Depot Italiano Ristorante; Charlotte, MI

When I first moved back to Mid-Michigan (3 years ago, already!), I lived in Charlotte for the first 6 months. My studio apartment was in one of the old downtown buildings, a former Oddfellows lodge. I might still live there except that my upstairs neighbor was the biggest jerk with thrice-weekly late night parties or more and frequent deliveries of pizza and beer, usually with a wrong turn at my door first.

However, the fates aligned and I moved in to the city of Lansing and 6 months later, met this guy. Now, another 18 months later, that guy and I are getting married. So Friday, we drove out to Charlotte to fill out our marriage license application and drove through town after, looking for some lunch. Before you come to central Charlotte, you cross the railroad tracks where the old train depot still stands.

After many years as an ice cream parlor, the depot has been through a number of food-related incarnations. Today and since October 2007, it has been a small Italian restaurant. This was actually the 2nd or 3rd time Chris & I had been by there. The first time, I thought it was still just a coffee shop (which served Pepsi, anyhow) and the 2nd time, they were closed. Today, the sign out front was advertising pizza and Stromboli and they were clearly open.

If you have ever been to Clara’s in Lansing, you know what a large train depot transformed in to a restaurant looks like. Depot Italiano Ristorante is not like Clara’s in that it doesn’t look like a restaurant. It looks like a train depot with tables and chairs instead of the benches you see in the movies; I’m pretty sure the ladies room, accessed via the VIP room, is original. Its certainly not ADA compliant The depot was built in 1902 and serviced passenger trains through the end of the 1950s. Since then, the tracks have almost all been removed however there are still plenty of freight trains rumbling through Charlotte, trust me. There is also a dinner-murder mystery train that is run out of Charlotte.

The memorabilia on the walls of the Depot is all train and travel-related, much of it obviously old and “original.” In the VIP room, where we ate, there is an old sign listing the various coded alarms for fires. If you were in the first ward and there was a fire at the car garage (train cars), there would be one long blast followed by two short. We also noticed a print of an old Howard Johnson’s motel, co-advertised with Esso, AKA ExxonMobil. I want to go back just to look around some more!

The specials of the day included a lunch size portion of lasagna and a burger with potato of the day. The soup was Italian Wedding Soup. Before we even sat down, Chris had decided on the lasagna. I was surprised he didn’t also go for the soup but instead we ordered Spinach-Artichoke dip as an appetizer. I was debating between the dip and Italian Bread with Herb Dip. As it turns out, we got a loaf of the warm Italian bread with our meals so the dip worked out well. We ran out of dip before chips which is always a positive sign. The Spinach-Artichoke dip was a little thinner than some I’ve had, indicating less cheese. I like it this way, especially with bread; I feel the flavor of the vegetables comes through, not just cheese, cheese and more cheese.

I have to admit that for the non-beef eater, there were not a lot of options aside from Stromboli/calzones and pizza, all of which can be made with the ingredients of one’s choice, of course. At dinner, there are usually chicken and fish and pasta specials to choose from as well. Any pizza can be made “plate size” which is a little larger than a personal size pizza from your typical chain. I decided to to order the Margarita: fresh thin-slices of tomato, garlic white sauce and parmesan cheese. Technically, this pizza needs fresh basil and, if it had been on my pizza, I probably would have ate the whole thing. Since it was not, I controlled myself and had 1/2 a pizza to take home.

Chris says, “Could very well be the best lasagna in all of the entire state of Michigan. No lie.”

Chris’s lunch lasagna portion was just the right size and the only thing left on his plate was the tomato sauce baked to it from being cooked in the oven. The lasagna is made with Italian sausage, not just seasoned ground beef, and plenty of sauce for dipping in bread too. He used some of the bread to wipe up every last bite.

We chatted with one of the restaurant owners and she let us know they are working on some menu additions and also considering a liquor license to be able to serve beer and wine at least. Oh, and their desserts are homemade including Tiramisu. They also serve real Spumoni, something kind of hard to find these days- its usually just Neapolitan ice cream.


Details

Depot Italian Ristorante
517-543-2700

430 N. Cochran
Charlotte, MI

Tuesday-Friday 10 AM to 8 PM
Saturday 11 AM to 8 PM

Non-smoking & free Wi-Fi!

**Chris is quoted here in bold because he was making a fuss that I wouldn’t write what he told me to write. I offered him a username and access to write his own blog posts but we compromised by agreeing I would quote him on relevant subjects like food and restaurants.

Loud, Smoky and Wrong

Chris wanted dinner out tonight, specifically pizza. I’m really not eating carbs right now but I agreed as long as I made myself get a salad first and limit myself to 1-2 slices of thin crust. I just presumed we were going to DeLucas but then Chris asked if I was willing to check out Tony M’s which is much closer to us.

