BY MICHAEL GRASS
Published January 10, 2002
If you walk across the intersection of North University Avenue and State Street at 7 a.m., Ann Arbor seems to be a dead town. I found that to be especially true during the summer when I lived near campus and commuted to my summer job in downtown Detroit. Before I relapsed into sleeping until the second alarm, for two weeks, I would venture out to grab a bite to eat before I left town on I-94.
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The idea of breakfast was a foreign concept to me. When I lived in the dorms, I only ate breakfast on the weekends and if I would grab something in town before a 10 a.m. class, it"d be a coffee and a bagel enough to hold me over to lunch.
Although I still don"t believe breakfast is a crucial part to one"s day, I"ve been enjoying breakfast more and more as I grow older. And in Ann Arbor, there are a variety of places to worship the art of starting the morning off right. But you have to look hard to find the great places in Ann Arbor, since many are hidden in this town that doesn"t begin to wake until well after 9 a.m.
The diner breakfast: Doing breakfast right
If you"re going to get a good breakfast I"m not talking about a bagel and coffee but omelets, bacon, corned beef hash, home fries you need to mix with the locals. The best breakfast experience in town is the Cloverleaf (201 E. Liberty St.). It"s a bit of a hike if you live south and east of campus, but it"s worth the hike if you"re one to explore town. The place opens at 6 a.m. and is a perfect place to end all-night study sessions. After staying up all night writing a paper for finals last term, I found that the Cloverleaf"s Eggs Benedict to be the best way to end hours of being wired on Red Bull.
The Cloverleaf is a diner at heart, serving the basics. The best place to sit is right up at the counter, where the smells of eggs, bacon and potatoes emanate from the open kitchen. Students stand out in a place like this most of the Cloverleaf"s crowd is blue collar, something you won"t see on campus or even in Ann Arbor in general. After my third cup of black coffee, the waitress could tell I had been up for hours and wished me good luck on exams as I left. Overall, the Cloverleaf is the best place for your basic breakfast, no frills attached. And they serve you with a smile, something that is lacking in many Ann Arbor breakfast establishments.
(334 Maynard St.)
Fleetwood Diner (300 S. Ashley St.)
A boutique breakfast: Zola
While the Colverleaf and the Fleetwood will give you a no-frills, but awesome meal, Caf Zola, on West Washington Street between Main and Ashley streets, will give you a breakfast that will challenge your preconceived notions of what the meal can truly be. Hands-down, Zola has the best coffee and best selection of unordinary breakfast selections in the city. You"ll pay more than most places in town, but it"s worth it.
If you want to try something exotic, take a careful look at Zola"s omelets or Turkish eggs. It"s a place where the chefs are artists and take as much pride in their creations as Frank Lloyd Wright did designing buildings. And because of that fact, Zola is a popular place oftentimes, you"ll have to wait a long time to get a table, but again, it"s worth it. You"ll get a good mix of people too. While the Cloverleaf caters to a certain crowd, you"ll find students, hippies, professionals, professors and families at Zola. While I"ve placed Zola under the category of a "boutique breakfast," don"t let that scare you off if you aren"t the type to stray from the traditional "apostrophe "s"" suburban franchise restaurant. If you are vigilant, you may actually open up your eyes and get to enjoy some good food for once in your life.
And Zola is a perfect way to start your day. Not only will you get a good meal, you"ll also get away from campus and experience Ann Arbor in its truest form.
Runner-up: Caf Felix (204 S. Main St.)
The Remainders: Omigod, what about Angelo"s and Mr. Greek"s?
If you overhear University students talking about going out for breakfast, Angelo"s will most likely be heard in the conversation.
The venerable Ann Arbor institution has been serving legendary breakfasts at the corner of Glen and Catherine streets since 1956. When I arrived in Ann Arbor in 1998, my older sister professed Angelo"s famed French toast, a favorite for she and her Alpha Phi sorority sisters. Ahh, the memories. In Ann Arbor, Angelo"s is to breakfast as Zingermann"s is to deli food. But just like Zingermann"s and the Gandy Dancer"s Sunday brunch, Angelo"s is plagued by its success and relies on its past laurels and Ann Arbor hype.
Each time I"ve been at Angelo"s for breakfast, I"ve left frustrated and disappointed. The experience there each time has been hit by either rude wait staff, a long wait or one time, having to ask for my breakfast to be reheated after it was given to me lukewarm.
Angelo"s may indeed have a good breakfast, but unfortunately, I"ve never been at the receiving end of the Dionysian morning feast that everyone raves about.
Another popular place near campus for breakfast (especially on the weekends with girls who had just done the "walk of shame") is Mr. Greek"s Coney Island, located a few doors north of the State Theater on State Street. If you arrive at the wrong time, you"ll have to wait. Its proximity to campus makes it a popular spot. The place offers the standard essentials and that is their specialty.
You won"t find an espresso machine here. The breakfast combos, i.e. two eggs and toast, Hercules breakfast, etc. are always a good bet. The omeletes, not as good as the ones you"ll find at Felix or Zola, are standard.
While Mr. Greek"s does an adequate job, it"s one of those places that will slap cream containers on the table, even if you ordered your coffee black, and where the wait staff seems to be eternally pissed off at their own very existence. Don"t expect to be wined in dined, expect that you will get fed, plain and simple. And oftentimes, that"s exactly what"s needed to get the morning rolling.