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.

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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.

July 9, 2008

The Coffee Barrel

Filed under: Coffee, Okemos — dkastner @ 6:11 pm

The Coffee Barrel
www.thecoffeebarrel.com
2446 Jolly Road, Okemos, MI  48864
517-349-3888
M-F 9am-5pm

After the likes of Starbucks swept through the nation, many people developed a better appreciation for good coffee.  After the great wave of coffee chains a new breed of small coffee companies are springing up, primarily in places like Portland, Seattle, and Chicago that focus on roasting small batches of high quality coffee beans for a complexity and flavor that blow the average coffee chain’s brews out of the water.  

After having experienced Intelligensia in Chicago and trying Stumptown‘s offering in Portland recently, I was excited to finally be able to try The Coffee Barrel when I was able to take a day off (I work too far away to visit TCB during regular business hours).  The manager gave me a mini-tour.

The Coffee Barrel roasts somewhere around 300,000 pounds of coffee at a time and ships it to various restaurants around the country.  The coffee is roasted in an air roaster.  For large quantities of beans, this is the preferred method over iron drum roasters that are heated externally as the air roaster roasts the beans more evenly.  Many emerging boutique roasters, however, prefer to roast using the old iron roasters as they provide more direct control of the roasting.  Much more attention is required in this process, but the results are phenomenal.

With that bit of background in mind, the full city Columbian roast I tried, while not the best, stands toward the top of my list.  The beans had the advantage of being fresh, which makes a big difference.  However, the flavor lacked some complexity and left a slightly bitter aftertaste.

The store offers five different roasts – from full city to viennese to french.  Several different varieties spanning the globe are also offered – from Columbia to Guatemala to Ethiopia and Sumatra.  In addition are many flavored coffees.  But then what’s the point of all that?  One notable flavor featured coffee beans coated in specs of white chocolate.  

If you want fresh coffee and don’t want to mail order it or roast your own, this is the place!  They will also grind your coffee for you if you lack your own burr grinder.

June 19, 2008

Dusty’s

Filed under: American, Best of, Fine Dining, Okemos — dkastner @ 10:03 pm

Dusty’s Wine Bar/Tap Room/Cellar
http://www.dustyscellar.com
1839 Grand River Avenue, Okemos, MI 48864
Phone: 517-349-5150
Cellar hours: M-Sat 7am-9pm, Sun 7am-6pm
Wine Bar/Tap Room hours: M-Th 11am-12am, F-Sat 11am-1am, Sun 12pm-10pm 

First, I’d like to clear up some potential confusion.  Dusty’s website lists three entities under the Dusty’s name, but doesn’t do much to explain what they are.  If you’ve heard of Dusty’s and just want to eat at their popular restaurant, Dusty’s Wine Bar is your destination.  If you want a more casual, no reservations required meal, Dusty’s Tap Room is the place.  If you’re looking for unique gifts or overpriced items you can find at the supermarket, Dusty’s Cellar will be your next port of call.  If you’re still confused, just follow the directions for Dusty’s WIne Bar and you’ll find that all three places are right next door to each other.

Everyone you talk to around Lansing will say that Dusty’s is the, if not one of the, top restaurants in town.  I agree 75%.  

Dusty’s is located in Okemos, one of the upper-crust areas surrounding Lansing (because who would ever want to live IN the city?).  I was surprised when I pulled up to Dusty’s and found that it was located in a strip mall.  You don’t normally associate fine dining with brown strip malls built in the 80s, but there it was.  Before you walk into Dusty’s Wine Bar, you are greeted by a gift shop.  The wine bar itself is a moderately classy strip mall restaurant decorated with grape vines and a mural depicting a vineyard.  Just don’t look at the exposed rafters in the ceiling.  The tables are neatly presented and service is very attentive.  Some of the decor has a Pier One/World Market vibe.  On the Tuesday night I visited, it was moderately busy with about half the tables occupied by people aged 40+.

