Haab’s. I’ve seen the name on the same ol’ highway exit sign for many years now. I’ve known of the restaurant’s reputation as an Ypsilanti institution, serving southeastern Michiganders home-cooked meals in a quaint downtown setting since 1934. Haab’s. The place with the funny name. Up until recently, that was all I knew. Then my family and I made the tough decision – really, we are creatures of habit – to bypass the reliable burger and shwarma joints in favor of a trip to Ypsi. On that mild Monday in May, we opted for Haab’s.
We pulled into a parking spot in a lot adjacent to the restaurant’s West Michigan Avenue location, followed the sidewalk signs, and soon found ourselves at the hostess stand. As we took our seats, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d entered a time warp. Lacquered oak, wall paper, pinks, greens, those retro Tiffany-style lamps synonymous with musty pizza joints and home offices. I refocused me attention when our server handed us menus. Let the decision-making begin! A fellow diner noted that Haab’s is known for its broasted chicken – “broasting” being an accelerated frying method. He swayed another diner to order it, too, confident that fried chicken, shoestring potatoes, and biscuits would make for a winning comfort food indulgence.
As for the rest of us, it was fish – the token healthy dish of the table – and red meat. From all accounts, the fish was edible. And at $9.95, Broiled Chopped Sirloin sounded like the cheapest way to get my week’s iron intake. The dish arrived with a neatly formed patty draped in Swiss, and accompanied by a heap of the aforementioned shoestring potatoes. This was my first time ordering broiled chopped sirloin, and I did not realize that, more or less, the dish is a glorified hamburger (there was even a soft white bun!) My initial surprise aside, the meat was light, moist, and perfectly pink inside. The fries were a misfire, however. Thin, flavorless, and a waste of calories. I watched as a fellow diner, a French fry aficionado, picked her way through a basket of broasted chicken and shoestrings. I could read the disappointment in her eyes. “The fries,” they said. “The fries just aren’t working for me.” True, the meaty centerpieces of each dish at the table were nicely handled, but the messy wad of bland fries was enough to detract from our dining experience. That and the squishy bread meant to abate our hunger while we waited for the entrees.
We left Haab’s full, but not satisfied. The menu’s smattering of steaks, sandwiches, and seafood won’t break the budget, with most dishes falling in the $10-15 range. (Sandwiches, which include a Reuben, Smokey Turkey Club, and Angus Burger, are even cheaper at just under $7.) But we didn’t salivate over each forkful, or get that pang of sadness when only one bite remained on the plate, or beg the server for another bread basket.