The Ann Arbor Sampler – The Original Cottage Inn

Last Friday night (cue the Katy Perry), I began my reintroduction to Ann Arbor with a trip to a famous favorite, The Original Cottage Inn.  Opened in 1948, The Cottage Inn brand has since expanded to countless gourmet pizza shoppes throughout the midwest.  The welcoming charm, however, still has its home at 512 E. William Street, in the heart of the University of Michigan campus.

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The casual, cozy atmosphere is apparent when you walk into the warmly colored bar area and the scent of wood fired pizza fills your nostrils.  On a Friday, the restaurant was bustling with large parties of friends and tables of families, yet we didn’t have to wait for a table.  For a weekend in Ann Arbor, this is a major plus.

The Original Cottage Inn Dining Room - picture courtesy of originalcottageinn.com
The Original Cottage Inn Dining Room – picture courtesy of originalcottageinn.com

My husband and I were on an emergency carb hunt, and didn’t waste much time getting into it. The first morsels to hit our table was a basket of warm baked bread, a cup of hearty vegetarian minestrone soup, and a side of seasoned olive oil for dipping.  We were pleased to see this, as I believe that olive oil should be provided in addition to butter at any decent Italian joint.  The bread took the edge off our appetites, and the soup was full of beans, tons of colorful veggies, olives (?), topped off with large rigatoni noodles.

Our next course to split was a sampling of what The Original Cottage Inn is known for, baked Italian goodies and pizza.  We ordered baked spaghettini with meatballs and a margherita pizza with Italian sausage.

To me, the measure of any Italian establishment is the sauce, and the meatballs.  I was pleased to see the meatballs were homemade, small, but tasty.  The sauce (albeit sparse), was a smoother concoction of tangy tomatoes and herbs.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 3, as is I’ve had much better, but I’ve had much worse.

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Baked Spaghettini with Meatballs. Don’t be fooled by my half-assed picture. There isn’t much sauce under what’s on top!

The margherita pizza had a fluffy, thick crust, and seriously fresh tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, and oil.  I was disappointed when I bit into it and was met with a bland bite, despite all of the robust potential.  I realize tomatoes are not in season, so that’s a pass, but this pizza could have easily been taken to a different level with some basic seasoning, and perhaps a sauce to bind it all together.  The pizza had an oil base.  I spread some of the already limited marinara from our pasta onto my slice, and that did help bring out the flavor.

Margherita Pizza with Italian Sausage
Margherita Pizza with Italian Sausage

OCI has a large menu with choices ranging from large plate dinner salads to sandwiches to seafood.  Next time, I’d probably sample one of their more creative pizza concoctions like the Mediterranean or Woodsman.  If you’re looking for a wide assortment of choices, you’ll find there is something for everyone.

As for service, our server was quite attentive early on, and we lost more sight of him as our meal went on.  Both of us had to wait until getting our check to also get a glass of water.

THE SAMPLER CONCLUSIONS:

For a relatively satisfying Italian meal, any non-Italian will thoroughly enjoy an evening at The Original Cottage Inn.  The prices are mid-range, and they have weeknight specials that both children and adults can enjoy (half priced wine Thursdays, anyone?)

– I believe OCI has much more potential to bring their moderately delicious menu to a higher level of deliciousness with just a few seasoning-related tweaks.  Perhaps a venture into homemade pasta would give them an edge over some of the other Italian options in town.  Service could be more attentive.  Sauce could be more plentiful.

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