She ate: Slice of retro charm

By Gabrielle Lawrence

Few things are more “East Lansing” than Coral Gables. Or, as people of a certain age affectionately refer to it, The Coral Gables. The landmark restaurant had slipped from my radar; I’d not been there since I was an undergrad and a girlfriend of mine waitressed the breakfast shift. A few weeks ago I returned for lunch with a law school buddy, both of us cautiously optimistic and eager to sample as much of the menu as possible.

I’d learned from my preliminary research (doesn’t everyone research their meals beforehand?) that Coral Gables is one of the last vestiges of a once-rich tradition of Greek-owned restaurants in the Lansing area. The menu is peppered with suggestions of the Greek background and my companion and I decided to take advantage. We started our lunch with the dolmathes, more commonly known as stuffed grape leaves for us simple folk. The six rolls were bursting with seasoned ground meat and rice and were topped with a creamy but surprisingly light lemon sauce. I’m not typically a fan of stuffed grape leaves, but these changed my mind and I ate more than my fair share.

We moved on to sandwiches — he said his gyro was one of the best he’s had. My patty melt was to die for. We finished our hearty lunch with an order of rice pudding, which I understand is quite famous among the regulars. Our unobtrusive (and very cute) waitress brought a warmed bowl of rice pudding topped with whipped cream and positively fragrant with cinnamon. I sank into it and only resurfaced to blink my eyes at the bill, which seemed to reflect prices from 1960. My pal and I left happy, feeling like we’d discovered a best-kept secret.

I returned the next week for dinner before a girlfriend and I went to the Lyle Lovett concert (I don’t even recognize myself anymore.) She fancies herself a patty melt expert and I was eager for her to try the sandwich that I’d loved the week before. We both made a trip to the salad bar and noted that spinach would be a nice addition to the other fresh offerings. I had a cup of lemon rice soup, which wasn’t so lemony as to pucker your lips but still gave your tongue a little curl. The patty melt expert said that her sandwich stacked up against anything she’d had before. My chicken kebob was a colorful, beautiful platter of skewered grilled chicken, red onion, red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, yellow squash and zucchini with rice alongside. The chicken was juicy and plentiful.

I couldn’t control myself and ordered rice pudding again, although this time it arrived at a disappointing room temperature. We also ordered a slice of chocolate cream pie, which we both picked at then pushed aside. The crust was too thick and the filling didn’t actually taste like chocolate. It wasn’t worth the calories.

I went back the next night, this time with the boyfriend who had been wondering why he’d been shut out of my “research meals” of late. The place was busy on a Wednesday night with people watching the World Series. We hit our server with a complicated order and I berated him in my mind when he neglected to write anything down.

He might as well have served a plate of crow with my massive order because he nailed everything. My Greek salad was sans olives, as I’d requested (much to the server’s chagrin.) The orzo in the boyfriend’s chicken orzo soup was a little overcooked. The Greek fries came out and I started to regret ever telling anyone that I didn’t like feta cheese. These thick-cut fries were absolutely piled with crumbled feta and seasoned with lemon, oregano and olive oil … and they were incredible. We would suggest offering a larger size option, especially for the sports fans who are there to have a few beers and watch bearded monsters play baseball.

The pork ribs that he ordered were falling off the bone. The tangy BBQ sauce was not uncomfortably spicy, especially for my man and his sensitive palate. His whipped potatoes were aptly named, as there wasn’t a lump to be found. Don’t expect mashed potatoes. My pork chop was thick and juicy and reminded me of why I love a good pork chop. A dish of applesauce accompanied the chop, a traditional pairing of unknown origins that apparently had a moment in the sun in an episode of “The Brady Bunch.” We finished up with a slice of raspberry pie, which didn’t curl my hair. Then again, I don’t think anything short of the rice pudding would have satisfied me.

In my conversations around town I have yet to hear one person have a criticism of Coral Gables. I’ve heard from a Friday-night regular that the staff is treated well. From a newlywed girlfriend whose mother-in-law loves the place, a report that the spinach salad is delicious and fresh. I’ve received hearsay statements that prominent community members swear by the coconut cream pie.

Coral Gables is a vestige of the past, but one that I’m happy to recommend to anyone who is hungry for a slice of retro charm.