In less than a year since Juicy Kitchen Cafe opened in the small strip mall at Maple and Miller, a variety of regulars have made it their own. Skyline High students and M-14 commuters dash in at sunrise for coffee, banana bread “crackly” with whole millet, or breakfast slider sandwiches with eggs, bacon, cheese, and veggies. Next, more leisurely folks settle in for business meetings and after-workout chitchat. Laptops snap shut as the brunch and lunch crowds begin to fill the tiny but attractive six-table dining room, ordering wholesome sandwiches, hearty soups, and salads from the big chalkboard on the wall. Prepared food is available all day for takeout.

Owner Susan Todoroff, a personal trainer and Schoolcraft College-educated chef, developed her cuisine for “healthy foodies” doing catering and home delivery of prepared meals. Her formula is low-starch, low-sugar meals dominated by colorful fruit and vegetables, and when it works it really works. Breakfast meets healthy dessert in lightly eggy whole grain French toast stuffed with a cream cheese filling flavored by caramelized apples, cinnamon, and raisins–toasty walnuts and real maple syrup are finishing touches that make it sublime.

You get a mini salad of freshly cut fruit with most meals, and some of the egg dishes come with a mini salad of tomatoes, kale, and other sensible accents. One week’s special omelet was stuffed with roasted tomatoes and other vegetables and had great savory spicing of oregano and marjoram (the broccoli would have mixed in better, though, if it were steamed a bit past crunchy).

Pumpkin was the most popular fall flavor for the baked donuts–yes, baked! In texture and taste, they’re akin to crunchy muffin tops. A sprinkling of unsweetened coconut keeps the health theme–dark chocolate icing, not so much. They look like donuts, they dip in milk or coffee like donuts, but they’re nowhere near as greasy. By my reckoning, that’s healthy junk food mission accomplished.

The peanut butter quinoa cookie, on the other hand, was mushy and bland to the point of being not worth the calories, healthy or not. Fortunately there are usually a half-dozen or so other baked goods to gamble on, most of them vegan and some gluten free.

Baked eggs and oatcakes are cut off at 11 a.m. on weekdays, but the rest of the breakfast menu stays available through lunch. I loved the simple yet elegant execution of the grilled cheese sandwich, with a slim slice of grilled zucchini on whole grain bread. They’re generous with the white cheddar cheese, and you get pesto to dip the crusty corners of your bread into. It’s only $8.50 with a cup of really good vegetable soup, like roasted eggplant and fennel with thick lemony broth.

The grilled peanut-butter-and-raspberry sandwich is a light, spa-like take on the classic. It will delight grown-ups, but it raised an eyebrow and scowl from one youngster, who clearly preferred the traditional jam. (The four kinds of fresh fruit on the side was the bigger hit with this kid.) Grilled romaine Caesar salad and tarragon chicken with pecans and dried cranberries on a baguette are other all-season favorites.

Lunch dials down at 2 p.m., but to-go prepared meals are available from the cold case until closing. In fact, I thought I had sampled plenty on my visits to Juicy Kitchen and had nearly finished writing when I checked the website. What I read there on the weekly special news literally pulled me out of my chair and into the car to go back.

“We’re doing lots of comfort food this week,” I read, “with an interesting twist: Chef Dan [Vernia, who was founding chef at Ravens Club] is using antelope, a lean source of protein coming from Texas, in his Italian Mole Stew called Dolceforte. Antelope is similar to venison but milder and sweeter. I hope that you try it, as Dan is a master of this type of dish.”

As promised, the stew was rich but not gamey and the dark chocolate-poblano pepper mole was divine. Yes votes also are awarded for to-go desserts like poached pears in clove sauce topped with coconut cream and chai-spiced rice pudding with big raisins and big cardamom flavor. You could also enjoy them in the cafe with fresh Mighty Good coffee–if you can find a seat. This place gets pretty darn crowded. Fortunately, Todoroff and her husband, George, have developed a close working relationship with the owners of the new El Harissa Market Cafe (see Marketplace Changes, p. 59) a few doors down, so its spacious dining space can serve as Juicy Kitchen overflow space–at least until El Harissa is discovered as well.

Oh, and between these two is Anthony’s Gourmet Pizza, another place with distinctive offerings and a loyal clientele. This may just become the hottest little food strip in town.

Juicy Kitchen Cafe

1506 Maple (Maple-Miller Plaza)


Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri. 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Breakfast $5.25-$8.75, soup and salad $4.75-$11, sandwiches $5.50-$9.50

Wheelchair accessible (although aisles are narrow).