food & grocery: Frugal Friday at Mani Osteria - appetizers, pizza, dessert are all inexpensive options
Mary Bilyeu | Contributor
I met my friend Kate, who was in Michigan for an annual family vacation, for dinner there recently; she was going to be heading back home the next morning, so I left it up to her to choose where she'd like to eat on her one evening in town. We had never met before, having only exchanged witty and pithy messages and comments on Facebook. I knew that she had worked as a chef, and also that she is likely the only other person alive who'd ever heard of Gary Numan's "Telekon" album or even knew that he'd recorded any songs other than "Cars." A kindred spirit — how could we not meet for dinner while we had the chance?
It turns out that Kate is also as indecisive as I am, given that neither of us is a picky eater. I often think life would be easier if I didn't like so many foods — I'd know which one or two would pass inspection, and then I'd be done. But Kate and I kept talking, debating options, talking, considering choices, talking, and trying valiantly to narrow down the potential selections; everything looked good, which only makes my brain hurt. We were both "impressed by the wait staff not pressuring us," as Kate noted, since this really did take a fair amount of time.
Mary Bilyeu | Contributor
Other appetizers that could easily be split among two would be the Roasted Olives for $6, the Arancini for $7, or the Pickled Tomatoes with Ricotta or Isabel's Meatballs for $9 each.
The beef was, to use an overworked but still accurate phrase, meltingly tender. The arugula had just the right peppery bite, and the flavors all combined beautifully, distinct and yet in harmony. At $14, it could come in at our mandatory $5 per person budget if shared with one or two more people; and that would be a sufficient portion, even given the lightness of the dish, considering the generosity of the pizza that followed.
Mary Bilyeu, Contributor
It turns out that Kate's sister, Amy McNulty, who lives in Ann Arbor, orders this regularly when she and her husband eat at Mani. We hadn't known, we just honed in on it for its flavors and textures. At $15, and with 6 slices, it is a perfect Frugal Floozie Friday option for a party of 3-4; as it was, I went home with leftovers since Kate had no refrigerator at her hotel to store the treasure in.
The crust was perfectly crisp, yet chewy rather than cracker-like. Each flavor, from the thinly sliced onion to the crumbled cheese, is perfectly portioned such that none overwhelms the others. Not only that, but Kate told me that Amy describes it perfectly: "Each flavor is discrete." You note the pistachio's richness, and yet, it's not the sole flavor you detect. You taste the chilies as they tingle your tongue, but they aren't pervasive.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to go. The perfect Frugal Floozie Friday feature is the gelato, available in seasonal flavors for precisely $5, but we didn't have a chance to try it. Perhaps we'll start with dessert when we go back ...?
Mani Osteria 341 E. Liberty Ann Arbor, MI 48104 734-769-6700 Tuesday - Thursday: 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. Friday: 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m. Saturday: 4 - 11 p.m. Sunday: 4 - 9 p.m.
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.