Harper’s, East Lansing

East Lansing in December is a magical place. Well, not so much magical as quiet. With the students gone to places far and wide, locals like me return to see what they have been missing.

I had a hankering for Harper’s. I hadn’t been there for several years after my wife and I had some mediocre meals. But time heals all culinary wounds, and I was back for more. I entered the restaurant and first thought it was closed. There was hardly anyone there, but indeed, they were open, the better for me because I don’t like crowds.

I had spotted the burger / beer special on their website. $5 for a burger, $2 for a craft beer – yeah, I’ll try that. And being the green olives fan that I am, I requested said fruit be on there, too. Here is what I got, and I apologize for the shadowy picture – I’m self-conscious of taking flash photography in restaurants. Though I do it, I think taking pictures of meals is a little weird.

Burger at Harper's, East Lansing

Burger at Harper’s, East Lansing

So you’ll notice that the number of olives is a little low. There were exactly 11 olive slices on the burger. Yes, I counted them. And the mustard packets. Packets. At a restaurant. At a hot dog stand, I expect packets. At nicer breweries, I don’t expect that. But it did have a very nice bun (which, by the way, was also the best tasting part of the meal).

Taste-wise, it was un-good. Overcooked and dry, you’ll find a superior burger off the McDonald’s value menu. I would complain about the size, too, but in this case, less is better. The fries were at times dangerously close to good, with a nice spice applied to them, but they were just too inconsistently cooked. Some were like sticks, others like noodles.

The beer was the best part of my experience. The pale ale had a nice, even hop flavor that overshadowed the underperforming burger. I was pleasantly surprised by that, and the service was fast. Well, I was about the only one there, but still…

An aside about the brewery itself. The place looked old and unloved. Scuffed floors, broken glass in a wine rack – little things that added up to a look of neglect. I really wanted to like my Harper’s experience. I remember fondly going there in my 20s and having drinks with friends, even seeing the crowds go by during some of the famous Cedar Village riots. Oh, good times those were.

If you are looking for a good burger and beer special, try Red Cedar Grill in Williamston. I may return to Harper’s in the summer to have a beer or two on the patio, but unless I hear of vast improvements in the quality of food, no more meals at Harper’s.