Eat! Lansing

October 23, 2010

PiiLani’s Buffet Express

Filed under: Best of, Hawaiian, Okemos — Jack Lumanog @ 3:40 pm

PiiLani’s Buffet Express
3490 Okemos Rd., Okemos, MI 48864
(517) 347-8828
Monday-Saturday: 7am-3pm
closed Sunday

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall at Okemos and Jolly Roads in Okemos, you will find a culinary gem in the Greater Lansing area.  PiiLani’s Buffet Express has been serving up traditional Hawaiian cuisine at this location for the last 5 months or so.  My family and I checked it out for lunch today and we can’t wait to go back!

We sampled just about everything that was on the buffet today and it was all incredible.  There were a couple of chicken dishes, a pork stew, chicken noodle soup, spaghetti and Italian sausage, macaroni and cheese and the most amazing pulled pork and homeade barbecue sauce (more on that later).  In addition to the plentiful hot food selection, there was a full salad bar as well.  Each adult is $6.99 for lunch and children 8 and under are half price – a great value considering the high quality food that is offered at PiiLani’s.

To try some traditional Hawaiian flavors, be sure to load up on white rice and cold macaroni salad (mac salad) with the Hawaiian barbecue chicken so tender it falls off the bone.  I went for a few helpings of PiiLani’s pulled pork.  This is worth noting since there really isn’t a traditional barbecue restaurant that I’ve found in the Greater Lansing area.  I lived in the birthplace of barbecue – Kansas City – for 8-1/2 years and I’d like to think I know a bit about this cuisine.  In my book, PiiLani’s pulled pork offered on the buffet can rival some of the world class barbecue restaurants in Kansas City just about any day.

I was delighted to see that they offer Spam musubi made to order at $2.00.  This is a wonderfully traditional and quirky dish of a block of rice, grilled Spam with a nori (seaweed) wrapper to keep it all together.  I will have to save room for this and I’ll try this on my next visit to PiiLani’s!  And, we heard about the delicious breakfast options with the most popular being a breakfast burrito and the traditional Hawaiian moco loco (white rice, hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy).

My family and I really enjoyed our visit to PiiLani’s. The food was delicious, there was something for everyone’s taste and the value cannot be beat for what you get. If you’re not familiar with Hawaiian food, I can think of no friendlier place to try out something new. Even to get you started, there are still American favorites to be found on the buffet and available for order a la carte.

August 21, 2010

Five Guys is Coming

Filed under: American, Best of, Burger, Campus, East Lansing — dkastner @ 8:28 am

The famous burger chain known as Five Buys Burgers and Fries will be gracing East Lansing in late September.  If you’ve never heard of Five Guys, here’s some background.

Five Guys started out in the mid-80s in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.  By the time I was living there, around 2004, the small chain was already legendary among Northern Virginians.  By the time I moved to Michigan in 2007, the chain had expanded all over the Virginia suburbs.  There was quite a bit of fanfare when a location was opened up in New York.  Around the time of the Presidential elections, the public discovered that Barack and Michelle Obama have a penchant for greasy burgers and that Five Guys was one of their favorite stops (Ray’s Hell Burger is now the preferred burger joint).  Since then, the Five Guys has exploded into much of the US, east of the Mississippi.  I have eaten at a Five Guys near Farmington Hills, but I was especially surprised and delighted to find that one would be coming to East Lansing.

The menu is very simple: burgers or hot dogs with regular or cajun fries.  There are a plethora of toppings you can have piled on top of your burger, including grilled onions, jalepeños, and green peppers.  The griddle-fried patties are succulent and juicy.  Great care is required when eating to avoid spilling grease and toppings all over.

The french fries are delivered in a styrofoam cup within a paper bag.  The best approach is to rip open one side of the bag, pour out your fries, and douse them with a healthy dose of malt vinegar.  The fries are “boardwalk style,” following the tradition of fries sold in East Coast beach towns like Ocean City, Maryland.  The fries are fried in peanut oil and it is customary to use malt vinegar, similar to eating fried fish.  The cajun fries are usually the better pick, especially if you like spicy things.

