The Itinerary: East Lansing; a complete guide to the home of Michigan State
Lansing, Mich., has been the bane of high school geography students for over 100 years. (Really? Detroit's not the state capital?). Besides being the seat of government in Michigan, Lansing also played a vital role in the growth of the state’s auto industry, expanding in lockstep with the growing popularity of automobiles in America.
As travel between Lansing, the geographical center of the state, and Detroit, the industrial center of the state, began to increase, communities sprang up along Interstate 96. One of them, East Lansing, has been home to Michigan State University since 1857.
With a population that more than doubles when the school’s 50,000 students are on campus, the area has a wide range of eating, drinking and entertainment establishments. Here are some of the top places to check out on your trip to see the Spartans.
Have you been eating your food off a plate like a chump? Crunchy’s eschews conventional tableware and serves up sliders, fries and deep-fried pizza “nugs” in plastic buckets. The pub also has a massive selection of local beers and microbrew favorites. It’s a great place to watch a game, sing karaoke, see some stand-up—and eat from a bucket.
HopCat has all the typical bar-food standards (and they’re delicious), but the main reason to go is for the Crack Fries. Named some of the top fries in the U.S. by Food Network Magazine, they are served in a variety of ways: coated in a cracked black pepper seasoning, loaded with bacon and jalapenos, or done up Poutine-style. Cheese sauce is standard. Chili is optional. A post-meal nap is recommended.
Peanut Barrel serves Long Island Ice Teas all day long—and at prices even an undergraduate (of legal age, of course) can afford. For less than the cost of a Long Island Railroad ticket, you can sip cocktails practically all day while pigging out on a variety of burgers and sandwiches.
Not your typical bar, Red Cedar only serves house-made spirits from its own East Lansing distillery. A gimlet or martini with house-made RCS Vodka makes for a truly one-of-a-kind cocktail. Bottles of brandy, bourbon, gin, whiskey and vodka are available for purchase.
With a name that begins with the word meat it’s easy to guess the specialty of the house. You can indulge in half-pound platters of pulled pork, brisket, turkey or sausage, or get the baked-to-order macaroni and cheese, which can me made a variety of ingredients, including caramelized onions, jalapenos and crumbled blue cheese. If you’re still hungry for more animal flesh, go for the Meat Mountain, an orgy of mashed potatoes, brisket, bacon gravy, creamed corn and cheddar cheese.
East Lansing’s definitive diner, Golden Harvest serves its own Captain Crunch French Toast, as well as biscuits and gravy and a rotating list of specials that will bend your brain and rock your taste buds. Be prepared to wait a while, bring cash and don't ignore the rules posted on the door.
You can’t come to a town this close to the Motor City without learning a little bit about motor vehicles. Oldsmobile founder R.E. Olds was a true automotive pioneer and helped put Lansing on the map. You can check out everything from 120-year-old steam carriages to original Oldsmobile Curved Dash carriages to early forms of the electric car.
Since Michigan State’s mascot is human, animal lovers will have to check out the Potter Park Zoo if they need to get a furry fix. For nearly 50 years, the zoo has been home to some of the rarest animals on earth, including such endangered species as the black rhinoceros, the snow leopard and the Bali myna bird.