It was a last minute trip home, the kind you don’t want to make, the kind you take because someone’s health is failing and visits must be made. Everything from my pre-departure routine to those long hours in a metal tube with wings felt more dismal than usual. I had a cocktail on each flight, sleeping when I could, eschewing my iPod and trashy magazines. The gathering of my immediate family upon arrival into Detroit weighed heavy with concern, a weekend full of meals and meetings with health care providers, our family’s modus operandi to laugh and carry on conflicting with the uncomfortable stomach gnaw of impending loss.
In between hospital visits, I booked a table at The Ravens Club, a local restaurant I had kept an eye on for the last year or so. Their offerings, it seemed, rivaled those you would find in Portland or San Francisco, including a robust cocktail selection and whiskey pairing dinners. Amid the anguish, I wanted to be comforted in the ways that have become so familiar over the last few years – with food and drink and celebration of life and laughter.
It was good to be home, to wander the streets of Ann Arbor as I had for so many years during my teen years. My Mom and I made our way to The Ravens Club on South Main for dinner, settling into a back booth offering a full view of the restaurant – ‘the Godfather booth’, as nicknamed by managing partner Jeff Paquin. I ordered a variety of things off the menu, to get a full taste of the plates presented. Like most hip and happening restaurants these days, the menu changes frequently, relying heavily on ingredients available within both the area and the season. A college town to the core, Paquin and chef Frank Fejeran have had a bit of a challenge developing a menu that would appeal to both the craft cocktail crowd and the local student population, at a price point that wouldn’t alienate potential clientele. Starters run $5 across the board, with main plates at $8-15. A steal for a Portlander like me.
We began with the hush puppies – standard, but complemented by a zing of coleslaw. A grand watermelon salad with avocado and pistachios came next, along with buttermilk fried chicken and a perfect mac and cheese – all marvelous with my Dark & Stormy cocktail. The stunner of the evening was a root vegetable pot pie, an item I had never seen on a menu – a fantastic balance of flavors and textures, with the parsnip, carrot, and fingerlings still dense and crunchy in a creamy white sauce created to highlight the main ingredients. Dessert items included a mild Meyer Lemon curd with berries and mint, and a Belgian chocolate Matzoh toffee crunch.
In addition to the great selection of drinks and food, The Ravens Club is also honed in on the niche of exclusive housemade products, with their own line of bitters, falernum, tonic water, ginger beer, and hot sauce. Availability of items varies throughout the year, per Paquin.
The staff and service were superb, the dining room atmosphere was jovial but at a comfortable sound level, and the final bill was so stunningly reasonable, this southeast Michigan secret won’t stay that way for long. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis saddled up to the bar after his recent performance at Hill Auditorium, and as my visits back home continue through the summer months, it’ll be my spot as well.
**All of these quick pics were snapped with my phone, because I was most certainly not on assignment. But when you find a ray of sun in the middle of a rainstorm, you want to remember it. Many thanks to Jeff and the TRC crew.