Thursday, August 6, 2020

Eating BIG in Grand Rapids

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Michigan's Up and Coming City aka Furniture City

After beaching it up in Grand Haven upon our arrival in Western Michigan we headed for our AirBNB (click HERE to see what's good to eat up and down the lake). As stated in the previous post to this trip we decided to get an AirBNB in Grand Rapids for our little spur of the moment getaway.They had some nice places at better prices and we ended up staying in a historic part of town in a historic house turned apartment. It worked out really well as it was close to the trendy areas so there was plenty of stuff to walk to and it was a beautiful walk at that. I know Grand Rapids is an old money and some say conservative town but i felt like that was changing just like the city itself. From what I was told it used to be a cow town but then they opened a stadium for concerts, conventions, and minor league hockey and it's been steadily growing since then. While the Devos and Meijer family names are on lots of city stuff some of it is quite nice. We visited Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and it was lovely place to take a morning stroll. It's a nice little city. The best part of  downtown and the historic areas was 'Black Lives Matter' signs outnumbered 'Trump 2020' signs 100's to none.

Sights from Grand Rapids

If you've traveled around the country you know that up and coming cities can sometimes all feel the same. The neighborhoods and restaurants all have similar hipster like vibes. So to me certain parts of Grand Rapids felt like it could Indianapolis, Austin, Nashville, Louisville etc. Demographically speaking Grand Rapids is similar to Chicago with about a 30% Black population. It kind of felt to me like Detroit and Cleveland had a hip little kid. It's perhaps best known among food and drink people for it's beer scene which many say rivals the best from both the east and west coasts. I got to try a few breweries and enjoyed each one immensely. My wife isn't a beer drinker so I'd love to go back with a few who are as I love good beer but don't know as much as others. I just like quality made stuff and there's a ton of well made beer in Michigan and Grand Rapids is the center of all of it. The thriving brewing scene seems to have boosted the city's food scene as well. I'd happily go back for more.

Sights from Grand Rapids 
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 Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Before checking into our AirBNB we made a stop at the Downtown Market. The mixed-use facility opened in 2013 with the help of local philanthropists. It's a year round indoor facility that features 20+ vendors, full-service restaurants, and a farmers market in the outdoor lot when the weather allows for them. It was the anchor of a local revitalization project for this part of the downtown area which clearly has some history with all the old brick buildings that line the streets. It's a nice public market not all that different from ones in other Midwest cities like Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Detroit. She got a nice charcuterie setup from one vendor while I browsed around before going across the street to shop for some local beer. I definitely rec a trip to the Craft Beer Cellar after a walk through the market.

 Sights from the Downtown Market 
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 Littlebird

We wouldn't get to do a thorough partaking of the GR restaurant scene with all the restrictions from corona and what not. Though they have a some hipper type spots that feel like they could be somewhere like Logan Square where I live in Chicago. Littlebird was one that caught my eye. They do brunch all day and sandwiches and quite a few of the menu items were talking to me. I ended up just trying an order of their Battleship Fries which sounded really good in a comfort food type of way. Fresh cut fries were well done if a bit too salty which is unfortunately not fixable like not salty enough. But they were loaded up with Japanese style curry sauce, loose meat hamburger, green onions, and nori. A well rounded combination that I'll probably make use of at some point in my kitchen.

 Battleship Curry Fries at Littlebird 
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 Chez Olga

Surprise find of the trip right here. When I say find I just mean I found it while obsessively browsing where to eat. Chez Olga was being listed as not just a Caribbean restaurant but also Haitian. So that caught my eye. Some more searching and I learned Chef Olga was featured on Food Network's 'Restaurant Impossible' which is interesting bc this didn't taste like food they learned to make overnight. It's more likely the show helped build out the eye catching building that sits on a popular part of Wealthy street. Hours were limited with no dining in due to covid so we made sure to try them out the first night since we they were open and we were around. They were doing a ton of takeout and after one bite of the chicken and broccoli I understood why. The menu wasn't filled with your traditional Haitian dishes as it was more like homestyle dishes your Caribbean born mother would make you. Some like the chicken with broccoli in a spicy tomato-coconut sauce had a Chinese element going for it. All I know is they use a 1-10 scale for heat and we got a four and it was HOT. Not too hot to eat but I cant imagine what even a six was like let alone a ten. I wish we could've returned for more.

