This is the time of year for carb-loading. It’s cold and gray in Michigan, and the effort required to get out of the driveway makes one feel more deserving of a pile of croissants in front of a roaring fire than a drive to the office.
Canadians know about these things. Years ago, I came across an article in a foodie magazine about eating poutine in a beloved Montreal dive restaurant. It didn’t look very appetizing, to be honest; there isn’t a lot a food stylist can do with a pile of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. Apparently, Canadians eat it all the time, everywhere from fast food joints to hockey games. Which is appropriate since, given the calorie count, it’s probably wise to avoid too much poutine unless one is actually a Montreal Canadien, as opposed to a mere Montreal Canadian.
Like Ramen, Pho and kebabs before it, poutine is mundane in its original setting but seems exotic on an American menu. I figured it would eventually reach East Lansing, and it did – first appearing, as far as I know, at Hop Cat. The thing about the Hop Cat version, though, was that it was too fancy for my purposes, involving pierogi, spicy sausage gravy and stout caramelized onions. Hop Cat’s version sounded delicious to me, but I wanted to start with standard, un-gussied poutine so I’d have a frame of reference.
Enter Henry’s Place. I had to cross into Meridian Township to accomplish my goal, but I had seen the menu for the newly established sports bar/pub and among the offerings was a more standard issue poutine. Located at 4296 Marsh Road in the “Target Plaza,” Henry’s shares kitchen space and a banquet room with the adjacent Asian Buffet. Henry himself is a member of the family that owns Asian Buffet, an Okemos fixture since the 1990s.
The buzz I’d heard about Henry’s Place was mostly not about the food, but about the strong beer selection and the knowledge and helpfulness of Chris, who serves both as front-of-house manager and bar manager. My steady date, Captain Carnivore, had already visited Henry’s, and mentioned Chris by name because he’d helped with beer selection for the Captain and his equally beer-snobby friend.
When we stopped in for lunch last Saturday, I found the space spare, and clearly sports-focused, with a bar running the length of the room and eight large, wall-mounted TVs. There weren’t a lot of other customers, but I noticed immediately that the wait staff was very friendly and attentive, not in a hovering way but in a way that suggested real interest in fellow humans.
Our own waiter was Chris himself, who gave a thumbs-up to the Captain’s choice of a West Coast Imperial IPA. As we looked at the menu, at the next table a young family was seated and the mother ordered something involving mint and blackberries, which prompted the waitress to explain in a skillfully un-patronizing way that the requested drink was a summer drink, and that it wasn’t available when the ingredients were out of season. The same waitress was also quick to point out menu items that could be “right up” for the couple’s small child, who had complained of being hungry enough that she might die right there on the table.
I noticed, as I perused our options, that the menu offers an assortment of burgers, and a number of “Shareable Appetizers,” including mussels, fish tacos, and jambalaya. On another (healthier) visit I would probably have gone for mussels or oysters on the half shell, but this time, of course, I ordered “Pauli’s Pork Belly Poutine,” described as “Fries topped with house-made beef gravy, cheese curds, pork belly & finished off with a sunny side egg.” Captain Carnivore opted for more traditional bar food: the “Wendy’s Wings,” bone-in and extra hot.
We’ll dispense first with the wings: The Captain and I both felt sure that they were made from scratch, and the sauce was almost hot enough for him. Nothing fancy, but a well-prepared choice to accompany some beer and a game.
The poutine was rich in contrast, from the small crunches of pork belly to the fries that remained crispy beneath both gravy and yolk. It seemed to be in order; the curds melted between the fries and the brown gravy, and there was definitely a comfort food vibe. If I ordered it again I would leave off the egg—which certainly did no harm, but also didn’t seem orthodox or necessary. It was a large quantity of food, and would be plenty as a shared appetizer or split between two diners.
We’ll be back to try the burgers, and I really want to try the raw oysters, maybe with a glass of stout and some Tuesday Trivia. There’s also a “Friday Fish Fry” with clam chowder that sounds intriguing.
Henry’s Place is a safe bet for kids, and can definitely accommodate a vegetarian.