Tuesday, 01 August 2017 09:32

Best of the West 2017 winners: Dining

Written by  Nick Macksood
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So, it’s happened again. As I write this, it’s been exactly 244 days since the 2016 election and frankly, I was a little nervous to see the polls open again, even for something with arguably lower stakes (depending who you are) like Revue’s annual Best of the West.

I am not — thank God — as surprised as I was at 4 a.m. on the morning of November 9. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any restaurants or brewpubs that snuck in under the radar on me. (After all, I’m only a scum-sucking writer whose recompense around here amounts to about three draft beers these days. … But I’m not complaining.)

The good news is that there are more great restaurants and breweries around West Michigan, so many that you could probably try a new place once or twice a week for a year and not walk through the same door twice. The bad news is… well, see the good news.

What this all amounts to can’t exactly fit in the allotted space in this column. Suffice it to say our fair city will likely lose some good ones, as we did in June with the Lazy Susan, due to a mostly unaddressed condition known as Restaurant Attention Deficit Disorder.

But aye, there’s the rub. Wouldn’t it be the life (the life!) to be a regular — recognized, at last! — at Greyline, two beers poured under cover of loyalty for the price of one? Or to be delivered some gratuitous, sweet R&D, dreamed up and out of the pastry kitchen at Brewery Vivant, as a thank you for always saving room for dessert? If only the growing pains of Grand Rapids didn’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous culinary (mis)fortune. Oh, the double-edged blade of Freedom! The sweet and the sour! The salt and bitter! If only we could have it both ways. ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

 

Founders Reigns Supreme... Again

Founders has, again, taken a whole heap of honors — nine of ’em — perhaps unsurprisingly. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that the GR brewery will also take around 10 nominations next year. As far as this writer’s concerned, the literal world-class brewery has achieved Seinfeld status: universally beloved, but how many more times can we laugh at the “moops”? 

Even still, we’re spoiled rotten for having one of the country’s best craft breweries in our backyard. And beyond that, Founders has cast webs of influence around the area that stretch almost everywhere. You have to wonder how many area chefs, brewers or proprietors got their start on Grandville Avenue.

And kudos to the company for opening up their next brewery, restaurant and taproom in the Cass Corridor of Detroit — they could’ve gone anywhere in the country.

 

Dessert Heaven

Good Lord, you people like dessert. There are technically six nominees in the “top three” this year, thanks to a three-way tie between Brewery Vivant, Marie Catrib’s and San Chez for first place. Next thing you know, there’ll be more dessert winners than churches around here — not that there’s anything wrong with that (as long as we’re sticking with the Seinfeld motif here). In fact, it’d be a fine date idea to hit all six in a row.

 

Newcomers

Not-so-hot Take: the West Side is blistering with talent. Butcher’s Union tops this year’s New Restaurant category, followed by the Sovengard, which sits right across the way on Bridge Street. Those two, who also took first place (Sovengard) and third place (Butcher’s Union) in the Ambience category, serve up food and drinks in immaculately designed atmospheres that just beg you to sit there from open to close. But don’t do that. It’s not particularly good for business.

 

Old Dog Learns New Tricks

Rockford Brewing Company has been around since 2011, but the addition of a kitchen this year has blasted the brewery from zero awards in 2016 to eight this year — bested only by Founder’s nine wins. Rockford placed for best local chef, wings, burgers, chili, lunch, new restaurant, best stout, and scored an honorable mention for best IPA.

Just look at the menu. Grilled pork belly tacos with champagne slaw? French Onion Ring Poutine? There are cheese curds thrown all over the place! I’m literally going to try it tonight. Thanks, voters.

 

The Right Stuff

Last year, my esteemed colleague Troy Reimink predicted Harmony Hall to be the future (it won Best New Restaurant), and it may very well still be. This year, the Harmony family took top honors for best pizza, two third place finishes for Bloody Marys and Service, and an honorable mention for Best Brewery.