 Chicken with Broccoli at Chez Olga 
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 Yesterdog

Grand Rapids is a hot dog town. No doubt about it. Michigan as a whole loves it's hot dogs but Grand Rapids has more than just coney's. Yesterdog is a local icon that's been around since 1976 and it's the first stop for many homesick visitors who were born or spent time here. It's a real Roadfood type spot but I'm not sure they've been featured over there. When there isn't a pandemic they're a popular late night stop after beers but they were closing around 11 when we visited. I went twice actually once to try the signature Yesterdog and then again the next night for a chili cheese dog. I preferred their namesake offering which comes with chili, mustard, ketchup, and chopped pickles. It all works together and as I've said before sometimes a cheap hot dog works better especially when there's a ton of toppings and that was the case here. The CCD was ok but the yesterdog is the order here.

The Yesterdog at Yesterdog 
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 Hancock

I kept saying how a certain part of the city (Wealthy street) felt like the Highlands neighborhood in Louisville. Well this bar called the Hancock felt like they snatched it out of Louisville in the middle of night. We decided to stop for frozen drinks on a hot and humid day as they had a really nice really distanced patio and they seemed be following all the protocols.We actually came here twice. The first time just for drinks which were good enough to come back for. Specifically the Gin & Julius from the frozen drinks menu. It tasted exactly like you'd expect a boozy Orange Julius to taste. Before we went to the beach on our 2nd visit my wife wanted to get a quick bite so we got the Hot Tenders with collard greens, waffle fries, and a Julius. The food was standard for the course but served room temp.

Lunch at Hancock 
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 The Beltline Bar

Anyone that knows both me and Western Michigan’s love for the wet burrito knew this one was on the agenda. The Wet Burrito is to Grand Rapids what Carne Asada Fries are to San Diego. Wet Burritos are found on pretty much every menu of every Mexican spot and beyond in Grand Rapids. It’s their culinary claim to fame. So they say the the Beltline Bar is where it all began. As soon as I arrived I wondered had this place been opened by an ex-Texan bc both the restaurants look, the menu, and the location is straight out of Old Austin or something. So what is a Wet Burrito? It's basically a beef and bean burrito with LTO served inside and dressed like an enchilada on the outside with red chili sauce and melted cheese. Is it unique enough to where one spot could’ve created it? Probably not but they’ve been serving them up over here since the 60’s while the bar itself goes back to 1953. I was worried I wouldn't get to try this regional snack at it's supposed creator but they had an outdoor patio setup just for the current climate and I enjoyed my wet burrito all by myself back there.

Wet Burrito at The Beltline Bar
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Harmony Brewing Company

Another spot I swear I could've been stolen from Louisville's Highland neighborhood. Harmony Brewing Company is one of the literal handfuls of heralded breweries around town. They're also known for their pizza. They get plenty of online praise and came rec'd by an instagram follower who lives in the area. She suggested pizza post beach and the AirBNB wasn't far from here. They too were taking the whole six feet apart thing very seriously to the point where the waitresses would just drop your food and drinks at a table more than six feet away from our and we'd grab it from there. So we never came within six feet of anyone really. Pizza wise they make some pretty nontraditional combos which I feel miss more times than they hit. That said a goat cheese and sausage wasn't to crazy and seemed to be one of the house favorites so we rolled with that. I liked it their thin crusted pies cooked to a nice crispness in a wood burning oven. It certainly worked well with their delicious beers.

