Daring dining, wealth of wines
By MARK NIXON
There is something I call “kitchen courage.” The kitchen courageous — like my spouse, Judy, for example — try things others would not dare, knowing full well that some at tempts will crash and burn. Personally, I veer more toward kitchen cowardice. Give me a recipe, and I will follow it down to the last grain of salt. Fear of failure feeds my obsession with recipe following. But I have nothing but admiration for the courageous cooks in the world.
That said, I am ready to pin a medal for bravery on Bridge Street Social, a cozy DeWitt restaurant that opened in April. The folks in this kitchen perform daily derring-do. Take the panko-encrusted smoked potato. We raved aloud about it, and apparently the chef overheard. He stopped by and gave us a detailed description of how to make smoked mashed potatoes. It’s a somewhat lengthy process, but it roughly goes this way: Boil potatoes, cool them, smoke them for 15 minutes with hardwood smoker chips, mash them, coat with panko and flash fry them.
It’s one of the most amazing taste sensations I’ve experienced in a Lansing-area restaurant. I can think of a dozen things that could have gone wrong with preparing smoked potato. It takes a seasoned chef to charge on instead of cowering in a safe culinary foxhole.
As a topper, I should add that the smoked potato was an accompaniment, not an entree. It accompanied a 16-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip steak ($36), which Judy ordered rare. She declared the steak, which was easily two-inches thick, “one of the best steaks I’ve had in a long time.”
On that same visit, I ordered the lake perch fillets ($22) and was happily surprised by the large portion — two good-sized fillets that were lightly battered, accompanied by a tangy house-made tartar sauce. I practically grew up on lake perch and other panfish from northern Michigan lakes. Bridge Street matched my memories of the real deal. Our friend Bruce ordered the perch as well and summed it up this way: “It couldn't have tasted any better had they been fresh out of the boat and cooked in lard in a cast iron skillet.”
Three other items stood out from the rest. The fried Brussels sprouts ($8) were more like roasted Brussels sprouts — and that’s a good thing. Sans batter, the nutty earthiness of the sprouts shines through. It came with pureed cilantro and tahini that was slightly tart.
Let us now sing again the praises of smoke, this time in the form of shrimp. The smoked shrimp cake ($9) stole the show on our first visit, with the taste of the shrimp wreathed delicately in a smoky finish. Outstanding.
And if you’re a gazpacho fan — ours is a house divided, gazpacho-wise — be sure to order the green gazpacho ($7). This puree of cucumber, green grapes and poblano is sprinkled with shaved almonds. There’s a spicy zip at the finish. Love it.
But there were a couple of strikeouts between the home runs. The crispy potatoes ($6) weren’t crispy enough for my liking. Judy said the chunks should have been a bit bigger. A sturdy house-made aioli helped compensate.
Our friend Jan had the chile relleno ($13), stuffed with goat cheese and encrusted with cornmeal. She called it bland and tough.
Bridge Street Social’s wine list is staggering, boasting 150 wines by the glass from four continents — heavily weighted with Europe choices — and rounded out with several West Coast and Michigan wines. The wine list is curated by co-owner and City Pulse wine columnist Justin King. While I am far from a wine connoisseur, it’s worth trying a flight of wine, which features sample sizes of wines with a connecting theme. A flight costs $13, and a percentage of the profits goes to a local charity.
Bridge Street’s interior is linear and intimate, with a few tables hugging the wall and forming a rough semi-circle around the bar. It’s the same industrial-meets-Art Deco look you find in places like Lansing’s Old Town. Think repurposed wood and Edison bulbs. Yet there we were at the four corners of downtown DeWitt, which, in spite of upscale splashes here and there, retains a small town vibe. Our server told us the space had been unoccupied for about a decade, serving as storage space for an adjoining business. At one time, he believed, it used to be a hardware store. The creaking wooden floors give credence to that.
The wall decor left us guessing and anticipating. A large picture frame looms whimsically over patrons, empty save for a set of smaller picture frames — also empty. It’s as if they are awaiting an artist. One might say that about the food in the kitchen.
Bangin' burgers and Brussels
By GABRIELLE JOHNSON LAWRENCE
Sometimes I find myself going back to a restaurant again and again, because I think I must be wrong. Friends swoon when they talk about the incredible meal that they had, and I remember mine as being milquetoast. “I must be crazy,” I tell myself. “We will go back there this weekend.”
