March 30 2011 12:00 AM

The bacon alone could send you to seventh heaven


Mama’s Kitchen may offer breakfast bacon that could be sold by the gram on street corners and hamburgers loaded enough to require a third jaw hinge, but it just doesn’t feel right to call the little diner that bookends the north side of the Chandler Crossings strip mall a greasy spoon.

The complex on Chandler Road just north of Lake Lansing Road has become a sort of mini-empire for Mama’s owners Harry Saites and Dennis Branoff.

Together they also own Enso at the other end of the mall, punctuated in the middle by the newborn Lou & Harry’s Sports Bar, cavernous home to dozens upon dozens of big-screens. It opened in March in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived reincarnation of Small Planet.

The trio have distinct personalities: Enso is upscale, Lou & Harry’s festive, and Mama’s Kitchen quaint.

"We wanted to create a restaurant like you might find up north at Higgins Lake," Saites says of Mama’s Kitchen. "A place with reasonable prices and good food."

Mama’s atmosphere incarnates Saites’ vision: newspapers rest on the lunch counter, leafed through and waiting for another set of eyes; above the counter hangs a TV tuned into the Cooking Channel, where a young Julia Child rolls out a perfect pie dough; higher still, a wallpaper border crowns the wall with maternal proverbs such as "Be sure to scrub behind your ears," and "Send grandma a card."

In a hamlet of new construction where mirror-image apartment complexes have emerged like splitting amoeba, Mama’s Kitchen imparts a touch of homeliness to the area. Progress continues, though, even at Mama’s, where drills and saws can be heard through the walls, heralding an expansion that will accommodate another 25 diners. It’s scheduled to be finished within the month. Evening hours will be coming, too.

No matter what time it is, breakfast is an order away at Mama’s. All the usual suspects line the menu, from omelettes to buttermilk pancakes. The cornflake-encrusted French toast ($5.95) is a hit; the country-fried steak ($7.95) is a gut-busting day-starter, with a pool of sausage gravy, eggs, and potatoes; and the special ($4.95) is a classic with two eggs cooked to order, toast, fried potatoes and bacon.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the bacon a bit further. Saites compares Mama’s bacon, which is doctored up with a homemade glaze, to illegal drugs. On long strips of what could very well be God’s favorite food (depending on your spiritual persuasion, of course) the glaze deepens the red-brown color of the succulent meat, imparting a touch of sweetness that compliments its cured essence. Eat a couple of strips, and narcosis isn’t far off.

Like any self-respecting little diner, Mama’s has a special or two named after customers. Lynn’s French toast is one such dish. Two thick slices of French toast, cut into four triangles and stacked in a row, are slathered with peanut butter, drizzled with a caramel sauce, sprinkled with snow-white powered sugar and topped with walnuts. Oh, there are slices of banana mixed in there, too, making it a breakfast fit for a rockabilly king.

One of the great things about dining out with a friend at a place like Mama’s is the menu’s flexibility. Breakfast is great any time of day, no doubt about it, but a burger or sandwich might occupy the mind of your dinner guest. No problem at Mama’s.

Burgers come with fries (the same super-seasoned, hand-cut fries you’ll find at Lou & Harry’s) and a pickle. The tall, tasty and filling California Dream ($6.95) combines over a quarter pound of ground beef with lettuce, tomato, slices of avocado, that heavenly bacon and some onion rings to top it off for good measure.

Homemade baked goods — cinnamon rolls, brownies, cookies — fill a glass case near the front door. Above it, you’ll notice some inscribed motherly advice: "Be careful, be safe."

"There is nothing around here like this, except chains and fast food," Saites says of Mama’s spot in East Lansing. "People in this area needed something like this."

Having a warm, inviting place to sit down and eat good food is just like a hug from Mom.

Mama’s Kitchen

16800 Chandler Road, East Lansing 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Sunday (Evening hours coming soon) TO, WiFi, $ (517) 333-6690