Monday, 9 April 2012

Enemy terrritory - from Michigan State University to the University of Michigan

Enemy terrritory - from Michigan State University to the University of Michigan

I have taken the bus to go on a lunch date. 'The Michigan Flyer' ( links the two University towns of East Lansing and Ann Arbor with Detroit's International Airport.

I'm impressed with the coach. The seating is really comfortable, there's wireless internet, free water, proper seatbelts and the vehicle is so modern that they claim it has almost zero emissions. All good stuff.
I am interested that it is only me that bothers with the seatbelt. The wifi is a bit hit and miss on the journey out, but perfect on the way back. As one student, clearly a regular customer, tells me: 'It sometimes works and it sometimes doesn't'.
The pre-recorded departure announcement is akin to that on an aircraft. 'In the unlikely event of an evacuation...'. The message makes very clear that passengers should restrict their conversations on cellphones to one minute, a request that is repeated on screens throughout the coach.
But there is always one. Not, I hasten to add one of the mainly student passengers, but a middle-aged woman who yaks non-stop for thirty minutes after we set off. She appears oblivious that the two people seated closest to her get so fed up with her that they relocate.
Eventually, I let rip.
She says 'she doesn't care', but at least my reading of her fortune makes her stop her yacking.
I didn't have a car to park, but it's possible to park at the Lansing end for just $2 per day, which seems to me to be a very persuasive argument for not driving all the way to the airport.
Apart from Mrs. Yak, it's a very pleasant 75- minute trip on a lovely sunny spring day and within no time at all, I am with Eve Aronoff at her splendid Frita Batidos restaurant in Ann Arbor. (

I first met Eve when on a press trip to the town a couple of years ago. At that time, she ran an upscale restaurant, facing the same frustrations that every chef experiences when trying to cater at a high level. Staff and ingredient costs are too high to make a decent profit from constant 18-hour days.
So Frita Batidos is a very different concept, but it retains Eve's passion about sourcing quality, local, ingredients.
Eve says it's Cuban inspired street food and instructs her kitchen to produce a sample tray from which I can taste a selection of her most popular dishes.
Thus, I am forced to try, for the sole benefit of my audience, a 'Humalupalicious' india pale ale from northern Michigan, which is absolutely splendid. Then, in the interests of research, some crisped plantains with a choice of Cilantro lime salsa or avocado spread. Simply wonderful.
To wash that down, Eve suggests some home-made fresh ginger lime juice. That is truly sensational, although I am not convinced that the idea of serving it in a plastic bag, rather like the one you used to get at a fair with a goldfish swimming around, is the ideal presentation. But I suck it all away through the straw and I never feel anything wriggly pass my lips, so I suppose there is nothing fishy about it after all. It is VERY gingery.

Among the mains I sample is an extremely tasty chorizo Frita, that being a sort of little Cuban burger. When I asked Eve if the chorizo is home made, I am put right back in my box.
'Everything is home made,' I am told. Then a pause. 'Apart from the brioche'.
The Batido, are tropical milkshakes made with fresh fruit. Your researcher tries Coconut cream and passion fruit and, as predicted when the order was taken, is much more attracted to the latter.

The restaurant is pretty minimalistic, with white painted brick walls and large picnic tables at which to sit. Hence, we are joined by a couple of guys, one of whom turns out to be a Cuban. Mr. Martinez doesn't realise at first he is sitting at the owner's table and, without any prompting, he discloses he very much likes what Eve is doing. When he learns he is chatting to the boss, he promises to bring in a Cuban cookbook with some of his own favourite dishes for her to adapt.
What is impressive is the variety of clients. Young and old, casual and city dress, students and business folk, visitor and local. That kind of spread bodes well for future success.
There are a lot of lovely little touches too, coat hooks on the wall near the tables, little bags of limes in string bags and a nice unit of condiments and other necessities at each table.

I'm excited for Eve. She has hit on a pretty innovative concept and I hope that she can package up what she does and make it work in other areas. I want her to bring one to East Lansing, where she was brought up, but her mum and dad, Professors at Michigan State, have put their feet down. Apparently too many decent restaurants in the town have come and gone in recent years for their liking.
Eve and I go on a post-prandial walk round the town and are approached by a black woman looking for somewhere to eat. 'Well there's the sandwich place across the road', Eve says, 'or just round the block is a great place called Frita Batidos'.
I chip in.
'With the best burgers in town', say I.
The lady trots off at pace, while Eve and I hi-five.
Is this blog all about food?
Today, yes.
Jolly nice food too.

All my trip photos to date are at: