Spend Locally: East Lansing Institution Barrels Through Pandemic with Warm Food and Patio

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Gary Caldwell for ELi.

Servers wearing masks as they serve lunch at the Peanut Barrel.

Ask almost any East Lansing resident where you might find them spending a warm, summer evening, and chances are the answer will be the patio at the Peanut Barrel. A table there is precious real estate as Peanut Barrel is known for its intimate patio and tasty food. East Lansing residents, students, and MSU alumni all vie for a spot to enjoy the famous “Papa Joe” cheeseburger and a beer.

While dining inside restaurants is currently on hold, Peanut Barrel has the luxury of being able to keep the patio open for outside dining, and they’ve been just as busy during a cold, fall evening as they are during the summer. 

“We’ve been surprisingly the busiest after dark,” said owner Joe Bell. “We’ve had some success with the outdoor dining which I find a bit unusual. People certainly are brave.”

Bell, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Jennifer, added heaters on the patio as dining outside is currently allowed under the recent pandemic protocol issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  

While a few tables have been taken away, there’s still plenty of space to sit, and the tables are positioned six feet apart.

Along with the Papa Joe burger, the bar is famous for its mushroom burger, tuna melt, Rueben, and French fries, which come in plentiful servings. Eating just a few is a challenge.

Bell has a hard time picking out a favorite menu item but said one of the unexpected surprise sandwiches is the Rueben.

“It’s just a great sandwich,” Bell said.

Alongside burgers on the menu, you’ll find chicken sandwiches, chili, and even a grilled cheese and garden burger for vegetarians and vegans alike.

Takeout beer, wine, and cocktails are also available.

The bar recently added a hot drink menu, which features a special hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, a hot toddy with cider, and the Papa Joe which features crème de menthe.

Bell said the hot drinks have been the most popular menu item and can be ordered without alcohol as well.

The restaurant was purchased by the Bells in 1980, and they’ve certainly seen their share of ups and downs, but it’s the customers who have made owning the bar a reward in itself, according to Bell.

“The compliments always seem to come on the days when you need them the most,” Bell said. “Especially when I’m having a bad day, the positive comments make it worth it.”

Bell also gives back to his community. When ELi’s Publisher and Executive Director went into Peanut Barrel to purchase gift cards for ELPS families as part of a effort to keep children fed over Winter Break, Bell then added his own donation.

If you’re apprehensive about a chilly winter evening on the patio, Peanut Barrel is offering take-out with alley-side pick-up as well as delivery through DoorDash or Grubhub. While Bell said he certainly welcomes people ordering his food through a delivery service, he encourages people to call their order directly into the bar as it helps to keep the money for the restaurant and its employees.

“Calling your order in to us is the preferred way,” Bell said. “It helps to keep the money local, and we don’t have to pay marketing fees to delivery companies.”

The Peanut Barrel is located at 521 E. Grand River Ave. in East Lansing, and can be reached at 517-351-0868. The patio is open weather permitting, and the bar is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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