My thoughts on who to watch: Carver’s in the Downtown Market. Sure, they may not have received any nods, and its sister business, Fish Lads, was dethroned by Leo’s for Best Seafood in town. And — full disclosure — I work here, so I’m partial.

But forget about me. Carver’s recently hired Gabe Araujo, who built Harmony Hall’s kitchen from its inception, and Saburba’s Jay Logsdon to help gear up for both Carver’s and Fish Lads’ new locations in Ada this fall, meaning that the food we ornery guys behind the counter hand you is going to be top notch.

 

The Winners:

Ambience
1. The Sovengard, 443 Bridge St. NW Suite 1, Grand Rapids
2. Brewery Vivant
3. Butcher’s Union
 
Bakery
1. Nantucket Baking Company, 615 Lyon St. NE, Grand Rapids
2. Wealthy Street Bakery
3. Cakabakery
Honorable Mention: Field & Fire
 
BBQ
1. Slows Bar BQ, 435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
2. Two Scotts Barbecue
3. The Pit Stop
 
Breakfast
1. Anna’s House, Several locations, annashouseus.com
2. Wolfgang’s
3. The Westsider Cafe
Honorable Mention: Real Food Café
 
Brunch
1. Terra, 1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. SpeakEZ Lounge
3. San Chez
 
Burgers
1. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
2. Brewery Vivant
3. Rockford Brewing Company
 
Chili
1. Rockford Brewing Company, 12 E. Bridge St. NE, Rockford
2. Cottage Bar
3. Founders Brewing Co.
 
Chinese
1. First Wok, Several locations, firstwokgr.com
2. Ming Ten
3. Hunan
 
Coffee
1. Madcap, 98 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids and other locations
2. Rowster
3. Biggby
 
Desserts
1. Brewery Vivant (925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids), Marie Catrib’s (1001 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids), and San Chez (38 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids)
2. Arnie’s
3. Amore Trattoria Italiana, Grove
 
Diner
1. Matchbox Diner & Drinks, 1345 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Pal’s Diner
3. Grand Coney
 
Farm To Table
1. Terra, 1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Grove
3. The Green Well
 
Food Truck
1. What the Truck, 648 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Two Scotts Barbecue
3. Patty Matters
 
Fried Chicken
1. Cousin’s Tasty Chicken, 1209 Leonard St. NE, Grand Rapids
2. New York Fried Chicken
3. The Southerner
 
Fries
1. HopCat, 25 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
2. Brewery Vivant
3. Stella’s Lounge 
 
Hot Dogs
1. Yesterdog, 1505 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Jonny B’z
3. The Corner Bar
 
Ice Cream/Frozen Treats
1. Furniture City Creamery, 958 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Love’s Ice Cream
3. Spoonlickers
 
Indian
1. Bombay Cuisine, 1420 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Curry Kitchen
3. Palace of India
 
Italian 
1. Amore Trattoria Italiana, 5080 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park
2. Osteria Rossa
3. Mangiamo
 
Lunch
1. Marie Catrib’s, 1001 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Rockford Brewing Company
3. Founders Brewing Co.
 
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern
1. Sheshco Grill, 2121 Celebration Dr. NE #700, Grand Rapids
2. Gita Pita
3. Le Kabob
 
Mexican
1. Donkey Taqueria, 665 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Tacos el Cunado
3. Taqueria San Jose
 
New Restaurant (opened in past 12 months)
1. Butcher’s Union, 438 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids
2. The Sovengard
3. Rockford Brewing Company
 
Patio
1. Founders Brewing Co., 235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
2. Rose’s
3. Rockwell Republic
 
Pizza
1. Harmony Brewing Eastown, 1551 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. The Mitten Brewing
3. Brick Road Pizza
Honorable Mention: Vitale’s
 
Sandwich/Deli
1. Schnitz Deli, 1315 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
2. Two Beards Deli
3. Cherry Deli
 
