Dominick’s boasts a long history (and an even longer menu)
If you ask the townies, “Ann Arbor has changed over the years.” If you ask the busy and bustling crowds of U-M freshmen, they’ll ask: “What?” So, who’s right— the aging hippies who complain about the changing times, or the young newbies eagerly awaiting the “next big thing”?
Honestly, we don’t really care, and neither does anyone else because, in Ann Arbor, nothing really changes at Dominick’s.
About a building
While the 812 Monroe St. building is now known as an Ann Arbor institution, Dominick’s hasn’t always been Dominick’s. In the early 1900s, the building was a neighborhood grocery. After World War I, it was a coffee and sandwich shop. In 1959, Dominick DeVarti noticed the failing business, only a few steps away from the U-M campus, and bought it. By 1961, DeVarti had fans, frequent customers, and a liquor license.
The complete history of Dominick’s is spotty, often told through exaggerated stories by aging townies.
I’d believe them— and their memories of the place serving as an unofficial Ann Arbor Film Festival meetup, or as a white-tablecloth restaurant, or as a Vietnamese place, or the restaurant’s connection to Domino’s Pizza (vis-a-vis brothers Tom and Jim Monaghan, who bought DeVarti’s short-lived Ypsi location in the late 60s and renamed it Domino’s), or as the place so-and-so met so-and-so before they got married and just look at them now— but, when it comes to mythology, separating fact from fiction is sort of a buzzkill.
If you want a history lesson, look at the restaurant’s walls, adorned with posters that span decades of A2 significant events.
About a gift from Bacchus
A college town hangout, Dominick’s is crowded rooms and hallways that lead to an outdoor garden filled with long picnic tables with loud groups of friends, strangers, campus clubs, and Ann Arborites you’ve never met.
Technically, Dominick’s is a restaurant and, as a restaurant, it does its job. But Dominick’s, like Ann Arbor, isn’t defined by technicalities (an ironic realization, considering the institution’s popularity with the neighboring law quad and business school).
Instead, Dominick’s, a hybrid restaurant/Italian-family-backyard-party/college hangout/pizza-parlor/garden-gifted-by-Bacchus, is defined by nostalgia. Sangria-soaked summer evenings, the bracing cold of late-fall before the hangout closes for the season after the last home Michigan football game (Saturday, November 30 this year, if you’re wondering), and its triumphant return after U-M students return from spring break.
About a bar (and a menu)
While we can continue to wax poetic about the metaphysics of Dominick’s, we won’t, although, we’d like to (and, if we did, we’d blame it on the intoxicating combination of a blinding setting sun and a half-gallon of Dominick’s famous sangria). Instead, we’ll discuss Dominick’s status as a restaurant.
There’s no table service, but a proper waitress-and-table setup at Dominick’s would be at odds with the atmosphere. Instead, the bustling crowds are matched with a winding, full line of patrons waiting to place orders before waiting, again, to hear their name called over a scratchy speaker.
There’s no real bar, but the generous selection of libations (served with equally-generous pours) feels like a better deal. Your wait in line is rewarded with a heavy Ball jar of sangria, a truly potent elixir of blended strawberry colada and liquor called “Constant Buzz”, house wines, and a heady selection of Michigan craft beers (no national brands here, the taps are dedicated to products from the Mitten).
There is, however, a real menu, which boasts everything from classic Italian fare (well, mainly Italian fare) to the oft-ordered quesadillas, nachos and the Vietnamese Bung Sao (really), available in paper form, as well as scrawled across chalkboards decorated the walls of the “ordering room” (you’ll know it when you see it).
The food is good, mostly, depending on what you order. Our recent trip offered a thick, doughy pizza (which was quickly devoured), a decadent plate of tortellini with alfredo sauce, a massive Italian sub, a fine side salad, and tasty artichoke dip (why not).
Everyone goes to Dominick’s because everyone loves Dominick’s.
Closes for the season on Saturday, November 30.
812 Monroe St., Ann Arbor | 734-662-5414.