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Jan 12, 2011 10:23 AM

Ann Arbor visit from Toronto hound - a few questions

Hello Great Lakes board - I'm a Toronto hound who is heading down to Ann Arbor shortly. We will likely have 1 dinner, 1 or 2 lunches and 1 late breakfast opportunity. After perusing your board, my shortlist looks like this - would love your feedback:

Frita Batidos - menu and the space look very tempting for breakfast or lunch (or both!), not a cuisine that Toronto has much of and the idea of churros and a coffee on a cold winter's morning makes me weep a little with delight.

Grange Kitchen and Bar - thinking of this for our one dinner with Pacific Rim as a possible alternative - local and sustainable is always good, don't want anything too fancy/upscale in atmosphere - cozy with great food is our target. And we are staying near downtown so prefer something within a 10 minute or so drive (which both of these spots are).

Zingerman's - I think I'd like to at least walk around Zingerman's and maybe grab lunch there. If we're planning to cook at our place one evening, would this be a good spot to pick up the fixings?

Other lunch options - Neehees, Sheesh or Jerusalem Garden (if we don't stop in Dearborn) or Seoul Garden - depending on what we're in the mood for.

Any notable americanos in A2? I love me a good espresso drink.

Also, I see a lot of love on the board for Middle Eastern food in Dearborn - Al-Ameer and La Pita get a lot of mentions. I don't know the area well but if we wanted to stop at one of these places for lunch en route, would either of these be a significant detour? Is one closer (we're planning to cross at the Ambassador Bridge)?


Jerusalem Garden
307 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Seoul Garden
3125 Boardwalk St, Ann Arbor, MI 48108

La Pita
22681 Newman St, Dearborn, MI 48124

Grange Kitchen & Bar
118 W Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Frita Batidos
117 W. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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  1. Frita Batidos is getting good review, so I would go ahead and plan on that one. Grange has mixed reviews. Pacific Rim is generally a solid choice.

    If you want less fancy than Grange, but with the sustainable/local vibe, check out Jolly Pumpkin on Main. I'd go with that over Grange, personally. Some standouts at Jolly Pumpkin are truffle fries, grilled romaine salad, and the pineapple-cardamom martini. They brew their own beer (Bam bier is good) and distill their own spirits.

    Zingerman's deli is a must and fixings can be obtained there. For other dinner fixings, such as vegatables, wander across the street to Kerrytown and shop at the market there on the ground floor. Be on the lookout for early closing times though. Kerrytown is collection of shops housed in a complex containing a couple buildings. It's pretty unique and totally Ann Arbor. FYI, the neighborhood where it and Zingerman's is located is also referred to as Kerrytown, just to avoid confusion.

    I'm wildly biased, so I'm going to tell you to make Jerusalem Garden a lunch. Be sure to order lentil soup and some baba ganouj. They're both heaven.

    Cafe Espresso (on Main Street, State Street and various locations) is my go-to espresso spot, but there are several places that will cater to your needs. There's a new coffee roaster on Main Street, but I'm not that familiar with it. Others may chime in. Also, Sweetwaters on Main and in Kerrytown has good brew.

    Hopefully some Detroiters can give you some tips on Dearborn, because the middle eastern food is definitely worth the drive.

    Jerusalem Garden
    307 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

    Frita Batidos
    117 W. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

    7 Replies
    1. re: charlesbois

      Thanks charlesbois!!

      You had me at truffle fries, though I must say that the rest of the Jolly Pumpkin menu doesn't tempt me as much as Grange or Pacific Rim (though it's all in the execution, of course). Now just to add a little wrinkle, I see that I will be there during Restaurant Week - in Toronto, I tend to avoid dining out at participating restaurants during our Winter/Summerlicious equivalents - not sure how the Ann Arbor version compares. It looks like all of Jolly Pumpkin, Pacific Rim and Grange are participating restaurants - does my timing alter your recommendations in favour of or against any of these spots?

      Thanks for explaining Kerrytown, sounds like a fun place to wander around. And glad to hear there are lots of good espresso options!

      1. re: peppermint pate

        Well, I can't attest to Grange, but execution at JP does have it's problems. They're just so darn charming though that I feel safe recommending them. You may not have a completely wonderful experience, but there will definitely be things to love.

        Restaurant week is a whole new ballgame. I generally study the menus and see who has the best choices. But if you're looking to avoid participating restaurants during that time, and they probably will be packed, post a reply if you need some non-restaurant-week recs.

