Restaurant review: Prickly Pear patio a delight for food, atmosphere
Editor's note: During the month of August, our weekly restaurant reviews are revisiting some of Ann Arbor's favorite options for outdoor dining.
The Prickly Pear Southwest CafÃ© is a gem of an outdoor dining experience — if you know to request the covered patio behind the back of the restaurant.Though Prickly Pear has al fresco dining streetside in front, I think the best way to enjoy its food on a warm summer night is on that patio. Immediately, you can see the appeal of diners leisurely sipping margaritas and munching on crispy, perfectly salted chips along with fresh, delicious salsa. The guacamole, with a dense consistency, is a great treat as well.
Prickly Pear specializes in upscale Southwest cuisine. Drinks and “small plates” more than satiated us, as portions here are enormous. Small plates were followed by giant entrees. A small plate standout was the Navajo fry bread, topped with vegetarian black beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. Calamari wasn’t extraordinary and had a pre-packaged look and bland taste. I’d skip it next time.
A favorite here has always been the butternut squash soup, which has a pumpkin-pie sweetness in a thick, creamy broth. The chilled gazpacho also didn’t disappoint and was a great choice in mild weather. Served artfully in a martini glass, it was heaped with fresh tomatoes in a refreshing broth.
One thing I appreciate about this restaurant is its options for lighter entrees, like the scallop and shrimp quesadillas — fresh, tender pieces of fish rolled in tortilla shells, resembling pastry in taste and texture. Those same plump scallops were also wonderful in one of the night’s specials, the scallop sope, sautÃ©ed scallops in a pumpkin cream sauce. Even the simple organic greens salad was appealing, laced with cilantro for that Southwest taste.The emphasis on healthful dishes comes through especially in the wonderful rice, black beans and cheese. These ingredients were used in the burrito we ordered, as well as the chicken empanada, a dough turnover topped with pumpkin seed cheese sauce — absolutely delicious.
The desserts here are also a cut above. CrÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e had the requisite crispy, caramelized top that bordered the smooth, rich, flavorful filling. Raspberry cheesecake nicely incorporated a drizzling of fruit into the filling and rested on a thick graham-cracker crust that clearly tasted homemade.
Service was prompt — a little too much so, in fact. We were still happily enjoying our appetizers when the entrees were delivered. The only drawback here is what I’ve found in other outdoor dining venues: the noise factor. We had to talk very loudly to hear one another. Otherwise, I can’t rave enough about the patio at Prickly Pear, which combines perfect ambience with first-rate food. Prickly Pear Southwest CafÃ© 328 South Main St. Ann Arbor, MI 734-930-0047 Prickly Pear Southwest CafÃ© web site Hours: Sunday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club. Liquor: Yes. Prices: Moderate. Many entrees are in the $14 range. Value: Excellent. Portions are enormous. Noise Level: Very loud. Wheelchair access: Yes. Smoking section: No.
Photos: Two views of the outdoor back patio at Prickly Pear, located at 328 S. Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor. Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com