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.

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I feel like Chicken tonight

Remember those annoying commercials from the 90s; people singing the song and flapping their arms like chickens?
You don’t remember?

How about now?

Well, the product was not a big hit in the US however its still quite popular in Australia and the UK. And apparently you can get Beef Tonight and Sausage Tonight over in England. I don’t really remember it that well, in terms of ingredients but I seem to recall that it was a lot like pasta sauce that you poured over chicken instead of well, pasta. For reasons that will become apparent, I thought of this stuff while making dinner on Moday night.


Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, pounded thin
1 small onion, chopped
mushrooms, about 6 crimini sliced
dried morels, rehydrated in hot water for 10 minutes, save the water**
Prego pasta sauce, basil & tomato, about 1/3 of a jar
balsamic vinegar
Tuscan Seasoning Blend
garlic
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
pasta- rice spaghetti

Directions

I used the meat mallet to pound the chicken thin after removiing the tenders. I’ve decided to do this more often since it cooks a lot faster and evenly. Heavily season both sides of the chicken breasts with the Tuscan Seasoning. This stuff, from Spice Islands comes in an adjustable grinder. It has garlic, salt, red bell pepper, orange peel and some Italian-type spices so you could make your own or a reasonable approximation. I used it on medium grind and made sure I covered both sides completely.

Start a pot of water to boil for the spaghetti. I used rice spaghetti tonight due to my dietary restrictions. I had no idea what to expect but I didn’t tell Chris until he was eating it. We were both pleased with the pasta. You really could not tell the difference between it and regular wheat pasta. I have used low-carb pasta before and it was an awful sticky mess and tasted not good.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a pan (preferablly not a non-stick one). Place your chicken breasts in the pan and don’t touch them! After 3-5 minutes, when you try to flip the chicken, it will lift off the pan easily. If its still stuck, its not ready and leave it be for 30 more seconds. Cook on the other side for an additional 3-5 minutes (same test applies). Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add 1 chopped garlic clove to the pan and let cook about 30 seconds. Then pour in just enough of the reserved water from the dried mushrooms to deglaze the pan. Turn the heat up slightly and add your mushrooms and onions. Saute for 3-4 minutes until onions turn translucent. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the pan, about 2 teaspoons worth. Let the onions and mushrooms cook down until they are softened and golden brown. Optional: Make a spot in the middle and add another chopped clove of garlic at this point- let saute for 20 seconds. Pour the pasta sauce in to the pan and stir to combine. Strip the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and add them to the pan. Depending on how sauce-y you want it, you can add more of the mushroom water to thin it out. Turn the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Cook the pasta while you are sauteing the mushrooms and onions. Depending on the variety and size of the pasta, your cooking times will vary so adjust accordingly. Plan to drain the pasta while the sauce is simmering in the other pan. Just before serving, add the pasta to the sauce so it can absorb some of the tomato flavor.

To serve, top the pasta & sauce with the chicken and garnish with cheese and fresh basil if you’ve got it.

My Chicken Tonight
My Chicken Tonight

Notes

You can use any mushrooms or mushroom combination of course. I used what was on hand. Ideally, you want equal amounts of uncooked mushrooms and onions, if not more mushrooms.

Of course, use whatever pasta sauce you prefer also. Chris likes this Prego variety because it makes a good base for all kinds of things including pizza sauce (just add some tomato paste). I like it because its organic and not full of a bunch of junk like high-fructose corn syrup. It does have sugar but even homemade pasta sauce has sugar quite often. And again, you can easily enhance it depending on the requirements of the dish.

Turkey-Mushroom Noodle Leftovers

Seems only fitting that this be the first recipe I post- something I made up based on a quick phone call, to fit the fridge contents.
It needs a name beyond Turkey Mushroom Noodle Leftovers but that will do for now.

Ingredients:

16 oz ground turkey (I use lean- 7% fat)
8 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (2 palmfuls for me)
2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
Egg Noodles, 4 oz dried
Salt & Pepper
Fresh parsley to garnish

Directions:

Bring water to a boil in a large pot for egg noodles.

In large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute 1-2 minutes. Add minced garlic, continue to cook, seasoning with 1 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste. When onions are fully softened but not browned, add 1 tablespoon butter and the mushrooms.

Add egg noodles to their pot, cook as directed on package. I used Yoder’s Egg Noodles which require 20 minutes of cooking time.

Continue to cook mushrooms and onions until mushrooms release their liquid and the pan starts to dry. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and scrap the bottom of the pan. Saute one minute more then add ground turkey to pan, breaking it in to chunks as it cooks. Add second teaspoon of thyme, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Keep on medium heat until turkey is mostly browned then reduce to medium-low. If the pan seems dry, add up to 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth or water. Keep at medium-low until noodles are ready. There should be a small amount of liquid in the pan.

When noodles are done, drain well then add to pan with turkey-mushroom mixture. Stir to combine then remove from heat. Add 1/4 cup grated cheese and 1/2 cup whipping cream. Stir to melt cheese and allow sauce to thicken.

Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley. Excellent with steamed green beans or asparagus on the side.

Serves 4

The first night I made this, Chris called from the grocery store and asked “What can you make with ground turkey?” I’m guessing it was on sale. I looked in the pantry and saw the egg noodles at the front. We had mushrooms, large pre-sliced portabellas, and half an onion in the fridge. Truthfully, I started thinking about some old Hamburger Helper memories. And I know that Chris loves this Wild Mushroom Pastadish I make (from Cooking Light magazine).

I really didn’t know what Beef Stroganoff was but thought it was noodles and meat and onions in some kind of creamy sauce. So, I said I’d make that but with turkey. I told him to grab a container of cream then hung up to dash over to the computer and find out what I just promised to make.

Turns out Stroganoff isn’t usually made with ground meat. And its a sour cream based sauce that usually includes some red wine. But I had mushrooms and onions right! Thyme was listed in several recipes, so I used that as my main seasoning. I thought about red wine vinegar but we didn’t have any- just balsamic. We do have red wine- a lot of it- but I didn’t want to open a bottle for just this and it was a “school” night.

I plated the food served with green beans the first time; let Chris start eating and I waited for a reaction. He didn’t say much at first but I heard a few ‘mmms’, then he got up and put more on his plate. Guess that means its good!

Tonight, I made it for the second time and tried to track my ingredient amounts. That being said, its still a best guess on those seasonings. And the post-dinner verdict: Chris actually licked his plate! Until I gave him a piece of french bread and reminded him that he’s 30, not 3.

And he mentioned that if I wanted to make a double batch of this once a week, he could eat it for leftovers and lunch all week. This, from the guy that hates leftovers and won’t eat anything more than 3 days old in the fridge including deli lunchmeats. Speaking from my personal experience, it reheats wonderfully.

 

Good Food? 

  • Likes the taste
  • Uses fresh whole ingredients
  • Price per serving is low, less than $3
  • Whipping Cream and onions were locally sourced


Yep, good food!

BTW, Hamburger Helper was one of the first things I learned how to “cook”, as a junior high student. That and Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes