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.
Depot Italian Ristorante
430 N. Cochran
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.