On our way into the Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery in East Lansing for a weekday lunch date, I told Mr. She Ate a story from my childhood. Most Sundays were spent attending mass and having coffee and donuts at St. John Catholic Church & Student Center on M.A.C. Avenue, and my family would always park on the ramp just west of the church. Whenever one of us kids would dare to touch the handrail in the stairway, my mother would immediately admonish us, telling us that “college students pee on those!” I was left wondering who, exactly, these degenerate, free-peeing university students were and why they were spending time terrorizing East Lansing’s parking ramps.
Having just returned from a family vacation to France, which involved plenty of public transportation, I now understand the urge to prevent your children from touching pretty much anything they see. With that in mind, we left the kids at home and enjoyed lunch tête-à-tête. I hadn’t been to any of the Jolly Pumpkin locations throughout the state, and I was extraordinarily interested in the menu, which included so many items that sounded appealing to me.
We dove into lunch with an appetizer order of the Red Chicken Nachos ($14.50). They arrived at our table quickly, and Mr. She Ate immediately went outside to take a phone call, so I made it my mission to eat as many of the pickled red onions as possible. The chips, while appropriately salty, weren’t thick enough to stand up to the volume of toppings. Constructing a perfect nacho bite is an art — you don’t want a mainly barren chip with a smidge of toppings or a smattering of burnt cheese, nor do you want a chip so entirely laden with chicken, beans and cheese that it crumbles before it can reach your mouth. I was so hungry that I threw caution to the wind, attacking the plate with my fork and disregarding the chips entirely.
Two things about me: I love to eat healthily, although I equally love to indulge, and I’m a sucker for marketing. If something is called a “bowl,” a “power bowl” or a “Buddha bowl,” I’m probably going to order it. This occasion was no exception, and I requested the Mediterranean Bowl ($15.50), while Mr. She Ate asked for the Perfect Fried Chicken Sandwich ($15.50) with truffle fries ($2.50).
I have never regretted an order more. When our lunches arrived, I took three bites of my bowl before I pushed my plate away and turned my attention to the fried-chicken situation across the table. The fries were thin, crispy and fragrant with the scent of truffle. I grabbed handfuls of them, dragged them through the accompanying aioli and let them melt in my mouth. I snatched my husband’s sandwich out of his hands, unable to resist the crispy fried chicken covered in bright, beautiful slaw and pickles, and took some of the most humongous bites I’ve ever taken in my life.
During another visit, we ordered dinner to go and sampled the Cobb (hold the olives) and Harvest salads ($14.50). Mr. She Ate inhaled the Cobb and proclaimed it to be highly above average. He loved the bacon buttermilk dressing and oven-roasted tomatoes, and this is coming from a man who resists an entrée salad and never eats fresh tomatoes. I’m happy to have found a satisfying option when we’re looking for a lighter restaurant dinner. My Harvest salad was huge, just like I like it, overflowing with fresh, crisp leafy greens and kale. I’ve never met a beet I didn’t like, and our recent vacation reinvigorated my love for goat cheese in salads, although nothing can hold a candle to a Parisian salade de chèvre chaud.
We all know fries don’t travel well. In the next few weeks, while you can still find parking, get yourself to the Jolly Pumpkin. Order the fried chicken sandwich and the truffle fries. You can probably share them with a friend — or a hungry wife. Just make sure you bring hand sanitizer if you’re parking on the ramp.
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