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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Wrought Iron Grill, Owosso, MI; also Father’s Day

We had a number of adventures this past weekend starting with a brief jaunt to Ft. Wayne for storm-chasing on Friday night. The night ended with me driving home through that horrible downpour/second great flood/electrical storm south of Lansing. Fun times!

However, I am working my way backwards from my food notes for the weekend so we will begin with Father’s Day dinner. On Saturday, I called my dad to arrange dinner but we didn’t have plan for where to go yet. Initially, I considered taking him out on Saturday when we were going to go sample the contestant restaurants for our rehearsal dinner- ribs and pizza will make a man happy. Then, we went camping instead so we planned for Sunday.

Driving back from camping on Sunday (in Marshall), I started thinking about where to go. My parents live in Flushing, just west of Flint. We live on the west side of Lansing. I didn’t really expect my dad to drive all the way to Lansing nor did I really want to drive all the way in to Flint considering I also had a paper to finish write from scratch for class, due before bedtime. In the back of my head, I remembered this steakhouse/ grill type place in Owosso. Or maybe Corunna or even Durand. When we got back to Lansing, I went online to try to find it. You would think locating a restaurant in the small town of Owosso wouldn’t be that hard but it took 3 or 4 google search pages for the name to show up in a page- and not the restaurant’s actual home page even! After confirming I had the right place, I called to see if we needed reservations (nope) and the hours (until 8pm) then passed on the pertinent info to dad.

Only then did I look at my blog readers. And lo and behold, my fellow mid-Michigander had just been there the day before. Please read about his lunch experience and note the similarities.


We arrived before my dad and, following the behest of our GPS, drove right past the place and around the block to come in from the side. The restaurant is located in an old factory building/warehouse and is surrounded by several other buildings of the same variety. This area is right near the train tracks and across from the grain co-op, apparently the commercial-industrial center of Owosso, in its heyday. We parked along the side and noticed the adjacent building is the (former?) home of the Owosso Casket Company.

I spent some time in Owosso as a teenager. The hip thing to do was go “Owossoing” which is pretty much like cruising except lame-er. My recollections of the town are dim and consist mostly of a strip that reminds me of many towns along state highways or commercial fares (For you Flint-ites, think Dort Highway, the nicer parts): fast food joints, random stores, maybe a strip club. Oh, but Owosso has a castle! Curwood Castle was the home of author James Curwood. In case you don’t know that name, he was born in 1878 (in Owosso) and wrote such books as God’s Country and the Woman (1915) and The Valley of Silent Man (1920), several of which were made in to movies as well.

We didn’t go to the castle, having already toured a historic home down in Marshall earlier in the day. Instead, we went right to the restaurant. After a little confusion because the hostess wasn’t listening when we said we’d like to sit outside, we grabbed a table on the porch/patio. There was additional confusion because she said “wherever you like” but then said if we wanted smoking, we had to sit on the south side. And we didn’t so she said we didn’t have to smoke to sit there. Okay, but I don’t want to sit next to smokers either. Who chooses that??? The al fresco dining was perfect. The patio faces east so we didn’t have to worry about baking in the sun and it was neither too hot nor too humid.

Someone brought us water right away but it did take a few minutes more for the waitress to come and ask if we had drink orders. My dad hadn’t arrived yet but we went ahead and submitted an order for an appetizer, the Medicciettes: marinated tenderloin of beef encrusted with Parmesan breadcrumbs and served with sauce Bernaise. I also ordered a glass of red wine, a zinfandel from Melanto Terrace Wines (California). Not a favorite but not awful either, just a little too much pepper in the first taste.

After my dad arrived, the appetizer was delivered. I don’t really eat beef but of late, I’ve been sampling a few bites. Seems like if I’m going to review restaurants, I should be trying the food. I’m not likely to order a burger on our next outing nor would I order a steak entree but I’ll try a bite here and there. Chris made steak fajitas one night and I had a slice of the steak. It was good and about what I recall decent steak tasting like (oh, stopped eating red meat in 7th grade). These Medicciettes were not to my liking. The meat seemed stringy and didn’t taste like much of anything. The boys however, had no problem eating the rest.

