All of the hype I heard about this place before coming was correct. It’s basically the next best thing to being in Italy. They really have their spice, flavor and texture combos down perfectly, and it’s even possible to enjoy this place on a budget. In a world where ‘Sicilian style thin crust pizza’ is everywhere and it usually falls short in my opinion, Mani Osteria made me a convert just when I was about to swear it off. Chewy, crusty and smoky crust… oozing and browned artisanal cheeses and varied ingredients make the mark (try the burrata pizza!)
What to say about Café Zola, other than it’s perfect, and worth every expensive cent/ Located in Ann Arbor right in the downtown area, every time I make the drive I either go here or consider going here. Though this is for brunch nine times out of ten, I’ve had a couple of outstanding dinners here also (on those nights you think: F%$@ it! I’ll pay for perfection!) Here’s why.
Brunch: My two favorites: Turkish eggs: Two eggs surrounded by organic spinach, a block of feta, and marinated vegetables. And the Artichoke Omelette, which also happens to include green beans, potatoes, roasted red pepper, red onions and cheddar. It says a lot that I don’t add anything to either dish as I am a frequent customizer: But these dishes are PERFECT as they are. I can’t order anything else, even though they have crepes and homemade bread/ jam baskets and a whole host of other culinary delights. If you know Ann Arbor, then you know that Café Zola is enhanced by serving many options from Zingerman’s, the local farm/ restaurant. Ann Arbor is really unique because many restaurants cater to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and locavores by sharing between businesses. And almost anything with Zingerman’s on the menu will have a fresh and local quality that can’t be beat. But back to breakfast: You’ll get a fresh bread basket, and you need to get their house made ketchup on the side even if you don’t like ketchup. Don’t worry, it’s more of a preserve that tastes of apples and a variety of spices, and I put it on everything from bread, to potatoes, to omelettes. I’d buy a gallon if it would keep!
Dinner: The lamb and filet are the two I’ve tried here, and they are pitch perfect. Think presentation, taste, and quality of ingredients and preparation. If you’re going for dinner, you already know you want to splurge, and also that it will be worth it. I’ve never had a bad meal here, and out of town guests are always impressed no matter where they’re from. So it’s a safe option when you have a little extra cash and someone to impress.
Even when you’re on a budget, I’ve been perfectly happy splitting the omelette with a friend and getting a couple sides (add bacon and potatoes!) It’s my ‘to go’ place in Ann Arbor, and probably on most other people’s short list as well.
Cafe Zola's Website
The Earle Downtown is a great date spot. It's in the basement, dimly lit, and if you are on a good night you can hear the tantalizing acoustics of some fine musicians. Really a great atmosphere for talking, meeting with friends, or having a nice glass of wine at the end of the week.
The Earle is known for being quite pricey, but having delicious food. So, when one is a teacher and makes no money, what do they do? They get a groupon! Woot! So off I went to enjoy the Groupon and some yummy food. First up, the crab cakes. The crab cakes were fine, but I'm one of those people that has a peev about consistency. I don't like crab cakes to be all soft and mushy. I like to have a break up of that with fresh vegetables and good flavors. They have the flavor, but it's just one big crab cake. My favorite crab cakes come from Cafe Zola. They just do them exactly how I like them and top it off with a smoked paprika aioli. MMMMmmm! Two mushroom goat cheese bruschettas were tasted which were fine. The really excellent dish was the peppercorn steak (
Rolled in coarsely ground black pepper, and served with a brandy sauce, garnished with mushrooms. Served with potatoes). It just had that je nais se pas... I thought the boneless duck breast was going to be what I dreamed about later, but nope. It was the steak. Pretty much every time I go I will dish up the 30 bucks and get the steak. If you don't like pepper you won't like this steak. IF you do like pepper and steak this is the obvious choice. You can thank me later.
Find yourself a Groupon and head on over!
The Earle's Website
Isalita is the sister Mexican restaurant to its neighbor, Mani Osteria. So it was on my “MUST VISIT” list, because I had to see if it would do for Mexican what Mani did for Italian. The answer is, noooot quite. It’s gotten some great reviews and I had some delicious flavors, but there were a few issues. I know I repeat the “happy hour” instruction often, but I find that it’s a MUST in Isalita. They have happy hour specials of the day that include discounted guacamole and cheap tacos on other days. If I go back, it will be on cheap taco day. Because these little guys are way too rich for my blood. And I DO mean little. I ordered a fried fish taco, and it was a tiny finger-sized fish stick on a tortilla with some quite delicious pickled add-ons, but a fish stick all the same. The Al Pastor was a phenomenal, sticky, seared piece of pork belly (but still small). It was a standout on an otherwise “alright” meal. Their truffled guacamole was a win! But it was $10. We also ordered a margarita and a craft pop. Our small but filling meal would have come to around $45 if the waiter hadn’t accidentally served my gluten-free friend a very gluten-filled flour tortilla, claiming it was corn. She ate some before she realized, and the restaurant bent over backwards to apologize. Our waiter told us he’d pay for the meal. That’s right, the whole meal. Only in Ann Arbor, where gluten allergies are had (or claimed) by at least 50% of the population. We weren’t mad, but we were happy about not overpaying for a tasty but too small Mexican meal. Expect loud noise, cramped seating and a terrible date atmosphere. Not a lot of charm here- it feels like a college frat party in an expensive location. Try it out- but read their specials on the website before planning!
Shalimar is an Ann Arbor staple for good Indian. A lot of the times I think Indian tastes the same except the spice level is different. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's just me. The thing that stands out the most from this place is their house salad. Ha!
I know that sounds weird, but it's fresh and good and not a leafy salad. Its comprised of tomato, cucumber, onion, carrots, lettuce and flour chips. Maybe this is a staple at every Indian restaurant, but I haven't seen it.
This place can fill up fast so make sure you get there early!
Giving you a taste of what I taste. From gourmet to everyday. No pretentious bull - just good food.