Date of visit November 29, 2012
19350 Sumpter Road
Township of Sumpter, MI 48111
During the last week of November 2012, on Thursday, by suggestion, a group of us planned to meet for a “Dinner Run” at an un-tried, almost local restaurant call Tinpan. We could have rode, as the weather remained dry and mild with seasonably chilly evenings, but we didn’t, and we weren’t alone in that decision. My riding stops at 57 degrees and I believe it was forecast to be in the low 40’s, yes I am a fair weather Biker of sorts, but I do like car heaters. Besides it’s the time of year when short dinner runs, as a group, are more frequent than long rides.
Tinpan is located in Sumpter Michigan; the typical small town Michigan with the usual characteristic downtown area that goes by in a blink of an eye, even at slow speeds, populated with a bar or two and other small competing restaurants. Tinpan also looks out of place for a small home town restaurant; it’s a big place for what it is. It’s housed in a standalone brick building situated off the main street and could be mistaken for a pharmacy (it’s not really that big) but I did think it was a hardware store until I read their sign, and did notice the parking lot had cars; I doubt the patrons were buying screws that time of night.
In fact, as we were driving into the Tinpan parking lot, I only noticed the sign over their front door, announcing Tinpan, brightly displayed in white neon.
However, when we were leaving, I noticed I had totally missed the second well lite sign standing tall, in the entrance-way of their parking lot. Too bad I missed it as that sign gave additional restaurant information, which may have been important on food selections, as it proclaimed Tinpan is a Saloon and Pizzeria, implying it’s not a steakhouse.
As a group, we aren’t too picky, be it steak or pizza so in theory anything would be fine. We weren’t sure how many of us would actually show up to this dinner which is one reason why riding is so much better for event planning, we meet up and ride to the place together. In a car everyone has their own idea of what is early or what is late and then you might need gas, the GPS dies, you forget your cell phone, or you miss the bright neon sign driving by thinking it’s a hardware store and go home and order pizza.
Tonight we were on time, parking in Tinpan’s almost empty parking lot, making it easy for us to spot two of our group standing outside, just waiting. While we said our hellos, I checked the lot for bikes, no bikes in sight; it wasn’t a riding night after all. And it was cold and indoors is always supposed to be warmer so inside we went.
To get in, the front door of Tinpan opens into a foyer which leads to another set of glass doors. Going through those doors, you’re faced with wooden old style saloon door that swings open into a big room divided into two areas by a short (in height) long (length) wall. Essentially once inside, there’s two ways to go, straight to the bar and bar dining area, or to the right, the intimate dining room that tapers into a long dining room running parallel to the bar dining area. We turned right. No one was seated in the five booths like table “intimate” area, but there were diners seated in the long dining area.
As went down the room we were stopped by the first couple seated at a table munching on a normal sized dinner salad; “You did ride here” (Bikers!) the man said. “Yup we rode” (in the Lincoln), was the response, but why spoil the image. After disengaging ourselves from those diners we turned right again, walking into the “enclosed semi private patio” section, that has lots of big windows, no curtains (and so bright everyone outside can see you) and of course the room was cold. Seated at the table were a few more people, so it’s a party, with room for more.
My first impression of Tinpan; pristine, resembling an unused movie set, big flat screen TVs, vivid colors from well dusted rotating signs, clean unblemished wood plank tables, the wait staff in matching colors (black is a color in some circles) and quiet. I’m from NY, bars and restaurants aren’t quiet or cleaner than Martha Stewart’s house, I’m just saying.
Our private area was big, plenty of room. The seats, wooden captain chairs are comfortable, dark indoor/ outdoor carpeting, recessed lighting and a great view into the women’s room if you were facing that way. Once all situated at the tables we ordered drinks. No one faced the women’s room.
I opted for an Absolute and cranberry. I was served a glass of absolute, ice with a teaspoon of cranberry juice. Very strong, which I drank too fast, because it was too bitter for me and so strong tasting: I ordered a second. The second drink (and last one), I made sure I told the server to add one shot of alcohol to the cranberry juice so it would at least have the right color. My SO order a PBR, Tinpan does not carry PBR: someone brought him a Bud Light. The waitress chirped up, “Why would you drink that stuff?” He said, “Why wouldn’t you.”
Seated to my left, my friend ordered coffee and Kahlua and ‘round the table the waitress went taking the rest of the orders. Not long afterwards, the beverages arrived: served two at a time. The tray, an ideal item to carry all sorts of drink orders, was used only for water and soft drinks, maybe a rule? The last person to receive her beverage was my friend; a cup of black coffee, a few creamers and no Kahlua, just like PBR they didn’t carry it. At the server’s suggestion, Bailey’s was ordered which, surprisingly enough, was delivered to the table in less than five minutes… That being done and everyone hungry, with menus open, let the fun begin.
