Lansing’s culinary melting pot got a dash of Eastern European cuisine in late October when ChouPli Wood- Fired Kabob opened on the city’s west side. The fast causal eatery introduces Turkish cooking to local palates, including a unique cooking method that’s right there in the name.
“In Turkey, kabob grilling is all done on charcoal,” says ChouPli owner Faris Yousef. “This gives the meat a level of smoky flavoring that’s unique, and carries on a tradition that goes back for generations.”
The restaurant utilizes a 5-foot-long dual gas/charcoal grill, but the gas is just there to keep temperature consistent — all the actual cooking is done over natural wood charcoal. Choupli customers select a skewer from a chilled glass case — choices include chicken, beef, kofta (Turkish meatballs), lamb, and a couple of veggie options — and a cook places it over the flames. The kabob can then be turned into a wrap, which is built to order from a selection of toppings, or turned into a combo plate with three sides.
Turkish cuisine is a fusion of Central Asian, Sephardic Jewish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines, and Yousef said ChouPli’s style has been refined for Midwest sensibilities. Yousef’s brother, Zuhair Abed, is ChouPli’s head chef. He spent eight years working at a Lansing-area Mediterranean restaurant where he honed his style.
“We import our spices from Istanbul, but Turkish paprika is actually sweeter, so we’ve (modified) the recipe to keep the meat from being too sweet for American tastes,” Yousef said. “I like to say everything has a Turkish influence, but it’s not 100 percent.”
Traditional Turkish offerings include acili ezme, an eggplant-based stew similar to ratatouille, and soslu patlican, a spicy, salsa-like side. Haloumi, one of the vegetarian kabobs, is made with grilled Greek cheese, and the lentil soup is made from a family recipe. The baba ghanoush is made with grilled eggplants, infusing the dip with a gentle, smoky flavor that’s complemented by the sweetness of the fresh pomegranate seed garnish.
“People who don’t think they like baba ghanoush go crazy for ours,” Abed said. “It’s like nothing else they’ve ever had.”
Standard Mediterranean staples also include falafel (Abed said he spent two years perfecting the recipe) and chicken shawarma. Last week, ChouPli donated 100 shawarma sandwiches to City Rescue Mission of Lansing.
“We really want to be part of the Lansing community and (provide donations) like this. It’s important to us to not just be another restaurant, but be a business that gives back,” Abed said. “We opened (on the west side of Lansing) so we could build a regular customer base, which is hard to do closer to East Lansing, where there’s a lot of turnover.”
A grand opening is planned for early next month; the soft opening has allowed the staff to perfect its communication and service style. And if all goes well, you can expect to see more ChouPlis on the way.
“This is fast, inexpensive, healthy food, and I think this is really going to appeal to Lansing (diners,)” Yousef said. “There’s else nothing like this in town.”
The Crêpe stands alone
A year and a half after opening inside the Lansing City Market, French café/brunch stand For Crêpe Sake will be moving into its own space in downtown Lansing.
“Our intention was always to go with a brick-and-mortar (restaurant), but we were waiting for the right opportunity,” owner Mark Owen said. “We’d looked at a number of places, but either the timing wasn’t right or it just wasn’t the right place for us. Then it happened.”
What happened was this: In June, downtown Lansing’s Spotted Dog Café, 221 S. Washington Square, closed after a 20-year run. For the last five months, the 2,000-square-foot space sat vacant; then earlier this fall Owen finally got to see the space.
“I took a tour and thought it was perfect for our needs,” he said. “The foot traffic will be quite a bit heavier downtown. In order to grow, (moving here) is the right thing to do.”
Owen said the space will need a fair amount of cosmetic upgrading, but he expects it to go pretty quickly. He anticipates an opening date of Jan. 4 — just a month away.
Since opening, For Crêpe Sake has added smoothies and chopped salads to its roster of sweet and savory crêpes. Owen said the larger space will allow him to expand his offerings even more. Among the additions will be desserts made by his former Lansing City Market neighbor, Iorio’s Gelato. For Crêpe Sake will also offer a wider range of Zingerman’s coffee and tea selections and is adding a Chemex brewing system that is similar to what Strange Matter Coffee Co. is doing in Lansing’s eastside neighborhood.
“We’ve built up a downtown constituency with (our) European café concept,” Owen said. “Now this move will allow us to serve the people we’ve built up our business around. I’m really excited to be downtown.”
Choupli Wood-Fired Kabob 4411 W. Saginaw Highway, Lansing 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday (517) 708-0404, choupli.com
For Crêpe Sake (inside Lansing City Market) 325 City Market Drive, Lansing 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (517) 374-0401, forcrepesake.com