Wolverine Grill offers well-done diner fare at bargain prices
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Kevin Hill decided to take over the Wolverine Grill because he's a strong supporter of downtown Ypsilanti. "I didn't think a business, especially one that was a prominent part of our community, should be closed," he said. Wolverine Grill, owned by the same family since 1963, closed in October of 2011. Hill opened it in March, 2012 and is in the process of unveiling a host of new menu items.
Hill is eager to make the restaurant, located in the heart of downtown Ypsilanti, part of the downtown revival. Aside from cleaning, painting and refurbishing the equipment, "we did not change the character" of the place, he said. The bigger changes are in the menu. "We're making a serious attempt to go with as fresh and close to local as we can get," including drawing from the nearby Growing Hope urban farm. He also hopes to begin offering "signature items that people anticipate having," including Prime Rib scramble and a pulled pork breakfast sandwich.
We were a bit skeptical about this place when we entered. Wolverine Grill has a slightly dingy feel and shows its age. It's as if you're walking into a relic, a place that seems unchanged from this time, with no updates in the decor.
Outside, an old fashioned sign saying "Wolverine Grill, " along with "Enjoy Coca Cola," hints at the 1960s-era feel. There are black and white checkerboard floors underneath hard, simple booths and linoleum tables. A long row of old-fashioned silver stools are available for seating in front of counters that resemble the drugstore dining of a bygone era. Music from the 1960s and 1970s played in the background; we could hear Aretha Franklin belting "Son of a Preacher Man" on our second visit. It's clean, but basic.
But the simplicity and understated appearance belies what you get here: first-rate, fresh food at prices that are hard to find in the Ann Arbor area.
Wolverine Grill's menu isn't fancy. There are hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, a few dinner entrees and breakfast items, which are served all day. Different symbols beside each dish to let you know which is vegetarian or gluten-free. Hill says those with gluten allergies can be assured that his homemade potatoes and hamburgers contain no gluten.
Each entree includes either fries, soup or a side salad. The side salad we sampled was small, but the greens and vegetables were fresh. I appreciated the variety of giant, fresh olives in the Mediterranean Village salad, which came with wonderful grilled pita and a tasty hummus spread. Hill gets the spread elsewhere but is hoping to prepare it in-house in the future.
I went for a cheeseburger — quite a deal at $5.75, though it was hardly supersized, the moderate portion more in keeping with the way food used to be served years ago. The burger was quite good, on the medium/well side, though the server didn't ask how I wanted it cooked. The bun was fresh.
228 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Plastic: Mastercard, Visa
- Liquor: None
- Prices: Inexpensive. Many items are just $6.
- Noise level: Quiet
- Wheelchair access: Yes
The fettuccine that he whipped up on a whim was wonderful, flavorful and hearty, yet not overly rich, spiced perfectly, and an ample portion. The fresh vegetables, from Growing Hope, were more than just an accompaniment. A mix of broccoli, cauliflower, squash, zucchini, onion and baby carrots, they were not too soft, not too crisp, but just right, prepared in a wonderful mix of seasonings. This dish was as good as I have had in many more pricier establishments, and at $12 it was a bargain. The only thing missing was a piece of crusty bread, which wasn't offered with the meals.
Another highlight was the Wolverine club. It's been quite some time since I've ordered a sandwich that didn't feature processed meats. This had big chunks of fresh chicken just cut from the bone and was served on fresh, thick, Heartland crusty seed and grain artisan bread, along with a homemade, delicious herb mayonnaise. The crinkle cut fries were fine but are pre-packaged; Hill is hoping to start making his own at some point.
On our second visit, we made a point of ordering the breakfast items. The server boasted that omelettes are the specialty, and our veggie omelette, prepared with cheddar cheese, didn't disappoint. Tucked inside the fluffy eggs were a bounty of fresh vegetables including summer squash, kale, zucchini and heirloom tomatoes.
Just as good as the omelette were the amazing potato wedges. Hill hand cuts them, then cooks them in a deep fryer where they're blanched and seasoned with cayenne, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
The giant French toast, a special of the day, was also great, as was the short stack of buttermilk pancakes, stuffed with fresh blueberries. Though my pancakes were slightly undercooked, they were solid, and I appreciated the melted butter that the server brought with them, which made applying the topping far easier than digging a knife into hard butter. A short stack of pancakes, a very respectable portion, costs only $3; you can add chocolate chips or blueberries for an additional $1.50.
There are no offerings of fancy coffee drinks like cappuccino or cafe au lait. But the robust cup of Ugly Mug coffee, roasted in Ypsilanti, nicely topped off my breakfast. And at $2 a cup with free refills, it was quite a deal.
Though desserts are listed, the server on our first visit said they were out of them, but then checked with the owner and delivered a petite hot fudge sundae, which was fine.
The service had a home town feel, with eager-to-please servers who checked in on us repeatedly and delivered our food quickly. However, there was only one other party in the restaurant on both our visits, making their job a bit easier.
Bottom line: Wolverine Grill is a gem, a simple place that offers delicious, high-quality American fare at reasonable prices.
Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for AnnArbor.com.