with gallery: Blue Wolf Grill adds a quality dining option to Washtenaw strip
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For boyfriend and girlfriend Cheri Jackson and Charles Molina, food has been a true love affair. They met in 2007 working at Panera Bread; he as the manager and she as a server. They teamed up with a partner with catering experience to launch a catering business in 2009.
The reactions were positive, with many saying, "I wish I could get this as just an (individual) plate instead of ordering it for 50 people," Molina said. The two wanted to venture into what they knew best: the restaurant business. With the third partner no longer involved, they opened Blue Wolf Grill in Ypsilanti Township last December. "We still do the catering, but the restaurant is the focus," he said.
Jackson said that locating on Washtenaw, a strip dominated by fast food, would be an ideal location and provide an alternative to heading to downtown Ann Arbor to get high-quality, homemade food.
"We wanted to bring something more homey to the area and give people choices they don't have," she said. Blue Wolf Grill occupies the space of a Mediterranean restaurant that had been left empty for roughly three years.
The new owners painted over the decorative walls, and the ambiance is simple and basic. There's blue/green carpet, bare walls and a counter in the middle where the food is delivered. With only seating for 36, it's small. But that creates a warm and intimate feel. And that warm feel extends to the actual toasty room temperature of the restaurant& #8212; a pleasant respite from the cold outside. Even a seat by the large window failed to elicit a chill.
With only nine tables, it's a good idea to make reservations. If you happen to get there when everyone has just been seated, as we did on our second visit, you could be in for a wait of 20 minutes or more.
2333 Washtenaw Ave.
- Hours: Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Monday, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
- Liquor: No. They're hoping for a beer and wine license by the summer.
- Prices: Moderate.
- Noise level: Medium.
- Wheelchair access: Entrance is wheelchair accessible, but bathrooms are not.
All of the appetizers we tried were great, starting with the seven-layer bean dip of guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes and beans. The Wolf Sampler includes two sliders, wings and focaccia bread. We opted for the beef instead of the pork sliders, which consisted of sweet-flavored beef served on a fresh bun. The wings were tender and bathed in a sweet barbeque sauce. Our server initially forgot to bring the pesto sauce that accompanied the focaccia bread, and it seemed rather bland. But the sauce that was eventually delivered near the end of our meal perked the bread up nicely.
The best salad we sampled by far was the Michigan salad, which had chunks of walnuts, along with dried cherries and crumbled blue cheese tossed with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The house salad was uninteresting, though it benefited from a rich, creamy, homemade Russian dressing.
The salads and entrees are served with a croissant. Jackson explains they pre-order the dough and bake it in house, but it tasted a bit stale.
On our first visit, we ordered a mushroom soup in a creamy broth that was so good, my husband insisted on ordering it again on our next visit. However, much to his chagrin, the second time around, the restaurant produced a very different — and inferior — version of the soup, little more than weak chicken broth. Though there were some mushroom pieces, their flavor was barely detectable.
I appreciated the interesting accents in many of the entrees. Butternut squash ravioli was made with a light sauce of roasted apples, cream and curry; it avoided the heaviness so common to most versions of this dish.
I was leery of going with our server's top recommendation, sun-dried tomato and spinach stuffed chicken, as I often find restaurant chicken breasts to be dry. But it was outstanding. The spinach stuffing and the sweet-tasting sun-dried tomato cream sauce kept the chicken breasts moist; it even held up well the second day, eaten cold from the refrigerator.
The rib-eye steak, bathed in succulent Cajun and Asian flavorings, was another highlight.
All entrees come with a choice of sides. Parmesan mashed potatoes were overly salty and a big disappointment. Though they're homemade, they resembled a packaged brand. The vegetable medley, another side choice, also disappointed; vegetables were rubbery and lacked much seasoning. I would opt instead for the homemade Parmesan garlic french fries, which were well seasoned and delicious.
The chef also had an interesting twist on conventional American sandwiches. My favorite was the whitefish panini. The pairing of smoked whitefish salad along with Monterey Jack cheese, grilled on fresh rye bread, created a rich and flavorful sandwich.
The roast turkey sandwich also was great. It combined a generous piece of herb roasted turkey with thick slices of bacon, pepper jack cheese and mayonnaise, grilled on focaccia bread.
The only entree we tried that missed the mark was the northern whitefish. Unlike the flavorful whitefish in the panini, this was bland. The generous amount of mushrooms on top did little to enhance the flavor.
The best dessert we sampled was the ganache, which tasted like a rich mousse, densely chocolate. The chocolate Michigan apple cake, which resembled a muffin and was topped with vanilla sauce, would have been better without the chocolate, which didn't meld well with the sweet cake.
One of the best features of this restaurant is the service. On the first visit, when we were one of only of a few parties, our entrees were delivered promptly after our appetizers, almost before we were ready for them. Our server was noticeably warm and chatty, but not intrusive. On our second visit, servers constantly checked in on us and delivered our food rapidly, though the restaurant was entirely booked.
The prices here our quite reasonable. Entrees start as low as $12 and include a choice of soup or salad as well as a side dish. Sandwiches are in the $7 to $9 range and are a substantial size.
As a new restaurant, there were some kinks. For example, one evening, the restaurant's vendor neglected to deliver enough ribs, so they couldn't offer them, despite the fact that they were listed on the menu. On our second visit, they ran out of decaf coffee.
Still, these are minor quibbles. Blue Wolf Grill's combination of interesting, high-quality dishes, along with its intimate setting and reasonable prices, make it a worthy dining destination.