The recent Lansing City Council election saw less than 18% voter turnout, and — with apologies to the winners — not even a vote on opening the City Charter could excite more people to come out to the polls. Thankfully, the Top of the Town contest offers another chance for community members to weigh in and select their top choices among the pool of culinary candidates. After reviewing the final polls, I offer my post-election analysis.
TOTT’s highest honor for Best Burger and Best Olive Burger has been bestowed upon my personal favorite, Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shop. I waxed poetic for this pillar of our food community in February 2022, and having dined there over the last month, I can say I still agree with its supremacy.
That said, these categories offered me an opportunity to visit another local institution, Dagwood’s Tavern & Grill, which finished second in both. My father used to take me to Dagwood’s when I was a youngster, and we’d split burger and shrimp baskets. Walking inside was like a journey back in time. Not much has changed décor-wise over the decades, and even the Budweiser Clydesdales carousel globe still oversees the action from above. The food is also still consistently on point. If you get a chance to visit, sit at the bar near the cooking station to observe Dena commanding the flat top and deep fryers. You’ll be amazed at the speed and efficiency with which sandwiches and sides fly out of the kitchen.
I arrived on a Spartan game day when most of the seats in the tavern were occupied, and I ordered the Olive Burger with cheese and an extra patty ($7.50) and a side of onion rings ($5) from the condensed menu. Even as I had a front row seat to the cooking action, I’m not sure how my food arrived so quickly. The burger was juicy but not overly greasy, and the cheddar offered just enough sharp contrast to the creamy olive sauce on which the burger sat atop, rather than the traditional sauce-on-top versions across town. Dagwood’s olive sauce doesn’t skimp on the key ingredient, and while I prefer sliced olives to chopped, these olives weren’t minced, so it was kind of the best of both worlds. The onion rings were crisp and flavorful, though they arrived at the fryer frozen and not freshly battered — again, speed and efficiency.
Stop the steal
In March, I wrote about my less than favorable experiences at Old Bag of Nails. To see it voted as the Best New Restaurant is surprising, to say the least. I promise to make a return visit to see if the restaurant has ironed out its issues, but in the meantime, I wonder if the timing of the voting and the summer arrival of Toscana was a factor in the Italian cucina not making the top three. I also already wrote about my regard for Lansing Shuffle, and frankly, I would put it first if for nothing more than the diversity of divine flavors inside and the excitement it’s garnered as a new gathering place.
This year, TOTT has a category for Businesses Lost. I concur with the conclusion that DeLuca’s is dearly missed in our community. The pizza was a treasure, as were the lasagna, ranch dressing and spumoni ice cream. Many a family celebration took place at the eatery on Willow Street, and I lament the loss every time I drive by.
My own journey as a home chef took off because of the market offerings inside Roma Bakery, and its pastries were absolutely incredible. I’m indebted to the Castriciano family for the patience and kindness they offered in sharing some of their culinary expertise with me whenever I stopped in. I’d add two more lost restaurants to the list: Pistachio’s and Jambalaya’s. I loved both of them for their seafood and ambience.
As a family with four children, it can be hard to work in quality dining experiences or time for cooking at home when juggling academic, athletic and professional schedules. Thankfully, the quick-bite options in Lansing don’t equate to poor taste choices. Case in point, Jersey Giant Subs. Whenever the occasion calls, a #6, or The Boss, hits the spot every time, filled with ham, capicola, prostini (a baked ham product), salami, pepperoni and cheese. I order mine with pickles, hot pepper relish, lettuce, Jersey Juice (oil and vinegar) and honey mustard. Its locally baked bread is paired with meats and cheeses sliced fresh for every order. Maybe I’ll have one for lunch.
The most fun part of writing restaurant reviews is being tasked to eat at restaurants you wouldn’t normally visit. I’ve discovered so many favorites this way, including Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine, Blend and The Ocean Crab. The bummer, however, is that with a new assignment to focus on every month and a busy life to manage, it’s rare that I get to return to my longtime favorites. There just aren’t enough meals in the week.
So, whenever I can, I like to check in on my standbys — kick the tires on the food and make sure the bathrooms are still clean, the fries are still hot and the bread pudding still drips with the world’s most delectable, luscious caramel sauce (hello Soup Spoon, my old friend). Every year, City Pulse’s Top of the Town issue gives me a great opportunity to remember some of my favorite haunts and plan return visits.
Olympic Broil factored heavily into my high school lunch routine during my tenure at Sexton High School. We had an hour for lunch and an open campus, and one can only eat so many Wendy’s chicken nuggets and Fazoli’s breadsticks. Therefore, I’ve been enjoying Olympic Broil’s wavy fries and chicken tenders for more than 20 years, and I decided that it was high time to introduce the Lawrence babies to this winner of multiple Top of the Town categories. My family shared a box of chicken tenders, a chicken wrap, a bacon cheeseburger and a Humdinger burger, which I have always loved because it has mayonnaise and pickles on top. The fries still need a lot of salt, but the kids loved the chicken tenders, and I didn’t have heartburn that evening. I consider it a win, and the second generation of Olympic Broil lovers is cemented.
Mr. She Ate and I stole away for a lunch date on a weekday, which is virtually unheard of unless we’re both attending the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club, where he generally considers himself to be too important to even sit at my table. We chose the Soup Spoon Cafe, and there are few things I love more than nestling into that restaurant on a blustery day and narrowing down my soup choices. For this lunch, I leaned into that feeling and chose a soup flight, which included pumpkin bisque, French onion, a cheesy short-rib chili and a spicy lamb stew. I love lamb, and I love how much lamb has always been featured on Soup Spoon’s menu. The soups all still slap, and Mr. She Ate confirmed that his preferred tenderloin salad does as well. We haven’t yet introduced the children to this perennial favorite because I remember seeing a sign that claimed unattended children would be given a puppy and an espresso, and Mademoiselle She Ate isn’t yet ready for prime time. But it’s coming, and I predict that the pancakes and sausage patties will become favorites.
My third trip to an old favorite this month was to El Oasis food truck, since I had to go pick up our repaired vacuum cleaner at Lam’s Sweeper Shop. I always have a chorizo quesadilla on a corn tortilla, which is utter perfection. El Oasis was one of the food trucks that Mr. She Ate and I engaged for our wedding reception, and I will forever fondly remember the taco man passing around platters of food to our guests as they waited outside in front of the other trucks to have their orders filled. It was fun, and the food was delicious. It still is.
A constant gripe that I hear is that there’s nowhere to eat in Lansing. Sure, there’s a noticeable lack of fine dining. But from ChouPli to Sansu and Kewpee to Fleetwood, there’s something for everyone. We embrace cuisine from other parts of the world. We expand our horizons. We know the importance of supporting local businesses, as evidenced by my attempt to take the family for a long-overdue dinner at Cugino’s. The place was packed to the gills, and the anticipated wait time meant we couldn’t do it, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s so much better than finding out your neighborhood favorite struggled until it had to close.
I have to point out my utter shock at the Best New Restaurant winner, Old Bag of Nails. We’re all familiar with the adage to keep your trap shut if you don’t have anything nice to say, so it’s a good thing that I have leftover chicken tenders at home with which I can stifle myself.
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