HE ATE

By MARK NIXON

had me at hello. Literally. “Hello,” said the woman behind the counter in a lilting British accent. Can we just stop right here and say that any Midwestern guy between the ages of 8 and 80 whose heart doesn’t melt a tad when he hears a woman speaking Brit — well, that guy must have a heart of stone.

The place is a phantasmagoria, seemingly dreamed up by stoners on a late-night binge. Two faux tiki gods loom over picnic tables and a bare concrete floor. A creepy portrait of Pee Wee Herman lurks nearby, while elsewhere in this cavernous room are paintings by local artists. They are edgy, mysterious, dreamy, delightful. I wouldn’t change a brush stroke.

The real magic, of course, happens next door in a food truck. That’s right. Parked next to this beige brick building is the real StreetKitchen. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this before in a review, but here goes: I would pay for the privilege of being inside StreetKitchen’s kitchen, just to watch the magic unfold.

While we’re on the topic of money, let’s start with the Piggy Bank ($12). Crisp up some pork belly, smear with chipotle chèvre aioli, add a bit of white cheddar and greens, and dab on a bit of rhubarb chutney. Result: A miracle on grilled white bread, and one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.

Meanwhile, my better half dove headlong into the Odd Cobb. Judy is not one for doling out superlatives when it comes to food.

My best efforts in the kitchen are rewarded with “Very good.” Yet at StreetKitchen, she repeatedly exclaimed “Excellent!” The Odd Cobb ($12, with a $9 add-on for slices of rare wagyu beef) is a baroque version of the Cobb salad. StreetKitchen’s version is romaine lettuce, rice, avocado, blue cheese, bacon, fried egg and roasted pepper vin. It was extraordinary with the perfectly prepared rare slices of wagyu.

And so it went during our two excursions to StreetKitchen. The beet salad with pistachio-encrusted goat cheese (Beet Down, $7) was astoundingly fresh and redolent with the earthiness of this signature root vegetable.

The roasted red pepper bisque had the subtle smokiness that roasting peppers imparts. Small chunks of chicken were counterpoints to the overall creaminess of the bisque. It was — here we go again — excellent.

Another bisque-like soup I had as a side on an earlier visit was the perfect foil for the blustery late spring weather outside. It was tomato-based and creamy. I tasted pureed squash and just a mild dose of spice such as chipotle. These soups are $3 if you order them as a side with a sandwich.

The Buddha Belly ($12) is a sandwich rooted firmly in pork belly and apparently shares other characteristics with the Piggy Bank. There’s smoked white cheddar and arugula. Then, in a departure from the Piggy, Buddha adds apple pepper jam and garlic aioli.

The latter ingredient is instructive. Aiolis are a recurrent theme in this place, and with good reason. StreetKitchen has aioli down to an art form.

There’s a line from an old Bob Dylan song that goes something like, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

StreetKitchen’s artistic bent takes that to heart. Its menu is ever-changing. On our second visit, for example, the Buddha Belly had disappeared from the chalkboard menu.

I like the ever-shifting, evolving nature of StreetKitchen’s fare. And I appreciate that its menu eschews the something-for-everyone mindset. It’s not an expansive menu, but a concise, excellently executed one from top to bottom.

If there is a criticism of StreetKitchen, it’s a mild one: StreetKitchen is not for everyone.

By the door hangs a sign with an R-rated F-bomb: “No one cares. Work f——g harder.” I found it quirkily funny. Others may not.

The forks and spoons are plastic. There are no white linen table cloths. Some of the tables, in fact, appear to be repurposed — but heavily varnished — wood pallets. During busy times, don’t be surprised if you wind up sharing a picnic table with strangers.

In short, this place is true to its name.

StreetKitchen is of the streets; its DNA is the grit of urban life. The restaurant’s symbol, in fact, matches that ethos. It’s a spoon-clenching fist that punches the air, a challenge and a protest to all the crap we are enduring.

The sign practically shouts “We are here, and we’re not going anywhere.”

To which I can only add: “Thank God.”


SHE ATE

By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE

What is it that makes you want to eat any particular food?