Tony M’s is right across from the Meijer distribution center on Creyts south of 496. I’m sure Meijer, a few other warehouse centers and the GM facility bring in most of the business, particularly at lunch. About 7pm, we pulled in to a mostly empty lot and walked in the front doors. And were promptly confused. Through the main doors, there are two sets of seemingly equal inner doors. I peeked through the window on the left and saw a sign about private party so we went right. There were several people at the bar and perhaps 2 or three tables occupied in the dining room. We ended up standing in the entry for a few minutes, unsure if we could seat ourselves (we could).

After a few minutes, the waitress brought us menus and took our drink order (coke products, +1). I flipped to the pizza section then kind of glanced over the rest before nailing Chris down on pizza. We ordered a 12″ (medium) with half green peppers and onions for me and half onion, mushroom and sausage for Chris. We actually each gave our halves so there was a clear indication that this was half and half. I also ordered a side salad, sticking to my rule.

While we waited for my salad, someone cranked up the music and put on some dance club music. I actually liked the song playing but we were eating dinner, not out bar-hopping. It was really loud. And it took quite a long time to bring out my salad so I had lots of time to get my hopes up. Alas, they were dashed with the sad little plate of iceberg lettuce topped with two cucumber slices and the most absurdly bad tomato I’ve seen in quite some time. The whole plate was ice-cold and had obviously been in the cooler all day so I don’t understand the delay.

About 10 minutes later, she brought out the pizza. It looked great but it also looked wrong. No half and half, the sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and onions were equally distributed. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the sausage, we would have just eaten it but I don’t eat sausage. Immediately, we pointed out the error and Chris said he would be happy to buy it anyway, if they cut him a deal. The waitress kind of stumbled over this and said she would have to check with her manager. But either way, they’d remake it correctly.

A long five minutes later, she came back to say “no dice” on buying the mistake pie but the manager would cut a few bucks off the total bill. She also asked for a clarification on the toppings for each half.

Um. okay.

Yeah, really not okay and after walked back to the kitchen to resubmit our pizza order we figured out that she had to have lied to her boss and said we made the mistake, not her. Another 20 minutes later, our corrected pizza came out. And it was okay but did not look as good as the first which had really nicely bubbled, browned cheese. Tony M’s is generous with the cheese but they only gave us a serrated knife with the pizza, no serving piece so maneuvering on to the plate without losing half the topping required a deft touch.

When she brought the bill, they had taken $2 off, less than the cost of one soda.

We paid the bill and left ASAP. Throughout the meal, the loud music was randomly repeated as bar patrons fed the jukebox and the smoke was drifting our way. It was time to go. And not return.


I want to make a comment here about the handling of the mis-made pizza. If we had been complicated or changed our order, I would have been more forgiving. But we often order half and half and have devised a little system where I say the size and my toppings then Chris takes his turn. This seemed to have clarified the whole concept, in the past. Tonight, the waitress actually admitted (to us) that she forgot to hit the “Half” button on the order screen. Which really makes the handling even worse. The restaurant’s mistake and we tried to help them out by buying the mistake pizza at a discount along with paying for the corrected pizza and they said no??? At this point I guessed that the boss was going to take the mistake out of the waitress’s paycheck so she decided to blame us. We aren’t happy, the boss has to eat the cost of a screwed up pizza and the waitress is going to suffer by our reduced tip, even if he doesn’t dock her for the night. No one wins. I guess Tony M hasn’t been feeling the heat of the depressed economy yet. Sure hope Meijer doesn’t cut workers or GM takes another shift cut at Delta Township.

We won’t go back but if someone else wants to try it out:

Tony M’s Restaurant
3420 S. Creyts Rd.
Lansing, MI 48917

Other reviews at Mid-Michigan Dining and Restaurant DB which also has a menu.

Cugino’s, Grand Ledge

Chris: I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat.
Me: Okay, I was going to make…

Chris: No, I don’t want to wait, let’s just go.

We get in the car and he goes right (south) out of the complex.  Then says, where should we go.

Me: Well the only place south is the truck stop.  What are you in the mood for?

After ‘no’s to pizza, Chinese, Mexican,  and more, he turned right on St. Joseph Hwy towards Grand Ledge with still no plan.  As we were driving, I remembered that someone had mentioned Cugino’s for Italian in Grand Ledge.  The only other restaurants I knew of out there were 2 Chinese places and a Mexican grill (see beginning of this).  Driving along Saginaw, “just in case” there was something new, we spotted this Bavarian looking building with a couple neon signs hanging out front, behind the Felpausch’s grocery store.  Very excited about a possible new discovery we pulled in to discover a tanning salon. Yeesh.

