Quite literally, I can say that every Saturday night last winter I ate at Seva. It didn’t matter how many Blue Bucks I had left on my MCard, the amount of abuse my crew and I took for going there for the umpteenth time or if there was four feet of snow on the ground. It was a ritual.
The routinization of these pilgrimages to Seva began out of circumstance. As most dorm dwellers know, residence hall cafeterias are closed on Saturday nights. So, ravenous, my three friends and I would drag ourselves out of the building — a difficult task on those winter days when the heat was cranked up so high that shorts and t-shirts could be worn comfortably inside — and trudge across the Diag.
A little relief from East Quad’s world harvest bar and limited cereal selection was appreciated — 10 blocks of biting Michigan wind was not. But, alas, it was worth it every time. Seeing Seva, with its great big leafy sign sitting atop the Ann Arbor Comedy club, is from the first moment a whimsical experience.
Stepping through the double-door threshold is like stumbling back onto the set of my high school’s production of “Peter Pan.” The fairy lights, wood-paneled walls and pearlescent green flooring could have easily been used in any scene from that play. The main dining area is spacious and rectangular, recalling the image of an all-purpose room, readily convertible for the big dance or school-wide assembly. From the orange lava lamp sitting unapologetically on the bar behind the hostess stand to the arbitrary placement of stained-glass artwork and hanging plants throughout the restaurant, it’s obvious that Seva, like the lost boys, doesn’t want to grow up. And I love that.
I am a stalwart defender of the place, not because the food is outrageously gourmet or the service dazzling — in fact neither are. What makes Seva great is its warm and friendly ambience, commitment to delicious and affordable vegetarian and vegan cuisine and overall funky vibe. It is one of the few spots in Ann Arbor where families, hippies and frat boys seem to come together to have a good meal.
The menu, creative but constant, will distract you with its overabundance of options. If you like going out to eat with a big group of indecisive pals like I do, it may take awhile to order. Seva’s yam fries, accompanied by a spicy mayo dipping sauce, are a necessary supplement to any entrée or the perfect appetizer if you’re having trouble deciding on what to do for the main course.
Back when I first became a vegetarian, Seva was a haven for me. Instead of the usual dearth of options I encountered at most places, I could eat everything on the menu. When I was vegan this was even more of a blessing. But, Seva isn’t just a good vegetarian place. It’s a good restaurant in general. Its ambience is lighthearted and fun — the perfect finale for a hard week. Moderate prices and generous portions make it a student and family favorite.
Seva doesn’t try to compensate for its meatless-ness by being overly flashy or haughty. The food is comforting and it’s a great place to experiment with dishes you might not get to try anywhere else. Probe their tempeh burger or the tofurky sandwich if you’re brave enough for meat substitutes. If not, go for something more docile like their baked brie appetizer or the ravioli cardinale-spinach ravioli — broccoli and mushrooms in a tomato-sherri-cream sauce topped with pine nuts and served with Ciabatta bread.
Seva (not to be confused with Sava’s, another spot down the street and around the corner) has a full bar, both a gluten-free and a kids’ menu and serves breakfast all day. In other words, there’s something for everyone. Some say that Seva lacks innovation — the menu has been pretty much the same for the past 30 years. But that’s OK. Seva should be allowed to rest on its laurels because its got damn good laurels.
My own memories of Seva are closely tied with my friends. So far away from home, it has become a college family spot. I’ve gone there more times than I can count to celebrate everything from birthdays to goings-away, losses and triumphs. I never left unsatisfied. And the meal almost always carries on to the next day with leftovers. One of my roommates loved it so much she started working there. No, she couldn’t get us free food, and yes, we tried. She recently waited on David Schwimmer and a lady friend while they were in town filming the upcoming movie “Trust.” The girl was British, and Schwimmer was a mediocre tipper.