Dec. 16 2009 12:00 AM

Laingsburg shop serves distinctive mix of food and gifts

When European scientists saw their first platypus pelt in 1798, they summarily dismissed it as a hoax. Surely, they thought, this web-footed, duck-billed mammal that supposedly had poisonous spurs and laid eggs must be the product of a prankster taxidermist. Of course, we all now know the seemingly cobbled-together creature is the real deal, but its peculiar location on a far-out twig of the evolutionary tree still makes it a bizarre addition to the animal kingdom. It was even given its own family and genus.

At least Lakeside Garden, Gift, Floral and Café wears its distinctiveness on its sleeve —it’s all right there in the name. Since she opened it 12 years ago, owner/operator Kathy Butler has been slowly developing her little Laingsburg store from a florist shop into a what’s what of gottahave-its: world class coffee? Sure thing. A little nosh? Coming right up. Customized presents for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list? Done and done. Just like the platypus, it is its own, indefinable mishmash of miscellany.

“People come from as far away as Detroit just for our coffee,” Butler said. “And they’ll spend two, three hours here. They shop, have some lunch, have some dessert — it’s really a little bit of everything.”

Driving two hours for coffee? Yeah right. But Butler said she went through six bean roasters before she found a blend that she was willing to sell. This is a woman who knows what’s good, and her growing base of rabid fans is in lockstep with her. The Island Mocha ($3.95), with its coconut and white chocolate flavors, and the Holiday Hug ($3.95) with white chocolate and gingerbread
flavors, are two of the more popular items on the expansive beverage
menu, and they wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t 100 percent in love with
it. “I’ve really tried to make this as homelike as possible,” she said.
“I figure, if you have to work 20 hours a day someplace, you might as
well surround yourself with the things you love.”

yes, she spends that much time here. When Butler and her husband moved
to Michigan from Texas 23 years ago, she thought she’d hung up her
apron for good. She had operated a thriving commercial party planning
and service business back home, but her family became her priority up
here. But she never really shook her love of making life fun for others.

would make fresh cinnamon bread for the kids when they came home from
school and scones, cupcakes and cookies,” she said. “My husband, Steve,
and I are both foodies. He helps me out with the baking. This is a
family business.”

family business began as a flower shop down the street, which began to
morph into a hybrid café/hangout place before she made the decision to
move to its current location. Butler said this location allows her more freedom to grow, and it also has enabled her lunch menu to flourish.

Grilled Rueben ($6.75) is made from thin-cut corned beef, sauerkraut
and Swiss cheese, served with a side of Russian dressing on
pumpernickel rye bread. The Turkey cranberry panini ($6.50), meanwhile,
is like Thanksgiving on a sandwich: lean, preservative-free turkey
breast is pressed with tart cranberry sauce on Italian flat bread for a
healthy, filling mid-day meal. Her soups are practically meals in and
of themselves; the Loaded Baked Potato soup is a self-explanatory
helping of everything you need to power your through a cold winter day.
And her homemade cheesecakes, cookies and baklava will satisfy any
sugary craving.

But wait, there’s more. Lakeside Garden is a full-on gift shop too, complete with jew elry, which
is dutifully collected from estate sales, and then lovingly restored.
And there is a refrigerator in back stocked with flowers if you need to
celebrate a special occasion, or apologize for missing one. You can
also make a gift box of the store’s gourmet cookies, or Butler can put
together a gift basket for that special someone.

“I also plan weddings,” Butler said. “You can get everything you need here, the flowers, the cakes, the presents.”

Is there anything she doesn’t do?

“Do I sleep? No,” Butler laughed. “You’ve got to give up something.”

Garden Gift, Floral and Café, 750 E. Grand River Road, Laingsburg. 7
a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. –
2 p.m. Sunday. (517) 651-6223.

Get a taste MBC,
the downtown Lansing satellite location of Michigan Brewing Co., has
been open for a few months now, and it’s finally time for its first
official event. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, MBC will host
a beer tasting, covering the wide variety of the microbrewed beers
available. “This is a great way for people to try some of the beer they
may have been curious about, and also find ways to pair our beer with
some of the items on our menu,” said kitchen manager Troy Graham. Cost
is $20 per person, which includes a sample of each beer on tap, a pint
of any one beer, and a selection of custom-made hors d’oeuvres. MBC is
at 402 S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing. For more information,
call (517) 977-1349 or visit

— Allan I. Ross