Lula’s Louisiana Cookhouse, Owosso

Years ago, my (now) wife and I took a trip to New Orleans, and it was the best food trip we had ever taken, and this includes trip to Paris, Italy, New York, and Lansing. The spice and seasoning, the selection, the freshness of seafood – everything was fantastic, and there was not a single meal that we did not enjoy. The fact that I added hundreds of strings of beads to my (’til then) non-existent bead collection was a big plus.

In recent years, the Lansing area has gotten several Cajun / creole restaurants, and I’ve been happy with the selection and taste that these places have provided. Though not the latest of the bunch (that prize goes to Creole in Old Town, Lansing), Lula’s Louisiana Cookhouse has the distinction of being the only one in beautiful, historic downtown Owosso, the only town near my home that has a castle. Owosso was also the location of the play my daughter was performing in, the reason we found ourselves in town.

Lula’s is hard to miss. Its spot on Washington is easily noted because of the enormous yellow sign. Once inside, the interior is only a shade less bright. Colorful bulbs and artwork add nice southern touches, and the impressive selection of Cajun / creole cookbooks. Though they may have a copy, I didn’t see Uglesich’s great cookbook among them. (The “Paul’s Fantasy” dish we had at Uglesich’s in New Orleans was amazing.)

First, the bad news: As of this writing, they don’t have a liquor license, so the strongest thing you’ll find is a Coke. But in their defense, the Coke was absolutely fine. I’ll update this posting when they have their license. Don’t let its lack of beer and wine stop you, though – the food it worth the visit.

A little more bad news: The photo is terrible. My phone doesn’t take the greatest of pictures – sorry!

It was a tough choice, but I went with the catfish and hushpuppies, with fries as my side. The catfish was very tender and had a nice, mild flavor. I prefer my breading firmer than Lula’s provided, but the flavor made up for the firmness issue. Likewise, the hushpuppies had a subtle corn flavor – all five of them! I don’t usually share my food, but I was willing of part with a hushpuppy. Had I been given four, no way.

Lula's catfish

Lula’s catfish

The fries covered half the plate – can’t knock their willingness to part with their potatoes. Again, good flavor. An extra 30 seconds in the fryer would have been perfect. Is it the New Orleans way of cooking fries? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t exclude them from future consideration. The taste made up for being a bit softer than my preference.

It sounds a bit like I didn’t enjoy the food, which isn’t the case. Though I nitpick, it was a good meal and I would definitely return to try another one of their amazing looking items. The jambalaya got positive comments from my co-diners, and there were a couple of German-themed dishes that looked tasty as well. Lula’s is a definite plus to the Owosso dining scene.

El Potrero, Owosso

I learned a couple of things when I visited El Potrero in Owosso, but the most valuable thing I learned is that when someone asks you if you want a Patron margarita, you say no. Because, at least at El Potrero, a Patron margaritas costs $10. OK, $9.75. I would have thought me holding the card with the night’s special would have hinted that I didn’t want a $10 drink, but apparently, I lacked the special insight that Patron margaritas are way overpriced versions of the normal drink. So in you are there, try saying “I would like a house margarita” or “For the love of God, don’t give me a $10 margarita.” I’m suggesting these options to you because I won’t be back.

The URL for El Potrero is http://therealtasteofmexico.net/. If this is the real taste of Mexico, on wonder hordes of Mexicans are invading our country – it’s the only way to get a decent meal.

It started off fine. The first waiter was very friendly, the waitress that followed seemed to tolerate me, which is all I ask. The chips were average, as was the salsa. So far, so good. Not as impressive as my typical (and rare) trip to Taco Bell, but I’ve had worse. When my $10 margarita arrived (I didn’t know it cost $10 at the time), I thought it was below average in taste. Oh well, live and learn.

The second lesson I learned was that the food was not that great. I ordered the chicken Burrito Ranchero. It came out almost faster than I ordered it. It was impressively fast, and if I got food from McDonald’s as fast, I’d be happy. Perhaps I should have been suspicious, but most Mexican restaurants in the general vicinity of Lansing area pretty fast.

El Potrero burrito

El Potrero burrito

The burrito didn’t look good. It was the burrito equivalent of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, pale and disturbing. Digging into it didn’t reveal any hidden gems. It revealed only average-tasting pulled chicken. The tortilla was soggy and unappetizing, and, as you can probably guess, I was unimpressed. The cheese and lettuce did its best to hide the carnage below, but it could only do so much. However, the rice was excellent, by far the best part of the whole experience. Skip the entrée and just get the rice.

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that I learned not to go to El Potrero in Owosso again. If I can convince one person to avoid it and hit a quality establishment (the Wendy’s looked quite nice), then I’ll consider this a success.

