Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Miles Above the Curve - Fork in the Road

Fork in the Road, or FitR, as they call themselves, approaches food in ways no other place in Lansing can touch. Locally grown produce, house-cured bacon, pasture-raised eggs, world-class coffee. These are details you just can't get anywhere else in these parts - at least not until you hit Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids.

The menu is small - mostly made up of comfort-food favorites, done up fancy and built by hand. They have tots, but they are not what you think they are. These are house-made, grated potato infused with sundried tomato, basil, garlic and a hickory smoked cheese - so while the presentation recalls tater tots, the taste is a million times bigger. The fried chicken is exceptionally tender, with interesting spikes of heat, tartness and sweetness from the drizzled sauces and honey. Grits are gorgeously textured and oozing with sharp cheese. The veggie tacos are a stunning balance of tartness from little sections of lime and tomatillo, earthiness from carmelized onion, substance from the fresh house-made flour tortillas, and creaminess from the queso fresco. This is a taco that would work anywhere - that would be a standout in Austin - to find it here is a happy moment indeed. Desserts (especially the pots de creme and the bread pudding) are great, and the coffee is on a different planet from the chains that dominate here. Serious eating opportunities.

Fried Berry Pie, Fried Chicken, Tater Tots, Bread Pudding
The menu also has a few duds - the chili is passable, but too sweet and bland; and the Ballin' Ass Tacos are a one-note drone compared to the orchestra of the veggie version - chorizo is very tough to get right, and in these tacos, it overwhelms everything around it, including the outstanding homemade tortillas.

The place itself is slowly transforming from a neglected storefront to an urban garden oasis, with a fantastic mural splayed across the wall, and tomato plants and herbs growing in every sqaure inch of available dirt. The interior is straight up diner - not modern diner, not fancy diner - just diner, but it's cozy and clean and a perfect backdrop for the surprising sophistication of the food.

Being this far above the local curve has it's pitfalls - it's easy to let things slide a bit when no one is a close second. A year into its life, FitR is not immune to occasionally dialing it in. I've visited when the pork shoulder was too dry, the grits a little underspiced, but I've never been in when it has been anything less than the most food-centric, sustainable, ambitious, creative cuisine for miles and miles in any direction.

Grilled Nectarine (with Pots de Creme), Trout, Tomato and Mural, Grits, More Tomato, Veggie Taco

Fork in the Road on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Henri's Cheese, Wine (and Tables)

I actually thought Henri's existed before it opened. Last fall, my wife and I were taking care of some errands downtown, and we both had the same idea for lunch: a sandwich, but also something completely luscious. Good bread. Really good cheese. Maybe a glass of wine. At the time, I had heard a little bit about Antonelli's and it seemed like just the ticket. So we headed over to Hyde Park, expecting to find a little European bistro with a monumental selection of cheese. What we found was a knee-buckling, awe-inspiring nose-full of pure cheese love to be sure, but there were no tables. No sandwiches. Wine, but no glasses.

Turns out: our perfect little bistro hadn't been born yet. It has now. What we wanted that fall day was Henri's. Pristine and industrial chic, Henri's is built up with weathered wood, exposed stone, concrete and industrial fittings. Simple, multi-paned windows let in a flood of light, but low ceilings and dark woods lend it a cozy feel.

Food options are simple, delicious and limited. It's almost more of a curated collection of food than a restaurant. The wine selection is small, but fabulous. Blue Bottle Coffee is available in individual french press only. Cheeses are beautifully arrayed in a relatively small cooler in front, and they are stunning. The sandwiches are tempting, but I stayed with what looked to me like the core competency - a $10 cheese board - owner's choice. I mention the price for a reason - in an Austin increasingly full of ultra pricey food-centric opportunities I think this may be the best $10 lunch in town.

Everything on my plate - the almonds, the house-made peach mustard, the crusty french baguette - was fantastic; but the standout was the soft goat cheese - Haystack Mountain Snowdrop. Cheese on another scale altogether from almost anything I've had - right on the edge between the fresh bite of a fresh chevre and the sensous goo of a ripe brie. Magic cheese, this was.

It takes a certain amount of bravado to grab the location between Barley Swine and Lick, a certain amount of confidence that you can deliver something extraordinary. Henri's nails it.

Henri's Cheese and Wine on Urbanspoon


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