Flat Top Grill Breakfast, Ann Arbor

I’m going to keep my review of breakfast at Flat Top Grill pretty short: unless you enjoy eating lots of bland flavorless food at breakfast then avoid Flat Top Grill and go for lunch or dinner instead.

I reviewed dinner at this restaurant a couple of weeks ago and raved about the food and service. I was initially thrilled to see that they had a create your own breakfast on the weekends and couldn’t wait to try it. I’m sad to say how disappointed I was with the food this time around.

Service was still very welcoming and friendly. They also do not have a one-dish option at breakfast (they do at lunch and dinner), only an all-you-can-eat. For those of us who eat a normal breakfast this probably isn’t the best value anyway at $9.99 a person ($8.99 for students) which doesn’t even include a glass of juice, milk or coffee.You have an option to make your own omelette, pancake, scramble or french toast with a variety of items from the “bar”. They also have self-serve oatmeal.

I was disappointed with the fruit selection for the french toast and pancake options. The pineapple was canned and the strawberries out of season and tasteless. “Bland” pretty much summed up the french toast as well as the pancakes and the oatmeal, even with the toppings . Nothing stood out food-wise here. The potatoes were beyond mushy and the sausage was flavorless.

Unfortunately, since it looks like Flat Top Grill doesn’t know how to make a good breakfast we won’t be back in the future for any morning meals. However, they are much better with savory foods so we’ll definitely be back soon for lunch or dinner!

Flat Top Grill Dinner, Ann Arbor, MI

I’d been anticipating the opening of Flat Top Grill, a Chicago based restaurant chain, in the Huron Village shopping center at Washtenaw and Huron Parkway for the last several months. I had fun with their interactive website that let’s you “create your own” virtual stir fry. I received a special email invitation last week to make reservations for a pre-opening charity event. They offered preview meals to email insiders for $5 per person before their official opening on Monday, November 15; all proceeds went to Eli’s Place.

My husband and I made reservations last Friday night for 7pm. They were packed when we arrived, but they were well organized and we were seated within a minute or two of coming in the door. The host also gave us a coupon good for a free dessert that night, a nice surprise.

Our waiter, Kurt, greeted us enthusiastically and promptly after we were seated. After learning we were “newbies” to the Flat Top Grill he walked us through their process. From past experience,  Mongolian Barbecue, and similar restaurants, had made me leery of these create-your-own stir fry places because I feel like the customer is often left to fend for themselves, but still leave a tip at the end of the night. Flat Top Grill has a much better system: they have your wait person meet you up at the stir fry station and take you through step-by-step if you need it. They also had additional staff on hand the night were were there to help you put together your ingredients as well.

I wasn’t sure what type of sauce to go with so Kurt was nice enough to ask about some of my tastes and mix a sampler cup of sauce for me to try with peanut sauce, sweet and sour sauce and Jamaican jerk sauce. It was awesome. I added the appropriate proportions to my bowl of white rice, tomato, summer squash and onion. For my protein I chose beef. Shrimp is normally a little extra, but it was free the night we were their for the event so I added that as well. I also added their special bread, called roti prata which was sort of like a thin naan if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine.

One of the best things about Flat Top Grill is that you have a wooden stick with your table number and your name penciled in that stays with your dish while it’s prepared so you don’t have to stand and wait for your food. The waitstaff brings your completed dish back to your table when it’s ready so you get to relax with your drink instead. I also appreciated their strong attention to any food allergies. They have special colored sticks that you insert with your ingredients before they’re prepared to make sure the appropriate precautions are taken to avoid contamination.

My stir fry was fantastic. The sauce combination that my waiter suggested was even better than I had imagined. The beef came out nice and tender, not dry. The shrimp was fresh and delicious. I loved the texture and taste the bread added to each bite. I’m used to eating most breads on their own, but it was a nice change to incorporate it into the main dish.

We chose the Cinnamon Fresh Fruit Roti for dessert. They take their special thin bread coat it in cinnamon-sugar and stuff it with seasonal fruit and creme anglaise. A cherry orange glaze is added to the top and a side of French vanilla ice cream. They also serve two sides of house-made whipped cream. I love fruit based desserts so this was a winner for me. The crisp cinnamon-sugar coated bread and soft fruit on the inside were a nice contrast. The house whipped cream was nice and light and the small scoop of ice cream was just enough without going overboard. For you chocolate lovers they also have an amazing sounding Triple Chocolate Storm dessert to finish your evening.