BJ’s Bar and Grill, Morrice, MI

Morrice is not known for… well, anything that I can think of. I’ve visited the little town (less than 1,000 residents) several times as a turn-around spot for my cycling route, but never for any other reason. But I decided to visit Morrice’s one bar to see what it was all about. Thus, I arrived at BJ’s Bar and Grill after work.

I was the only one dressed in black Dockers, and I was instantly out of place. I got the occasional looks from the people at the bar, the “who is that guy?” look, but it wasn’t unfriendly, just curious. I sometimes get that look at home, too.

BJ's awesome interior

BJ’s awesome interior

I liked BJ’s from the start. Small, local, with all kinds of beer paraphernalia on the walls. It reminded me of my college dorm room, just without so many people I didn’t know. Most of the time. What I also liked about the place was that their one-page menu was taped to the wall. No messing around with handing out menus, just look at the wall. Convenient.

I had hoped they had an olive burger, because 2016 is Scott’s Year of the Olive Burger. And they did! And voila, I present to you, the BJ’s olive burger:

Olive burger!

Olive burger!

OK, it doesn’t look like much. But it tasted pretty good. The burger was fine, nothing outstanding, perhaps a little dry. The sauce was full of olives and didn’t lack for mayo. That helped balance the dryness of the burger to make it a wash. The bun was grilled, which you often don’t get in your finer establishments, but at BJ’s, you do. The fries were hit or miss. Some were quite good, the perfect mix of crispy exterior and soft interior, but others were nearly soggy.

And I will not leave out the beer. I’m usually a bit of a beer snob, but I went for a $2.50 20 oz. Budweiser. And not just because Peyton Manning was going on and on about it during his Super Bowl speech (he owns Budweiser distributorships, so he was giving himself free advertising.) At BJ’s, a Bud just seemed like the right thing to drink.

Admittedly, there is not a lot of choice in Morrice. You have a BJ’s, Country Kitchen, and a pizza place. But I liked the food, liked the atmosphere, and really liked the inexpensive beers. If you’re in Morrice (and who isn’t at some point… don’t answer that), check it out.

Jumbo’s, Owosso

One finds themselves in Pittsburg, MI for three reason. 1) You’re going to Perry. 2) You’re going to Owosso. 3) You’re going to a Steelers game and wildly lost. I was in Pittsburg twice yesterday, first for reason #2, then for reason #1, spending a grand total of 20 seconds in the town. And that was enough.

But enough about Pittsburg – that’s probably the most that’s been written about that town in the past year. The real purpose of this post is to talk about the third olive burger I’ve had this year, at Jumbo’s in Owosso, the crown jewel of Shiawassee County. I had walked through town to see what were the most promising establishments in the downtown area for a burger, and this seemed like a good choice. After all, the restaurant had “burger” written all over it:

Jumbo's, Owosso

Jumbo’s, Owosso

There wasn’t much to think about once I got inside as far as what to order. I was in an olive burger mood, and an olive burger I did order. It was a good-looking burger, and the fries matched it in food appeal. The fries looked beer-battered, but they may have been milk battered, or wine battered – they were cooked in something tasty and unhealthy, that’s for sure. The pickle was pretty ugly, and though it looked past its prime, it did its species proud in the taste department.

Olive burger

Olive burger

The beer you see in the top right corner was a Fat Tire. Though good, I should have gotten the $2 24oz. PBR. Regrets, I have a few…

The burger was decent, though not outstanding. It had plenty of olives and plenty of mayo, the latter is a good thing on an olive burger. I put a small amount of blame on the less than stellar burger on myself. I ordered it medium well when my heart was telling me medium. So it was a little dry. That probably didn’t affect the taste much, which didn’t really stand out above an average burger, but it probably would have been better had it been cooked less. The fries were the star of the plate. They were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and full of those carbohydrates that I so love about potatoes.

Jumbo’s was a decent place, and I’d visit again. It’s got that small-town, local feel, probably because it’s a small town, locals bar. They didn’t have a lot of beers on tap, and those were mostly the Bud Light – Bud variety, but they had more than Nick’s in Durand, so that was an improvement over my last restaurant experience.

Nick’s Hometown Bar & Grill, Durand

It was a dark and cold night in Durand. Our hero walked the streets and alleys, looking for a place of safety and warmth. And there were several, but our hero decided to trust his instincts  and try Durand’s #1 rated bar on Yelp, Nick’s.

Nick's Bar & Grill

Nick’s Bar & Grill

He saddled up to the bar on a comfortably padded stool. On the menu, no olive burger could be found, so despite his better judgement, he ordered the nachos. Bar nachos, especially small town bars, are a dangerously unpredictable dish to order, with ingredients as poor as Flint’s water.

His trepidation increased when our hero learned that they were chili nachos. The horror! A soupy beany meaty concoction whose sole purpose was to soak and weaken the poor, defenseless chips. How would this night end! When the bartender eventually returned to take his order from the distant wilds where she had run off to (a journey that took days), he, with hesitation, order the nachos.

