Great Tastes in Local Food: Back2Roots, Salads Up, Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe

By Crysta Coburn

Back2Roots Bistro

When I am in downtown Ann Arbor, out-of-towners often ask me for recommendations on where they should eat. Ann Arbor’s Main Street area offers up a lot of choices when it comes to dining. In fact, if you are looking for an all vegan restaurant, it offers one of the best choices in town — Back2Roots Bistro. Neighboring Vinology and Crazy Wisdom, Back2Roots opened in August 2015 (in the former location of Jazzy Veggie). The space underwent quite a transformation with the opening of Back2Roots. The decorations are simple, the walls painted neutral with pops of color coming from the beautiful paintings, and the furniture is comfortable. The menu at Back2Roots bears a slight resemblance to its sister restaurant, Hut-K Chaats (on Packard), but Hut-K specializes in more Indian flavors. Both restaurants are owned by Dr. Swaroop Bhojani, who came to the world of restaurant ownership from a background in medicine and cancer research. [An article about Dr. Bhojani and his unique journey with food and health was published in issue 55 of CW Journal, available at]

The completely vegan, GMO-free menu of Back2Roots reflects Dr. Bhojani’s continuing mission to provide healthy, nutritious food to the community. Many of the ingredients are also served raw, and the added texture is a delight, from crunchy bok choy to soft soba noodles. I eagerly dug into the delicious Asian Dragon Bowl, composed of sautéed vegetables and topped with a lovely array of greens and a sweet Asian marinade, while my fiancé opted for the more conventional Southwestern Black Bean Burger with a side of chili. As promised by the menu, both dishes were packed with bold flavors that blended together magically.

During the meal, a smiling server stopped by our table with a sample of one of their signature beverages — the Power of 7, a fresh blended juice of baby spinach, baby kale, baby chard, rice milk, pineapple, dates, and limes. I also sampled the mango smoothie. I liked them both so much that I was a little sorry I hadn’t been bolder when we were seated and ordered one of them. Instead, I had opted for a hot cup of Assam tea, though I was tempted by the Darjeeling. (Confession: I love tea! And I especially love when I am offered choices beyond the simple black or sweetened you find at most restaurants.) Back2Roots also offers a short list of “rotating elixirs,” like thyme and raspberry, dandelion and lime, coconut and tulsi, and chrysanthemum (ask your server which are available during your visit).

Back2Roots delivered an all-around enjoyable dining experience, and is a must-try (even for non-vegans)! Simply put, you will feel good eating the food. The body knows what’s good for it and will respond to what’s put into it accordingly, but sometimes the taste buds take charge and lead us astray. Thankfully, at Back2Roots, this is not an issue. Among a menu of options crafted with your nourishment and health in mind, your taste buds can only serve you well. (And they will be happy, too!)

Back2Roots is located at 108 South Main Street in Ann Arbor. Their hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can peruse their menu online at

Salads Up

It is a boon and a compliment to a city when its graduates choose to stay after graduation. So much more so when they open a business and add to the flavor of the community. Salads Up, located next to the Michigan Theater on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, is just such a blessing. Owners Robert Mayer and Max Steir graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 and opened their restaurant’s doors in December of 2014.

Picture a Coldstone Creamery, only instead of ice cream, it’s salad. (Bear with me.) You can choose one of their pre-designed recipes, like the Heapin’ Harvest, which consists of romaine lettuce, roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, organic barley, red onion, and green apple — or you can build your own. Whatever you choose, the person behind the counter will make the salad fresh — first combining all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then moving to the next station to chop and mix all the ingredients together. (Now do you see the Coldstone connection?) Once mixed, the ingredients are then added back to the bowl and tossed with the dressing of your choice. If you order it to go, the salad is scooped into a plastic to-go bowl with a lid that will keep your salad fresh in your fridge for days (I’m not exaggerating). If you’re eating in-house, the salad is put into a re-usable bowl so you can take the rest home for later. We’re not talking side-salad size — this is a meal! (Or three.)

There are a few beverage options, such as the house made cold-pressed juices, which are divided into four types: Up1 (watermelon, apple, mint); Up2 (kale, pineapple, cucumber, celery); Up3 (carrot, orange, ginger); and Up4 (beet, pear, lime). For dessert, Salads Up offers Greek frozen yogurt.

Despite being a salad place, Salads Up is not all vegetarian or vegan. The Heapin’ Harvest includes roasted chicken and the Beef’d Up has steak. You can also choose shrimp or strips of turkey bacon. I don’t think I have ever had steak on a salad before, but I enjoyed the Heapin’ Harvest so much that I feel pretty confident these people know what they’re doing, and I am willing to give it a try.

Salads Up is a unique and healthful addition to the Ann Arbor foodscape. Service is quick and seating is ample. You may also order ahead of time for pick-up if you are low on time. If you don’t want to make the salad the entire meal, or are headed to a pot luck, I would suggest getting a salad to-go. There is more than enough to share with a small group, and any Salads Up option is bound to be more nutritious than potato salad.

Find Salads Up at 611 E. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor and online at They are open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe

One of my favorite friend gatherings is “Fancy Grilled Cheese Night.” Every now and again, a few friends and I get together to create grilled cheese sandwiches that go beyond simply buttered bread and cheese. Fancy grilled cheese sandwiches are pretty easy to make at home, but gathering special ingredients like fontina cheese, braised beef or oven-roasted Dearborn ham, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and parsley pesto takes planning and maybe a special trip to the grocery store.

The Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe to the rescue! The cheese is fresh off the block (how many of us bother with block cheese when we grill sandwiches at home?), the chicken is free range, and as many ingredients as possible are sourced locally. The pickles are McClure’s (Detroit), the potato chips are Great Lakes (Traverse City), and next to the cans of Coke you will find Vernors and bottles of Faygo. (I only wish they called it pop rather than soda.)

Any style of grilled cheese sandwich can be found on the menu. For the mushroom lover, there’s the Shroom, stuffed with Muenster and goat cheeses, roasted wild mushrooms, and parsley pesto on whole wheat bread. (For a dollar more, you can substitute with gluten-free bread, which is really quite tasty! It crisps up perfectly, and I didn’t notice much difference from conventional wheat bread.) The first sandwich I ever tried at Grillcheezerie was one I built myself: Muenster, chicken, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. Building your own sandwich is probably the most fun, even with signature items like the Honey Apple, the Mighty Beef Melt, and S’Mac and Cheese. Yes, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich with macaroni and cheese on it.

If you like mac and cheese, you don’t have to get it between two slices of bread. The Grillcheezerie also makes its own fancy mac and cheese as well as some delicious soups. Their roasted garlic tomato is some of the finest around. For dessert, I recommend the s’more bread pudding because after a meal of classic American grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and tomato soup, it doesn’t get much more comfort foodie than s’mores or bread pudding.

There is enough seating inside the Grillcheezerie to accommodate a few small groups, and parking spaces can be found out front on Packard and State streets or for free in the adjacent neighborhoods. I personally love that they deliver. Many times now I have been rescued by a hot grilled cheese sandwich and soup while stuck alone at work. Order through the website or over the phone.

Grillcheezerie Sandwich Shoppe is located at 709 Packard Street in Ann Arbor, near the corner of State and Packard. Find them online at or give them a call at (734) 368-9229. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Posted on December 31, 2015 .