      2. re: charlesbois

        Coming from the Ambassador Bridge en route to Ann Arbor, you could certainly stop at either La Pita or Al Ameer. If you wanting more upscale, I'd suggest La Pita. Al Ameer has great food - hands down better than La Pita, but La Pita has cocktails. Al Ameer is definitely in the more Middle Eastern part of Dearborn...full of Middle East culture and stores. La Pita is in a suburbanite strip mall. So, I am going to recommend Al Ameer......Where will you be staying in Ann Arbor? That will help me give you directions from Al-Ameer to Ann Arbor.

        1. re: momskitchen

          I would go with Al-Ameer too (The East Location).

          I like La Pita on many aspects but somethings they do are not very authentic.

        2. re: charlesbois

          I'd also second Jerusalem Garden. It's a really neat little place, with excellent food.

          And I'm going to suggest you avoid Neehee's. It's good for Detroit chaat. But you live in a city where I go several times a year *just* to eat the Desi food... you have a gajillion better chaat options in Toronto, which are more authentic, higher-quality, and offer more specialized dishes than Neehee's.

          Jerusalem Garden
          307 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

          1. re: jjspw

            jjspw...I want you to take me to Toronto and seduce me.....with food :)

            1. re: JanPrimus

              Name a date, and let's do it, JP! I've been dying to take people exploring around the GTA. As long as you don't mind a divey restaurant, I think you'll love it.

        3. Thanks everyone. Okay, so Al Ameer sounds like a must try spot. We'll definitely try and stop in there for one of their lunches - or maybe even pick up our dinner on the way home Momskitchen, we're staying at a house on Orchard Hills Drive, if you know where that is.

          Would it be fair to say that Jerusalem Garden is out if Al Ameer is in i.e. are they pretty much variations on the same theme or is there enough variety that I can eat at both within a couple of days?

          And yes jjspw, I had originally crossed Neehee's off my list as we have some great Indian food in Toronto, though I was intrigued by the idea of street food and thought I'd keep the name handy if we were in the mood. By the way, on your next visit to Toronto, do try Copper Chimney on Avenue Road - it opened a few months ago and many, myself included, have found it to be the most interesting and delicious Indian food we've had in a long time - plus a super gracious host.

          I'm still struggling a bit with my one dinner option and whether or not I need to factor in my timing re: Restaurant Week - thoughts?

          6 Replies
          1. re: peppermint pate

            Okay, then here is how I'd recommend you'd go....from the Ambassador Bridge, I'd suggest you you take I96 to I94 west and get off at Michigan Avenue West...right (north on Oakman, right on Warren and it will be on your left. To get to your destination when you leave Al-Ameer, take Warren West to the Southfield Fwy south to I-94 west. After you pass Ypsilanti, you will be getting close to Ann arbor....take US23 N and get off at Geddes. Take Geddes Orchard Hills

            Skip Jerusalem Gardens if you are going to Al-Ameer. I work in Dearborn and live in Ann Arbor. JG pales in comparison to Dearborn Middle Eastern. Definitely go to ZIngermans whilst you are in my fair city. For locally produced food, If I had to pick between Grange and Jolly Pumpkin for dinner, I'd pick Jolly Pumpkin, unless you want fancy. Then I guess I'd go to Grange.

            1. re: momskitchen

              Awesome momskitchen - thanks so much! One (possibly...) last question - if I changed the criteria for our one dinner out to be a cozy room with tasty food and friendly service where my husband and I can enjoy a rare, relaxing night away but not too far from where we're staying - with or without the emphasis on local or any particular type of cuisine- would Jolly Pumpkin still fit the bill? If so, then I think we have a winner...

              1. re: momskitchen

                Zingerman's Deli vs. Roadhouse. or Both?

                The Deli has the fame!


                Chef Alex Young being a two time Beard Award Nominee.....I do not take the Roadhouse lightly.

                1. re: JanPrimus

                  Y'know, I was thinking the same... try to squeeze in both Zing's deli and Roadhouse. Both are equally great, but for completely different cuisines. If you do Al Ameer instead of Jerusalem Garden, I assume that frees up another lunch spot, so perhaps you can substitute Zing's Roadhouse for that lunch?

              2. re: peppermint pate

                Thanks, peppermint pate, for the Copper Chimney suggestion. Will check it out next time I'm in the GTA. But seriously, driving around Mississauga, Brampton, Scarborough, and Markham, it seems there's a "Chaat Hut" or "Such-and-such Chaat House" on every corner! :-)

                1. re: peppermint pate

                  re: Dessert at/after Al Ammer ... I suggest travelling a few blocks west to Shatila Bakery. I highly
                  recommend their fruit ice creams; but everything is mighty tasty.

