Dec. 28 2011 12:00 AM

Red Cedar Café is a peaceful oasis in East Lansing


Red Cedar Café is a sapling of a coffeehouse in an East Lansing forest full of java shops.

Red Cedar opened earlier this year adjacent to the Brookfield Plaza, at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Hagadorn Road. Within a two-mile radius, scores of coffee and tea shops abound, from multi-national chains with stores in every major American city, to homegrown, locally adored franchises, to little independent start-ups like the Red Cedar Café itself.

The atmosphere invites the outside in with a row of large windows lining the front, a metal-siding wall separating the order counter from the dining space and plenty of flowers, wreaths and nature images on the walls to almost make you forget about the lake of asphalt and fleet of cars for a view.

My companion and I visited the Red Cedar Café on a Friday morning, and decided to try both savory and sweet.

The frittata ($2.25) was a bit of a disappointment, though, to be fair, Red Cedar doesn’t sell itself as a gourmet breakfast house. We tried the bacon cheddar and spinach pepper with Swiss cheese.  They were a bit thin, with more air than egg, and since they were not made fresh, ours were a bit deflated — frittatas that wanted to be a soufflés, though the airy, creamy texture did play well on the palate.  

I decided a few days later to revisit Red Cedar for a taste of lunch. The tomato bisque ($2.99 cup) isn’t homemade, but it doesn’t taste like it’s from a can, either. It’s as bisque should be: creamy, with some depth. The texture of the bisque isn’t overly refined, and in the end, it’s a nice earthy, slightly acidic cup of soup.

Pressata sandwiches are highlighted on Red Cedar’s menu, and the best seller is the turkey artichoke ($7.49), which comes with fruit, chips or potato salad. Tender flatbread is wrapped around turkey with fresh spinach leaves, a slice of tomato and artichoke. It’s simple but has good ingredients and is made quickly, so at lunch you won’t be racing to devour it before you’re due back at the office. That’s nice, because Red Cedar is a pleasant spot in which to sit back, relax and sip on a cup of coffee.

The dark roast is burly and strong, a fitting counterpart to the sweets and baked goods, which is what Red Cedar Café does best. A display case at the counter offers a bevy of pastries, cakes, muffins, cookies, breads and more. 

The lemon bars have a rustic, grainy texture, and the barista signaled her good taste when she mentioned her favorite part was the crust — it’s dense, buttery and very much the best part of the generous-sized treat.

Here’s the thing, though: I tend to like lemon flavor in my lemon bars.  Didn’t find much of that here; they were pretty to look at, with a delicate, caramel-colored crust on top and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but without even a hint of tartness. Those with a beaver-sized sweet tooth — or a cup of strong black coffee — will enjoy them. 

Red Cedar promotes its cinnamon buns as a crowd-pleaser, and it’s not just a bunch of hype: These sticky buns are worth a trip. They are baked nicely, the dough combining a chewy exterior with an airier inside. But it’s the toupee of white fluff on top that stands out (in a good way).  Unlike the ultra-sweet white drizzle painted onto others’ cinnamon buns, at Red Cedar, the topping has a cream cheese base, adding a little danish-like touch to the confection.  

The cappuccino, served in an oversized cup, is delicious and as good as you’ll find around town. It’s light and frothy and, unlike cappuccinos I’ve had elsewhere, it actually has some delicious, toasty coffee underneath that froth.

There’s a bustle from the kitchen in the background that mingles with the conversations of patrons, all cut off from the busy corridor of traffic flowing by outside along Grand River.  

It’s a jungle out there, for both coffeehouses and their patrons. If you want a quiet glade where you can warm your bones, chat with a friend and while away an hour or two without worries, Red Cedar Café stands tall.

Red Cedar Café

1331 E. Grand River Ave, East Lansing

6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

(517) 333-7366

TO, $