Ollie Food + Spirits
by Lee Lawrence
From the August, 2017 issue
In the six years it was open, I might have been in Cafe Ollie once. With front windows too high to peek into and a rather plain front, it didn't entice you off the Depot Town sidewalk the way some of its neighboring eateries did. And I was never sure if it was a coffeehouse or a real restaurant, maybe because it was a bit of both.
Earlier this year, after an adjacent space became available, owners Danielle and Mark Teachout closed Cafe Ollie. They renovated both interiors and reopened as the full-service restaurant Ollie Food + Spirits (with the same plain front and high windows) and Cream & Crumb, a dessert/ice cream parlor next door.
The Teachouts, along with chef Travis Schuster, are highlighting local seasonal food and craft cocktails at the new Ollie. (We didn't try Cream & Crumb.) They've also retained some vegetarian and vegan favorites from the old cafe, all at what they call an "Ypsi price point."
My favorite meal at Ollie was my first--a delightful cocktail followed by a duo of small plates. Featuring a relatively new reintroduction of an old-time liqueur, Dry Curacao, Ollie has fashioned what might be the perfect summer drink--the Curacao Rickey, bright with orange, lime, and spice; light on alcohol; bubbly and refreshing. The Spring Salad, too, was one of the best salads I've ever had--a generous pile of dewy fresh greens, radishes, and carrots; slightly sweet, lightly pickled, crunchy beet slices; toasty seeds; Parmesan shavings; and a still-soft boiled egg. Light and fluffy, Lamb and Mint Meatballs displayed a Middle Eastern flair, my only regret the thin, rather than creamy, rosewater-scented yogurt sauce.
My husband's Jack Rudy Gin and Tonic, made with the eponymous syrup and sparkling water, was much less satisfying, unbalanced by too much sweetener and insufficient carbonation. The name of Rose's Dream Burger honors a friend of Schuster's who dreamed that he'd made a burger with asparagus cream on it; he
invented one to make the dream come true. The description did sound dreamy--juicy Knight's beef topped with bacon, asparagus, Parmesan, and hollandaise--but we found the bun too heavy, the sauce too watery to stick to the patty, the asparagus spears too few. A good idea, we agreed, but not yet equal to the vision.
Since Cream & Crumb is all about sweets--Guernsey ice cream treats, Zingerman's Bakehouse pastries, other local baked goods--Ollie's kitchen generally makes only one dessert each day. That evening's option was strawberry corn cakes--essentially a homey and delicious strawberry shortcake made with cornmeal biscuits, local berries, and scads of whipped cream.
My brother started another evening's dinner with the more expensive but more pleasing--slightly spicy, less sweet--Victoria Newell's Gin and Tonic, named for a ghost who's said to haunt the building. Sitting at the bar, we watched the bartender mix everyone's drink as carefully as any conscientious cook concocting a signature dish. And perhaps because we were at the bar, without a dedicated server, the chef brought out each of our plates himself, quietly naming and describing the dishes as he placed them before us, listing the ingredients' sources, and thoughtfully answering any questions we might have had.
We began with two appetizers--the spring tartine (mushroom toast with asparagus) and "pork toasts" (shredded pork with rhubarb mostarda and lots of gooey cheddar on a superfluous hunk of browned brioche). Both were fine if not as dazzling as my previous two small plates.
Entree choices are few, so I went for a double dose of fruity pig. Though pork is certainly one of my favorite proteins, I rarely eat chops anymore. Modern pigs, even those raised on animal-friendly farms, are often bred so lean the non-fatty cuts like the loin can be dry and tasteless. Schuster, however, had brined and quickly seared the thin chop so that it remained juicy and flavorful. Offset by a chunky rhubarb-onion compote, along with horseradish gremolata, the dish was extremely satisfying.
My husband's house-made semolina pasta with asparagus and mushrooms, garnished with a large tangle of salad, was pleasant, as was my brother's vegan chickpea burger, if overwhelmed by the same dense bun as the hamburger. Dessert again featured strawberries and clouds of whipped cream, this time blanketing a moist white cake.
On a lunch visit, we enjoyed sandwiches and salad, particularly the Caprese sandwich. Though it was still too early in the season for ripe tomatoes, Schuster had made out-of-season ones interesting by dicing and mixing them into a sweet-tart relish. There's also a Sunday brunch, which has a short menu based on themes that change weekly--it could be Mexican, southern, or wherever Schuster's interests have taken him recently. When we were there on Fourth of July weekend, he was celebrating "'Merica."
We ordered a mushroom and Gruyere omelet, served with a mess of fried potatoes, and a "market hash" with corned beef. The hash, a chunky saute of mixed vegetables, potatoes, and a few scattered slices of meat, didn't abide by my usual understanding of the dish--that is, an amalgamation of potatoes, onions, and meat, the ingredients losing individuality to become a cohered mass, ideally crispy on the outside and soft inside. Nonetheless, my husband enjoyed it. For dessert we splurged by ordering another entree--Red, White, and Blue Yeasted Waffles. The thin, soft cakes were a delicious foil to the generous piles of whipped cream (these guys know how to heap on the cream), mixed berries and sauces, and crunchy granola and nuts. My husband, who had doubted the wisdom and necessity of ordering "dessert" at brunch, easily ate his half of the order.
Going in without expectations, we came away from our visits to Ollie Food + Spirits feeling we had received real value--fresh, tasty food; friendly staff; casual fun, with no big airs; and usually with a smaller tab than we would have had in Ann Arbor. It was while we were talking about the brunch hash that my husband proclaimed his review. "It might not have been hash," he declared, "but I like this place. I recommend it!"
Ollie Food + Spirits
42 E. Cross Street
Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Kitchen closed 3-4 p.m. daily; bar open later. Closed Mon. Lunch $5-$12, brunch $4-$11, dinner $5-$15.
[Originally published in August, 2017.]
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