For a truly townie experience, do what we did last weekend and go to Knight’s. It has been an occasional habit to stop by on Saturday for lunch and have one of their excellent hamburgers, often preceded by a cup of soup made on the premises. My eye caught a modest notice on the door that this weekend (Sunday, April 26), there would be a 25th anniversary celebration of the restaurant from 2:00 to 5:00 with “complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar”.
That was all the notice that anyone is likely to get. Unless, maybe, you were already signed up as a “friend” on their website. Even the website doesn’t have information about the open house and I’m pretty sure Knight’s has never, never advertised. In fact, they don’t even have a sign. If you don’t realize that the building on Dexter Avenue across from Veteran’s Park is a restaurant and not a private club, you might never enter. The only information you are given is the large image of a chess knight outside.
There really are Knights. It is a family business and the patriarch, Ray Knight, is supposed to be at the festivities on Sunday. His son Don Knight runs the restaurant now, while his brother Bob runs the market.
Oh, yes, the market. It is another mysterious building with only chess knights to tell its story. Whenever I stop by for some of their excellent ground beef, I’m likely to run into someone I know (it is at Spring and Miller, in my ‘hood). I’m told that the business started with the market, where real attention was paid to the meat. Then in 1984 the restaurant was opened. They are still about the meat. I interviewed Mr. Knight for an article I wrote on local food and learned that he brings in sides of prime beef that are cut on the spot. The meat that doesn’t go to the restaurant is meticulously tailored into familiar cuts and laid out in an open cooler near the front of the store. They also buy Amish chickens from a Michigan producer and cut them up themselves. (If you ask nicely, they’ll save you the backs for making soup.) You won’t find many inexpensive cuts there, but the few times we bought steak for special occasions, it justified the hype. They also have bulk bacon and sausages in the cooler. You can request special cuts if you give them a couple of days. Otherwise, it is much like a well-stocked convenience store except that they carry a few local items like Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips, Angelo’s raisin bread, and Knight’s own brownies.
As for the restaurant (which may be called Knight’s Steakhouse or Knight’s Bar/Restaurant, depending on where you look), it is solid good food, confidently prepared and deftly served. The prices are reasonable for the quality and the drinks are a good value. Going there for dinner is like shrugging into a comfortable garment, if you are able to avoid the smoke successfully. (There are non-smoking areas and some nights they limit smoking to the bar.) Though beef is the main attraction, they usually have some very decent fish dishes, and those are usually what I select. I’ve now discovered that the specials are posted on the website. This caused me some grief when I read that they had the pork schnitzel with pierogi and red cabbage the other night. Maybe next time.
By the way, don’t plan to go on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any really special day. Even weekday evenings there is usually a wait. And be prepared to run into someone you know. If you’ve lived here long enough.
UPDATE: According to the May 2009 Ann Arbor Observer, the market is now being managed by Sherry Knight Bedolla. She is introducing some modernizations including more prepared food. I’ve been noticing more fresh produce and other touches, but apparently more is underway. The meat is staying.
UPDATE: We went because the appetizer special was the pork schnitzel plus the pierogies. Wish they’ d make this a dinner special, with a red cabbage side.
UPDATE: October 2011: I doubt that the Knights were reading this blog post, but they did put the pork schnitzel with pierogies and red cabbage on the regular menu! (To see the Knight’s night’s specials, see their online menu , usually posted mid-afternoon.) If you want a classic steak dinner or the other solid standards on their menu, you are in good hands. Often my husband simply orders one of their hamburgers for dinner, with a side of salad and/or a cup of soup. (Did I mention that their soups are superlative?) They clearly have a chef working for them. In addition to the rotating offers on the specials of the classic pot roast, roast chicken, turkey dinner, and meatloaf, there are often innovative or even daring specials, often with an Italian or Cajun twist. Tonight the menu also includes the classics Shrimp Scampi and Trout Amandine.
Since the state smoking ban, Knight’s is crowded almost every night (Mon-Sat) that they are open. A hint: you can call ahead to put your name on the waiting list. No, you’ll have to look up the number yourself.
Meanwhile, the market has also been undergoing upgrades, including a new automatic front door and a new meat cooler with expanded choices. There are more and more local products and special fresh baked goods.
The thrilling news is that they are attempting to put a bakery in next to the market. This is requiring a rezoning. From ETrakit:
“A proposal to rezone 306, 308, 310 Spring from R2A (Two-Family Dwelling District) to C1 (Local Business) to allow the residential dwelling at 306 Spring to be converted to a bakery use. No new floor area or additional parking is proposed.”
Please, Planning Commissioners, grant us this boon. Think of how much those of us in the ‘hood will treasure having a Knight’s bakery within walking distance. Please?
If you call ahead for a booth, it can be a very cozy place on a winter’s night.
UPDATE: Knight’s Market has finished a renovation. Here is the new front door:
UPDATE September 2012
As reported here by AnnArbor.com, Knight’s has received final approval of zoning changes that will permit renovation of the market and a new bakery and food prep area in the existing house on the property. Great things anticipated.
UPDATE February 2013
AnnArbor.com reports that Ray Knight, the founder of Knight’s and of a successful clan of Knights, died on February 16. The article has a nice picture of the five Knight siblings who now run the operation, plus some good interviews with them.
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