While you’re waiting for your food, there is usually an open box of peanuts in the shell for snacking.  The walls are also graced with issues of Washingtonian Magazine that rave about the joint, reassuring you that you have chosen the best burger in town.

My only complaint with this opening is that it will be located on the far eastern side of campus town, next to Blockbuster and Jimmy John’s.  Not exactly convenient for a lot of people.  However, the crack-like addiction many are likely to develop to these burgers will probably be enough to keep people coming.

East Lansing’s campus town has a glut of cheap, greasy fast food, but I’m hoping Five Guys will be able to outlast the rest, given its allure.

March 15, 2010

Sugarshack

Filed under: Bakery, Best of, Desserts, Lansing — Jack Lumanog @ 8:45 pm

Sugarshack
2315 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing MI 48912
(517) 316-2009
Sunday, Wednesday & Thursday: 11am-2am
Monday & Tuesday: 11am-1am
Friday & Saturday: 11am-3am

Sugarshack
A selection of two inch high cupcakes from Sugarshack – Mocha, Strawberry and their take on the classic Hostess

Sugarshack has been open since August 2009.  I finally strolled into this delightfully small place tonight on my way home.  There are cookies, brownies and some frozen treats for sale.  But the main event is the extra large gourmet cupcake.  There is even a baking rotation for the extra large gourmet cupcakes.  I went in on a Monday and the designated specials included: carrot cake, Hostess, Mocha and there was even a special St. Patrick’s Day themed cupcake.  (Flavors available by day are posted on their website.)

I ended up with taking home a sampler of three cupcakes: Mocha, Strawberry and the Sugarshack’s take on the classic Hostess.  All of them were amazing.  The cupcakes were so moist and to top it all off was their perfect icing.  The Mocha and Hostess cupcakes were both chocolate cake and both exceptional.  But  my favorite of the three had to be the Strawberry with angel food cake and the pink icing.

Sugarshack also offers delivery within a 5 mile radius from the bakery’s location for a $2.00 fee (Google maps tells me that I am 4.4 miles away from Sugarshack – so I’m good there!).  It’s worth a drive to check out this bakery next to the Marathon gas station serving up some amazing gourmet cupcakes.

October 8, 2009

Maru Sushi and Grill

Filed under: Best of, Japanese, Okemos, Sushi — Jack Lumanog @ 8:41 am

Maru Sushi & Grill
5100 Marsh Rd., Okemos, MI 48864-1195
(517) 349-7500
Lunch: Monday – Saturday, 11:30a – 2:30p
Dinner: Monday – Saturday, 4:30p – 9:30p and Sunday 4:00p – 9:00p

My wife and I have been meaning to head out to Maru Sushi & Grill for a while now.  We finally made it out there last month when we had a babysitter. Just from outside appearances, Maru doesn’t look all that kid friendly as it looked like mostly couples eating there for dinner. (Not meant as a criticism – more as a helpful tip for those diners with kids.)

As we entered Maru, we were warmly greeted by the hostess and by nearly everyone working behind the sushi bar.  Our server was very attentive and let us know that we had about 5 minutes left before the sushi happy hour was over.  We quickly scanned the specials and ordered a tuna roll and crab roll – both on special at half off. Not a bad deal at all and both wonderfully delicious. (Half off sushi happy hour specials run from 4:30pm – 6:00pm daily, Sun 4:00p-9:00p.  Daily specials are announced via Facebook and Twitter.)

After the initial excitement of taking advantage of a deal wore off, it was on to examine the menu.  We started with the tofu appetizer.  I did not read the description all that carefully and didn’t realize until it came to our table, that the tofu was uncooked.  It was artfully presented in a bowl with ponzu sauce, green onions and some other embellishments.  The flavor was there, but I was not all that thrilled about the cold, slimy texture of the tofu.  My wife, on the other hand, loved it and it was a nice start to the meal for her.