This is how all create-your-own stir fry restaurants should operate. I never felt like I was floundering to figure out how to make my meal. I was able to sit and relax while my meal was prepared and then brought out to me. I felt like service was incredibly attentive and friendly. The atmosphere was fun and  lively. I definitely felt it was a place I could feel good about leaving a tip for my server despite the fact that I put my own ingredients on the plate because they created an interactive experience.

We’ll be headed their for breakfast tomorrow and I can’t wait to report back on that visit!

Hayden’s Grill and Bar, Canton, MI

I wrote a review about a restaurant in Bay City, Michigan called Harvey’s Grill and Bar back in January of this year. The same small Michigan chain opened up an almost identical version, Hayden’s Grill and Bar, in Canton, Michigan in October.

The decor of this restaurant is also upscale, though it’s missing the outdoor fireplace and patio with an acoustic guitar player on Wednesday nights it’s Bay City cousin features. Very modern and sleek materials create a posh feel. The menu is almost identical to their up-north locations, featuring salads, sandwiches, pasta and fish entrees. They also have their delicious deep fried Oreo and deep fried Twinkie desserts.

Hayden’s has a policy for the wait staff to leave a business card with their name at the customer’s table. I’m not entirely sure what that’s about, maybe if you really enjoy the service you know who to request next time, or at least you can remember their name if you need to flag them down during your current visit (though that hasn’t been an issue so far). Our waitress, Tonya, was very attentive and pleasant.

We had filled out an online survey on our last visit that entitled us to a free appetizer. We settled on the traditional bone-in wings with barbecue sauce and a side of ranch dressing in place of blue cheese. The wings were nice and meaty and well sauced. The barbecue sauce was smoky and sweet with just the right amount of spicy kick for my taste buds. They were so good that for a minute I almost didn’t miss Wings Wings, a phenomenal wings place on Cross St. in Ypsilanti that went out of business last year, much to my dismay.

I have to admit that I’m a sucker for pretzel bun, so it was an easy choice for me to go with one of Hayden’s signature sandwiches, the Chicken Bruschetta. The sandwich consists of a grilled chicken breast, pesto, provolone cheese and a seasoned tomato mixture on a grilled pretzel bun. I also chose their coleslaw in place of the seasoned French fries. I really enjoyed the flavors of this sandwich. The pesto wasn’t overwhelming and worked nicely with the provolone and tomato flavors. The grilled bun had a nice signature pretzel taste and soft texture and the chicken breast was fairly moist. The coleslaw was a nice and creamy, but a little heavy on the dressing.

We were too full for dessert on this visit, but remembering how good the deep fried Oreo dessert was up in Bay City it’s a definite must on our next visit to Hayden’s!

Passport Restaurant, Ann Arbor, MI

Passport Restaurant and Lounge recently replaced what was previously the Cherry Blossom on State St. just south of Briarwood Mall. It’s a bit tricky to pull into the parking lot because there isn’t a direct driveway off State Street, the entrance is actually off of Airport Blvd.

When we drove up around 1pm for lunch on a Saturday the parking lot was nearly empty. I began to second guess whether the hours online were correct, but they were indeed open, just quiet. I’m assuming because of their location and newness they do more business during the week with the industrial area nearby.

My husband and I were greeted by the hostess right away who also gave us the option of a booth or table. Our waiter came to take our drink orders while we looked over the menu. I appreciated his tip that the iced tea was Nestea and not fresh brewed. When I ordered water instead he noted that  customers have said they couldn’t tell the difference in taste between fresh iced tea and the Nestea from the fountain; it didn’t sway me. I was disappointed that such a nice restaurant wouldn’t take the time to brew their own iced tea, especially when charging $2.50 for it.

The Passport menu has a variety of dishes with influences from around the world including Asian (lots of sushi!), Italian and contemporary American. The menu doesn’t indicate that the lunch entrees include sides, but they do indeed come with your choice of white rice, butter-balsamic rice or fries and vegetables. I ordered the Hawaiian Chicken BBQ with the butter-balsamic rice (an odd combination, I know) which included julienned squash, carrots and onions for the vegetable. The grilled chicken had a slightly charred exterior that was little bit tough, but the inside remained fairly moist and juicy. The tamarind gave the spicy barbecue sauce a more complex flavor that I really enjoyed. The grilled pineapple on the side was phenomenal and the julienned vegetables were perfectly seasoned and delicious. The butter-balsamic rice was an interesting change, but probably would have paired better with a different dish (I knew that full well going in!). I also appreciated the reasonable portion sizes for lunch. I wasn’t stuffed to the gills afterward, but pleasantly full.

