Three posts in a week. Crazy, right? I know, get over it. How about four restaurants in one post? Let’s get into it.
I’ve eaten a ton of food in the past thirty days since arriving back in the Ypsilanti area. For those of you who don’t know my life story, I actually grew up here. When I was a kid, I never thought Ypsilanti was anything special and spent most of my time in Ann Arbor. Throughout the years, the University of Michigan has driven most of the character out of the city looking for a new home. It is my belief that the most of the character and interesting businesses in the area have made Ypsilanti their home. If you wish to disagree we can do that, but you’re wrong so that kind of makes the disagreement pointless. Let’s just move on.
I love Ypsilanti. It’s interesting. It’s a college town, but not really — home to Eastern Michigan University (my alma mater) where 80% of the students commute from outside of the city. There are historical neighborhoods, including Normal Park where I live, and neighborhoods where you don’t want to get lost in or you’ll fear for your life. The culinary scene is vast, with restaurants specializing in Moroccan, Mexican, Guatemalan, Indian, American, Mediterranean and countless others. So many different cultures are represented here. You have the classics like Haabs, which has been serving American fare since 1934, and Sidetrack Bar and Grill, whose location has served as a restaurant since 1850. There is hot dog stand that makes its own root beer, a bar that serves a rattlesnake sausage and a burger joint called Roy’s Squeeze-Inn that serves burgers on a semi-circular bar table. The greatness of Ypsilanti is its variety. Variety in culture, race, food, economic status — variety in everything. I didn’t even mention that it has the most phallic monument in the country.
It’s a big deal to me to be back in my hometown as a resident again so my first day that I had after we settled into our new home I wanted to take Eleanor out for a day on the town and introduce her to the city. Our first day focused primarily on food because if you haven’t gathered this yet, I’m kind of into the whole food thing. As I’ve said before, it is my goal to train the kid to become the greatest chef in the world. Judging by her favorite foods (ice cream, fruit snacks and peas), I am failing miserably. Our first stop was breakfast at The Bomber, which has been around for 80 years and has been a favorite of mine since my late teens. My parents never took me here, which I now believe was on purpose in respect for my cardiac health. The Bomber specializes in gigantic plates of food that simply put, are not for the conscious of health Now, if you ask me what I think is the single greatest breakfast combination, it’s biscuits, sausage gravy and over easy eggs. The Bomber takes it a bit further adding American Cheese and sausage patties in a dish they call The Sunrise Biscuit. If your goal is to wake up in the morning, get prepared for your day, eat breakfast and then give up on any plans you may have had — the sunrise biscuit is for you. It’s probably the worst possible thing you could do to increase productivity in your day. The trade-off is it’s one of the most delicious things you will ever eat. The Bomber is an absolute institution in Ypsilanti and has to be experienced at least once.
For lunch, the only thing that made any sense was something light. Something to cleanse my soul of the fat sauce, processed cheese and sausage. I wanted to try something that hasn’t always been in the city. I heard about this new dumpling joint on Washtenaw called Yee Siang Dumplings — A Chinese restaurant specializing in you guessed it — dumplings. Now, if you find it strange that someone can go from eating what you saw above to eating Chinese food I can absolutely agree with you. Just keep reading though, it gets weirder. So at Yee Siang, I walked in to a completely empty restaurant with covered windows. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to eat here. The sign is cheap and the curtains on the windows conceal the inside and almost make it as though there’s some kind of mystery inside that needs to be solved. This building has housed dozens of different businesses with this being the most current. The first few pages of the menu give authentic options that you probably won’t see at your run of the mill Americanized Chinese joint. On the last page you’ll find the “All Time Favorites” section which is home to the General Tsao and Orange chicken. Just disregard this section of the menu entirely.
I can’t tell what I like more about Yee Siang Dumplings, the food or the service. The service is essentially someone walking up to your table and saying “What do you want?”. It’s fantastic. No specials, no recommendations, no over the top greetings. The decor is minimal and uninviting. Part of the ceiling is held up with clear tape. Don’t know how to use chop sticks? Tough luck. It’s fantastic. You have your choice of eleven different types of dumplings, an entire section dedicated to “saucy dishes on rice”, noodle bowls and other Chinese items that you have probably never heard of. There is a picture of every single item on the menu so if you’re confused about what an item is, you’re good.
