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Posted on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Frugal Friday at Palio - try the special rooftop menu

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Palio is the restaurant my BFF Wendy chose for our celebratory dinner in honor of her recent birthday. She hadn't been there for a long time, and I had, remarkably, never eaten there. (So many restaurants, so little time! And I like to cook, of course, so I don't eat out as often as people think I do.)

Wendy had offered to go anyplace I might want to write up for a Frugal Floozie Friday feature, and I'd offered to take her anywhere she wanted to go for our party of two. Turns out, we each won!

Now, a girls' night is a fabulous thing even if you're sitting on the sofa in sweatpants, only eating popcorn and ice cream. But it's an even more wonderful time if you can look out over Main Street on a gorgeous Friday night as the sun is setting, and spend hours talking, hoping, and dreaming while enjoying wonderful food. We were thrilled to find that the rooftop — Palio del Sole, with its own menu differing a bit from that of the restaurant downstairs — had a table for two just waiting for us.

Wendy ordered her favorite dish, the Cannelloni di Funghi [cahn-eh-LOH-nee dee FOON-ghee]; it was a tremendously generous portion, enough to feed at least two people, but the pricing puts it out of our mandatory budget of $5 or less per person. (Worth every penny, but...) Should you not be striving for budget consciousness, it is a stellar feast of pasta with mushrooms, cheeses and a Florentine tomato sauce.


Mary Bilyeu |Contributor

I, however, found two ideal frugal options, though one would never know they were inexpensive to see or taste them. I started with a simple Insalata Verde [een-sah-LAH-tah VAYR-day], expecting a small-ish bowl the size of a side salad. As you can see, there was a full dinner plate of gorgeous fresh greens, luscious ripe tomatoes, and my beloved Gorgonzola. This was lightly dressed with good green extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, in a subtle vinaigrette that just coated the vegetables.

I also ordered the exceptional assortment of tapenades pictured above: Roasted Garlic with Olives, Artichoke Lemon Herb, and Goat Cheese with Sun-dried Tomatoes. For a mere $7.95, I received generous portions of each spread, which could easily have been split by two to average out at less than $4 per person. I was able to take about two-thirds of this home (having started with the salad, of course), and thoroughly enjoyed them all again the next evening. These are delicious treats that are a tremendous deal!

The olive tapenade was my favorite, with a vivid flavor that let hints of the garlic shine through. The artichoke spread was wonderful, with a chunky texture. It was great to find true artichoke flavor, rather than having it diluted with the ubiquitous spinach. (Not that I haven't eaten my fair share of that famous dip!) The sharpness of the goat cheese shone through in the tomato variety, and it was so rich and creamy.

Now, a birthday party isn't a real celebration without sweets. So, of course, we asked our fabulously charming waitress, Erin, to bring the dessert tray 'round for a perusal. Never underestimate the skinny girl with the sweet tooth or her amazing BFF who runs half-marathons: I ordered an obscenely decadent, brandy-laced tiramisu, and Wendy ordered the rich and spicy carrot cake... and yup, we chose a third dessert and split the unbelievably seductive chocolate-drizzled peanut butter pie.

I think Erin was both appalled and yet rooting for us. But she's also a distance runner, so we all bonded over celebratory eating as a great motivation for either runs (Wendy) or long walks and free weights (me) since one must burn off the calories. Desserts are $5.95 each, but are so large that they are easily split by people who are less... let's be polite, and say "indulgent." (Yes, we finished every extraordinary bite.) So they can easily come in under the $5 per person budget, and would make a lovely treat after a movie or a concert, or "just 'cause."


Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

So, whether you want a perfect summery salad all to yourself, or whether you want to split a distinctive appetizer or luscious desserts, Palio has a variety of frugal options to choose from. Go! Enjoy!

