By MARK NIXON
Employing my supreme telepathic powers, I detected a few contemptuous snorts when I referred to Michigan Avenue as Comeback Alley in last month’s review.
Snorts acknowledged. There are blocks of Michigan Avenue that have not changed much in the past 30 years. It’s low-slung and weary, hobbled by time and neglect.
But let’s not ignore the strides this most hallowed of Lansing streets have made. When I was a cub reporter, contiguous blocks of Michigan Avenue were a mashup of massage parlors and dodgy second-floor apartments. I covered my first homicide there one Friday night, just a wino’s wobble from what is now Cooley Law School Stadium.
The grittiness persists along Michigan Avenue — that’s part of its allure. But dreamers have staked out their territory as well, and they will not be denied. I give you Batter Up Bistro, an unlikely place full of charm and promise.
Imagine blending an old general store with a friend’s country kitchen. That’s the ambience of Batter Up Bistro.
Before we get to the food, let’s indulge in the surroundings. Somebody here has an artist’s eye. A loaf of bread becomes a still-life study. A lounge chair snuggles with a coffee table adorned with a wooden game of tic-tac-toe. Petite horseshoes are welded to form a pumpkin. Lording over the hardwood floors and old, ruddy brick walls is a high pressed-tin ceiling so popular in the late 1800s.
There is a coziness about this place that makes you want to curl up with a good book. We opted for lunch instead.
I had the Italian Stallion ($12), a sandwich made with house-made grilled bread.
It’s a quality panini with Genoa salami, capicola ham, mild pepperoncini peppers, muenster cheese and arugula topped with a dijon-like mustard. The triumphant “Rocky” theme pranced through my head.
621 E. Michigan Ave.
Lansing, MI 48912 (517) 575-6717 www.batterupbistro.com Monday through Friday Breakfast & Lunch 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Saturday Breakfast 8 a.m. to Noon
Judy ordered the chicken salad sandwich ($13) and declared it “excellent.” This sandwich also was served between slices of grilled house-made bread. Chunks of herbed chicken came with counterpoint tastes of tart cranberries, candied pecans, red onion and blue cheese.
It’s one of the best chicken salad sand wiches I’ve ever tasted.
We saved the best for last — a takeout order of homemade scones ($4) made with bacon and bleu cheese. If you want to skip a full breakfast or lunch, I’d recommend a latte and a scone at this place.
We wanted to try a Batter Up breakfast for our second visit. Once again, I was struck by the ambience. In the background, Nat King Cole sang “Stardust.” A heap of savory scones lay in wait beneath a glass lid. Napkins on the table were tied up with butcher’s string. To one side was a handwritten sign: “Don’t dream your life. Live your dream.”
My dream was nothing loftier than a breakfast sandwich, the Bed Head BLT ($12). This quirkily named sandwich held fried eggs, a sweet-and-salty bourbon caramelized bacon, tomatoes and greens with white cheddar cheese. It was so rich I took half of it home. The only complaint: The bread was so laden with grease from grilling that it was messy to eat by hand.
Judy ordered two poached eggs with the caramelized bacon ($9). There came a glitch. The poached egg person was not in the kitchen that morning. Thus, no poached eggs for you, Judy! It was a bit weird — the poached egg chef had the day off — but, overall, not that off-putting. Judy opted for eggs sunny side up.
The standout of our breakfast were the accompanying bistro potatoes. They were browned — either grilled or baked — with the skins, on as we like them. But glory of all glories, minced garlic provided a best supporting role. Honestly, along with penicillin, fresh raspberries and Shakespeare, can there be a greater gift to mankind than garlic?
Sorry … confessions of garlicoholic … where was I?
Batter Up Bistro is a special place with an emphasis on down-home baking and a homey sense of place. It succeeds on both counts. What I worry about is what so many restaurants worry about: If they build it, will they (customers) come? During each of our visits, Batter Up had fewer than eight customers. In this sense, Batter Up still needs to be discovered, though it celebrated its first anniversary in October. A sign behind the counter — “Beer and wine coming soon” — may lure more customers.