The food came and our hero was bolstered a bit. They looked like a strong showing, thick with cheese and meaty chili and a good mix of vegetables. (No black olives, though – those poisonous bits of detritus come on the nachos by default, but our hero was ready for that and deflected them.) But what lurked underneath the rosy exterior?

Nick's Nachos

Nick’s Nachos

Pretty-goodness is what lurked. The ever-so-slightly spicy chili turned out to match really well with the salty, better than average out-of-a-bag bar tortilla chips. Most chips did succumb to the chili rampage, and our hero raised his glass to them, but enough survived to carry the meal forward. All in all, average nachos, but a stronger showing than our hero anticipated.

But there was something terrible afoot at Nick’s. They had only one tap, and it was… Bud Light! Our hero was not prepared for this setback, but he battled on. Surely, this weakness cannot stand forever, and someone at Nick’s will realize that people like to taste the beer they drink.

All in all, our hero left party satisfied. The nachos were filling and had a decent flavor. The draft beer selection was bitterly disappointing. Will our hero return? Not likely, but who knows what lies in the future.

Tannin, Okemos

Tannin had been on our radar for quite some time, and we zeroed-in last week to eat at the Okemos restaurant. Tannin was my 41st new (to me) restaurant of the year.

I liked the wooden paneling and canned lights surrounded by corks and the pictures of Detroit above our table. Seeing pictures of Detroit usually makes me glad I’m not there. (No offense people who live there.) Service that night was a little slow, but the waiter did have a lot tables, and he was hustling. He reminded me slightly of Zak Galifianakis, a name I was nowhere close to spelling correctly the first time. For the record, he did not slip us roofies, so it wasn’t a “The Hangover 4” situation. And he made a good wine suggestion for Andrea which made her happy. I made a nice choice of white, and I was happy. We were both winning at life.

But when it came to the food, there was only one winner. That winner happened to be me and the choice of champons, chicken carbonara. Though its gray-colored pasta shells didn’t look appetizing (they looked like undead button mushrooms, a food I dislike weather a member of the undead or just a normal fungus), but the taste made up for that. it was cheesy with super tender chicken, and though not among my favorite pasta dishes in Lansing (Red Cedar Grill’s mac & cheese and Bravo’s braised beef ravioli come to mind), it was a decent dish.

Tannin

Tannin

Andrea ordered the hard-to-pronounce amatriciana. I had considered ordering the same, but I have a thing where I don’t like ordering what my wife orders. It’s nothing personal, I assure you. The problem with her pasta was the taste, which is kind of a big thing for a meal. The red sauce seemed like plain tomato paste, and there was an overwhelming amount of it. It had plenty of flavor, just not a good one. Perhaps they were trying to cover up the underwhelming noodles. There were a lot of those noodles, but a lot of something you don’t want isn’t much of a deal.

I’m torn on a return visit. The wine selection looked strong, and the appetizers also looked appealing even if the pasta didn’t impress. There was more on the menu than just pasta, and that would be my target dish. Service and ambiance were positive, it just fell a bit flat on the food.

Field House, East Lansing

Field House, East Lansing

Field House, East Lansing

Oh Peppino’s, I hardly knew you.

But things change. Where once Bilbo’s and The Post stood is now East Lansing’s equivalent of a skyscraper. And HopCat’s current neighbor is Field House.

There were two factors that led to my visit to Field House. One, MSU was on Christmas break. Lowering the population by 40,000 raises the chances of me going entering East Lansing. And two, I had a buy one, get one free appetizer coupon. That is a good draw. I like free stuff, especially when it’s edible.

I took a seat at the bar and was faced with plenty of TVs and taps, both of which raised my level of happiness. The lurking bartender (not as creepy as it sounds) knew more about beer than just how to fill a glass. He recommended Arcadia’s Cheap Date, and it was a good suggestion.

Appetizer #1 was the cheesey bread (the spelling is correct). They didn’t skimp on the cheese (or the bread, either, both of which are crucial to having cheesy cheesey bread). On top of the already impressive layer of cheese was more cheese, a dusting of parmesan. It was cooked nicely and even warmed up well the next day.

 

The main event, though, were the nachos. But they were no mere “nachos”, they  were “MONSTER NACHOS”. But had a half-order, so they were just “monster nachos”. They were better than I had expected. Atop the multi-colored chips was a generous helping of cheese and ground beer. The chip to good stuff ratio was perfect, and I didn’t have many chips that were missing the key nacho ingredients. And you can see a nice array of veggies on top. I was overall impressed with my meal at Field House, and particularly the nachos.

Field House may have downtown East Lansing’s best nachos, right up there with Beggar’s Banquet’s chorizo nachos. Definitely worth a try if you’re a nacho fan. If not, perhaps burgers may be your preference, and FH had a nice looking selection of those, too. In any case, I’ll make a return visit. How long until spring break?