I enjoyed the tuna maguro and salmon sake from the sashimi menu. Absolutely perfect on both counts. My wife went with the Ocean’s Eleven specialty roll which consists of: salmon, cucumber, sprouts, kampyo topped with albacore, and avocado with spicy oyster glazed salad (organic greens, carrots, cucumber, asparagus). My wife is not a fan of spicy food and didn’t realize this was a pretty spicy dish on account of the sriracha chili sauce that was the secret salad dressing. Fine by me, it was more for me to enjoy.

A few folks around us ordered the hibachi grills.  They came out beautifully prepared but at $19 and up for teriyaki chicken, it seems a bit pricy for fried rice, assorted meats and veggies.  The most expensive item in the hibachi offerings is at $26 for steak and shrimp. But, the plates coming to the neighboring tables were just beautiful!

That’s another thing about Maru.  As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you can’t help but be amazed at the attention to detail in this place!  The decor is very sleek, modern with lots of clean lines. I found myself just looking all around the dining room impressed by how beautiuful this place was. 

Finally, Maru is the recent recipient of a liquor license.  They offer a full bar with some delightful wines by the glass.

I highly recommend this place to you for the food offerings and for a beautiful place to relax and take in a nice dinner. If you can make it for sushi happy hour, your wallet will thank you for it as well.

August 13, 2009

Pablo’s Panaderia

Filed under: Best of, Lansing, Mexican — Jack Lumanog @ 9:28 pm

Pablos

Pablo’s Panaderia
311 E Grand River Ave, Lansing, MI 48933

(517) 372-0887

The first time I ate at Pablo’s Panaderia, I almost cried.  OK, well maybe not really, but I felt a little misty.  Maybe because our family has eaten some pretty mediocre Mexican food since moving to Lansing.  We’ve eaten at Fiesta Charra in DeWitt a few times simply because it’s close to our house and they pour a healthy margarita at a reasonable price. Besides proximity and margaritas, that’s where the good stuff comes to an end. No matter what you order, it’s going to be the saltiest thing you’ve ever had. We’ve had quite a few meals at Cancun Mexican Restaurant at both locations in Okemos (off of Jolly Road is preferred because it’s not as busy as the location across from Meridian Mall). We usually have a coupon, the service is OK, food comes out quickly (important when you’ve got kids!) and it’s consistently good. My wife always says the servers always seem in a hurry to shoo us out as soon as we slow down from eating. Lots of MSU folks also have a warm place in their hearts for El Azteco which I don’t quite understand. Service is always rushed, everything is an extra charge and nothing is particularly great.

So, we’ve settled down into a routine of not having great Mexican meals since we moved here from Kansas City. On one street alone in KC – Southwest Boulevard – you could take your pick of a dozen amazing Mexican restaurants.

So, enough complaining about other Mexican restaurants in Lansing that have not really hit the spot or reminiscing about the bevy of options in Kansas City.  Pablo’s is a place we’ve known about because of the road construction on our normal route to the west side of Lansing.  The torn up roads put us on a detour through Old Town. And after what seemed like the millionth time of driving by Pablo’s and saying, “We should try that sometime,” we finally did.

First time I went for dinner, I came with my family. The owner greeted us warmly, found a high chair for my youngest and put us right by the window. He was incredibly helpful in improvising a kids meal for our daughters and heaped on the sides for my entree and my wife’s entree so that all four of us could share. My wife got an amazing combo platter with carnitas (seasoned roasted pork). It had three items on it and I don’t remember any of the names but I snuck a bite of each of them and they were amazing.

