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Kyle Holsinger-Johnson is the founder of FARE: eat differently, a new series of brunch pop-ups coming to REO Town this month and next. Holsinger-Johnson has experimented with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menus to take the stigma out of these concepts.
There’s a moment in the recent DC superhero team-up “Justice League” when the Flash, played by Ezra Miller, goes off about why he hates brunch. Why would people stand in line for an hour, he rants, for what is basically breakfast? For a being with super-speed powers, purposely waiting for something—food, a rollercoaster, you name it—is tantamount to wasting time.
But, as those of us without superpowers know, some things are worth waiting for. And for local chef Kyle Holsinger-Johnson, an upcoming set of four pop-up brunches that she’ll be hosting this month and next, represent a labor of love five years in the making.
“I’d been wanting to do pop-ups for a long time, and the stars aligned for this to work out here and now,” Holsinger- Johnson said. “It gets me back in the kitchen again, and it allows me to bring people together for a shared experience. I think there’s so much miscommunication in the world today, and people long for connection. Brunch is about slowing down and making that connection.”
Holsinger-Johnson, a Delaware native, attended the International Culinary Institute in New York after high school. She had been a star athlete growing up, and was attracted to the physically active, teamwork-based environment that working in kitchens provided.
“I knew I never wanted a desk job,” Holsinger-Johnson said. “I need to move.”
When Holsinger-Johnson and her wife, Lydia, moved to Lansing five years ago, she took a job as a youth soccer coach. She watched as the mid-Michigan eclectic restaurant scene bloom around her, longing to be a part of it. As a veteran of the fast-paced East Coast dining world, she was intimately familiar with such trends as farm-to-table and gluten-free cuisine, and watching gradually Lansing catch on was like seeing the world in slow-mo. Still, something kept her from throwing her hat in the ring.
That is, until she met Matt Gillett and Travis Stoliker, the owners of Saddleback BBQ. After studying under award-winning Southern barbecue chefs, the duo opened their first restaurant in REO Town in 2015. They followed that up with a larger location in Okemos last fall.
“I was very excited for them, and I introduced myself as soon as I could,” Holsinger-Johnson said. “I’d been wanting to get back to cooking, and I appreciated their approach to food. I told them I had these ideas, and I developed a relationship with them. Matt started to mentor me in 2017, and it led to this.”
Holsinger-Johnson started experimenting with different concepts that could be launched in Saddleback’s off-time—namely, its breakfast hours. Her wife is a vegetarian, so she made sure to include vegetarian options in the mix. The irony of vegetarian cuisine coming out of a barbecue joint isn’t lost on Holsinger-Johnson.
“Yeah, it’s funny that it’s at a barbecue place, but this is a perfect way for me to get back in the food world,” she said. “Initially this was going to be a supper club idea, but when I saw how wide open Sundays are here, I thought I’d start out with brunch. Being part of the queer community in big cities, we brunch, so I thought I’d kind of play off that. There’s not many places that do brunch like we do on East Coast.”
All brunches are three courses, including dessert, and made entirely from scratch from locally sourced ingredients. The first event will be held this Sunday, Jan. 21, and features deviled egg street tacos and eggs Benedict with scratch-made English muffins. That event is sold out, but Holsinger-Johnson said tickets are wide open for the vegetarian brunch next Sunday, Jan. 28, featuring her Turkish Eggs recipe: house-made Greek yogurt, poached eggs, biber butter, scallions and freshly baked bread.
“Cast your worries aside,” Holsinger-Johnson said. “This dish is an adventure of flavor you won’t soon forget.”
The following Sunday, Feb. 4, she’s trying out a vegan “and/or” gluten-free menu, with the “and/or” depending on individual diner preferences. Holsinger-Johnson said at that brunch she can swap out tempeh for brisket if the diner is so inclined, but she encourages them to take a shot with something new.
“When people go out to eat and they get no meat, they feel like they’re missing out,” Holsinger-Johnson explained. “What I want to do with these brunches is show people they’re not missing anything. And with now being a new year, it’s a good time to try new experiences and eat more vegetables. It’s a great way to explore some vegetarian or vegan cuisine.”
Then on Sunday, Feb. 25, Holsinger-Johnson will unveil the “Jolene” brunch, which is themed around Dolly Parton’s plaintive 1973 ballad where she begs an auburn-haired temptress not to steal her man. That menu will consist of brisket sliders, Memphis-style eggs Benedict and hand-made chipotle chocolate ice cream.
“’Jolene’ is one of my all time favorite songs, and I wanted to create a menu that had that same blend of longing and emotion,” Holsinger-Johnson said. “I’d love to explore themed meals if people are interested in sharing that with me. I want to pair food with music or at an art event. I want to create experiences that stimulate all your senses and allow you to interact with the environment around you.”
FARE: eat differently
“Inaugural Brunch”: 11 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Jan. 21 (sold out) “Vegetarian Delight!”: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Jan. 28 “Vegan and/or Gluten Free, Oh My!”: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Feb. 4 “Jolene”: 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 25 $35 Saddleback BBQ 1147 S. Washington Ave., Lansing facebook.com/ experiencefare