†Walking out of a bacon-and-egg-type diner, you don’t often find yourself thinking, “That was one fantastic Lebanese salad.” You might just be savoring that exact thought after eating at The Brunch House on Pennsylvania Avenue one block south of I-496.
Owner Leo Farhat opened his breakfast and lunch joint in late December, re-energizing a building that formerly housed the short-lived Home Town Diner and, before that, longtime breakfast hotspot Sparty’s Coney Island. One of Farhat’s first tweaks to the prior owner’s set-up was a move to an earlier opening at 6 a.m. on weekdays.
“We’re trying to catch business people, the Board of Water and Light people [the BWL’s Construction Complex is across the street], and people heading to work downtown looking for a place to eat and have an early meeting,” Farhat says.
Over 30 years ago, Farhat managed the fine dining Robert’s Restaurant in East Lansing. Since then, he has moved to Florida and back, worked in food distribution and done some lobbying at the state level, but has never strayed too far from the food industry. When the Pennsylvania and Hazel Street location became available, he jumped in head first.
Making the business his own took some time. Although Farhat opened his Brunch House doors as soon as possible, with help from landlord (and former Sparty’s Coney Island owner) Sparty Baryames, some of the utilities remained under the prior restaurant owner’s control. Farhat has changed the phone number, established new hours, slowly added menu items and, just last week, tweaked prices to make the transition complete.
Farhat is a hands-on restaurateur always around to chat and make sure the experience is friendly and delicious. Dressed in slacks and a polo shirt, Farhat’s demeanor brings to mind the most redeeming traits of a quintessential American small businessman: colloquial, gently earnest and affable.
Farhat has peppered his traditional breakfast house menu with dishes rooted in his Lebanese heritage. That Lebanese salad ($6.25) is large and quite delicious. Shredded lettuce, chunks of tomato and cucumber, and bits of red onion form a base. A lemon juice vinaigrette is drizzled on the bed of vegetables followed by a mix of spices, a few pinches of mint and some ground pepper. It’s a zesty salad brimming with flavors that complement each other well (the mint and lemon are gorgeous together), and, potentially served alongside a plate of sausage and pancakes, it’s an unexpected delight.
Typical fare will be found on the lunch menu: burgers, Coney dogs, subs, sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads.
But on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, The Brunch House goes Middle Eastern all over your plate. Those are the “Lebanese special” days offering, respectively, baked or raw kibbee dishes, or both together, ($8.99), served with lemneh, a Lebanese salad, humus and pita bread; homemade cabbage rolls ($7.25) with pita and hummus; and stuffed green peppers with pita bread and a Lebanese salad ($6.95).
Omelets, sausage, bacon, French toast, pancakes and other familiar items fill out the breakfast menu, but a Lebanese twist even makes it onto early morning tables. Leo’s house special ($6.95) begins with seasoned beef, onions and pine nuts saut'ed in a frying pan. A couple of eggs are cracked into the mixture and their whites and yolks combine together as they cook. The result is plated with hash browns and toast.
If you’re looking for something more traditional, the skillet meals are hearty. A base of hash browns, eggs and cheddar cheese is mixed with sausage gravy and ham, bacon or sausage ($6.99), all three meats ($7.25) or served vegetarian without gravy ($6.25).
Whatever you’re served, the atmosphere is relaxed and Farhat works to make sure everyone who eats is satisfied. Much of the staff stayed on from the previous owner, and whether it’s a crowd of familiar or fresh faces looking for a filling breakfast, good, consistent service is an important detail.
“What’s nice about this place is that we get lots of regulars from the neighborhood folks, construction workers and professionals,” Farhat says. “It’s really a mixed demographic.”
The benefits of pleasing regular diners are evident in the number of new faces Farhat sees, too. “Business is getting better and better every week,” he says, “primarily through word-of-mouth."
The Brunch House
S. Pennsylvania Ave., Lanisng Hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday- Friday, and
8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (517) 484-1567 TO, SF, WiFi, $