Dinner concerts and more
Saline Marketplace Changes, Summer 2013
by Billie Ochberg
If you squint your eyes, blur out the semis, and gaze down the main drag in Saline from atop its tallest commercial building, you can almost imagine what the road might have looked like a century and a half ago, back when it was Chicago Road. Weary travelers heading west in stagecoaches might have stopped in Saline, set up a picnic on the river, and played the fiddle.
What brings that scene to mind is the new dinner concert series, Acoustic Routes, at Mangiamo Italian Grill. Located in the newly renovated second floor of 107 W. Michigan, it's an apt venue for folks eager to eat and listen to traditional American music from bluegrass to Irish folk, from Cajun dance sounds to country blues.
The concept for the new monthly dinner concert series came about in an old-fashioned way: folks meeting one another with a good idea and moving forward on a handshake. Jim Cain, by day a public relations manager at GM, is passionate about traditional American music. A local gem, Cain has logged thousands of hours washing dishes and cooking for the homeless; he is also the force behind organizing and producing the BreakFest Benefit Concert at the Ark, an annual event that raises thousands of dollars for the free daily breakfasts served at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor. When Minneapolis-based guitarist (and BreakFest 2014 performer) Dakota Dave Hull contacted Cain back in February saying he would be working his way to Boston in April, he asked Cain if he could help him book a show in the Ann Arbor- Detroit area. None of the venues Cain knew about were available. Cain talked to his old friend, Kirk Weaver. "Kirk is a little like the Mayor of Saline," Cain wrote in a recent email. "He seems to know every restaurateur in town." Over a beer at Mangiamo Italian Grill in downtown Saline, Weaver introduced Cain to Pete Toarmina.
Toarmina runs Mangiamo Italian Grill with his
two sisters and all three of their spouses. The restaurant recently celebrated two years in business. Even back when it first opened, Toarmina had dreams of repairing, restoring, and renovating the smoke-damaged upper stories of the nearly 140-year-old building. He imagined a vast banquet space on the second floor for parties and weddings with plenty of space for live music. Above that, on the third floor, he pictured luxury lofts and maybe even a dinner theater. The third-floor dreams will have to wait awhile. But, after months of sweat and hard labor, the second floor is restored. Toarmina toiled for months removing soot-covered plaster from the walls, followed by more than 200 hours of wire-brushing the exposed brick. He and his son installed pristine three-quarter-inch tongue-and-groove hardwood oak floors throughout. There's a bar, plus two brand-new modern bathrooms.
Customers enter through Mangiamo on the first floor and ascend a custom-built wide wooden staircase. Upstairs, a short hallway connects the two vast, newly restored 2,000-square-foot rooms. They've been available for private parties and weddings since just after New Year's, but Toarmina knew he needed to think of other options to cover his costs. When he met Jim Cain, a guy already savvy at booking musicians and promoting the acts, it was a win-win.
Audience members enjoyed Dakota Dave Hull, a Prairie Home Companion regular, at the first Acoustic Routes concert in April. Atop a small stage with twinkling lights hung on a trellis behind him, wearing a dark suit, brightly patterned shirt, and black fedora, and surrounded by an array of guitars and banjos, Hull strummed a mix of his signature ragtime tunes and waltzes.
Concertgoers may order from the Mangiamo dinner menu and enjoy a rotating selection of Michigan beers, wines, and vodkas. Dessert lovers may now order a slice of Achatz pie or a scoop of Laurie Toarmina's homemade ice cream from Mickey's Dairy Twist.
Acoustic Routes concerts are scheduled one Sunday a month at 7:30 p.m. Upcoming concerts include Detroit blues and gospel legends Rev. Robert Jones Sr. and Sister Bernice Jones on June 23, Bill Bynum & Co. on July 28, and the Moxie Strings on August 25. Admission is $10 at the door. Preferred seating is available for Mangiamo dinner guests.
Mangiamo Italian Grill, 107 W. Michigan. 429-0060.
Saline's Downtown Diner is now open for dinner three nights a week: Thursday through Saturday. Owners Megen McCully and Jeff Tritton titled the new dinner menu "Smokey Weekend Nights" because it offers a variety of smoked meats, including St. Louis cut pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, and Atlantic salmon. Customers choose from the diner's signature BBQ sauces, like Western North Carolina Vinegar, Louisiana Bayou Bite, Kansas City Classic, and Midwest Sweet, and an array of homemade sides like BBQ baked beans, corn on the cob, and creamy three-cheese baked mac and cheese. Tritton, who is also the chef, raves about his grandma's bread-and-butter pickle recipe. At just 75¢, they're worth a try.
Saline Downtown Diner, 131 E. Michigan. 316-2343. Tue.-Sun. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Thurs.-Sat. 4:30-8:00 p.m. Closed Mon.
Little Caesars is back in Saline but not downtown. The pizza chain's Ann Arbor Street location closed in 2011 due to a franchise dispute. The newest Little Caesar's joins a slew of other eateries in the State Street Crossing strip mall in front of WalMart. The new franchise owners are Dave Langenderfer Sr. and Dave Langenderfer Jr. Open since the second week in May, the Little Caesars does not offer delivery, but "there's no need to wait, and no need to call ahead," says Langenderfer, Jr. They have freshly baked pepperoni and cheese pizzas on hand all day, adding three more varieties during dinner hours (4-8 p.m.).
Little Caesars, 6901 State Road (State Street Crossing). 470-6481. Daily 10:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m.
[Originally published in July, 2013.]