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Posted on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 10:48 a.m.

Sava's Café flourishes in larger location with expanded menu

By Julie Halpert


The main dining area at Sava's Café.

Melanie Maxwell |

Not long ago, Sava’s Café was located in a small, intimate spot, through an unobtrusive entrance on State Street, up a flight of stairs. Eating there was like being in owner Sava Lelcaj’s kitchen. Within a year, Lelcaj’s busy restaurant and catering business outgrew the space and in August, she moved across the street into the much larger space, formerly occupied by the restaurant Zanzibar.

Though I was sad to see Zanzibar go, Sava’s is a worthy successor. The owner has quadrupled the number of menu items beyond her staple of breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches and crepes, to a variety of appetizers and bigger-ticket dinner items like balsamic glazed ribeye streak, at $15.99, and a cappellini pasta with lobster, shrimp and saffron, at $14.99. There’s also a full fruit and juice bar.

What I most liked about Zanzibar and I continue to appreciate at Sava’s, is the grandeur and beauty of the setting. Though Sava reupholstered the furniture and painted over the jungle-themed murals with basic shades of off-white, she left the structure intact, with its high ceilings, elegant décor and large spaces, including a place for private parties upstairs. It’s just a beautiful setting for dining.

The appetizers we sampled were all high-quality, especially the hearty cream of tomato soup, with an abundance of thick tomatoes. Two of the starter plates, the potato pierogis and black bean cakes, were main-course size. Black bean cakes were thick, with cheese lightly melted on top — absolutely fantastic. The outside of the pierogis was soft and tender and tasted freshly prepared, while I enjoyed the piping hot potato interior, topped by lightly grilled onions. As for the sandwiches, the extremely fresh teriyaki salmon was worth sampling.

With a menu this extensive, I wondered if Sava’s could do everything well, and there were some shortcomings. The turkey panini, a carry-over from the old menu, featured turkey that tasted processed, and the sandwich would have been better slightly grilled. The pecan-encrusted chicken salad was basically just chicken pieces served over some greens with an uninteresting dressing. Butternut squash ravioli had a meager amount of sauce with plain pasta.

Sava’s also has a full breakfast menu, which is available until 3 p.m. every day, and that’s a perfect way to appreciate this place. We enjoyed sauntering in at 2 p.m. on a recent Sunday to see the restaurant packed with adults and students. The Swiss cheese mushroom omelet was light and fluffy and the potatoes were hearty and delicious. Unfortunately, both arrived lukewarm.

Brunch is a perfect time to sample the exquisite coffee drinks here. The latte was one of the best I’ve had in some time, rich and frothy, even though it was made with skim milk at my request. When I ordered cappuccino for dessert the first time, it appeared with a flower on top, formed with steamed milk — a clever, impressive image, and it tasted as good as it looked.

I wouldn’t miss out on the desserts, especially the crepes, a Sava specialty. The nutella banana we ordered was amazing, artfully prepared, fresh, gooey and just plain delicious, as was the Reese’s pieces cheesecake. On the second visit we opted for a four-inch-high piece of carrot cake, which Sava’s gets from Sparrow Market. Full of wonderful cream cheese frosting and chunks of walnuts and carrots, it was worth the indulgence.

Service was exceptional here. We particularly enjoyed our first server, who felt comfortable joking with us, eavesdropping on my daughter’s cell-phone conversation and chiming in on her discussion of the latest plot twist on “Desperate Housewives.’

Though not all the food is perfect, I’m generally impressed by Sava’s ambitious menu, with many dishes offered at reasonable prices. Once Sava’s gets its bearings and adapts to its new throngs of patrons, I think this will become a popular late-night and early morning hangout.


Sava Lelcaj, owner of Sava's Café, poses for a photograph in the dining area of the restaurant's new location at 216 S. State St.

Melanie Maxwell |

Sava’s Café 216 S. State St. Ann Arbor 734-623-2233 Sava's Café web site Hours: 8 a.m.-midnight every day. Plastic: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Discover. Liquor: No, but a liquor license is expected at the beginning of next year. Prices: Moderate. The most expensive entrée is $15. Soups and sandwiches are far less. Value: Very good. Noise level: Quiet, even when it’s busy. Wheelchair access: Yes. Smoking section: No.



Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

I ate at Sava's yesterday for the first time and absolutely loved it. Whereas every brunch place on Main had an hour wait for outdoor seating, Sava's sat us immediately and the food was great. My question - is there a website?


Mon, Dec 28, 2009 : 5:08 p.m.

We had a disappointing experience there a couple of weeks ago. The service was very unprofessional and the food wasn't really that good. Most of it tasted like "product" rather than freshly made. I do hope that they get their act together as it is such a great space and location.

Julie Halpert

Sun, Dec 27, 2009 : 11:32 a.m.

KNichols: I just checked and they're open at 8:00 a.m. on the weekends, and 9:00 a.m. during the week.

Kimberly Nichols

Sun, Dec 27, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

Are the hours correct as listed in this article? I tried to breakfast at Sava last week...went at 8 and the sign said the cafe didn't open 'til 9.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:37 a.m.

It sounds like a2guy1974 is not the only one who had a bad experience here. Just look at the recent reviews for Sava's on and The other thing is that this is really not a new restaurant, they just moved across the street two months ago, so there is no excuse for that kind of poor service.

Susan Cybulski

Fri, Oct 23, 2009 : 2:13 p.m.

@JBarton: Well, this IS a good review, and hopefully the small number of people who read these comments are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. One negative comment here will not make or break a restaurant, that's for sure!


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:25 p.m.

sorry for being such a poop. i'll give sava another chance and i'm sure it will be great. i shouldn't judge it on one visit.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 3:15 p.m.

Nope, I'm definitely talking about Sava's. Though, I do also love Seva, which I know is entirely vegetarian cuisine.

Susan Cybulski

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 1:35 p.m.

Sava's is a great, locally-owned addition to the mix of downtown businesses. We've had several good experiences in the short time since they reopened in the old Zanzibar space. Good food, very reasonably-priced. Give them a chance to work out the glitches -- I think Sava's will be here for the long haul.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 1:28 p.m.

(ryan j stanton: you aren't perchance mistaking this restaurant for SEVA, are you? that's a fairly huge mistake. SEVA is the awesome restaurant with deliciously creative vegetarian/vegan fare; SAVA is the topic of this article.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 1:08 p.m.

true story: so, my girlfriend orders the eggs benedict with lox, and when the food arrives, there aren't any eggs on the plate. in fact, the side of american fries is missing as well. um, that's 2/3 of the ENTIRE DISH. after we were finally able to procure the eggs--after considerable wait--the whole dish was still sub-par. oh, the fries never arrived, either. our server appeared to have NEVER waited tables before in his life, seemed perplexed when we quizzed him about the whereabouts of the eggs (as if he didn't realize EGGS benedict required eggs), and we had to flag him down numerous times to ask for sets of silverware, coffee refills, and, eventually, the manager. save your time, money, and frustration; hit up one of ann arbor's GOOD breakfast joints: northside, the broken egg, mark's midtown, etc. they all know how to treat their customers, and how to make eggs benny.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 10:02 a.m.

I am a huge fan of this place. Great ambiance, great food, and great service. Sava, keep making stuff that vegetarians like me can come eat!