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In the midst of history
By MARK NIXON
Dear Blue, This is a first for me. I am writing a “get well” letter to a business — you. It may come off as churlish, but it’s meant to be more like tough love. Frankly, given your surroundings, you could do so much better. And your surroundings, not to mention your customers, deserve better.
Let’s start with those surroundings.
You’re in the midst of history, Blue. That county park across the street? It used to be an amusement park. In the early part of the 20th century, folks from Lansing rode trolleys to the park, which was nestled against the shores of what was then called Pine Lake — Lake Lansing, nowadays.
There was a rickety-looking rollercoaster called the Cyclone and an amazing carousel, whose figurines were considered a work of art. They still are. When the amusement park closed in the early 1970s, the carousel was purchased by Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park. It resided there for many years before it was moved to a sister property, Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa., where it is still operating to this day.
The lake itself boasted a Prohibition-era speakeasy, built on stilts right in the middle of the lake. Oh, and your next door neighbor, the Mayfair Bar, has been around since 1934, a year after Prohibition ended.
Alright, Blue, the elephant in the room is your food. Based on two visits, the most charitable phrases I can find to describe the fare are “OK” and “not bad.”
The all-you-can-eat fried cod we had one Friday fell into the “not bad” category. At $10.99, this was easily the best thing we tasted. There are probably a half-dozen local bar/ restaurants that equal or excel your fried cod. But if one is looking for fried fish in Haslett, the cod here suffices.
There’s a good reason the cod was not bad. The kitchen fried the cod in oil heated to the proper temperature. Alas, I wish I could say the same about the sweet potato fries and the onion rings, which we bought as an “upgrade” with our entrées. The fries and rings were flaccid and practically perspiring grease. These two items were not “not bad” or “OK,” but miserably inedible.
The fisherman’s platter ($14.99) was OK in a cookie-cutter sort of way. It was deep-fried flounder, scallops and shrimp. I’m searching for new ways to say average ... .
The olive burger ($8.99) was not bad, though I ordered it cooked medium and it arrived well done and un-juicy. The French onion soup ($4.59) also was not bad, and kudos to the cook who topped off the soup with a sturdy hunk of bread instead of wimpy croutons.
The plate of buffalo wings (8.99) was OK, and boy I am really getting bored with that word. The fisherman’s stew, $3.99 for a cup, should be banished from the menu until such time as someone in the kitchen can experiment with, and perfect, something approximating fisherman’s stew. Note to the kitchen: Visit Lula’s in Owosso and try the fisher man’s stew. You’ll see what I mean.
Blue, you have a few standout items, none of which, unfortunately, are on the dining menu.
1. You have an extensive list of draft beers, many brewed in Michigan. I tried a pint of Irish stout ($5) and was not disappointed. It had the caramel and coffee notes I like in a stout. I would come back here just to sample some beers I’ve never tried.
2. Your decor pairs well with your name. The ceiling in particular is the scene-stealer, with an upturned canoe, old outboard motors and outsized fishing lures, to name just a few items. And what’s that I see? Lampshades made of bait buckets? A fine, whimsical touch.
3. In addition to the water-themed decor, you have two neighboring allies, a park and a lake. No doubt in the warmer months, your rooftop dining plays to these assets, with views of the beach and the occasional sailboat from the nearby sailing club.
You have the look, the location, the local history and the beers. You just need a kitchen that cares, that wants to be something more than not bad and OK.
If and when that occurs, people will say that Blue Gill Grill has it all. Until then, all I can say is get well soon, Blue.
Yours sincerely, Mark
Warm weather hotspot
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
I don’t drink. I haven’t for years.
If you’ve been a regular reader of this column, you probably already know that. I’d much rather eat my calories than drink them. For someone my age, I’m certainly in the minority with that line of thought.
I told you that to tell you this: If you’re interested in a fine dining experience, the Blue Gill Grill probably isn’t at the top of your list, and for good reason. But not everyone wants that fine dining experience every time they go out. Sometimes they want to go to the lake, play sand volleyball, have a picnic, get a tan and then have some frosty beverages before walking across the street to Cone Zone for a parfait. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if that is the experience that you’re after, the Blue Gill Grill is the place for you.
