Dusty's Cellar roots out an amazing array of fantastic
By Jane Rayburn / Detroit News Restaurant Critic
OKEMOS -- "I'd give it four-and-a-half forks if
I could," said my husband, Larry, after reveling over a near flawless
dinner at Dusty's Cellar, aka Dusty's Wine Bar & Pub, in Okemos.
"Everything -- everything -- I ate was a delight,"
he went on. And if anyone out there knows my husband, "delight"
is not a known part of his Arkansan patois, nor is flapping.
Dusty's, after some 20 years on that long, dusty road
known as Grand River, just southeast of East Lansing, is a singularly
extraordinary food and wine experience.
"Now you'll probably tell me that the last name
of the owner is Roads," Larry had spouted earlier, he being a man
given to storytelling peopled with characters like "Dusty Roads."
And, yeah, Larry, it's true. Dusty's retired owner is a fellow named
Dusty Rhodes, a guy who opened a gourmet deli in 1981, then, over time,
got rid of the fancy cookware, kept the remarkably eclectic and upscale
deli and spawned a neighboring room into this handsome, spot-lit, carnivore/herbivore/oenophile's
I mention Dusty's now because it was just recently cited
by Sante!, a trade magazine for restaurant professionals, as one of
a half-dozen best bistros in the country. And with Sante!'s praise I
do concur. Saturday also marks the annual gridiron showdown between
Michigan State and the University of Michigan, and MSU has the home
advantage. Dusty's is within a shout of the MSU fight song, a 3-mile
jog or so from Spartan Stadium. So keep it in mind.
No matter, what excites Larry and me no end are chef
Kevin Cronin's unexpectedly spectacular takes on what he calls New World
cuisine, a catch-all that, in his case, leans leeward toward breezes
of Florida and the Caribbean, Hawaii and California. He also gives a
significant tip of the toque to our own Midwest.
Translation: tapas such as garlic crostin slicked with
truffle oil, heaped with a woodsy, and lusty, mish of wild mushrooms;
oysters encrusted with potato panko, panko being Japanese-style crumbs,
the oysters bronzed, impossibly light and cracklingly crunchy, all of
which let that sensuous brine of the sea shine through; or duck sausage
in puff pastry, the only delight-deflator at Dusty's. The sausage is
rubbery and not helped along by doughy puff pastry.
We're struck by the casual but top-flight service, as
well as the offering of four different "flights" of wine --
that is, four different styles of wine, with four different bottles
to taste therein. At $7 to $8.50 per flight, it's a nice way to sample,
say, very different "wild, wild whites," red wines or "zippy
Wine, of course, is a hallmark at Dusty's, and no small
part of its estimable legend is its well-chosen, user-friendly wine
list -- so friendly, in fact, it comes with a graph for pairing wine
with certain foods. Here is, say, a 2000 Toasted Head chardonnay for
$30, as well as a 1998 Talbott "Diamond T" Monterey chardonnay
for $115. Here are a dozen merlots, 20 or so French Bordeaux and Rhone
and many others the world over.
While fish is no mere afterthought at Dusty's -- what,
with the behemoth Dusty's paella for two or my sublime special of plantain-and-coconut-crusted
grouper served with a medley of nutty, cabernet wheatberry, brown, red
and jasmine rice -- meat is king at Dusty's.
All hail, then, the heroic 2-inch-thick, meltingly rich
New Zealand lamb chops rubbed with garlic and rosemary. They sit, too,
like grand poohbahs, on a throne of whole-grain jalapeño mustard
sauce over that cabernet rice jazz. Or an equally luscious 20-ounce
chargrilled certified Angus beef porterhouse with a sheen of Scotch
bonnet chile butter over rough-hewn Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.
Desserts reign supreme, as well. Like the assortment
of tea cookies with house-made hazelnut gelato; Florida Key lime pie,
laced with Don Julio Margarita 100-percent blue agave tequila for a
$7.25 add-on or a Hawaiian chocolate volcano, with molten Hawaiian chocolate
ganache in a pool of mango and raspberry coulis with macadamia nut brittle.
Dusty's Cellar -- a best-seller, an award-winner, a
prize. Or as my husband would so rarely say, a delight.