Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sultan's: Taste Over Glitz in a Lansing Strip Mall

When I walked to my elementary school in winter, I used to hold my breath. I was convinced that the steam I exhaled was a limited quantity, that I might run out of it if I was too careless. This is basically the same reason I don't spend more time at Sultans that I already do. I don't want to run out of the pleasure of it.

Sultans occupies the back corner of My Favorite Parking Lot, and has a sort of neglected charm. Where Chapelure and Sansu are slick, up-to-the-minute establishments, Sultan's is a little dated and a little dusty. But what it lacks in glitz, it makes up for in taste.

Start with the cocktails. Or rather, start with the absence of cocktails. Sultan's is a no-alcohol establishment. Instead of mixed drinks, there's mixed juices, all fresh squeezed. I generally opt for the Sunset - strawberries, apple juice, grapefruit juice, and honey. This is not a smoothie - it's juice, light, frothy, and sweet, and it compliments the middle-eastern tang of the marinades and sauces nicely.

And then with the rolls. If you're lucky. The rolls are these little pillows of bread, so airy, they're nearly hollow. They are addictive, which is a bad thing, since they often run out, leaving late-comers with dry, bland triangles of pita bread. The first time I encountered the pita, I nearly cried.

And then with the massive quantity of goodness that constitutes a Sultan's entree. I ususally stick with the chicken kabobs - grilled until they're almost crispy, and full of some fantastic marinade that I can't even start to figure out. Skip the tzatziki-like sauce (it's sort of bland), but make haste for the rice and the grilled tomato. I've also had the kibbeh (heavenly) and the schwarma (so-so). The Kabob, though, that's my go-to dish.

The hummus and tabbouleh, both beautiful, are overkill. It looks like you might want a little extra bit when you're checking out the menu, but once the bread comes out and the food starts piling up, you realize that this is not a place you'll leave hungry.

It should be noted that I found this place through its cousin downtown, a complete dive that goes by the same name. If the strip-mall Sultan's is a little dusty, the downtown one is downright meager. Of course, the food is amazing there too, and the place is packed to the door every lunch hour. A couple more food finds to add to the Lansing repertoire.

Sultan's Place on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

MadCap Coffee - Grand Rapids Enters the Big Leagues

In what's quickly becoming a school-vacation tradition, I brought the family along to work with me this week. Rather than camp out in Lansing, where my client is, we picked up a room in Grand Rapids. Nothing against Lansing, which is kind of a neat place in it's own right, but Grand Rapids just has a lot more going on.

One of best things Grand Rapids has going on is some seriously bad-ass coffee at MadCap, downtown. Some seriously bad-ass US Barista Jam first-place regional finishing single origin espresso custom built pour over rig super-sweet latte art coffee. The place was packed, too. Grand Rapids has come a long way since I was last hanging out downtown.

A lot of things give MadCap major street cred - the beans are directly sourced and roasted in house. (The roaster is housed in the basement of the shop, visible through a cleverly designed cutout in the floor). Coffee is ground and brewed for each cup, one at a time, in a very, very slick custom made pour over station. The latte art is gorgeous.

With the girls sipping hot chocolates in the two last available seats (they both said the hot chocolates were better than Intelligentsia, which is saying something), Tracy and I chatted with the baristas. They're deeply committed to making this work, and you can see it in the way the whole place comes together. It's not a high budget enterprise exactly - the tables and chairs are all stock Ikea, the slick wood veneer lamp shades are coming a little loose in the corners, and the roaster looks like it could put out 10 lbs at a time, tops - but they've invested where it counts: skilled people, top-notch machinery, and hands-on international sourcing of some really good beans.

But the thing that matters most is in the cup, and MadCap does this on par with the best places I've been - my single-origin shot was powerfully tart, and a little sweet - reminiscent of Stumptown more than anything else. And the lattes, where that tartness was softened by the milk but punchy enough to still show through, were spectacular. I work an hour from here, but this is coffee I might be willing to drive 60 miles to get my hands on.

Madcap Coffee on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chapelure: The Sweet Side of My Favorite Parking Lot in Lansing

My days of the endless back and forth to Tallahassee have been replaced by endless days back and forth to Lansing, Michigan. I miss Tally, but Lansing has it's own charm. As I write this, large soft snowflakes are curling their way down outside. You don't get this in Tallahassee.

When it comes to food, the two towns have a lot more in common: Wendy's recently took home top prize for Chili in the Lansing city magazine.

This makes Chapelure all the more fabulous to find, nestled in the back corner of a parking lot that also includes the best Sushi and the best Middle Eastern food I've come across here (it's a really good parking lot). Windows stretch across the whole length of the cafe, especially pretty on a night like this when the warm light of the pendant lamps contrast with the view of the snow falling outside.

The inside is dominated by a glass case full of stunning cakes - drizzled with chocolate, topped with fruit, covered in slivered almonds. They advertise themselves as sort of Asian/French

fusion, but it all seems pretty straight up French to me. I guess they've got a lot of loose leaf tea. That's kind of Asian.

It's a hard thing to narrow yourself down faced with case like that, but I managed to get myself all the way to an order of mocha layer cake. As it was handed to me across the counter with a giant mug of black coffee, the woman working here said to me - "it's butter cream, and it's a little chilled now - best to wait a minute before you eat it." Good sign. I love being told to wait before I eat something. Every time that happens a fairy gets her wings and Burger King cries.

I waited as long as I could (not very long) and dug in. Cake: moist and tender, with an exceptionally fine crumb. Frosting. OMG. Frosting was amazing - just a hint of mocha and as silky as any I remember. The slice was, thankfully, small. I'd have eaten more, but why? The joy at the end of a mountain of cake is blunted. The first few bites is the key, when you get transported a little by the balance of sugar and silk. And maybe a little lost in the depth of the fresh, almost grassy coffee.

I picked up a loyalty card when I stopped in. It's one point for every dollar you spend. When you hit 500 - free 6" cake. I have some confidence that there is a free cake in my future.

Chapelure on Urbanspoon


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