If Dimitri’s Restaurant is an old dog, it’s doing a bang-up job learning new tricks.
The same trapezoidal, red-to-orange two-tone sign with
brown lettering marks the new home of Dimitri’s in Delta Township after a
three-decade stint in downtown Lansing.
Reborn in comfortable new digs on Saginaw Road near Creyts
Road, Dimitri’s is now run by Stamiti Stathopoulos, son of the
restaurant’s namesake. The decision to reopen was not easy (or cheap),
and a name change was considered. But in the end, Stathopoulos stuck
with a proven commodity.
Dimitri himself is still around, too, convivial to the bone, delighted to see whoever walks through the front door. After a recent health scare he’s as vibrant as ever. "I’m 74, and I will be 75," he insists.
Asked to confirm his Greek ancestry, Dimitri answers drily.
"It is Greek," he says, referring to his last name in a
tempered accent, "unless you want to make it Dutch. Just put a ’Van’ on
the front of it."
When Dimitri’s was located downtown, the rush of power
lunches often made Coney dogs or burgers with fries the meal of choice
for diners in a hurry. In Delta Township, Dimitri’s atmosphere has
transformed into a casual space where frazzled professionals find a
quiet retreat, families gather to celebrate graduations, or grown
children treat their parents to a relaxing dinner with no cleanup.
The expanded menu boasts yesteryear’s bill of fare
combined with house-cooked meals created from the fertile and eager mind
of head cook Tony Rule.
Rule, a 12-year veteran in the kitchen, began his culinary
career as a teenager, working his way up the ranks of corporate
kitchens. When Stathopoulos came calling, though, offering Rule a chance
to run his own show, he jumped at the opportunity.
"The dinner menu is 100 percent my recipes," Rule says. "Every sauce I make is from scratch."
Rule revels in the science of food. He counts authors
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polycn and the Mr. Wizard of food, TV chef
Alton Brown, as unofficial mentors. Their writings and work have given
Rule a deeper appreciation of his profession.
"I love the science behind food," Rule says, "like mixing and contrasting acids and sugars in a meal."
On a recent Friday, the dinner special was barbecue beef
brisket ($10.99). Dark-red amber slices of tender beef fold onto each
other. The peppery sauce comes alive on the tongue, imparting a mild,
semi-sweet barbecue with smoky undertones and just a hint of tang. Accompanying the brisket were garlic mashed potatoes — real spuds with skins mixed in — and broccoli, the veggie of the day.
Rule says a major consideration when creating Dimitri’s dinners was to build a diverse menu. Pork, chicken, beef, fish and pasta are the building blocks from which he blends flavors.
The fruit-based glaze for pork and chicken dishes has the consistency of a smooth chutney. The peach-colored (for good reason) sauce adds a sweet, moist finish that contrasts nicely to a hearty cut of roast pork loin.
Dill-seared tilapia ($10.49) is served with a fine lemon butter sauce that imparts a subtle acidic sparkle. The delicate sauce, with a silky texture akin to sour cream, plays nicely on the palate.
Pasta puttenesca — with an anchovy, caper and olive
marinara — is an occasional dinner special that’s made for diners
searching for something bold.
"My goal is to make people happy," Rule says.
"He makes me happy," Dimitri interjects. "I eat like a king every night."
While the atmosphere has changed and the menu has matured,
Dimitri notes that his son’s new venture is rooted in what worked for
over 30 years.
"We still have the best french fries, olive burgers and rice pudding," he says. "People come in and say, ’Get me the fix’ — the fix means Coney dogs."
Stop by and have a chat with Dimitri, and try the rice pudding.
"I’m serious when I say you never had a better one than
that," Dimitri says, patting shoulders of customers as if they were old
Stay for dinner, he’s got plenty of stories. If nothing else, grab a Coney dog for old time’s sake. A renaissance, after all, is built on classics.
6334 W. Saginaw Road, Lansing
7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m.