In the early 1990s, when Eve Aronoff was in college just outside of Boston, she took a summer job as a hot dog vendor at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. If you met Aronoff today, you’d have trouble imaging the soft-spoken person in front of you climbing up and down stadium steps hawking franks. With two successful Ann Arbor restaurants under her apron, she’s clearly come a long way from that. But she still hasn’t forgotten what Fenway meant to fans — it was more than somewhere to sit. It was a place, and it was fun. She kept that in mind for over a dozen years until the time came to open her own restaurant, eve.
“I wanted a place where my passion for food and attention to detail was combined with an anything-goes atmosphere,” she told me recently, sitting in the luminous dining room of her new restaurant in the Bell Tower Hotel.
When I arrived in Ann Arbor in 2012, I’d occasionally hear sad whispers about eve. Opened in 2003, the Kerrytown location quickly became a town favorite. It was so popular, Aronoff opened up a Cuban-burger joint, Fritas Batidos, and even got recruited by the producers for the sixth season of Top Chef, set in Las Vegas.
Suffice to say, Aronoff’s luck wasn’t great in Vegas. In the days leading up to the show, she broke her foot, her father was hospitalized, she cut her finger open packing her knives and the producers spelled her name wrong on the flight reservation, delaying her departure. Oh, and she got eliminated in the second episode.
“It was an interesting life experience, I’ll give it that,” she laughed.
But her luck truly took a turn for the worse in 2011. In Honduras, where she was doing charity work building ovens for rural communities, she severely injured her back. Unable to work the line anymore or even expedite, she was forced to close eve. Understandably, Ann Arborites mourned the loss of what had become a Kerrytown fixture.
“It was a very personal place,” Aronoff said. “People were invested in it as a food community. It was a bit off the beaten path. No one was really going to just wander in, because we were closed during the day when Kerrytown was busy. People made a point of going there.”
eve had been the culmination of years of work, both in other Ann Arbor kitchens, and even shops like Monahan’s Seafood. Aronoff, who eventually attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris, had for a time converted Ann Arbor into her own culinary school. Right after closing eve, her back and resolve still ached.
“For a brief time, I was like ‘I’m never doing that again,’ ” she said.
But a few weeks later, she was eyeing empty spaces around Ann Arbor. After two years, a suitable space arrived on the ground floor of the Bell Tower Hotel on South Thayer, just across the street from the main part of Central Campus. In February of 2015, she signed a lease, and started designing a new restaurant with assistant Architecture Prof. Neil Robinson. After months of slog, the new eve opened on Dec. 4 of last year.
Sitting with Aronoff in the new dining room just the other day, I commented on the unusual decor, full of icicle-looking lights, shades of pearl and bone-white and the occasional glisten from the still-shiny liquor bottles neatly lined up at the bar.
“It looks like the Snow Queen’s Palace,” I quipped.
“Exactly!” Aronoff exclaimed. “I wanted it to feel like you were walking into Narnia.”
At the sleek white bar, a curious little herb garden seems to grow right out of the stone. Aronoff explains that the bar manager at the original eve had the idea to install a small patch of live potted herbs into the bar so he could pluck them to order. When she decided to revive eve, Aronoff installed a bar garden. But that’s not all she took from the old restaurant — many of the original staff members have returned to work at the new eve. However, Aronoff insists that this new South Thayer location isn’t a facsimile of the Kerrytown one.
“It’s evolved. I’ve evolved as a chef and as a person,” she explained.
But Aronoff also insists that the new restaurant is not just about her vision and image.
“When people tell me ‘you have a brand,’ it just makes me cringe,” she said, tightening her face and shrugging her shoulders up.
“So why is the restaurant called ‘eve’?” I asked, a bit puzzled.
“Because it’s not ‘Eve’ with a capital ‘E’!” she exclaimed, excited to correct what is clearly a common misperception. “It’s lowercase. I was thinking the first woman, twilight, the Garden of Eden.”
Eve didn’t leave Ann Arbor after her injury. And it seems like “eve” didn’t either. Instead the soul of it lay waiting, like a seed ready to bloom again after a harsh winter.