Dusty’s Wine Bar

The food presentation is well done.  The plates for some of the non-steak dishes intrigued me – they reminded me of pseudo-futuristic TV sets from the 60s.  

It was obvious that all of the ingredients were fresh and prepared on the spot.  I had a “Key lime caesar salad” that wasn’t too heavy on the lime flavor, but was very fresh and smothered in tasty parmesan and probably some of the best croutons I’ve had.  I also had a mango-marinated cut of steak that was very tender and had a great, sweet taste.  The grits that came with it were perfect.  Creamy and buttery.  

The wine list was pretty extensive and offered a well rounded variety.  The gift shop also had a selection of wines that didn’t seem to give into the catchy labels but still offered a lot of small-time brands.

The service was what you’d expect for the price, but not over the top.  

Overall, Dusty’s seems to be a good place for fans of haute cuisine who are willing to sacrifice a bit of ambience.

Bonus points: Dusty’s Wine Cellar is the only restaurant in town that accepts reservations through OpenTable.  This service is used quite a bit in restaurants in Chicago and DC (and other major cities, of course) and it’s extremely convenient.  They even have a rewards program so you can rack up points for each reservation.  

Dusty’s Tap Room

When I ate here a year ago, my mind was more on the job interview that I was engaged in, rather than the food.  I had a Guinness and a blue cheese burger.  It was quite juicy and the ingredients were of high quality.  

May 12, 2008

Burrito Chain Blowout

Filed under: Best of, Burrito, East Lansing, Lansing, Mexican, Okemos — dkastner @ 8:28 pm

Once Chipotle stormed onto the American dining scene, many “me too” burrito joints joined into the fray.  Here we will determine, once and for all, who makes the supreme burrito!

Let’s have a look at the contestants:

Chipotle Mexican Grill
East Lansing and Lansing Mall
www.chipotle.com
 

No, it’s not pronounced, “chuh-poll-tay” but it is the joint that sets the standard.   Without any real advertising this Denver-based company threw up restaurants in every major city, focusing on trendy “town centers,” yuppie neighborhoods, and upscale malls.  The menu is simple and the ingredients are above-average.  Diners are presented with an array of Tobasco sauces (one of which is chipotle flavored (flavored like the smoked pepper, not the restaurant)) with which to smother their food.  The guacamole is above average and the chips suit it well.  The meats are spicy and, if eaten freshly off the griddle, are great.  I think what puts it over the top is the rice with a bit of cilantro mixed in.  They also serve beer!

The high quality food and simple, yet clean atmosphere raises the bar for fast Mexican food.  Be sure to find a Chipotle staffed with Central/South Americans, if you can, as they tend to spice up the meat a little more.

But, are you willing to sell your soul to a national chain brought to you by McDonald’s investment?

Qdoba Mexican Grill
Various locations
www.qdoba.com 

If Chipotle is the Mercedes W463 of burritos, then Qdoba is the Ford Festiva.  Pretty basic, and gets you where you want to go (face stuffed full of meat and spices).  No gimmicks, just meat, veggies and maybe some movie theater-quality nacho cheese thrown in.  The MSU Union location was recently closed, presumably due to its substandard fare.

Panchero’s Mexican… You Guessed It, Grill
Various locations
www.pancheros.com 

I can just imagine the marketing meeting.  “How can we compete against Chipotle?  I know!  Let’s make the tortillas right in front of the diner!  That’s so much more fresh! And fun!”  Well, sadly, the wait for a tortilla to finish frying is quite a negative experience.  Especially when the other ingredients lack in quality.  The Guacamole, while fresh, is uninspiring and the chips don’t do much to help it out.  The ingredients are slightly higher quality than Qdoba, but don’t match Chipotle.

BTB Burrito (formerly, Big Ten Burrito)
403 E. Grand River Ave, East Lansing, MI
www.bigtenburrito.com 

A burrito joint started in Ann Arbor, located here in East Lansing.  Unique, modern atmosphere with basic seating at long picnic tables.  Skinny burritos.  Quite cheap.  A decent meal for the price.  There are also plenty of other offerings here, but I haven’t ventured beyond the burrito.

