First things first (completely unrelated to food but absolutely related to the fabric of our community): J.W. Sexton High School is the best. What other high school in Greater Lansing has produced two illustrious City Pulse restaurant reviewers? I am an ever-proud and loyal Sexton graduate.
But on to the food. Although I love baking, I also love purchasing bakery treats for my family and co-workers, and every time I go to court in Eaton County, I detour to Flour Child Bakery. Its selection is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Flavors and types of goodies are constantly rotating, and I love the holiday menus they post for pre-orders on their Facebook page. The chocolate chunk cookies are a perfect gateway if you haven’t yet experienced Flour Child.
Last week, an out-of-town relative asked me for an Italian restaurant recommendation. I directed him, as Top of the Town results would suggest, to Cugino’s and alternatively to Bravo! Bravo! is a chain and isn’t ever going to win an award for innovation, but I have never had a bad meal there. However, Cugino’s is the quintessential, small-town Italian restaurant — huge portions, vast quantities of melted cheese and saucy bowls of noodles. I lament the loss of Tannin, a more gastronomically inclined restaurant, and hold out hope that it will reopen someday.
The award for best pancakes is appropriately given to The People’s Kitchen. Having never loved pancakes before, or really given them a second glance, I think about PK’s pancakes constantly. Mr. She Ate and I have long been under the impression that PK has quietly become the best restaurant in town. It seems to have developed consistency and one of the most unique but approachable menus I’ve seen.
I love a hearty salad and frequently find myself wracking my brain to come up with a restaurant salad that has dark leafy greens, good protein, fresh ingredients and good dressing. Mr. She Ate and I both love the steak cobb salad from Jimmy’s Pub, and this dish absolutely deserves to place in the TOTT competition. Another strong contender is the green goddess chicken cobb from Reno’s East, and if you had told me in recent history that I would have recommended food from Reno’s East, I would have guffawed.
Certain categories left me with questions. I believe the best ranch dressing in town, by far, comes from Kewpee Sandwich Shoppe. Paired with a club sandwich and sweet potato fries, it is my favorite indulgent lunch anywhere downtown.
While I agree that the pizza from Klavon’s is incredible, Art’s Pub ranks high on my list as well. I prefer my Art’s pizza to be thin crust, and I love the So Fresh So Clean variety with regular dairy cheese, not vegan cheese.
Speaking of vegan and vegetarian options, Altu’s is also at the top of my list. Mr. She Ate and I have visited many other Ethiopian restaurants on our travels, and Altu’s consistently outperforms. I am also a huge fan of Picnic A Food Truck as a vegetarian choice; its vegan cheese platters are to die for.
Goodfellas has been a welcome addition to our mediocre bagel scene, and I’m surprised it hasn’t had a better showing in TOTT. The bagel sandwiches are fresh, tasty and hearty, and I have enjoyed all of the varieties I have tried.
My favorite Mexican chain is Acapulco — especially the Frandor location. If you can make your way through the insane traffic pattern, you deserve a taco.
With so much attention given to the elections, this month’s focus on our cultural electorate, Top of the Town, required me to think deeply about the issues and flavors before endorsing any of the public’s decisions. After much delicious deliberation, I humbly offer my reflections on the ballot:
TOTT’s brunch category is spot-on with The People’s Kitchen winning over runners-up Soup Spoon Café and Good Truckin’ Diner. With apologies to Beggar’s, a favorite for years, this TOTT group has captured the culinary constituency by pushing boundaries on their menus and making many ingredients in-house. The People’s Kitchen’s RGF Pancakes ($13) live up to their name (check the menu to fill in the acronym) with an over-the-top butter syrup and charred lemon. PK’s house-smoked bacon or sausage ($5 each) are both amazing, but don’t sleep on the chicken and biscuit with jalapeño jelly and honey butter ($15). Soup Spoon is obviously known for chowders and bisques, but its brunch menu is equally appealing. The Smoked Salmon Bennie ($10.99) and the Chesapeake Bennie ($10.99) champion quality seafood on a breakfast platform — the former with house-smoked salmon and chipotle drizzle, and the latter with a Maryland crab cake, avocado salsa and ancho hollandaise. Couple either with the house-made rosemary sausage ($3.99) or asiago biscuit and gravy ($4.99) and brunchtime quickly becomes naptime. Good Truckin’ Diner’s menu makes a strong case for your vote with the Music City Hangover ($10): Nashville-style chicken and eggs on a biscuit, smothered in sausage gravy. GTD’s Garden Slayer ($10), a healthy-ish omelet packed with veggies, roasted red pepper aioli and jalapeño cream cheese, is also a strong candidate in the field.
Every year, TOTT has some perennial favorites that score victories, but sometimes, we get a candidate that takes home the top prize despite what the pollsters think. Such is the case with Cask & Co. Kitchen & Bar’s taking home first prize for its pho ($15). This dish of rich and umami broth comes to the table piping hot with a variety of running mates — cilantro, bean sprouts, rice noodles and basil — and is served with a choice of chicken, beef brisket or shrimp. The overall menu is a bipartisan affair where sushi, edamame and pad Thai can be found alongside many new American favorites. Some frustrated voters may foster a fondness for the pho at Asia’s Finest ($10.75), Nola Bistro ($11.99) or even Food Network’s favorite, Capital City BBQ ($20), but the voters have spoken.
Stop the steal
Speaking of Asian cuisine and TOTT, the fact that Thai Village isn’t among the top three winners in area Thai restaurants seems worthy of a recount. Granted, the dine-in experience post-COVID hasn’t been up to par recently, but I promise you the takeout is still top of the ticket. Exit polls favored the peanut curry with meat, veggies and, and Thai basil ($13) and the sweet and spicy chicken ($13). Be mindful, the heat choice starts at mild, but that already means hot. Many Thai Village dishes could stand up against their competition in a runoff.
Zaytoon was recognized as best for Mediterranean (correct) and Greek (not so much) cuisine. A self-professed Middle Eastern restaurant, the style of food has many parallels across international boundaries. I nominate the lamb chops ($24.99) as TOTT’s best bite. Grilled to perfection and featuring just the right combination of garlic and herb notes, my personal caucus is ever grateful that this menu item isn’t subject to term limits.
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