Kansas City, here I come

By Joe Torok

New spot brings southern-style tastes to East Lansing

The bold, spicy-sweet flavor of Kansas City has an East Lansing home at Brother’s Grill, a sandwich joint on Grand River Avenue in the space formerly occupied by Big Ten Burrito.

Owner Eric Gunn, who opened shop in late December, combines a mixture of culinary influences gleaned from years of culling the minds of cooks from Michigan to North Carolina and a few places not-so-in-between. But his approach certainly isn’t fancified.

"People always tell me I should be a chef," Gunn says. "But it’s too complicated."

The signature flavor at Brother’s begins with a not-so-simple spice rub. The omnipresent seasoning is applied to burgers, many of Brother’s sandwiches and powdered onto sides of fries.

"It’s kind of a take on a Kansas City spice rub," Gunn says. With a few other spices, Gunn combines sugar, cayenne, chili pepper and chili powder for a zesty chili powder. "You get a little bit of sweet and a little bit of heat," he says. Gunn spends hours in the kitchen putting together concoctions he enjoys and tests his creations to see what makes his customers’ mouths water and stomachs demand more. A former golf pro,

Gunn spent quality time picking the brains of country club chefs in North Carolina.

In the Tar Heel state, Gunn learned vinegar imparts tanginess to barbeque sauce, so he took some tomatoes, threw in some balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and a few other ingredients, and brewed a sweet barbecue sauce, one of three house sauces Brother’s offers. The regular barbeque sauce steers close to ketchup and the chipotle combines a medley of flavors that that leave the tongue with a pleasant tingling.

The menu features close to a dozen sandwiches, nearly all hot, from mesa chicken with chipotle mayo ($5.50) and a pepper burger with poblano peppers ($5.50) to a grilled club sandwich ($5.75 with a side of fries) and a few vegetarian choices, such as the mushroom stack with sherry vinaigrette ($4.50) and the grilled eggplant ($4.50).

The fish tacos ($4.50), another North Carolina-inspired dish, combine grilled tilapia with red and green cabbage, red onions, tomato and poblano vegan mayo on a flour tortilla. Popular in the South and out west, Gunn wasn’t sure how the fish tacos would go over here. "We thought it would be kind of a neat little twist and threw them on there," he says. “They’re actually pretty popular."

Soups — broccoli cheddar, chicken noodle or roasted tomato with basil oil — are homemade, as well as the dressings that top four large salads. There is no freezer at Brother’s Grill, and while that sometimes puts Gunn in a bind if business is brisker than anticipated, he won’t concede a strict adherence to freshness.

The hamburgers are architectural marvels. The barbeque bacon burger ($5.50) comes stacked high with a half-pound patty drizzled in barbeque sauce and topped with thick slices of bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onions. Add mushrooms for 50 cents more and the resulting double-fisted beefcake looks like it might need a flying buttress to keep from toppling over. "By the time you eat that and the side, most people walk out of here looking like they need a nap," Gunn says. I sure did. Brother’s Grill, 403 E. Grand River, East Lansing. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday- Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday- Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. (517) 333-6939.