July 13 2011 12:00 AM

Nip-n-Sip serves up deep-fried memories


When my Uruguayan dining companion requested an authentic American experience, I knew just the spot.

Nip-n-Sip in north Lansing caters to the
automobile like no other restaurant in town. It has been parked by the
side of North East Street (otherwise known as old US 27) for decades,
pleasing transient gobblers in gas-guzzlers.

We pulled in next to one of many drive-up
menus that surround the kitchen and server station hub in the center of
the lot. At Nip-n-Sip, your car is your commissary, although tables
underneath two metal canopies do offer an open-air alternative to
vehicular dining.

If parking lot ambiance is what you’re
looking for, Nip-n-Sip has it in spades. The red and white building and
accompanying lot have plenty of character, with vintage advertising, oil
spots freckling the pavement and a roof with ruffled shingles that look
like they’re a few years beyond their intended lifespan. Engines
grumble to life and tires crunch loose gravel as the slow spin of
steering wheels signal a departing diner.  

I cut the engine and cranked the parking brake. The menu was filled with fried food.  Creatures
of the land and sea were battered and tossed into hot oil. The
remainder consisted of fare that could be grilled and assembled in under
five minutes.    

We made up our minds, and I pushed the
intercom button for service. Silence. After a few moments contemplating
the operability of the intercom, I considered approaching the walk-up
window. The experience revived drive-in movie memories, with scratchy,
occasionally faulty speakers clamped to windows and the central
concession station pumping out yellow popcorn and bubbly soda.

A pleasant voice pulled me back from the
double features of my youth and asked politely for my order. I
considered the Hammy Sammy ($3.78), based on both the whimsical name and
obscure pricing. Instead, we chose the clam dinner ($5.50) and double
burger combo ($5.45). Both came with French fries and cole slaw, and the
combo added a drink. “We’ll get that right out to ya,” a voice from the
speaker promised.

A young carhop soon carried out our meals
on a tray with plastic-coated brackets that slid onto a sliver of
exposed driver’s-side window.  

The clam diner came in one basket, breaded
clams on top of fries. The fries were cooked well, without competing
flavors from the fryer as I had feared, and, thankfully, not drenched in

The clams were another story; a shadow of
a hint of seafood was encased in what were essentially fried puffs of
flour. The thick batter was dry and lacked any kind of seasoning.  Our choice of dipping sauce — tartar — redeemed the meal a tad, with a strong pickle flavor and nice cool, creamy texture.

The double burger, served with the same
chili sauce that blankets Nip-n-Sip Coney dogs, came on a white-flour
bun that was toasted a little too fast. The patties, cooked well done,
appeared hand pressed. Mayo covered the bottom bun, chili sauce the
middle and ketchup and pickles topped the burger, making for an eclectic

Until halfway through, I thought the cook
had made a mistake and forgotten the chili sauce, which was hidden deep
inside the burger’s layers. I peeled the burger open, spooned a bit out
and thought the cumin-heavy sauce might have made for an interesting
topping by itself. But in this kaleidoscope of flavors, it was difficult
to sort out. 

The cole slaw, served in oversized
condiment containers, was closer to cole soup and was vinegar-heavy,
though the cabbage retained a nice crunch.

Homemade cookies and pie appear on the
menu, but are unfortunately no longer available. I considered a Boston
cooler (ginger ale with ice cream), but the thought of so much sugar
after so much oil didn’t sit so well. Feeling extra American, I decided
to double down and go with an order of onion rings for dessert.

The batter was crisp, visually delicious,
but I knew I was in trouble when little amber pearls of oil speckled
the wax bag that carried the rings. With so much oil, the onion flavor
was completely dulled, along with my taste buds.   

Before pulling away, I imagined sitting
there as a kid with my dad in his rusty Chevy pickup, listening to a
Tigers game on the radio as we waited for mugs of root beer and a couple
of burgers after a day of fishing the Looking Glass River, the smell of
worms still clinging to my fingers. 

Nip-n-Sip sticks in your imagination, the kind of place
nostalgia wanders back to. You may not remember the food, but the
experience is unforgettable.

2603 N. East St., Lansing
(517) 372-3734
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Noon-7 p.m. Sunday
TO, OM, $