Zingerman’s Deli, Ann Arbor, MI

It had been a while since I’ve stopped over to Zingerman’s Deli, the large crowds and higher priced sandwiches only encourage a splurge from me a couple of times a year. My husband and I had some business in Kerrytown this past Saturday and I decided that I was craving a bit of Zingerman’s barbecue. At noon on Saturday the line was out the door and around the corner as expected, but we made sure to arrive when we were right on the edge of hungry, rather than in starving mode. We chatted with a young woman who was new to town, which also helped pass the time as we waited in line for about half an hour to place our order.

In the past, I’ve almost always gotten the Detroit Street Barbecue Chicken sandwich, which is fantastic, but this time it was Lisa C.’s Boisterous Brisket that was calling my name and it still comes with a side of their awesome applewood-smoked bacon baked beans! Zingerman’s offers two styles of pickles, new and old. The new style is more “cucumbery” and the old style has a more garlicky flavor. Both are good, but I went with the new style for this visit.

It was a gorgeous day, but their were still several open tables outside, even having waited in line, but we opted to sit inside in the air conditioning over at Zingerman’s Next Door. We easily found a two-seater table inside while we waited for the staff to call our names and bring over our sandwiches. While we waited I took a peak at the desserts in the case so I could decide on something to take home afterward.

Our sandwiches arrived about 20 minutes after we sat down, the amount of time we were quoted when we paid for our order. The smell alone is amazing, but the sandwiches were truly sensational. The Nosher (smaller-size) barbecue brisket sandwiches are one of the best values on the Zingerman’s Deli menu. It’s still plenty of food for a good appetite, but they’ll only run you $8.50 each and that includes the side of beans and your choice of pickle.

The hoagie bun for the beef brisket sandwich is nice and soft and coated with sesame seeds. The brisket is overflowing from the bun and has just the right amount of their own sweet barbecue sauce to make the sandwich really come together. I wish Zingerman’s made the hamburger buns they sell to Great Plains Burger Company the same way as their hoagie buns, because it’s the perfect texture (I know, enough with the hamburger buns complaints already!). The side of applewood-smoked beans have a great smoky flavor and a nice complexity. The new style pickle with the great cucumber flavor is a nice change from the traditional style pickle.

I took home a slice of Zingerman’s Buttermilk Cake. It’s described on their website as “A dense buttery yellow cake filled with raspberry buttercream and covered in smooth vanilla swiss buttercream.” Being a yellow cake and raspberry lover this one really caught my eye. The woman at the register said that the staff had a sampling from the very cake my slice was coming from earlier that morning and it was the best version of this cake she’s every tasted. Well, not having this cake before, I can’t add my own testament to that, but it really was delicious! I split it into two servings so that I could enjoy it an extra day, but also to minimize the damage to my arteries. Even Paula Deen would cringe at the amount of butter used in this cake. The texture of the cake was luscious and light, the raspberry flavor from the filling was really good and the rich (very, very rich!) vanilla buttercream on the exterior was smooth and full of butter flavor. Oh, so good!

At $6 a slice, some might find it a bit pricey, but you can really taste the quality of the ingredients in this dessert. Also, consider what you pay in a sit down restaurant for some of your desserts that aren’t nearly as good and you’ll start to see that it’s really reasonable for what you get.

Sometimes I take Zingerman’s for granted since it’s so close to where I live, but I may have to start making a few extra splurges each year. They really do have the best customer service in town and they really care about the quality of the ingredients they use in every last bite of any product you order. It’s really nice to see this type of pride in a business and I hope it continues for a long time to come!

Vinology, Ann Arbor, MI

I had lunch at Vinology in Ann Arbor for the first time last week, though I’ve been there a couple of of times before for dinner. I looked at their lunch menu online the day before and it appears that they’ve scaled down the available choices since I looked a few months ago. There are a few salad options, but everything else is in “burger” form. Their are no light entree plates for the lunch crowd which was a little disappointing even with the creative burger choices they did have. We still decided to give it a try.

I had the Peking Duck burger: a seasoned ground duck breast “patty” glazed with a hoisin sauce and topped with an Asian style slaw on a wheat bun. For those of you who’ve been following my hamburger bun saga, the wheat bun at Vinology met my expectations of a quality hamburger bun. It was soft and light in texture with a touch of sesame seeds and a subtle nutty flavor. The ground duck was an interesting change from your ground beef or turkey; the glaze and slaw gave the sandwich a strong Asian feel. I opted for the sweet potato fries for my “significant side”. I’m not sure what the term “significant” was was referring to as neither the portion size or the taste of the fries were significant in my opinion. The sweet potato fries were decent, but far from the best I’ve had.

My husband had the Bouillabaisse burger: a sausage patty with a mix of lobster and shrimp, saffron aioli and tomato on a brioche bun. It had a strong seafood flavor and the orange color of the saffron aioli was a nice visual accent when the burger first arrived. He ordered the crispy julienned potato fries for his side. His fries were also fine, but not spectacular.