The desserts were a bit on the expensive side, around $10 each, but the presentation was stunning. We tried the Passport chocolate tower. The dessert consisted of frozen chocolate mousse in a tower of white and dark chocolate ribbons and raspberry coulis and a white chocolate sauce. I wasn’t expecting the mousse to be frozen (think gelato in texture) rather than light and fluffy, but it was good. The dessert construction, while visually beautiful, made it challenging to eat. The taste was worth the struggle in the end.

The decor of the restaurant is mostly Asian in feel, but the music from the audio system is a mix from around the world. The room we were in played something in Italian and a bit of jazz. Another room, which may have had an event at the time we were there, was playing contemporary rock/dance music that could be heard where we were sitting as well. They may want to reconsider piping in different music in each room until they resolve the acoustics issues.
I’m looking forward to coming back another time to try some of the other items on the menu. Hopefully, the business they have during the work week and in the evenings makes up for the light business they had the day we were in for lunch. Based on their first visit, I’d like to see them stick around a while.

Tim and Sally’s Awesome Eats, Canton, MI

Yes, you read the name of this restaurant correctly, it really is Tim and Sally’s Awesome Eats. When reading Yelp reviews over the last few months I’d seen it come up a few times and even read the reviews, partly, I’ll admit, because the name is a bit odd so it stood out. I thought about trying it because the reviews of this place were surprisingly positive, but until recently I couldn’t find a website for them. I prefer to check out a menu online when possible before venturing into most new restaurant experiences, especially if I’m not entirely sure it’s food is going to be up my alley. As a website and graphic designer, I cringed a bit when I did finally arrive at their website as it has a homemade feel, but I did my best to ignore the aesthetics and took a look a their lunch and dinner menu. I saw a number of options, all very reasonably priced, that sounded tasty so my husband and I decided to give it a shot last Friday night.

Depending on your sensibilities you may find the very brightly colored interior to be quaint and charming, or you may choose to ignore the surroundings and focus on the great customer service and food. It felt like a blend of a coffee shop and diner with a number of tables and a counter with cookies and baked goods featured under glass domes. The colors when we walked in reminded me of the Rainbow Bright doll I had as a child. I’m still trying to decide if this was good or bad, but it was easy to ignore when we were warmly greeted by the wait staff when we walked in and were immediately seated.

The menu isn’t fancy, I didn’t expect it to be, but it does give customers quite a bit of choices from burgers, to sandwiches, even some homey entrees. They have daily specials and smoke their own meat in house for the barbecue options. They have a barbecue ribs from their smoker as a Saturday special, that I’ll have to come in and try. I think one of the things that shocked me the most is that they even have a selection of bottled beer and wine.

I ordered the Wrapped Sally sandwich, which is a spinach wrap with slices of barbecued chicken (these are not house-smoked), cheddar cheese, tortilla strips, tomatoes, lettuce and ranch dressing. I was pleasantly surprised. Though the meat is not one of their in-house smoked barbecued meats, it was moist and the barbecue sauce pleasantly smokey, rather than sickly sweet. The tortilla strips added a great crunch and texture while the other ingredients were fresh and good quality. You really get the sense that the owner’s care about giving their customers good quality food and service.

My husband ordered their Smokey Tim, their house smoked brisket with barbecue sauce on a bun. I stole a bite, it was very good. The time they take to smoke their meats in house makes a big difference. I’m excited to come back on a Saturday night to try the ribs special. It’s not amazing barbecue, but it good barbecue and surprising that you can get this quality in a little diner type place like Tim and Sally’s.

We were enjoying ourselves and our food so we decided to try dessert. I was thrilled to see that they had something called Sally’s Secret on the menu, a daily changing selection of mousse. I’ve been craving mousse lately and notice it’s hard to find in may restaurants these days. I was brokenhearted when the waitress told me that they had stopped making it for now, because it hadn’t been selling well. She said that she would have to tell Sally that she’s had a number of requests, of course, now that its’ off the menu and she should bring it back. The waitress said it is “so good, too”.

My disappointment was short lived because we decided to split a dessert that consisted of deep fried banana cheesecake squares topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and hot fudge. It was fantastic! I felt like a kid and really enjoyed it. The banana in the cheesecake gave it a more interesting flavor than plain cheesecake and gave it an extra spark it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

When we stepped up to the counter to pay our bill, I believe we were greeted by the great Sally herself. She asked how we enjoyed our meal. I told her that everything was great, but despite the delicious dessert we had this evening that we’d love to see the flavored mouse dessert brought back. Sally asked if we had eaten it before. When I told her that this was our first time in, she warmly welcomed us to her restaurant. We told her we’d definitely be back in.

