Fresh, healthy and delicious food at the new Juicy Kitchen Cafe
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I like homemade food not just because it's delicious — I also want to believe that when food is made with love, you can actually taste it. My favorite restaurants in town happen to be the few places where I think you can taste the care that went into the food, too.
At the new Juicy Kitchen at Maple and Miller in Ann Arbor, owner Susan Todoroff writes that her mission is "to nurture people with healthy, creative, flavorful food prepared with love." I don't know if love is what I'm tasting, but whatever it is, I want more of it.
The Juicy Kitchen business started up two years ago with healthy prepared meals for home delivery and catering. The success of that venture gave Todoroff the ability to set up her own dedicated production space in January, and the kitchen she found happened to have room for a bite-sized cafe. Open during the week starting at 7 a.m. (and 8 a.m. Saturdays), the Juicy Kitchen Cafe is in a part of town that is short on restaurant options, let alone healthy ones.
1506 N. Maple, Ann Arbor
- Hours: Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Closed Sundays until April 2013
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard
- Liquor: None
- Prices: Inexpensive. Entrees mostly under $10
- Noise level: Quiet
- Wheelchair access:Yes
The Juicy Kitchen cafe menu is filled with fresh, whole-grain, and minimally sweetened options that leave you feeling virtuous and ready to go conquer something — rather than with that defeated and needing a nap reaction I usually get from the overly greasy, salty and sweet food of most restaurant meals.
Much of the menu at Juicy Kitchen is vegetarian (although they do have bacon from AppleSchram Organic Orchard in Charlotte), and there are many vegan and gluten-free options as well. Todoroff, also a fitness instructor, says, "My goal is to show people that healthy food can be creative, nutritious, delicious, gourmet, and beautiful, and really elevate the reputation that healthy food has."
Breakfast includes things like: scrambled egg "breakfast sliders," hot breakfast cereal bowls of steel-cut oats or quinoa with milk and a little maple syrup, chai-spiced granola, a daily quiche, omelets filled with vegetables, baked whole wheat french toast, and, on Fridays and Saturdays, Scottish oat cakes and baked eggs.
Lunch brings daily homemade (and almost all gluten-free) soups, a multitude of inventive salads, and sandwiches including a daily vegan option. And there are also choices for both decadent and healthy desserts, fresh-squeezed juices, and coffee drinks. Susan Todoroff says, "It's really a selfish menu. It's what I like to eat."
Juicy Kitchen is serious about the health aspect of its food, including whole grains, like quinoa, oats, millet, spelt, and even chia seeds, cooked in lots of delicious ways, on both the savory and the sweet side of the menu. Todoroff says they use only a little raw, vegan sugar as sweetener, preferring bananas, apples and maple syrup in their baked goods.
Fresh greens from the Senna Prairie Farm only a couple of miles away, and beautiful fresh fruit with beautiful raspberries, blueberries, even blackberries, and juicy cara cara oranges garnish almost every plate. Todoroff credits Chef Dan Vernia, whom she hired to help her open the restaurant, with the local sourcing that they do, saying, "Dan knows every farmer in town."
The first couple of times at Juicy Kitchen, I only ordered their roasted apple muffin — but it was such a great muffin! Hearty and filled with fruit and whole grains, and not too sweet.
On another visit, I enjoyed a fluffy omelet filled with fresh greens and goat cheese, with a generous garnish of fresh fruit that was as beautiful to look at as it was delicious to eat. A friend was happy with her breakfast slider, a simple sandwich with scrambled eggs and a spicy sauce on focaccia. The spinach quiche is packed with greens and potatoes, and comes in a whole wheat crust. The french toast, stuffed with light cream cheese, comes on whole wheat bread and real maple syrup. They make their own chai-spiced granola and have a healthy banana bread with the crunch of millet for breakfast too.
The warm quinoa breakfast bowl, Todoroff says, is among their least-ordered items. While her husband really loves the warm cereal served with milk and maple syrup, not many people seem to know about this protein-rich grain with the nutty flavor. Donuts, I heard, fly off the shelf at Juicy Kitchen. The one that can't keep up with customer demand is a vanilla-scented baked donut made with spelt flour. It is deliciously light and perfect with coffee.
The Juicy Kitchen lunch offers a variety of soups made fresh daily — usually gluten-free and often vegan. The French onion soup with stout was filled with caramelized onions in a deeply savory, and not too salty, broth. I loved that the toasted croutons on top were covered with a reasonable amount of melty cheese — not the huge glop that most restaurants serve. I also enjoyed the split pea soup with fennel and coriander — a very successful taste combination with just a hint of the anise flavor from the fennel.
Also for lunch, the salads and sandwiches are exemplary. The tarragon chicken salad in particular was fantastic. It's served open-face on toasted Avalon bread with big chunks of white-meat chicken, shredded romaine, dried cranberries, and just a hint of tarragon in the light dressing that's a combination of yogurt and mayo. I also enjoyed the enormous quinoa salad with fresh greens, slices of fennel and cucumber, crunchy walnuts, creamy goat cheese, and lots of berries in a light sweet and sour white balsamic dressing.
Seekers of desserts at Juicy Kitchen can find both healthy and decadent choices, but all are delicious. The chewy and satisfying oatmeal and chocolate chip "smart" cookies use only ripe banana as a sweetener. The quinoa cookies use a little maple syrup. The chia-chai pudding is like tapioca, but made with the new super-food of moment (chia seeds) flavored with the warm spices of chai.
When the dessert is decadent, like the almond butter cup, made with a Ghirardelli chocolate shell enclosing a vanilla-almond filling, it's on the small side and surrounded with a rainbow of gorgeous berries and fruit. The friend who helped me eat this said "I'm never going to look at another Reese's again. Why bother?"
When I asked Susan Todoroff about her focus on healthy food and whole grains, she talked about the contradiction that exists between what we know we should eat (fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains) and what is out there in the restaurant world. She said, "I hated when I went out to eat and nothing seemed healthy to me. I love to indulge, but I wanted to provide a place where you could go and know you could get some healthy options. It makes me feel better to eat this way."
Not only is the food at Juicy Kitchen healthy and delicious, the experience of being there is also warm and inviting. I observed special requests, dietary restrictions, and children all being catered to with ease and grace. Todoroff chats with everyone, refills glasses and checks in at each table to make sure her guests have what they need.
There aren't many places in town where I want to go again and again, but I'm adding Juicy Kitchen to my list. Todoroff may be offering what she likes to eat, but I think it is what a lot of people would like to be eating as well.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.