“Help me, Elvis! I’m in a Pickle!” deep-fried pickles (Emma Slonina / MJ)

BY EMMA SLONINA, Staff Columnist

This is a strange review for me. I’ve been to Traffic Jam several times over the past few years and every experience has been different. This Midtown Detroit eatery is just so convenient that I keep going back – even though I wonder every time why I decided to.

The first time is what ruined me. After going to see an early-evening play at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre, my friend and I needed something to eat, from somewhere open late. She suggested Traffic Jam, rattling off its specialties.

They make their own bread. They make their own cheese. They make their own beer. They make their own ice cream. They make their own pastries and desserts. The list goes on and on.

The dessert is what caught our eyes that night. She had a bowl of neon green mint chocolate chip ice cream that was far subtler than it looked. I had a perfectly-portioned square of bread pudding, oozing custard and melted chocolate chips, among raisins and walnuts. It was heavenly. No other bread pudding can compare.
So I didn’t hesitate when we went back with a huge group of friends before a movie. I should have.

The dessert menu is extensive, and everything looks good, but the dinner menu is all over the place. Several different cuisines show up and the huge menu hides the fact that there’s not much to choose from (that sounds really good, at least).

I decided to start with the crab cake and then have the day’s special – stuffed squash blossoms – for my entrée. The crab cake, listed as coming on a bed of greens with a garlic aioli, was hidden underneath a pile of spinach and field greens. It was a struggle to get even four bites out of it; I could have easily finished it in two. Left hungry, I eagerly awaited my main dish to fill me up.

The squash blossoms were stuffed with ricotta and served deep-fried on a bed of marinara – looked pretty good. Not so. The blossoms were breaded and fried past the golden brown point, halfway to burnt. The delicate flower and the creamy ricotta were masked by the heavy, crunchy breading. The better choice would have been to tempura-batter the blossoms for the crispiness without the weight.

No one else was thrilled with their food (though I ate half of my boyfriend’s macaroni and cheese), but no one really complained either. I was sorely disappointed, and didn’t plan on going back.

Flash forward, a year later. I’m on a dinner-and-a-movie date with my boyfriend. We decide to go to Traffic Jam – it’s right by the movie theatre, we somehow both “remember there being good food” (HOW?!), and the service is quick.

Charlie really just wants the fried pickles. He gets an order; five pickle spears, breaded and deep-fried, served with a special ranch sauce. I can’t help it, I steal one (and a half, maybe two…) and fall in love.
Maybe, I think, this will be a good dinner. He orders the “topsy-turvy” chicken pie and I order the smoked turkey reuben with a side of macaroni and cheese – the only thing I remember being good from the last trip.

Charlie ends up not liking his chicken “pie” (I eat half of it, but agree it’s missing something). My smoked turkey reuben is good, but plain. Something I could get anywhere, just as good if not better. The macaroni and cheese is bland after all the pickles and sauerkraut, so I give up and box it to take home for my family to suffer through.

We sit there trying to figure out why we came. The food, besides the magical fried pickles, is mediocre. It’s never anything you can’t get anywhere else.

We have time to kill, though, and there’s one last chance at redemption – dessert.

I can’t decide between cakes and pies and bread pudding and cheesecake and crisps, so we decide on their homemade ice cream. Charlie gets strawberry and I get coffee topped with hot fudge, after seeing a huge platter of it go to the table next to us.

Then we remember why we came. We sat smiling like fools, finishing off every last perfect spoonful. It’s the homemade that we come for. The bread, the pastries, the cheese, the ice cream. These are Traffic Jam’s true gems. Along with the pickles.

Traffic Jam and Snug is located at Second and Canfield in Midtown Detroit. For more information, visit http://www.trafficjamdetroit.com or call (313) 831-9470.