Day: April 24, 2012
With all the hub-bub over my cookbook giveaway, I thought it might be time for another trip over to Frita Batidos. Frita’s is owned by Chef Eve Aronoff (who is the author of my cookbook giveaway, if you’ve not heard) and this is her second venture in the Ann Arbor dining scene after her first restaurant eve. Actually, I believe there is some overlap between the two timelines, if I remember correctly. But that’s all beside the point — I’m here to eat!!!
She is quick to point out that the food served here is not Cuban food, but rather, it’s what is called “Cuban-inspired” street food. When describing the basis for this inspiration, Chef Aronoff talks about the times she spent growing up in Miami and being exposed to all the different local cultures. Of course, this includes the Cuban and Latino communities, but also numerous influences from other migrant populations like Creole and African. So, Cuban food traditions are just the starting point of where she develops the signature flavors and tastes of Frita Batidos.
Before we get too far along, let’s look at some of the terminology. That’s when the menu gets extra handy offering some explanations. First of all, let’s start with the name of the restaurant. A frita is a type of Cuban burger which is traditionally made with chorizo, but can be made of fish or black beans. It’s usually served on top of a soft bun with a side of shoestring fries. A batido is a tropical milkshake made fresh fruit, crushed ice, and a drop of sweetened milk, with or without rum (yummy Cajeta Batidos!). But there is a wide selection of other menu items that would be at home in any Cuban restaurant like Cuban sandwiches, plantains, conch fritters, and churros — lovely churros. Just look at the picture above to see (or go to the website). What’s also great about the menu is how it’s broken down on the back (it’s also printed on the wall). There are listings for what’s Vegan and Vegetarian; there are categories for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Garlic-Free items; and there’s a breakdown of flavor profiles. It’s great for those who may need a little direction and guidance in making their selection. But then again, I love categorizing and organizing things so it makes perfect sense to me!
When you first enter the restaurant, one thing that you’ll probably notice is that it is stark white with various metallic accents from the chairs, menus, lighting, etc. The storefront is white, the walls are white, the ceiling is white, the floors are white. The lone pop of color comes from the window-side bar which has a warm wooden tone; there is another bar towards the back. You’d think all this starkness would lean towards a more sterile, clinical feel, but it really doesn’t. The exposed brick and wood are among the various textures help add to a feeling of warmth. Also all the white lets the food really stand out — which is why my everyday plates are simple and all white. There is an air of informality here, which is helped along by the use of the picnic tables instead of regular tables and chairs. You could even start up a game of dominoes with your neighbor if you like, which again is a nice touch that is reflective of the Cuban / Latin American cultures.
Luckily for me, I get there around 11:30 and I beat the lunch rush. I try to keep things simple and just order a Chorizo Frita (you can get a Frita Loco which includes Muenster cheese, cilantro-lime salsa, tropical coleslaw, and an egg sunny-side-up!). I also get a Fresh Ginger Lime Juice to accompany it and make myself comfy at the window-side bar so I can look out on this cold, gloomy Michigan day. Hard to believe it was 85 degrees here a couple of weeks ago!
When I get my Ginger-Lime Juice, I was definitely surprised. This was my first time ordering this and I was taken aback, not just with the flavor but with its presentation. It was served in a simple plastic baggie with a straw. This may seem strange to some, but it definitely stays with the street food theme. If you’ve done any traveling in the Caribbean, or Latin America, or if you’ve watched any travel programs like No Reservations, or even Destination Truth (remember, I’m a nerdy dork) you should be familiar with how this drink is served. It is very typical of what you can find in markets or being sold by street vendors in that part of the world. I am very much appreciative of the effort and thought that went into this drink. The flavor was amazing — just what I needed to brighten this gloomy day! The flavors of the ginger and lime feel so balanced and refreshing. I really could drink this all day long! It reminds me of her Ginger-Lime Martinis, but without the martini part.
It doesn’t take too long for my Frita to be ready. Served on a small sheet pan (these would be handy in my bakery), it’s wrapped in paper sitting on top of a piece of banana leaf. Again, you have a gamut of textures and flavors here — there’s the soft and creamy brioche, the crispiness of the fries, and the spiciness of the chorizo. All the different layers all contribute to the really exceptional experience you get when biting into one of these. The flavors all seem to blend and yet stand out on their own. The quality of the ingredients is definitely apparent — everything was delicious!
Unfortunately, I had to cut my lunch date with myself short because the time ran out on my parking meter. Originally, what I had hoped for was to get a large cohort of folks together so we could all sample a wider array of menu selections and give a better representation of what Frita’s has to offer. But I guess I’ll just have to make another field trip downtown, by myself or what have you. It’s not like I need an excuse to eat some great food. It’s all in the name of research! And I do have to apologize to the nice folks that sat next to me at the bar. Sometimes when I have a task on hand (like doing a restaurant review), I have a tendency to be too focused and not be as friendly as I should. It’s a flaw and I’m working on it 🙂
So, if you ever happen to find yourself in downtown Ann Arbor, stop in to Frita Batidos for a bit. Have a churro and hang out for a while! You won’t regret it.
And don’t forget to like me of Facebook (why do I always forget about self-promotion?)