Monday, July 25, 2011

Ann Arbor Food Scene: Northside Grill

       As a kid I saw countless times the bubbly and matronly waitress in movies pouring coffee from a glass coffee pot while calling everyone by their first names and amazingly reciting everyone's orders from rote memory. Sadly when I was a kid the only road trips we would take were between Michigan and Arkansas. And we always stopped at some chain restaurant like Golden Corral which satisfied 10 year old me's appetite but did not have the charm of roadside diners, the ones populated with 1970's waitresses, traveling salesmen, and grizzly truckers.   As people start to crave comfort and familiar places, small little diners are forgotten, especially since these small diners are not splashed on the sides of billboards along the roadside like the hundreds of McDonald's and Cracker Barrell signs I saw tower above our car.  The roadside signs were my only distraction for the countless hours in the car because I got sick when I spent too much time writing, drawing, or reading so I stared out the window instead.  I still do this whenever I am in the car for long periods, I still stare mouth agape and look amazed at the cities that sprout beside the highway and the fields that stretch across the Midwest. And of course still read every sign promoting whatever thing McDonald's is proud of now, inticing this generation of kids to play on the not-quite-playgrounds, collect the not-quite-toys, and eat their not-quite-food. 
        In Ann Arbor there is famously the Fleetwood diner but it does not have the same feel as I imagined a diner should have.  It was not the movie diner of my youthful dreams.   I know my adolescent ideas are not always realistic or attainable but that does not stop me from trying. Fleetwood is good food, not great but its more about the Fleetwood experience than the actual food anyway.  Fleetwood is always busy and the waitresses act accordingly, effectively getting people seated and finished ultimately for better turn over.  Plus no apple pie a la mode, it does not count if I can't get a slice of apple pie. That is why I was excited to try Northside Grill, I love Fleetwood and it will always be part of Ann Arbor as long as Ann Arbor exists but its not the diner experience I want.
Hobo Skillet a la Northside
        This dairy-cum-diner located in Lower Town (1015 Broadway Street) is part of the free birthday deals that many restaurants in Ann Arbor participate in, mainly ones closer to campus but not all. Birthdays are a big deal mainly because all the free food you can get and there is a website (linked on the bottom of this post) dedicated to all the discounts and free food/drink you can get in Ann Arbor on your birthday.  This year I was not in Ann Arbor so I did not get all the free stuff I wanted but when my friend Liz had her's we made sure to at least hit a few of the free things, especially since we are both poor college students and we never miss a chance at a free meal.  Anyway at Northside you get a free entree on your birthday and that day we were not the only people celebrating a birthday. Two other tables were there doing the same thing we were, taking advantage of a good deal. Liz picks me up from the museum where I was working and we drove to Northside, thats one of the reasons I had never been was the fact it was so far from campus.
Cinnamon Raisin French Toast slathered in maple syrup

         We walk in only to be greeted by Connie our waitress and I fell in love.  She was everything I imagined down to the calling me hun and her bubbly attitude was infectious.  I looked over the menu and I am sucker for a weird name so when I saw the hobo skillet I knew I had to try it and I also got a side of the cinnamon raisin french toast.  This was comfort food in line with the stuff truckers eat in the unknown but amazing diners along the highways, because who knows the highways and the little restaurants along the way better?  Liz, on the other hand, got the Huron sampler because it was a ton of food and it was free so a great deal on top of that.   The hobo hash is just hash browns topped with cheese and eggs, any style.  Its a simple meal but something is to be said about simple food done right. It was delicious and did exactly what it needed to do, comforted me and transported me back to Saturday mornings eating breakfast with my family.  That is the few times when we did such things, I have never been big on breakfast mainly because I never ate it when I was younger.  Now when I eat breakfast I make sure it special and Northside definitely counts.  I need to get my fill before I leave Ann Arbor so you will see me there a few times as I stop by as I head to work.

Free Ann Arbor birthday deals can be found at:  http://arborwiki.org/city/Birthday_Deals

Huron sampler with eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and a biscuit


The cute cowboys who watched us eat

Northside Grill on Urbanspoon

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