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Posted on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:30 a.m.

Frugal Friday at Cafe Habana and Lena - share appetizers for an inexpensive outing for two

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

It was Girls' Night Out recently, and my BFF Wendy and I headed to a new restaurant — Lena — which is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. A sophisticated place, some have been surprised to hear that we found options that would qualify for the mandatory $5 per person budget. But if you share an appetizer or a dessert, you can definitely find value on the menu. Sometimes it's important to focus on the quality of the dishes, and on the social aspects of going out with a friend, rather than seeking gargantuan quantities of food.

Our evening began by heading downstairs to Cafe Habana, to visit my friend Bobby Hoffman who was tending bar. Although they are technically part of the same facility and share a chef and some staff, Habana and Lena are different spaces both physically and in terms of atmosphere. The latter is sleek, bright, trendy but welcoming; the former is darker, lively, and particularly giddy once the DJ starts playing and the salsa dancing begins.

Bobby didn't just bring us whatever beverage we'd ordered, but instead took the time to talk with us about what types of drinks we like, what sort of delicious treat we were in the mood for on an oh, so rare evening of frivolity. He brought us tastes of several liqueurs — as they came up in our conversations about food, travel, and amusement — telling us that Habana even makes many of its own from scratch. Bobby is passionate about food, about drink, about experiencing life, definitely a bon vivant. Be sure to ask for him when you go to either Habana or Lena, as he will spoil you rather than merely serving.

Bobby recommended a lovely appetizer to go with our Strawberry Mojito (me) and Posion de Bruja (Wendy, who was tickled to order a Witch's Brew): Baked Goat Cheese. This was a rich, creamy, indulgent treat topped with salsa and served with an abundance of tortilla chips. At $8, it was far more than one person could eat, and it was the perfect dish to go with our potent drinks. (Unfortunately, the bar was so dark that there was no way to get an acceptable photo.) It was an ideal dish to nibble at while talking about life and love ... the kind of stuff Wendy and I always tend towards when we go out.

Although we weren't particularly hungry anymore, we couldn't resist the temptations of Bobby's other menu recommendations; so we walked upstairs to Lena to continue our evening and try a few more treats.


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Both Bobby and our waitress had recommended the Ecuadorian Humitas, which are fresh corn cakes with lemongrass-tomato stew and melted chihuahua cheese; essentially, they are layers of polenta filled with rich cheese and topped with a lovely light sauce. At $9, and with two portions served, this is another dish that meets our budgetary standards.

Because it was Girls' Night Out, dessert was mandatory. And who could resist a luscious chocolate treat, especially when it only cost $9 and offered plenty of decadence for two? Pasion de Chocolate, pictured above, is a gorgeous and delicious serving of chocolate cake that is filled with white chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate ganache, and accompanied by sweet lychee ice cream. This was ideal for our evening and would also be perfect to share on a date.

There are a significant number of options on the Habana and Lena menus which cost only $7-9, such that you could share them with a loved one and still stay within our mandatory budget: the Ceviche Trio, beef or cheese empanadas, plaintain tostones, fried yuca rolls with queso fresco, the charred vegetable platter and duck confit. Vegetarians will find that they have not been neglected and that many inspired dishes await them.

For a lively and energetic party, head downstairs to Cafe Habana. And for a quieter, but no less delicious, option, stay upstairs and eat at Lena. But either way, stop by, say "hi" to Bobby, have a drink, socialize, and enjoy some lovely food.

Cafe Habana 226 S. Main Ann Arbor, MI 48104 734-994-2773 Monday - Saturday: 5 p.m. - 2 a.m. Sunday: 5 p.m. - Midnight

Lena 226 S. Main Ann Arbor, MI 48104 734-994-2773 Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - Midnight Sunday: 12 - 10 p.m.

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Mary Bilyeu writes for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, telling about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests, meeting new friends ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions, comments, or suggestions:

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — where she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related; and look for her monthly articles in the Washtenaw Jewish News. "Like" her on Facebook, or send a tweet on Twitter, too.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.



Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

I just visited Lena this week for the first time. It was AWFUL! The "shredded chicken" was so bad, even the waiter commented that he wouldn't eat the pile of fat and non-meat on my plate. But they still charged me full price and never responded to my comment card. Gross. There are a lot of great places to eat in Ann Arbor. This isn't one of them.

Mary Bilyeu

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

I just received an email telling me about great deals that weren't available when I visited: "I noticed your article today and wanted to add something to it. I happened to walk by Lena/habana earlier in the week and noticed a $5 happy hour special that just began. There are $5 drink specials including the mojitos, margaritas and sangria. What surprised me were the food items offered. From 4-6pm in Lena you can order mussels, lobster pot pie, some potato cake thing and wings….all for $5 each! Downstairs it was the cheese dip you talked about along with quac and a bean dip I believe. Pretty good deals. Anyways I thought I would share as it seems to fit." Thanks so much for letting us know!