ANN ABOUT TOWN: Red Haven at Last

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 5:07 pm
Ann Nichols

If Red Haven Restaurant was dropped into Chicago, Brooklyn or Austin, the prices would be at least twice as high, and no one would blink.

I am hoping that it will not be dropped into any of those places, at least not before I get to try the dinner menu.

I will admit that I used to chase the Purple Carrot Truck, the first joint project of Red Haven founders Anthony Maiale and Nina Santucci. They sometimes had on their menu a banh mi sandwich that made me very happy, along with other good things. (Although my heart belonged to that sandwich.) I followed them on Facebook and Twitter, and when they were anywhere in East Lansing and I could possibly justify it, I was a Purple Carrot groupie. It was exciting for a foodie like me to be presented with locally-sourced, seasonal and imaginative food. The cute truck, and meeting interesting strangers at a picnic table over paper containers was pure bonus.

In October of 2012, The Purple Carrot Truck family grew with the addition of Red Haven Restaurant on South Hagadorn, in Meridian Township. For purposes of this article, I will acknowledge that the restaurant’s address is Okemos, but submit that it belongs, spiritually, to East Lansing in equal measure. You can, after all, see the MSU campus if you stand in the parking lot and lean to the right. Nothing is more East Lansing than that.

It took me two years, but about a month ago I finally ate lunch at Red Haven. What I found was a clean-lined, slightly rustic interior with a minimum of fuss from furnishings to tableware. The vibe was “urban,” and the “local first” mission was lofty, but it seemed comfortable. The diners around me were dressed in office clothes, blue jeans or workout clothes. A family with a wobbly toddler and a baby in a stroller come in and sat at the end of the bar, where the ambulatory child could run around a little without disturbing other diners. An open kitchen added interest, and large windows opened onto the street.

What happened first was interesting. My companion (not Captain Carnivore), who cannot eat dairy or gluten, was greeted by name and within two minutes our waitperson had brought her a menu marked up to let her know what, with some modifications, she could safely eat. She happens to be a frequent diner, so it was not miraculous that they knew her. What was impressive was the speed, care and nonchalance with which they accommodated her needs with no fuss.

The menu changes with the seasons, which reflects the restaurant’s “local first” philosophy, and the lunch menu is divided into “starters,” “salads,” “soups,” “sammies,” and “lunch plates.” With your meal, you might choose a Northwood Soda, freshly pressed (at your table) coffee or organic tea with a name like “heartwarming cinnamon” or “creamy earl grey.” There is also a selection of wine, and (mostly Michigan, mostly craft) beer on tap.

First, I tried the “carpaccio,”a medley of radish, turnip, beet and apple with puffed rice and a sherry-maple vinaigrette. The word that came immediately to mind was “fresh.” It was crisp, the beets were earthy, the radish was sharp and there was a tiny hit of sweet from the dressing and the apple. I also tasted the “butternut squash bisque,” which comes to the table in the form of a soup bowl containing several small, orange cubes, and a carafe of steaming soup. The creamy squash soup is poured at-table over the ginger-chili cubes and then, well, if you’re me you become vaguely unfocused with pleasure.

Finally, I sampled the “butternut flatbread,” which consisted of house-made naan bread topped with house honey ricotta cheese, thinly shaved butternut squash, dried cherry jam, leek vinaigrette and micro arugula. I could try to describe the contrast of chewy, creamy and crunchy, or the play of salty and sweet, but I think I’ll let you imagine it. My companion ordered a bowl of the “white bean and kale” soup which smelled like garlic, and warm, and home.

Even if “foodie” food isn’t your thing, there are several fall menu options that might suit you with or without minor modifications. The “cubano fry” with fries, mustard-cheese sauce pickles and pork belly, the “salisbury steak” or the “pork panini,” are all hearty, meaty and somewhat traditional.

If you take children to Red Haven, I am pleased to say that I didn’t see a “children’s menu” (don’t get me started on that) but there are certainly dishes that most kids would try and probably enjoy, including a “chicken burger” or the “chicken pasta.” I do not know, but would be willing to bet that kitchen staff would accommodate a request that a dish be simplified for a child as pleasantly as they deal with allergy-related modifications.


Red Haven is located at 4480 South Hagadorn Road.


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