disderide's Grocery. The deli expanded before--in 1985, when a pie shaped wedge was added on for the sandwich line and 1991, when the Next Door coffee and dessert shop opened. (see http://www.zingermansdeli.com/deli-history-timeline )
Its new building has concrete stairs and floors and three dining areas. The small one downstairs has with two garage doors that can be opened during nicer weather; a very large long one upstairs; and a wooden planked balcony eating area that overlooks Detroit Street.
The original deli building will revert to its origins as a grocery, now selling fancy foods from around the world. While the cheeses, olive oils and other delicacies will stay, the salad and drink cases will move to the new space.
One part that won't be completed by opening is the atrium that connects the original deli to the annex. The work requires some excavation and that will be finished by early next year, Saginaw said.
Asked about the biggest surprise during the expansion, Saginaw answered "It took a long, long time."
The paint colors--which, he noted, were purchased at Anderson's-- are called Winding Vines, Strawberry Fields, and Carmel Latte. The front door was painted a dark red, Saginaw noted, so staff could tell customers to "go to the red door" for a delivery pickup.
So why is he wielding a paintbrush? "I'm trying to keep it within budget," he said.
Photo by Mark Loeb
posted by John Hilton at 11:18 a.m. | 0 comments
Even if you are the most cosmopolitan citizen of the world, just now circling around back to Ann Arbor from coasts afar, headed into the school year with nary a molecule of Michigan soil under your fingernails, I hereby make the case that you are more and better of what you are because of the glorious agricultural bounty of the Great Lakes State.
Hear me out:
Have you ever, anywhere, had sweeter, more sumptuous PEACHES than are being offered fresh-picked at our local farm markets this month? Give them a day or two on your kitchen countertop to ripen to Caravaggio-level decadence, then slice them into a bowl and get happy digging into their heavenly sweetness. If you're craving more complex flavor, spike them with thin slivers of mint leaves (for brightness), or even thinner slivers of jalapeno pepper (for attitude, a la Zingerman's Deli case, where I first sampled this combo). Priceless...
Now let's talk quanitity along wi/ the quality: I am the last person who will downplay the gravity of this year's drought and every year's increasingly tragic toll from extreme weather and climate change. (Turn your air conditioner off already! Forget your car and walk somewhere already! But I digress....) After a couple months of tortured-looking greens, corn, and apples at the markets, the situation has improved. We've had a little rain. And in the words of an older grower I talked to Saturday morning, "Everything is rebouding, catching up for lost time." Blueberries have been literally falling off their bushes, raspberries are plentiful and even priced lower than in recent years, and basil is bolting like a weed.... Many local restaurants put great effort into getting this wonderful produce into their kitchens and featured in their menu offerings, giving you yet another avenue to enjoyment.
Finally, and the point I wanted to get to: A good time to celebrate Michigan's bounty is the evening of Sept. 8. The place is the Farmer's Market at Kerrytown, and the event is the annual HOMEGROWN FESTIVAL. Groove to local tunes as you sample local brews, ingenuity, and fruits of the earth. Come out already! Details: http://homegrownfestival.org/.
posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 8:00 a.m. | 0 comments
Cross-posted from 42 degrees north
It's my very first Thrifty Thursday post! These weekly installments will feature recipes with ingredients that are cheap and common pantry staples!
Stuffed red peppers have been around for ages, but quinoa stuffed red peppers?! Quinoa is a superfood full of fiber, protein, and amino acids. Coupled with an assortment of veggies and topped with a smattering of cheese it not only makes a delicious and vegetarian dinner, but a very affordable one at that. With price per person for my recipe coming out to less than 4 dollars per pepper (which is by the way packed with protein, fiber, and vegetable nutrition) you'll have money to go out and grab an ice cream from Washtenaw Dairy for dessert!
Being Italian, I added chopped artichoke, chard, red onion, and tomato to my mixture and after baking I topped the whole thing with some good ole parmesan cheese! Other good combinations could include Greek inspired spinach and feta. Or perhaps pizza stuffed peppers- I'm thinking chopped pepperoni and mozzarella cheese would definitely appeal to the kiddies. Or how about taco stuffed peppers with ground beef, spices like chili powder and cumin, a little pepper jack and salsa! Finally, I am a huge fan of breakfast-for-dinner meals and you could even make a stuffing with bacon, egg, and cheese mixed into the quinoa for a frittata-like creation. The whole idea for this "Thrifty Thursday" meal is that it can be made with whatever veggies and cheese you have on hand in your pantry and fridge so get creative! The possibilities are endless!
4 bell peppers
2 cups quinoa, cooked
1 cup assorted vegetables, lighting sauteed
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together quinoa with veggies and cheeses. Stuff peppers with mixture. Bake in oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Broil peppers for the last couple of minutes to achieve crispy, crunchy crust!
- If your quinoa mixture seems a little on the dry side, add some chicken stock or tomato sauce to the mix before stuffing the peppers- it'll ensure they come out of the oven steamy and juicy.
- One great thing about stuffed peppers is that they can be made ahead of time and then popped into the oven at 350 degrees to bake for 20-30 minutes whenever hunger strikes. Also, you could wrap each pepper individually in plastic wrap and freeze them to be served on a day where the work to be done will be turning on the stove!
posted by John Hilton at 10:44 a.m. | 0 comments
One great thing about living in a town with lots of agile LOCAL food businesses: They often really listen to you when you tell them what you like!
Case in point: Observer editor John Hilton recently got a message from Zingerman's Marketing Dept, to tell him his favorite bagel was coming back for one day only on June 1. Intrigued? It's all about the "chewy, crusty bagels with garam masala, curry powder (15 spices in all!) and golden raisins... Call to place an order: 734.761.2095 $1.35/each."
Likewise, after yours truly raved about the ambitious yet delicate chocolate sampler at Raven's Club on Main St., then was disappointed (vocally) on a subsequent visit to see it gone, news came recently via the grapevine that it is back, berry and bonbon garnish and all. Check it out--and don't be shy telling eateries what YOU like.
posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 10:44 a.m. | 0 comments
Odd to walk by the shuttered iconic building at the corner of Liberty and Main that used to be the Parthenon. That place was around forever, seems like. Can't say I had unforgettable Greek meals, nor particularly charming service there. Servers had a "You talkin to me?" way of moping over to the table, as if having to serve you a Greek salad would just about ruin their day.
But onward now to the new home for Cafe Habana. Kinda exciting. With the tackiness stripped away from the front of the Parthenon's cornerstone structure, some good old bones are showing in the facade. Think faded Havana elegance. I hope the menu rises to match what could be a stunning spot.
Elsewhere in town, Zingerman's Deli expansion is moving right along. And on April 21, Sweet Heather Anne bakery opened a new shop at 920 N. Main to peddle lovely little cupcakes and cookies along with charismatically electic, often even off-kilter special-occasion cakes. Check out the website for http://www.sweetheatheranne.com for a taste of that style.
Speaking of cake websites, Cakes by Rubina, which bakes out of Main Dish on Jackson Rd., says, "We launched our new online shopping cart and are ready to ship nationally our decadent cake truffles and mouth-watering coffee cakes, all freshly baked." See http://www.shop.cakesbyrubina.com/ for some good deals on shipping charges.
posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 9:47 p.m. | 0 comments