Prices are really reasonable, even if the eats are not quite “awesome”, the food is solidly good and the welcoming mom and pop service certainly is awesome! So, if you check out Tim and Sally’s Awesome Eats ignore the aesthetics of the website and the decor and listen to the reviews. This is a place you’ll return to again and again and be pleasantly surprised.

The Quarter Bistro and Tavern,
Ann Arbor, MI

Lunch at The Quarter Bistro mostly draws a business crowd. It has a lovely and elegant interior with a mix of dark woods and fabric treatments. It’s not often I think about coming here because if feels a little out of the way on the west side of Ann Arbor next to the Maple Rd. Kroger’s.

Our waitress was very pleasant, though a touch on the slow side. It took about 5 minutes to take our drink orders at the beginning and to get our check at the end. She was helpful when I had trouble determining whether to get the sun-dried tomato soup or the Carlyle salad as a substitute for the fries that came with my lamb pita. She said the soup special was very good so I took her recommendation.

The soup was heavily cream based and very rich, but tasty. The lamb pita was described as “Sliced roast leg of lamb with spring mix, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes wrapped in pita bread and topped with a creamy Greek vinaigrette and a side of cucumber dill sauce”. The pita for the lamb was soft and yummy, though a little challenging to handle given the amount of filling stuffed into the sandwich. The lamb itself was lacking seasoning and benefited from a little salt and pepper, which I added at the table. It didn’t need the mozzarella, which was really too mild anyway for the lamb. The Greek vinaigrette was subtle, but added nice flavor, though I neglected to notice that I had never received the side of cucumber dill sauce which might have perked the lamb up a bit.

I might not go out of  my way to come back to The Quarter Bistro, but it’s a nice lunch spot with a lovely atmosphere and serviceable food.

Bagger Dave’s Breakfast, Novi, MI

I’ve been a fan of Bagger Dave’s and their burgers since they first opened a location in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago. When I found out that one of the newer Bagger Dave’s, located in Novi, was a testing ground for serving breakfast I felt the need to drive out there to determine if it measured up to the rest of the food I’ve come to enjoy.

If you’re familiar with their build-your-own burger concept then you’ll feel right at home with ordering breakfast here. They have a similar idea of build-your-own breakfast sandwich or bowl scramble, along with some al a carte items such as oatmeal, flavored pancakes, muffins and toast. For the build-your-own you mark on a printed sheet what goodies you want to add to your breakfast creation: meat, type of bread (or scramble bowl), cheese, sauce, premium toppings (if you so choose) and there are a variety of free toppings as well. All create-your-own sandwiches come with a fried egg on top, or an egg white if you prefer.

I ordered my own breakfast sandwich creation on a wheat bagel with an egg white, turkey sausage, cheddar and sauteed mushrooms. I skipped the sauce option, partly for calories and partly because I wasn’t quite sure which might work best for a breakfast sandwich. I really appreciate that they give you the option of an egg white instead of a fried egg without an extra charge. It’s healthier and I’m not really a fan of gooey egg yolk on my morning sandwiches. The bagel was fresh and soft, the sausage was flavorful and filling. I enjoyed my sandwich, though I’ll admit that I prefer their burgers a bit more. Maybe because I feel like I can get away with adding more creative items to a burger and not regret it later. I’ll admit that I was a bit timid when creating my first breakfast at Bagger Dave’s.

My husband and I shared a bag of Dave’s Diced Potatoes which come with a dipping sauce that includes a mix of sour cream, bacon, onions and spices. Our waitress was nice enough to point out ahead of time that we could easily share one portion of potatoes rather than ordering two separately. These are little nuggets of potato goodness best eaten with fork and dipped lightly in the sauce. A word of warning, the accompanying sauce is HEAVY on the onion. That aside, the combination was a nice change from your typical hash browns.

They had a fairly light breakfast crowd the Saturday we stopped in. It may not be well advertised, we just happened to notice a sign outside the building when we passed by a few weeks ago. Finding the breakfast menu on the website is a little challenging, it’s lumped in with the regular menu a few pages in.

Only one waitress was seating people and taking orders, but she did a remarkable job. Timing on everything from drink orders, to ordering to the arrival of food was very smooth. We went away full and happy. I’ll be emailing Bagger Dave’s to ask if they would consider adding breakfast to the Ann Arbor location soon. I think it would do well there, though the breakfast menu is geared more toward meat eaters than vegetarians.