I hope so. In any event, Batter Up Bistro seems to have an intrinsic, philosophical bent to it. Attached to our take-home bag was a quote from Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
Memo to Comeback Alley: “Words to live by.”SHE ATE
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
If we just met and I was telling you about myself, before too long I would start to talk about my affinity for oatmeal. I know that oatmeal isn’t the most exciting dish in the world, but, at least three times a week, I load up a steaming bowl with a base of oats and various topping.
Maybe whipped banana and almond butter with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or fresh berries, almond milk and shredded coconut, or added egg whites, which make the oatmeal so fluffy and give you a good hit of protein. As I travel throughout our state for work, I make it a mission to find the best oatmeal near my firm’s office locations and, if you’re wondering, Morsels in Traverse City and Babycakes in Marquette can’t be beat.
If there is oatmeal on a menu in the Lansing area, I’ve probably tried it. And, as of the date of this writing, I’ve had the oatmeal at Batter Up Bistro three times in the past month. It has everything that I love: whole flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and a huge dollop of plain yogurt.
I choose to spring for the extra $3 charge and add berries and nuts. The whole thing is finished with a fresh mint garnish and there is a fragrant, juicy slice of pink grapefruit or orange on the side. If this beautiful bowl of health doesn’t make you at least feel like you’ve had a delicious and virtuous start to your day, then oatmeal isn’t for you. Which is fine, because that means there is more for me.
On one breakfast visit I was able to tear myself away from the oats to try the vegetable omelet, which boasts “three silky scrambled eggs” wrapped around a veritable farmer’s market of vegetables. Eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers and red onion were sautéed to just the fork-able side of crisp, which is the perfect way to prepare my breakfast vegetables. The muenster cheese was a wonderful and tangy choice. But the toast, friends. The toast is where Batter Up Bistro shines.
When you walk into Batter Up Bistro, you’ll see a counter covered with baked goods. Raspberry-filled cookies, caramel crumble brownies, scones — both sweet and savory and other various beautiful baked goods line the countertop. But then, friends, you get to the bread section. Baguettes. Rounds of sourdough.
Focaccia. Ciabatta. Country wheat, spelt, multigrain. During one visit, a man came in and ordered four croissants to take home.
There is an espresso machine and coffee from Old Town’s Bloom roasters, and if decorum allowed it I would sit at the counter and work my way through a loaf of multigrain, thickly sliced and spread with salted butter, while chasing it with almond milk lattes.
For lunch I had a chicken paillard salad, which was a plate heaped with fresh spring mix topped with herby roasted chicken, charred cherry tomatoes, and shaved Parmesan cheese. The greens and chicken make it healthy, while the croutons made out of the killer bread give it an edge of indulgence. Mr. She Ate chose the grilled cheese, and the perfect amount of crunch on the bread and ooze of the cheese have this sandwich competing with Grand Traverse Pie Company for my favorite grilled cheese in town.
A few notes on service — during a breakfast meeting, my companion ordered two poached eggs. They couldn’t make poached eggs today, we were informed. The person who knew how to prepare them wasn’t in the kitchen and “poached eggs are very difficult to make,” we were told by our server. To the contrary, I would claim. Poached eggs aren’t as simple as cracking an egg into a pan, but almost. While I wholeheartedly appreciate the small and approachable menu at Batter Up Bistro, it can be frustrating to order an item and be refused because the cook doesn’t know how to prepare the ingredient.
During more than one visit, my companions and I have been confused about who is actually waiting on us. Sure, it’s better to have too much attention paid to us than not enough, but too much attention can be bothersome when trying to juggle Baby She Ate and tell someone that yes, we already gave drink orders.
Funny how the attention always seems to evaporate when we’ve eaten and are waiting for the bill. That aside, Batter Up Bistro has leapfrogged over almost everything else to become my preferred place for breakfast or lunch near downtown Lansing. The food is always garnished with fresh, colorful herbs, the potatoes are seasoned, and the lattes are strong and hot. I hope they’ll start serving Sunday breakfast and dinner everyday, because Batter Up beautifully fills a void in our local restaurant scene.