Great Tastes in Local Food

By Crysta Coburn

Eat
If you’re looking for the most flavorful, healthful, home-cooking-like carry-out food in Ann Arbor, look no further than Eat. In my busy life (not to mention my capacity as reviewer), I’ve eaten a lot of carry-out from numerous world cuisines. Usually these are pleasant experiences, sometimes amazing, but the food from Eat blew me away. Only a few bites into the Korean BBQ beef sandwich, my fiancé looked up and asked, “Can we have them cater the wedding?” 

Eat offers an impressive and flexible catering service (trust me, I’ve looked at a lot) with menu options that change with the seasons. New potatoes in May, for instance, and sweet potatoes in September. And they don’t only cater weddings. The folks at Eat promise to make every event unique and memorable. 

According to their website, Eat is about “locally sourced, traditionally-made food, prepared and served with attention to detail.” Eat also wants their food to be approachable. With traditional American comfort foods, like macaroni and cheese and beef brisket pot roast (my favorite), I think “approachable” has been accomplished, but with the inclusion of items like Winter Tagine, a Moroccan dish, and Sloppy Yusuf, spiced ground lamb with raita on an onion bun, Eat achieves “exciting.” 

Menu items are labeled gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, and vegetarian that can be made vegan when applicable, and the choices are abundant. No one is left out at Eat! The tahini sweet potato salad is both gluten free and vegan, and has such a delightful blend of flavors — and colors — that you must not pass it up if you see it listed for that day. The hand-cut sweet potato fries dipped in aïoli are also a treat and pair well with the sandwiches and burgers (the latter are served on Tuesdays only). They also serve coffee by Hyperion, a local roaster based in Ypsilanti, located near the Ypsilanti Food Co-op on River Street, and one of my favorites.
In addition to hot carry-out meals and catering services, Eat also offers “TV dinners” (complete frozen meals that can be stored and reheated later at your convenience) and there is scant seating inside and a pair of benches outside if you are looking for a quick lunch spot. 

Often unique, locally-sourced restaurant meals come at a premium. I found Eat’s menu items completely reasonable, accessible, and generously portioned. So much so that while eating (comfortably at home), my fiancé and I were inventing future parties to give us excuses to order from Eat again.

Find Eat at 1906 Packard Street in Ann Arbor. Open hours are Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Sunday. Their website complete with a current menu is eatannarbor.com.


Taste Kitchen
When planning a night out in Ann Arbor, the choices of where to dine are plentiful. The blocks surrounding the Michigan Theater, near the corner of State and Liberty, can be especially busy on event nights, when, if you are among the Theater-goers, time is of the essence. If you make a reservation, or are a lucky walk-in (as I was), you can snag a cozy table at one of Ann Arbor’s new gems, Taste Kitchen, located at 521 E. Liberty Street, right across from Dawn Treader Book Shop.

The dining room is small, hence their strong suggestion to make a reservation. After being led to your table, your coat, should you have one, is taken and stored by the reception stand, leaving you a little more elbow room at the table. The menu is basically divided into two parts, small plates and main courses. The former includes items like a seasonal soup that changes based on available local produce, risotto, foie gras, and fish tacos. Main courses include various enticing seafood dishes, pork, and filet mignon. Taste Kitchen prides itself on a commitment to sustainability and local sourcing. The seafood choices rotate (according to their website) “based on seasonal availability and sustainability.” The menu changes with the seasons, a tantalizing prospect in Michigan, where seasonal produce is plentiful and varied. The freshness of Taste Kitchen’s ingredients are evident in every bite and are clearly assembled by a master hand. 

To drink, I ordered a latte because I needed a little perking up after a long day, and that, too, was made to impress. I tend to add sugar to coffee drinks because I frequently find American coffee to be bitter, but this latte, a blend from Ypsilanti’s Ugly Mug Roastery, didn’t need any sweeteners. It was delightful! The wine list is also impressive, as are the other beverage selections.

My dining companion and I ended up ordering three small plates for dinner: a bowl of pho and a Vietnamese noodle soup, for him, and a plate of salmon sashimi with garlic and scallions in truffle soy sauce for me, as well as a cheese plate to share. The three cheeses included a surprisingly silky bleu, a smooth tomme, and a rich camembert, all full-bodied and a real treat with a small dish of fig preserves and slices of toasted bread. The salmon sashimi followed the cheese beautifully and melted in my mouth. It was tempting to tell our server to keep the plates coming!

Speaking of our server, we loved her. We chatted about the food, drinks, and our plans for the evening. Another server also jumped into the conversation at one point, and the hostess chatted, too, while we collected our coats, and complimented me on my strawberry-shaped earmuffs (it was chilly that night), confiding that she’d been admiring them since I’d walked in.

Between the rich, flavorful fair and friendly, intimate atmosphere, Taste Kitchen delivered not only a delicious meal, but a memorable evening. 

Taste Kitchen is located at 521 E. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor and is online at tastekitchena2.com. They are open for dinner Monday through Saturday from
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Spencer
The space at 113 E. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor has been home to a few different restaurants over the past five years. It isn’t a big space, but the current resident, Spencer, makes excellent use of what they have, and I hope they stay with us.

Like many new restaurants in the Ann Arborregion, Spencer sources its ingredients locally (isn’t it nice to be at the center of a locavore movement?), yet sets itself apart in offerings. A friend recommended Spencer for lunch, so one day when I found myself downtown in need of a bite, I decided to stop in.

To maximize seating space, the owners used two long tables in the middle of the room and two smaller tables by the front window, along with a bar with several stools by the register. The food options are simple yet well crafted. For lunch, there are soups, like the delicious Rhode Island clam chowder, salads, baguette, grilled cheese sandwiches, quiche, and more, and for dinner, items like braised pork shoulder, Moroccan chicken wings, and French radishes with whipped feta. You may also choose from a small selection of cheese and charcuterie boards.

The drink menu, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, is quite extensive. According to the website, one of Spencer’s goals is to be a “friendly neighborhood restaurant that balances the feel of a casual wine bar with craveable fare of local ingredients.” Spencer offers both red and white wines from all over Europe (France, Germany, and Italy are particularly well-represented), and four draft beers, as well as a number of bottled options.

As for nonalcoholic beverages, I very much enjoyed the Rosie Palmer, a blend of Ceylon tea, lemonade, and rose water. Spencer also offers coffee, tea, Mexican Coke, San Pellegrino, and a selection of shrubs, or sweet drinking vinegars often mixed with carbonated water, which are currently enjoying a surge in popularity.

To me, Spencer’s simple and casual atmosphere is epitomized not by the communal tables or the cute alphabet cards they give you so they know where to deliver your meal, but by the use of mason jars as drinking glasses, a trend I’ve been seeing at lower key wedding receptions and backyard parties. And rather than paper or linen napkins, Spencer uses white cotton tea towels. Clever, I thought!

I have to concur with my friend that Spencer is a great spot to grab lunch. I can also imagine hanging out with a friend or two, enjoying wine or shrubs over a few plates of fine cheese and slices of meat.

Spencer’s address is 113 E. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor and can be found online at spencerannarbor.com. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Monday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They are open an hour later on Friday and Saturday; closed on Tuesday.

Posted on April 29, 2016 .