Kale salad for the win
By Gabrielle Johnson

I know the words “grilled kale” don’t set many hearts aflutter. But when your diet has consisted largely of barbecue chicken, macaroni and cheese and triple layer chocolate and peanut butter cake — like mine has, recently — the hope of avoiding a next-day food hangover can be enough to influence a dinner decision.

It was with this thought running through my mind that I ordered the grilled fig salad ($14) at Midtown Brewing Co. The dish features beef tenderloin and burrata (fresh mozzarella filled with a mozzarella cream), which sealed the deal. To be honest, my hopes still weren’t sky-high, but my perpetual search for a delicious kale salad led me down this path. I’m happy to report that this journey, paved with tears and calories, ended triumphantly at Midtown Brewing Co. This kale salad is like something from planet Unexpectedly Delicious. (It recently replaced Pluto in the solar system, I believe.) The kale is massaged and grilled, which breaks down that tough texture and leaves it tender and a beautiful vibrant green. (Don’t you feel healthier already?) The medallions of beef tenderloin were properly cooked to my requested medium rare, and the lightly sweetened pecans, sliced figs and indulgent cheese just added to my ecstasy.

The miso vinaigrette was spicy, smoky and sweet. I would pour it over breakfast cereal if that weren’t frowned upon. The salad came to the table on a plate that looked normal sized but was surprisingly deep. Considering the sheer volume of salad, the quantity and quality of beef tenderloin and the fact that you’re then able to brag that you’re stuffed because you just treated yourself to a kale salad, I’ll rank this salad among the very best bangs for your buck anywhere in town.

My cup of Southwest black bean chili, however, was forgettable and too expensive, even at $5. Frankly, I only ordered it because I was afraid that my salad would be a flop, and I would have to pout and complain until the fiancé handed over his plate.

His plate, by the way, was covered by a barbeque chicken pizza ($14). The crust was pillowy and rich, and the toppings stretched clear to the edge. The pizza featured mozzarella cheese, smoked chicken, pineapple, crumbled bacon, red onion, barbecue sauce and a heavy handful of cilantro, which he found to be a strange addition. I, on the other hand, will never begrudge anyone a fresh herb garnish. It’s truly one of my favorite things, and I always notice and appreciate it.

He was satisfied after eating three quarters of his pizza and a few hearty mouthfuls of my salad. (It has to be something special if this man is willingly eating kale.) He even had enough for lunch the next day. We left Midtown happy, full and feeling like we’d been missing out on something special.

“MBC has the best burger in town,” said a client of mine the next week, unaware of how perfect his timing was.

We were planning to return for dinner that night. Challenge accepted.

The fiancé chose the BBQ Brew house burger ($14) with roasted garlic pub fries. The challah bread bun was particularly good, he said, denser and slightly sweeter than a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. The fries were thickcut and seasoned with garlic and herbs — and disarmingly good. But the burger itself was sorry. It was extremely dry, without a trace of the promised barbecue sauce to be found.

My half-order of house salad ($7) was full of dark leafy greens, guacamole and fried goat cheese. I was thankful that I’d eaten the entire thing when my entrée came. My chorizo tacos ($13) were lukewarm at best. The grilled flour tortillas were falling apart because they’d been sitting too long, the chorizo was greasy and the side of grocery store grade tortilla chips left me yearning for kale.

I hope Midtown was just having an off night on our second visit. The pizza and kale salad left us wanting more, but the tacos and burger were disappointing busts.

Bird is the word
By Mark Nixon

We have a joke in my family that when a lamb sees my wife, it flees in terror — because Judy sees the lamb and exclaims, “Dinner!”

But things are evolving in the Nixon household. Judy has recently turned her Hannibal Lecter-like gaze to another species: duck.

We can’t get enough duck in our house. Duck confit, duck galette, pasta with duck … . For the holidays, Judy even made bitesized duck cheesecakes. (They are delicious but not, as the name suggests, a dessert.)

So when City Pulse pointed us toward the Midtown Brewing Co. for this month’s review, we took one look at the menu and began strutting the “Disco Duck.” (“Disco Duck” was a No. 1 hit song in 1976, by the way, which tells you the state of pop music back then.)

Midtown’s menu is awash in duck. There are duck nachos, a duck and brie sandwich and a turkey patty gussied up with duck confit and duck fat. There’s a hamburger cooked in duck fat and layered with duck pastrami. There’s a riff on that French Canadian standby, poutine, featuring potatoes fried in — what else? — duck fat.

I was only mildly disappointed to find no duck-infused sorbet for dessert. Maybe next month.

There’s more to Midtown than duck — craft beers, for instance — but let’s start with the bird of honor. The brie and duck sandwich is one of the most expensive items on the menu at $14, and it’s worth every cent. Combine fig jam and grilled fig with brie, arugula and duck pastrami, serve it all on a locally made bread, and you have a sumptuously rich meal. This was my favorite of the bunch.

The duck fry poutine ($12) comes in a close second. What makes this dish sing is the blend of duck confit with poblano sauce. It’s the most creative take on poutine I’ve ever tasted.

Now to the downside of duck. Midtown’s duck nachos ($15) are on life support. The nacho chips reached our table smothered in cooled globules of cheddar cheese that disguised any possible taste of duck confit and goat cheese. “More confit, less cheddar,” Judy suggested, to which I add: Well, that’s a start.

OK, now for my general rant about nachos. They are an abomination. They are filler, uncreative place-holders, the idea-empty sawdust of the restaurant scene. There are so many bad variations of nachos out there that if a presidential candidate wants my vote, he or she must pledge a “No Nacho Zone.”

Rant over.

During three visits to Midtown Brewing Co., we had our share of touchdowns. The truffle fries ($9) are a quick score for the home team. I especially liked the lemon thyme aioli drizzled on the fries.

The Lobster Grilled Cheese sandwich ($13), however, was an interception, a well intentioned pass that sailed wide of the mark. Too much Swiss, brie and provolone cheeses — not very flavorful cheeses, at that — suffocating any hope of actually tasting lobster. To be fair, there probably was some lobster in there, somewhere. A molecule or two. I closed my eyes and imagined tasting lobster. That’s as close as I got.

On a happier and less filling note, I recommend the potato, cheese and bacon soup ($5) topped with fresh green onions. Or try the fried goat cheese ($5). Both are solid starters but also satisfying enough for the less-than-famished diner.

It’s difficult to review a place with “brewing” in its name without at least sampling the brews. And so we did. Midtown offers an array of 2-ounce samplers for $2 each, so you can sip several craft beers brewed by Midtown and other Michigan breweries.

My favorites were Midtown’s American stout and Grand Rapids-based Founders Brewing Co.’s oatmeal stout. Both have the complex, roasted flavors I crave in a dark brew. Judy tried the Crispin cider sampler ($3), which I thought hit the right sweet and tart notes in perfect proportions.

Midtown Brewing Co. anchors the southern end of downtown Lansing’s Washington Square, which continues to evolve as a dining/drinking destination. It’s lunch and after-work crowds tell me that this place, with its casual pub vibe and elevated pub fare, is gradually finding its niche.

I applaud Midtown’s creative bent, even when some of its attempts crash and burn. You can’t make a duck egg omelet without breaking any eggs, after all. My advice: Keep the duck, highlight the lobster and dump the nachos.

Midtown Brewing Co. 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday- Wednesday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

Thursday-Saturday 402 S. Washington Square, Lansing (517) 977-1349, midtownbrewingco.com