Dennis Serras returns to his roots
by Sally Mitani
From the August, 2014 issue
"I love working holidays!" says Nikki Leibold, who says that you'd better when you're in the hospitality business, because you end up working a lot of them. She's the manager of the new Mezzevino, promoted up from dining room manager of the Chop House, and we found her cheerfully at work on the Fourth of July. "When July fourth is on a Friday, it's a good holiday to be open," she says.
This latest Mainstreet Ventures venture is particularly close to Dennis Serras's heart. Serras's first restaurant was the Real Seafood Company, which he opened in 1975, and he and partners went on to grow a corporation that owns about twenty restaurants in eight cities, four of them clustered on the 300 block of S. Main. But this is the first inspired by Serras's home cuisine, the Greek and Turkish small plates called mezzes.
Stripping down what had been the Champion House and then the very short-lived Kuroshio, workers uncovered some hidden gems from its earlier history as the Pretzel Bell, including a brick archway and a wooden floor. Landlord Ed Shaffran still had the old Pretzel Bell sign, now mounted on a wall. (The Pretzel Bell was one of Ann Arbor's most iconic restaurants back when women were called co-eds and men wore letter sweaters. Lore abounds.)
Leibold isn't the only familiar face around. Chef Dexter Dakins was promoted from sous chef at Real Seafood, and Serras himself stops in regularly. He inaugurated the joint by commandeering all 150 seats for a fundraiser for the U-M Depression Center. "It was a donation-only event. He paid for all the food and drink himself," says Leibold. In return, diners were expected to ante up big time, and they did: the event raised $30,000.
About a year ago, says Leibold, most Mainstreet Ventures restaurants traded their paper menus for tablet computers. Don't older diners hate them? "They love them," says Leibold. "They can see" photos of each item. And even if you've
never touched one, swiping and tapping isn't exactly rocket science.
The menu is eastern Mediterranean, with lots of olives, lamb, hummus, couscous, and a charcuterie bar where the sushi bar used to be. Tables are stocked with extra plates and flatware to encourage sharing. Wine can be requested a la ficelle--like in those cool, soulful French movies, they set the bottle on the table and you pay for what you drink.
Cocktail hour promises some fun drinks, like the Evolving Eos (the Greek word for dawn). "It's a globe of frozen liqueur in a glass of cava," says Leibold. Because of the bubbles it revolves, and it changes color and taste as you drink it."
Mezzevino, 120 E. Liberty, 929-4325. Mon.-Thurs. 4-11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m.-midnight, Sun. 4-10 p.m. mezzevino.com
[Originally published in August, 2014.]