A $1 billion-endowed research university, a Level I trauma hospital, and the hubs of state and city politics sit along the hungry stretch of Michigan Avenue near downtown Lansing. It’s a corridor begging for higher caliber eateries like the Soup Spoon Café, a great, unpretentious little dining spot that successfully serves up both Midwestern charm and cosmopolitan panache.
Soup Spoon’s reputation reached me through word of mouth; I’ve heard little but praise from both hardcore foodies and those who typically prefer the drive thru — fast foodies, if you will. However, my dining companion had had a mediocre experience on her previous visit. This time things were different.
The soup of the day was an obvious first course, so we went with the pumpkin bisque. A stick-to-your ribs kind of soup, the thick, cup of autumn-flavored bisque was quite a surprise. The pumpkin flavor itself was mild, but hints of those Thanksgiving spices — cloves, cinnamon, allspice — brought the soup alive on a blustery early evening. With a touch of sweetness and a dollop of whipped cream added for good measure, we imagined how much of a pleasant shock it would have been to finish our meal with the bisque. Befitting the restaurant’s name, I could see myself coming back just for soup with options like the stuffed green pepper and creamy carrot waiting for my return.
Topping the soup in quick order was the smoked salmon plate. A rainbow of colors met us — red onions, carrots, large leaves of lettuce, a creamy dill dip, hardboiled egg, and medallions of French bread surrounded a healthy chunk of salmon, which is smoked on-site. And all those flavors played beautifully together. My companion proceeded to spread a heap of the dill cream on a piece of bread, followed by small portions of the rest, each fighting for space on the small slice. Most pronounced were the fresh, delicate dill and the smoky salmon, the pair playing strongly off each other as the other ingredients played complementary tunes.
For entrees, we settled on the hanger steak and a Cuban sandwich. The steak was tasty, though the capers that accompanied it were a touch strong; my companion thought soaking them for a bit would have helped. Alongside the beef came mashed potatoes with a nice horseradish kick. Most appreciated were the simple roasted vegetables, which had flavors sweetened and intensified under the fire.
The Cubano was decent and satisfying. Dry pork was at the heart of it, and some oily gruyere cheese softened things up. The onions were cooked well, and the bread toasted nicely. Nothing out of this world, but a solid sandwich nonetheless. It came with a well executed pasta salad: penne mixed with square chunks of feta, tomato and onion. Those pasta salads are easy to screw up if the vinegar is a bit heavy or the pasta is overcooked, but not in this case.
Fireworks finished the meal — the bread pudding was marvelous. The syrup was amazing, with perfectly caramelized sugar cooked to the point where its grains have not quite disappeared. It’s like running your hand along the back of a satin robe. The flavor was both rustic and refined in the same bite, browned to the edge of burning then brought back to settle into a rich, luscious sauce. The bread did what it needed to do, which wasn’t much next to that caramel sauce.
The portions aren’t enormous at Soup Spoon, and the prices aren’t rock bottom. At some chain out in Okemos you might pay $10 less than the $50 we laid down for the evening, and you might have a to-go container to take home, too. If that’s what you like, more power to you — but if you want to eat well, head to Soup Spoon, a true member of its neighborhood.
Soup Spoon Café
1419 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
7 a.m.-midnight Friday
8 a.m.-noon Saturday
TO, OM, FB