April 14 2010 12:00 AM

Old Town neighborhood welcomes Pastry Palette



The Pastry Palette Café and Bakery in Old Town exudes an amiable atmosphere somewhere between down-home diner and uptown café.

Owners Bill and Vicky Morgan took the plunge into food service last November, succeeding in the space formerly occupied by Portable Feast and Friends.

“Bill and I love coming to Old Town for all the events and festivals,” Vicky says. “The diversity down here is really nice,” Bill adds.

Neighborly merchants made starting a new restaurant easier, Vicky says, and that, along with managing a small business, has led her to adjust her shopping habits. “Given the choice, I now shop at mom-and-pops,” she says.

Bill, 46, is quiet-mannered and polite, an electrical engineer for General Motors by day, supportive husband and partner to the business in his spare time. He has the temperament of a tenured philosophy professor: always willing to listen, while giving only the slightest indication the wheels are constantly whizzing in his head.

Vicky’s presence is stronger, with a touch of country — she previously worked at a diner in St. John’s feeding farmers at the crack of dawn. Vicky, 42, is chipper and gregarious without the schmuckiness or gratuitous self-promotion of Paula Deen’s persona.

Pastries fill a display case, confections that are whipped up according to Vicky’s fancy every morning. “It depends on what mood I’m in,” she says.

Muffins, brownies, cakes and pies might find their way into a customer’s field of vision, but if you don’t see it, special orders are always welcome. “We can do most Seasonal pumpkin rolls were a hit through the fall, but if you feel
like Thanksgiving comfort food when tulips are blossoming, all you need
to do is ask.

“I’d say about 90 percent of our soups are made from scratch, and the rest are homemade from a base,” Vicky says, emphasizing her reluctance to use prepackaged or processed foods.

French onion soup sells well, as well as potato and mushroom soups. Vicky’s milder recipe for sauerkraut, tamed with a touch of brown sugar, goes over well, too.

Homemade quiche is popular, for good reason. On a recent Friday morning she decided to make ham and Swiss quiche. Its velvety texture melts in the mouth, accompanied with a firm, brittle, buttery crust that contrasts beautifully with the delicate triangle of baked eggs.

The quiche’s companion, a lemon poppyseed muffin, is spongy in the middle with a crunchier top, imparting an essence of citrus while adding a dimension of sweetness next to the savory quiche.

The quiche of the day ($6) is served with a muffin, roll or bread and seasonal fruit. Flavors include the aforementioned ham and Swiss, bacon cheddar and tomato basil. The Morgans say the breakfast burrito ($4.50) is popular for early-risers, but their biggest rushes come from the afternoon crowds.

For lunch, there’s an assortment of sandwiches, both hot and cold, such as a traditional Reuben or one with turkey ($7), a BLT ($6), a tuna sandwich ($6) and so on. Wraps go over well, too, and a couple of salads are particularly popular: the Michigan dried cherry ($7.25) and raspberry walnut chicken ($7.25).

The business came together rather quickly, opening a week after the previous tenant closed up shop.

The menu did as well, though Vicky says it’s important to stay open-minded and learn the palates of her patrons. She will try new ideas as specials and, if popular, they might recur or find a spot on the menu.

“The dynamics are different in Old Town,” Vicky says. “Chili cornbread went over big in St. Johns, but when we tried it here, we only sold one or two.”

Patience is important, though, Bill notes, as they spread word about their café and build the menu to meet demand. “You do learn that you might need to try a special a couple of times before making a decision,” he says.

Along for the ride are friends they have made in Old Town, at Creole Gallery, in nearby offices and at other eateries. There’s a steady stream of customers and a general feeling of togetherness.

“The merchants and everyone are so welcoming, and I think that’s how you sustain in hard times,” Vicky says.

“At times, it’s a place that feels sort of like a family.”

Pastry Palette Café and

Turner Street, Lansing

9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday- Saturday

(517) 484-4887