Ann Arbor's Top Chefs talk Autumn Foods

Photo by David Artushin

What are your favorite fall foods? With crisp air blowing into southeast Michigan, do you find yourself craving things made with pumpkin or a hot drink? Does biting into a brightly-colored apple, or having a robust stew for dinner sound appealing? As we settle into Autumn (with the hint of winter coming soon), we change the way we cook and the ingredients that we use.

We spoke to some of our favorite Ann Arbor chefs about this topic to see what their thoughts are on seasonal cooking. We wanted to know what their personal food loves are and how they shift the way they eat and cook as the temperature cools down.

Some of them even shared a few recipes with us!

Chef Phillis Engelbert

The Lunch Room

407 N. 5th Ave. (Kerrytown Market & Shops)
734-224-8859 |

11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Monday-Friday
8:00 AM – 9:00 PM Saturday
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM Sunday brunch

Hometown: Oak Park, MI
Years in Ann Arbor: 32

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

All the dinner specials, especially the Monday Night Bento Box. My business partner, Joel Panozzo, makes exquisite dinners on Wednesday night—Asian Night—such as Pad See Ew, Vietnamese Bún,and Jajangmyeon. I don't know which part of his brain stores all these foods and flavors from the entire Asian continent.

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

I'm digging the abundance of fresh produce available right outside our door at Farmer's Market. We just picked up tomatoes for pico de gallo; eggplant, zucchini & beets for an Indian stew in fragrant tomato-onion sauce; corn and poblanos for Friday Quesadilla Night; kale, blueberries & peaches for a massaged kale salad; and cabbage, red peppers, green peppers, red onions and yellow onions for just about everything else on our menu. When you're a vegan restaurant you can use anything and everything local farmers produce. Fresh veggies plus inventive recipes equals an explosion of delicious food.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Soups! We have a wide range of soups; it's up to the cook making it that morning to thumb through our (own) recipe book and decide what to make. Butternut squash bisque, pozole, red lentil, borscht, potato-corn chowder, broccoli "cheddar," Senegalese peanut, miso… the list is pretty extensive. I also look forward to the return of pasties to the menu. Our version of this U.P. specialty hand-pie consists of homemade seitan chorizo, yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots & parsnips in a creamy sage gravy inside our special flaky pie crust. Then it's smothered in more gravy.

See Chef Engelbert's recipe for Nacho Cheese


Chef Annette Weathers

Bona Sera

200 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, MI 48197

11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Tuesday-Thursday
11:00 AM – 10:00 PM Friday
12:00 PM – 10:00 PM Saturda
10:00 AM – 2:00 PM every 2nd & 4th Sunday of the month, closed Mondays

Hometown: Hard to say….from Great Bend, Kansas to Millington (near Frankenmuth), to San Francisco, back to Ann Arbor and now Ypsilanti!
Years in Ann Arbor: Around 25 total, broken up by an extended sojourn to California.

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

Gnocchi Poutine (when it’s on the menu), currently, Tuxedo Scallops with Chili Lime Sauce or any flatbread

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

Any pasta, Pastapalooza, the smell of smoke.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Gnocchi Poutine, Chicken Dijon Shepherd's Pie, Truffled Ricotta Beet Lasagna, Italian Sausage and Peppers over Polenta.


Mike Monahan

Monahan’s Seafood Market

407 N. 5th Ave. (Kerrytown Market & Shops) 
734-662-5118 |

8:00 AM – 7:00 PM Monday-Friday
7:00 AM – 5:00 PM Saturday
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Sunday

Hometown: Grosse Pointe, MI
Years in Ann Arbor: 36

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

My favorite dish changes with what's in season. The one menu item that I crave all week is our Fried Oyster Po’ Boy.

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

Definitely bluefish and swordfish, the fall classics. These fish are at their fattest, freshest and most abundant off New England right now. Whole bluefish roasted in salt and served with salpicon sauce, swordfish with olives & anchovies are both fantastic (both recipes and more are on our website). We serve lots of kale this time of year— boiled then tossed in a pan with bacon and balsamic is delicious. We also have a great recipe for steamed red snapper over kale on our site. Last year farmer George Merkel had fresh kale right up until Christmas!