For me, the 3 taco platter was what I had been missing since I moved here (pictured above with one missing – I ate the first one and realized that I should have taken a pic for the blog!). These tacos were perfection and there is just about every meat choice imaginable: lengua (tongue), bistek (steak), carnitas, chicken, chorizo (sausage) and others. I went with the various beef options and it was just amazing. Preparation is simple with two tortillas for each taco, your meat of choice, cilantro, onions and limes no the side. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you’ll feel like you’re back there with the look of the plate and of course when you take your first bite. I don’t want to be overdramatic, but I felt like I was back in Cancun the first time I ate here. (And the successive visits over the last few weeks at the lunch hour.)

Our family of four ate an amazing meal for around $20. No liquor license at Pedro’s but they offer some fresh squeezed juices, fountain drinks and even bottled Coca-Cola hecho en Mexico (made in Mexico).  What’s the big deal about Mexican Coca-Cola, you ask?  If you are a freak about not ingesting high fructose corn syrup, you’ll love this because Mexican Coca-Cola is made with pure sugar cane.

As I write this post, I’m wondering: is going to Pablo’s two days in a row for lunch a bad idea?

May 1, 2009

Sushiya

Filed under: Best of, Campus, East Lansing, Japanese, Sushi — Jack Lumanog @ 4:31 pm

Sushiya
529 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing MI 48823
(517) 333-0804

On a beautiful spring sunnt day in East Lansing, my wife and daughters and I were looking for a bite to eat for lunch.  We wandered into Sushiya across from the MSU campus between Espresso Royale and Chipotle.  This beautifully appointed restaurant hit the spot for every member of my family!

My daughters basically split two appetizers for their lunch (no children’s menu here).  The panfried beef gyoza dumplings ($4.95) and the agedashi tofu ($4.95) were beautifully prepared and my kids ate up nearly all of it (OK, I got to sneak a bite of each as part of my research for this blog).

My wife ordered the Sushiya special roll ($11.95) and it was an enormous plate of sushi.  It came with a small salad and a cup of miso soup.  It was a special roll that had tempura shrimp, crab, avocado, and a few other things that I can’t recall right at the moment. 

I was feeling like something warm for lunch and ordered the tempura udon ($7.95).  This is an incredible value considering all of the food that you get with this.  To start, I also got a small salad and cup of miso soup as part of my entree.  The soup was just amazingly satisfying.  The large bowl had a perfectly seasoned broth, enormous udon noodles, tofu, and tempura shrimp.  And, it was served with a side platter of tempura fried goodies: tempura squash, asparagus, zucchini, sweet potato, onion ring and shrimp.  As if that wasn’t enough, my soup also included 4 pieces of California roll on the side! Whew! At nearly $8, this is the biggest deal of the menu and all of it was just delicious.

Sushiya exceeded all expectations with food, decor and service.  I’ll definitely be back to this great campus gem!

March 31, 2009

Emil’s Restaurant

Filed under: Best of, Italian — Jack Lumanog @ 2:46 pm

Emil’s Restaurant
Menu on RestaurantDB.net

2012 E Michigan Ave., Lansing, MI 48912
(517) 482-4430

My wife and I have been meaning to go to Emil’s for a long time now.  Now, into our third year here in Lansing, we had a great opportunity to go for a church activity. 

We went on a Saturday night and the place was pretty packed out at 5:45pm (hint: make a reservation!) and that crowd was spilling out into the tiny waiting area and bar area when our group was finished up with our dinner.  And, what a dinner it was!

Apparently, Emil’s is Lansing’s oldest restaurant (operating since 1921).  It seemed a lot of the diners around us were going for the pizza.  But, the Italian sausage and peppers entree seemed like a great idea for me.  At $14.25, it was the perfect amount of food, perfectly prepared and it took me back to my childhood in Hoboken, NJ where I practically grew up on sausage and peppers at many a parish supper at St. Francis Church … but, I digress.  Emil’s Italian sausage and peppers came with two links, grilled sweet red peppers, a sweet marinara for dipping and a side of spaghetti in a different marinara sauce.  Absolute perfection and I was thoroughly satisfied.  My wife ordered the small dinner portion of lasagna which she proclaimed: “perfect!”

