Ellison Brewery and Event Space
1314 S. Washington Ave., Lansing
7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
As someone who grew up in REO Town, few things thrill me more than seeing the revitalization of that area of the city. But I’m guilty of going to the same places time after time — or letting weeks pass without patronizing any restaurant at all because life gets busy. One of the biggest perks of writing this column is the built-in reason to try new favorite restaurants I would have never tried otherwise, like Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine and Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant. Along with that are necessary visits to places I know I will like but haven’t made an effort to try, which is the case with Ellison Brewery and Spirits. The REO Town location, to be specific.
To be honest, I didn’t even have a firm grasp on whether the place was open. It is, and it’s gorgeous. A 30-year friend and I both left our downtown offices one recent weekday and hopped in his truck for the short drive to Ellison, and we were happy to have our orders taken quickly and to receive attentive service. Upon a recommendation from our server, I chose the Nashville Hot Yardbird sandwich ($15) with truffle fries.
After my recent experience with the fried chicken sandwich at the Jolly Pumpkin, I have a newfound affinity for them. Ellison’s is slathered with hot honey, which is perfectly spicy and sweet. The chicken is juicy and not overbreaded, and the bun is lightly crispy.
But the fries. Oh baby, the fries. Shatteringly crispy. Perfectly salted. Fragrant with the scent of truffle. I’ve eaten a lot of low-rent fries in my life, but these dwell in the penthouse.
During a weekend visit, Mr. She Ate and I loaded up the babies and met my dad and his wife for evening pizza. Contrary to the kind of mother I thought I would be, I don’t bring my children to fine-dining establishments and expect them to sit silently, screen-free, as they eat their Caesar salad and salmon. My children would never eat those things, they know how to use the iPad themselves, and we only allow them to go to places where they will not be the loudest people present.
Ellison is a perfect restaurant for the whole family — it’s cavernous, my son loved the beanbag-toss game he could play with Papa while we waited for our food, and my daughter loved that we were sitting on a couch where she could comfortably play with the Barbies that I recently purchased for her after falling in love with the movie.
Can we talk about that movie for a moment? I haven’t seen a movie in five years, but I knew I had to see this one. On a weeknight, we put the kids to bed and went to a 9:30 p.m. show. I was sleepwalking for the rest of the week, but it was worth it. I cried within the first five minutes, starting when Lawyer Barbie said, “This makes me emotional, and I’m expressing it. I have no difficulty holding both logic and emotion at the same time, and it does not diminish my powers. It expands them.” Imagine what this country would look like if that were accepted for the truth it is.
Let’s turn our attention to the pizza. We ordered a veritable buffet of pies to try. Of the Four Cheese ($14), Double Pepperoni, Goat Hallow and Doner Kabob pizzas (all $16), my favorite is the Goat Hallow. The pie is topped with goat cheese, figs, prosciutto, caramelized onions, arugula and a balsamic vinegar drizzle, and that combination of savory and sweet is very much on brand for me. I hesitantly tried the Doner Kabob pizza, but any hesitation on my part was unnecessary. It’s essentially a differently presented gyro, and if you like gyros, you will like this.
My daughter gobbled up several breadsticks ($9) while her brother inhaled an entire order of fries ($3). The adults enjoyed the fried pickle appetizer ($9), an item that always makes me remember the first time I had them at a long-defunct restaurant and bar called Enzo’s that was open for a short time near Chandler Crossings during my undergraduate years.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I am preparing for an open-water swim event with a girlfriend of mine in a few weeks, and Mr. She Ate and I recently headed to my family cottage for the day so I could swim across the lake and back in preparation. I called in a takeout order for breakfast before we left town, and after we got the children where they needed to be, we hit the highway and opened our containers.
I chose the Speed Wagon Breakfast Sandwich ($10), which includes a fried egg, arugula, sliced red onion, sliced tomato, avocado and goat cheese on an English muffin. I ate it because I was about to swim a few miles, but the sandwich is basically flavorless.
