Last week, East Lansing got a taste of Georgia hospitality with the grand opening of Moe’s Southwest Grill, an Atlanta-based burrito/taco/nacho franchise. The 12-year-old chain already has over 450 locations throughout the U.S., and is slowly spreading north, with only two other locations in Michigan so far.
“There are more Moe’s coming soon to the Detroit area, but this will be the only one in mid-Michigan,” says Derrick Austin, Moe’s general manager. “And so far, the response has been incredible. We haven’t done any promotion and we’ve had such an amazing turnout. I’m really impressed and proud.”
The location sure doesn’t hurt. Moe’s took over Flat’s Grille’s old spot on Grand River Avenue, in the food corridor regularly raided by residents of the Michigan State University dorms directly across the street. In fact, Moe’s punched a hole in the wall and took over the now-defunct Pizza Pi location next door as well, making for a long, lean restaurant with plenty of seating capacity.
The concept is Tex-Mex food with a healthy twist, with employees building your food for you Subway-style. A big part of the appeal is the restaurant’s pop culture savvy. You don’t just order a “Number 6” here: Instead, you can get a “John Coctostan” quesadilla (named after one of Chevy Chase’s pseudonyms in “Fletch”), some “Billy Barou” nachos (a nod to “Caddyshack”), or a “Close Talker” salad or “Art Vandalay” burrito (both “Seinfeld “ references). My personal favorites are the salsa names: You can choose from “Who is Kaiser Salsa” or “El Guapo’s Infamous Salsa.” Yes, infamous — it means evil, murdering, etc.
“East Lansing may have an opportunity to come up with some names for the menu items, too,” Austin said. “It makes it more fun than just ordering a Tofu Rice Bowl.”
Lining the wall are faux portraits of deceased famous singers, such as Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Michael Jackson, all featuring celebrity lookalikes. Austin says that’s part of the theme, with even the music played over the speakers consisting of 100 percent dead musicians. (Uh oh, somebody better check on Paul McCartney — I could have sworn I heard a Beatles song.) But the piece de resistance is the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which allows you to choose of any one of over 100 Coke products with the touch of a button. Which means — yes! — the return of Vanilla Coke.
“It’s the first of its kind in Michigan,” Austin said. “And I think it’s going to be very popular.”
So yes, “Three Amigos” fans, he would have to say they had a plethora of pop.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
551 E. Grand River Ave.