Evans St. Station
City in the country
by Lee Lawrence
From the July, 2017 issue
When I was a kid, our family ate out only two or three times a year--my parents couldn't afford more, and rural western Michigan offered mostly worn-out diners and dark, scruffy bars frequented by gruff, unshaven men. But off a highway exit that led to the area's vineyards and orchards sat our family's favorite choice, Di Juanco's.
Cocktails--real and kiddie--arrived in large, wide, weighted tumblers set down on paper napkins adorned with busty cartoon ladies and risque quotes. A salad bar overflowed with preserved crabapples, pitted ripe black olives, and pickled corn we could nibble whole. Sunday dinner was served family style: delicious crispy fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, seasonal vegetables, and warm rolls with pats of butter melting between their little paper squares.
These memories came back to me as my husband and I drove the back roads to Tecumseh--past farms and flat, wide-open fields--to visit Evans Street Station. Although the restaurant has been open for sixteen years, we hadn't managed to make our way there. With my childhood recollections at the back of my mind, I stepped into the restaurant half expecting small-town folksiness but instead discovered urbane sophistication.
A tastefully renovated firehouse, the restaurant sports a patio in back and large picture windows overlooking the street. Inside, a friendly bar runs along one side. A working fireplace and local art warm the space, and white tablecloths and fine place settings dress the tables. It's an altogether pleasant room that allows for ample privacy and quiet conversation.
A year ago, longtime chef Alan Merhar left for new opportunities in the Detroit suburbs. After a couple of experiments with other cooks, Kelly Johnson, the original chef and part of the family that owns Evans Street Station, is back at the helm. He continues the restaurant's practice of serving seasonal food and drink, highlighting the bounty of the farmers and producers in the surrounding region.
He does so with a sophistication that matches the decor. Among the
appetizers, large rings of fried calamari were tender and crispy, nicely enhanced with herbs and grape tomatoes. Salmon done two ways--smoked and shredded in a dip and cured, gravlax style--came to the table beautifully arranged, if unbalanced in composition, with generous scoops of the dip and only two slender slivers of the gravlax. Spring lettuces with peas, mint, bacon, and a light chili vinaigrette pleasingly combined the season's new produce.
For me, a disconcerting sugariness marred the seafood entrees. The sea scallop entree, carefully sauteed and set atop a starchy pea risotto, was finished with an orange sauce more jammy than tart and the Meyer lemon garnish on herb-crusted whitefish seemed gratuitously sweetened. However, my husband enjoyed both dishes, and I was pleasantly surprised by Johnson's bacon-wrapped chicken breast. While I usually avoid that ubiquitous boneless piece of poultry, I was tempted by the bacon and the sides--creamy spaetzle and crisp parsnips--and found the entire dish delicious. House-made fettuccine with roasted mushrooms and kale in a Parmesan cream was another savory entree. We finished one evening with a square of Opera cake--a stack of almond sponge cake soaked with espresso, rum butter cream, and chocolate ganache--wonderfully rich yet not overwhelming.
Evans Street Station is also open for lunch, and I wondered what sort of business such a big-city restaurant did in Small Town, USA. A friend and I decided to make an afternoon of it--a pleasant meal followed by browsing through Tecumseh's antique shops. We weren't alone in our plans. While not full, the restaurant held a respectable population of the older generation--mostly women--some just out to lunch, others clearly fueling up for a stroll along the town's main artery. At every shop we later entered, faces familiar from lunch kept popping up.
My friend is a light eater, so we assumed, as we ordered bountifully, that we'd be taking home leftovers. Yet we ate from soup to nuts, and we left empty-handed.
The soup, a Michigan potato chowder, dusted with crispy bacon and drizzled with Tabasco oil, wasn't a hearty, chunky stew but a creamy puree--inappropriately labeled, perhaps, but utterly delicious. Both of our sandwiches--goat cheese and prosciutto with apple butter and a bacon, brie, tomato, and lettuce combo--arrived cut in half, the halves stacked and speared with a toothpick. They were tasty enough but scantily filled so my friend initially thought her stack was just half a sandwich. They left us plenty of room for dessert--and we laughed when our chai latte creme brulee came to the table in a dish larger than either of our sandwiches. While the restaurant's dinner and alcohol prices had seemed in line with or sometimes better than those in Ann Arbor, its lunch figures were fairly high given the value.
Dining at Evans Street Station is not a nostalgic affair. It's a lovely, modern restaurant, a delightful destination for a special night out or as a diversion during a scenic drive in the country.
Evans Street Station
110 S. Evans St., Tecumseh
Tues.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon.
Lunch starters and sandwiches $7-$13, lunch entrees $9.50-$15, dinner starters, soups, and salads $6-$24, dinner entrees $20-$37.
[Originally published in July, 2017.]
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