The Potent Potables Project is the culinary microverse founded and tended to by restaurateur Sam Short and his team. Short and team set a precedent for leading Lansing’s relatively young restaurant/bar scene into the zany, ever-changing consumer landscape.
“When my wife and I moved here, we found that there wasn’t a whole lot of accessible places to eat truly remarkable food,” Short explained. “Sure there was fine dinning, but the local pizza joint wasn’t trying anything exciting or untraditional.”
It was this trend-setting, experimental void that set Short on the five-year journey to establish the Old Town staples Zoobie’s, The Cosmos, The Creole and Punk Taco. All Potent Potables Project locations, and Short himself, share an air of instinctual openness and flexibility with an emphasis on innovation, quality and logic that has steered the project squarely into trailblazer status.
The Creole boasts a groundbreaking early adoption to the delight of its veg-head patrons in its Impossible Burger. It’s a lab-bred wheat/potato-based burger that imitates the taste and texture of tried-and-true ground beef patty by adding a smidgen of iron-rich heme, hence a rare meat veneer. Short encountered the far-from-humble dish before all the hype and remembers the impossible at its ground-floor vividly.
“I was out in California while it was still in testing” Short said. “Someone told me, ‘Try this, its vegan,’ and I said, ʽNo way, I can see it bleeding.’ Anyways he gave me the rundown, I tried a bite and it blew my mind.”
Short decided then and there to bring the still-green product back to Lansing for his restaurant.
“I didn’t care if it was a fad, it was simply a superior product,” Short said.
Of all the colorful menu items at the Potent Potables Projects’ vastly differing establishments, the one that undoubtedly stands out the most is the frankly titled “Trust Us” plea at the bottom of each entre selection.
“It’s a fresh, new item on command,” said Short. “At The Cosmos, one day it might be a chicken-and-waffle pizza; the next, it will be completely different. Then we use the feedback to take note of what works when it comes time to flip the menu.”
The Cosmos and its sisters change the majority of their menu every season or so. At The Creole, around the time of each flipping, a “burger-off” is held that can involve anyone from the head chef to the busboy; the winner makes it onto the next menu.
Seeing all that the Potent Potables Project locations do to remain the cream of the crop at present, one might wonder what Short thinks of the future.
“The culinary landscape is constantly changing,” he said.
Short sees eating experiences that involves interaction both with and from the customer as the future of restauranting. With this being said, it’s no surprise that Punk Taco and The Cosmos have begun to integrate online ordering and hybrid counter-style service at their locations. Still, not every location is meant to ride certain waves. The Creole sits firmly in its seat as a pure sit-down.
“The Creole, as progressive as it is, is a little more old school than the rest. I like the idea of a two-hour brunch there, seeing as the vibe is a bit more indulgent,” Short said.
As important as it is to push things forward, it is equally important to know what works best in its own world: Innovation wherever it can be implemented, restrained creativity everywhere else and attention to quality regardless.