                2. I was 'going to recommend' Eve - but it's closing Sunday!

                  She also owns Frita Batidos (which I haven't been to) - but based on my several visits to Eve I would definitely make that a stop on my next visit to AA (later this month - after $3000 of car repairs!).

                  Zingerman's is always worth a visit - think a tiny, cramped Pusateri's (with prices to match) but great sandwiches.

                  The Roadhouse, however, has been a disaster both times I've tried it.

                  I've not found a Middle-Eastern place I'd return to - however I've not really researched this - just find most of that cuisine boring anyway, so just haven't explored it properly.

                  And, sorry, no recent reccomendations for anywhere else either. Since I discovered Eve, that's been my go-to place, so all others are now ancient history.

                  Frita Batidos
                  117 W. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: estufarian

                    *Ouch* on the car repairs, estufarian - sorry to have been the bearer of bad news but glad you got it fixed!

                    When I started my research a couple of weeks ago, I had zeroed in on Eve pretty quickly so I was pretty bummed to see that it was closing just before my trip. But the menu at Frita Batidos looks promising so I've got it penciled in for possibly a breakfast and lunch!

                    At this point, I'm thinking Al-Ameer and Zingerman's Deli for our other 2 lunches and likely Jolly Pumpkin for our dinner - after a long drive down there, I think that a nice pint of beer in a charming gastropub may be just the ticket. Plus I just looked at their RW menu and it actually looks pretty good - truffled tater tots anyone?? Do I have a choice of sitting downstairs or upstairs - is there a preference?

                    Thank you all for being so gracious and informative. My excitement for this mini getaway has gone up tenfold since *meeting* all of you. I'll be sure to post a report when I'm back and would be happy to return the kindness on the Toronto board as and when any of you head north.

                    1. re: peppermint pate

                      Al-Ameer is a great choice. After lunch on your way to Ann Arbor, make a quick stop down the street at Shatila Bakery to pick up some MIddle Eastern baked goods and a tray of Baklava to take with you. I promise, it's worth the effort. And while you're at it, get some pistachio ice cream or mango or .......... I could go on and on. There are no bad choices.

                      Shatila Bakery
                      14300 W. Warren Ave
                      Dearborn, MI 48126

                      Hope you have a wonderful visit!

                      1. re: Rosedale

                        I will speak for both Rainsux and Myself....

                        The Ice cream NEEDS to be sampled.

                        1. re: JanPrimus

                          Guys, you're killing me - at this rate, I'll be waddling into Ann Arbor! Seriously, thanks for the recs - really looking forward to sampling some of these Michigan treats.

                          1. re: Rosedale

                            I think you'll like Jolly Pumpkin for your night out.

                            Shatila is quite a bit out of the way...instead, I'd suggest New Yasmeen bakery if you want Middle Eastern baked goods. It's on Warren, and I actually prefer it's bakery items to Shatila. Shatila's stuff is boxed and sealed in plastic and is shipped all over the country - they have a factory. New Yasmeen is just like a bakery where they make it there and it's not hermetically sealed up in a box. (you can buy their product at New Yasmeen if you wanted it, though) They don't have that ice cream.

                            1. re: momskitchen

                              Hi momskitchen,
                              I was referring to the Shatila nearly next door to New Yasmeen (of course, I like New Yasmeen, too).
                              Shatila - 14300 W. Warren Ave
                              New Yasmeen - 13900 W. Warren Ave

                                1. re: JanPrimus

                                  Phew - I hadn't mapped it out yet but I was hoping that "just down the street" meant just that - though New Yasmeen sounds lovely as well. Oh, and does Shatila sell scoops of ice cream or just pints?

                                  1. re: peppermint pate

                                    scoops, sundaes, shakes, etc.. :-)
                                    PS-- I would never recommend this to a visitor, but for me personally, I like to snack on cheap savory food at New Yasmeen, rather than dining in the proper Al Ameer.

                                    1. re: VTB

                                      I understood that Al-Ameer was the less "proper" alternative to La Pita, which suits me just fine. And I'm happy to slide all the way down the "hole in the wall" scale to wherever the chow is tastiest, though I suspect we may be splitting hairs at this point. How fortunate for all of you to have such a cluster of great Middle Eastern chow alternatives.

                                      1. re: peppermint pate

                                        For food lovers, twenty minutes drive isn't a big thing. Therefore, you may even want to consider eating two lunches in a day, or two dinners in a day. Hey, you're on vacation, right? The other posters in this topic also like another place on the western side of downtown Detroit (i.e., the side nearer to Ann Arbor). What I'm getting at is that, perhaps, a person from Toronto would appreciate the Slows Barbecue experience. You can hate on the wait, but you can't hate on the food. Yum!

