By Sonny Forrest
Evolving from a humble food cart, Loomi Cafe has elevated its kitchen game by recently opening a space in the Kerrytown Shops. Dishing up inventive middle eastern fusion cuisine from its new brick-and-mortar location, Loomi Cafe boasts a dynamic menu matrix of breads, sauces and proteins that guests can configure into photogenic plates nuanced with bold flavors. The abbreviated space parallels the menu, which focuses on around seven dishes each day. Loomi’s progenitor and Chef/Owner Andrew Stevick discusses the café’s leap from food cart to brick-and-mortar, illustrating the abstract notion of authenticity through Loomi’s fare and how Instagram-driven cooks can plate pretty dishes at home.
What has been the primary challenge in translating Loomi from food cart to full-on bricks and mortar café? Developing a brand new concept for this location that went beyond some of my earlier ideas for a restaurant. I wanted to develop a place that I felt like the city needs and the people want. I wanted to pay homage to the small family run ethnic restaurants in this country that took their culture’s food and brought it to the American people.
When was the moment you decided to take Loomi from idea to reality? I was on my way back from DC a couple years ago where I was visiting my brother and his family, and I was somewhat sad to be leaving such a great culinary scene. I feel like Ann Arbor talks about having such a strong foodie and culinary scene yet we lack depth and variety. I want to be a part of the change.
To whom do you owe at least some of your culinary inspiration? I attribute a lot of my culinary inspiration to my mother and the amazing meals that were cooked with love that we had growing up. As well as the bustling ethnic neighborhoods that I would immerse myself in when I lived out on the east coast. I miss sitting on a stool in a random Dominican spot and having a plate of Mofongo in front of me.
Which ideas do you seek to illustrate through the food you serve? Being raised in a Middle Eastern home, food was very authentic. That’s something I always sought when I lived in other cities and traveled. We push for authenticity with a little flare. This is what I believe speaks for our food. It’s food you feel very comfortable with but with a little more intention in the execution of flavors and ideas.
What is Loomi’s quintessential meal? A lot of our menu incorporates fresh ingredients and freshly cooked doughs, much like the tandoor cart I had last summer. Our menu board is a little unorthodox, but allows customers to order a lot of cool items depending on what they are feeling. Folks can order entrees with fresh baked pita and other starches, as well as a lot of rotating small items like pupusas.
How can regular, non-chef people make photogenic dishes at home? Plating dishes organically with speed and flow without too much thought and intention. This produces some of the prettiest plates I’ve found.
Aside from being able to source fresh ingredients, what is an underrated advantage of Loomi’s proximity to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market? A sense of community. I grew up going to the market with my mother, buying fresh produce from farmers who still remember me as “Grace’s son.” I love being a part of a community where I can give back through my cooking and ideas by sourcing ingredients from the awesome farmers here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.