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Friday, 29 July 2016 16:36

Revue’s ‘Best of the West’ 2016 Winners: Dining

Written by  Troy Reimink
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It is within my capacity as a certified member of The Media to deliver what is known as a “hot take.” This is an industry term for a piece of writing whose fresh perspective on the day’s news provokes vigorous debate, contemplative chin stroking and, of course, feverish internet clicking.

The information about dining/drinking preferences from our Best of the West survey offers many possible routes for the armchair thinkpiece pundit. For example: What do our favorite hot dogs say about the shared hopes and struggles that connect us as a region? (Plenty.) How far are white people willing to venture outside downtown Grand Rapids and East Hills for tacos? (Not very.) Do we still like breweries? (We do.) Below are more of my sizzling, data-driven takes based on several minutes of probing analysis. Prepare to be scorched.

 

 

Hot take No 1: You like Founders. You really, really like it.

Grand Rapids’ signature brewery appears in our results a staggering 13 times. Our polling research has determined that Founders is “Hamilton” at the Tony Awards. Founders is Beyonce commanding you to get in formation. Founders is Serena Williams wiping a tennis court with the tears of some 90-pound Eastern European opponent. Founders is Khaleesi sailing her fleet to Westeros.

It wins or places in categories such as: best brewery (duh); best IPAs/stouts (duh/duh); best sandwich/deli (can’t disagree); best open-mic (sure, why not); best lunch (although “Best place for a work lunch to go completely off the rails” might have been more accurate); best first date spot (a bit loud for my tastes, but to each their own); best beer event or festival (because Founders Fest is undoubtedly your best opportunity spend a 90-degree afternoon standing on pavement while drinking thick-ass beers); and so on.

We’re not here to argue, much. The people have spoken, and if there’s one thing demonstrated by 2016’s geopolitical events — Trump, Brexit — it’s that populism is never wrong!

 

Hot take No. 2: I have strong hot dog feelings

Since I no longer possess a 23-year-old’s intestinal fortitude, I cannot verify whether the public is correct in naming Yesterdog best hot dog. But since I brought up politics, I’ll go ahead and defer to Hillary Clinton, who visited the Eastown landmark in March while in Grand Rapids on a fundraising visit.

The snarky memes basically created themselves when photos circulated in local media of Clinton staring uncomprehendingly at the Yesterdog menu. But her order (six Ultras for her and her staff), is respectable for a newbie, and possibly a first for a sober person. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the Democratic nominee for President has patronized Yesterdog more recently than I have.

 

Hot take No. 3: Harmony Hall is the future

Harmony Hall’s win in the best new restaurant category represents the intersection of several current Grand Rapids narratives. You have the growth of an established brewery that was on the leading edge of the city’s craft beer boom. There’s the takeover of the West Side in general and Bridge Street in particular by salivating developers. And, par for the course for any new restaurant, there’s the upscaling of a locally specific, historically working-class food — in Harmony’s case, sausages, a nod to its building’s early history as a sausage factory.

Harmony’s ambitious expansion to the space most recently occupied by Little Mexico has created an attractive (if conceptually vague) dining experience that appeals on all fronts without bothering to repeat the format that earned the original location — a cozy Eastown pizza joint — its loyal following. Harmony Hall’s days of brewery exclusivity on the Bridge Street corridor are numbered, as the even larger New Holland Brewing development and, across the river, Atwater Brewery prepare to set up shop. But with a comfortable head start, Harmony Hall is well on its way to Grand Rapids dining/drinking fixturedom.

 

Hot take No. 4: All hail the new champion of breakfast

I’m not sure whether this qualifies as an upset anymore. The 1950s-style diner Anna’s House has been around since the early 2000s, but only in recent years has begun crushing the field whenever a West Michigan media outlet has endeavored to name the best breakfast in the past three or four years. Which is no easy task when the other faces on Grand Rapids’ Mount Rushmore of beloved breakfast spots — two of which, Wolfgang’s and Real Food Cafe, also appear in our results — haven’t lost a step.

Perhaps Anna’s surge is thanks to its gradual expansion from the original Plainfield Avenue NE location into a mini-chain with restaurants in Holland, Grandville and along the East Beltline. Wider nets catch more fish. But maybe, just maybe, the hype here is justified. I can think of no other place in Michigan where you could indulge on smoked salmon hash, a tempeh power bowl, breakfast lasagna(!), creme brulee sauce-soaked Twilight French toast or red velvet pancakes while in an environment that provokes a strange urge to reenact the breakfast-diner scene from “Reservoir Dogs.”

