A restaurant with a liquor license inside a bookstore — “that’s my idea of heaven on earth,” said a friend.
It’s not quite as celestial as that. The Cosí chain’s fifth restaurant in Michigan only has a connecting corridor to Borders. You’re not sipping and munching among the books. You’re also not spilling coffee over everything, which is why one Borders manager was thrilled when the bookstore closed its own café.
According to this employee, when the café was open the Farmington Hills Borders had the highest rate of damaged books in the United States, out of 280 stores.
So you can tote your Cosí coffee or sandwich into Borders, but you won’t find a place to sit. Or you bring your Borders purchase into Cosí and read while you eat. But it was legal to read while eating in Michigan anyway.
Cosí (pronounced “cozy”) has good food and an atmosphere the company calls “eclectic” and I call “chain.” It’s big and barn-y, not “cozy.”
However, it’s good at the roasted red pepper-and-goat cheese genre. By the time you read this the “mocha martini” will be offered — Kahlua, white crème de cacao and vodka, rim dusted with mocha powder.
That sounds snarky, but I am quite partial to this now-clichéd genre. Cosí serves good, filling sandwiches on crisp flat bread, such as smoked turkey and brie, smoked salmon and goat cheese, grilled chicken with tomato, basil and mozzarella, and roast beef and caramelized onions. Their un-Mexican “cosídillas” are terrific on the toasted flat bread; the roast beef with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and cheddar oozes warm and fatty flavors.
An appetizer called Cosí Corners is the same bread served with six “s’breads”—little pots of purees such as spinach-artichoke and blue cheese-celery (you choose three). This is a good deal at $6.75. I liked the idea, though I found the basil pesto a little salty and the sun-dried tomato pretty one-note oregano.
The cute names are part of the branding mechanism, but in my opinion they just make the diners uneasy about getting the pronunciation right. Restaurant Management School 101: If the diner feels uncomfortable about a menu item, they’ll be less likely to order that item. Perhaps they’ll turn to “warm ’n cosí melts.” Most of us feel that few meals are not improved by hot cheese, so Cosí melts cheddar, romano, mozzarella or Swiss on sandwiches of beef, chicken, tuna, ham and other goodies.
Cosí makes a good caramel hazelnut steamer (flavored hot milk — think of the profit margin at $3) served in a huge white cup. The usual doctored coffees are available from 7 a.m. on.
Pizzas are divided into “red pies” and “white pies,” the latter without tomato sauce. The pizzas are also baked on the flat bread. You can get a salad pizza, though, which has chopped lettuce, etc., on top.
After 5 p.m., when the drinks start to flow, Cosí serves five styles of penne and three noodle entrées. I enjoyed my hot Thai chicken and peanut noodles, with distinct flavors of scallions and cilantro, though the noodles would have been more at home in Bologna than in Bangkok.
My favorite was perhaps the signature salad. Here they take spinach and field greens and load them up with gorgonzola, grapes, pistachios, pears and dried cranberries. Yes, it works, though it sounds like apples and oranges. The pistachios are a sweet, nutty touch.
I was medium-happy with dessert: Mississippi mud cake eats pretty much like a big slab of dark, rich chocolate, i.e., yum. The warm apple brown betty is a great idea but needs to stick closer to a traditional betty, with more of the crumbly topping, and not get sidetracked into apple pie.
Bookstore browsing is a pleasant night out, and Cosí is a fine place to take care of the nosh portion of the evening. Too bad we can’t be trusted to do both at once.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.