So, we ended up at Cugino’s Italian Restaurant. They were pretty busy for a Tuesday night and we had to wait a few minutes for a table.  And a few more minutes for a waitress.  When she did come, she seemed a little frazzled but friendly.  They serve Pepsi here so we stuck with water.

Before I get to the food, I would like to comment on the atmosphere.  Cugino’s is very nice inside with stained glass lampshades, dark woods and a nice fireplace.  The bar area is small and cozy. The whole place is smoke-free.  I mention this now because if you go to their website to preview the menu, the pictures are taken with a red-checked tablecloth in the background.  We never saw one of these in the restaurant.

Since pizza was off the menu, I decided to turn my attention to the entrees although the thin-crust margharita was very tempting.  The entree menu was long on pasta dishes but they also have a few “dinners” such as steak, chicken tenders and fish.  They also offer a selection of “South of the Border” items, calzones and subs. I narrowed it down to two choices: Pasta Giovanni or Pasta with Pesto. Both included homemade pesto and chicken but the Pasta Giovanni won out with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes.  Chris, after a bit of waffling went for the stuffed shells and added a side meatball.  Dinners come with a choice of soup or salad. I had a salad and Chris ordered the potato soup.

My salad was nothing special- lettuce, tomato and thin red onion with a little carrot and tomato thrown in.  I did like the buttery croutons though.  Chris liked his soup, said it was “pretty good for a restaurant” whatever that means. I asked for a bite and he told me I didn’t like potato soup.  What?  I never said that!  I have said I don’t like cheese soups but I most certainly did not say a thing about not liking potato soup. In fact, I have some leeks in the fridge right now to make Potato-Leek later this week.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t mixing me up with his other girlfriend and got my sample.  It was pretty good, heavy on the ham/bacon flavor and maybe not as creamy as I’d have liked.

Not surprisingly, our entrees were enormous. I was happy as soon as she set my bowlful of pasta down. The smell of fresh basil was amazing.  I ate the whole piece of chicken and about 1/4 of the fettucine on my plate before I couldn’t handle any more.  I should have enough pasta for two or three more meals.  I think I’m going to saute a chicken breast and maybe toss some toasted pine nuts in when I reheat it.  Chris managed a little more of his shells but still had a good size portion leftover.  His side meatball was actually two meatballs and cost just 75 cents extra! All dinners come with a big fresh-baked breadstick on the side.  I thought the breadstick was a little dry but quickly remedied that by dipping it in Chris’s marinara sauce.  Their marinara is on the sweeter side so now I’m interested to see what they do for pizza sauce. Maybe next time.
When I was looking at the website, I noticed a video of Pat DeLuca making pizza at the bottom of this page.  And I thought “DeLuca? Like DeLuca’s pizza? What?”  A little internet searching later, I discovered that Pat used to work at the DeLuca’s on Willow in Lansing. In fact, he’s Chuck DeLuca’s son.  Chuck is one of the three sons who bought out their dad (also named Pat) and kept on making pizzas.  The article, originally from Great Lansing Business Monthly also reminded me of another Italian place I have yet to try: Spagnuolo’s over in Okemos.

Since we eat at DeLuca’s a lot, I can safely say that while both places are good, they are not alike.  Since I haven’t tried Cugino’s pizza, I can’t compare those two but if I wanted pasta, I’d probably go to Cugino’s.  That section of the menu is larger and more varied than at DeLuca’s.  Hopefully we’ll get back out there before too long to sample the pizza.  Cugion’s is located in downtown Grand Ledge, a cute little place with a small number of boutique shops and an old-school movie theater where the seats are just 2 bucks!  Unfortunately, this week’s movie is Beverly Hills Chihuaha.

Details

Website: with menu

Address: 306 S. Bridge Street, Grand Ledge, MI 48837

Hours: Specifics not listed; Open for lunch & dinner Mon-Sat. Closed Sundays

Smoke free, full bar; carryout/ catering available

For my previous review of DeLuca’s, click HERE

Leona’s – Chicagoland, IL

I’ve been to Leona’s a number of times before but this was Chris’s first visit. Normally, I wouldn’t think to go here for lunch as the portions are so large and the normal “girl’s weekend” routine involves shopping at Woodfield and lunch at Sweet Tomatoes.

Side note: Why oh why do we not have a place like Sweet Tomatoes anywhere in the state of Michigan?!?!

On this trip, our dinner reservation wasn’t until 8:45 and breakfast was a light continental style from the hotel so a hearty lunch would be quite alright.

The menu at Leona’s is large as are the servings. Throughout the menu, they warn you of this but its not until they set a salad plate the size of a turkey platter down that you really understand. Fortunately, there are a number of items with half-sizes available including the chicken sandwiches, one of which I ordered. The half-size Cobb Chicken sandwich is one-half a chicken breast (you know, a normal serving) topped with tomato, avocado, bleu cheese and pesto mayo. Melissa also went with the half-chicken sandwich, the Tuscany with provolone, bacon and pesto mayo. Tarik had a burger and Chris ordered the 5-cheese lasagna topped with chicken. I was a little surprised the chicken wasn’t sliced for easier eating but Chris just moved it to a side plate and sliced off as needed.

