Free Market was excited to learn about the opening of Aperitivo in the burgeoning Downtown Market (24 S. Division Ave.) in Grand Rapids. Art of the Table honcho Amy Ruis has teamed up with cheese monger and chef Kate Leeder to create foodie heaven in hobo town. Aperitivo will be a retail cheese shop, a wine and small bites tasting bar and a wine and beer purveyor. The highlight of the shop's sparkling 1,200-square-foot space will be 20 linear feet of display cases. These cases, longer than 26 blocks of Velveeta Cheese, will be chock full of gourmet cheeses, succulent charcuterie, velvety pâté and other related items available for sample and sold by the pound. Amy and Kate were happy to choose the Downtown Market for their latest endeavor. "It will be a great addition to the food culture that has been budding through locally focused groups, restaurants and specialty food stores over the past many years," Amy said.
Still hungry? Head south to On Deck Sports Bar and Grill (225 W. Michigan Ave.), which fills the gourmet sports bar niche for Battle Creek. Co-owned by Robert Buckhannon and fiancée Kelly DeMoss, On Deck is described as "Ruth's Chris with flat TVs." Located in a century-old building, the handsome space boasts hardwood floors and a Victorian-style $100,000 bar back. The restaurant is upscale, but still has a family friendly vibe. There are great dry-aged steaks, as well as Bird's Eye Waffles to snack on. Ask for the Arcanum & Vestium Cocktail. "Our ingredients are quality, locally sourced and prepared by our in-house chef," Robert said. The fun will spill out into the parking lot. Look for concerts by regional touring acts with seating for 3,500. There will also be basketball tournaments and Green Jacket parties for the swell set.
Raad's Mediterranean Grill (962 Cherry St. SE) is bringing a little taste of the Middle East to the East Hills section of Grand Rapids. The inventors behind Raad's Mediterranean recipes are Ashraf Raad, a chemist and scientist who used to work for Amway as a Quality Assurance Scientist and his lovely wife Linda Akkari who is a lawyer. The original Raad's opened a decade ago in Cascade, but about half of the customers were from East Grand Rapids and Heritage Hill, so it made sense to open another store on Cherry Street. On opening day, this reporter took Miss L.B. Divine Clark to taste the delicacies. With the chef charmingly interrogating us through the kitchen window, we sampled the house salad, a mixture of sautéed wheat and lentils with grilled veggies and a pomegranate dressing. Stunning. We moved on to the chicken kabob platter with rice and hummus. Everything was colorful and fresh. Raad's is pretty rad.
Nervous and stressed? (YESSSS!!!) Recharge at the Saugatuck Tea Party Café (321 Water St.). Gina Demos and daughter Christina opened the tearoom to share their love of tea and foster a relaxed gathering place for Saugatuck. "I have always wanted to open a tea room for everyone to enjoy, from young students to seniors," Gina said. "With a blend of different types of tea drinks, we offer something for everyone." The talented tea-sters serve up fresh brewed and iced international teas, lattes, tea infused chocolate drinks and Bubble Tea Smoothies in an amazing array of flavor combinations. There are light pastries from Holland baker, Posies & Pastries, and for patrons who simply must have their java, there is a single variety of smooth coffee. "I like coffee and I like tea, but I love my Sanka 'cause it loves me!"
Saugatuck Brewing Company's (2948 Blue Star Hwy.) Lucky Stone Pub is in good hands. The brewery recently hired Mike Brink as kitchen manager/chef and Nathan Akershoek as head chef. Nathan has won the Saugatuck Chili Cook Off five times. Mike has worked as an executive chef for 13 years. Sounds like it's time for the blushing Miss Carolita to give the Lucky Stone Pub another try.
Bridgett Blough is extending her Organic Gypsy empire to the Renaissance Athletic Club of the Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor. Expect the same healthy, organic food Bridgett sells in her omnipresent food truck.
Free Market fave Lush Gourmet Foods is expanding into almonds. The original Lush Nut, Bisera Urdarevik, is roasting her almonds in Coconut Lavender, Coconut Orange Peel and Dark Cocoa Chili flavors. You know I like them crispy, my pets.
New and exciting things happening in the businesses and nonprofits in West Michigan.
Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters (1111 Godfrey Ave.SW) is known for its Saturday Experience. In business since 2007, the micro-roaster encourages customers to visit the fifth-floor roastery Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can learn about the roasting process, try the coffee and sit and chat with fellow java-heads, while the shop custom roasts your order. Many will pre-order the coffee on Thursday or Friday and come in Saturday to pick it up and have a free cup. Roasters such as Erin Durfey take first timers through the roasting process: how a coffee bean goes from being the pit of a cherry to your kitchen; how decaf coffee becomes decaffeinated; and debunk many coffee myths such as a dark-roasted coffee actually has less caffeine than a lighter-roasted coffee. On select Saturdays, customers can sample the java brewed in a variety of ways: Bunn Brewed, Chemex Drip and French Press or a shot of espresso pulled on the Faema Espresso Machine. Saturday customers receive special discounts for two pounds of freshly roasted Select Single Origin coffees, starting at $21.50.