If I had to give you a recommendation, go with an order or dumplings — I started with the lamb and cilantro dumplings — and a Ma La bowl, which is a broth with whatever meat, vegetables and noodles you want to add. The dumplings are unlike the usual pork dumplings you get at your Chinese takeout joint. The meat inside is juicy and flavorful and the dough is fresh. There is black vinegar on the table which instantly became one of my favorite new condiments and makes regular vinegar look like a little bitch. I left Yee Siang with a desire to try every single dumpling on their menu.
After resting for a few hours Eleanor and I hit the road again to the most obvious place I could think of. Sidetrack Bar & Grill has long been one of my favorite places in the world. It started in my early twenties as the place to drink gallons of great beer for a cheap bill during their famous happy hour and has transformed into one of my favorite places to eat. It’s become a combination of nostalgia, a great beer list and very good food. Some people will tell you Sidetrack is overrated and their service is terrible. I say to these people, get over yourself. The service may be spotty from time to time but there is no bar serving better food, that I have been to, than Sidetrack. The number of tables this place turns every night is absolutely incredible. Recent renovations have added even more space to their dining room, an improved ventilation system (much needed) and an expanded kitchen. It’s kind of weird going in there now with the expansions but the heart of it has stayed the exact same it’s always been. To put it bluntly, it’s just a great fucking place to eat and have a beer or six.
Side note, can we stop saying Sidetracks (plural)? It’s Sidetrack. Thanks.
Sidetrack likes to advertise their burgers being some of the best in the country. I’ll give it to them, they are serving a very good burger cooked on an ancient cook top but that’s not what brings me here. I rarely, if ever, order the burger anymore. Eleanor, on the other hand, will not order anything other than a “booger with cheese”. No kids burger here, either. I rarely, if ever, order from the actual menu. On the same paper as the beer list they offer you a revolving list of specials that is different every time you visit. It ranges from Sheppards Pie, to pot roast, to pulled pork mac and cheese. There is a different menu combination every time I go. Here’s a real pro tip for you. If you see a Mexican item on the menu your decision making is done. Even if you haven’t gotten a chance to read the rest of the menu, put it down. Don’t like Mexican food? Doesn’t matter, order it anyways. I’ve had several different types of tacos and enchiladas from Sidetrack and they are up there with any authentic Mexican joint I’ve been to. All of the items on the plates seem to be made in house by someone who knows what the hell they’re doing. This visit meant steak tacos with onion and cilantro on a crispy corn tortilla, with a side of rice and beans with a chile verde sauce.
Here’s a tip, Frenches, open up a little Mexican joint and give it to whichever one of your cooks is coming up with these dishes.
Eleanor and I had a great dinner, mine washed down with an Old Rasputin and Eleanor’s with a chocolate milk. We talked long about what we wanted to do for dessert to top of this day of culinary amazingness. Do we get one of those silly gigantic strawberry shortcakes from Sidetrack or do we look elsewhere? We sat there with our bellies full and our imaginations wide. The choice became obvious. We drove to Ma Lou’s for a biscuit donut.
Now I’m going to spare you the history and my thoughts on Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken because I already did that in my first ever post on here. If you don’t feel like reading that whole post but you’re like “Damn, I could really go for some fried chicken right now”, I give you full permission to stop reading and go immediately. We didn’t eat fried chicken on this particular night, however. Ma Lou’s takes traditional biscuit dough in donut form, deep fries it and then dips it in vanilla icing. It’s one of the better combinations of sweet and savory that I’ve tried. The only problem is if you come here for only a biscuit donut you are challenged to resist not ordering fried chicken as well. Despite me being one of the biggest fat kids in history, the amount of food consumed throughout the day prevented me from eating fried chicken for dessert. Eleanor and I simply ate a biscuit donut and were on our way.
As we walked out of Ma Lou’s we passed by the Tap Room and The Rocket and I was reminded again how much I love this city. Ypsilanti is interesting. Ypsilanti has variety. There is nothing normal about this city and that’s what makes it so great. I say a lot of sarcastic shit on here and sometimes I drink too much and write rants about how terrible Buffalo Wild Wings is but this post is a genuine love letter to the city in the form of a day out with my daughter at some of my favorite restaurants.
Should you ever need recommendations for anything to do in Ypsilanti you have an open invitation from me to reach out. I love sharing this city with people and hope the next time you’re looking for something to do you give it a try.