 

Hot take No. 5: It’s a Thai game, and Erb wins

The category that aligns closest with my perception of reality is Best Thai (give or take the absence of Bangkok Taste). My visits to Erb Thai’s original location at Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue SE usually unfold thusly: I’ll place a to-go order of my usual, Pad See-U (thick sauteed rice noodles with broccoli and tofu), then face the dreaded follow-up question: How spicy? Medium, I’ll say emphatically. The server will look me up and down and reply, “Are you sure? Medium is pretty hot.”

The implication being, you look like more of a mild-plus guy. Not today, my friend! I’ll stride boldly out the door with a takeout bag of Medium (capital M) Thai cuisine...only to spend the next 45 minutes gingerly picking at my entree as it imposes radioactive havoc upon my mouth and my confidence, then crawl under a cold shower. Guess I’m a mild-plus person after all. You win again, Erb Thai. You deserve to.

 

Hot take No. 6: Cottage keeps watching the chili throne

Here’s a fun idea: Gather middle-aged regulars from the Cottage Bar, the Pickwick and Nick Fink’s, ask them which is the oldest Grand Rapids bar, then see how long before chairs and bottles take to the air. Here’s something less debatable: Only one of them, Cottage, serves chili, and it’s the best in town. There’s three-alarm with ground chuck and red beans! Four-alarm with sirloin! White chili with chicken and pinto beans! Or, if you can wait a month or so, Cottage holds an annual outdoor chili cook-off to mark the arrival of fall, in which dozens of cooks compete for supremacy but rarely match the reliable meat/bean/secret-whatever prowess of their host. Listen to your elders, kids. They know what they’re talking about.


 

Dining & Drinking Readers Picks

 

Asian Cuisine

1. Maru927 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Thai Fusion

3. Erb Thai

 

BBQ

1. Two Scotts536 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Slows BBQ

3. Horseshoe Smokehouse

 

Beer Event or Festival

1. Founders Fest, 235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Winter Beer Festival

3. Brewery Vivant Wood Aged Beer Fest

 

Best Ambience

1. Brewery Vivant925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Founders Brewing Co.

3. Harmony Hall

3. Winchester

 

Best IPA

1. Bell’s Brewery - Two Hearted Ale

2. Founders Brewing Co. - All Day IPA

3. Perrin - Grapefruit IPA

 

Best Stout

1. Founders Brewing Co. - KBS

2. Founders Brewing Co. - Breakfast Stout

3. New Holland Brewing Co. - Dragon’s Milk

 

Bloody Mary

1. The Winchester648 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Stella’s Lounge

3. SpeakEZ Lounge

 

Breakfast/Brunch

1. Anna’s House(Multiple locations)

2. Wolfgang’s Restaurant

3. Real Food Cafe

 

Brewery

1. Founders Brewing Co.235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Brewery Vivant

3. Perrin Brewing Co

 

Burger

1. Stella’s53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Brewery Vivant

3. The Winchester

 

Chili

1. Cottage Bar18 La Grave Ave. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Founders Brewing Co.

3. HopCat

 

Cidery

1. Vander Mill505 Ball Ave. NE, Grand Rapids (and 14921 Cleveland St., Spring Lake)

2. Peoples Cider Co.

3. Crane’s Cider Mill

3. Ridge Cider Co.

 

Cocktails

1. Long Road Distillers537 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Rockwell Republic

3. SpeakEZ Lounge

 

Coffee

1. Madcap Coffee98 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Rowster Coffee

3. Biggby

 

Craft Beer Selection at a Restaurant/Bar/Brewpub

1. HopCat25 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Graydon’s Crossing

3. Logan’s Alley

 

Dessert

1. Cakabakery1436 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Wealthy Street Bakery

3. Nantucket Bakery

 

Diner

1. Grand Coney809 Michigan St. NE, Grand Rapids

2. Bartertown Diner

3. Choo Choo Grill

 

Distillery

1. Long Road Distillers537 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids

2. New Holland

3. Grey Skies Distillery

 

Farm to Table

1. Terra GR1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Grove

3. San Chez

 

Food Truck

1. What The Truck648 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Two Scotts

3. A Moveable Feast

 

Fried Chicken

1. Cousin’s Tasty Chicken1209 Leonard St. NE, Grand Rapids

2. The Southerner

3. New York Fried Chicken

 

Fries

1. HopCat25 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Brewery Vivant

3. Stella’s Lounge

 

Happy Hour

1. Terra GR1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Pyramid Scheme

2. Rockwell Republic

3. Grand Rapids Brewing Co.

 

Hard Liquor

1. New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

2. Long Road Distillers Vodka

3. Long Road Distillers Gin

 