Seafood
1. Leo’s, 60 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
2. Fish Lads
3. Charley’s Crab 
 
Service
1. Brewery Vivant, 925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Founders Brewing Co.
3. Harmony Brewing 
 
Steak
1. The Chop House, 190 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
2. Butcher’s Union
3. Judson’s Steakhouse
Honorable Mention: Leo’s
 
Sushi
1. Maru, 927 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, and 427 E. Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo
2. Ju Sushi
3. Jaku Sushi
 
Thai
1. Bangkok Taste, 15 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Erb Thai
3. Little Bangkok
 
Upscale Restaurant
1. Grove, 919 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids
2. The Chop House
3. Reserve
 
Vegetarian
1. Marie Catrib’s, 1001 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids
2. Brick Road Pizza
3. Little Africa
 
Vietnamese
1. Pho Soc Trang, 4242 Division Ave., Kentwood
2. Asian Palace Pho 99 
3. Lai Thai
 
Wings
1. Wing Doozy, 3916 Plainfield Ave. NE, Grand Rapids and 2359 Health Dr., Wyoming
2. Rockford Brewing Company
3. Slows Bar BQ

 

Staff Picks

FARM TO TABLE: The Sovengard

I thought I would see the Sovengard appear more frequently in the Best of the West issue, until I realized that what they have to offer does not exactly fit the bent many of the categories slant toward.
That Rick Muschiana and Patrick Conrade’s restaurant-love-child doesn’t usually serve up a burger, honestly, is not so much a problem for the Sovengard as it is a distinction. Best Pickled Vegetables? Hands down winner. Best Chicken Liver Pâté? Easy
But they certainly do deserve mention as a Farm to Table nominee. The Sovengard is moving the bar forward in Grand Rapids as far as seasonality and sustainability goes. They are one of only a handful of area restaurants that take on whole hog butchery, and possibly the only non-vegan restaurant in town that doesn’t serve beef — save a weekend or two — because of the disastrous ecological effects of bovine agriculture. They also get their cornmeal from Shady Side Farms in Holland who grind their kernels in a centuries-old windmill!
We don’t live in a vacuum. There are environmental consequences for not just what restaurants choose to offer on their menus, but who they order that food from, or how much waste they plow through on any night of the week. Perhaps the Sovengard is making it harder on themselves for placing such tight strictures on the way they run their restaurant, but their nascent success — awards or not — rewards a business model that future area restaurants would be envious to emulate. 443 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids —by Nick Macksood

 

ICE CREAM & FROZEN TREATS: Hudsonville Ice Cream

This ice cream is some of the best. There are so many flavors to choose from, including some with fruit such as the Strawberry Cheesecake or Berry Cobbler, but even the simple Vanilla and Chocolate flavors are must haves. My favorite, Chocolate Monster, is the chocolate ice cream with chunks of fudge and peanut butter. It’s a chocolate lover’s dream and a must try. No matter what flavor you choose, you can’t go wrong with Hudsonville Ice Cream. 345 E. 48th St., Holland —by Kara Toay

 

PIZZA: Rebel Pies

Tucked away inside the Russell Block Market building in downtown Muskegon in space adjacent to Unruly Brewing Co., Rebel Pies dishes up some of the best pizza in the region. You’ll give a satisfied holler as soon as a slice of Buck Yer Fuffalo hits your taste buds, its buffalo sauce, blue cheese and roasted chicken providing just the right mix of savory flavors. Or perhaps you’d rather get your protein for the day (or month) with the Meat Sweats, which features six different types of delectable pork, beef and chicken. Rebel Pies also offers options for vegetarians and vegans if you don’t crave the delicious taste of cooked flesh. (Bonus: Head over to the bar and order a pour of Unruly beer to wash down your pizza.) 360 W. Western Ave., Muskegon —by Joe Boomgaard

 

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