Eli Rallo: Sunny side up: A guide to Ann Arbor brunch
If breakfast food were a major offered at the University, I’d have a 4.0. I wouldn’t even need to re-subscribe to my Chegg account if I were taking classes like “Intro to How Do You Like Your Eggs” instead of Polisci 495.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I go to bed thinking of it, and it’s my first thought every morning. Especially since moving to Ann Arbor, I’ve had an infatuation with scrambled eggs, puffy cheese filled omelettes, the endless toppings one could put on a stack of warm buttery pancakes and the innumerable things one can do to a plate of potatoes (a side dish which, if done right, can steal the spotlight from the main course). My mornings at home are always paired with a mug of black coffee — preferably Keurig Dunkin Donuts original blend in my Good Morning, Ann Arbor mug and a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal with a swirl of crunchy almond butter, a dash of cinnamon and a handful of fresh raspberries. That’s the best way to pre-game any Monday through Friday that begins at 8:00 a.m. and ends whenever I manage to check all the boxes on a neverending to-do list. Especially after a morning run or late night studying, breakfast is an important staple in the 24-hour routine of a college student.
In the rulebook I live by, breakfast is an essential — and the brightest — part of my morning. This mantra has been instilled inside me since early childhood, when my father began a serious and unique 6:30 a.m. standing breakfast date which he called “choices,” where my brothers and I would gather around our kitchen table before school and he’d make a selection of different gourmet breakfast foods to start out our day on the right foot. I was lucky enough to have this tradition from elementary school to the last day of senior year of high school, running down the stairs with my backpack to a kitchen filled with the scent of lemon blueberry ricotta waffles or a pancetta goat cheese frittata (always served with a crisp of bread and pool of olive oil). I learned about how to fuel my body as I transitioned from child to adult, to never skip breakfast and that the best way to make a frittata fluffy is to whisk a tablespoon of cream cheese into your eggs.
It isn’t hard to explain the appeal of breakfast, but it’s the most contested meal of the day — people don’t like to get up early, “aren’t hungry in the morning,” “can’t eat till they have coffee” — the list goes on. The perfect solution for the breakfast haters of the world is brunch: An early afternoon meal — the contraction between breakfast and lunch and an excuse to pair french toast with alcohol. The brunch scene in Ann Arbor is unlike anything I’ve ever come across in my 19-year-long uninterrupted breakfast restaurant tour.
To me, the promise of a good breakfast can make anybody a morning person, and I feel as though the brunch scene in Ann Arbor makes the city a breeding ground for brunch fiends. Sometimes, I feel as though the brunch trend takes the foundation of breakfast as the best meal of the day and pushes it aside a bit. Therefore, I’m an adamant believer in not only the Saturday / Sunday brunch but the mundane, daily, everyday breakfast date. For me, a 9:00 a.m. Wednesday breakfast date can be nicer than the 11:30 a.m. Sunday brunch with the gaggle of high school seniors trying to scheme their way into a few mimosas.
That’s why it’s good news that Ann Arbor’s brunch restaurants serve breakfast every day of the week. Ann Arbor has too many breakfast places to count, which suits a breakfast fiend like me quite well. I like to think of these places on a spectrum, from important staples like Fleetwood Diner to boujee spots like Savas and Avalon Cafe, there’s something for everyone, even when you aren’t quite a morning person.
If I’m in the mood for something greasy, a hangover cure or perhaps a late night breakfast snack, I always head to Fleetwood Diner. The distance and the wait are both worth it for the hippie hash, the signature dish of Fleetwood. A pile of buttery hash browns covered in a blanket of feta cheese (with a side of fries, eggs and crispy bacon, in my opinion) is quite possibly the very best thing I’ve ever tasted. That paired with the quaint atmosphere, the dim, dull lighting, click of the cash register and walls covered with so many stickers you can’t even see the paint makes the Fleetwood experience one in a million.
However, when my parents are in town, we’re big Avalon fans — they serve some sort of blueberry pancake heaven in a heavy metal skillet which pairs perfectly with fresh maple syrup and any of their signature lattes. Avalon specializes in a fresh, unique take on a traditional breakfast, serving greens on the side of frittatas and omelettes, which is exactly the way my dad likes his breakfast. The vibe in Avalon is warm and inviting, the seating comfortable and the coffee bar to die for. If you’re looking for the best muffins and pastries around, Avalon is a go-to — their baked goods and pastries are what they’re known for, and they certainly don’t disappoint.
I consider Savas the birthday brunch spot or the “student scene,” as any given Sunday morning it is filled with backpacks and celebration. Their brunch buffet is a favorite of mine, as it is almost as unlimited as my stomach’s capacity for breakfast foods. The mini quiches and chocolate desserts always line my Savas breakfast plate, and I also really like their selections of smoothies and juices. Their Sunday brunch buffet is $20 and includes a mimosa — a great way to get stuffed and celebrate a birthday or a job offer, while also getting tipsy.
Despite its consistently long line, Fred’s, an E. Washington health-minded breakfast cafe, is also one of my favorite places to indulge my breakfast fantasies. Between delicious açaí bowls and the divine toast selections, you can’t go wrong with Fred’s. A common destination for the girl searching for the perfect Instagram (it’s quite the aesthetic) or the healthy vegan foodie, Fred’s is one of my favorite places to go with friends for a ricotta toast or a matcha latte. Fred’s is on the pricier side for sure, but when I’m seeking out my favorite Kombucha or anything that has the word “tumeric,” I normally know I’m in the market to splurge a bit.
I never realized how truly delicious frozen yogurt is on top of a warm, grilled blueberry muffin until I went to Afternoon Delight one frozen Ann Arbor morning. The quaint, diner-style cafe has choices from giant omelettes to crispy pecan waffles and cinnamon french toast. The true quirk of Afternoon Delight is in their fro-yo topped muffins, an unconventional, albeit heavenly, side dish I never knew would complete all of my breakfast fantasies. I’m willing to say that the muffins at Afternoon Delight are the best muffins in Ann Arbor, and perhaps the world. And trust me, I know my muffins.
No matter how far I venture from Catherine Street, my favorite Ann Arbor breakfast place is, and always will be, Angelo’s. Standing since 1956, the child of two Greek immigrants, Angelo’s is at once both home and a foodie’s journey. Their commitment to the standard, traditional diner breakfast with its own perfect individualities makes Angelo’s familiar to a Jersey girl who is very used to a classic diner. I am a big fan of the chocolate chip pancakes, perfectly fluffy and buttery with syrup dripping on to the white ceramic plate, but I’m also absolutely married to the spinach and feta omelette (side of raisin toast grilled, side of potatoes –– carb loading, you know?) and sometimes I just have to get both. Everyone knows Angelo’s for their crispy yet sweet raisin toast, and I am willing to admit that sometimes I dream that I am asleep on a pile of it, and then I wake up with my head on my pillow and just have to go to Catherine street to satisfy my cravings.
While there is no “Intro to How Do You Like Your Eggs?” or “Chocolate Chips to Pancake Ratio 301” courses at the University, one can certainly become educated in breakfast foods in their years as a student here. From the over 10 different options for breakfast right in the heart of the city, it’s feasible and honestly honorable to try them all enough times to taste all of the staple menu items (and maybe a few more). There are just over 150 Sundays in my four years as a Wolverine (hard to believe I’m almost done with 75 of them), and you can bet that I’m taking breakfast very seriously somewhere (even if it’s just a dining hall) on each and every one.