The Bona Sera Cafe has a unique menu and décor that help make it a point of destination for folks heading to downtown Ypsilanti. The food is flavorful, the ingredients high quality, and the atmosphere casual and welcoming. The only real downside is the lack of drink refills.
Bona Sera started as an underground supper club. In other words, it produced dinner events at various locations throughout Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to benefit local nonprofits. The first such event occurred in 2009, and each subsequent supper event got bigger and bigger and sold out faster and faster.
Eventually the women who started and operated Bona Sera – known by their pseudonyms “Wonder Women” and “Bad Fairy” -- decided to start a campaign on Kickstarter.com to help fund a commercial kitchen for an “above ground” restaurant. The campaign was successful and the Bona Sera Cafe opened on on July 10th, 2012. Despite their new restaurant duties, the pair still manage to serve several “secret suppers” (at super “secret” locations) that benefit local nonprofits and include multiple-course dinners and entertainment.
Bona Sera Cafe occupies a corner storefront in a historic building in downtown Ypsilanti. This alone gives the restaurant a certain ambiance with high ceilings covered in pressed-tin ceiling tiles, wood floors and brick walls. Bona Sera takes things a step further by decorating the large, open space with colorful accents and eclectic knick knacks, including paper lanterns and a scantily clad mannequin. The restaurant has an open kitchen and dining area filled with square and rectangular tables that are comfortably spaced apart.
The menu at Bona Sera is large, varied and redone seasonally. Some of the more unique selections on the “Fall/Winter” menu include Banh Mi (a Vietnamese sandwich on a steamed bun), Duckball Sliders, and a Fruity Goat Salad with grapefruit, pistachios, grapefruit vanilla vinaigrette, and goat cheese. The menu also includes some inspired twists on old favorites like Sheppard's Pie made with Dijon chicken and goat cheese, macaroni and cheese made with curry, and a pasty made with “rutabaga, potato, parsnip and carrot sauteed in duck fat, cubed beef chuck tenders, tarragon and a Dijon cream sauce in a sweet, yeasty pastry.”
The use of specialty ingredients at Bona Sera doesn't begin and end with duck parts and goat cheese. There are plenty of other dishes that utilize interesting ingredient combinations under the appetizer, salad, gnocchi, flatbread, sandwich and pasta sections of the menu. While meal prices are undoubtedly appropriate when you consider the liberal use of specialty ingredients, they feel a little high in the cafe-like atmosphere for lunch. For example, coffee is $2.75 for a large cup with a $1 surcharge for unlimited refills. Sandwiches are priced from $8.95 to $10.50 (at least as of this writing).
The Tomato Spinach Cheese Tarte from the specials menu was served as a big, rectangular slice atop a large bed of fresh greens. The result was a colorful, attractive plate. The Tarte's filling was a combination of egg custard, cheddar cheese, slices of tomatoes and chopped spinach. The combination was nicely seasoned and flavorful, the ingredients fresh, and the tomatoes tangy. While the puffed pastry was light and flaky and made for a nice texture contrast to the filling, it lined only a short edge of the slice.
The salad included on the plate was a mix of fresh greens and was nearly as big as an entree salad. The Truffle Viniagrette (one of several home-made dressings available) was lightly and evenly applied across the salad, which prevented its strong flavors and tanginess from overwhelming the greens.
The Roos Roast Coffee served at Bona Sera was deep and flavorful. It was served in a tall mug that probably amounted to 10-to-12 ounces, which was a good thing because the restaurant charges an extra $1 for unlimited refills. The refills of soda are also limited because they are served by the can.
The waitress was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. She paced the lunch well and kept our drinks filled.
Tips and Details
- The cafe serves Sunday Brunch.
- While the restaurant has a nicely sized dessert menu, it also serves homemade Gelato.
- Kids meals are available.
- The restaurant processes credit cards at the table with an iphone.
- While not immediately apparent, there is a metered parking lot behind the row of storefronts that contain Bona Sera Cafe. The entrance to the lot is off of North Adams Street, but the lot has an alley you can walk through to exit onto North Washington Street just a few storefronts down from the restaurant.