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Winter is time to steam up the kitchen with bouillabaisse, cioppino, lots of shellfish in southeast Asian stir fries, simple steamed mussels, spaghetti with clam sauce and plenty of oysters on the half shell. Oh yes, and my stuffed clams are ultimate comfort.

See Mike Monahan’s recipe for Secret Stuffed Clams 


Chef Theresa Livingston


108 S. Main St.
734-302-1555 |

11:00 AM – 9:00 PM everyday except Sunday

Hometown: Hamburg, MI
Years in Ann Arbor: I spent 25 years here in Southeast Michigan before traveling south. Over the last 10 years I’ve lived in Jacksonville FL, Guam USA, and Beaufort NC near the southern outer banks. I just moved back to Michigan at the beginning of this year and landed in Ann Arbor.  

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

I have a hard time choosing a favorite dish here at Back2Roots, but my top 3 would be the green goodness bowl, the beet burger, and the veggie chili.

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

After spending so much time down south my style has become a kind of, Italian southern infusion. So I very much look forward to collard greens. I also love fall flavors such as roasted winter squashes with fresh rosemary, toasted hazelnuts, and pasta. I love, love, love hearty bean dishes.  Today for a feature soup I made a white miso with mushrooms, bok choy, and scallion which is a wonderfully comforting cold weather food. And of course, who could let these winter months slip past us without enjoying a  little hot cider (especially with a little spiced rum) and mulled red wine.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

My all time favorite fall/winter comfort food is a dish I designed based on a southern classic, tomato pie. (However, this is a vegetarian dish, not vegan, so it can not be served here at Back2Roots). It was a huge success at my last restaurant, Aqua, in Beaufort NC, and is one of my most well known signature dishes.


Chef and Co-owner Blake Reetz


1906 Packard St.
734-213-7011 |

11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Monday-Saturday
closed Sunday

Hometown: I was raised on a Dairy farm in West Branch,MI.
Years in Ann Arbor: I've been living and working in Ann Arbor for 16 years.

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

My favorite dish on our menu right now is the cider braised pork shoulder. It's hearty and comforting and tastes like autumn.

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

I love everything about the fall but especially the food. It's a time to move away from the lighter fare of summer and into the braises and stews that I love so much and utilize the abundant fall harvest. Cooking with Apple cider and warm spices, hearty herbs like Rosemary and sage, squashes and pumpkin. They're very fun flavors to play with. It's a great time of year to be a chef.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

We always make a big batch of sauerbraten in the dead of winter and I'm very much looking forward to that. And our mushroom spatzle will be back on the menu to warm your soul and your bones!

See Chef Reetz' recipe for Ginger Sweet Potatoe Pie


Chef and Co-owner Brendan McCall

Mani Osteria & Bar and Isalita

​Mani Osteria: 341 E. LIberty St. 
734-769-6700 |

11:30 AM – 10:00 PM Tuesday-Thursday
11:30 AM – 11:00 PM Friday
4:00 PM – 11:00 PM Saturday
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM & 4:00 PM – 9:00 PM Sunday, closed Monday

Isalita: 341 E. LIberty St.  

11:30am-10pm Tuesday & Wednesday
11:30am-11pm Thursday & Friday
4-11pm Saturday

4-9pm Sunday, closed Monday​

Hometown: Boston, MA
Years in Ann Arbor: 15

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

I have twins in my real life, and I have twins in my work life, and I love them both in different ways — so I'll give you one from Mani and one from Isalita. Mani: I never get tired of our pizzas. I can eat one at any time, and I'm never thinking "I don't feel like a slice of pizza today."  If I have to pick one, I'm a classic guy—Truffle and Egg always hits the spot for me. Isalita:  Our Tuna Tostadas—they're a perfect bite.