There is a limited selection of nameless wines by the glass.  The house wine selection is $5 by the glass.  At first, I went with the house Chianti and it was a mistake.  It was very, very sweet and tasted more like a Riunite Lambrusco.  My wife gladly took that glass of Chianti over so that I could try another glass of wine from the premium selection  —  $6 by the glass.  I went with the Cabernet Sauvignon instead and that was just perfect with the sausage and peppers dinner.

We had about 20 people in our group and the service was very efficient considering we were on separate checks.  Everyone from our group was very pleased with dinner which is very gratifying – and a feat at the same time! 

Finally, my only complaint is that my wife and I were charged $2 a piece additional to upgrade to a Caesar salad.  Should have stuck to the house salad for free because there was no real noticeable difference between our “upgraded” salad and the regular house salad.  That said, it was the only thing that stuck out in a bad way from my first ever visit to Emil’s.  It’s a minor thing and our family will definitely be back soon!

January 6, 2009

The English Inn

Filed under: American, Best of, Fine Dining, Steak — Jack Lumanog @ 11:57 am

The English Inn
http://englishinn.com

677 S. Michigan Rd., Eaton Rapids, MI 48827
(517) 663-2500
Lunch:  Monday – Friday: 11:30am to 1:30pm
Dinner: Monday through Thursday: 5:00pm to 9:00pm; Friday and Saturday: 5:00pm to 10:00pm; Sundays: 1:00pm to 7:00pm

(I reviewed this restaurant back in October  —  forgot this in a draft folder that I rarely check.  Oops.)

The English Inn is just minutes away from Lansing and is totally worth your consideration.  I’ve seen their ads in the Lansing State Journal for dinner specials and none of them looked all that enticing.  However, after accepting a dinner invitation there with some friends, and getting very excited about checking their menu out online, I was very excited about our upcoming trip.

We were a bit early for our reservation so my wife and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds of The English Inn.  They operate a small bed and breakfast with an adjacent catering hall with a charming pub in the basement of the main building.  The grounds are just extraordinary.  The view from the restaurant is just amazing  —  it makes you forget you’re in Eaton Rapids!

The atmosphere is wonderful for a night with friends or for a special occasion.  At first, our table of 6 was the only table being used in the restaurant.  We were whispering for a while until some other tables started to fill up and then the piano player took her place to provide some much needed background noise.

The dinner menu reminds me of what you would find at a country club or an old school bistro.  The wine list is very comprehensive and decently priced  —  our table split a bottle of Hess Collection Cabernet at $30.

To start, I ordered the Escargots for $10.  It was classic preparation with herbs and garlic butter.  Delicious.  My entree was the Entrecote Cafe’ de Paris  —  14 oz. NY Strip with Café de Paris butter at $30.  My steak was perfectly prepared medium rare and there was more than enough for dinner and the rest was the next day’s lunch for me.  The side dishes were uninspiring  —  mashed potatoes and steamed cauliflower.

I skipped dessert after loading up on the escargots, calling it quits on my entree and eating more bread than I care to admit (all the while dipping away at the remnants of the escargots butter).

October 13, 2008

Omi Sushi

Filed under: Best of, East Lansing, Japanese, Sushi — Jack Lumanog @ 2:39 pm

Omi Sushi
210 M.A.C. Ave., East Lansing, MI 48823
(517) 337-2222
Mon.-Sat.: 11:30 am 9:30 pm (closed 2:30-5:30 pm); Closed Sunday

Omi is a cool, sleek (albeit cramped) place if you don’t mind waiting and have the patience for outstanding sushi.  It’s rare that I have been able to go right to a table.  I usually wait 15-20 minutes for a space to open up.  From there, it could be more waiting depending on the attentiveness of your server.

