Best of 2013: Dining

By Gabrielle Lawrence

I stuffed myself silly in 2013. I ate my way from Grand Ledge to Williamston, and from St. Johns to Jackson. Here are my top five local dining experiences for the year that was.

The Knight Cap
The servers are trained professionals in the European tradition — people who take what they do seriously. It shows. The location is a little way down Michigan Avenue, away from the hustle and bustle of the Capitol, providing for a slightly easier parking situation.

Dinner prices are at a premium, but lunch is surprisingly affordable. A filet at the Knight Cap is always my meal of choice, but I liked the San Francisco Cobb salad for lunch: A plate of greens piled with chicken breast, bacon, avocado, tomato, hard-boiled egg and crumbled bleu cheese. And at $9.50 it’s comparable to what you’d spend at a deli.

The Knight Cap, 320 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Dining room hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m.–11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Bar is open until midnight all six days. (517) 484-7676

Asia’s Finest
I received several tips in recent months that Asia’s Finest would make a trip to Lansing’s south side worth my while. The decision was made when I learned that the pan-Asian restaurant offered a dish I’d long been seeking: A Vietnamese soup called pho.

Pho (rhymes with “duh,” not “doe”) is a traditional Vietnamese peasant food made of beef broth, cooked over the course of several hours and includes the parboiling of bones and the rendering of marrow. The stock has a richness of flavor that I’d never before experienced.

Long, translucent rice noodles — the kind that lend themselves so well to slurping — are heaped into an oversized bowl. The traditional preparation includes adding thinly sliced raw beef, which is cooked when the boiling broth is poured into the bowl.

Asia’s Finest, 6443 S Cedar St., Lansing. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon- 9 p.m. Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday. (517) 393-1688,

The State Room
In the last 10 years, the Kellogg Center’s State Room has transformed from a stuffy place with good food into to a lush, glamorous place with extremely good food. I’ve always found the service to be professional, courteous, and well trained.

The Kobe beef burger is juicy, flavorful, and melted in my mouth. The Sunday brunch menu is tantalizing and I’m trying to fit in a trip around all my holiday eating.

The State Room, 219 S. Harrison Road, East Lansing (inside the Kellogg Center). 6:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Sunday; 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. (517) 432-5049,

Tavern 109
This restaurant is one of my new favorites.

I sing the praises every chance I get of the shrimp and grits and the pear pizza, which is a marvel. The thin crust is loaded with a gorgonzola blend, big chunks of bacon and walnuts and hunks of roasted lightly roasted pear, and finished with olive oil and cracked pepper.

It’s a sweet dish with a lot of strong flavors thrown together, but the chewy, crispy crust and lack of any red sauce let it retain its lightness. The pears are slightly roasted and provide a welcome textural complement to the walnuts.

The Sunday brunch is the best in the area and I cannot stop myself from ordering both the apple oatmeal pancakes and the breakfast pizza.

Tavern 109, 115 E. Grand River Ave., Williamston. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday- Wednesday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. (517) 655- 2100,

Rookies Restaurant and Bar
For months I’d heard that Rookies made a great pizza, but it wasn’t until my boyfriend made me go on a 42-mile bike ride one day and I was weak with hunger that I agreed to give it a chance. Eaters, Rookies is my favorite pizza in town.

The pepperoni and green peppers were fresh and spicy. The cheese was melty and bubbly. The dough was thin enough as to not overwhelm the toppings, but still offered some heft and kept my hands relatively clean. Rookie’s has become our go-to pizza place.

Rookies Restaurant and Bar, 16460 S US 27, Lansing. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday- Saturday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. (517) 487-8686,