By MARK NIXON
… An odd name for a restaurant, right?
And oddly situated, too. It isn’t a showpiece of bustling Old Town or hunkered along Comeback Alley, better known as Michigan Avenue. No, Green Dot Stables plops itself along a quiet street that dead ends into the Red Cedar River.
Back in February, two months after it opened, the river overflowed its banks and turned Green Dot Stables into a murky, uninhabitable indoor swimming pool.
One might think Green Dot Stables is snake bit. I’m here to dispel that notion. Green Dot Stables is a diamond in the rough, sporting creative cookery that takes a simple thing we call sliders to surprising new levels.
Before diving headfirst into the fare, let’s settle the question: What does Green Dot mean? Turns out, it was once a horse-racing stable in Detroit, as we were told by our server. The original Green Dot Stables is still in Motown and, like its Lansing counterpart, is a restaurant.
The latest Green Dot Stables iteration is spacious and brims with an equine theme. Booth tables hugging the walls are reminiscent of horse stalls. Near the west wall is a full-sized replica of a trotter horse hauling a two-wheeled “sulky” used in harness racing. It’s quirky and a bit jolting to the eye, but it somehow fits and is a hit with families with young children.
Now, let’s head for the sliders. On two visits I counted 20-plus variations of sliders, most costing $3 with a few going for $2 each. This is a slice of heaven for slider fans. Green Dot Stables has everything from Korean sliders — beef, peanut butter, kimchi — to pork belly and Coney dog sliders.
My hands-down favorite was the catfish slider, which is lightly dipped in a cornmeal batter, not overly fried, dabbed with tangy tartar sauce and served on a slider bun. During two visits, my friends all pronounced this a winner by nine lengths, as in a 9 on a 1-10 scale.
The slider menu seems to be ever-changing at Green Dot Stables, but both times the catfish slider stayed put. As well it should.
Other standouts were the Lansing Hot Chicken slider — a crispy chicken filet with house-made Buffalo sauce — and the Coney dog slider made with venison chili, onions and mustard.
The truffle and herb fries ($3) had all the right earthy notes.
The New England clam chowder ($3) is as good as I’ve had anywhere. Why? For one thing, the broth bends toward the thinner end of the spectrum, not the porridge consistency that seems to have a grip on so many restaurant kitchens.
Green Dot also doesn’t overcook the chowder’s potatoes, so there is just a slight crunch left in them. Finally, just enough smoky bacon is added to complement a clam-based broth.
The fried bologna slider with ($2) was about what you’d expect from fried bologna, only less so. The corned beef slider ($3) had all the makings of a winner: sauerkraut, corned beef, mustard aioli. Put them altogether, and they faded in the home stretch. A pity.
It appears Green Dot Stables is using cardboard containers to serve much of its food, probably because cardboard is either recyclable or compostable. I laud them for the effort, but the flimsy cardboard looked and felt as if it was prepared to disintegrate any second.
I give high marks to Green Dot Stables for constantly challenging its innate creativity. That extends to the bar, where a staple is the “mystery cocktail.” On one visit, Judy ordered one, which was newly created in honor of Lansing-born movie star Burt Reynolds, who had died the day before. While the drink itself wasn’t particularly memorable, the fact Green Dot Stables felt instantly inspired to pay homage to Reynolds is noteworthy.
Green Dot Stables is a hybrid: Part pub, part burger joint, part sports bar. It appears to cater to all sorts, from families to college students. Since it’s nearly within shouting distance of Michigan State University, it’s a likely spot for game-watching for those lacking tickets. From Green Dot Stables, you can surely hear the roar of the green and white fans from nearby Spartan Stadium. Not a bad place to hang out on the banks of the Red Cedar … as long at the river stays within its banks.
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
As a rule, I don’t prefer cute food. I’m not interested in a platter of guacamole designed to look like a football field, or a cupcake that has the face of Elmo, or a mini pumpkin filled with stuffing. I believe that, if you insist upon making your food cute, at least make sure that the ingredients are decidedly special. Maybe the guacamole is made with avocados that came from the tree in your backyard — if you live in California, that is — or the Elmo frosting is an extraordinarily delicious cream cheese variety that you colored with beet extract.
It was with this notion in mind that I, somewhat warily, approached Green Dot Stables. I consider sliders, by-and-large, to be “cute food.” However, Green Dot has embraced the notion of utilizing above-average ingredients and flavor combinations to take their trademark slider to a new level.
The Cuban has pork loin, ham, provolone cheese, mustard, and pickles. A Cuban sandwich is one of Mr. She Ate’s preferred sandwich varieties, and I don’t let him order them too frequently, because I care about his cardiovascular health. This little fourbite sandwich is a great compromise. It has the traditional flavors of a Cuban and allows the eater to not blow an entire day of healthy eating.
The Cheeseburger, beef patty, American cheese, pickles and caramelized onions, was one of my favorites. I do want to point out, however, that if caramelized onions were layered on top of one of Baby She Ate’s flavorless rice rusk teething biscuits, I would probably eat it.
The BBQ bacon, with a beef patty, sweet potato, and house-made BBQ sauce, was too sweet for me. I like sweet potatoes, especially because they are nutritionally dense, but when they are paired with something equally sweet like BBQ sauce, the combination overwhelms everything else.
We didn’t order the Mystery Meat slider, because it makes me think of the Salisbury steak hot lunch that I would sometimes encounter in elementary school — Moores Park, if you’re interested. I didn’t know until very recently that Salisbury steak is a “blend” of ground meats, and I remember the lunchroom variety resembling small hockey pucks. I can’t get past that, so the Mystery Meat will have to remain a mystery.
The Catfish slider, on the other hand, was my favorite slider of the evening. The cornmeal breading is light, which is key for fried fish and something that many restaurants ignore. I don’t want to simply taste the breading, I want to taste the fish, and this one nailed it. I liked that the piece of fish was oversized and hung over the sides of the little bun, because it meant that I got extra bites of fish.
The Lansing Hot Chicken, made with a crispy chicken filet, pickle, and house-made buffalo sauce, was my runner up. I love the combination of chicken and buffalo sauce, and while this sauce was slightly too spicy for Mr. She Ate, it was perfect for me.
On the flip side, while he loved the flavors in the fried chicken slider — maple and sage — I didn’t. Similar to the BBQ bacon, this little guy was too sweet for me, and I needed another savory ingredient to balance the sweetness of the maple.
Along with several more slider varieties, the most expensive of which will run you $3, the Green Dot menu also has small sections of French fries, salads, soups, and desserts.
We ordered the truffle and herb fries and the poutine fries. Poutine is a dish that originated in Quebec and includes French fries topped with, traditionally, gravy and cheese curds. Their thin, but not quite shoestring-thin fries were crispy and salty, and the gravy and cheese curds rich and savory.
I preferred the truffle and herb fries, and while I recognize that truffle oil is becoming a bit of a laughingstock in the food world, I live in my own world and I want it to include a truffle oil pool.
Green Dot has morphed into a clean, inviting, energetic restaurant with an interesting and inexpensive menu, a far cry from the days when the building was known as the Whiskey Barrel. The clientele is probably similar, and a cheap night out for college students is easy to come by when you can fill your stomach for $12.
There’s an opportunity to show some originality if Green Dot chose to include different types of buns —King’s Hawaiian, pretzel rolls, sourdough to name a few — but then the price point might have to chance. In any event, if the success of its Detroit location is any indication, we’ve got ourselves a new standby in Lansing.
Green Dot Stables
410 S. Clippert St., Lansing, MI 48912
Monday-Thursday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Sunday, Noon to 10 p.m. (517) 574-4214 www.greendotstables.com