That perception has changed. I can’t remember what it was that brought me into the State Room a few years ago, but it has been at the top of my list of area favorites ever since. I am constantly telling people to go there for lunch or dinner, of course, but also for the incred- ible Sunday brunch. I celebrate birthdays and other special occasions there, and I love their ongoing Visiting Chefs series. I’m drinking the State Room Kool-Aid (house-made, I’m sure). When I was assigned to review the State Room, I was in a bit of a panic. I needed it to live up to how I feel about it. If I went in for brunch for the sake of research and they blew it, it would pain me if I had to trash them. But eaters, don’t fret — the State Room came through.
My father joined me for a recent Sunday brunch. We were seated and served coffee and juice, then made our way across the hall to the brunch buffet, which changes every week. The buffet ($14.95 for adults) is extensive, innovative and beautifully presented. Platters of fruit, huge bowls heaped with fresh green salad and trays of kid-friendly foods (chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, pizza and bite-sized peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches) bookend the main dishes.
One end of the table features breakfast foods. When we went, it was scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, bacon and sausage and waffles with whipped cream and warmed syrup. The other end of the table holds more traditional lunch and dinner items — chicken with mushroom sauce, salmon in berry sauce, roasted pork loin, mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese and chives, rice pilaf and steamed vegetables. The tables are punctuated with cold pasta salads, crudités (sliced vegetables) and platters of assorted cheeses.
We each made more than one trip to the buffet. After we were completely stuffed, we sat and gabbed over piping hot coffee and orange juice until we freed up enough stomach room for dessert. Pies. Carrot cake. Tortes. Cookies, mini pastries, éclairs … I sampled as much as I could, then I wrapped two éclairs in a napkin to take home. I’m sorry, State Room, but I’d do it again.
The boyfriend lives and dies for the Angus burger, at which I scoffed before trying a bite. The ingredients are simple: ground sirloin, lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion on a Kaiser roll. But it’s masterfully prepared, and for my money ($9 at lunchtime), it’s the best burger in town.
In mid-December, we went back for the Dickens’ Christmas dinner, featuring a menu inspired by the “A Christmas Carol.” We started with a charcuterie (cured meats) platter, which also held wonderfully salty Marcona almonds, a wedge of brie and tart and sweet apple raspberry jam.
The meal continued with the most heavenly split pea soup I’ve ever had. Granted, I haven’t eaten a lot of split pea soup, because I’m not an orphan in the time of Charles Dickens and it doesn’t generally sound so good to me. This smoky soup, however, was miraculous. I’d like to eat it every day, especially if I could pair it with the salad that followed, which had chunks of roasted butternut squash, pomegranate arils, walnuts, arugula and an orange-and-pomegranate vinaigrette. My heart grew three sizes with that soup and salad. The flavors that I associate with winter were captured perfectly, and we hadn’t even come yet to the main course.
The goose confit cassoulet convinced me that we were some of the most sophisticated eaters in Lansing that night, and when a high school chorus came in to sing to us, I actually put down my fork. We finished the meal with a warm gingerbread cake with crème anglaise, and you won’t believe what happened next. After the charcuterie course, I mentioned to our server that I loved the apple-raspberry jam. At the end of our perfect meal, he brought me a to-go container full of the jam. I used some on my own Christmas Eve charcuterie platter, and I’m carefully rationing out the rest.
That kind of service is common at the State Room. What I love almost as much as the service and the food is that the chef, Sarah Kops, is a young woman about my own age. I am blown away by her talent and desperately want to be friends with her. I’ll keep eating her food until I can make that happen.