Spencer, Ann Arbor

A Home Away from Home

8th February, 2016

Spencer stands quite singularly in Ann Arbor as a restaurant whose menu changes frequently, constantly drawing inspiration from what's nearby and seasonally available. Little can stand up to the flavorful, artful plates but the atmosphere built around them. Their website makes mention of "friendly neighborhood restaurant" and by all appearances they've hit the nail on the head.

On any given night, walking into Spencer feels like being welcomed into a friend's home. Whether the owners, Abby and Steve, or a grinning employee, a warm greeting floats over the full rows of tables. Smells and visuals start presenting themselves on the way toward the counter, dropping subtle hints about what treasures the day's menu might hold. While the menu is often a surprise for patrons, it's sure to be a pleasant one.

While Spencer is a stone's throw from Main Street, it's often a welcome escape from that hustle and bustle. Those inside exhibit not the ravenous appetites of the restaurant week crowd but instead show cheer as if a longstanding group of drinking buddies. Regulars become friends and newbies become regulars.

This kind of success is nuanced and hard to achieve by any one method. The appeal of the place is in the food, it's in the decor, it's in the people. The whole thing is greater than the sum of its parts. It's what keeps me coming back — I often have the urge to just stop in and say hi. That I always stay for the food afterward is a detriment to my wallet but a testament to what they've created.

Regulars become friends and newbies become regulars.

On to the food. They are a restaurant, after all.

Perusing my @topdownfood Instagram is the easiest way to see that I'm a Spencer fanatic. I eat there a few times a week. I can do this because they're always presenting new things or variations on familiar themes that keep it interesting. It helps — hurts? — that it's on my route home, too. Here's a smattering of some of the things I've wolfed down over the last few months.

The above images show some simply delectable food, but fail to show what have been some of my most favorite. Interior lighting isn't kind to food photography, and winter isn't kind to natural light in the evening. I promise to take pictures of some of the more entrée-like dishes as time goes on!

More cities and towns could benefit greatly from the ideas Steve and Abby are bringing to the table (ha!). Sourcing food from fresh and local sources reduces strain on the environment, helps the local economy, and builds community. These kinds of benefits keep giving over the years. Pairing these with places people want to hang out and converse makes it all the more enticing.

Spencer is also a place where the foreign can become the familiar, both on and off the plate. You'll find interesting people at the table including students, professors, artists, engineers, and more. The exchange of culture through eating and conversation makes me giddy, really. Go ahead and get your feet wet.