Frita Batidos, Ann Arbor, MI

Eve Aronoff, who made a brief appearance on the TV show Top Chef, opened a second restaurant in Ann Arbor last month. Frita Batidos is Cuban inspired and geared toward a more casual crowd than her restaurant in Kerrytown, Eve. Customers order at at the counter and then choose to sit at a bar style counter or share one of the picnic tables with other guests while they wait for staff to call out their name and run the food over.

My husband and I stopped in for lunch. I ordered the Beef Frita, a beef patty on a brioche bun with sweet chili mayo and topped with fries; I added a slice of Muenster cheese as well.  I  also chose a strawberry flavored tropical soda. The burger was on the small side, but very juicy and flavorful. The shoestring fries on top of the burger was a change for me, but I enjoyed them. They were still soft and full of potato flavor. The sweet chili mayo was delicious, but not especially spicy. Despite the high quality of the ingredients I did find the overall value a little low at $9 for an small elevated cheeseburger that didn’t include anything else. The soda was made with seltzer water and syrup. The drink was a bit heavy on the sweetness for my taste and a little lacking on the bubbles. It might appeal more to the kids in the crowd.

My husband ordered the Cuban Sloppy Joe which he found to be tasty, but more of a loose meat sandwich than a sloppy joe as the limited amount of sauce, also the sweet chili mayo, kept it from being especially messy. The spices gave the sandwich a nice depth that you don’t get from your traditional Manwich.

After enjoying our sandwiches we decided to give dessert a try. We settled on the fried plantains coated in cinnamon sugar. I am a big plantain fan, but found these to be a little short on plantain flavor and overwhelmed by the cinnamon sugar. The starchiness of the thick cut plantains also got to be a bit much after a few bites and it would have benefited from another texture to cut through it, like ice cream.

Presentation of our food was fun, everything came served on a banana leaf! Both our sandwiches and dessert came out quickly. Staff for the most part were very friendly and enthusiastic with the exception of one gentleman at the counter who seemed to wish he was somewhere else.

I wonder if the community tables will work in the long run. The day we were in was not especially busy, but it can be a little uncomfortable to share your meal at at picnic table next to a stranger. For more a more outgoing crowd it could be fun to chat up new people on each visit though!

The other observation I had was the Frita Batidos breakfast menu. They have a lot of interesting options from Cuban omelets, mango French toast and even potato nachos, but the prices for breakfast are even steeper than the lunch choices. Shouldn’t prices generally go up throughout the day rather than down? I’m not sure I can stomach $4 for bread and jam or $12 for French toast.

I also saw a lot of interesting Cuban coffees and shakes that I didn’t get a chance to try on this visit. I’m especially interested in the ones that use cajeta, or goat’s milk caramel. We may have to see if the early morning prices change, but we’ll certainly be back for lunch!

The Counter, Chicago, IL

I usually avoid writing about chain restaurants, but after a recent trip to Chicago I’ve decided to break my rule a few times for restaurants we don’t have back home in Michigan.
The Counter is an casual customer burger chain with a wide selection of options for everything from the bun, to the meat (or meatless), to the toppings. We visited the location in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. It has a few more “gourmet” options than most create-your-own burger options in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, such as Bagger Dave’s or Great Plains Burger company. I loved having such a wide variety of options; part of the fun of a custom burger joint is trying something a bit different than what you’d get at Mickey D’s.
The weight of the burgers noted on the menu is AFTER cooking rather than before, which is a departure from most restaurants and makes for really big burgers. Even the 1/3lb, which I got was a bit much for me and it was the smallest choice. I went for a beef burger with a pretzel bun and topped with herbed goat cheese, tomato, sauteed mushrooms and Dijon balsamic dressing. I though it odd that the sauteed mushrooms were considered a “premium” topping (an extra buck) since most places throw that in as standard. I thought the herbs in the goat cheese spread were a bit overpowering, but a nice change from cheddar. The Dijon balsamic dressing was really good! It went better with the sweet potato fries I ordered than their mayonnaise concoction. The pretzel bun was tender and flavorful a strong improvement over most boring hamburger buns.

Service was decent and the food was good overall. I’d make another trip if I were back in the Lincoln Park area.

Great Plains Buger Company,
Ann Arbor, MI

It’s nice to have choices in Ann Arbor when you want a quality, non-greasy burger and fries. Great Plains Burger Company on Plymouth Road knows how to keep it simple and get it right. I also love that they’re part of the restaurant trend to support local companies and farmers.
We stopped in this past weekend and I went for their somewhat-new-to-the-menu turkey burger with BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms and tomato. I also split their regular basket of fries and a strawberry shake with my husband. I had the beef burger the first time I came to Great Plains and it’s very good, but when I’m looking for something a little healthier I can’t say I’ve had better turkey burger meat at a restaurant than here. It’s nicely seasoned and very moist. The only small downside for me… and please don’t kill me Ann Arborites… is the Zingerman’s bun. I’m a fan of Zingerman’s, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t think the texture of this particular bun works for a burger. The outside crust is a bit chewy and isn’t soft enough for me. It seems like a nice grilled Kaiser roll would do the trick.
I’m happy to say that the fries at Great Plains have really improved since the first time I stopped in. On my initial visit the fries weren’t quite cooked all the way through, but I knew they had strong potential once the “first month kinks” were worked out. On the last two visits the fries have been stellar! Hand-cut and fried when you order they are consistently salted with just the right amount. I strongly argue that they are now better than Bagger Dave’s fries (coming from me that’s saying a lot!).
The homemade shakes at Great Plains are also fabulous. I’ve had the vanilla and strawberry versions, both are highly addictive! They’re thick and creamy. You can really taste the quality of the local Guernsey ice cream they use.
Make a trip to the north side of Ann Arbor next time you’re in the mood for a burger!