With three decades of successful restaurant ownership under his belt, Greg Guo, owner of Evergreen on Plymouth Rd., sounds pretty casual about opening a second location. “We’ve been in business thirty years, and so many people have asked us to open a location serving the south and west side of Ann Arbor,” he says. “So we did.”
At Evergreen, Guo has presided over several waves of change in Chinese-American menus, from the tail end of the chow mein/chop suey/egg foo yong era, through a procession of regional styles—Hunan, Szechuan, etc.—adapted to American palates and ingredients, through recent trends in newer, lighter Cantonese cooking with adventurous, unusual vegetables.
“Lin and Sam can tell you much more,” he says, and politely bows out of the interview about his new Evergreen Downtown, housed in the low-slung brick building behind Bill’s Beer Garden last occupied by Chow Asian Street Food.
Manager Lin Zhu has been with Evergreen for four or five years, after coming to town to get a master’s in arts administration at EMU. Sam Lindenberg is an independent restaurant consultant and longtime family friend. Together they’re continuing what Guo has been doing for years at Evergreen—updating, refining, and revising the menu to match ever-changing definitions of “authentic Chinese food.”
Lindenberg describes Evergreen Downtown’s menu as “modern Chinese—a little bit more seasonal, more playful, in terms of ingredients. There is less divide between American Chinese and traditional Chinese now.” As American diners have continued to search out more authentic Chinese cuisine, Chinese chefs have also been branching out, incorporating flavors and ingredients from around the world into traditional recipes.
The north side’s Asian student population has always urged a certain amount of authenticity on Evergreen, but Lindenberg points out that many other Ann Arborites have been around the block a few times. “We had someone come in yesterday who told us his dinner was ‘just as good as what I had when in Beijing.’” (If you want to take that as a recommendation, the dish was pork with string beans—“an earthy dish, but light enough to eat on a hot summer day,” Lindenberg says.)
Downtown’s menu is smaller than the mother restaurant’s. Among the newer—but still traditional—items selected from the Evergreen master menu, Zhu mentions wide-noodle beef, cumin lamb, and “dry pot,” a modern take on an old favorite. “Most people are familiar with hot pot,” she says. “It’s like a soup, you cook it yourself at the table. Dry pot uses all those same spices and flavors, but we cook it for you on the wok.”
Outside, the brick building pitched on a hill with its elegant line of arched windows looks the same as it did in its former incarnation, the short-lived Chow. Evergreen is keeping the luscious ruby-red paint job. Inside, it’s been redone (Guo’s business partner of many years, Nancy Zhang, is responsible for the design of both restaurants). Following the trend brought by the pandemic, the menu is a QR code, though staff still seats you, brings you drinks, and serves your food.
At press time, Evergreen Downtown was open for dinner only, but Zhu says they hope to add lunch hours by August 8. And of course, this restaurant will fulfill their longtime goal to expand delivery to south and west Ann Arbor. They’re open for takeout too, with the usual proviso about downtown parking.
Evergreen Downtown, 208 W. Liberty. (734) 929–5460. Sun., Mon., Wed., & Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Closed Tues. Evergreen-restaurant.us
This article has been edited since it was published in the August 2022 Ann Arbor Observer. The photo caption has been corrected.