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Home Food  A well-polished Fork
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Wednesday, November 9,2011

A well-polished Fork

Trailer Park’d crew settles into a permanent home, but the food and service remain sensational

by Joe Torok
The trailer is parked for the winter, but fans of the
area’s finest transient food cart have a new dining destination on the
west edge of Lansing: Fork in the Road Local Artisan Diner.  

Last summer I wrote a glowing profile of Trailer Park’d,
the aforementioned food cart: The food was high quality, cooked well
and prepared with both passion and intelligence.  


The ownership’s new brick and mortar
restaurant, at the point where Saginaw Street and Oakland Avenue
converge, continues the excellence. See for yourself.  Take
a date, your parents, someone from out of town, a stranger — it doesn’t
matter. Just go. And when you do, you’ll probably understand the
gushing.  


Fork in the Road was three days old on our visit last
weekend and, while many restaurants find the initial stages of a
venture rocky at best, the place felt like it had been running smoothly
for months. We were told that there had been a few hiccups in the first
couple days, but it didn’t show.  


The décor, like the atmosphere in general, is intimate,
inviting, friendly and chill. Earth tones abound — greens, browns and
blues — punctuated by some vibrant colors from what must be homemade
fabric window coverings. There’s an interesting mix of Midwestern
sensibility and a just a touch of cosmopolitan culture in both the
design and menu.  


The kitchen is visible through an order window, but the
typical clashing and clanging doesn’t seem to bleed out like it does in
other eateries — no shouting cooks, no harried waitresses.  


Servers take time to converse and explain the ethos of
Fork in the Road, its focus on organic and local food sourcing. The
woman who took our order, in fact, works for a local farm that supplied
the freshly picked arugula on the grilled cheese we ordered.  


So let’s start there, with the grilled
cheese ($8). Forget all you know about white bread and square-shaped
cheese product. At Fork in the Road, they begin with cheddar and
chèvre. The cheddar, with its sharp, distinct bite, takes the lead, and
the chèvre’s creaminess melts in, its own subtle zing reinforcing the
brash cheddar.  


Thick-cut bacon was a bit much for my companion
(blasphemy in some circles) but it added a rustic texture and flavor
that only enhanced the show for me. Mildly bitter arugula kept pushing
in the same direction as the rest of the ingredients and added a touch
of green freshness. A pesto sauce was hidden underneath it all, adding
a note of flavor between two thick slices of artisanal-style bread,
buttered and grilled just right.


The Ballin’ Ass tacos ($4, or two for $7.50) are hard to
pass up on name alone. I was interested in my brutally honest
Latin-American companion’s take on a dish I’d tasted during my previous
visit to the trailer.  She was impressed — so was I, again.  


The ground chorizo has just a hint of heat to it, not
enough to overpower, but enough to savor the queso fresco and lime
wedges lined atop the meat. The seasoning is well thought out, too —
not saturated with cumin (the traditional default), but with a balanced
mix of chiles and spices. Mild mole verde imparts a touch of sweetness,
adding another layer to a dish that nicely mixes savory, spicy and
acidic elements.


While corn tortillas are my usual preference, these tacos
were brought together beautifully with a double wrap of gently fried
flour tortillas that could have passed for flatbread. The outsides of
the tortillas were crisped and golden brown, but cooked so quickly they
retained a tender chewiness. It’s that kind of attention to detail, to
each ingredient, to each step in the process, to each part of a dish,
that defines Fork in the Road as a restaurant. 


Even a side of tots ($5) is put together in style. Little
nuggets of potato are crispy outside, soft inside and sprinkled with
Asiago cheese and rosemary. The creamy dip they come with though, is
what really hits the spot — it’s light, fluffy as if whipped, creamy
with a hint of cheese, a sauce that could (should, my companion
insisted) be paired with fettuccine for a delicate, delicious pasta
dish. And that was just a dip.


For dessert, the fried pie sounded like something I’d
find at a county fair. It’s exactly what it says it is: a deep-fried
pocket of dough encasing crisp, tart chunks of apple. Two small scoops
of caramel-flavored gelato accompanied the pie, creamy and dense with
chunks of chocolate and a fun extra dimension from sea salt.


Fork in the Road is the kind of place I’d take someone
from out of town to eat, to show them the best of what we have. It’s a
gift to this area’s dining scene, an early holiday present that will
hopefully keep on giving for many years to come. I plan on celebrating
often.


Fork in the Road


Local Artisan Diner


2010 W. Saginaw St., Lansing


11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday


(517) 580-3556


forkintheroaddiner.com


take-out; online menu available’ most entrees between $8-$13 


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