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!

Thai Thai, Ypsilanti, MI

I was happy to finally get a chance to try out the Thai Thai restaurant in Ypsilanti this week. I had heard several people comment on the good quality of their food and had seen a lot of positive reviews online as well. In past attempts to call in a carryout order they were closed, but the other night I was finally successful!

I chose the #17 – Gai Pad Prig Haeng, or cashew chicken. My dinner included white rice, grilled chicken breast, chili peppers, green and white onion in a sweet and salty brown sauce. I am sort of a connoisseur of cashew chicken at Thai restaurants, it’s my favorite dish. This one stacked up quite well. My favorite is still Lotus Thai in Ann Arbor, but this one was pretty similar. The flavors in the sauce were like the one at Lotus, but the dish was missing mushrooms, which I really like and may request next time I order it at Thai Thai. Although the single asterisk on the menu next to the dish number indicates it to be “mild” I’d argue that it may be a medium spice level for the non-experienced. Personally, I enjoyed the spiciness.

I found it a little odd that they don’t give potential customers easy access to their carryout menu. The links in this blog post will take you to their menu on Facebook but I found even that hard to find initially and they don’t have a website. When I picked up my order I asked for a take-out menu, but they don’t have one available and just mentioned that its available online. So, if you’re interested in trying them out, click one of the links in this post to find Thai Thai’s online menu and don’t give up if the first few times you call they are closed despite the early hour. My first taste says it’s worth the effort.

Squares Restaurant, Ann Arbor, MI

I met some friends for lunch at the newly opened Squares Restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor last week. The restaurant specializes in “Signature Squares” which are housemade white or wheat flatbread with vegetables and/or meat toppings. They also serve salads, a number of housemade side dishes and even breakfast.

They have an order-at-the-counter setup, but it’s slightly unusual. I ordered from a friendly staff member at one end of the counter and when I pulled out my wallet to pay was told that customers pay at the end of the counter. They had us find a table first and wait for our names to be called when our order was ready before they rang us up. While everyone was helpful, I like to order and pay at the same time at a non-table service restaurant. Maybe they’re still figuring that one out.

I had the veggie square with a side of their butternut squash. Although the website features images that showcase most of their squares as open faced sandwiches, mine arrived as a wrap with a side of fresh grapes and an orange slice. The whole wheat flatbread, sun-dried tomato sauce and grilled vegetables, including zucchini, onion, peppers, and mozzarella were really delicious! I did have to peal the foil down from around the sandwich and it was a bit messy to eat. It might work a little better if the flatbreads were served open face as shown in the website photos as I found myself using a knife and fork by the end of my meal. The butternut squash was roasted with cranberries, brown sugar and orange juice added. The flavors were good, but the texture of the squash was on the fibrous side, I prefer my pureed squash smoother. I did snatch some of the broasted potatoes from a friend at the table. They had excellent seasoning and potato taste and were nicely crisped slices. I’ll make those my side dish next time!

Overall, our visit to Squares Restaurant was a very good experience. The staff was very friendly and both the chef and manager checked with our table to see how we were enjoying ourselves during our lunch. Prices are reasonable; my flatbread, side and drink came to a little over $8 with tax.

Fattoush Grill, Ypsilanti, MI

The new Middle Eastern restaurant at Washtenaw and Hewitt in Ypsilanti, Fattoush Grill, opened in the former Tio’s building back in October. They don’t have a website yet and I couldn’t find a menu online so I picked up a carryout menu a couple of weeks ago.
Yesterday I ordered the meat shawarma (slow-roasted shaved marinated lamb pieces) lunch combo for take-out. It came with hummous and pita bread, a choice of soup or salad and rice or fries for $6.99. I had the traditional Middle Eastern salad which was very refreshing. The lettuce was impeccably clean and the white onions were crisp and mild. The simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing with herb seasonings was light and delicious. The rice had a few slivers of toasted almonds for a nice crunch. I must say that I absolutely loved Fatthoush Grill’s version of hommous and I am usually not a hummous fan at all. There version is a little different from most Middle Eastern restaurants because they blend the chickpeas with fava beans and tahini sauce for a much smoother texture and it had a great citrusy flavor. The meat was seasoned well and tasted good despite the fact that it was pretty dry.

Overall, I really enjoyed the food. I’m hoping that the dry meat was just a fluke this time and I can look forward to more tender meat in the future.