Palio 347 S. Main St. Ann Arbor, MI 48104 734-930-6100 Monday - Thursday: 5 - 10 p.m. Friday - Saturday: 5 - 11 p.m. Sunday: 4 - 9 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, Sep 1, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

If you and your friend had taken advantage of the 50% off of entrees that Palio and all other Main Street Ventures restaurants offer to patrons on their birthdays, that would have supported the use of the word "frugal" in the article.

Lynn Liston

Sat, Sep 1, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

Mary, I just love this series of Frugal Friday articles. Like many women, I'm not always interested in a huge meal. For years I've been enjoying an appetizer, salad and (maybe) dessert and yes, sharing the same with friends. You always find places that offer that little something really special for a simple meal, shared simply with friends. Maybe the guys with their bigger appetites don't appreciate this style of eating, but for me, having a selection of small treats, with a glass of good wine is a perfect dinner out. I look at the offering in this article and think, yes, two or three BFFs sharing each of these, on the rooftop of Palio's- perfect evening. Thank you and please keep sharing your inspiring finds!


Sat, Sep 1, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

I am not interested in reading about personal attacks, or counter attacks, in what is supposed to be a food-related discussion. The fact that Mary re-comments on nearly 100% of the comments given to her indicates her need to feel validation from others for what she writes. That has no place in a column about a restaurant and the food choices offered therein. Mary, you do a fine job of seeking out $5 good food options in a City where such a thing is a difficult mission. Leave it at that and quit trying to defend yourself against the comments of those who elevate themselves in their own minds by picking apart the work of others.


Sat, Sep 1, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

I have never considered Mary's responses to my comments (such comments being both positive and negative in the past) to be fulfilling any need on her part " feel validation from others for what she writes." More than once she has characterized such comments and replies as a "conversation" and, as such, I have thought her replies arose from her desire to have a civil exchange of ideas and provide polite feedback to the reader, not from any need to feel validated. I found your characterization of the reason for her replies to be a bit bizarre and an example of a personal attack which you yourself pointed out has no place in such a column.

Boo Radley

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 7:57 p.m.

Mary, I also enjoy your weekly reviews and look forward to them. I really do not consider your "frugal" angle too much, but instead just enjoy reading interesting reviews that usually cause me to add the places you write about to my "must visit" list. Being a big guy with a big appetite, I probably would not be interested in your reviews if they were all about places with tiny portions with "frugal" prices. So, I am happy to read about large portion sizes that may be divided by those who do not wish to eat so much.


Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

Food is more than quantity of calories, it is also a social event. One need not consume the entire day's calories at a meal to enjoy the ambiance, company, and even the taste and texture of the cuisine. I heartily commend what Mary does when she writes about Frugal Friday adventures, not just because I sometimes accompany her. She demonstrates that everyone, even those on a budget, are able to enjoy good and fun food, even at more upscale restaurants, without breaking the bank.


Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

Mary, while I think there is some legitimacy to some of the criticisms from commenters on portion sizes and costs (i.e., $5/person limit), I long ago accepted the fact that such a hook is your "schtick" (as you put it last week) and have continued to read your reviews (and look forward to them every Friday) without obsessing about the reasonableness or unreasonableness of portion sizes described in your reviews. When portion sizes have increased by an average of, what, perhaps 4X over the past 50-60 years?, what seems to be unreasonably small portion sizes now in this age of overweight and obesity (now the norm), were likely standard portion sizes in the 50s, a time when obesity was at least uncommon (in adults) if not rare (in children). Your Frugal Friday reviews are unlikely to alter the perceptions of many (if any) readers about portion sizes, but for me at least that is not why I read them and welcome them on my screen. You have a unique and personalized style of writing and choose an interesting and wide variety of restaurants and foods to review. I, for one, ask that you continue your submissions in the same vein and thank you for your past and (hopefully many more) future reviews.

