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Wednesday, November 11,2009

Down on the bayou

Restaurant brings New Orleans’ eclectic tastes to south Lansing

by Joe Torok
At Orleans Fresh Fish and Bar-B-Que in south Lansing, the melting pot that is America is not a metaphor.

Inside the small restaurant, which opened in July, owner and manager Wally Elchaer offers various cuisines from an eclectic menu, fresh fish and seafood ready to be fried on site, prepared foods and desserts from a cooler ready to eat, and even a few groceries — sundries that might complete a recipe or come in handy on the way to a picnic.


Elchaer credits his success in Lansing and previous restaurant ventures to homemade food. “Nothing comes out of cans ready to be served,” he said. “Everything is homemade — everything. It’s my recipe."


Elchaer said he makes all of the bread, pizza crust, fish and chicken breading, desserts, slaws, sauces — everything — in his prep kitchen.


The menu covers a lot of culinary bases: chicken, fish and seafood, pizza, grinders, barbeque, salads, sandwiches, calzones and pasta. In previous stops around the country, Elchaer has owned individual restaurants that focused on one or two of the foods he offers at Orleans. Starting in Nashville, Tenn., then spreading to a few other cities in the South, Elchaer created a chain of pizza shops that now boasts more than 10 locations. He also has owned a couple of Subway franchises, a barbeque restaurant named the Pig Pit and a seafood market that, like Orleans, offers to fry what you buy.


“New Orleaens is a multicultural town,” Elchaer said. “There is different food — Cajun food, the French food, Southern food, soul food. So we said that’s the name we need to go with.”


The chicken wings (10 for $5.99) are coated with a peppery house breading, not too spicy and lip smacking salty. The shrimp ($9.99 for a dinner) are coated in a homemade breading as well, less nuanced but simple, crispy and delicious. Smokey ribs ($8.99 half slab) begin to fall off the bone before they even reach your mouth, and the barbeque, which Elchaer said won awards in Nashville, are rich with tang and spicy flavor.


“Everything in the store we created,” Elchaer said. “We created the concept, we created our own sauce, we created our way of cooking it and we created our way of making it. It’s not a traditional way of doing things. We have our own unique way of doing things.”


The sweet banana pudding is an Orleans specialty. Alternating layers of vanilla wafers and custard-like bananaflavored cream with slices of banana, the soft texture of pudding and candied fruit is a sweet finish to many of Orleans’ crispy, fried meals.


Opening a new restaurant in Lansing didn’t come without serious deliberation. But Elchaer is extremely confident in his venture, which also offers catering.


“Everybody was telling me how crazy I am to come to Lansing and start a new establishment. ‘You started a new name; nobody knows you; yadda, yadda, yadda; how are you going to succeed?’” Elchaer said. “I said, ‘You know what? I am 200 percent confident that when you are doing something from the bottom of your heart, something that you like to do, people are going to love it. I’ve been doing this for 19 years, and I am sure I can go anywhere and a lot of people are going to like it.”


Elchaer has secured property near Lansing’s Frandor Shopping Center and a new location should be open in a few months. One more Lansing-area location is also in the planning stages


A third generation restaurateur whose parents hail from Greece and Lebanon, Elchaer embraces the American dream with a bear hug. “If I’m going to say it’s a bad economy, and I’m not going to do something, if you say it’s a bad economy and you’re not going to do something, who’s going to do something?” he asked. “Who’s going to turn the economy? It’s me and you, my friend, not the big corporates, the owner-operators.”


And to do that in Lansing, Elchaer spends every day in his store. From 11 a.m. to close, he keeps watch and makes sure his customers are satisfied, asking if they are first timers, how the food tastes and what they like about his business. “It’s like a newborn; you can’t leave it and expect it to be OK,” he said. “This is my baby.”


Orleans. 3530 S. Waverly Road.


11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday & Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. (517) 887-8787.

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