by Todd Abrams
These days, with the influence of the Internet and social media and a few connected friends, a new restaurant can collect supporters long before it ever serves its first dish. So it was with Mae's. Months before opening, buzz was circulating about the Pleasant Ridge space situated on the east side of Woodward Avenue near I-696, previously known as the durable Anna's Coffee Shoppe. Though a few pessimists from a local discussion forum had already written the place off as the latest hipster hangout run by youngsters with "ironic haircuts," the Detroit "twitterati" could not wait to grab an omelet and a cup of coffee.
While cyber-chatter is admittedly low in calories, it's not exactly filling. Fortunately, it's the atmosphere and fare that actually define a dining establishment, and Mae's gets a smiley emoticon in both categories and another for value.
With knee-to-ceiling windows on the north and west walls, a wealth of natural light washes across the white counter and the vibrant aqua vinyl stools and chairs. Vintage wooden soda crates and a milkshake mixer lay amid the shelves of kitchen tools and foodstuffs. The soundtrack is wholesome rock 'n' roll played at a tolerable level. Mae's is quite clean and decent and suggestive of a fairy-tale era where young love is measured in baseball euphemisms and cigarettes aren't yet bad for your health.
To contrast this nostalgic vibe is a shiny new coffee machine that brews freshly ground, locally roasted Great Lakes Coffee in all the styles that the modern cafégoer is accustomed to. Also available are made-to-order smoothies and fresh-squeezed orange juice. If you want something fizzy, fight the plague of high fructose corn syrup-sweetened drinks with a premium glass bottle of Faygo, simply made with plain old traditional cane sugar and not the government-subsidized stuff of laboratories.
Open until 4 p.m. every day except Mondays, Mae's menu is naturally focused toward breakfast and sandwiches. The highlight on the breakfast side is aebleskievers, Scandinavian spherical pancakes crossed with a popover; they have a slight chew on the outside but are nothing but delightfully airy puffs of dough inside. Served with fresh whipped cream and strawberry or raspberry syrup, aebleskievers are typically devoured in short measure with bacon on the side.
The house-made biscuits are tender, flaky and hold up to sausage gravy. And that gravy comes plentiful with hunks of sausage, much like gravy you would make at home for your loved one, quite unlike the meatless paste that serves as gravy too often at lesser diners. Go inexpensive with a simple fried egg and cheese sandwich for $2.50 on your choice of a half-dozen styles of bread baked at Detroit's Avalon Bakery. Go gourmet with a worthwhile eggs Benedict complete with spinach, bacon and tomatoes on baguette. Get your starch with four latkes or your protein with the all-veggie Hippie omelet. Everyone is covered for breakfast.
Partially inspired by a tiny diner on the Michigan-Wisconsin border that cooks its beef in a built-in charcoal-fired grill behind the counter, the butter burger is a good bet for lunch. Two well-seasoned, hand-formed patties come various ways on a generously buttered bun. It's something like a large slider without the onions. Burgers are served with a pile of limp hand-cut fries, our only real disappointment from multiple dishes. Not only were the fries sagging but they were also accompanied by a few rather large and darkly fried mystery nuggets.
The onion rings are fine. The Heidelberg sandwich of house-glazed ham, Swiss cheese and honey mustard on crunchy grilled Pullman white bread makes a hearty lunch. There are nine more sandwiches besides the burgers to choose from. They all come with a bag of Better Made chips. French fries or onion rings are a dollar more. A Michigan salad with dried cherries, goat cheese and candied walnuts is only $6. There's a daily soup and chili selection. Children have their own section of the menu, with such standards as grilled cheese and chicken tenders, as well as fun food like the peanut butter and marshmallow — or fluffernutter — sandwich.
Finally, for a carnival-like dessert indulgence, deep-fried Oreos will satisfy all of your cravings. The chocolate cookie turns soft inside a layer of chewy batter sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the whole turns out far more pleasing than the sum of its parts. Do a few laps around the block afterward if you're feeling guilty.
While the buildup towards Mae's opening might have initially brought a few people in, it's the quality food, mood and reasonable prices that are going to bring them back.
Open 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Mondays.
Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.