Haab-nobbing

I spent most evening this past week hanging out in classy restaurants with my girlfriends. We managed to hit four Ann Arbor Restaurant Week participants and not order the restaurant week menu at a single one of them. Mostly we ordered cocktails and bar food, to be perfectly honest (which is fantastic when most of the bar food comes fried in duck fat, as it does at Grange). I certainly didn’t need to go out to dinner last night…but after dealing with working/not-working heat, maintenance people trampling in and out of our house, and the joy of going to the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon (the one perk of not having a 9-5 job: grocery shopping during off-hours), neither Noe or I were much in the mood to make something. We decided to take the easy way out.

We went to Haab’s.

Haab’s Restaurant in Ypsilanti  is pretty much the opposite of every restaurant I described above. There is not a single thing on the menu that could be described as “fancy,” although much of it is fried. There are no slick cocktails with ingredients like muddled mint or candied ginger. What there is is simple food that’s pretty damn good when that’s what you’re in the mood for.

Noe and I were seated at a booth in the corner, a lucky occurrence since Haab’s was fairly busy. We were also by far the youngest people in the restaurant (although another young-ish couple were seated about twenty minutes after us). We looked over the paper placemat menu, not that we needed to – it rarely changes, aside from a few specials and seasonal items (helpful hint: in the summer, Haab’s makes an amazing gazpacho). I ordered my glass of house Chardonnay (why not?) and Noe ordered his coke from our very friendly server (service at Haab’s has been friendly every time I have dined there – we’ve never had a service issue).

We started with the fried mushrooms. Haab’s has managed to find some kind of mutant white mushroom to fry for this appetizer – they are always big and meaty, with ample flavor. They are battered and fried in a light, crispy, batter – heavier than tempura, but lighter than breading. They always come out crackling and never soggy. They are served with cocktail sauce (?) but Noe and I prefer to eat them plain.

Mushrooms with bonus onion rings!

As we worked on the mushrooms, we discussed entrees. Every once in awhile we veer off the beaten path, but on this visit we decided to stick with our favorite: fried chicken, or as Haab’s calls it, “Chicken in a Basket” – one-half of a fried chicken, served up with shoestring potatoes and a biscuit, as well as your choice of side.

"If it's in an oval, you know it's good."

Noe and I chose a salad and soup, respectively, as our sides. My personal favorite thing about Haab’s side dishes is that they come served in metal bowls. I am assuming these bowls stay cold in the refrigerator (they are always chilled for salads) and help keep the soups hot. At any rate, my vegetable soup (not something I really order anywhere except Haab’s) contained many large chunks of veggies suspended in an almost meaty broth.

The chicken arrived in all its gloriousness: piled with shoestrings in the aforementioned basket, a bag containing a hot biscuit and a packet of honey perched on top. I always start with the biscuit because I have learned the hard way that biting into a piece of Haab’s chicken fresh from the fryer results in a scalded tongue. I prep my biscuit with a smearing of whipped butter and drizzle it with honey. I know that I am exposed to and enjoy all kinds of fancy honeys at Zingerman’s (Fireweed Honey is a personal favorite) but on a hot buttered biscuit, the generic honey packet tastes A-OK to me.

The chicken is worth the brief wait: fried to perfection (not soggy but not burned) and perfectly seasoned. The meat inside is always tender and moist – I have never had a dried-out piece of chicken from Haab’s. I always tackle the dark meat legs first (Noe always gives me his) while Noe prefers the white meat breast. There’s not much conversation while we eat the first piece, as we concentrate on getting the perfect combination of crispy skin and tender meat in every bite.

The KFC down the street can not even begin to compare – and, at $11.95 for a basket of chicken, shoestrings, a biscuit, and a side, I don’t think it offers much comparison price-wise, either.

Last night, we really lived it up and ordered dessert as well. Haab’s desserts are not particularly sophisticated – but who wants creme brulee after you’ve just eaten fried chicken? We ordered the apple strudel (I watched Inglorious Bastards recently and had to have strudel after hearing Hans Landa wax poetic about it in the movie) – warn, puffy pastry surrounding chunks of hot, spicy apple and served up next to a heaping scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Quite tasty.

I have no plans to give up “fancy food” in my lifetime, but sometimes simply-prepared, homestyle food hits the right notes – and on those nights, Haab’s is hard to beat.

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