Since Mediteran (the original, not the amazing and recently reopened Café Mediteran) closed its doors downtown a number of years ago, a very specific void has existed. I want to find myself in a café where I don’t understand all of the words on the menu, where I can sip a dark, thick espresso paired with an achingly decadent dessert, and where the décor is charmingly off-kilter, a far cry from the quotidian fake plants and wicker baskets that you find in every whitewashed chain restaurant.
Social Sloth Café, after an inauspicious mid-pandemic opening day, has molded itself into downtown’s newest iteration of that European experience. One recent morning found me lingering over a plate of a thick wedge of feta, smothered in olive oil. It was an atypical start to a weekday made even more special because I shared the meal with Mr. She Ate. I had my own mid-pandemic opening day as I switched law firms, and now I spend my days practicing at the Loomis Law Firm and wondering how soon I can rush the few blocks down Washington Square to treat myself to a tahini brownie from Social Sloth.
A word about the brownies: unexpected. More words about the brownies — they are deeply fudgy and chocolatey, and I think I’m so obsessed with them because the tahini swirled on top is the perfect complement to the sweetness of the chocolate. I’ve started picking one up every Wednesday afternoon, before I log on and e-teach an Estate Planning class to Cooley Law School students. The brownie is the perfect weekly indulgence that I look forward to on these increasingly wintry Wednesday afternoons.
Aside from the creamy, smooth feta on my breakfast plate, I also loved the sliced tomato and cucumber, hard-boiled egg, ramekins of stewed tomato and blueberry jam. The basket of toasted sourdough smelled incredible and — although I don’t generally like to fill up on bread when there’s cheese to be had — tasted even better. It’s been a long time since we have been able to safely travel overseas and this breakfast made me nostalgic for those days.
On a lunch visit, I tried the pide zucchini. Pide is a long, oval-shaped flatbread stuffed with toppings of your choosing, and Social Sloth offers a few different varieties. The bread was toasted and crisp, and the cheese broiled to be just bubbly. Paired with a bit of perfectly pickled red cabbage, the two went together like Aaron Rodgers and conspiracy theories.
During another lunch visit I tried the manti, which is Turkish ravioli. Everything at Social Sloth is made in-house, and these perfect pillows are filled with seasoned ground beef and sauced with yogurt and melted butter. A few days later I grabbed Saturday sandwiches to share with my mother, and the thinly sliced pickle nested between slices of the incredible, toasted sourdough and layered with melted cheese made for a perfect combination.
Do I have criticisms? They’re not open for dinner. I have so many memories of lingering over dinner at Mediteran, and I have high hopes that when supply chain issues are smoothed; when staffing isn’t such a challenge that Social Sloth will enter the dinner scene — if the proprietors choose to do so. I am thankful that they are one of the few businesses downtown where I even had the option of getting a Saturday lunch, and it wasn’t lost on me that the café was packed to the gills as I waited for my sandwiches.
During our breakfast visit, Mr. She Ate and I watched a man walk in with a large bakery box from Zingerman’s. He was a visitor from Ann Arbor; he explained and was meeting a friend who was driving in from Grand Rapids. Social Sloth’s reputation had preceded them, and the friends chose a charming and unique midpoint to meet for breakfast and pastries.
One more memory and I’ll let Mediteran rest in heavenly peace: Do any other Lanstronauts remember the completely over the top, wall-to-wall Christmas decorations that were featured every year? I’m getting similar decorating vibes from Social Sloth, and I’m excited to continue my weekly jaunts down the block and see what blossoms this holiday season.
I’ve traveled through Europe and have always found the teahouses and coffee shops to be one of my favorite aspects of my visits. There’s a certain cozy and fragrant ambiance with an air of clandestine activity, or maybe I’ve just watched too many spy films. A visit to Social Sloth Café & Bakery evokes many of these same elements but with some of the area’s best pastries.
The Turkish influence on the menu and service are a welcome addition to Lansing’s culinary landscape, and the downtown breakfast and lunch crowd are privy to an absolute gem.
At Social Sloth, timing can be everything. The menu rotates daily, and those who regularly patronize the café seem to have a better handle on the rhythm of which items are available than someone like me who ventured in for the first time.
Social Sloth offers two chef specials. You can get a pide — a Turkish flatbread with cheese, zucchini, or ground beef, or you can order a manti, which is Turkish ravioli with ground beef and garlic yogurt, which comes with the optional köfte — Turkish meatballs with rice and mint yogurt. It all depends on when you visit.
During one visit, I had the zucchini pide, which had a delicate balance of flavors — the cheese, parsley and veggies melded together symphonically. No component overpowered another, and I can’t wait to try some of the other versions. On another visit, I had the köfte — a ground meat dish that is found in many Mediterranean cuisines and can be often described as oblong meatballs. The combination of cumin, thyme and pepper was great, but when combined with the spicy mint yogurt the flavor crescendo to even higher levels. Another savory treat is the sucuk — a breakfast sausage that is reminiscent of chorizo, but smokier. The savory lunch specials are no doubt a hit because if you don’t get to Social Sloth early enough, they will run out of your favorites and your guess is as good as mine as to what day it returns.
One can’t visit a Turkish café without imbibing in some Turkish tea. Luckily for me, I visited the café on some quintessential Michigan fall days and found yet another example of rotating charm. For my first visit, I ordered a lovely healing honeysuckle tea, which seemed to soothe both my tastebuds and my spirit. It was aromatic but in a calming way. The pumpkin tea my companion ordered had a strong pumpkin flavor but not in the typical pumpkin spice latte overly spicy way. This was more along the lines of a delicate pumpkin bisque but in tea fashion. The following visit, I tried the honey tea, which was good but less noteworthy than the others.
While the lunch and breakfast fare are delightful, the zenith of this shop is its baked goods. This includes borek — a spinach pie where the pastry is the star and the light spinach filling is the supporting cast and pogaça — a ground beef-filled pocket pie. Both will be a part of any of my subsequent visits as they were somehow not greasy but instead delicious and flaky. The gluten-free almond cookie had a light nutty touch and was sweeter than I expected. The tahini cookie with chocolate and walnuts was a tantalizing bite. The Turkish bagel, known as simit, was fantastic and less malty than more well-known bagel variations.
Meals in Europe are often more about the experience than just the food. The leisure and ambiance are critical components of a meal out and Social Sloth capitalizes on these sentiments. There’s even a stand where you can purchase some handmade Turkish-influenced jewelry and art. Social Sloth is inviting and the food is delicious, but they also want you to take your time and savor the moment.
Without hesitation, the Turkish eclair was my favorite at Social Sloth. The pastry was as light as many of the other delicacies, but that cream filling is what dreams are made of. Garnished with pistachios, the ganache-like chocolate was reminiscent of some of the best wedding cakes I’ve had over the years.