There comes a time in our culinary travels when we, like any traveler, get a little homesick. At some point all the exotic ingredients and flavors become overwhelming. All those strange combinations and modern takes on classic dishes become a little exhausting. When we reach this point, all we want it that which is familiar. We crave comfort food.
My comfort food craving was satisfied at Sava’s, a classy little bistro on South State St. Here, the food is simple, cozy, and delicious. All the ingredients are fresh and purchased from local markets. The restaurant is two stories of casual elegance, with ceiling-high windows, delicate light fixtures, and dark wooden tables. Sava’s boasts its catering services as well as its personal dining experience. The general manager, Felicia, said “it’s probably the go to place…It’s perfect for a first date. It’s perfect for a big party.”
It is easy to characterize the food as comforting. From the economically priced sandwich menu featuring combinations like pecan crusted chicken and cranberry chutney to the decadent entrees like butternut squash ravioli, Sava’s focuses on good food without all the complexities or frills.
This can be seen as both a positive and negative. If you’re looking for a place to blow your culinary socks off, Sava’s probably wouldn’t be your first choice. The food is too classic, too familiar to create any sense of surprise. It doesn’t promise the avant grande and the menu probably won’t offer anything that a foodie hasn’t seen before. But there is something to be said about eating something that you feel could have been made in your own kitchen. Just like grandma’s cooking, it’s not the shock-value by which you rate this type of food, but by that belly-warming feeling. It just feels right.
In fact, Chef Israel, head chef at Sava’s, called the restaurant “the best place in town.” He stressed that consistently putting out beautiful, tasty dishes is the main goal of Sava’s. Of course, he may be a little biased, so we’ll let the food speak for itself.
The first dish I had was a lamb shank, soaked for 24 hours in salt water to tenderize and braised for 8 hours in a bath of carrot, tomato, and onion. It’s served with a parmesan polenta and topped with its own braising liquid. After all that slow cooking, the meat literally falls off the bone. The combination of tender lamb and creamy polenta is reminiscent of traditional home-style cooking. There are very few additional flavors or textures. I did find the dish a bit on the salty side and the foodie side of me would have preferred if it served with some fresh greens to lighten the dish, but it was still an enjoyable entree.
The other dish I tried was a special. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there is a special menu that is created specifically for that weekend based on the ingredients the chefs were able to acquire from local markets. I tried a red snapper served on top of a crispy potato pancake mixed with Fontina cheese. Drizzled over the dish was a light citrus beurre blanc. I did get a few bones, which was a bit unnerving, but I’m not James Oseland so I got over it. The flavors of this dish were expected and very classic. There is nothing particularly outstanding about the dishes, but it is their approachability that allows an emotional connection to be made. I felt rather nostalgic while I was eating, as if it was I dish that my mom had made for us around Christmas or even one that I had cooked for myself.
Final recommendation: Sava’s is a classic American bistro. It’s a great place to take your family, because it offers what it’s good at: the consistency of a good meal. It promises that you will leave with your belly happy and full, and that every dish will be just as good as the one you had before. Sava’s is fancy enough to be considered a fine-dining restaurant, but it more approachable for the less culinary experienced. Everyone can find something that they like. It may be a little banal for those thrill-seeking foodies, but for everyone else who just wants a nice place with good service and satisfying food, Sava’s is the place to go.
If you would like to learn more about Sava’s, here's some basic contact information:
216 South State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104