While lunch at Vinology was tasty I can’t help but think that they need to keep a few light entrees, or at least appetizers, available for the earlier-in-the-day crowd. Burgers are very popular these days so maybe Vinology is trying to compete, but I would still have loved a few more choices on the lunch menu.

@burger, Ann Arbor, MI

We gave @burger, Big Boy’s pilot attempt at a hip burger joint in downtown Ann Arbor, a shot this past weekend. I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t memorable either.

The interior is loud and boomy, even with only a few people. There were only a few booths and mostly high-top bar style tables, the rest of the seating was a few scattered lower tables and the placement is really tight. Ordering is a bit awkward because the digital screens with the menu are at an angle to your right and away from the person you’re giving your order to. It might make more sense to have the menu directly behind the counter.

I had a ‘small appetite’ beef burger off their create-your-own burger menu, which they call a ‘Made for Me’. The toppings I added were what I normally have at similar burger places such as, Great Plains Burger Company and Bagger Dave’s: BBQ sauce, tomato, cheddar and sauteed mushrooms. They only have one hamburger bun which they refer to as a ‘brioche bun’. All burgers come standard with house made potato chips. I tried to “upgrade” my potato chips to their ‘bruschetta chips’ with tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and parmasen cheese, but it would have been an extra $4, too rich for my blood, so I just went with the plain chips.

@burger’s self-proclaimed “soon to be famous” brioche bun was oddly dense and I just couldn’t get used to it. After reviewing a number of burgers on my blog I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m a pretty strict traditionalist when it comes to a hamburger bun. The bread can be wheat or white, but the texture has to be simple and soft, nothing else will do. The burger itself was okay, but nothing special. Their signature barbecue sauce had a nice smokey flavor. The mushrooms were cut a little too thick, but were nice and garlicky. Their freshly made potato chips were a disappointment. They were incredibly oily in taste and overdone. I’m glad I didn’t pay extra for the upgrade.

Given the loud awkward atmosphere and lackluster food, I can’t say that I see myself coming back.

5ive Restaurant, Plymouth, MI

It’s not often I look to a hotel restaurant for a good lunch, but that’s just what you’ll get at 5ive Restaurant inside the luxury hotel and golf course at The Inn at St. John’s. My husband and I first tried 5ive last year for my birthday dinner and really enjoyed the food and friendly service. I though it would be fun to give their lunch a try last weekend.

They were not particularly busy on the Saturday afternoon we stopped in, but I’m not sure they’re normally very full. They were also pretty quiet last year when we had dinner here, so it may just be the nature of an out-of-the-way hotel restaurant.

Their summer lunch menu has a variety of flatbread pizzas, salads, sandwiches and lighter entrees. I ordered the steak panini on the recommendation of the waitress. The panini had slices of grilled steak, boursin cheese, chipotle mayo and normally caramelized onions, which I chose to omit. It came with house french fries and sweet and sour pickles on the side. As a warning, the prices for their lunch menu that are currently online are a couple of dollars less than what we saw on the menu when we arrived at the restaurant.

My grilled steak panini was really good. I was a little concerned that the combination of boursin cheese with the chipotle mayo might be a bit to heavy, but it wasn’t. The chipotle mayo gave the sandwich just enough of a kick in flavor. The portion size was pretty substantial, too. The fries were decent, but traditional in style and flavor. The sweet and sour pickles were tasty and I couldn’t stop eating them!

Service at 5ive is very friendly and attentive. The food is really good, but maybe a bit overpriced; however, not too surprising at a boutique hotel restaurant. I thought the cost for the dinner entrees (about $18-$33) were more reasonable overall than the lunch entree prices (about $15-$24). Though both the lunch and dinner entrees include a choice of soup or salad. It’s a nice slightly lower priced and quieter alternative to a number of high end downtown Ann Arbor restaurants that are usually crowded and difficult to have a conversation in.

Innovation Cafe, Plymouth, MI

It’s unlikely that you would know that Innovation Cafe exists, even if you live in Plymouth. It’s hidden inside the Michigan Life Science and Innovation Center building in an industrial park off of Beck and M-14. I have to thank a Yelp reviewer for the tip on this one. I was looking for new places to eat in Plymouth and came across a single review of Innovation Cafe from someone who works nearby. The review by BD Traveler R. was intriguing enough for me to make the trip out there. I also scoped out their website menu ahead of time and it sounded interesting for a weekday lunch. The cafe is run by chefs who own a catering business. The cafe appears to be side business as the hours of Innovation Cafe are a little short, only 11am-1pm Monday through Friday.

I grabbed an adventurous friend and headed up last week on a Tuesday. The setup is cafeteria style, but the sandwich and entree choices offer more than you might expect from a corporate cafeteria, including sushi, a salad bar and several interesting sandwich options. Tuesday is also ‘Stir-fry Day’, it was beef and broccoli the day we went. It smelled tasty, but not being a broccoli fan I went with the Innovation Club sandwich which had grilled marinated chicken, black pepper bacon, romaine lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese and aioli on freshly made bread. I also added their fresh caprese salad as a side. They surprised me by grilling the chicken and frying the bacon for the sandwich while I waited.