Hey Goat! Pizza (sausage, goat cheese, and fresh basil) at Harmony Brewing Company
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Grand Coney 

I'd read about a spot doing both Detroit and Flint style coney dogs but it was closed due to the pandemic. I decided to check out this little strip mall stand instead. Grand Coney both looked and felt like the quintessential Michigan style coney hot dog diner. I say diner bc the menu always reflects that of a diner they just so happen to always have Coney dogs too. In the case of Grand Coney they too had both Detroit style and the dryer Flint style. I opted for just the Detroit bc I'd just ate some pizza. What prompted me to visit was I saw they use the undisputed champ of wieners in Michigan which are the Koegel's brand. They make a fantastic natural casing beef/pork blend that pairs with the traditional Coney toppings perfectly. Most Meijer stores sell them if you want to bring some home.

Detroit Style Coney Dog at Grand Coney 
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Forty Acres Soul Kitchen 

There's a really nice collection of black owned restaurants in town and Forty Acres caught our eye on social media. They seem to be a locals favorite and the menu was filled with tempting dishes so we ordered takeout to bring back to the AirBNB on our last night in town, the first night they were open while were were there. We didn't hold back and ended up trying a handful of the menu items. This included wings with house hot sauce on the side and the same thing for an order of fried catfish. We also had to try their Soul Rolls aka Forty Rolls. These were egg rolls stuffed with chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and dirty rice inside of a crispy wonton. As good as advertised. The shrimp and grits were ok but we may have ordered wrong or been given the wrong kind. They had a few preps of it. Sides might've been the star which is how I like it when it comes to soul food. I know I'm not the only one that can easily make a meal of just mac and cheese, collard greens, dirty rice and such.

Soul Food at Forty Acres 
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Taco Boy 

Any avid reader knows I love stops like Taco Boy. Founded in 1967 by Robert Baltierrez and his wife who's pictures don the wall. What I love about spots like Taco Boy is they're often the bridge for gringos over to real Mexican food. Hopefully that doesn't sound too harsh bc I also don't want to take anything away from places like this and the good deeds they've done helping Americans warm up to the cuisine of our neighbors to the south. Even if the food they serve at places like Taco Boy isn't like the food they eat in Mexico. Every smaller cit and town seems to have or have had a place like Taco Boy that opened in the 60's and 70's and in doing so started a trend of the US's love of Mexican food. A passion that's come full circle into understanding the food and culture of Mexico. I don't have any factual evidence but I've been saying for about a decade that tacos are the new burgers meaning you're never far from tacos spot no matter where you are on the map. It just so happens that some spots still serve what American's perceived tacos to be back in the 50's/60's/70's. To put it more simply they don't make places like Taco Boy anymore. So they're somewhat of a dying breed.

Taco Burger and Hard Shell Beef/Bean Taco with Shredded Cheese and Olives 

Taco Boy bills itself the "Home of the Super Burrito" which is a classic Western Michigan style wet burrito. I actually made two trips here. Haha. I had to bc I couldn't eat all of what you see in one go especially after I already ate elsewhere both trips. First trip in I tried a taco burger and a taco. The "burger" is basically a loose meat sandwich with gringo style taco toppings. Taco meat is spilled into a cheap bun and topped with both burger and taco toppings like lettuce, pickles, and cheese. The hard shell tacos are served with "house hot sauce" and cost a buck and change. I could eat many of these but limited myself to one with the standard toppings (LTC) plus I added black olives bc when in Michigan...fyi Michigan loves adding olives to their burgers too. Though I think green olives on these would've been too much I always liked the spots that include black olives in their gringo nacho toppings. Of course I also had to have a wet burrito the next night but I didn't go super which is in reference to size. I got a mini with beef and bean and watched them make it up in about 90 seconds from when they warmed up the flour tortilla, filled it with beef, beans, lettuce, tomato, and onion and then wrapped it and poured a very mild red sauce on top with a whole bunch of shredded cheese before a quick trip into what was basically a convention sized microwave used to melt the cheese.