Skillet, Columbus, OH

When my husband and I have a trip planned to visit family in Columbus I always scour the web for new ideas on places to eat. I love the opportunity to try out some place new when we get the opportunity. I read quite a few positive reviews of a new restaurant in German Village called Skillet and put it on my list of must-try spots on our Thanksgiving trip. They refer to their style of food as rustic and urban, sort of seasonal local food with a twist. They serve lunch and dinner during the week and brunch all day on the weekends.

It worked out for us to have breakfast there on the day we left town. I had the Shredded Apple and Farmer’s Cheese Pancakes with maple syrup and a glass of locally pressed sweet apple cider. For the pancakes they use a vanilla batter and fold in Honeycrisp apples (my favorite variety!) and farmer’s cheese. I really loved the flavor and texture of the pancakes. The outside was had slightly crisp edges and a soft fluffy center. Because the cheese is so mild it added pockets of melted texture rather than a heavy cheese flavor. Although the pancakes were very tasty I was a bit disappointed that there was very little apple flavor and more of the vanilla. I’m assuming that the apple was probably shredded and created a moister pancake instead of adding a strong apple taste.

My husband ordered the Rustic Traditional Breakfast plate with eggs, fingerling potatoes and pork sausage. He really enjoyed his breakfast as well. I sampled the potatoes and the heritage Tamworth sausage, both of which had a lot of great fresh herb flavor. The fingerlings well seasoned and cooked perfectly with crisp edges. The sausage was full of flavor and wasn’t greasy. The dish also came with a croissant, the only shortcoming of Skillet. It was dry and tasted like a store-bought pastry.

I had heard that it can be a long wait to get a table here, but the day we were in it was pretty quiet. Maybe that was because of the holiday weekend or the Michigan/Ohio State game that afternoon. Either way I was really happy with our waiter who was extremely attentive and personable. The restaurant is small, but quaint and the food was very good. We’ll definitely be back.

Northstar Cafe, Columbus, OH

I love heading down to Columbus to visit family because we always eat well when we’re down there, too. Most of the time we make a point to stop at the NorthStar Cafe in Clintonville when we’re in town. They have great food (everything is made in house), a local focus and customer service that rivals Zingerman’s.You order your food at the counter and they bring it to your table.

My only small compliant is that at peak hours it can be tough to find a table you don’t have to share with another group. They have a mix of smaller tables and a few large “community” booths that can fit up to 8 or 10 people.

On this dinner visit I ordered the Thai Burrito which can be adapted for vegetarians (made with tofu) or carnivores (made with roasted chicken). I opted for the meat version with the rotisserie chicken roasted in house. I also opted for the sweet potato fries in place of the, still delicious, tortilla chips and salsa. My burrito was stuffed with the chicken, peanut sauce, brown rice and coleslaw. It was large enough that I would have been satisfied with just one-half, but it was so good I was happy to have two! The sweet potato fries were crispy and delicious, not the best I’ve ever had, but far from my least favorite.

The atmosphere in NorthStar is always lively and can be a bit loud. Considering you don’t tip the staff, the food prices aren’t too bad for the quality and for the fact that they do bring your food to you. Still a regular stop on our food tour of Columbus.

Karl’s Cabin, Plymouth, MI

My brother introduced me to Karl’s Cabin near Plymouth a number of years ago. It’s a bit off the beaten path on Gotfredson Road near M-14, but worth a stop if your passing by.

The exterior is a log cabin feel and the inside is a bit dark and cave-like. The menu is more extensive than you might think for an out-of-the-way restaurant and bar. They have some down-home favorites like meatloaf, liver and onions and lasagna, but they also have steaks, seafood and a number of pasta entrees.

When I was recently in for lunch I had their Forest Walnut & Cherry salad. It has a sophisticated mix of spring greens, grilled chicken breast, dried cherries, roasted walnuts, blue cheese and a house-made raspberry vinaigrette. The chicken was tender and perfectly cooked with a slightly smokey flavor from the grill. The blue cheese was mild enough that it didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients. The dressing was also very tasty. I would definitely order this salad again.

Service tends to be a little on the slow side here, but our waitress was pleasant enough. Whether you enjoy comfort food or a slightly more elevated entree Karl’s Cabin is worth keeping in mind if you’re in the area.