Ann Arbor really is a great food town. That said, it’s easy for things to get a little stagnant. Turnover and change in the restaurant business is not only a part of life, its generally pretty healthy assuming the openings are outnumbering the closings. There has been a lot of activity recently so I thought I would try and sum up some of the happenings in the downtown area in 2016.
The Pretzel Bell – 226 S Main St – An Ann Arbor institution reborn in the former Lena/Habana space at the prominent corner of Liberty and Main (The Parthenon or Cunningham Drug Store if you’re going way back). It won’t be the original and may never have its character but it could fill a void downtown, there’s actually very few decent, non-chain sports bars (BWW and Bar Louie are chains, The Arena sure but it has its issues, Scorekeepers doesn’t count unless you’re 19). This place is about 50 feet from my office and I always felt Lena never lived up to its potential so looking forward to scratching my name into a table under the bell soon.
Fred’s – 1113 S University Ave – A cool addition to the standard (read: delicious when recently drunk) garbage on South U, Fred’s is a little health food spot specializing in juices, smoothies and light breakfast and lunch fare. Sorry to see former UM basketball player David Merritt’s clothing store close down in this location but it appears they live on online. Fun fact: Fred is the brother of local dynamo Sava Lelcaj of Sava’s, Aventura and Babo Market fame.
Piada – 311 S State St – So-called Italian Street Food, this fast casual spot just opened in a location that was most recently Five Guys but will always be remembered by a certain generation of us as Shaman Drum. A chain based in Columbus, OH is normally a double whammy of hate but honestly the concept seems to provide something different to the area and with only 35 locations or so, it’s not the kind of place you see on every corner… yet.
Mark’s Carts – 211 W Washington St – Now it’s in 6th season, there are two new food carts joining the fray in the little lot off Washington. Pita Cruiser, a little gyro and shwarama truck based in Charlevoix is the first. I sampled the gyro the first week it opened and wasn’t too impressed but need to give it another chance once they’ve established themselves. The other is Seafood Driven. This one I’m excited about. Helmed by two young partners, one a Zingerman’s alum, they feature quick, East Coast style seafood, think clam chowder and lobster rolls. I hope to be a regular.
KouZina – 332 S Main St – 2016 is the year of Mediterranean “Street Food” in Ann Arbor. Building on the success of his very popular location in downtown Royal Oak, owner Bobby Laskaris is opening his fast casual Greek spot in the former Middle Kingdom space on Main Street. It’s Chipotle-style ordering, pick a gyro, salad or bowl, pick a protein, pick the toppings, etc. Main Street is typically more a full service restaurant location so it will be interesting to see how they do here but I can tell you there’s a definite lack of simple lunch spots downtown west of State Street. The building looks great and they appear set to open any day now.
San Street – 415 N Fifth St – New Korean spot coming from Ji Hye Kim who is graduating from her San Street food truck to a full on bricks and mortar location. Partnering with the good folks over at Zingerman’s, Kim will be taking over their Events on Fourth space (Zing will move to their new, larger Greyline space in the new Residence Inn on Huron). A former Mark’s Carts occupant, this is sort of a great local success story. Look forward to steamed buns, banh mi and fried chicken from a really talented young chef.
RoosRoast – 117 E Liberty St – Beloved deep local coffee roaster RoosRoast is taking over the lease of Elixir Vitae on Liberty just east of Main. The original location on Rosewood sort of epitomizes A2: communal, original, funky and friendly. If they can bring half that character to downtown it will be a great addition to the scene. Lobster Butter Love y’all.
Jim Brady’s – 209 S Main St – An unfortunate loss for the Ann Arbor dining scene, Vellum closed in 2015 after just 2 years in business. High end and creative, it was never quite able to find its place. The space was bought by Tom Brady (not that Tom Brady) last year and should be the fourth location of his budding Jim Brady’s mini chain. It first appeared the restaurant would open in 2015 but it seems this location was put on hold while the Detroit spot was opened up. Jim Brady’s Detroit is up and running so perhaps we’ll see some progress here soon on the 50’s themed throwback bistro. Here’s hoping the A2 location is not too heavy on kitsch and focused on bringing a unique experience to Main Street.
Garage Bar – 618 Church St – Not necessarily a new opening but rather an outdoor expansion of Pizza House in the ground floor of the new ArborBlu building at the corner of Church and Willard. Looks to be a little more bar oriented compared to the restaurant feel of Pizza House and is exclusively outdoor with large garage doors opening out to the street. Numerous taps and a fire feature appear to be on deck with an opening likely in May or June.
Siris – 207 N Main St – From the owners of the Heidelberg comes a new barbeque concept featuring 100 craft beer taps and a downstairs cigar lounge. Formerly Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine, the restaurant and a significant portion of the building were damaged by a fire back in 2011. This block of Main Street struggles with foot traffic but there is a lack of good barbeque in the city (ricewood notwithstanding) and cigar lounges are few and far between so that will attract a certain clientelle. The renovation has been long in the making including digging out the basement for the cigar area, looking like an early summer opening.
Allen Rumsey Supper Club – 615 E Huron St – The restaurant opening in the recently renovated and re-branded Graduate Hotel, the old Campus Inn on Huron. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the guys over at AJ Capital Partners, the Chicago-based hospitality firm behind this venture and I can tell you they’ll put a ton of thought, energy and experience into this place. Their eateries in the Soho House and CAA in Chicago are totally original with damn good cocktails and food in a community setting. The location is a little challenging and the swank may be a test for Ann Arbor but I think these guys can pull it off. Looks to open in June or July.
309 S Main St – The former Melting Pot location, a chain fondue spot. Few mourned its loss and not notifying the staff? Not cool. The space has a “for lease” sign in the window but no visible signs of a change over. The location is too good to stay empty for long.
116 S Main St – Formerly Kai Garden, a thoroughly decent if not exceptional local Chinese restaurant that closed down in 2015. The business is still listed for sale for $195,000, I would think the space needs a pretty good overhaul, definitely a little tired inside and out.
307 S Fifth Ave – Old Jerusalem Garden space, most recently the Katoi pop-up. Another tough blow for the downtown scene, Katoi was awesome. Our loss is Corktown’s gain, they opened their new permanent location in Detroit this spring. This building is tiny and from what I understand, needs some work. Perhaps it can serve as another incubator for an up and coming restaurateur?