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!

Cafe Habana – Hidden Breakfast Gem in Ann Arbor

Yesterday morning my husband and I went to breakfast at Cafe Habana in downtown Ann Arbor for the second time in less than a month. I had been there for lunch and dinner a few times over the last year and fell in love with the Cuban food and the beautiful and rich decor. I had forgotten until recently that they also served brunch on the weekends starting at 9 a.m.

Two weeks ago I had the Breakfast Arepas, which are cornmeal pancakes filled with cream cheese, bananas and topped with a delicious fruit salsa. The soft texture of the cornmeal cakes with the creaminess of the cream cheese and the light sweetness of the fruit salsa were a great combination of textures and flavors. I also had one of the best carmel lattes I’ve had anywhere that morning. It came in a wide-mouth coffee cup with the perfect amount of foam and was better than the lattes I get at gourmet coffee shops.

This past weekend I tried the Breakfast Burrito, which normally comes stuffed with scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, black beans, cheddar cheese and ranchero sauce and is served with potato croquetas. I skipped the eggs and had them add extra black beans and substituted Cuban toast for the potato croquetas (which are deep fried potato goodness, but a little rich for my blood). The burrito was very tasty and I just love the slightly sweet ranchero sauce that is spooned on the burrito. The Cuban toast was a great way to soak up some of the extra sauce.

I hope Cafe Habana is able to continue their weekend brunch. The restaurant is usually packed for lunch and dinner, but only one or two other tables had customers both mornings we were there. The staff didn’t use the lack of customers as an excuse to slack off. Instead, they are very attentive and knowledgeable. On one hand it would be nice to see the restaurant’s brunch business pick up, but at the same time it’s nice not having to wait in line and have a great place to go that feels a bit like a secret! If you get a chance and are looking for something a little more adventurous than your typical bacon and eggs, try out Cafe Habana this weekend.