This has been my experience with one of my most anticipated restaurants this year, Bridge Street Social. After several visits, there just isn’t anything that is so great that I’m tempted to make the drive north. Nestled in downtown Dewitt, a scone’s throw from the phenomenon that is Sweetie-licious Bakery Café, Bridge Street Social received a lot of hype before its spring opening.
On our first visit, we approached the host, who took a look around the largely empty restaurant and promptly seated us at a small high-top table near the front window. It would have been lovely, except that we were sitting in direct sunlight and quickly began to sweat.
We started with a prosciutto flatbread. The dish, which has since been replaced with a butternut squash and mozzarella flatbread, had great flavor. Since it’s no longer on the menu, I will instead use this space to describe the flatware on our table. Come with me on this journey. On each trip to Bridge Street Social, we spent upwards of $60 on dinner for two. Not the most expensive place in town, but definitely not a $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza. When I’m in a fine dining restaurant, I expect a substantial fork. On this front, Bridge Street Social fails miserably. The flatware appears to be from the bargain bin. It’s almost disposable. I wouldn’t normally hammer this so hard, but after our dinner visit in June, I sent this feedback to the manager, who thanked me for my comments — but so far hasn’t made an upgrade.
Next up, I ordered a goat cheese chile relleno — essentially a hand-sized poblano pepper that is breaded, fried and stuffed with cheese and rice. While I appreciate a unique vegetarian option, this dish was a miss. It had no flavor whatsoever. The rice was reminiscent of boxed Rice-A-Roni, the breading on the pepper came completely separated from it and the taste of goat cheese was all but absent. I’m a fiend for texture in my food, and this dish had none. Thankfully, a visit to the website informed me that this dish is no longer on the menu.
Mr. She Ate had the burger, so at least one of us left satiated. The meat was tender and well-seasoned, and the manchego cheese added a strong hit of flavor. The fluffy bun was perfect and the fries were salty, fresh and delicious. Thankfully, they were seasoned, because the table was void of salt and pepper shakers, one of my biggest pet peeves. (I carry a pinch tin of Maldon salt in my purse for this very reason.)
On another visit, we started with one of our perennial favorites — a cheese platter. Nary a weekend goes by that I’m not scouring the cheese selection at Whole Foods, pulling pickles out of the fridge and popping open a jar of my beloved American Spoon fig preserves to prepare a bangin’ cheese platter for friends. I was excited to see one on the menu, but when it came to the table, I was overwhelmed. There were two hard cheeses, both of which came with the rind attached. I know from experience that this freaks a lot of people out. There was a funky blue cheese, three charcuterie options, jam, mustard, pickled Brussels sprouts and sliced of untoasted baguette. An embarrassment of riches, but since this wasn’t our actual entrée, it was too much food. Curiously, there wasn’t a soft cheese to pair with the jam. The slices of bread were screaming to be toasted for some added texture, and a cracker option would have been nice.
I followed this up with a pork chop that was topped with a fried egg and accompanied by a sweet potato gratin. The pork chop was properly cooked, juicy and well seasoned. The egg was also well cooked, with a beautiful crispy ring (is it too far to call it an egg halo?), but who puts an egg on a pork chop? The sweet potato gratin was the best thing on the plate — a little lemony, a little vinegary and more savory than sweet. As I cut into the pork chop, the subpar flatware failed me. I actually felt the fork bend in my hand.
He had pork belly tacos, which further bolstered our belief that Pablo’s Panderia in Old Town will destroy any other taco in a taco competition. The pork belly, while a good idea in theory, didn’t work here. It should have been separated from the fat and shredded, instead of being served complete with thick, unappetizing strips of fat that were chewy and tough to eat. All I tasted was cilantro and gristle.
The fried Brussels sprouts that we shared with friends, on the other hand, were fantastic. The tanginess of the tahini made me want to drink the leftover sauce.
As we drove home — after a quick stop at the Dewitt Dairy for a Chunky Monkey Flurry, my new favorite thing — my mind swirled with questions. Where was the bread basket? Where were the salt and pepper shakers? Where were the full-sized water glasses, so I don’t feel like a giant and have to refill every five sips? When can we make a taco competition happen?Bridge Street Social has a lot of potential, but unless it can answer some of these questions, I won’t be making many special trips out to DeWitt.
Bridge Street Social
4 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday
107 S. Bridge Street, DeWitt
(517) 668-1837, bridgestreetsocial.com