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.

Dolly’s Pizza

Chris and I have our preferred pizza joint here in Lansing. BUT, sometimes time is of the essence, take out is more convenient and DeLuca’s is closed on Sunday anyhow. Last night, we decided to stop at Dolly’s Pizza on W. Saginaw (by Outback).

First, we tried agreeing on a specialty pizza. I liked the sound of Chicken Parmesan but Chris preferred Chicken BBQ which had cheddar cheese on it. Not my taste, thank you. So, we ended up each getting our own pie. Outside of chicken pizzas, I generally prefer a vegetable pizza while Chris is really keen on having his meats. I went for a small green pepper and onion; Chris opted for a large with sausage, mushroom and onion. The usual for both of us.

I tried to order mine as the square deep-dish but the guy said they don’t make the square in a small. Its on the menu! Then he said they just don’t carry it at this location. This means one of two things: they don’t have the right size pans (acceptable) or their dough is delivered pre-rolled in to the available sizes (bad). I’ll hope for the former.

It took about 20 minutes for our pizzas to be ready so while we waited, we perused the store’s magazine selection, which consisted of a bunch of restaurant industry magazines. I love reading these things because you can figure out which restaurants are really cooking their food and which are just heating up pre-assembled stuff. Let’s just say that if you come across Indian-spiced onion rings at a chain restaurant, its not an original thought.

We got home and cracked open the boxes with anticipation. Both pies had nice even coverage of toppings with good amounts of cheese but not overboard. The cheese was bubbled and browned up near the crust. According to the company’s website, the secret is in the sauce. As it turns out, the sauce was both Chris and I’s least favorite part of the pizza! I thought it was just a little too sweet but more importantly, they were a little skimpy on the sauce. The crust was very nice though, crispy but not like a cracker.

The total with 2 20-oz pops while we waited was $26. This provided enough pizza for at least 2 meals apiece, probably 3 for Chris with the larger size.

Dolly’s locations are mostly in the metro Detroit area but there are a few scattered around the rest of the state. At some point, Dolly’s was awarded best pizza by the Michigan Restaurant Association. This was good pizza but I’m sorry, not even close to a Buddy’s Pizza.


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.


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

Cracker Barrel

For the longest time I have been no fan of Cracker Barrel.  A few months ago, Chris and I ended up going to the one on Lansing’s west side, his choice.  I figured I’d make do but I wasn’t really excited.

After the meal, I was still not very excited about Cracker Barrel but I wasn’t feeling so negative. I had a sandwich and soup. Really, the sandwich was quite good but the soup wasn’t what I expected in a Corn Chowder.

After I thought about it, I realized that my ill will towards Cracker Barrel is partly a mental confusion with Old Country Buffet.  Now that is a place I really don’t want to go to, ever again.  I’m not much for the buffet-style dining due to cleanliness concerns.  I won’t eat at a buffet restaurant unless I can observe the buffet lines for a few minutes first.  I had a particularly bad experience at OCB way back in high school. On the same trip (marching band competition) we also ate at Cracker Barrel.

So, after realizing this I decided to be more open-minded on our next trip to Cracker Barrel which happened to be Sunday night.  It was pretty busy and there was a little bit of a lag making first contact with our server. By the time she came, we were ready to order.  Chris ordered the chicken salad sandwich on sourdough with vegetable soup (and a Coke).  I had the Homestyle Chicken which is the Sunday special. You get chicken breasts dipped in buttermilk and batter then fried.  It comes with cornbread or biscuits plus two side items. I picked the mashed potatoes with gravy and corn.  And I ordered a diet coke.

Chris’s soup and our drinks came out pretty fast.  The soups for Sunday were vegetable and vegetable beef. Even though Chris ordered vegetable, she accidentally brought the beef variety. He decided to eat it anyway as it probably wasn’t that much different.  And the best thing about the soup, according to Chris, is the crackers they serve. the “baked in Vermont” Westminster Squares which look like Saltines but are made with all-natural ingredients instead of high fructose corn syrup (original) or sodium stearoyl lactylate (fat-free).

While Chris ate his soup, I looked over the dessert menu. I wasn’t planning to order a dessert but I was curious about the offerings. Eating at Cracker Barrel is a lot like eating at a midwestern family supper table. And anyone who has eaten such a meal knows that there is usually a marshmallow/jello/cool whip dessert during the meal or at the end. In this area, Cracker Barrel is different than Sunday dinner at my grandma’s house. They have a Coca-Cola Chocolate cake, apple pie ala mode and other pie based desserts. No jello mashups in sight.

Our entrees came up shortly while Chris still had a little soup left. He seemed to like his sandwich and he ate it all down. I, on the other hand, was not going to be able to finish my meal. The mashed potatoes and gravy were served on a plate with the the biggest chicken breast I’ve ever seen, plus, a more normal sized chicken breast. The corn was in a little dish on the side. I know the gravy was “just” for the mashed potatoes but I would have preferred more so I could mix my corn and chicken in too. I’m sure if I’d asked, they would have given me a saucer full.

Side Note: My preferred Thanksgiving Day plate consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn with plenty of gravy.

Everything was very tasty, the chicken was moist inside and the buttermilk batter was crispy and flavorful. I saved the steroidal breast to take home along with the corn muffins that came on the side.

