Friday, 27 January 2017 14:19

Around the World With Food in Grand Rapids

Written by  Elma Talundzic
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Gyro from Bosna Express Gyro from Bosna Express All photos courtesy of the respective restaurants.

With new restaurants opening all the time in Grand Rapids, the city continues to put new pins in its global cuisine map. From Bosnian to Ethiopian, restaurateurs make it easier every year to taste what the world has to offer without stepping foot on a plane. Here’s just a small handful of the many local establishments helping us expand our horizons.

 

Bosna Express 
128 28th St. SW, Grand Rapids

facebook.com/bosnaexpress, (616) 249-9395

Down the busy 28th Street, off 131, there’s a little slice of Bosnia waiting for you to stop in. Bosna Express was founded in 2000 by Damir Duratovic and remains one of the only Bosnian restaurants in the city.

“My father started the restaurant because he did not like working for other people and wanted to be his own boss,” said co-owner and son Denis Duratovic.

The restaurant began in a smaller location in Clyde Park. Later, Denis Duratovic, his brother Dino and their father decided to move the business to a busier side of town.

“In 2015, my brother and I put our passion into the business and completely renovated the restaurant and modernized it,” Duratovic said. “The food was always great, we just added some new dishes and gave the business a little lipstick.”

Duratovic describes the restaurant as a modern European tavern, as it serves a mixture of other Eastern European dishes and cuisines in addition to the Bosnian. You can also find the restaurant stocked with a great selection of foreign and local beers, and sodas from Bosnia, to pair with your meal. 

“Walking into our restaurant, you get this gastropub vibe with a beautiful brick bar and a laidback atmosphere,” Duratovic said. “A lot of our customers call us Grand Rapids’ hidden gem, solely because when you drive by you would never expect the business to look the way it does (inside) and for the food to taste the way it does.”

One of Duratovic’s classic Bosnian favorites is the Cevapi. 

“Our Cevapi we make in-house every single day,” Duratovic said. “They are little Bosnian minced sausages. This sausage has no casing, so it crisps up deliciously on the grill.”

 

Mi Casa Restaurante
334 Burton St. SW, Grand Rapids

micasagr.com, (616) 350-9123

Mi Casa Restaurante is a new authentic Dominican restaurant from Eduardo Madera, owner of Burton Meat Farm.Mi Casa platter

“As our take-out business continued to grow at Burton Meat Farm — the specialty supermarket our family has owned since moving to Grand Rapids almost 17 years ago — my father had been looking for a way to accommodate the demand and, ultimately, grow our small business,” said Rosibel Vialet, Mi Casa’s business director.

The restaurant boasts an extensive menu with proprietary recipes from Vialet’s father and the restaurant’s Dominican chefs.

“They add the extra authenticity, which was used by our grandparents in Dominican Republic,” Vialet said.

Vialet suggests trying the braised goat, which is a traditional Dominican meal at family gatherings and during the holidays. To warm up your bones on those colder days, try the Sancocho, a stew with beef, chicken, yuca, yams and plantains.

“One of the more unique elements of Mi Casa is the fact that all of the ingredients for all the dishes arrive fresh daily from Burton Meat Farm,” said Vialet. “So when we tout the freshness of our food and dishes, that’s why.”

As you likely know, Mi Casa means “my home” in Spanish, and it only seems fitting that the owners decided to have the restaurant designed after a typical Dominican Republic home. From the handmade wooden tabletops to the Dominican-style rooftop, it’s hard to miss.

“It is a welcoming environment, akin to walking to a favorite relative or friend’s place for a good meal and good conversation,” Vialet said. 

 

Little Africa Ethiopian Cuisine
956 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids 

(616) 222-1169

Little Africa may not cater to the more carnivorous eater, but it’s well worth a visit no matter your preference. The Ethiopian restaurant on Fulton Street offers completely vegan and vegetarian eating. 

“People kept asking me about Ethiopian food and they were curious about how it’s prepared and made,” said owner Loul Negash. “They wanted to have (an Ethiopian restaurant) in the Grand Rapids area, and we opened it. It was slowly introduced. It was not expected, but it happened.”

Ethiopian meals are meant to be shared, so make sure to bring a few pals along when you go, or at least a very empty stomach. All of the dishes at Little Africa are served and eaten on their traditional flatbread known Little Africa combo for twoas injera, unless you specifically ask for silverware. 

“No silverware is provided in any Ethiopian restaurant,” Negash said, “but we do serve a bowl of water (to rinse your fingers in).” 

Negash said Ethiopian meals are meant to be group meals.

“It’s not just a meal, it’s an extension, a form of having to sit together and talk,” he said. “This is a good place for that.”

If you’re a little indecisive about what to order off the menu, Negash suggests a combo platter, that way you get a little bit of everything. Along with the fresh food, Negash wants to provide an environment that makes customers feel at ease.

“We create an atmosphere that’s really cozy for people to sit comfortably and relax,” he said. “That’s the kind of restaurant that we have — we make sure our customers are happy.”  

 

Zeytin Turkish Restaurant
400 Ada Dr. SE, Grand Rapids

zeytinturkishrestaurant.com, (616) 682-2222

Tucked away in Ada, you’ll find Michigan’s only Turkish restaurant. Sitting down for a meal at Zeytin, you’re surrounded by beautiful details that complement the authentic Turkish food and experience. From the Turkish music pouring in through the speakers to the paintings from local artist Paul Collins and hand-made oriental rug cushions in the booths, you get the full experience.

“When you come here, you don’t feel like you don’t belong,” said owner Ufuk Turan. “I want people to be able to come here and not be intimidated. They can come here in jeans and be comfortable, but they can also come here in a suit and tie and be comfortable.”Zeytin Chicken Shish Kebab rice and Turkish Coleslaw

Turan opened Zeytin back in 2006 when the idea of a Turkish restaurant was completely foreign to the area.

“When we opened 10 years ago, people didn’t know what the cuisine was,” said Turan.

Most everything is made in-house and from scratch. The restaurant specializes in shish kebabs, made fresh from chicken, lamb and beef, which they marinate overnight for maximum flavor. 

Zeytin prides itself on its full menu and offers up more than a few unique items like their signature eggplant salsa, flambe cheese saganaki and arnavut liver. The full bar houses a variety of international beverages, as well as Turkish beer and wine that you won’t find anywhere else in Michigan. Turan is confident that after one visit, you’ll be coming back for more. 

“It’s a small company,” Turan said. “There’s a personal touch by all the employees.”

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