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

Fall is when Michigan really comes into its own.  Squash, pumpkins, apples, pears — I think of Michigan as a Fall state. You get to reap the benefits of all the work you've done earlier in the year.  I'm a big cider/perry guy.  I also love Michigan honey, local, from the Farmer's Market guys.  So I'm going to call out Mani's Pickled Eggplant which we're making right now, pickled with honey, white Balsamic vinegar, chili, mint, and roasted tomato conserva.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Soup and a sandwich is a perfect meal for me, warm and satisfying.  I love moving toward warm and hearty soups in the winter, not necessarily cream-based or thick pureed ones until later in the season.  At Mani, we'll be doing a really beautiful chicken broth, with dark-roasted chicken stock, lemon juice, fresh-grated Parmesan and some noodles.  We're going to do an Ahogada sandwich at Isalita—it's kind of soup and sandwich in one, with a pulled pork sandwich soaked in a chicken-based broth (again) but with pureed garlic, onion, and chile de arbol.


Chef Eve Aronoff

Frita Batidos

117 W Washington St
(734) 761-2882 |

11:00 AM – 11:00 PM Monday – Wednesday
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Thursday – Saturday
11:00 AM – 11:00 PM Sunday

Years in Ann Arbor: 17 years (with a 1/12 year pause to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris 1998)

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

At Frita it’s the Conch Fritters (Tied with the Chicken Frita with Muenster and Cilantro Lime Salsa and the Inspired Cuban Sandwich) and the Curried Pasta with Shellfish at Eve

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

I am always excited about pumpkins and garnet yams. My Dad came up with a dish that will be on our Autumn Menu at Eve – Garnet Yams with a Maple Butter, Brown Sugar Spice and Creme Fraiche and they are absolutely delicious!

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

All the carbs you are supposed to avoid!

See Chef Aronoff's Recipe for Curried Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoe, and Apple Purée

Chef Brandon Clark


2501 Jackson Ave.

7:00 AM – 10:00 PM Monday-Thursday
7:00 AM – 11:00 PM Friday & Saturday
9:00 AM – 11:00 PM Sunday

Hometown: South Lyon, MI
Years in Ann Arbor: 7

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

Bacon and Pimento Cheese Mac – with Arkansas peppered bacon from Petit Jean, and house made pimento cheese with peppers from Cornman Farms (Zingerman's own farm).

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

I'm really looking forward to the heirloom winter squash coming in from Cornman; we have great-tasting squash variants like the Boston Marrow (which can grow up to 35 lbs).  My favorite is the Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, which is up to 3’ long with a crook in it, and can get up to 30lbs.  Of course, our two staple crops where we preserve the harvest are roasted red peppers and heirloom tomatoes (we toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, whole garlic, and whole thyme, roast them for 4-5 hours, then we freeze them).  We also get in New Mexico green chilies from Los Chileros in New Mexico. They're all fresh and available in October, and we prepare them for the rest of the year.  You really can taste the difference in our food, a lot of heart and soul goes into it.  I’ve worked out at the farm myself, and my coworkers at the Farm truly care about the work they’re doing.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Another really great thing that we grow out at the farm is something on the Slow Food Arc of Taste, the Gillfeather Turnip, a vegetable prized for its flavor instead of for its production yield.  It's believed to be an early relative of rutabagas, but when you puree it, you get the smoothest, creamiest texture I’ve ever experienced.  It’s like velvet in your mouth.  All we do at the Roadhouse is add cream, butter, and nutmeg, and it’s just this amazing thing.  To me, rutabaga is a family tradition at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that’s why I look forward to them.  They show up around mid-November.


Chef Justin White


216 E Washington St
(734) 369-3153 |

3:30 PM – 12:00 AM Monday – Wednesday
3:30 – 2:00 Thursday – Friday 
10:00 AM – 2:30 PM | 3:30 PM – 2:00 AM Saturday
10:00 AM – 2:30 PM | 3:30 PM – 12:00 AM​ Sunday

Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
Years in Ann Arbor: Two months!

Favorite dish you serve in the restaurant:

We have worked very hard on our paella, it’s a strong game!

What are you digging about Autumn cuisine right now?

Closing off the end of summer produce, keeping as fresh and bright as possible before Fall kicks in… and beginning to introduce warmer flavors such as chestnuts, hard squash, and head spices.

What winter comfort foods are you looking forward to the most?

Warm slow cooked meats and vegetables, and bright citrus…

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