Across Division Avenue you will find Chasing Vanity Salon and Spa (150 Wealthy St. SE), which has its grand opening this month. Owner Elisabeth Bartrom opened her upscale beauty parlor in the new Tapestry Square development that the Inner City Christian Federation built across from Mary Free Bed. Elisabeth trained under a Redken instructor in Grand Rapids then sought fame and fortune in Las Vegas. She thrived, helping to open the Aria Salon in the Aria Casino and worked in the exclusive Mandarin Oriental Spa. Her next step was to come back home to provide West Michigan with trend-setting styles and superior customer service. Chasing Vanity offers traditional salon and day spa services, along with specialty treatments such as eyelash enhancements and hair extensions. "We want to be that one-stop destination for all your beauty needs," she said.
The Cheese Lady hit Midtown Grand Rapids (315 Fuller NE). Heather Zinn was a customer of the original Cheese Lady in Muskegon. Now she offers 119 cheeses (at last count) from around the world, as well as wine and crackers and other delicacies, in the River City. Heather has been busy from day one, educating current and future cheese lovers. "You can never know enough about cheese," she said. When you walk in, you will immediately be offered a tasty morsel to sample. And then another and another. Our Miss Lourdie was mad for ivory cubes of Canadian Cheddar. Lovers of stinky cheese will grab a funky chunk of Epoisses Berthaut, which is so malodorous that it is banned from hotels and taxis in Paris. Other delicacies include the rich and creamy Fromager d'Affinois and the mildly ruminant Potato Chip Goat Gouda. Stop by often to try new and exciting cheeses, my pets.
Sweet Kreations For You (95 West Michigan Ave.) is a new custom bakery in downtown Battle Creek, near the Kellogg Company headquarters, the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center and downtown schools. "Having been born and raised in Battle Creek, we are looking forward to being on the front end of 'our' downtown revitalization," said Owner Tracy Summers-Miller. She began baking for her daughter's open house party and caught the cupcake bug. Her hobby soon became serious when demand grew beyond friends and family. She took advantage of Michigan's "Cottage Law," which allows bakeries to be run as home businesses. The next logical step was to open her own shop. Sweet KreationsForYou's new shop is homey with antique couches and chairs and renovated hardwood floors. Initial offerings include cupcakes, cakes, cookies and more. Tracy noted, "If you can dream it, we'll Kreate it."
The West Michigan Environmental Action Council wants to help make your shack less drafty. They have already helped a couple thousand homeowners save hundreds of dollars in energy costs per year. Call for a low-cost energy assessment at (616) 451-3051.
Superieur Brand Clothing is a new company hustling Michigan-themed t-shirts for your sunken hipster chests. Kendall grad Todd Truman, who spent years in the rag trade, offers vintage takes on beloved spots like Pine Knob, Thunderbird Raceway and Lee's Chop Suey. Mostly men's styles with women's shirts in the near future. Look for them locally at Landsharks in Saugatuck, Book Nook in Montague and Fitzgerald's in Grand Rapids.
The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce recently launched Netwalking for busy professionals every Monday and Wednesday at the Lakes Mall at 7:30 a.m. and at L.C. Walker Arena at noon. Ask Tru-Fit Comfort Shoe Store for a 10 percent discount for your new kicks.
Matthew Russell of Wednesday Evening Cookies has a new gig that does not require dodging cars on his bike. Matt just opened Bread Square (8 Jefferson Ave. SE) as part of the Bartertown Diner Collective that he is a part of. Bread Square is a vegan bakery that fills a quality food niche in downtown Grand Rapids. Matt has been baking for seven years and will bake bread, but specialize in desserts, with many gluten-free options for your tender stomachs, my pets. In addition to the bakery, you will be able to find his baked goods at Bartertown as well as many groceries, restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques in the area. "This all started as just a hobby, so it's a good feeling to know that working honestly and with passion can eventually turn into something bigger," Matt said. Looking ahead, Matt wants to use Bartertown and Bread Square as institutions of vegan learning and community interaction.
Fine furniture purveyor Windsor Cottage is adding a new location. Having thrived in its Cascade location (2899 Thornapple River Dr.) for a quarter century, Owner Rick Santamaria is looking forward to opening a second store at 923 Cherry St. in Grand Rapids. This ain't no futon shop. The new 4,300-square-foot space will specialize in the resale of pristine-condition luxury-fine furniture and home accessories featuring manufacturers such as Kindel, Baker, John Widdicomb, Stickley, LaBarge and Herman Miller. "In my 15 years with this business, I do not recall anyone walking by our Cascade store and coming in. We have always been a destination spot," Rick said. When considering a second location, foot traffic was high on Rick's wish list. With hundreds of people patronizing the Green Well, Brewery Vivant, Maru Sushi and Grove daily, it made perfect sense to locate Windsor Cottage in the half block triangle in East Hills. Just don't tell shop-a-holic Miss Carolita.
