Salads, sandwiches, and kava
by M.B. Lewis
From the November, 2017 issue
I had my eye on First Bite from the time it took over the space on S. Main that had been the innovative vegetarian restaurant Back2Roots Bistro. Back2Roots closed suddenly in late 2016, after a pileup of unrelated family and personnel tragedies, and early indicators were that First Bite, though not entirely vegetarian, would carry on in the same tradition, with super-healthy, internationally influenced food.
But in the early months, it didn't have a lot of curb appeal. Signs on the door were handwritten, and peering through the big front window revealed that the elegant aura and colorful decor of Back2Roots had given way to more generic casual dining.
I gave First Bite and its first-time restaurateur owner a few months to iron out kinks, then went in to start sampling. Among the most entree-like items is the straightforward Mexican "Beany Bowl" (the only bowl other than soup, in fact). It was a well-executed array of black beans, cilantro-flecked rice, crisp and colorful corn-pepper salsa, and fresh guacamole. Even more charismatic was a friend's choice, a Thai peanut wrap; it enclosed sauteed veggies and a black bean patty in a whole wheat tortilla and topped them with really flavorful peanut sauce--though not enough of it, she thought, recommending you ask for extra sauce for yours.
There are three salads and five burger-esque sandwiches, eclectically ranging from parsley lentil to turkey feta. Bypassing the omnipresent Michigan and Caesar salads, I ordered the Mediterranean. It was basically a very fresh version of a Greek salad, with a house-made vinaigrette that was more balsamic than is typical but very tasty. Spotting an interesting chickpea-beet burger on the plate of an al fresco diner on an unusually warm October day, I ordered one of my own. The massive and sturdy turmeric-toned bun would overpower some sandwiches, but the hefty beet burger held up and held together (even around corn kernels), thanks in part to a spicy pink sauce as binder. A bit
of coleslaw didn't add much, but again the house-made vinaigrette was stellar--pureed avocado this time, and it was as pretty green to look at it as it was flavorful.
Both smoothies I tried also scored high. Sweetened with pineapple and dates, the Green Fuel Smoothie was fruity enough to counter dark veggie tastes from chard, kale, and spinach. Probiotic Mango is Creamsicle rich and thick, thanks to both yogurt and kefir.
A big sign in the front window declares First Bite to be the only place in southeast Michigan where you can get kava. It's an intoxicant made from a ground root that's been used by South Pacific islanders for centuries.
"Kava provides some of the relaxing benefits of alcohol without impairing judgement or cognitive function," a handout on the counter says. "Since it comes from the earth, it has a gritty herbal taste." Amen to that--I could only get down a few sips, and even that was enough to numb my tongue. I don't know if it relaxed me; I think you'd need to have more to find out. The man working at the counter told me some people come in every day for kava and then sit around and talk or leisurely read the paper.
At $7 for four ounces, kava wasn't cheap. In fact, nothing at First Bite would qualify as bargain priced, unless you're factoring uniqueness, quality ingredients, and freshness into your value equation. And seniors and students with valid ID get 20 percent off their check.
108 S. Main
Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon.
Sandwiches and salads $8.30-$11.60, wraps and bowls $10.30-$11.30, smoothies and kava $4.60-$7, desserts $4.30.
[Originally published in November, 2017.]
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