Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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PEACH WEEKENDER | BILL OF FARE

Gandy Dancer rich in flavor, history

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    Planked salmon at Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor.

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    Gouda stuffed chicken at Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor.

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    Chilled gazpacho at Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor.

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    Chicken Cape Codder at Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor.

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ANN ARBOR — The Gandy Dancer has something many of today’s restaurants don’t have: a long and interesting history. 

The historic site marker near the front door notes that the carefully preserved building with stone walls was originally the Michigan Central Railroad Depot, built in 1886.  “The station was hailed as the finest on the line between Buffalo and Chicago when it opened in 1887,” according to an article on mlive.com. The station was a whistlestop for politicians from Teddy Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

Gandy Dancer

★★★★½

Address: 401 Depot St., Ann Arbor

Phone: 734-769-0592

Category: Upscale dining

Menu: American

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 3:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Wheelchair access: Yes

Average price: $$-$$$

Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE

Website: muer.com/gandy-dancer/

It seems to be a Gandy Dancer tradition for diners to applaud or wave to passengers when a train from the nearby Amtrak station, also on Depot Street, passes by. Gandy dancer was slang to describe railroad workers who maintained the rails and ties before the days of mechanization, according to American-Rails.com.

The restaurant, established in the former station in 1970, has an elegant, sophisticated atmosphere, with warm lighting, tables topped with white cloths, and a skilled, welcoming, and attentive waitstaff who seem to be able to instantly answer any question about the menu.

The Gandy Dancer, a Muer Seafood Restaurant, emphasizes seafood but also offers steaks and other meats as well as pasta dishes. 

On a recent dinner visit, we ordered the Calamari Fritto Misto appetizer ($12). The calamari was flash-fried, with pickled peppers, chipotle aioli, and honey-sriracha glaze; it was enough for three to share. One guest described the calamari as some of the best she’s had, “really fresh long strips and no tentacles, with a great sauce, not typical marinara.” Another guest added that the pieces of calamari were very tender and the breading was light, so you could really taste the calamari. The spicy addition of peppers was a great way to add flavor. He would order the East Meets West starter ($15) again, a zesty tuna tartare with wasabi cream, paired with seared peppered ahi with avocado.

An iceberg wedge salad ($8) with Point Reyes blue cheese, tomato, applewood smoked bacon, red onion, and blue cheese dressing, was adequately sized, not so large that even someone with a big appetite couldn’t finish it. The Martha’s Vineyard Salad ($8.30), with pinenuts, blue cheese, red leaf and bibb lettuces, and red onion, was served with a delicious maple-raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Our entrees included the snapper Hemingway ($30.50), which had a healthy-sized lump of crab meat on top of a lightly breaded snapper fillet. The fish was presented in a lemon beurre blanc sauce that was very good, not overly tart, just enough citrus. The dish was served with asparagus and rice. The snapper was excellent, our companion added. “I really like it when the breading isn't so overwhelming, and they did it right here. The rice had a nice combination of ginger and coconut, letting the fish taste stand on its own.” 

Our guest who ordered the 10-ounce prime rib ($29) didn’t think it was the best she’s had. “Not as tender as it could have been, which is probably my fault for ordering beef in a seafood restaurant.”  She added that the redskin mashers had great flavor with a mix of garlic and cheese.

The Gouda-stuffed chicken ($22), was simple but delicious, served with roasted root vegetables and a natural jus that made the properly cooked chicken the best-tasting we’ve had anywhere.  

Desserts were a traditional one, creme brulee ($7.50) in an oval ramekin, which gave you plenty of brulee, and an untraditional and nicely tart grapefruit sorbet ($6), one of the restaurant’s house-made ice creams. 

A lunch visit started with chilled gazpacho with sour cream and croutons served in an attractive glass ($6.30). The soup was the best ever, thanks to its delicious seasoning. A companion ordered Charley chowder ($6.70), in a red broth similar to Manhattan clam chowder, it was good but not stellar because it included bits of sausage but she would have preferred more pieces of seafood. 

Our entrees included the Brown Derby Cobb salad ($14), a mountain of chicken, applewood smoked bacon, Point Reyes blue cheese, chopped egg, deliciously fresh tomato and avocado, and bleu cheese dressing. The second entree was the planked salmon ($23) with tarragon mustard glaze, roasted vegetables and roasted redskin potatoes. The salmon was flaky and moist, but the guest couldn't detect either tarragon or mustard in the glaze.

Dessert was a slice of Florida key lime pie ($7), and I wish I had ordered two slices. My friend ordered raspberry sorbet topped with hot fudge ($6). “The house-made sorbet, rich in raspberry flavor, was the best I've ever had,” she said, “and the addition of house-made fudge sauce elevated it to a sublime dessert.”

The Gandy Dancer has a kids menu and a brunch menu is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Valet parking is free, but gratuities are suggested.

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