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Eating your way ‘round the world in Ann Arbor

Article and photos by Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel


Located just 42 miles from Detroit, upscale Ann Arbor, Michigan refutes the small town stereotype. With a population of about 114,000, its sophistication comes as a surprise, and may be explained by being the home of the University of Michigan. It overflows with fine art museums and galleries, unique shopping and an outstanding culinary scene. For example, there are almost 300 restaurants, many headed by award-winning chefs, and the number of excellent ethnic restaurants boggles the mind.

Indie shops fill downtown Ann Arbor.


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Seifu Lessanwork has owned the Blue Nile Restaurant for 20 years in Ann Arbor

Five favorite foreign eateries

           

Soft lighting glows in a broad room filled with low straw mat-covered tables, surrounded by even lower chairs -- all telling you that you’re in for an exotic experience. You’re in the Blue Nile Restaurant (bluenilemi.com). Owner Seifu Lessanwork, who hails from Addis Ababa, established his restaurant 20 years ago with the intent of preparing traditional foods from all regions of Ethiopia.

Food arrives in traditional covering at Blue Nile Restaurant

 

After cleansing hands with a warm cloth, guests are invited to remove the conical lid off the platter and dive in. Meals are served gursha-style where companions all eat from the same plate, scooping up rich morsels of food with pieces of injera (a soft bread). In Ethiopia, this method is said to bind friendship. Savor chicken dishes, like Doro Wat and Doro Alecha (both simmered in herb butter with onions), Yeberg Alecha (a spicy lamb stew) and Zilzil Wat (a tender beef stew). Tasty vegetables are seasoned with herbs and spices.

A platter of Ethiopian food includes meat and vegetables.

 

Many budget-minded diners choose the All-You-Can-Eat Ethiopian Feast for $18.90 per person which includes all the meat dishes and veggies. The perfect ending to this gastronomic treat is to enjoy a homemade dessert and a cup of freshly-roasted Ethiopian coffee.

 

When you walk into Ayse’s Turkish Café (aysescafe.com), you’re walking into Ayse (pronounced EYE-shuh) Uras’ kitchen, figuratively speaking. That’s because the owner and chef delights in cooking as in her home. There’s no menu other than a menu board that changes each day, depending on what Ayse feels like cooking that day – just like at your home. She specializes in a selection of popular Turkish dishes: pilav, borek, chicken eggplant kebap, white bean stew with lamb, moussaka, lentil soup, yogurt appetizers, meat pies and the list goes on. Don’t overlook the imported Turkish beverages of coffee, tea and red and white wines. The servers make suggestions and explain the dishes so choosing what you like is a “no-brainer.”

Turkish wine enhances the food at Ayse's Turkish Cafe.

 

“Sleek” best describes the décor of Slurping Turtle (slurpingturtle.com/annarbor) which gives no hint of what it’s about. No cheesy touches that scream “Asian” here. But the cuisine is Japanese-inspired. Chef and owner Takashi Yagihashi’s goal is to introduce Americans to Japanese food beyond sushi. His Chicago restaurant, Takashi, concentrates on fine dining, and has earned a Michelin star. But in Ann Arbor, Yagihashi wants Slurping Turtle to celebrate Japanese home-cooking. Locals regularly slurp its popular homemade ramen noodle soups, like Tonkotsu with pork chasu, bok choy, phili oil and woodear mushrooms. The shashimi bar offers a variety of fish, shellfish and vegetarian dishes for one to six persons.

Slurping Turtle features Japanese home cooking

 

Yagihashi is the recipient of a James Beard Award, and was crowned Best New Chef by Food and Wine Magazine.

Owner Takashi Yagihashi celebrates Japanese home-cooking at Slurping Turtle

 

No town can be a foodie town without a good Jewish delicatessen and, in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s Deli (zingermansdeli.com) has been filling the bill since 1982 when Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig joined up. They focused on stacking piles of corned beef or  pastrami on Jewish rye bread, or grilling the popular Reuben. Those treats are still on the menu, but their offerings have expanded to include specialty foods, an unending selection of cheeses, Artesian olive oils and vinegars, baked goods, teas and coffees from around the world, and more. Seating is available at Zingerman’s Next Door where you can dine upstairs with large windows on the eclectic neighborhood.

Zingerman's Deli

 

The company has ballooned from one small sandwich shop to Zingerman’s Community of Businesses which includes The Creamery and Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Fresh bread is a favorite at Zingerman's Deli.

 

In Italy, an “osteria” is actually a trattoria (small family-style restaurant) where meats and other foods are roasted in an open wood-burning brick oven. Mani Osteria and Bar (maniosteria.com) specializes in a wide selection of hand-tossed piazzas that savor an authentic Italian taste. Although the restaurant isn’t small and has outdoor seating, the waft of wood and Italian spices lend an air of authenticity.

Pizzas at Mani Osteria are baked in a wood-burning oven.

 

Mani’s favors many ingredients that you’ll find on menus in Italy. Look for boar, fennel, hazelnut, black truffles, goat, Calabrian chile, grana padano and others. The meats are fused with the grilled flavor taken from the wood.

 

These dining venues are only the tip of Ann Arbor’s ethnic restaurant iceberg. While there, take a culinary trip around the globe.

 

 


 

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