Wet Burrito at Taco Boy 
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 Choo Choo Grill

My birthday breakfast was a Deluxe Cheeseburger (1/3 lb) and home fries from an iconic GR breakfast spot called The Choo Choo Grill. A real DDD type spot where the topic among regulars on my visit was the UP’s Cudighi Sandwich. I’ve always associated a good diner style burger to be a fresh patty cooked on a hot flattop (next to the sausage and bacon) and dressed in the classic deluxe style as far as toppings - LTO and mayo (RIP Salt & Pepper). They’ve been serving these up from the early morning into the afternoon since 1946. Maybe not as cheap as you'd think but classic diner style cheeseburger. I'd like to see this old school style start trending again. That's it for this trip. 

1/3 lb Cheeseburger at the Choo Choo Grill 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

Monday, August 3, 2020

Eating Up Lake Michigan Pt.2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Summertime on Western Michigan's Shoreline

With air travel a no go for the time being we decided to take a small roadtrip this summer. We're still hoping to be able to take a longer one at the end of August but around Mid-July we decided to go beaching for a few days up the coast of Michigan. A trip I try to take every summer but don't always accomplish since there's so many other spots to see. That said there isn't much better as far as a 2-3 hour trip from Chicago this time of the year. Western Michigan easily has the best fresh water beaches in the country and there's some cute little towns to be found up and down. That said this was a bit of a last minute trip so any type of cute beach bungalow was long gone as far as rentals go. So instead we decided to make Grand Rapids our home base. More on GR in my next post as today's will focus on the food we ate up and down the lake since even though we stayed in Grand Rapids we hung out on the beaches during the day. It worked out quite well actually as there was more to see / do in GR in the eve. Today's roundup will include food from Harbor Country all the way up to Muskegon. We beached all four days and found the Pere Marquette Park Beach in Muskegon to be best in class. It's spacious and the sand is super soft while the water is pretty clear.

Pere Marquette Park (Muskegon, MI)
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 Patellie's (Three Oaks, MI)

I've always loved the charming little town of Three Oaks. It's a great place to stay if you're headed to Harbor Country and don't need to be right on the beach. I feel like it's seen major growth the last decade. But not to the point where it's lost any charm or feels like any other suburb. Most of the businesses in town are local purveyors of whatever it is they're selling. At Patellie's that's pizza. Found right on the main strip of town (Elm street) is this semi newish pizza place. The Michiana area has some good pizza spots and you can count these East Coast style pies and slices among them. We had called to order a whole pizza but there was a bit of a wait. Luckily they do slices and huge ones at that. I was confused by the lady at the walk up window asking if I wanted my slices sliced so I said no and ended up with basically a 1/4 of a pizza in each slice dressed with fresh local toppings.

 Slices from Patellie's 
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 Flagship Fish (Lakeside, MI)

I recently took my first trip to Flagship Fish located on the Red Arrow Highway in between Warren Dunes and New Buffalo. I got the tip from a buddy and agreed it looked legit. Small menu of fried items including lightly breaded lake perch and traditional fish and chips made with cod. Fresh seafood and local meats available too. I enjoyed both fried offerings on a hot summer day before some chill time at the beach. Judging by the constant takeout they're a welcome addition to Harbor Country.

Lightly Dusted Lake Perch + Fish & Chips from Flagship Fish 
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 Farmhouse Deli & Pantry (Douglas, MI)

Douglas Michigan is another cute little town that's worth spending a weekend in. If you do then check out Farmhouse Deli & Pantry for lunch one day. This is kind of the prototypical lunch option in Harbor Country if you ask me. There's lots of spots like it but they're not all the same per se. Farmhouse features a ton of Michigan products such as Great Lakes Potato Chips which are quite possibly the GOAT of bagged chips. Aside from a deli case with salads, meats and such they also have cold and hot sandwiches and fresh squeezed juice drinks. Their most popular offering is their version of a banh mi which isn't authentic at all in terms of the bread used (Dutch Crunch Roll) but they nail it in terms of deliciousness. House smoked pork with good smoke flavor is dressed with pickled carrots, pickled radish, pickled cucumber, greens, jalapeño, cilantro, sriracha mayonnaise. I'd advise to order ahead.

