Feb. 16 2011 12:00 AM

Sure, the pie is terrific but don’t overlook Grand Traverse Pie’s other menu options

The cherry chicken salad at Grand Traverse Pie Co. sombines dried cherries, romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and greens with feta and Parmesan cheeses. Joe Torok/City Pulse

Go to Grand Traverse Pie Co. for the cherry crumb pie — stay for the chicken focaccia.

Grand Traverse Pie opened its 19th location in downtown Lansing three weeks ago — its first in a dense urban setting — providing crack-of-dawn breakfasts, whirlwind lunches, light dinners and renowned desserts.

General manager Jaime Jones says the downtown location is the third restaurant style since the company bubbled into existence in Traverse City 15 years ago.

All three phases of G.T. Pie’s evolution — from an identity that emphasized its quaint pie shack origins to its transformation into a bustling corporate franchise — can be found in the area.

The company’s original layout emphasized homeyness, with bakers working in full view of diners at the company’s second-ever store, which opened in the Meridian Crossing complex of Okemos.

In East Lansing, you can see the company’s second phase at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Hagadorn Road, an outlet built as a family-centered café.

And now, downtown, a streamlined version of phase two is up and running, open early enough for a sunrise breakfast and capable of handling the tornado-like lunch rush when it hits.

By late morning, Jones’ crew "gets their game faces on," she says, in preparation for the onslaught of professionals who don’t have the time — or patience, for that matter, with plenty of other dining options nearby — for food that is not perfect the first time.

"There are always rushes," says Jones, who has paid her dues working a variety of positions at area restaurants, "but it’s more intense down here."

For a lunch without fuss, the cherry chicken salad ($6.99, or $3.99 for a half-serving) is quick and delicious. A generous handful of dried cherries is tossed with romaine lettuce and a spring mix. Freshly cut chunks of tomato and silver dollar slices of cucumber punctuate the bed of green and purple leaves. Slices of chicken give the salad substance, and feta and Parmesan cheese broaden the flavor. The Pie people recommend (soundly) the berry/cherry vinaigrette, a homemade dressing with zing that amplifies the dried cherries and brings everything together.

The chicken focaccia ($6.49) is an excellent sandwich. Grilled garlic chicken, smoked bacon and Swiss cheese rests on pleasantly chewy artisanal flatbread. A thin layer of ranch dresses the focaccia, and a pickle on the side adds a crunchy bite.

An express cooler near the front door is the GT Pie answer to fast food, with slices of pie, salads and sandwiches made and packaged daily. Catering office parties or business lunches should be a growing part of the downtown store’s business, too.

The corporate culture of Grand Traverse Pie Co. works to build community and not just feed the hungry, though at times it does both simultaneously. Pies, soup and sandwiches are routinely donated before their expiration date to the Lansing City Rescue Mission.

G.T. Pie also participates in fundraisers for foster-care organizations and the Girl Scouts. During the downtown Frost Fest this Saturday, it will offer free hot cocoa. Jones hopes a pie-eating contest will coincide with warmer weather.

"Our motto is, ’Warm your heart and community with pie,’" Jones says.

Jones knew all about that grand pie long before she took her present job — and she has filmmaker David Lynch to thank: "Friends and I would get together for ’Twin Peaks’ marathons on DVD, and they were always eating cherry pie, so we’d bring Grand Traverse pie."

All 52 pie varieties can be found and purchased online (www.gtpie.com). At the downtown location, 12 of the most popular are always available, with a 13th rotated monthly. The cherry ganache is featured this month: a classic cherry crumb, frosted with a homemade ganache.

While Grand Traverse Pie Co. is expanding its horizons, its essence retains the feel of a folksy bakery.

"We want people to feel like this is their own personal pie shack," Jones says, "a place where they can just relax all day."

Grand Traverse Pie Co.

200 S. Washington Square, Lansing. (517) 316-0900

6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday TO, OM, P, WiFi, $

Also located at 1403 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing. (517) 203-3304; and 3536 Meridian Crossings, Okemos. (517) 381-7437 www.gtpie.com