Review: Beezy's Cafe
Food and community
by Bix Engels
I'd heard so much buzz about Beezy's that I was surprised to find so little flash to this Ypsi cafe. But maybe that's the point-Bee Mayhew has created something simple and real, with a lot of heart.
Beezy's namesake creator is a thirty-one-year-old with a ferocious strength of will, a finely tuned business plan, and an angel investor-one of her favorite customers when she worked at Petoskey's Roast and Toast cafe, who, she says, "turned out to be a gazillionaire." Launched last November, with an aim of providing "simple, honest food," and with dedicated service from an offbeat, friendly crew, Beezy's attracted an instant, well-deserved following.
Mayhew's communitarian cafe is housed in a graceful 1865 brick Italianate building next to a storefront Pentecostal music school, across from a strip joint, a couple of doors down from the Dreamland Theater, and not far from the local-food advocates at Growing Hope. Clearly, there are a lot of different constituencies in the neighborhood, but it feels like most of them could find happiness here, at least in the form of a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
It's a handsome space, but not in a glossy-magazine kind of way that makes people feel insufficiently cool. Mayhew painted some of the plaster walls a sunny yellow accented with eggplant and steely blue trim but left unpainted the brick wall that runs the length of the dining room. She added floors of recovered ash wood-from trees felled by the emer-ald ash borer-and exposed the original tin ceiling.
Much of the sandwich making takes place behind the counter in the main room, which intensifies the social spin. It makes a difference when you can interact with the person preparing your food, when she asks you afterwards as you pour more coffee from the self-serve bar, "You had the breakfast burrito, right? Was it OK?"
It was way more than OK-delicious, in fact.
The burrito is one of the ten or so breakfast plates on the chalkboard
menu, the rest of which is devoted to sandwiches, soups, and salads. Canada-born, Mayhew grew up all over before settling in Michigan, putting down roots in Petoskey before replanting herself in Ypsilanti. With the zeal of one who picked the place she wants to live, Mayhew is an enthusiastic locovore, but not doctrinaire or elitist. The businesswoman in her considers price and quality as well as geography: she's the first restaurateur I've talked to who proudly points to Gordon Food Service as a supplier: "They're a huge Michigan company with good prices and a lot of great products from here."
This practical approach helps her keep prices reasonable, but she also shops much closer to home: the tortilla in that $5.95 breakfast burrito comes from nearby Dos Hermanos Market. Mayhew stuffs it with local eggs and wonderfully robust Dos Hermanos chorizo, adds a tangy grated cheddar, and rolls it tightly. A scattering of home fries with a deep shiny cast delivers exotic flavors like cumin and paprika and a pepper blend from Alden's Mill House in Antrim County.
I liked the breakfast plate, too, a blue-collar start to the day, with eggs, potatoes, crisp apple-wood-smoked bacon, and toast. In a way that makes the place feel like Mom's kitchen, if you want the eggs any way other than scrambled, you're out of luck. That's not to say Mayhew isn't flexible-she whipped up a good-looking custom vegan tofu burrito topped with sautéed veggies for the table next to ours-it's just that she has a lot to cook on one four-burner stove.
Every day Mayhew makes two soups, one with meat and one vegetarian. Her chicken soup is exuberant, laced with lots of tarragon and plenty of carrots, celery, and chunks of breast meat. Since the soups are self serve and held in a steam pot, the broth-based soups may be a better choice than the cream soups. The cream of asparagus I tasted had gone a little too thick by late afternoon, but though it lost points on consistency, it still had excellent flavor. On another visit, the mulligatawny really didn't taste like any mulligatawny I've ever had, but it was nevertheless a good concoction, with dark- and light-meat chicken and vegetables in a zippy broth.
For about $7, you can pair a big bowl of soup with any half sandwich or small salad. "Small" is relative-a small "Beezy's Salad" was plentiful, a deep bowl of mixed greens, thinly sliced red onions, homemade croutons, slices of roast chicken, a scoop of egg salad, lots of crumbled bacon, and just the right amount of ranch dressing.
Mayhew bakes fifteen to twenty-five loaves of bread daily-sourdough, rye, cracked wheat, and veggie-and the sandwich slices are hand-hewn, thick, and uneven. The fillings make liberal use of fresh herbs. I found myself going back for the egg salad on soft cracked wheat, the bread providing a fine platform for a retro mustardy mix reminiscent of dev-iled eggs. The "Chicksilanti" is delicious, with clean-tasting roasted chicken and lots of celery, mayo, and fresh herbs. It's "topless"-that is, open-faced-in a nod to Deja Vu across the street.
Mayhew bakes a few sweets from scratch or almost scratch-scones, lemon bars, and cinnamon buns-none of which I tried. She gets brownies and cupcakes from Erin Kelley's tarte bakery, and coffee cake from Tim Edinger of Old World Bakery. I did sample Beezy's coffees, which are very good; Mayhew uses Intelligensia coffee beans, roasted in Chicago.
Beezy's predecessor in this space, the Oasis Cafe, a project of Belleville's Power Centre Church International, aimed to provide affordable warm meals and a friendly gathering space. For whatever reason, that model didn't work, but it seems like Beezy's has taken on a similar role. It's one of those places, like Zingerman's (of which Mayhew is an alumna), that can lift a neighborhood. It is already an integral part of the social fabric and even contributes to the neighborhood agricultural scene. Mayhew sends her scraps to be composted to the Growing Hope hoop house a few blocks away. Growing Hope sends back veggies like spinach and cilantro grown right down the street. You may not know all these back stories when you eat at Beezy's, but their sum shines through in the dining experience.
Beezy's 20 N. Washington Ypsilanti 485-9625
Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun.
Breakfast baked goods $1-$1.85, hot entrees $2.50-$6.25, soup $3.25, salads $2.75-$6.95, sandwiches $4.95-$6.95
[Originally published in May, 2009.]