There is, perhaps, no more underrated food scene in the region than that budding in Ypsilanti.
In downtown, find the flavors of Hanoi, Mixco, Mexico, the South, and much more. Depot Town sets the standard in elevated bar food, yet also offers real choices for the healthy veg-heads.
But while Ypsi is an increasingly interesting place to find a meal, it lacks many options at the restaurant spectrum’s finer end. That’s an issue Cafe Ollie Food and Spirits is planning to address with its upcoming reboot.
The six-year-old eatery will shut down on Monday for three weeks for a full renovation. Upon re-opening, Café Ollie will be no more, and two new businesses will stand in its place — a full service, chill-vibe craft cocktail bar and seasonal menu restaurant simply called Ollie; and Cream and Crumb, a bakery/café that will operate out of a neighboring storefront.
Owners Danielle and Mark Teachout describe Ollie, a 60- to 70-seat space, as a well-thought out, finer dining experience minus the pretention. It’ll be accessible to anyone in Ypsi and Ann Arbor, but sophisticated enough to blip on food nerd radars. Expect locally sourced ingredients from area farmers, dishes made from scratch, and a whole-ingredient driven menu. But, refreshingly, Danielle Teachout says they won’t keep patting themselves on the back over their methods, as some restaurateurs are wont to do.
And though there’s creativity and careful planning, the fare will run at an Ypsilanti price point. “It’s the type of place where you say, ‘Damn, that was good and I only spent this little.’ You feel good about the whole experience,” Teachout tells MT
She enlisted chef Travis Schuster (formerly of Ann Arbor’s Spencer and the Corner Brewery) to assemble a menu and run the kitchen. He also highlights the accessibility and local foods, though “not just in sourcing, but in inspiration. I want to focus on the comfort food of our eastern heartland region,” he says.
Although Schuster was intentionally vague in discussing the menu to keep some surprises in store, he offered a few hints. In the spring, for example, Ollie will serve a simple, bright rosé risotto with “lots of fresh green and white things on top.” And in the Schuster-run kitchen, Café Ollie’s popular jalapeno cornbread pudding will be developed into a fresh, veggie-heavy, layered polenta.
Ollie’s “Board of Things” will hold charcuterie with preserves, pickles, and other morsels to be determined by whatever local farmers are picking week by week. And Schuster further intrigued us with his excitement for “a really weird take on chicken pot pie,” though he declined to elaborate beyond to say it’s one the menu’s brightest spots. Burgers made from local cows will be ground in house, and Schuster will pack together his own vegan burgers.
Those who have favorites on Café Ollie’s current menu need not fret: Many of the breakfast and lunch dishes, the award-winning mac and cheese, and the sandwiches will carryover to Ollie, though Schuster says he’s ditching the processed vegan items for whole-ingredient fare. (As he points out, processed food is processed food, whether its vegan or animal-based, and it’s not ideal either way.)
Thankfully, Ollie also won’t nix brunch and is adding a new Bloody Mary menu, though the Michigan-inspired theme is out the window on Sunday so Schuster can go nuts and run with a new concept each week.
Beyond that, expect special nights when, for example, diners can eat with the farmers who grew their food, or Schuster buys a half a cow and uses the entire animal in all the evening’s meals. And, as part of the accessibility theme that’s a key piece to the new concept, he’s also exploring how to give back to the community by partnering with local non-profits like Food Gatherers and Growing Hope.
Next door, at the 25-seat Cream and Crumb, Teachout will trade in donuts, scones, muffins, deserts (everything is made in house from scratch and includes vegan options), and the space will house the coffee and ice cream component now in Café Ollie. She’s also offering up a community kitchen space for local bakers and producers who sell at farmers’ markets, though those plans remain in the planning process.
The news comes as the Ann Arbor developers/restaurateurs 2Mission (Blue Tractor, Grizzly Peak) start renovating the adjacent, historic Thompson Block building, and Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken works closer to its February opening in downtown Ypsilanti.