Mary Bilyeu

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

DBH - I cannot thank you enough, truly, for this lovely comment. I am so tired of the negativity and the criticism ... I'm merely trying to show people that they can eat at virtually any restaurant in Ann Arbor and Ypsi on a limited budget. I have my little schtick, and it makes for great adventure! I'm astounded, sometimes, how many options there are - even at higher-end restaurants - for frugal diners. I've never promised entire meals for $5, only a variety of dishes to choose from. I don't personally understand the need to be contentious or insulting - I can't imagine taking time out of my day to write some of the comments I've read, when someone is merely trying to share a love of food and to entertain with stories. It's easy when one hides behind a pseudonym, I suppose, but it's still unkind and unnecessary. You're so right about portion sizes - they've grown astronomically, and what is now designed to be one person's portion could easily feed 2-4. I'm not a skimpy eater - someone I ate with just the other night commented on my hearty appetite! But I also don't gorge (birthday celebrations with my BFF being the exception, of course). I can eat a lot more than people think a skinny girl can! I think they presume that I nibble, which is completely untrue. I will take your very kind words to heart, and continue in the same vein. Thank YOU for your support - I always look forward to your chiming in, and to our "conversations" ... :)


Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Oh so now Palio's is frugal? Really? Two people splitting THAT cracker and spread plate for the entire meal? Generous portions? We can clearly see those are standard black 1oz cups. I like Palio's....a lot...heck I like just about ANYTHING Nick does....but he doesn't really do frugal (even the jug is kinda pricey) and because of such his food is always top notch. I wouldn't want him to offer cheap food in his establishments. I think you would do much better if you just left the money part out of your food reviews...

Pretty Gritty

Sun, Sep 2, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

Billy, You are right. Mary seems to be one of those people that can't/won't admit a that she was wrong. A couple weeks ago I challenged her about a claim that a small pizza from Marks carts would "easily feed four" It won't There are four thin slices but no way will it feed four. I think by her logic a bag of M&M's feeds 50 due to there being 50 candies in the bag.


Sat, Sep 1, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

@DDOT1962, now THIS is a reply with which I can totally agree. Well said.


Sat, Sep 1, 2012 : 10:44 a.m.

Billy, why not give it a rest? I think most readers are taking to heart Mary's efforts at finding good, affordable eats at all types of restaurants without holding her feet to the fire on arbitrary parameters. I think most of us realize the world is not a tidy box of exact definitions, so we accept inexactness. I'm sure your world is the same, so cut Mary some slack.


Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 9 p.m. don't take criticism well AT ALL... You just made a laundry list of excuses for why I am completely wrong in my assessment of you definition of "frugal." Maybe take a step back and read what you wrote... You're not a reviewer? Why would you even say that in defense of yourself? That sounds an awful lot like twisting the meaning of words around again. There should be a caveat that your "$5 per person or less" rule doesn't take portion size into account. You routinely list items (or split items even) that wouldn't work as a full meal....but then say they do anyway. This is one of the things I keep pointing out...and you keep denying for some reason. I would absolutely LOVE to debate you on this but I highly suspect it would be more of you complaining that I was some how "picking on you" or something....I mean I've apparently upset you greatly simply by pointing out that certain selections you call "frugal" are not.

Mary Bilyeu

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

Let me say again - "frugal" does not mean that you can get every item on the menu for a ridiculously low price, like a fast food establishment's dollar menu. "Frugal" means "$5 per person or less." Period. Whatever I can find within that price range. Wendy and I ate several options at Palio that meet this criterion, and so the restaurant DOES, indeed, offer frugal options for people on limited budgets who would still like to eat some delicious dishes at a nice restaurant. I never claimed that the tapenades were the entire meal - please read more carefully. If someone goes to a concert and wants a snack afterwards, the tapenades are a lovely option to order for not much money. And the desserts are enormous - you should try them some time, to see for yourself. I don't mind constructive criticism or even debate; but I do resent being taken to task with incorrect information. In addition, I am not a reviewer; I care nothing for health inspections and don't have a checklist of issues to address. I am merely an enthusiast who wants to encourage readers to enjoy eating out even if they have limited funds ....