Running and I have a complicated relationship. For the longest time, I did anything I could to avoid it. But if you’re as into food as I am, running becomes a necessary evil. If I had to sum it up in one phrase, it would be “I don’t like running but let’s just do it so I can justify my eating habits”.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of dishes in Ann Arbor that are well-worth the leg cramps and shortness of breath that come with the five-mile run it’ll take to burn the calories off. And believe me, I don’t say that lightly.
1. JP Burger, Jolly Pumpkin
I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the top three burgers in Ann Arbor (along with Frita Batidos and Blimpy Burger, which just reopened). Their grass-fed beef patty has the perfect fat content, resulting in juice and flavor without a deluge of grease. The cambozola cheese (a blend of triple cream cheese and gorgonzola) on top melts down so much that it forms a sauce that engulfs the whole burger. Crimini mushrooms and applewood smoked bacon add a great amount of savory depth and textural delight while the challah bun makes it even better. Upgrading to truffle fries is well worth the $2 upcharge. The combination of the savory burger and the rich salty truffle fries makes this the kind of plate you’ll order again and again, no matter how strictly you vow to try something else.
Bonus lap: Order the farmer’s fritto as an appetizer, a fried farm-fresh vegetable that changes daily and complement your meal with Jolly Pumpkin’s home-brewed Bam Biere.
2. Macaroni and Cheese, Zingerman’s Roadhouse (featured in our Restaurant Wars)
As someone who has sworn not to leave this earth before tasting the world’s best macaroni and cheese, I like to think I know my ish when it comes to gourmet mac. Zingerman’s Roadhouse’s macaroni and cheese has even gained national recognition, with Food Network Magazine naming it one of the top ten comfort foods in America. The menu modestly describes it as “housemade bechamel sauce & lots of Cabot cheddar caramelized with Martelli pasta,” but it tastes like so much more. Pair the rich sauce with the tang of their crispy, caramelized Vermont cheddar and perfectly al-dente noodles, and you have a dish that’s worth its weight in gold—and worth the weight it’ll put on you.
Bonus lap: Upgrade to their fried chicken mac and cheese, which pairs southern-style buttermilk fried chicken with their already decadent mac.
3. Loco Chorizo Frita, Frita Batidos
Having tried every frita on the menu, I can say with confidence that the chorizo frita is the best of the best. Ordering a frita any way but loco style is a rookie mistake—anyone who would dare to interrupt the union of the spicy, salty chorizo patty, thinly cut and perfectly seasoned fries, and the light and airy egg bun it comes on with melted muenster cheese, cilantro-lime salsa, a sunny side-up egg, avocado spread and tropical cole slaw can’t be trusted. The result is an insanely delicious mishmash of flavors and textures. Finish it all and be grateful for every second of it, because a burger like this doesn’t come along every day, dammit.
Bonus lap: Add the loaded plantains and a passion fruit batido. If you can finish it all in one sitting, you are a god amongst men.
4. Kimchee Fries with Bulgogi, Seoul Street
Seoul Street’s remote North Campus location means that many students haven’t even heard of it. But their killer take on Korean makes this one spot you shouldn’t miss, even if it means taking a 30-minute bus ride to the barren wasteland that is North Campus. What really sets Seoul Street apart is their willingness to experiment with traditional recipes and fuse eastern flavors with western ones.
Korean-food purists may condemn Seoul Street’s kimchee fries with bulgogi as a bastardization of traditional fare, but open-minded food lovers will greet this dish with open arms. The dish features freshly-cooked French fries, a spicy/tangy combo of caramelized kimchee and onions, cheese, spicy mayo, sour cream, chopped green onions and, of course, the bulgogi. Eat this fast, as the juicy bulgogi and mayo can make the French fries soggy if left out for too long.
Bonus lap: Pair it with an order of Seoul Street’s famous Korean fried chicken.
5. Brewery Steak Sandwich, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company
When a friend described this meal to me as “the most delicious heart attack you’re ever going to have,” I knew I needed it. Grizzly Peak’s Brewery steak sandwich trades out boring old bread for two crispy, golden-fried potato pancakes, because the world is a wonderful place. Sandwiched in between is a juicy hanger steak cooked to your preference (although anything beyond medium-rare should be a sin), melted cheddar cheese, mixed greens, crispy bacon and a slathering of crème fraîche.
This sandwich is greasy in the best possible way, although the slight sourness of the crème fraîche cuts through the fat of the sandwich nicely, and the multitude of different textures create an interesting dish that will challenge your preconceived notions of what constitutes a sandwich. It comes with a knife and fork but as we all know, real sandwiches require a down-and-dirty hands-on approach. Just be prepared to use a lot of napkins. And maybe don’t order this on a first date unless you can really pull off that grease-dripping-down-your-chin look.
Bonus lap: Order it with a side of polenta fries and a home-brewed IPA.