Wow! That was my first thought once walking inside Clara’s Lansing Station in downtown Lansing. We knew just from looking at the outside that the restaurant was an old train depot, but had no idea the care that was taken to preserve that charm inside the building as well. The first thing you see when you walk in is a waiting room. There are are old benches and a lot of railroad artifacts just in this room alone.
Next, you walk up a ramp into the main dining room. You’re greeted at the door by the hostess then shown this massive three level dining space. My girlfriend and I stopped in for an early dinner on Sunday night. We were shown to a booth on the first level of the dining room near the rear of the restaurant. Just behind from us was the steps that lead to an upstairs level. To the right were the stairs that lead to an balcony level. If that isn’t enough for you, there’s also an old dining car connected to the building that was being used for a party. The decorations are gorgeaus. The windows are stained glass. The wood is distressed dark woods. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and paitings adorn the walls. You get the feel that Clara’s is a find dining establishment, but the atmosphere is cozy and casual. Waiters walk around in shorts and ball caps and the menu is full of sandwiches and dining car favorites. A real interesting feature is the soundtrack. Yes, the restaurant has a sound track. I have to admit, both my girlfriend and I were competely fooled. There are tain noises piped into the building. Some of them sound like you’re in the car, but others make it sound like there is a freight train or Amtrack running by the building.
The place was gorgeaus, but how would the food stack up? Our waiter came over for drinks. My girlfriend went with one of their many cocktails. I had a Pepsi. The drink menu is just about the same size as the dinner menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever been handed a menu so thick. Meals range from burgers to steaks and everything in between. I went with my new favorite, the Black and Bleu burger. The half pound burger with Cajun seasoning comes on a Ciabatta roll with blue cheese crumbles and hardwood smoked sugar cured bacon strips. The waiter said it was a good choice as Clara’s is known for that burger. The sandwich came with the standard out-of-the bag fries which were crispy and salty, so no complaint there. The sandwich was delicious…except I didn’t realize it was going to have mayo on it. The menu doesn’t say anything about mayo and I was really surprised when I took a bite to find that there. The first few bites it was overpowering and took away from the taste of the cheese, but the more I ate, the more the bleu cheese flavor came out.
My girlfriend got the Califronia Chicken Sandwich. The chicken is marinated in a fajita sauce then served on sourdough bread topped with roasted red bell peppers, shredded lettuce, sauted mushrooms, ranch dressing, two avocado slices and melted pepper jack cheese. She went with the homemade cole slaw as a side instead of the fries. She could barely put the sandwich down to tell me how good it was. The neat thing about both dinners, and this goes back to the elegant yet casual theme, is the plates. I would call them faux china, but they could have easily passed for real china. It was an interesting choice to serve sandwiches on and added to the aura of the place.
We were both very happy with Clara’s. It was a nice casual night out, but it felt like more. The building is beautiful and the huge menu has something for everyone. If it wasn’t for that surprise on my burger, I wouldn’t have anything bad to say. Our bill with drinks was $30 and on a Sunday night, we were to get in and eat dinner and still make it home in time to catch The Simpsons.