Ann About Town: Soup's On!
Above: Maru's Curry Udon
When the temperature is this low, the mind turns to soup. Not a delicate broth with a bit of chicken and a few mini-noodles, but a stick-to-your-ribs bowl of something hearty enough to sustain you through shoveling, or just going outside to feed the birds.
Here is a non-exhaustive, unscientific sampling of warming bowls available in East Lansing. I chose not to include chain restaurants, and to include soup-adjacent foods like stew and chili. I also polled locals on social media to see what their favorites were, and in the interest of transparency, I’ve indicated where I haven’t personally tried the recommended dish (although as soon as I can safely drive again, I’m trying all of them).
Maru’s Curry Udon
Although Maru is best known as a sushi restaurant, their menu includes a number of other traditional Japanese options. The Curry Udon is a special “winter feature,” made up of thick, chewy udon noodles, vegetables, and two pieces of tempura sweet potato in a rich, slightly thickened curry broth. On the side you get a small bowl of rice and some highly addictive pickled vegetable that is also curried.
How to: pick the noodles up with chopsticks and slurp them, alternating with spoons full of curry broth. It’s very filling, somewhat magical, and, if you have a pot of green tea and sit near the window, you can pretend you’re in Japan watching the snow fall.
Maru is located at 1500 W Lake Lansing Road.
Creamy Corn Chowder at Black Cat Bistro
Chowder, by virtue of being based on butter, cream, and potatoes, is a winter natural. Because my father made magnificent corn chowder, I’m pretty picky. Black Cat passes the test with a soup that has everything it should (chunks of potato, sweet corn, butter, and cream) and nothing it should not (the taste of flour used as a thickener). It comes with a piece of crusty bread, and really, it’s all you need.
Black Cat Bistro is located at 115 Albert Avenue.
Pho at Pho So 1
This one is a reader recommendation. I love Pho, a Vietnamese soup with noodles, vegetables and (usually, but not necessarily) meat.
How to: taste the broth before seasoning. Then add whatever you like from the “garnishes” (which aren’t really garnishes but ingredients). If you choose cilantro and/or basil, tear them a little before dropping them onto your soup so that more flavor is released, and try to let them float rather than mixing them into the hot broth.
In my highly biased opinion, you should skip the sesame oil and Sriracha, which tend to cover up the flavors in a carefully made broth. But you do you with your pho.
Pho So 1 is located at 473 Hagadorn Road, in Hannah Plaza.
“Sympathy for the Devil” Chili at Beggar’s Banquet
This one stands as an East Lansing classic. When I worked at the late, lamented Liebermann’s in the mid 1980s, there were two restaurant lunches I could afford: a bean burrito at El Azteco or a bowl of Beggar’s chili. In those days, the spiciness varied based on the whim of the chef, and that was just part of the fun.
These days I find the chili more . . . stable, but it’s still a hearty bowl of (gently) spiced beef chuck and kidney beans that pairs nicely with a beer or a glass of red wine. There’s a vegan version, too.
Beggar’s Banquet is located at 218 Abbot Road.
Crushed Lentil Soup at Woody’s Oasis
This one was already in my head when a reader suggested it, so it was a shoe-in.
Lentils don’t seem all that exciting, but there’s something about what happens when they’re cooked with onions that is an alchemical marvel. Add rice and you have a complete protein for vegetarians, as well as a filling and savory soup. I like mine with a squeeze of lemon.
Oh, and the pita bread is pillowy, warm, and fresh out of the oven at Woody’s, and they have four kinds of hummus.
Woody’s Oasis is located at 1050 Trowbridge Road.
Mild Whole White Peas & Potatoes at Altu’s
Because I cook, I can usually figure out what spices are used in a restaurant dish. Altu’s stumps me on the regular, particularly with its milder dishes like the tender, filling Mild Whole White Peas & Potatoes. I don’t know what it tastes like besides a soothing and savory vegetarian stew, which it is.
Altu’s is located at 1312 Michigan Avenue.
Chicken Lemon Rice Soup at Leo’s Coney Island
This was a reader suggestion, and while I’ve never eaten the Chicken Lemon Rice Soup at East Lansing’s Coney Island, it’s what I always order at any of the Greek diners in and around Detroit, because I don’t like hot dogs. (My husband, Captain Carnivore, generally eats enough chili dogs for both of us.)
A golden, broth-based soup enriched with egg, Chicken Lemon Rice Soup is both light (the lemon) and rich (the egg). I hear that for people who grew up around Detroit, it also tastes like home.
Leo’s Coney Island is located at 333 Albert Avenue.
Whatever you choose, we at ELi hope you will stay warm and safe during this time of intensely cold weather. And, if I missed your favorite local soup, stew, or chili? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe I’ll do this again or post an “update.” It’s not like it’s going to be warm any time soon.