Sharp-eyed customers at Downtown Home & Garden may have noticed some activity behind the store–trenches being dug, low walls going up, and most recently, a tall, elegant iron fence defining a small concrete lot. Sometime this spring, the 2,700-square-foot area will become an outdoor garden of food vendors called Mark’s Carts (named after DTH&G owner Mark Hodesh), entered either from Washington or a passageway out the back door of Hodesh’s store. Though he hasn’t entirely lined up his vendors yet, Hodesh says the idea is, for example, “steamed Asian buns or wood-fired pizzas–not hot dogs.” When pressed for details, Hodesh, with low-key confidence that details will take care of themselves, shrugs pleasantly and says, “It will evolve.”
He had originally planned to inaugurate Mark’s Carts as early as March 1, seeing no reason to wait for good weather; anyone who can get food onto a cart is basically selling take-out food. A little behind schedule, he’s now looking to April or May.
As spring warms to summer, he envisions a farmers’ market atmosphere, with people milling around, eating and drinking, sitting on the low walls and broad steps (yet to be built). There will probably be some tables, but nothing too formal. Hodesh has no master plan, but he promises to “protect the menu. I don’t want nine carts selling pulled-pork sandwiches.”
Hours are still to be decided, probably early morning through evening six or seven days a week, he says, though individual carts needn’t keep those hours. In addition to cart-parking space, electricity, and water, vendors will have access to a commercial kitchen in another long-dormant space he’s renovating, the old union hall on Liberty behind the DTH&G parking lot. He’s hoping that once Mark’s Carts is up and running he can also rent out the kitchen for classes and other community uses.
Also in the works is Ann Arbor’s first chaat house. Ann Arbor doesn’t have any chaat houses at all, and the Hut-K Chaat House, under construction a few doors down from the Bombay Grocery on Packard near Platt, is not only promising chaats but also–oxymoronically if you know what chaats are–that they’ll be “guilt-free and nutritious.”
Chaats (pronounced more like “chot” than “chat”) are India’s tasty street food, often involving deep-fried dough and sugary chutneys. In recent decades, with India’s growing affluence, chaats have become something of a craze, going upscale and moving indoors to chaat houses where they’re sold along with juices and other drinks. Think coffee house with a bazillion more calories.
The Hut-K’s owner is Mahaveer Bhojani, a U-M radiation oncology research scientist. A fine cook, he has been making his own chaats for years; in his own social circle, he says modestly, he’s rather famous for them. A brush with high blood sugar a few years ago, and a lifelong concern with the relationship between diet and disease, led him to rework his mother’s recipes, using plenty of leafy greens, fresh vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, and ancient grains like millet and quinoa.
The recipes are the easy part. Bhojani and his wife, Sumi, a Montessori teacher, have been struggling for months to put a full commercial kitchen into a space that has never had one, but he has his fingers crossed for a March opening.