Andy Taylor meets Marty McFly
by Mark Nixon
It’s said that a small town lacking a social hub is in danger of becoming a ghost town. Bars often serve as this social glue, sometimes schools or churches.
In Dimondale, the nexus of local news and views — not to mention first-rate baked goods — is Mike’s Village Restaurant. To call this diner “retro” is misleading because it implies a marketing concept. Mike’s is more of an unintended time machine.
Step through the heavy, thumb-latched door and you’re whisked away to a place where “The Andy Griffith Show” amiably collides with “Back to the Future.” It’s worn-looking, in a comfortable old shoes sort of way. Five pedestal stools are bolted to the floor in front of a small counter. An old-but-operational milkshake machine hunkers in the corner. Men in flannel shirts and baseball caps spin stories over coffee and newspapers. By far, the newest thing is a small flatscreen TV hovering over the counter and mercifully kept on mute.
The pace, the service and the food are as laid back as you’ll find in the Lansing area.
They’ve had plenty of practice. Owner Mike Chappell opened his little restaurant in 1968 — 46 years is an eternity in the restaurant business.
If you’ve come for cutting-edge cuisine, you’ve come to the wrong place. Here is a home for home-style cooking, well entrenched before places like Cracker Barrel usurped the term. The lack of pretense is disarming, underscored by Mike’s menu. Two words on the menu describe the bacon: “Good flavor.” Or the ham: “Quite lean.”
Mike’s is a quirky place in several ways. Most restaurants offer breakfasts with eggs, meat and toast at one price. Here, the meat is a la carte (i.e. bacon for $2.10). However, two eggs ($3.75) come with toast and beverage. None of the meals come with hash browns or American fries, both $1.95 a la carte.
Mike’s reputation rests solidly on baked goods, or in the case of its doughnuts, “fry goods.” The air in this place is heavy with fry oil, which Mike uses to turn out madeto-order doughnuts. You get both the doughnut “wheel” plus the “hole” for $1.40. These are the doughnuts I remember from childhood, warm and crusty outside with a hint of nutmeg, mace or both inside.
Quirky thing No. 2 about Mike’s: This is basically a bakery disguised as a diner. Cinnamon rolls, various loaves of bread and pies are turned out daily in a kitchen that looks about the size of a walk-in closet. Half a dozen pie offerings are listed on a sign. I tried a slice of the red raspberry pie ($2.50) and was duly impressed. The toasted, fresh rye bread with caraway seeds was my personal favorite.
It’s not uncommon for Dimondalians (if that’s what you call them) to advance-order pies, doughnuts and cinnamon rolls to go. And Mike’s is still tinkering with the lineup. On my second visit, the server offered free samples of fresh-baked croissants. They were yeastier and heavier than croissants you’d get at, say, Panera’s. But still delicious.
Quirky thing No. 3: The wonderful chaos of the setting. There is a gift shop corner offering postcards, carved wooden baskets, handmade socks and, inexplicably, gallon jugs of homemade liquid laundry detergent. The walls are a pastiche of family photos and unintentionally kitschy paintings. Overhead hang scores of coffee mugs; a fraction of the 700 or so mugs the server told us were available, if only they could find the room and someone to hang them.
Speaking of mugs: The ones that serve coffee are green with a handlebar mustache silhouette, a silent tribute to Chappell and his well known ‘stache.
Our last visit was for dinner. Weekday specials are a bargain: A full-portion meal that includes a salad bar or soup bar is just $7.65. We opted for platters of openfaced hot meatloaf sandwich ($5.80) and ocean perch ($7.85), with an add-on trip to the soup bar ($3.40). The meals were OK. It’s hard to complain about all that food costing just over $20.
Mike’s clearly caters to older customers, yet on separate visits I saw a young Eaton County Sheriff’s deputy, 30-something couples and, yeah, geezers like me. The waitstaff is welcoming to all. Our server actually took time during her busy breakfast shift to tell us how she had recently locked herself out of her house, and went dumpster diving for an electric blanket she had thrown out the day before She plugged in, warmed up and waited for her husband to get home.
That story alone was worth the price of breakfast.
by Gabrielle Johnson
Mike’s Village Restaurant is the quintessential small-town eatery where regulars feel very much at home. On one visit we even saw a guest pour his own cup of coffee before putting on a fresh pot to brew. Of course, once he sat down to join his wife, the waitress swung by and knew their order before they even told her. It’s that kind of place.
The place is stocked with kitsch; coffee mugs (there must be 300 of them) hang from a shelf that encircles the dining room. Mike Chappell, the owner and Dimondale politician, is easily discernible by his moustache. The ‘stache is a theme at the restaurant, and I was transfixed by it as Chappell showed us to our table and gave us coffee and water. He then turned us over to the capable hands of the waitresses, both of whom seemed to oversee the entire dining area.
On our first visit, the boyfriend ordered a Western omelet ($6.15), made with two eggs and ham, green peppers, onions and cheese. He was presented with a choice of many different toast options, all of which are homemade. He started with a grilled cinnamon roll, which came out first, as a sort of decadent breakfast appetizer. It was filled with nuts and raisins, but had become a tad dried out. Maybe an ungrilled cinnamon roll would prove better.
He ordered his omelet “fluffy style,” which the waitress described as eggs whipped with milk. Sounds great, right? The eggs had become rubbery and they didn’t taste any better than they looked, which resulted in an underwhelming omelet with an off-putting texture.
I ordered the house-made corned beef hash ($3.50) with a biscuit and a fried egg. The corned beef was shredded and mixed with potatoes, and was flavorful enough to keep me away from the saltshaker. The star of the plate, however, was the biscuit. Light and buttery — the stuff my food dreams are made of. The portion of hash and biscuit were large enough that I took half of it home.
Based on a multitude of recommendations, we each ordered one of the “hot homemade doughnuts cooked on order,” which is the best $1.40 I’ve ever spent. Mine was cinnamon sugar and his was chocolate frosted. If you’re a doughnut lover (and let’s be honest, if we don’t love doughnuts, the terrorists win), get thee to Mike’s. The doughnuts were indeed hot and cooked specifically for us, and in a completely charming twist they are presented with their respective holes also on the plate. The chocolate frosted doughnut — warm, aromatic, dripping with chocolate — was the highlight of our meal.
On our next visit I was intrigued by and ordered the “two between two” ($4): two eggs between two hot cakes, one large and one small. I asked for my eggs over easy. The pancakes were good, standard fare, but didn’t do much to blow my skirt up.
The boyfriend had the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich on a bun ($4.25.) The house-made bun — pillowy, buttery, yeasty — was to die for. We were able to restrict ourselves from ordering doughnuts on that visit, which in hindsight was an unparalleled exercise in self-control (and probably a mistake).
On trip three I ordered the sausage gravy on a big biscuit ($3.50). The biscuit was everything it had been on the previous visit and the gravy was good. My doughnut this time had sweet honey glaze drizzled over the top and dripping down the sides, creating a little pool into which I could dunk my hole. With piping hot coffee to sip, I had reached foodtopia.
My companion had three slices of French toast; he opted for the cinnamon bread, which was swirled with the spice. You might think that three slices of cinnamon bread were enough to satiate his sweet tooth, but you underestimate my man. His chocolate doughnut was just as heavenly as the first time and he harassed me to buy him a loaf of monkey bread as we paid the bill (I didn’t. I had to draw the line somewhere.)
Mike’s Village Restaurant is full of small-town charm and can’t be beat with regard to bang for your buck. The baked goods are where Mike’s shines, and the doughnuts live up to the hype.