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Posted on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 5:26 p.m.

Sava's moves across street to former Zanzibar spot in downtown Ann Arbor, expands menu

By David Bardallis

“Great service.”

That’s what Sava Lelcaj says when asked what sets her restaurant, Sava’s, apart from everyone else.

But wouldn’t all restaurateurs say their places have great service?

She elaborates: “It’s not just great service; it’s a great atmosphere. We have a fun, amazing staff of characters who just provide our customers with an awesome experience.”

(One example of fun: The servers wear t-shirts designed to look like formal attire.)

The evidence would seem to back her assertions up. At the café’s original incarnation, which opened in 2007 at 211 S. State (“the worst possible location,” she notes), all 45 seats were routinely full and lines sometimes stretched around the block.

Now that the restaurant has moved into a much larger space across the street at 216 S. State, former site of Zanzibar, there are no signs that business is slowing down.

“We’ve been open here for just a couple weeks but the feedback’s already been great,” she says.

In fact, word-of-mouth has always played a central role in the success of Sava’s (“Everyone found out about us and we needed to expand”), but ask Sava to describe her clientele and the word you get is “eclectic.”

“We get everyone here,” she says. “Suits and students, people of all ages. We are open to anyone and everyone.”

The menu reflects this diversity: Sava’s offers a wide range of plates by self-taught cook Sava—burgers, salads, paninis, wraps, pasta, seafood—at different price points, and the café now also features entrees, which were not part of the menu at the old location.

Any of these sound good? Calamari with jalapeno aioli. Four-cheese “inside out” cheeseburger (the cheese is cooked into the patty). Caribbean fish tacos (cod with pineapple, lime, cilantro). Angel hair pasta with lobster, shrimp, and saffron butter. Roasted duck breast with fig compote. Mac and cheese with chorizo sausage.

All of these dishes and more are available, at prices ranging from $2.99 (soup of the day) to $15.99 (for the balsamic rib eye and mashed potatoes), making it an affordable outing for most budgets. (For even tighter budgets, Mondays are $1 burger nights.)

Like an increasing number of places around town, Sava’s strives to use local products as much as possible, including beef from Knight’s, coffee from Mighty Good, and condiments like Clancy’s Fancy hot sauce. Sava’s also offers a back room that can be rented out for private parties and a catering service.

The interior of the restaurant, however, remains a work in progress: The upper level is still sparse but open to those who want to spread out more or work on their laptops. The big jungle-themed murals from Zanzibar are gone, painted over with an even, pleasant color, but wall decorations sit on the floor, waiting to be hung. And the bar remains dry until the wheels of bureaucracy churn out a liquor license, which Sava anticipates will be sometime around January.

For now, Sava’s loyal and growing cult of patrons will have to content themselves with good food and the aforementioned great atmosphere. And that’s not so bad, is it?

Sava's, 216 S. State St., is open seven days, 8am to midnight.

David Bardallis is a freelance writer and editor, blogger, bon vivant, and man about town. Visit his Web site,, to engage his services or read his latest ramblings insights.



Tue, Dec 15, 2009 : 3:21 p.m.

I think State St. is downtown Ann Arbor... And I'm a native Ann Arborite.

Chrysta Cherrie

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 3:03 p.m.

For the commenters here awaiting it, our Sava's review is now up.

David Bardallis

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 10:43 a.m.

Indeed, the point is to make people aware of the place, its new location, and its expanded menu. To echo Chrysta's clarification, I am not a restaurant reviewer. I leave that important work to the professionals. Quibbles about where "downtown" is or isn't I leave to the pedants.

Chrysta Cherrie

Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 11:40 p.m.

Hey Joseph, I was just trying to gently redirect the conversation to the intended subject, the restaurant, rather than disputing what comprises the boundaries of downtown Ann Arbor. For anyone who wants to talk about defining neighborhoods, this post is a good spot. At Sava's, I like the salads sans meat, the vegetarian sandwiches, the crepes, and for when I'm feeling like a kid, the four-way grilled cheese croissant. Still gotta try their veggie burger. Also, here are's restaurant reviews so far. This, a post by one of our contributors, is an announcement of the new location and expanded menu, but I'm sure we'll review it later. For now, you can see what people are saying at Yelp.


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 2:40 p.m.

Very, very sorry that "The big jungle-themed murals from Zanzibar are gone, painted over with an even, pleasant color." These works by Kathy Larson are (were) a local treasure and a good reason to go back to the location. Too bad. They will be missed.

Chrysta Cherrie

Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 4:26 p.m.

I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that Sava's offers attentive service and great food at a reasonable price. I wish them great success at the new location!


Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 12:10 p.m.

If you don't think the State/Liberty area is "downtown," you probably also think that Ann Arbor is part of "metro Detroit." What's sad is that anyone would even bother to dispute the term. Is it really that important to you? Or do you just like writing snarky comments? It's too close to central campus? Really? You don't think the two could possibly overlap, or be adjacent? Oh, and here's a passage from the "wayfinding signs" article that Concerned Citizen referred to (emphasis mine): "Four downtown commercial districts - Kerrytown, South University, State Street and Main Street - will be distinguished by color and name, Pollay said. The downtown signs are customized so individual destinations can be installed or replaced as needed." David, thanks for the review. I'll have to head DOWNTOWN and check this place out sometime soon.


Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 11:39 a.m.

I'm happy for the restaurant, I wish it well in the new location. I definitely agree that I don't think of State Street as "downtown" Ann's simply too close to Central Campus IMO. As CC mentioned, I suspect that if you were one block west of State Street you would see way-finding signs directing you WEST towards "downtown". I wonder if anyone thinks of the South U US Post Office as the "Burns Park Branch"?;)


Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 10:27 a.m.

Concerned Citizen is technically correct - the State Street area is not considered part of "downtown" to most Ann Arborites. "Downtown" is reserved for referring to the Main Street area.


Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 10:17 a.m.

So Concerned Citizen, the corner of Liberty and State is not considered downtown? If that isn't the second most congested, heavily trafficked area downtown, then I would like to know what is. Even the website lists the State Street Area Association under it's Downtown Area Associations.


Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 7:38 a.m.

Wait. Sava's- Sava? Is this the vegetarian restaurant from Liberty? I'm confused.

David Bardallis

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 10:09 p.m.

I don't think anyone will ever be confused about where anything is so long as our fair city has concerned citizens such as yourself to guide them. :)

Concerned Citizen

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 : 9:24 p.m.

(What is up with your knowledge of Ann Arbor?) These addresses are NOT located downtown! In Ann Arbor, State St. is not now, nor has it ever been downtown. (This issue has been addressed several times previously regarding articles in the recent past. I really am trying to be helpful here,...if you want credibility then, all means, simply, be credible. If, as in this case, your headline reads "Downtown" then readers should be able to expect that the story will be about locations that are downtown, not up on State St.)(P.S.:...check out the "way-finding signs" on which recently reported, :-)...)