I am no stranger to Mani Osteria downtown.
In fact, between several lunches and dinners, I have tried a majority of the menu and always left satisfied. And when I turned 21, I made sure to take advantage of their full bar. Mani is a good acquaintance – a friend even. Whether my parents were in town or I was looking for a nice change of pace from the takeout boxes and styrofoam cups of State Street, Mani never ceased to deliver.
On this Sunday, however, I headed to the corner of East Liberty and Division for an entirely different Mani ball game: brunch. Known as a bit of a foodie town, Ann Arbor brought a fierce set of players to the game. Ranging from the iconic icy-hot combo of frozen yogurt and a hot muffin at Afternoon Delight to the one-stop shop at Sava’s buffet, I wasn’t sure there was room for another brunch contender.
But I had faith.
As I moved through the menu, a small seed of menu anxiety sprouted up from deep within me. Alongside their sparkling new brunch offerings were some of their usual lunch time selections. Mani specialties such as the creamy Cesar salad adorned with a soft-boiled egg and the tangy pickled tomatoes were nestled between pastries and scrambles. Not to mention the red onion and pistachio pizza, a meal so near and dear to my heart.
But I knew deep down, that this was not what I wanted. It was time to move on.
With a deep breath, I summoned a great gust of courage. I looked the waiter squarely in the eye. And for the first time in over three years, I did not order the goat cheese and pistachio pizza.
Instead, I boldly dared to go where I had never gone before. With the help of my dining companions, I dared myself to dream of the simple pleasures, of crumbly sweet cream scones and orange marmalade. And I dared myself to dream of wild, exotic concoctions of iced espresso and orange and pistachio, chilled to a glass-lacquering perfection. I dared myself to dream of things I thought were only real in the realms of bottomless Pinterest boards and forgotten recipe folders.
Oh and how our dreams were sung!
Plate after plate of delicately sliced citrus, sunny-side eggs, roasted tomatoes and syrup-laden sponges drifted out from the white-tiled kitchen and onto our table. Thick-cut bacon filled my mind with a smoky, billowing scent reminiscent of beach side campfires and restful Sunday mornings. And that drink. Oh that drink. Even without the added kick of it’s alcoholic sibling, the Shakarato somehow managed to pique tastebuds I didn’t even know I had. Our eyebrows rose higher with every arrival of the waiter, our grins growing wider with every forkful.
And throughout the entirety of this meal, there were no social niceties or obligations. There was no need to play the strategic game of trading your pancakes for your friend’s eggs when your sweet tooth inevitably subsided. Instead forks clashed mid-air with a laugh, bread baskets sailed over the table like a stork taking flight. The constant swiping of ceramic against wood could be heard throughout the restaurant as our plates danced from person to person, leaving no tastebud out to dry.
Sure there were some minor disappointments. The Ricotta pancakes, for example, were almost too light, too buttery. I missed the starchy, Bisquick-y flatness of my youth. And while I applaud Mani’s dedication to supporting the natural progression of our fine earth’s seasons, there is only so much citrus a brunch-goer can take.
Yet I know this is purely circumstance. On an average day, a group would not be expected to order both the seasonal fruit platter and the Ricotta pancakes with you guessed it, more seasonal fruit. I know this simply serves to reinforce the mantra that there is no such thing as perfection, just preference.
As we stood up to leave, I glanced over at the neighboring table. A smile broke out across my face as I caught the eye of an old friend, the nutty, creamy, tangy, pistachio-laden pizza to whom I had gracefully said my partings just a moment before. In a silent homage to the pistachio and red onion lover of my past, I dipped my head.
Until next time, Mani.
Hours: Sunday Brunch, 10:00 AM – 2:00PM