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Posted on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : noon

Frugal Friday at Ayse's Cafe - enjoy a treat for the senses without breaking the bank

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

I had dinner recently with my friends Marcie, whom I've known and loved for five years, and Stacy, who is new to my extended family and welcomed wholeheartedly. We ate an utterly sublime meal at Ayse's Cafe, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

Ayse [EYE-shuh], the owner and cook, is Turkish, and she makes luscious food that is distinctly different than anything you've eaten before. Yes, there is familiarity if you've eaten Middle Eastern or Greek food; but the spice blends and ingredients are unique to Turkey.  

The cuisine has been greatly influenced by the country's situation between both Europe and Asia, surrounded by such diverse neighbors as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; it is also bordered by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean Seas.

For $4.95 — within our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget — Stacy and I each ordered the red lentil soup for which Ayse is justly famous. Sprinkled with a subtle dusting of slightly sour sumac to stir in, its flavor is richly and deeply spiced but without being at all spicy-hot.  It tastes as though it has simmered all day long until the lentils have melted together with the flavorings to create a beautiful, golden, bowl of deliciously supreme comfort.
In addition to the soup, I also thoroughly enjoyed the Spinach Chickpea Stew pictured above.  It cost only $3.95 for what is called a "side order," but it was easily more than a measuring cup's worth — an ideal size for a light meal. The chickpeas were exquisitely tender while still retaining their shape; the spinach had been cooked down until it it had been nearly reduced to just its flavorful essence.  I truly wished I'd ordered a full entree, it was so good!
The cost of the main dishes exceeds our Frugal Floozie Friday mandate, but Ayse's still offers lots of options for cost-conscious diners.  Each of the salads — which greet you as you walk in the door — is available for $3.95 as a side dish. You can choose from cabbage, beet, chickpea, green bean, lentil, and other options. It's terribly difficult to choose, as the visual display is so tempting, and the aromas wafting through the restaurant are so seductive!

There are also boreks, vegetarian or meat "pies" made with phyllo dough, which cost $3.95. And small sausage-shaped lentil rolls can be enjoyed for only $1. A multitude of desserts is available, from brownies to yogurt cake to pumpkin and carrot-walnut treats (prices vary), in addition a variety of puddings for just $3.25.  You can enjoy a simple, creamy rice pudding or the Turkish favorite — Noah's pudding — which features grains and dried fruits.

Marcie, unfortunately, suffers from a number of food-related allergies, intolerances, and other miseries; she is a fabulous cook and a consummate food enthusiast, and yet, eating has become difficult for her. Much to the restaurant's credit, Ayse and her staff truly took personal care of Marcie and made sure to help her sort out what items she could enjoy.  

The cafe offers many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes which accommodate customers with special diets.  Our waitresses went back and forth repeatedly to find answers about ingredients and to ask questions of Marcie to narrow down some options so that she could eat a fabulous meal.

It was great fun to sit and talk about food — from the novelty of black rice to Southern matzah balls made with Creole spices and pecans — with two women who are integral to Ann Arbor's food community.  Marcie is the charming hostess who offers walking and tasting tours of the city with Savor Ann Arbor; and Stacy is the extraordinary cook and visionary behind What's Cooking, which lets customers order healthy, freshly prepared meals for delivery.  To enjoy a luscious dinner with such fabulous company was a great treat!

Ayse's Cafe is bright and cheerful, offering tremendous hospitality and amazing food.  You can indulge in many exceptional items there without breaking your budget.

Ayse's Cafe
1703 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Lunch: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., Monday through Friday
Dinner: 5 - 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday

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Mary Bilyeu writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

You should also visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related.

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 - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.



Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

One of Ann Arbor's best holes in the wall... I adore this place!

Mary Bilyeu

Sat, Mar 31, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

I have enjoyed everything I've ever eaten at Ayse's, from soups to salads to entrees to desserts. Fabulous food!


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

I don't live anywhere near this cafe and, as a consequence, have not been to Ayse's in some time. But I have been thinking about returning since my meals there in the past always were very good to excellent and, as you noted in your article, the staff was always friendly and accommodating. Dating back to 12/2010, Ayse's has had a total of 5 Health Dept. violations, none of them critical. That's 5 noncritical violations in 3 inspections. While not perfect (although pretty close), that is the sort of attention to food safety detail and respect for the customer I admire. I will be eating there very soon.

Mary Bilyeu

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

Even if you don't live close by, the trip to Ayse's is SO worth it! Fabulous food, warm and welcoming service, excellent inspections ... did I say fabulous food??? It is so, so good!