June 22 2011 12:00 AM

Unable to stand the heat, our food critic gets out of the kitchen to find delicious alternatives


Dear Kitchen:  Things
are getting a little hot for me. We had a great time through the
winter, your warmth and dedication unwavering. Alas, it could not last.
It’s summer now, and I think I should see other kitchens.

The bond created with that most dutiful of rooms through
the colder climes of year can become too much to bear once the
thermometer soars.

Something quick and tasty would be perfect, something
portable for a picnic or cookout, something besides a cold pasta salad
or mystery meat hot dog.

You’re in luck this summer; there are a couple of ways out of the kitchen on Michigan Avenue.

Jerusalem Bakery and More occupies a brickstone building
two blocks east of Sparrow Hospital, from which owner Mike Zeineh, a
Palestinian who earned his U.S. citizenship 25 years ago, says he draws
his most loyal customers.

Half grocery store, half short-order café, the Jerusalem
Bakery stocks garbanzo beans and tahini, but if you want hummus without
the mess, Zeineh has a tip.

"We make the best hummus in town," he says. "I challenge anybody."

It’s hard to argue. The hummus ($2.99 small) is heavy on
the garlic and tahini, both pluses in my book, and a little light on
lemon. The paprika somehow gives it a kick of heat, but it comes in
milder original and garlic versions, too.

The tabouli ($2.99) is another perfect picnic pick-up.
Curly parsley, tomato, garlic and herbs come together in a refreshing

The pita is baked fresh daily. If the picnic goes long, and eyes grow heavy, a loaf could be used as a pillow — it’s that soft.

"The secret is how to make it," Zeineh says. "You have to make it with love."

Jerusalem Bakery has plenty of sweets in a display case
and offers a menu full of Middle Eastern short-order favorites like
falafel, hashwi, chicken kabob, shawarma and kibbee.

There are a few tables in the store if hunger has a tight
grip on you, but most everything is perfect for a meal in the open air
on a rug of green. Either way, you won’t be held up for long, and Zeineh
is confident you’ll leave with no regrets.

"My customers are the happiest in town," he says.

Jerusalem Bakery and More
1456 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
(517) 485-9975
TO, OM, $

Halal Meat & Groceries

Heading east on Michigan, just past the Green Door, sits another quiet neighborhood grocery store.

Inside Halal Meat & Groceries, you’ll first encounter
shelves filled with Lebanese olive oil, mango pickles, mustard oil,
candy apricots and, at a separate counter, fresh meat, prepared
according to Sharia — Islamic and traditional Muslim law — is available.

Owner Abdul Hamza came to the United States over a decade
ago as a Somali refuge. He opened his market in 2007, and now not only
sells groceries to an underserved population, but dishes up some
delicious food as well.

A hard left once you enter the store takes you into a
small dining area defined by a massive display case from which Hamza
keeps ready-to-serve food hot.

Hamza may be African, but his food is based in south Asian
tastes. Tandori chicken, yellow curry and tomato-based curries, beef
ribs and fish are all options. Rice or paratha — a type of flatbread
that works well for dipping in the delicious curries — is served with
two of the aforementioned entrées in a large to-go clam shell container
for $7.

His market and diner may be little, but they have plenty
of character. Friends of Hamza hang out and help serve customers. On a
wall hangs a large poster board with colorful African currency. 

Mostafa Ansari, 32, a Kuwaiti-born Persian, eats at Halal
Meat & Groceries often. He’s eaten the food Hamza serves in his
homeland halfway around the globe and quickly recommends his favorite
eateries in southeast Michigan, which is home to one of the largest Arab
communities outside of the Middle East.

"When I want Mediterranean food, this is the first place I
go in the Lansing area," Ansari says. "It’s close to what I used to eat
back home."

For a snack, samosas ($1) come in beef,
chicken or veggie. The entrée selections change daily but Hamza
typically offers beef, chicken, fish and veggie options, all halal.

"This is what is needed here in Lansing," Hamza says.

With culinary affairs like this, I’ll try not to fret over
my kitchen back home. Come autumn, I’m thinking it will take me back
with open cupboards.

Halal Meat & Groceries
2613 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday
9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2:45-8 p.m. Friday
9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday
(517) 367-7288
TO, $