Nov. 26 2008 12:00 AM

Hidden lunch gem has another secret: Sunday Brunch

Famous for lunch during the week, Soup 2 Nutz Bistro also serves a Sunday brunch featuring gourmet tastes like Chili Fritatatta and a quiche of the day, like the salmon and asparagus-filled slice shown above. (Photo courtesy of Victor Lee)

    Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, downtown Lansing is a swarm of humanity. Check it out sometime — it’s like a real honest-to-goodness city. Businessmen and women, students and legislators (and their inevitable entourages) crowd Washington Square with the single-minded goal of lunch, lunch, lunch. But if one should happen to find oneself downtown on, say, a weekend morning, there’s not much in the way of grub. Sure, Lansing’s (finally! thankfully!) alive after 5, but what about a good oldfashioned Sunday brunch?

    Hello Soup 2 Nutz Bistro and Custom Catering. For four years, owner/operator Cindi Swope has been tucked away around the corner from the madness that is Lansing lunch, on the corner of Grand Avenue and Kalamazoo Street. “Yeah, we kind of hide over here,” Swope says. “But once people find us, they never stop coming back.”

    Swope has a cast of dedicated regulars who frequent Soup 2 Nutz during its regular weekday lunch hours. Then, on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the cute little gourmet lunch place switches gears into a cute little gourmet brunch place.

    Swope got her start in the restaurant biz when she was 15. She worked her way up until she was executive chef at Beggars Banquet in East Lansing. She did that for six years, then branched out and started catering out of rented kitchens while looking for a space of her own. Four years ago she took over what used to be Capitol City Delicatessen and Soup 2 Nutz was born. (Incidentally, the phrase “from soup to nuts” is a colloquialism which means “from beginning to end”— in days of yore the first thing you had when you sat down for a meal was soup, and the last thing you had after dessert was a handful of nuts. Now you know.)

    While Soup 2 Nutz is a family business — brother (and Lansing City Clerk) Chris Swope and his spouse, Brad Rakowski, are co-owners, and her daughter, an MSU student, helps out — Cindy Swope does all the heavy lifting here, from the ordering to designing the menu to naming everything, which can be harder than it seems. “Sometimes I come up with a name before I have a dish,” she says, with Zen-like wisdom. “

    And sometimes I have a dish but can’t come up with a name.” And sometimes she has to make do with putting her spin on longstanding dishes, like her version of Eggs Benedict ($6.25). There’s only one way to poach an egg, and only so much you can hoity-toity up an English muffin. But her hollandaise sauce? Downright lustful.

    One of her newest creations is the Chicken & Waffles ($6.50), which simultaneously satisfies the comfort food and breakfast food roles. The roast chicken is served in a sea of homemade roux and ladled on top of a massive waffle, topped with two poached eggs. The Chili Fritatta ($5.95) is another newcomer. A three- egg, open-faced omelet is smothered in Swope’s own Portobello chili and topped with sour cream and diced onion. The use of Portobello instead of beef makes this chili vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Plus it’s rich and hearty, the way a good chili is supposed to be.

    The Quiche du Jour ($5.50) last week was salmon and asparagus, packing a one-two punch of a day’s worth of Omega 3s and greens in a single fluffy slice of breakfast pie.

    And don’t forget the word “catering” is in that title. With the holiday season upon us, Swope is busily taking orders for office parties and family get-togethers. Which is perfect if you want to enjoy the food but don’t want to brave the downtown crush of people.

    Soup 2 Nutz Bistro and Custom Catering, 123 E. Kalamazoo St., Lansing. 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Monday – Friday. 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving weekend. (517) 485-0955.