Eve Aronoff’s enthusiasm is infectious, even over the phone at half past midnight. We’ve never laughed so much in a chef interview. She’s excited about her new venture, which she’s been planning since long before she opened eve, the recently closed Kerrytown restaurant she’s known for.
Eve is very clear on the fact that this isn’t a Cuban restaurant, or even a pan-Latino one. It’s named after two Cuban dishes, the frita (a grilled patty topped with fried potatoes) and the batido (a blended fruit beverage). There is a Cuban sandwich on the menu, as well as a sloppy Joe made from picadillo (a beef mixture with sweet and savory spicing). But the food experience is meant more to evoke the places that have influenced them — Honduras also figures prominently in the Frita Batidos pantheon of inspirations – than to reproduce their cuisines.
So what kind of restaurant is Frita Batidos? For starters, a casual one. Eve, known for the classy dining at her eponymous Kerrytown restaurant, actually prefers going casual in her time off. “For me, what’s fun is the casual dining experience. I just love it!” As far as we can tell, the theme of the restaurant is “have fun.” A lot of things about the place are meant to evoke Cuban (well, Miami Cuban) and Honduran culture, but that’s because Eve and her team love those cultures. “We were down in Honduras, and I saw these guys drinking sugar cane out of plastic bags by the side of the road, and they were squeezing limes through the bags, and it looked so fun” — and that’s why Frita Batidos serves its Ginger-Lime drink in a plastic bag with a straw.
In other hands, this kind of ‘semi-themed theme’ could be kitschy and forced, like an upscale Joe’s Crab Shack. But Frita Batidos isn’t in-your-face fun; the staff are Zingerman’s-grade attentive and helpful, happy to share their favorites without pretense or acting.
We kicked off our meal with the second half of the restaurant’s namesake—batidos, which are Cuban-inspired milk shakes. Lisa’s favorite is the passion fruit batido, but the coconut batido, thick with shaved coconut bits, and the smooth cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) is also delicious.
We all loved the chili-lime-tamarind wings. With their tangy sweet flavor, they’re a delicious and fresh take on an overdone subject. (Don’t ignore the Napa cabbage which cradles the wings. It’s dressed with lime and is tasty too.)
Plantains are fried and dressed in a tasty cilantro-garlic butter (not overly intense) and the side of sweet chili-mayo is the perfect dipping sauce. You can also order plantains tossed in butter and cinnamon sugar as a dessert.
Conch Fritters were Joe’s favorite. There isn’t a ton of conch in the fritters, but it’s there, and the fritters are well-spiced with a nice chewy texture under the crispy fried outside. (They’re great with the chili mayo.)
Lisa particularly liked the mellow coconut flavor of the coconut-ginger rice. It’s topped with a dollop of the
cilantro-lime salsa, and goes well with the chipotle-infused beans.
They are delicious. Though they may seem a tad on the small side, they are quite filling, especially if you top one with a fried egg (“Everything’s better with an egg!”). They come with a basic patty of your choice — chorizo, beef, turkey, fish, or black bean — and a sauce. The fritas are juicy, and if you get yours “frita loco” style (with everything), you’ll have a sizeable frita of over-the-top-delicious-ness that may require a fork to finish. Big appetite? Get a second patty for only $2.
The chorizo is outstanding, and was the favorite frita of the group. The fish frita is mild, and the lemon mayo is a nice accompaniment, though if you like more punch to your food you may want to add a stronger sauce or even a dash of the sriracha. The black bean frita is a sizeable black bean patty that will fill you up. It’s tasty, but really needs the chipotle mayo or salsa to spice it up.
The Sloppy Joe’s picadillo augments its ground beef with savory olives and capers and sweet raisins served with the chili mayo on addictive brioche. The result is a sweet and compelling sandwich.
The Inspired Cuban, Eve’s take on a pressed Cuban sandwich, layers roasted pork, bacon, and spicy, peppery tasso ham, and all that meat is balanced with little pickles, melted gruyère, and chipotle mayo served on house-made Cuban bread and pressed until all the flavors meld together. This was a favorite.
Rum Soaked Pineapple has simple, clean flavors. The pineapple chunks are tender and juicy (we didn’t have a tough one in the cup!), and the rum is a light enough touch to complement rather than overpower the fruit.
Churros con Chocolate Español is a popular Spanish dessert, where churros (long fried doughnuts) are dunked into a thick chocolate. Frita Batido’s churros are thicker and heavier than Spanish ones and flavored with orange and nutmeg. The chocolate for dipping is almost pudding-like, dark, and flavored with cinnamon.
For something more decadent, the Tres Leches in Sweetened Milk, topped with whipped cream and a caramel sauce, was outstanding. This is a classic dessert of cake soaked in three different milks: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. It wasn’t as sweet as other versions we’ve had (a bonus in our opinion), and the cake was moist but wasn’t oversaturated by the sauce and cream.
We don’t ordinarily review a restaurant this early in its existence, but we felt that the food and service are at a level that there is no reason to wait. Having said that, there are changes in the works: they’ve added breakfast, complete with conch hash (“We wanted to do some kind of fish on the breakfast menu, and I thought ‘well, we have conch!”), they’re going to change or eliminate some existing items, and there is a liquor license in the pipeline (think rum batidos, as well as wine by the glass).
Lisa and Joe have been blogging about food in the Ann Arbor area (and points beyond) since 2004. Check them out at www.kitchenchick.com.