Hot Dog

1. Yesterdog1505 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Jonny B’z

3. The Corner Bar

 

Ice Cream/Frozen Treats

1. Furniture City Creamery958 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Spoonlickers

3. Love’s Ice Cream

 

Indian

1. Bombay Cuisine1420 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Curry Kitchen

3. Palace of India

 

Italian

1. Amore Trattoria Italiana5080 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park

2. Osteria Rossa

3. Mangiamo’s

 

Lunch

1. Marie Catrib's1001 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Two Beards Deli

3. Founders Brewing Co.

 

Margarita

1. Donkey Taqueria665 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Beltline Bar

3. Luna

 

All Best of the West Categories:

Meadery

1. Arktos Meadery1251 Century Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Bardic Wells

 

Mediterranean

1. Pita House1508 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids (and other locations)

2. Gita Pita

3. Sheshco Mediterranean Grill

 

Mexican

1. Donkey Taqueria665 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Tacos El Cunado

3. Taqueria San Jose

 

Middle Eastern

1. Pita House1508 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids (and other locations)

2. Shiraz Grille

3. Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine

 

New Brewery (opened 2015 or later)

1. Greyline Brewing Co., 1727 Alpine Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Harmony Hall

3. Cedar Springs Brewing Co.

 

New Restaurant

1. Harmony Hall401 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Vander Mill Grand Rapids

3. Luna

 

Pizza

1. Harmony Brewing Co.1551 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Mitten Brewing Co.

3. Brick Road Pizza

Sandwich/Deli

1. Two Beards Deli38 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Cherry Deli

3. Founders Brewing Co.

 

Seafood

1. Fish Lads,  435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Bonefish Grill

3. Leo’s

Service

1. Brewery Vivant925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Amore

3. San Chez

 

Steak

1. The Chop House190 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Tillman’s

3. Iron

 

Sushi

1. Maru Sushi & Grill 927 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Fuji Yama

3. Tokyo Grill

 

Thai

1. Erb ThaiMultiple locations

2. Bangkok Taste Cuisine

3. Angel’s

 

Upscale Restaurant

1. Grove919 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Bistro Bella Vita

3. Amore

3. San Chez

 

Vegetarian

1. Marie Catrib’s1001 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Bartertown Diner

3. Electric Cheetah

 

Wine List

1. Reserve Wine & Food201 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

2. Divani

3. Aperitivo

 

Winery

1. Cascade Winery4665 Broadmoor Ave. SE, Grand Rapids

2. Lemon Creek Winery

3. Fenn Valley Vineyards

 

Wings

1. Slows Bar-B-Q 435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

2. Stella’s Lounge

3. HopCat


 

STAFF PICKS

 

Best Farm to Table: 

Food Dance401 E. Michigan Ave. #100, Kalamazoo

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant as passionate about the farm-to-fork movement as Food Dance in Kalamazoo. This restaurant has lived and breathed for almost two decades, far before it became trendy.  They believe firmly in the connection between food and people, sustainable food sources, supporting the community and culinary education both for themselves and their patrons.  In addition to offering delectable dishes, they also participate in various food-related events and host a number of cooking classes throughout the year. —Dwayne Hoover

 

Best Breakfast/Brunch: 

The Westsider Café1180 Walker NW, Grand Rapids

The Westsider Cafe is one of those places where it is IMPOSSIBLE to leave hungry. Tucked away on Walker Avenue in Northwest Grand Rapids, this local breakfast hot spot entices patrons with ridiculously large portions of breakfast comfort food. Their Polish Skillet is a local favorite and their grilled red skin potatoes are the perfect breakfast side. If you’re feeling extra hungry, order the 7th Street special with biscuits and gravy. Just make sure to have a takeout box ready – and a couple hours to spare for your upcoming food coma. —Josh Spanninga

 

Should Have Won a Lot:

Little Africa956 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids

In a just world, there would be a line down the block for Little Africa, which still, bafflingly, falls under the umbrella of “Best-Kept Secret.” Revue didn’t have an African-specific food category in the survey, but there are several other winners’ circles where Little Africa belongs. What about Best Vegetarian? It does, after all, boast an all-vegan menu, offering such Ethiopian and East African delights as spicy red lentils, soy curry, ferfer (kale and tomato paste with onion and garlic), gomen (spiced collard greens) and alicha (vegetable mix with potato and cabbage). How about Best First Date Spot? You’ll learn more about a person sharing a two-person platter of the day’s cuisine atop a bed of injera bread than over beers in some loud brewery. How about best service or ambience? A meal in Little Africa is like eating in the home of a lifelong friend. —Troy Reimink

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