I noticed Ribs on the menu; I asked the server if they were parboiled and barbecued. “No” she said, “They run the ribs thru the pizza oven, twice.” She added, “The meat just falls off the bone, they’re the best ribs in town.” In this case, it might be true; I think there were the only restaurants serving ribs in town. We passed on the ribs.
Our server, after we knew her name, her drinking preferences (she kicked the coffee and caffeine habit) her favorite foods and where she hangs out after work, took our orders by our Road Names. That took a while, some explaining some guessing but we got through it! I considered the Thursday night special surf and turf. I turned that down, there’s no ocean for miles, but I definitely wanted the turf, New York Strip.
Four of us, my hubby, his friend sitting across from him, my friend and I ordered the New York Strip. As usual our order was identical and simple, two steaks done medium, 2 baked potatoes with butter on the side and two small side Caesar salads (for an up-charge of course). I had to ask our server if they run the steaks through the pizza oven twice, she said, very seriously, “nope there’s a grill” The other two steak eaters had identical orders, medium steak, loaded baked potatoes and side salad (other options on the salad included Cole slaw or soup).
In-between setting salads and soups down the waitress started talking about the benefits of lettuce and went on and on about how lettuce is really filling and people eat lettuce as practice to expand their stomach before a hot dog eating contest, who knew? In retrospect, those comments may have been directed to our Caesar salads, I didn’t have a clue until now.
As we waited for our steaks, food slowly made an appearance in no particular order: The last person who ordered, received his small pizza first. This was followed by fish and chips for someone else, and then some grim news. The server went directly to my friend and as she put down her side salad, which came with the steak dinner, she told her the computer indicated there were only three steaks available, she would need to order something else. The waitress didn’t approach me or the other guys about changing our order, I don’t think she even consider it, I suppose she knew how it would go based on her previous experience with the no Kahlua scenario, or, we just didn’t look like we would take it as well. In either case, the order was changed to a chicken Caesar salad: no steak here but promise of lots of lettuce. The side salad sat untouched.
We were the last to receive our dinner salads. The “other” two steak orders, received two normal sized dinner salads, garnished with tomatoes and croutons. We were served Caesars’ “trough salads”ß my term; two oversized (so called) Caesars salads composed of a half of head of ice burg lettuce, pulled apart, slivers of some hard cheese cut into the size of Chinese restaurant bamboo strips, tons of croutons and a plastic cup full of Caesar salad dressing. So much lettuce I wish I had Guinea Pig so I could take all that lettuce home.
By the way this Caesar’s side salad wasn’t close to any Caesars salad I’ve ever had – they probably ran out of romaine lettuce or didn’t carry it, the slivers may have been Parmesan, couldn’t tell, and the dressing was okay.
However, no complaints, we did not want to delay the steaks as we waited a long time for dinner and most people were done with theirs. We both ate a bit of our salads waiting for the steak. (Right after the soups and salads were served, someone came in late, order steak tips; he got his food before us!)
The three of us at the far end table with the steak orders were the last to be served. And yes, the steaks came out one plate at a time, about 5 minutes apart (must be a little grill).
When our orders arrived, I was reminded of the story of the three bears. First steak, mine, rare and a bit bloody accompanied by a fully loaded potato, my SO’s steak over cooked and a naked potato with butter on the side and our friend, perfectly grilled steak and perfect potato. There might be something said about being a single cute Biker guy and an impressible waitress who seem to gravitate in his direction. After all a man’s heart is through his stomach, tips are not.
We didn’t send the steak back as Michigan law may have required them to grill a new steak and gee they only started with three of them and I didn’t want steak tips.
The real problem: the bill. 0urs was a bit over $50, – two mixed drinks one beer and two steaks? I didn’t scrutinize the bill as I normally would have but should have took the time – I discovered later, our waitress had charged us for two full Caesar salad (dinners) at $6+ each plus the steak dinners, $27.58, and we didn’t get credit for the salad that didn’t come with the meal that the Caesar salad replaced. So the small up charge was non-existent. The server should have told us they did not have small Caesar salads as an option, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I would have ordered Cole Slaw. My hubby’s thoughts: “If I knew they didn’t make the Caesar with romaine lettuce, I would have never ordered it ..I hate breaking traditions!”
End of dinner: table comments were, the small pizza was the best, the steaks tips were Okay, the Chicken Caesar salad (with ice berg lettuce) was unrated, a couple of others had no remarks and one steak was done to perfection. As we were leaving, the waitress told us that Tinpan was a pizzeria – which by the way as I already mentioned is printed on the sign I missed (saloon and pizzeria), I guess steaks and other stuff was an afterthought.
We’re going back as a group and ordering Pizza only. Some think the experience was on the waitress, who was friendly, chatty and may have been new on the job. Therefore, we are giving it another chance. Call us crazy but this place might have summer potential for a dinner run, I just have to read the check line by line and ask more questions, if I know what to ask.
Would I recommend Tinpan? Hmm wait until we go back, I will let you know.