The sushi is wonderfully fresh (my favorite is the maguro, or tuna) and the selection of rolls for the sushi squeamish is more than complete with lots of delicious cooked options to choose from.  It’s always worth it, but at $1.95 per maguro piece, it adds up in a hurry (I could eat Omi’s maguro all day!).  The tables are a bit squished together so as to accomodate as many diners as possible.  Getting up every so often if one in your party needs to visit the restroom can be tricky so as not to bump the table next to yours.  We typically eat out with our 2 daughters and considering the tight squeeze in the restaurant, I would not consider Omi to be particularly kid friendly (not a criticism – it’s just the way it is!).

Omi also has a nice small selection of beer, wine and sake to go along with the meal.  A great thing to see is that all of the items on the beer, wine and sake menu are decently priced.

There are other items on the menu but I’ve never bothered to order them because the sushi is just outstanding.  I highly recommend this place  —  but be patient and be prepared to wait a bit.  It’s worth it!

Derek’s Take:

Omi is one of my favorites.  The location is great, walkable from many points around campus.  The atmosphere is modern and feels like it might come straight from a hip neighborhood in Tokyo.  I’ve never had to wait for a table, but I usually go on weekdays at around 5-6.  

I wouldn’t rank the sushi as highly as Sansu.  The specialty roles tend to be extremely salty (even without soy) and the fish isn’t quite as fresh.  However, the prices are far better at Omi.

Service is businesslike, but efficient.  There’s nothing better than a jar of warm sake on a cool, gray Michigan day.  My only complaint about the menu is the seeming lack of nigiri items.  Most of the a la carte items are maki or sashimi.  Sometimes the wasabi can be very fresh but at other times extremely old and dry.  It’s a mixed bag, but overall a cozy, casual place with good sushi.

September 2, 2008

Memo’s – The Döner Company

Filed under: Best of, Campus, East Lansing, Mediterranean, Turkish — dkastner @ 8:25 pm

Memo’s – The Döner Company
http://memosdoner.com
Grand River Avenue, next to Barnes & Noble

Update: Memo’s is now closed!  Such a shame!

The Döner is legendary in central Europe.  It has become the new fast food hit in Germany, rivaling the mighty wurst (sausage).  After World War II, Germany’s population, especially its male contingent, was greatly reduced.  The West German government started a Gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the 60’s and 70’s to help reduce the labor shortage resulting from a booming post-war economy (Wirtschaftswunder).  As a result, many Turkish immigrants came looking for work and a sizable Turkish population remains in Germany’s urban centers.  The döner kabob originated in Turkey (similar to plain shawarma), but was adapted to German tastes by putting the kabob meat and salad on fluffy pita bread.

I was extremely excited when I saw the newly placed sign over Memo’s storefront this summer, but it seemed like I waited forever for this place to open.  I looked forward to something a bit unique to appear in Lansing. To be honest, my only döner experience was a chicken döner in a backwater train station in Austria.  It wasn’t anything exciting, but I still wanted to experience the legendary döner.  Now, I could experience the legend right here in East Lansing!

Memo’s is definitely a unique restaurant.  The walls are brightly colored in red, green and yellow.  Small, simple furniture provide plenty of seating.  Food is ordered at a main counter and döners are prepared sub shop-style.

The döner itself is served on a fluffy pita or dürüm (like a flour tortilla).  Beef or chicken can be piled along with yogurt sauce, cucumber, tomato, onions, lettuce, cabbage, and chilies.  The beef I had in my dürüm had a depth of flavor that was far more interesting than the gyro meat you get at typical Mediterranean joints.

In addition to the kebabs are Turkish style pizzas and desserts like baklava.  The baklava I had seemed drenched in a lot more honey than what I’ve had before.  A word of warning to non-Turkish taste-buds: the yogurt drink is not a carbonated, milky-tasting drink (as I was used to), but is very salty.

Overall, Memo’s is unique enough and has good quality ingredients that will keep me coming back.  The owner plans to start a chain, so it’ll be interesting to see if this takes off.

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