Ann Arbor's newest farm-to-table restaurant is already a familiar name for many students and townies: BTB Cantina
The casual Mexican restaurant, bar, and dance venue reopened last week with a new menu and an updated look from Ann Arbor's Synecdoche Design Studio
Perhaps the biggest shift for the popular student hangout is the retooled menu, which features numerous locally sourced ingredients including products from Chelsea's Tantré Farm, Ann Arbor Seed Company, Milan's Wasem Fruit Farm, and more. The menu was developed with the help of James Beard Award
-nominated chef Magdiale Wolmark. Cantina partner Adam Lowenstein met Wolmark, who moved to the area last year, through a family member whose kids attend the same school as the chef's.
"She introduced us just as two people in the restaurant industry," Lowenstein says. "[Wolmark] had recently moved from Columbus, and she thought we should meet, and we hit it off."
A successful pop-up dinner
the Cantina hosted with Wolmark over the summer inspired further collaboration with the chef, whose background in farm-to-table dining helped shape the new concept.
"That jump started the conversation about incorporating some of those changes into Cantina's regular menu," Lowenstein says. "Taco-focused, local sourcing, et cetera. Also, our best and biggest day has always been Taco Tuesday, so we wanted to build on that, too."
Lowenstein also owns the Last Word
and student favorites BTB Burrito
and Good Time Charley's
with business partner Justin Herrick. He says says the menu change at Cantina was also driven by student interest.
"We're always going to be a casual place, so we're not changing that, and students love great tacos," Lowenstein says. "And we want our companies to always stand for value, which Cantina still does.
"As far as farm-to-table, it's something we believe in that's good for the community, the planet, and the quality of the ingredients is just better. But that's really behind the scenes. We want the tacos to stand on their own."
There are no plans at this time to make similar moves at BTB Burrito, which Lowenstein says has been successful for the last 13 years, has a great niche, and "will always have burritos at 4 a.m."
"We aren't going to change anything that doesn't make sense," he says. "At the same time, working with Magdiale's approach to cooking has opened our eyes to some new possibilities, so if something pops out that would translate well to BTB, we're open to it."
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.