After our appetizer, we finally ordered our entrees. I went with the Seafood Risotto, Chris ordered the Wrought Iron Pizza
and my dad had the salmon “burger.”

We’ll start with Chris- He waffled a bit before settling on pizza. Burgers and steaks were also on his mental checklist but once he picked the pizza, he stuck with it. Its not uncommon for Chris to change his mind right when the server shows up to take orders so this could be significant. The Wrought Iron Pizza consists of roasted chicken, grilled pineapple, Black Forest ham, red onion and green pepper with house barbeque sauce. He omitted the green pepper. The pizza was quite large, more than enough for two people to split. He was very happy with his pizza. Around the first bite he was asking me how long I’ve known about this place and why hadn’t we come here before. Half the pizza came home and I did have a slice tonight which I thought was pretty good and probably better warmed up.

My dad was also waffling, between the salmon entree and the salmon burger. The entree is served with a creamy dill sauce, rice and vegetables while the burger comes grilled with roasted red pepper aioli on an asiago bun with steak fries. He chose the sandwich and was a little thrown when the waitress asked how he wanted it cooked (i.e. to what degree). Truth be told, so was I. Generally, salmon is cooked all the way (excepting sushi of course). The only fish I’ve ever been asked about doneness on is ahi tuna (which should be rare, no exceptions!!!). Maybe she was just confused by the word burger and asked out of habit. The burger arrived with a scant serving of steak fries, as noted in review linked above. Maybe they are trying to help people control carbs? In any event, dad liked his burger, in fact he said it was really good. Coming from my generally quiet, “its okay” dad, this is huge!

Now I, I did not waffle. I did look at the whole menu. A few things caught my eye but once I saw risotto with lobster, shrimp and scallops in a cream sauce, I was only window shopping. Because I hadn’t really had much in the way of vegetables thus far, I added a dinner salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette to my order. It was your typical salad so let’s move on to the main event. I love risotto. I still reminisce over the risotto at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham (MI) which I had at the wedding of my now ex-boyfriend’s sister six years ago. Good stuff. I make it a lot at home, look through the archives here and you’ll find the recipe for the mushroom version we like best. Now, I would probably not ever make seafood risotto at home because Chris is so picky about the source of our seafood. Oh, and he doesn’t like scallops. So, this on a menu, was gonna be on my plate. And it was exactly what I was hoping for. Delicious and creamy with a generous amount of sweet lobster meat mixed in to the risotto then several shrimp and two jumbo scallops served over the top. Besides the cheesy creaminess, the plate was dressed with a bit of balsamic vinegar. Browse this site, you might also notice a certain fondness for the balsamic. IThe risotto was expensive and considering the price and trend in America, I expected a huge serving but was pleasantly surprised to receive an amount, while no doubt high in calories, that a reasonable person could eat without needing trolley assistance to the car.

In fact, I was so not overly stuffed that I convinced the boys to go in on a dessert with me. Its June! In Michigan! Hello strawberry shortcake with local berries! Sadly this was not fabulous. The strawberries were good but the shortcake was a little too dry for the amount of berries and cream. Which didn’t stop me from eating a fair amount, I’m just saying.

This meal was pretty extended what with all the talking and eating and ordering so I ended up ordering a second glass of wine, this time Elusiv Pinot Noir which was very cherry in flavor. I liked it better than the Zin. Too bad for me that its apparently from a boutique winery sold to restaurants only. Gee, I guess we’ll have to go back to the Wrought Iron Grill soon….. The waitress mentioned that the menu changes seasonally with some carryovers based on popularity and an overall focus on locally sourced products. You know I love that!

All in all, a great place for Father’s Day or any other nice night on the town. Owosso has some other things to do (besides the castle) and also has a pretty decent community theater troupe. For this night, it was just nice to have a good meal and let Chris and my dad get to know each other better.

Details

Wrought Iron Grill
Website with Menu
317 Elm Street
Owosso, Mi 48867
989-472-9025

HOURS:
Mon – closed
Tu-Th 11a-10p
Fr-Sa 11a-12a
Sun-12n-8p

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.

Website:

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