Road Trip: Back in Ann Arbor (part 2)

My last post was about the first day of my recent road-trip to Ann Arbor.  I had too much fun (and delicious food) to fit the weekend all into one post, so here’s the rest!

In addition to our friends Krin and Etan (who we were stayed with), there was someone else we were excited to see – Aparna!  It all came full circle for me because I wouldn’t have known Aparna if it hadn’t been for my last visit to Ann Arbor in July 2011.  When I returned from my trip and blogged all about it, I received a comment and a few tweets from none other than Aparna, a fellow vegetarian and blogger from Ann Arbor.  Before long, we had become “blends” (blogger friends) and we finally met in real life last year when she visited her sister in Chicago.  I was so excited to get to hang out with her again plus meet her husband and check out some of the amazing restaurants I’ve been reading about on her blog for so long… but that part comes later in this post.


After a light breakfast at Krin and Etan’s place, our second day in Ann Arbor started out downtown.  I had forgotten that the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market was open year-round, so that was an awesome surprise.

For a winter market, I was really impressed with the amount of vendors at the market.  Mike and I bought some Artisan Pickles and some Michigan-made Strawberry-Rhubarb jam.  I also really wanted some of the homemade tempeh that The Brinery’s booth was selling, but since I knew we’d be out all day, I limited myself to shelf-stable purchases.


After the market and throughout the day we did some browsing at some other Ann Arbor establishments including: 

  • The Sparrow Market – a very cool Natural Foods store that seemed to have every product I could imagine in its colorful displays.
  • The People’s Food Co-op – whose bulk-bin selection can easily rival any Whole Foods Market, even stores 10x it’s size.
  • Bivouac – we really like this travel & hiking outfitter.  Mike got an amazing deal on a Northface jacket.
  • The Ann Arbor Library – Cool fact: In addition to books – telescopes, art-prints, musical instruments, and science-kits can also be checked out!

We hadn’t really planned out our day but found ourselves hungry for a late-lunch.  We all decided to check out Cafe Zola’s brunch which came highly recommended to us by Aparna.  After just a ten-minute wait, we found ourselves seated at the sunny, buzzing restaurant.

We started off with a shared pot of the Russian-Style Tea.  It was a very smoky-tasting black tea.  It was served with lemon slices and instead of sugar or honey – a bowl of brandied cherries for sweetening.  I’ve never had tea like this before but our whole table loved it.  Now I’m thinking of experimenting at home by adding jam to my tea… hmm… what do you think?


I didn’t see any good Vegan options on the menu, so I figured if I couldn’t eat Vegan, then I might as well get the tastiest item on the menu: The Turkish Brunch (Aparna’s favorite!)

Wow, this was a lot of food!  In addition to the beautiful platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, grape-leaves, feta, havarti, and eggs there was also a HUGE bread basket (with coffee-cake, fig-jam and at least 3 kinds of breads) that was intended for my meal alone.  My meal came with so much bread and cheese that everyone from the table benefited from my ordering, though I kept all the olives, tomatoes, cukes, and grapeleaves to myself – they were too perfect to share.

Overall, we all enjoyed the tea, food, and atmosphere at Cafe Zola and had a very happy & tasty brunch!

With our bellies full again, we felt like moving, so we headed to the Nichols Arboretuma beautiful and surprisingly large nature area right by downtown and the University of Michigan campus.


The paths and trails were covered in snow and ice but it was absolutely beautiful, and great exercise with plenty of hills and stairs.  I hope to come again in the summer to see what it looks like then.  The frozen path above is a peony garden in the summer!

We killed some more time before dinner by hanging out at Arbor Brewing Company which has a cozy dive-bar atmosphere, vegan friendly appetizers, and dart boards!

Next up, it was time to meet up with Aparna and her husband for dinner!  We had chosen to meet at the Jolly Pumpkin and as soon as I walked in, I knew we had made the right choice.  It had a very classy, warm environment – perfect for a date night, an outing with friends, or in our case, a combination of the two – it was a triple date, afterall!

I was a bad blogger and didn’t take many pictures that night, except for the blurry one below.  Aparna caught me by surprise by bringing Mike an incredibly thoughtful and unexpected engagement gift:  a Masala Dabba (spice tin)!  She had read on my blog that I really liked the spice tin used in the Indian Cooking Class I attended and I am so excited to have one of my own now!  The great thing about the tin is that you can place the spices you use the most inside of it so there’s no need to unscrew multiple jars when cooking.  I’m trying to figure out which spices I use the most so I can maximize my use of my Masala Dabba – so far I’m thinking Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, and Crushed Red Pepper.  What else should I include in my spice tin?

For dinner, I pretty much was a copy cat of everything Aparna ordered.  Our table started out with drinks and fries.  Aparna, her husband, and I each ordered the Frozen Basil Limeade (non-alcoholic) which really hit the spot and our table shared two orders of their Truffled French Fries with Truffle Salt & Rosemary.  

For our entrees, Aparna and I each ordered the Smoked Tofu Salad with Shiitakes, Spinach, Broccolini and Sesame Dressing.  I loved how hearty this dish was for a salad and the combination of the Sesame Dressing with the wilted greens and Broccolini was incredible.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the smoked tofu itself, but overall the salad was delicious.  Next time I go, I really want to try their Smashed Chick Pea Panini or the Red Chili Tofu Sandwich.

For dessert, I ordered a piece of the Vegan Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Coconut Ice-cream for the table to share.  The dark chocolate frosting on the cake was so rich and perfectly sweetened that it in itself is enough of a reason to eat at the Jolly Pumpkin. Yum!

After dinner, Aparna and her husband “REB” gave us a mini tour of Ann Arbor’s “Fairy Doors, which even Ann Arbor residents Krin & Etan had never seen before!  Overall, it was a very fun night and I hope it’s not too long before we can all hang out in Ann Arbor again.


Mike & I wrapped up the night relaxing at Krin & Etan’s house.  I got in some quality time with their cats (one of whom is strangely obsessed with wet hair – don’t worry, it didn’t hurt)…


…And Mike and I found time to write a message in their “guest book”, which I thought was such a great idea!  They keep this book on the nightstand of their guest bedroom and it’s full of great memories.

The next morning, we all had brunch together before hitting the road back to Chicago.  Since we’d eaten at quite a few restaurants over the weekend, nothing sounded better than some home cooking.  Luckily, I had packed my copy of Vegan Brunch, this month’s Veg Cookbook Club selection.

I made the Roasted Potatoes and Cinnamon Apples which were both so easy and were excellent versions of the classics.

We all worked together on the Peanut Butter Waffle recipe, which we decided to turn into Peanut Butter Pancakes when we realized we didn’t have one of the ingredients on hand (cornstarch).  Surprisingly, the texture was perfect, and the less finicky format of pancakes allowed us to add a mashed banana and some chocolate chips to the batter!

Overall, it was the perfect end to a fantastic weekend of food and friends!

I’d love to hear from you!

What spices do you use most frequently?

What would you cook up for brunch with friends?