                                        1. re: VTB

                                          Hi PP. I ordered a mess of BBQ for my husband's office holiday party from Slows 2 Go. The smoked wings, St. Louis ribs and pulled pork were seriously yummy. My husband occasionally goes to Slows (the restaurant) and really enjoys the gumbo, for something marginally lighter than a BBQ pig-out for a workday lunch. I haven't yet been to the restaurant myself, but I'd like to go try out that gumbo.

                                          I still think Al Ameer is worth a visit, possibly over Slows if you have to choose only one. Being a Torontonian for most of my life I am aware of the somewhat lame Lebanese scene in the GTA. Not that good BBQ is easy to find in the GTA either, but I'll always take Middle Eastern flavours over BBQ meats.

                                          222 E Market St Ste 33, Indianapolis, IN 46204

                                2. re: VTB

                                  Okay - I think their factory is on Michigan and that's what I was thinking you were recommending. I haven't been to the Warren spot.

                                  1. re: momskitchen

                                    I just saw Shatila baked goods at Plum Market in Ann Arbor. So, if you can't make it to the place on Warren, try Plum!

                                    1. re: momskitchen

                                      Too me it is the Ice Cream you need to experience at Shatila....

                                3. re: momskitchen

                                  > Shatila is quite a bit out of the way

                                  Five blocks west, hardly qualifies as, "quite a bit out of the way."

                                  I'll crawl that far on broken glass for their fruit ice creams. Of course, since
                                  I'm already in the buiding, I should probably get something-to-go. <g>

                                  1. re: rainsux

                                    @rainsux....check my other comments. I thought you guys were suggesting their factory, where they make their stuff. It's on Michigan.

                          2. Hey Pate

                            I think Zingermann's is a great idea for lunch. The food I had there was all really good and there's plenty of other ways to spend time. Sampling and browsing.

                            Coming from TO I think you may get a kick out of Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger. It's been on DD&D and it's my favourite burger place on the planet. The food is great, the Kitchen Nazi feel is neat and quite honestly, it's a big UM hang and AA being such a college town it's neat to get that vibe.


                            1. Hello again - I have now returned from Ann Arbor and can't thank all of you enough for your generous input and GREAT suggestions.

                              It was a torturous drive along the 401 out of Toronto - we were hungry by the time we hit Mississauga! - and positively famished by the time we arrived at Al-Ameer (awesome directions momskitchen!). We shared the appetizer platter (GREAT hummus, lovely smoky baba ghanouj, good dolmades), a fatoush salad (tasty, crunchy salad with lots of sumac but would have preferred it to be a little warmer - this felt right out of the fridge) and a shwarma sandwich (good, though I've had better here). The warm, puffy pitas were excellent. We also had a mango smoothie that tasted fresh, fruity and delicious. Overall, an excellent meal - and our bill was something like $22, which was tremendous value for such a tasty feast.

                              We were completely stuffed at this point but knew we had to soldier on to Shatila - many of you recommended it but when rainsux said he'd/she'd crawl on broken glass to get it, we couldn't resist. We passed New Yasmeen bakery en route but honestly, we were so stuffed already and keen to get to A2 that we couldn't make yet another stop. Next time. Okay, so Shatila is HUGE. I took a number and perused the baked goods while hubby picked up a couple of cones. For the baked goods, which we packed up to take with us, we tried 2 kinds of baklava (pistachio and walnut), another kind of flaky pastry with a creamy filing, mamoul cookies (cookies covered in fresh pistachio slices, fillled with dates) and a few of their nut-filled chocolates - about 10 or 12 gorgeous treats for a mere $4.69. Are you kidding me???? The baked goods were OUTSTANDING.

                              But now the ice cream. I don't usually order pistachio ice cream but it seemed like we should try it. Creamy. FRESH pistachio-y. Best. Pistachio. Ice Cream. Ever. It's the fresh pistachios that make all the difference and they were plentiful. And that creamy, gorgeous ice cream. We also ate the cherry ice cream - very good as well but not as good as the pistachio. They have a new halva walnut flavour which we sampled - ooh, that was yummy too. We waddled back to our car and continued on our journey.

                              We had a late dinner that evening at Jolly Pumpkin. From a decor point of view, it wasn't my favourite - I like gastropubs but I prefer a smaller, cozier space. This place is big and has a cavernous feel that always makes me feel a bit chilly. That said, the grilled romaine salad with chicken breast, dates and walnuts, the squash tempura with a creamy spiced dipping sauce and the truffle fries were really very, very good. I would absolutely go back for those dishes. My husband liked the Bam beer and I enjoyed the farmhouse ale. For future reference, is the upstairs space cozier?

