Tom and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner last week with our very dear friends Art and Mary Schuman at the \'aut\ Bar. (If her name sounds familiar it's because I wrote about Mary's art exhibit, "Colors of Summer," a few weeks ago.) It's an Ann Arbor institution with a famous and extensive Sunday brunch, and a fabulous dedication to the community and to community service that is rarely seen anymore.
For some inexplicable reason, I had never been to the \'aut\ Bar to eat ... truly, I have no way to rationalize it as I've always heard wonderful things about the food and the atmosphere. I just never managed to get there -- Ann Arbor does, after all, offer many, many restaurants; and I do, admittedly like to cook ... :) But now I can say that I have finally remedied this deficit in my life experiences!
Mary and Art have a favorite sandwich -- the Lemon Tempeh Hummus Roll-Up: "Our homemade hummus, seared tempeh finished with fresh lemon juice, with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions seasoned with olive oil and vinegar and rolled into a spinach tortilla. Served with carrot slaw." They shared it, as each was going to have a bowl of the gazpacho as well. As you can see from the photo, the sandwich was enormous -- easily enough to serve two people. It smelled wonderful, though I didn't get a chance to try it. I'm not a soy/tofu/tempeh kinda gal, but this comes so highly recommended and had such a lovely aroma that I might actually be persuaded to taste it some time.
The gazpacho isn't listed on the regular menu, but rather it was on the list of daily specials. I had hoped to read a bit more about it once I saw it and tasted it, but never got around to asking the waiter to bring the menu back for me to peruse. Frankly, we were having way too much fun chatting about the day that Mary and Art met, about how Tom's sister is our guardian angel for having helped to facilitate our meeting, about pet peeves, about a mutual acquaintance who lost last week's primary election by one vote ... I didn't even think to ask to review the menu again.
But the soup was unique, as most gazpachos are bright red from tomato juice and this either contained roasted vegetables or a high percentage of green tomatillos or something that gave it its distinctly browner color. I was very happy to take a taste of this, and enjoyed it very much; it was a perfect complement to the sandwich and ideal for a hot, muggy day in Michigan.
Tom is a huge fan of breakfast food, of sandwiches, of bacon and of tomatoes. So when he found the BLT Squared -- "A new twist on an old classic. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, sliced hard boiled egg and mayo rolled in a large toasted flour tortilla. Served with cole slaw." -- he heard it calling seductively to him, all his favorite foods rolled into one amazing treat. Frankly, I think it was more than that -- I think it was calling his name LOUDLY. As the Borg say in "Star Trek: The Next Generation": "Resistance is futile."
Considering that it is a sandwich as generous as the one that Art and Mary shared, one could easily see that it had the pipes to demand Tom's attention. And it's a good thing he ordered this, because he absolutely loved it! I was offered a taste and can personally attest to how good it was; truly, the addition of the egg was serendipitous, and we kept asking ourselves why we'd never thought of it on our own??? If you haven't eaten a BLT with egg before, let me assure you that this situation needs to be rectified.
I didn't suffer too much of my usual brain paralysis, not only because I had pre-emptively studied the menu online to narrow down my options, but also because I was just in the mood for a good ol' fashioned burger. There was a chicken salad wrap whispering to me, as were the tuna salad-stuffed tomatoes ... nope. The \'aut\ Burger won the day: "Lots of meat! 1/3 pound of ground beef from Knight's Market (yet another Ann Arbor institution) seasoned with Cajun spices and topped with steamed onions, cheddar, and mayo on a kaiser roll." The burger was very, very good; but I saved half of it to bring home to Jeremy a) because it was a huge portion of food, and b) because I was saving room for dessert. As you can see, the fries were perfectly golden and crisp and plentiful. Just what I was in the mood for after a long day at work -- comfort food extraordinaire.
The dessert menu completely undermined my previous decisive success, and I was being pulled in too many different directions. Brownies and ice cream and pie and cheesecake ... oh, God, make the swirling in my head stop!!! Too many choices, every one of which sounded divine!!! I actually just told Tom to pick something that we could split, because I would have gone "Eeny, meeny, miny mo" for hours before I could have definitively settled on anything. He readily chose Tiramisu, which was one of the half-dozen options that had been luring me into temptation, so I was happy. Chocolate, custard, more chocolate, cake, and all of it drizzled with both chocolate and caramel sauces ... be still my beating heart. Oh, it was luscious and decadent beyond my descriptive capabilities!
Art and Mary had it easy -- they had walked into the restaurant knowing they wanted to split the justifiably famous Mexican Bread Pudding: "Martin's (one of the co-owners) Grandmother's recipe. Baked bread pudding with apples, pecans, maple syrup, cinnamon, and cheddar cheese. Served with sweetened cream." It smelled so amazingly good as it was served -- a feast of aromatherapy! And the taste didn't disappoint, since Mary was gracious enough to let Tom and me try it. The pudding was warm and rich and spicy and creamy ... I cannot imagine an occasion or a meal at which it wouldn't be a perfect ending. Frankly, simply savoring the pudding with a cup of coffee without eating anything more substantial beforehand could soften even the hardest heart or brighten the dreariest day.
At one point, Mary told our waiter, Mike, that I write a blog about food ... and she really milked it, too! His eyes grew wide and he was taken aback while smiling broadly through his surprise -- I felt bad for him, and I didn't want him worrying about any negative comments or reviews. Not only am I too nice a person to hurt anyone's feelings publicly; but he was charming and patient, the ambiance of the restaurant -- simple and tasteful, with intriguing black-and-white photos on the walls -- was warm and inviting, and the food was outstanding. I almost never let anyone know that I may be writing about my experiences, simply because I don't want any undue attention or any unwarranted fussing. But Mary so enjoyed sharing this little tidbit ... it was a fun moment!
Alas, though, it was getting late and we all needed to start heading home. We left the restaurant with the absolute intention of going back. I've spent too many years not eating at the \'aut\ Bar, and I will not let much more time pass before I find my way there again!
Note: In case anyone is wondering, if you didn't click on the link to learn more about the \'aut\ Bar, it is, indeed, a bar that serves and is openly welcoming to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community. It also simply serves Ann Arbor as a whole -- we are all human beings who need and love to eat, right???
As a long-standing Ann Arborite (28 of the past 29 years), I am thrilled and proud to be able to say that our city would not be the same without this wonderful restaurant serving really good food to all customers regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although this is the Bar's mission and raison d'etre, I didn't want the information to color anyone's reading of the review of our wonderful meal ... thus, I left that little tidbit out until just now. It's the food that matters.
Co-owners Martin and Keith also own the Common Language Bookstore, directly across the courtyard from the Bar, and the store is holding its 2nd Annual Book-a-Palooza (featuring not just GLBT books, but a wide variety on all topics) tomorrow through Sunday to raise funds to keep the bookstore open. It is representative of a sadly dying breed: the independently-owned bookstore. Thus, as the big box behemoths and online shopping and electronic readers overrun us all, a little bookstore in a little town could always use a little t.l.c. Remember: "Buy local, or bye-bye local."
So go on over on Friday night for $3 hardcovers or $1 paperbacks; go on Saturday for $2 hardcovers or 50-cent paperbacks; then go again on Sunday for a $5 grocery bag full of books ... it's for a great cause supporting people who support Ann Arbor and give so, so much back to our community. And then, hey -- grab a snack at the \'aut\ Bar while you're in the neighborhood!