Smoked Pork Banh Mi at Farmhouse Deli
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Pronto Pups (Grand Haven, MI)

This little corn dog stand sits on a public park overlooking the Grand River. It's been a part of Grand Haven summers for a really long time. So when I walked up and found a line with news cameras interviewing people I assumed they had just opened from quarantine shutdown or something. I watched a blue collar local walk away with five and chow them down solo at a picnic table. He must've really missed them I figured. It wasn't until after I too enjoyed my unique pancake battered pronto pups (hence the name, they cant call them corn dogs) that I learned that news cameras were there bc the day before the owner had posted a racist rant to the businesses social media account. Apparently the dumb ass meant to post to to his personal page as if that's any type of excuse. Look they were good for what they were. Cheap hot dogs battered and fried fresh but I for one want to know if a place I'm supporting is part of America's ugly problem bc I don't want to support these people in any type of way. Some will cry cancel culture but it's in fact enacting the freedom to say "Fuck You".

Pronto Pups. Served up by a racist in Grand Haven.
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Fricano's Pizza Tavern (Grand Haven, MI)

Return trip to what some call the best pizzeria in all of Michigan. I first visited close to a decade ago and loved the classic atmosphere as well as the minimal menu. They offer pizza and drinks and that’s it. You can choose from just five topping options including anchovies. Also there’s just one size. Founded in 1949 by two brothers who decided to introduce Western Michigan to a Sicilian style pizza their family made and the rest is history with multiple locations today. That said the original here in Grand Haven is the one you want to try as the atmosphere is as important as the pizza. It was weird seeing the house empty but they were still churning out 100s of pizzas for takeout. The most popular order is “EBA” or everything but anchovies. But I had that last time and it was too much toppings. I think two is the most a pizza should have. So for this trip I chose sausage and green pepper. They load up the sausage with seasoning mix they call ‘birdseed’ that seems to be a dried Italian herb blend. It’s pretty potent in a good way and when ate with the sausage and peppers it tasted like an Italian Sausage with sweet. The pizza is extra thin but not cracker crispy or cut in squares - how I like it. That said between the unique style and the throwback dining area it’s worth a stop for sure. I love how they still cut the pies with scissors. Best pizzeria in the state? Maybe outside of Detroit.

Sausage and Green Pepper Pizza at Fricano's
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Tootsie's Diner (Muskegon, MI)

The Friday Night Fish Fry at Muskegon's Doo Drop Inn was iconic. Featuring freshly dusted lake perch and also a popular onion ring recipe made the long gone bar one of the most popular places in Western Michigan on Friday nights. But the lake perch and onion rings live on at Tootsie’s Diner also in Muskegon. I can see why people like both recipes so much. The fish has a nice light crust that lets the fresh lake perch shine. It wasn’t crispy but it was extra tender. Friday’s only in Pure Michigan.

Friday Fish Fry and Onion Rings at Tootsie's Diner 
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Crossroads Blueberry Market

If you're in these parts during the blueberry season there isn't anywhere that does them better. Michigan grows more blueberries than any other state and a large number of blueberry farms are found in Western Michigan. I stopped into a couple and found the blueberries to be best from the Crossroads Blueberry Market which also makes great blueberry donuts. I'd read that a place called Jawor Brothers rolls their pie crust by hand so I made it a point to stop there and grab one. I should've got the large instead of a small. Bomb blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream is a killer combo.

A peek inside Crossroads Blueberry Market 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

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