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Posted on Fri, Aug 19, 2011 : 8 a.m.

Mark's Carts offers frugal Friday options galore

By Mary Bilyeu


photo by Thomas Boulan

It's Frugal Floozie Friday, and today's adventure takes us to a place with a tremendous variety of foods. No, it's not a buffet; but it's a bit reminiscent of one, as you can choose a little bit here, something else there, and be lured by the temptation of a rich treat off in the corner.

Today we're visiting Mark's Carts, a courtyard in downtown Ann Arbor filled with street food carts featuring everything from comfort foods to ethnic dishes, from sandwiches to desserts.

Tom and I perused all of the available offerings, though unfortunately there wasn't a complete array as we were there early in the evening and each cart keeps different hours. Apparently things really get going after 6 p.m. on Friday nights, with all of the vendors open and live music contributing to the festive ambience.

We decided to try a bit from each of the three carts that were ready and waiting for us. A Thai-style salad with peanut dressing from The Lunch Room was our opening act, a light dish of rice noodles with bright, colorful vegetables.

We had a wonderful chat with cart co-owner Phillis Engelbert, whose smile and enthusiasm are irresistable. Her cart's menu is vegan and features everything from a barbecue tofu sandwich with slaw to large cookies (Blackstrap molasses gingersnaps, Mexican hot chocolate).

And Phillis even told me that adults are welcome to order the fabulous "kids' meal": peanut butter and jelly sandwich, applesauce, carrot sticks and a chocolate chip cookie -- a healthy happy meal for only $5. Bike delivery is available at lunchtime if you're having a craving and can't get out of the office.

To go with the salad, we ordered a bratwurst on a crispy toasted bun from Eat. This was topped with sauerkraut from Ann Arbor's own The Brinery, which specializes in fermented vegetables (and makes a kimchi which Tom adores!).

At $6 for this portion of our meal plus $4 for the salad, the mainstay of our shared dinner came in at precisely $5 per person, our Frugal Floozie Friday budget limit. It also featured an entire array of handmade and locally-sourced foods that were good both for us and for Michigan's economy... how great is that?

And yet, the pièce de résistance was a flourless chocolate cake purchased at Darcy's Cart, which was topped with an amazingly generous slathering of homemade whipped cream (cream-to-cake ration of two to one!). You can pay $3 for just the cake, but why not invest the extra $1 for the cream?

Coupled with a refreshing $2 lemonade from the Eat cart, sharing the sweet portion of our meal provided another less-than-$5 per person option, perfect for an after-dinner treat.

But let me get on to describing the "cake," which was really more of a dense fudge than a traditional flourless dessert (i.e. one made with ground nuts). It was so rich and luscious, and it really benefitted from the not-too-sweet cream that helped to balance the depth of its intensity.

Darcy's Cart, like the other vendors in the courtyard, proudly cooks with Michigan products and features a bulletin board giving credit to those who've contributed to that day's offerings:

Mark's Carts is a great idea, leaping into the street food phenomenon so popular in larger cities and helping to promote both local vendors and the Michigan suppliers whom they support. Head on over some time, and eat a little here and a little there — a wide variety of cuisines and treats — and enjoy the summer weather while having a fabulous meal!

Mark's Carts
211 W. Washington
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

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Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures in the kitchen. She was thrilled to have her post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread named as one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal.

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. Her newest feature is Frugal Floozie Friday, seeking fun and food for $5 or less ... really! Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

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 as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here.