Mr. She Ate chose the QD Donut Sandwich ($13), which consists of sausage, cheese and a fried egg on a sliced glazed donut. I’m afraid of what something like this would do to my GI tract, so I only sampled a bite, but this combination is slammin’. The breakfast sandwiches also come with home fries, which appear nowhere on the menu but are worth mentioning.
If you’re looking for a new pizza to try, check out Ellison. The space is beautiful, and the outdoor seating can be enjoyed for a few more months.
Greater Lansing has seen an explosion of brewing companies as of late. From homegrown craft-beer makers taking their wares to a larger market to other Michigan-based breweries expanding into the capital city, one doesn’t need to travel far to wet their whistle with hoppy concoctions from the Great Lakes State. A few of these businesses are even adding distilled spirits and hard liquor to their repertoire, with menus offering Mitten-State-themed mules, cosmopolitans and martinis.
What’s even better is that the majority of these beverage-focused establishments aren’t just pushing the envelope on alcohol-related items, but they’re also crafting fresh takes on bar fare that accomplish more than just filling one’s stomach for more drinking. Many of these bright spots in Greater Lansing’s culinary scene are as notable for their plates as they are for their pints.
Such is the case with Ellison Brewery and Spirits. Founded in 2015, Ellison has been making a name for itself with its IPAs and amber ales. Similarly, the vodka, rum, gin and bourbon, all locally distilled, have earned favorable marks among those who imbibe. This year, the company even brought a line of coffee to the market. With so much effort and attention paid to the liquid side of the business, one might assume Ellison wouldn’t have much more innovative capacity for the kitchen. They would be wrong.
Ellison has two locations: the brewpub on Dawn Avenue in East Lansing and the new taproom and event space in the converted, last-remaining REO Motor Co. building in town. The Washington Avenue location is spacious and inviting at the same time, making good use of the natural industrial environment that so many places attempt to manufacture in ways that can seem forced. It’s a great place for date night, a midday meeting or a solo breakfast. That’s right, Ellison’s hidden gem is its Speed Wagon Café, which serves breakfast that competes with many beloved establishments around town.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge my disappointment with the Speed Wagon Café for not serving the Chicken and Waffles ($14) the day I visited. The dish happens to be one of my go-tos when I’m brunching, and I was feeling slightly dejected on a soggy Sunday morning. That being said, my second choice was more than a solid consolation. The QD Donut Sandwich ($13), a glazed Quality Dairy donut harnessing a fried egg, cheese and a pleasing sausage patty, is wrong for all the right reasons. It’s sweet and savory all at once and served alongside rosemary redskin-potato home fries. I advise you order one and do your best to avoid thinking about the caloric intake.
Also favorable is the Speed Wagon Breakfast Sandwich ($10), a much healthier selection that my smarter better half enjoyed. An English muffin cuddles a fried egg, red onion, avocado, a slice of beefsteak tomato, arugula and goat cheese. Also served with yummy redskins, the sandwich is hearty and heart-wise at the same time.
What’s really good
I really like the Nashville Hot Yardbird ($15), even though it’s not a true Nashville hot-chicken sandwich. This take is tasty in its own regard, with house-made pickles and slaw, but if you’re expecting a chicken breast bathing in hot sauce, this handheld is more Barry County than Tennessee.
Ellison is also rolling out a line of six dry rubs, and I sampled the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper rub on an order of six classic wings ($9). This rub ranks fourth out of six in terms of heat, and while it’s at the top of my capacity for spice, there are still gentle notes of smokiness and sweetness.
The Goat Hallow pizza ($16). This 12-inch pie arrives hot out of the teal ceramic oven that’s showcased on the lower level of the restaurant. Prosciutto, arugula, goat cheese, figs and aromatic caramelized onions all mingle handsomely on each slice, but these ingredients are kicked up a flavor notch or two with the delicious balsamic glaze. The crust is on the heavier side, but the toppings dance a divine ballet in contrast.
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