Why do you choose oatmeal over eggs and bacon, or a Caesar salad over a club sandwich?

Sometimes, for me, it’s because I want to have the healthiest meal possible.

Sometimes it’s because I want a savory breakfast over a sweet one, and sometimes I want something decadent. I am always wondering why people eat what they eat, and how restaurant owners use that information.

StreetKitchen has, bar none, one of the most creative menus in the area. On our first visit I was initially drawn to the “When in Romaine” salad, made with romaine grown by the local Blue Mitten farms. But I decided that I wanted a more indulgent lunch and chose the Funky Tiki bowl instead.

A note on the trendy “bowl” style of eating- I am into it. I always try to balance my bowls to include an acid, lots of texture, and something fresh that can cut through the richness of the grits or grains or beans.

This bowl had a base of garlicky grits and was topped with tender, flavorful adobo-braised pork shoulder, chopped smoked pineapple and thinly-sliced, crispy sweet potato. The pork was rich and juicy, the pineapple was sweet and acidic, and the sweet potato brought an incredible crunch to every bite. The grits were so intensely savory and perfectly prepared, creamy but retaining some texture, that I’d gladly sit down to a bowl of them every morning with a soft-boiled egg and lots of fresh herbs.

Mr. She Ate's infatuation with sandwiches.

knows no bounds, if there is a sandwich section on a menu, he’s going to veer toward it.

He ordered Paul’s Sloppy Reuben, which is a traditional Reuben sandwich that has been, as I call it, “trashed up.”

Yes, there is thousand island dressing. But this version is spiked with chipotle pepper. There is sauerkraut, but this one is laced with cumin. The corned beef was tender, the marble rye thick-sliced and toasty. The components of a Reuben sandwich complement each other so well when executed properly, and this version was one of the best we’ve had outside of Centre Street Café in Traverse City.

Because nothing is ever enough, we split the Yeti French fries. The fries were loaded with crispy Brussels sprouts, chopped bacon, and drizzled with asiago cheese and lemon aioli. Notice the recurring acidic element in each dish? There is a formula to everything and that’s what creates the complete dish that we, as eaters, crave.

On a return visit, the menu had completely changed. I chose the Tempeh Tantrum, because I’ve learned about myself that if something is described as “herby,” I’m probably going to order it. This wrap, made with pita bread from Jerusalem Bakery on Michigan Avenue, was stuffed with fried herby tempeh balls (think vegan falafel), pickled turnip and beets, greens, cilantro, lemon aioli and cucumber.

Honestly, this was a miss for me. The wrap didn’t have much variety in terms of texture and I didn’t find the flavors to be very strong.

I concentrated on taking bites of Mr. She Ate’s Tiny Hands sandwich instead.

This sandwich could be the only item on the menu, and StreetKitchen would have a line out the door. Bulgogi beef, fennel onion slaw, provolone cheese, greens, cilantro, Asian mayonnaise on blood moon focaccia from Stone Circle Bakery. The beef was perfect. The bread was hearty enough to support the weight of the ingredients and the juice that came out of them. The slaw, though, stole the show. The combination makes me literally drool like my five month-old Baby She Ate if I spend too long thinking about it.

We also split the Not Yo Cheese Fries, which are topped with cashew queso, red onion, salsa verde, cilantro and sliced jalapeno. I must have blacked out when I read the words “cashew queso,” because I spent most of the meal wondering what the deal was with the consistency of the cheese before I realized that it wasn’t real cheese. A great vegan option, but there’s nothing like the real thing.

It’s a fascinating thing to see restaurants play with their menus. The book “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” crystallizes the relationship between those four elements, and it’s fun to examine any favorite dish to think about the presence of those four things. At least, it’s fun for me, but I probably spend more time thinking about — read, obsessing about — food than most. In any case, if you want to just enjoy the spoils of someone who has obviously spent hours considering each element on a menu, head to StreetKitchen and try the Tiny Hands sandwich. Hopefully the next iteration of the menu will preserve this favorite.


StreetKitchen 2722 E Michigan Ave., Lansing, MI 48912 (517) 455-3958 Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

https://www.facebook.com/ streetkitchenlansing