On top of the already huge entree serving, each item came with a side dish choice. Melissa and Chris had soup. I can’t remember what Tarik chose and I had steak fries. Big giant wedges of potato tossed in some kind of seasoning and baked to crispy deliciousness. Dipped in ranch dressing for good measure.

Melissa and I were initially disappointed that we wouldn’t be getting the yummy fresh baked bread with herbed butter and Marinara sauce. Then we realized that it came with pasta dishes like lasagna and Chris could never eat a whole loaf of bread himself.

While we waited for our meals, we quizzed each other using the Trivial Pursuit-like cards on the table. I managed to pick the card with all the impossible (for the others) questions. We also noticed that we were in the family section, whether by accident or intention, every table in our section had a kid or two. The group right behind us had very young baby twins and a toddler.

I managed to eat my whole sandwich but had to leave a few fries behind. The only person with leftovers was Chris. We boxed up his lasagna and ended up leaving it with Melissa and Tarik whom I’m sure enjoyed it later that weekend.

I’ve been to Leona’s enough times to know what to expect. They haven’t disappointed me yet other than some silly things like “you don’t get bread unless you order it or pasta.” Melissa did mention that every time they get take-out lately its been wrong and not discovered till they are back home. They aren’t far from the location we went to but that would still be mighty irritating.

Details

Leona’s Neighborhood Restaurant: Website & Menu
Locations: 12 throughout greater Chicago. We ate at the Rogers Park location.
Hours: Vary by location but generally open till 10:30-11 during the week and midnight on Friday/Saturday

Pepsi products, all locations smoke-free (thanks Illinois!!); Delivery and Catering services also available


This brings us to our third significant meal in Chicago, at Quince in Evanston. By the far the most significant and best meal of the trip. We were very pleased with our dinner on Saturday night. But, its late so I’ll have to tell you about it tomorrow.

Peeza, Peeeeza, Pizza!

I am channeling one of the clones from Multiplicity in my subject line; we always called him the 3rd Steve but I think the character’s name is Dave or Doug or something.

We had pizza at Deluca’s tonight. As we are in the midst of moving and packing this week, we’ll be eating out a lot and I figured pizza was a good choice plus I’d have lunch leftovers.  I’m pretty sure pizza was on my mind after walking past someone carrying Cottage Inn boxes on Washington downtown at lunchtime.

Chris and I have been going to Deluca’s for a few months now, after I read about it in someone’s blog (love to give credit but I sure don’t remember where I read it).  They can be incredibly busy and last night was the perfect example of that with a 25 minute wait. After we got our table, I noticed 2 large groups of at least 15 people each.  We’ve driven by a few times and decided it was just too busy for our hunger level but last night, we both really wanted pizza.

Besides pizza, Deluca’s serves calzones, sandwiches and a number of pasta dishes including baked spaghetti, manicotti, spinach lasagna and veal parmesan.  Thus far, we haven’t ventured off the pizza section except for some appetizers.  One night, Chris got a cup of Italian Wedding Soup and we’ve sampled both the breadsticks and garlic bread.  The garlic bread, with or without cheese, is the better choice in our opinion.

Because we can’t agree on toppings, our practice of late has been to each get a small/medium (I go for 9″, Chris usually gets 12″).  I really prefer vegetables on my pizza and Chris is a meat guy.  One of the toppings I particularly like at Deluca’s is the roasted garlic: whole cloves right over the pizza.  Excellent but not the best choice for work leftovers. In addition to traditional toppings, you can also get hot capicola, jalapeno, broccoli, artichokes, chicken, link sausage, feta (plus more).  Deluca’s also offers a number of specialty pizzas including Hawaiian, BLT and Philadelphia (Roast Beef, onions & mushrooms, mixed cheese). Chris’ usual is mushrooms, onion and sausage.

Deluca’s recently went totally smoke free.  They only serve Pepsi products via fountain (free refills) but you can get Coke products in a chilled can.

Deluca’s started life in the 60s as the Willow Bar. In the early 80s, the three Deluca brothers bought out the founder, their father Pat. Little has changed since then, partly due to the brothers’ reluctance to disappoint regular customers by taking things off the menu.

Deets:

Web: http://www.delucaspizza.com/
Address: 2006 W. Willow (West of MLK), Lansing MI 48917
Hours:Mon.-Thur. 11AM-10:30PM; Fri & Sat 11AM-11PM, Closed Sunday

Accepts credit cards, totally non-smoking