New York Burrito
216 S Washington Sq, Lansing, MI 
www.newyorkburrito.com 

New York City?  That really chaps my hide!  There is a New York Burrito combined in an unholy marriage with a sub shop in downtown Lansing.  Just finding the correct line to stand in is initially confusing.  The burritos here are comparable to Qdoba.  Don’t waste your time.  Oh wait, that’s easy because, like every other downtown business, it closes at 6pm, so you’ll never have a chance to visit!  Fun fact: New York Burrito is headquartered in Utah.

And the Winner Is…

As a Mac fan, I have to say that Chipotle is the Apple Computers of burritos.  They’ve set an innovative standard and have managed to keep the quality up.  In a strong second I would put Big Ten Burrito and Panchero’s in a distant third.

Grand Traverse Pie Company

Filed under: American, Bakery, Desserts, East Lansing, Okemos, Uncategorized — dkastner @ 7:32 pm

Grand Traverse Pie Company – Okemos
http://www.gtpie.com
3536 Meridian Crossings, Okemos, MI 48864
Phone:
517-381-7437

Hours: M-Fri 6:30am-8:30pm, Sat 8:00-8:30, Sun 10:00-6:00

Grand Traverse Pie Company – East Lansing
1403 E Grand River Ave, East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone:
517-203-3304

Hours: M-Sat 6:30am-10:00pm, Sun 7:00-7:00

One thing you learn when you move to Michigan is that you must pronounce some town names incorrectly in order to blend in.  For instance:

Charlotte is “shar-lot” not “shar-lut” (don’t confuse it with that city in North Carolina!)
Delhi is “dell-high” not “deli” (they have to differentiate themselves, otherwise people might accidently fly half way around the world to India)
Grand Traverse is “grand trav-erse” not “grand truh-verse” (they must have meant to name it “Grand Travis”)
Traverse City is pronounced accordingly

One of the popular vacation spots in Michigan is Traverse City, the epicenter of Cherry production in the state.  Every year there is a cherry festival that draws a multitude of tourists.  The Grand Traverse bay area also features plenty of beaches and water sports.

A bakery cafe local to Traverse City decided to take their store and make it into a chain.  There are two GTPCs around Lansing and several others scattered around the state.  The stores are set up similar to Panera, et al.  The menu offers an array of sandwiches and salads that are adequate.  However, the store shines in its offering of baked goods, all of which are made fresh each morning.  The fruit pies are pretty good, but they won’t match your grandma’s (or my wife’s) homemade pies.  They just seem a bit too sugary and soft.  My favorite dessert there is the peanut butter cup.  A cup-shaped peanut butter cookie, the inside filled with peanut butter and chocolate frosting.  The fruit-filled turnovers are also delicious.

There’s also free wireless internet and the usual selection of coffee.  

September 4, 2007

Woody’s Oasis

Filed under: Arab, Campus, East Lansing, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Okemos — dkastner @ 9:51 pm

Woody’s Oasis Mediterranean Deli
woodysoasis.com
970 Trowbridge Rd, East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone: 517-351-2280

Mon – Fri: 10am – 10pm, Sat: 10am – 9pm, Sun: 11am – 8pm

I’ve only eaten at the Grand River Ave location and have had carryout from the Okemos location. From what I’ve tasted, it is the second best Mediterranean food I’ve had in Lansing. The hummus is very good as is the lentil soup. The pita sandwiches are innovative – including cauliflower, eggplant, and even smeed. Some of the dishes are a bit odd, such as the lentils (which consists of a gigantic pile of lentils on a bed of rice) or the kibbee (a sort of ground beef pie).

Woody’s tends toward the “home cooked” style of food and offers an very casual “bar” atmosphere. While the service has been consistently slow for me, it’s a worthwhile establishment. It’s definitely not authentic (definitely has an American flare) and you won’t see many Arabs eating here, but it has enough inventiveness to make it stand out.

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