                              The next day, we visited Zingerman's Deli. From the second we walked in, we were treated to stories about the history, cheese samples, friendly service, meat pie samples, more conversation, more samples. This is a place to fall in love with and we did. The idea that you can and are encouraged to sample EVERYTHING in the store - any olive oil, any bread, any cheese, any prepared food dish - wow. But above all, it was the people that made it - this is an establishment that puts service front and centre and each person we talked to had the confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm of an owner. For lunch, we split a hearty and delicious bowl of beef and barley soup, together with a pastrami and cheese sandwich with sauteed onions. The soup was great and the sandwich was good - pastrami was a bit on the dry side. But it didn't matter, we were so enchanted with the place at that point that we went back to the deli for some take-home treats, including Lincoln Log and Manchester cheeses from the Zingermans Creamery (really good) and a fast dwindling bag of mini Zzang original candy bars (OMG, like snickers but better). We enjoyed our walk around the Kerrytown shops after - reminded me a bit of Granville Island in Vancouver.

                              Okay, this post is getting quite lengthy so let me speed up here...stocked up on some supplies at Trader Joe's (yay!!) and took out dinner from Whole Foods (Whole Foods in the US are so much better than ours here - killer Italian Wedding Soup!). On our final morning, we stopped in at Frita Batidos and did a takeaway order for the drive home - it's a lovely, modern, whitewashed space. We had the churros - a massive order for $8, too much for even the 2 of us to share. The pastry was a bit on the heavy/yeasty side but the orange, cinnamon and sugar flavours were great. For a later lunch, we took out the Inspired Cuban sandwich (hello rich porky goodness) and the Open Faced Grilled Cheese with muenster, tomato, red onion and avocado on brioche - I might have preferred a slightly crustier bread but it was really good. I really liked my cafe con leche - similar to a latte but with the subtle yet discernible flavours of salt and butter. Interesting. Good.

                              Zingermans and Frita Batidos are an interesting contrast - exuberant old school corner store feel and hospitality with heartier dishes at the former, contemporary hip feel and hospitality (still friendly but a bit more tenative and not as polished) at Frita. The dishes they serve are too different to compare but sandwich to sandwich, we preferred the food at Frita. We preferred the experience at Zingermans. We'd go back to both.

                              All in all, it was a great trip. We couldn't make it to all of the places you suggested but we've got a running list for our next trip. It is a sublime treat to be able to arrive at a new destination armed with excellent suggestions (and directions!!) for where to eat great food from those that know the area and are kind enough to share their recommendations. We had a great, great time and look forward to returning. THANK YOU!!!

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: peppermint pate

                                Awesome review, peppermint pate! Come back and spend more loonies :)

                                1. re: peppermint pate

                                  Yeah, right on, peppermint pate. That was a fun read about your trip. Thx

                                  1. re: peppermint pate

                                    Sounds like you hit some real high points in SE Mich! For your next trip, I don't know whether you'd call the upstairs at Jolly Pumpkin "cozier," but it's definitely noisier—that's the bar area. The beers are avaiable throughout the place, but upstairs is where the beer hounds hang out, and that's where people go for beers after work. Full menu available anywhere, though. I have had good experiences at this place lately. Not cheap, but I'm never disappointed when the food comes. Also a good place to take vegetarians if you are not one—lots of good veggie sandwiches, plus a heck of a burger.

                                    1. re: peppermint pate

                                      PP, Glad you enjoyed your visit. This is what 'hounding is all about!

                                      1. re: schaf1

                                        Thanks all - pretty sure we'll be making the trip again within a year or so - looking forward to chatting with all of you then (or sooner, if you find yourselves heading up my way).

                                        Oh yeah, and one other thing, we bought some Vruit juice from the Coop store (name escapes me) - I don't generally get that excited by juice in a carton but it was really good - I've got to see if I can find it in Toronto.

                                        1. re: peppermint pate

                                          Vruit is a local product and may well not be available in Canada. Sounds like a heck of a business opportunity!

                                      2. re: peppermint pate

                                        I wanted to thank you for the great recap. We are in Cleveland and are considering an AA road trip and this thread has been great in giving me some info and ideas.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          My pleasure! I owe it all to the kind folks on this board. Even in the midst of today's pre-snowstorm chill, I found myself daydreaming about that pistachio ice cream...

                                          Hope you have a great trip. I'll keep an eye out for your report.