I love pepper and there was plenty of it on my sandwich, though it might be a bit too much for some. All the ingredients were very fresh and flavorful. The caprese salad left a little bit to be desired. The tomatoes weren’t as flavorful as I would have hoped and the simple dressing was missing some pizazz too. My lunch also included a simple, but tasty pickle on the side.

Overall I think it was a nice simple lunch and would be a great change of pace for local office workers looking for something that’s healthy and uses local ingredients. It’s a good alternative to fast food or chain restaurants in the area for a quick bite to eat. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily make a special trip out, but if I were nearby and wanted an easy cheap lunch I’d keep Innovation Cafe in mind. The prices are really reasonable and the chefs make a point of using local vendors and products which I make a point of trying to support.

Vinsetta Grill, Royal Oak, MI

While we were out on the east side of town looking for a lunch spot we stumbled on this pretty tasty little place along Woodward in Royal Oak called, Vinsetta Grill.

This restaurant seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. The decor is a mix of dark modern colors, contemporary architecture and limited lighting (in part why there are no photos for this entry), but there are odd collections of items on the walls such as a series of farmer-style hats that seem out of place. The menu is more traditional in style and choices than you would think from restaurant’s design. They also have a digital board near the kitchen that shows the current order numbers to let servers know when the food is up. It seems a little bit tacky for this type of restaurant since it’s not at Denny’s atmosphere.

Aside from the decor our waiter was very helpful and attentive and the food was pretty good. We both chose to build our own burgers from a list of extensive toppings. I went with grilled chicken on a wheat bun topped with herb goat cheese spread, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes with a side of roasted garlic aioli. My husband chose a traditional beef burger with pineapple, Swiss cheese and barbecue sauce on a hamburger bun. The waiter was nice enough to suggest that we mix and match half orders of their sweet potato fries and regular fries and save a little money (the burgers are a la carte here).

My “burger” was very flavorful. I’m always afraid that when I order a grilled chicken sandwich at a restaurant that the breast is going to be two inches thick and impossible to eat, but the one at Vinsetta’s was a much more reasonable half-inch thick with nice grill marks, though a just a tad overdone. The herbs in the goat cheese spread were nice and pronounced, but not too strong. The sun-dried tomatoes were still whole and a little tough to chew, they might consider cutting them into a julienne or cooking them a bit more to soften them up. The scallions and garlic aioli were delicious with the other toppings I chose. The sweet potato fries, which are one of my new weaknesses, were also yummy. Crispy outside and very soft potatoey (is that a word?) inside.

We’re not on this side of the Detroit area very often, but if we were and I was looking for another interesting burger I’d try Vinsetta’s again. They have over 30 different topping choices so the combination possibilities are enough to bring me back for something less traditional.

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Columbus, OH

I generally try to eat a bit on the healthier side. My husband is more of a burger, hot dog and pizza guy. When we go out to eat when we’re in Columbus to visit his family I try and mix it up a bit so we’re both happy. One of the more low brow and less healthy places we went on this visit was a place called Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace in downtown.

My brother-in-law had recommended this bar/restaurant to us before and we decided to give it a try. It’s not quite your typical hot dog joint; they have more than just ketchup, mustard and relish for toppings. The selection ranges from beef brisket to Srirarcha cream cheese and everything in between.

They were packed when we got there around 2:30 on a Friday. We were going to wait for a table, but when two seats at the bar opened we decided to grab them instead.

Although many of their pre-created hot dog combinations sounded pretty good I went for one of their Vienna dogs with BBQ sauce, cheddar and their house made creamy coleslaw. I must have repeated at least four times that the coleslaw was “really good”. It was probably in my top five coleslaws of all time. The dressing was very creamy and lightly sweet with a sour cream flavor. It went perfectly with the BBQ sauce and cheddar. The hot dog itself was rich and meaty with a nice bite to it and a light snap.

I tried fried leeks on the side instead of fries or onion rigns for a change and because I love leeks. It was a mixed bag. The leek pieces that were more broken apart and less of a solid ring had great crunch and a light oniony taste, but the leeks that were still mostly whole had a less desirable texture. If they break up all the leeks before frying them I think they really have something here. They’re a nice change from your typical onion rings.

The place itself is a small restaurant space with limited seating and a bar. It’s very much a college-crowd atmosphere with quirky artsy decor. They only play local music through their speakers, which is kind of cool.

The bartender who took our order was kind enough not to charge us for my husband’s fries because they didn’t come out with our meals and we had to wait another 5 minutes for them. Even so, the prices are pretty cheap so you can get a full meal here for two under $20. They even serve Jeni’s Ice Cream, although Honey Vanilla Bean is the only flavor they carry. I think I can suffer through another high calorie meal here, for the sake of my husband, of course!