Our bill, before tip, was just under $20. Definitely a good deal.

The next day, I took the muffins and chicken to work for lunch. I tried to take a picture of the chicken. It doesn’t really do it justice but you can sort of get an idea of scale by comparing it to the corn muffin.


Website: With Menus

Address: 608 Commercial Drive,  Lansing, MI 48917-9765

Hours: Sun- Thur- 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Fri-Sat- 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Cracker Barrel has a Books on Tape program where you buy an audio book at one location and then you can return it at the next stop on your road trip(s) minus $3.49 per week rental fee. Interesting idea for regular Barrel diners who also travel a lot.

Michigan Food Stamp Challenge

What can you buy with $5.87?  What can you eat for that amount of cash?  Well, most fast food value meals are still under $6.  And a sandwich from Tim Horton’s is just three dollars. But what if that $5.87 was for an entire day’s meals?  Breakfast, lunch and dinner plus maybe a snack?

The Michigan Department of Human Services is “sponsoring” a Food Stamp Challenge this week to bring attention to poverty and hunger in the state and hopefully increase donations to area food banks.  About 300 people including Governor Granholm, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, automotive execs and a number of regular citizens are participating in the challenge.

The Michigan Food Stamp Challenge encourages people to spend just $29.35 for food per person in a five-day period, equivalent to the maximum amount a Michigan resident who has no income might receive in food assistance benefits. The minimum amount of benefits is $14 a month with the average benefit being about $100 a month.

Half the recipients of food stamps in Michigan are children.  With the slowing economy. Okay, I’ll say it. With the economy in a recession, more people will file for food stamps in the near future. Especially as home heating bills come in.  Did you know that the poverty level income for a family of four is just 21,000 dollars?

One of the comments I read about the Challenge came from Governer Granholm. She said she bought a lot of mac n’ cheese for this week.  Don’t get me wrong, mac n’ cheese or ramen noodles are a good way to stretch out your dollar. I certainly ate more than my fair share of ramen in college.  But healthy? Not so much.  Besides being high in sodium and processed food chemicals, these are not well-balanced meals. Where is the protein? Where are the vegetables?

The reality is that many families receiving food stamps can’t afford to buy a large selection of fruits, vegetables and meat.  Whole foods cost more.

Michigan has this really great program called Project Fresh. It provides coupons to at-risk persons to buy fresh locally grown produce at Farmers Markets.  I completely 100% agree that this is a wonderful program. Too bad only women and children in the WIC program are eligible.  In 2005, that was 38,000 Michigan residents.  And only 70% of the coupons were redeemed. More than 1.3 million residents get some level of food stamp assistance.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those people were being educated on the importance of a well-balanced nutritionally dense diet?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those people could redeem food stamps at the farmer’s market?

The reality is, how does someone who can barely afford to eat choose a one or two apples over 6 boxes of mac n’ cheese for $2.00?

What happens to the kid that only eats pasta and cheese with artificial coloring and flavorings and chemicals galore?  If he’s missing vitamins and minerals vital to brain development, how is supposed to excel in school?  If she’s hungry because there was no milk or cereal at home this morning, how can she concentrate on her biology quiz? Poor nutrition has a serious impact on education and the ability to learn. Kid grows up lagging behind and malnourished then 15 years later Bill Gates is on TV complaining that he can’t find qualified candidates for technical jobs without going overseas.

Hunger in America pisses me off. I know many people have made poor choices or found themselves in horrible positions through no fault of their own. Some people are starving but refuse to accept help. I can’t fix everything. But US food supply is large enough to feed every American two times over.  And that’s presuming the average adult American eats 2100 calories a day. There is no reason on earth why a child should ever be starving in this country.

What to do?

Encourage families to grow their own food crops either at home or through a Community Garden Project.

Earthworks thru Capuchin Soup Kitchen
In Ann Arbor
More Detroit options
Lansing’s Garden Project by the Lansing Food Bank

Donate money and goods to the local food bank/pantry, soup kitchen:

MidMichigan Food Bank
Lansing Food Bank
Find a Food Bank thru Feeding America (formerly America’s 2nd Harvest)

Other ways to contribute:

  • Set aside a portion of your home garden for Grow a Row a national program that encourages gardeners to grow extra produce for donation, usually through your local Farmer’s Market.
  • Even if you aren’t trying, you might end up with extra tomatoes or zucchini, etc., in your garden. Contact your local food bank to donate the veggies.
  • Give the Food Stamp Challenge a try. Spending a day or two in the shoes of someone less fortunate can be an invaluable lesson.
  • Encourage Congress and the legislatures to incorporate nutritional counseling and cost-cutting tips in to new Food Stamp Rules and to make it easier for recipients to buy fresh healthy whole foods instead of processed garbage.
  • Get educated on hunger in America through sites like FRAC, Bread for the World and the 2006 Hunger Study (sponsored by Altria of all companies).

I’m sure there are other things too.  Remember all the times your parents said “Clean your plate. Think of the starving kids in China, Africa, India?”  Those kids are still starving but so are children in this country.

*Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s subject is Poverty. I had started writing this post yesterday, not knowing a thing about Blog Action Day. When I discovered the event, I hurried up the writing of this post as it could not be more appropriate.