Mani Osteria & Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan

In Italian, mani means hand made. An Italian eatery similar to a tavern is an osteria. Mani Osteria & Bar exemplifies hand made through pasta made in-house, along with the hand-made pizza crusts. They demonstrate the Italian Osteria as a gathering place through hospitality, and the local ingredients served. Small production wines complement the meals.

Location: Mani Osteria, located at 341 East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Menu: Mani Osteria & Bar serves Italian fare in a casual atmosphere. Pasta and wood-fired pizzas are some of the family-style shareable plates. If you prefer a protein-based entrée, you’ll find a Tuscan Ribeye, a fire-roasted branzino, or lamb chops. Vegetarians will enjoy the eggplant parmesan.

Thoughts: The bi-level dining room’s décor is a mix of old-school European combined with a contemporary feel. A large wall of windows provides natural light by day. The side room lit with a grouping of multiple European light fixtures provides a yellow-tinted glow by night. Framed old-style wooden mirrors add to the décor. A curtained area for more privacy and an open shelved room divider contained blond wood tables.

Saturday night had a high noise level with everyone chatting and enjoying their time together. The atmosphere was that of a boisterous Italian family dinner. The servers’ uniforms, black logoed T-shirts and blue denim jeans covered with a long black apron tied at the waist added to the casual atmosphere.

If you prefer to catch those last days of Michigan’s alfresco dining, the street-facing patio with warmers wards off the crisp chill of a Michigan fall day, it’s a pleasant place to dine.

The open kitchen lined with classic white subway tile was an ideal backdrop for the pizza maker’s performance in the exhibition pizza kitchen. He stretched each pizza crust by hand and then fired each pizza in an open wood-fired oven. They re-use large empty tomato cans with colorful labels, as serving pedestals for the pizzas.

Some of my favorite dishes were:

  • The Verde salad or green salad. It was a standout. The base is mixed greens with romaine as the main ingredient and then accents of other greens like frisse. Shredded bits of aged gouda were the only element in the dish that wasn’t green. It was a pale buttery yellow. Tart bites of match-stick Granny Smith apples arranged as a haystack added height. Blanched edamame and haricot verts added crunch while creamy chunks of avocado combined for a variety of textures. The chef mixed a sherry vinaigrette with basil oil as yet one more green element to the salad.  A serving fork and spoon indicated it was sized for sharing. They served toasted Italian bread and fruity olive oil with our salad for an additional charge.
  • The Supreme pizza. It started with a thin crispy crust that had a smoky wood-fired flavor. I’d rate in the top five I’ve ever had, competing with the pizza I’ve eaten in Italy. First, mozzarella cheese directly covers the tomato sauce. As a typical supreme pizza, they top it with sausage and pepperoni. The quarter-sized pepperoni slices are crisp and slightly cupped from the wood firing. Red onion, green bell pepper, and mushrooms complete the toppings.
  • The Bucatini. Bucatini is a hollow spaghetti-shaped pasta. This version had a vibrant tomato-basil sauce. The sauce mixed with the pasta served as a foundation for the meatball that topped the dish. The one meatball weighed in at about a quarter-pound making it enough for two, paired with a salad and appetizer.

Price Range: Starters range from $10 for the arancini or the chorizo-stuffed dates to $14 for the Spanish octopus.Soups and salads run from $9 for the zuppe primavera to $16 for the burrata salad.Hand-crafted pasta ranges from $15 for the eggplant cappelletti or the Pomodoro ravioli to $19 for the king crab tortellini. Wood-fired pizzas start at $13. Desserts range from $6 to $9 — dinner for two runs about $60 including taxes and gratuity.

Amy Piper

Amy Piper is a freelance food and travel writer. She writes about food and multi-generational travel on her blog Follow the Piper. You can follow her on Twitter @amythepiper.

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