By Candace Bulkley and Trina Fuller
Candace and Trina became friends in the Temple Beth Emeth adult b’nai mitzvah class that graduated in 2022. They will be honing their palates, visiting, and writing about a variety of independent, locally owned Washtenaw County restaurants, catering to a variety of dietary preferences.
If you ever feel the urge to take a drive in the country and find a bite to eat, you might want to steer your car towards the Nest Cocktail Bar and Kitchen. Located about a mile north of downtown Chelsea, the Nest is part of the Robin Hills Farm event complex. We visited on a Thursday evening when the skies looked threatening, but the rain never appeared as we enjoyed the patio overlooking the two ponds on the expansive complex. Other than the birds chirping away it is noticeably quiet and peaceful. This unexpected outdoor setting set the stage for a perfectly relaxed evening in the fresh air.
Our tasters have an affinity for french fries and established a pattern that when there are french fries available, we order them. Not only are they delicious, but we believe well executed fries speak volumes about the kitchen philosophy of getting the basics done right. We decided to start with the fries as an appetizer this time, and based on our server’s recommendation, we chose the hand-cut truffle rarm fries. A generous plate of crispy potatoes arrived piping hot, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, just the right amount of truffle salt, and accompanied by a garlic aioli dipping sauce. If the bucolic surroundings weren’t perfect enough to warrant the drive, these fries were.
The entrée menu was respectable, featuring house versions of menu standards such as burgers, grilled salmon, steak, and pasta. On the evening of our visit, heat and humidity nudged us toward smaller plates on the menu. We decided to focus primarily on the intriguing appetizer and salad selection. Not quite knowing what to expect when we ordered them, the duck fat dumplings were savory gems of flavor. Three pan-seared toothsome dumplings were served in a shallow pool of cognac cream sauce, duck confit, razor-thin slices of sauteed wild mushrooms, and a sprinkle of pecorino cheese. One diner who was hesitant to try it ended up relenting and then going back for seconds. They were the best bite of the night. The beet salad was everything it ought to be. Sweet roasted organic red and golden beets were served with whipped goat cheese, candied pistachios, and peppery arugula which was tossed in a lovely citrus vinaigrette. This taste of summer salad could turn anyone into a beet lover and was a refreshing interlude between our courses. The least successful dish we tried was the pimento pierogies. The house-made pillows arrived golden and deep fried to perfection, but we found the flavor of the potato and cheese filling was lost, most likely due to under-seasoning and a mismatch with buttermilk ranch for dipping.
Tempted by one final taste of Michigan asparagus and the same delicious golden mushrooms as were found in the duck fat dumplings, we tried the wild mushroom asparagus risotto from the entree menu. Asparagus and earthy mushrooms are a perfect match for this notoriously difficult-to-master classic Italian rice dish. Although it was a shade too salty, the chef did a great job with the execution. The portion was large and we agreed that it would be too much for one person on its own but would be perfect to share along with a salad.
The menu at the Nest changes often and is interesting enough to pique our curiosity as to what is coming next. An appealing brunch/lunch menu is served on Sunday, and as the name implies, The Nest Cocktail Bar and Kitchen serves an interesting variety of cocktails, zero-proof creations, beer, and wine. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are listed clearly on the menu. Outdoor seating season is short in Michigan — keep in mind there is ample indoor space in an attractive dining room available too.
Walking the Robin Hills Farm grounds and pathways is encouraged — you can even bring your beverage as you take in the sights, get some steps in, and enjoy the night air. Our server provided a map leading us to a sheep pasture filled with rowdy lambs with their nursing mothers, and further down the path, a mushroom forest. An outdoor amphitheater, barn, and greenhouse on the grounds are charming event spaces.
Currently, The Nest is open from 4–11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m.–2 p.m. on Sundays. While leaving the property, we noted that the B2B bike trail passes by right across the road. We envisioned a lovely Sunday outing parking in Dexter, biking to the Nest for a leisurely brunch, and then finishing the ride back. There’s trivia in the bar on Thursdays and live music on many Saturdays — the schedule can be found in the Ann Arbor Observer and on the Nest web site. Reservations are available via phone or through Open Table online.
The Nest Cocktail Bar and Kitchen @ Robin Hills Farm