A staple in Ann Arbor since 1993, Northside Grill has a long history of serving top-notch breakfast and lunch specialties to their many devoted diners. As the website states, “Approximately 90% of Northside Grill's customers are, in fact, return customers.” And for good reason. The owner, Jim Koli, sat down to discuss the locally loved recipes, along with the initial hard work that went into making his plan for owning a restaurant a reality.
Originally from New York City, Jim came to the Ann Arbor area in 1980 to pursue higher education at the University of Michigan. He majored in Fishery Biology, but when it came time to begin his career he found he was most comfortable in the food industry. Through the years Jim gained experience at many local establishments, including the University of Michigan dining facilities, The Gandy Dancer, and Aubree’s in Ypsilanti, “I worked in dining services and I liked that feel.” Initially, Jim set out to open a tavern near downtown Ann Arbor, but when the old north side Cloverleaf Dairy went up for sale, the opportunity to revamp it into a diner felt right, “I hadn’t thought of a breakfast place, but it made sense at the time. It kind of fell on my lap.”
The inspiration for the recipes come from various sources. Drawing from memories of hometown favorites and notable meals he has enjoyed throughout his life, Jim created the menu Northside Grill has today. However, the true deciders of what Northside Grill serves are the customers, as Jim describes, “We try a bunch of stuff and if the customers like it then we move it onto the menu.” One of the more recent additions being the Huevos Rancheros.
Jim laughs as he describes some of the hits and misses, “Coming from New York, when I first opened the place we tried selling hot dogs, but they wouldn’t sell!” The pancakes, however, are a hit. Their fruit filling is within the cake rather than placed on top. “That is the way my mother made it,” Jim explains. The breakfast sandwiches are also big sellers, with a total of seven to chose from. Options include The Pontiac Trail (two fried eggs topped with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise on grilled multigrain), and The Morning Eggdition (scrambled eggs, diced tomatoes and diced ham topped with Swiss cheese and black pepper mayo on grilled Texas toast). Any local will appreciate that a portion of the sales from The Morning Eggdition sandwich goes to support WEMU, the Public Broadcasting Service of Eastern Michigan University. For the full menu visit their website at http://www.northsidegrill.com/menu.
So what is Jim’s favorite? Although claiming he loves all the choices, he did provide this advice, “If a place is dumb enough to name something after themselves then that is what you should order, and we have the Northsider sandwich.” The sandwich includes grilled ham and bacon, a fried egg, American cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato, all on a grilled onion roll. The top seller, however, is a little more basic than that, “two eggs with a breakfast meat.”
Northside Grill has received much recognition throughout the years. As recent as March 1st 2013, AnnArbor.com spotlighted the restaurant as being in the running for the area’s Top Breakfast Joint. The article written by the Community Content Coordinator, Jessica Webster, even describes the welcoming atmosphere, “Walking into this breakfast and lunch joint on Broadway near Pontiac Trail can feel like entering Cheers.” The verdict is still out on the winner, but given its reputation for quality chances are Northside Grill is in or near the forefront.
If you plan on coming for weekend brunch expect a wait. The word is out on this place, and customers flock from open to close to get their diner favorites. Don’t fret too much, as the team works hard to get you in and seated as quickly as possible. The wait is rarely greater than 20 minutes, and there is even coffee out front for you to get your caffeine fix. Plus the buzzer they provide works for long distances, so you can browse St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store located next door while your stomach eagerly anticipates the great food to come.
As The Northside Grill approaches their 20th anniversary on July 31st of this year, it is clear they are doing something right. Experience for yourself what Ann Arbor locals have known for years. Give it a try next time you are craving a hearty, delicious breakfast or lunch.