Mr. She Ate was able to escape the confines of his desk for lunch on two occasions last month, so he accompanied me to the Blue Gill Grill. If you’re unfamiliar, the Blue Gill Grill is a bar/restaurant located right next to Lake Lansing in Haslett. It’s a favorite of locals looking to grab some cold drinks with their BFFs on a hot day. On our first visit, we entered in the dining room door and took a seat in a booth against the exterior wall. We wanted a good seat to watch the rain fall on the gloomy spring day. As I’ve mentioned before in this very space, a seat-yourself strategy only works when the wait staff notices you come in. I’m not sure how they missed us, because when Mr. She Ate and I sat down, we literally doubled the number of people sitting on that side of the restaurant.
After flagging down our waitress and ordering our customary waters — we like to live on the edge — my freshly anniversary-ed, looking for a bit of comfort food on a gloomy Monday, ordered the lobster mac and cheese. When it arrived, he immediately regretted his decision. Tasteless liquid cheese and bits of what could charitably be called lobster adorned the platter, which, if it were any hotter, could have been glowing red. I can’t spend much time on his because I HAVE to tell you about my food.
I’ll cut to the chase. I ordered fish and chips ($10.99) with a side salad and “steamed vegetables.” What arrived was heavily breaded and deep fried fish and a few pieces of recently unfrozen broccoli that was just this side of puree, it was so mushy. No chips. Odd, right? So I inquired. Apparently, the broccoli and side salad I ordered — which, adorably to my husband and annoyingly to me, was garnished with Goldfish crackers — trumped the French fries that come with every other fish and chips entrée on planet earth, and presumably every other habitable planet in the physical universe.
A few days later, my 2M — like 2L, for all my law student homies — recalled from a previous trip to “the Grill” for a friend’s birthday party that the pizza might be worth trying. Working off this premise, we took our seats on the bar side of the restaurant. This side was abuzz with locals who had stopped in to eat, or possibly drink, lunch. Due to our constrained timeframe, I was pleased to meet our server at the table, who once again took our walk-on-thewild-side drink orders.
Not wanting to break my streak of 100,328 meals with a vegetable, I took his advice and ordered the personal-size deluxe pizza ($8.99), which came with exactly the same salad as the last one, right down to the Goldfish crackers suffocating at the top of the mound of iceberg. He, not wanting to waste his opportunity to order a burger at a bar, ordered the DW’s Burger ($8.99).
Don’t tell him I told you this, but my husband was right. The pizza was pretty dang good. The toppings were tasty and plentiful, the cheese wasn’t heavy or greasy and the crust, while probably of a frozen variety, was baked crispy and golden brown. There was no saving any for later; this thing didn’t stand a chance.
The burger, flanked by a tater tot upgrade ($1), impressed as well, resplendent in its pretzel bun and bacon. The real MVP was the honey mustard. It wouldn’t be my first choice as a burger condiment, but the sweet tanginess of it balanced the savory meat and bacon beautifully.
A minor distraction occurred as the bar staff began hanging LED rope lights on the ceiling while we were eating. The crew positioned a ladder so close to our table that if the man on the top of the ladder took a bad step, he would have ended up as a topping on our pizza. I don’t know the Blue Gill Grill’s schedule, but it seems like that’s a task that could have waited until after the lunch rush.
Almost as soon as we had finished our last bites, the waitress produced our check. As a workin’ girl myself, I really appreciated her recognizing that we were on a schedule. My tip, as well as my words to her, reflected that.
If you’re in the mood for upscale dining, you’re probably going to want to head somewhere else. But if you’re trying to catch a Tigers game after a day at the park or you’re looking for a neighborhood hangout where the service is prompt and the drinks are cold, look no further than the Blue Gill Grill. We’ll be back when the weather warms up — I’ll just have to bring my own salad.
Blue Gill Grill
11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-2 a.m. Sunday 1591 Lake Lansing Road, Haslett (517) 339-4900, bluegillgrill.com