Hungry? Head to Kalamazoo. The city's omnipresent Millennium Restaurant Group has announced two new concepts: the Panini Express (125 S Kalamazoo Mall), which opened in March, and Centre Street Tap House (3251 W Centre St.) in Southeast Kalamazoo, opening in the fall. While the Panini Express will be located next to the Union Cabaret and Grille, it will have its own identity – a food truck that never moves (like my Miss Lourdie on a school day). You will find quick lunch service and a menu that changes daily with warm, grilled-to-order sandwiches and a fresh selection of soups and salads. "We love the concept of food trucks. It's not what we usually do but this is our spin on it," said Bob Lewis, who is a Millennium partner. The Centre Street Tap House, meanwhile, will be a place for the beer lovers of Portage and beyond. The new 4100-square-foot restaurant's menu and atmosphere will be similar to downtown Kalamazoo's Central City TapHouse. Think gourmet burgers, hearty appetizers and an ever-changing line up of craft brews. Head south, beer lovers.
Now Free Market's all-seeing eye casts its flinty gaze West as it considers the tiny big-small city of Holland. After two years of planning, New Holland Brewing Co. has begun a $1 million expansion of its brewery (66 E 8th St). Renovations will include an expanded kitchen, revamped bar area, more taps, additional cask taps, family bathrooms (WHO BRINGS THEIR FAMILY TO A BREWERY?) and a beer garden with seating, an outdoor bar and a music stage."We are putting the same artful consideration into the details as we do our beer and spirits,"said Director of Chaos Dave White. The renovation will take place in stages, with the interior changes finishing up in the spring and the beer garden build finalizing by May 2013.
More New Holland: The brewery welcomes Steve Berthel as head pub brewer. Berthel previously smashed mash at Kraftbrau in Kalamazoo and The Livery in Benton Harbor. Look for Bert's signature Water Sign IPA.
Free Market asks: Why does Yesterdog's Bill Lewis keep chattering about Mr. Fables? According to our sources, Bill owns the recipes for Mr. Fables, which was the diner of choice when bellbottoms reigned supreme. Anyone want to build a couple new restaurants for Bill? He's got an olive sauce for you.
Look up! The exterior of downtown Grand Rapids' McKay Tower will get an early spring cleaning. The historic high-rise is undergoing some TLC, part of the building owners' long-term renovation plans. The exterior repairs will last through late summer.
I guess the Beat Does Not Go On. With Kangaroo Kitchen & Catering (1007 East Fulton St.) set to replace the forlorn hip-hop mixtape purveyor, the Fulton Heights food scene is looking up. Chef Roman Petrack is endlessly fascinating, like if James Bond became a globetrotting restaurateur. A son of a renowned pâtissier, he was born in New Zealand and raised in the Netherlands and Australia. He studied in the Culinary Arts Institute of Tasmania and worked in award-winning kitchens in Tasmania and Queensland, both in Australia. When he moved to the US, of course he set aside his toque to work at an animal shelter in Denver. Deciding to get back into the kitchen, he became a personal chef for professional athletes in the NBA and NFL in St. Louis. His wife moved to Grand Rapids to establish her plastic surgery practice, so Chef Roman continued working as a personal chef for two more years in West Michigan. Then the ratchet record shop on Fulton Street opened up. Chef Roman closed on the building in December and is working with Roots Construction, Dixon Architecture and Merchandise Equipment to open Kangaroo Kitchen in April.
The gourmet take-out and catering kitchen will offer an eclectic-yet-approachable ever-changing menu with flavors from around the globe and an emphasis on local produce bought at the Fulton Street Farmers Market blocks away. In addition to foods prepared as you wait, Chef Roman will offer grab-and-go items in the deli case. The boutique-style catering service will focus on food quality and personalized attention. Start planning that cocktail party, my pets.
When Poppa Steve was a mere tyke in Detroit, his saintly mom would kick him outside during summer vacation, toss him a couple sharp sticks and hardtack, and tell him not to come back until the leaves start to turn grey (it was Detroit, after all). You cannot do that anymore. That is why Jester's Court Party and Play Center (3707 Northridge Dr. NW) in Grand Rapids exists. At 22,000 square feet, Jester's Court is West Michigan's largest indoor child entertainment center. Owners Monica and Aaron Wright started the business because they wanted to create a fun and safe place for their own young children. You will find eight to 10 mammoth inflatable slides, obstacle courses, jumps and a 1,500-square-foot Softplay jungle gym. They also have designed an interactive video game system that teens love. The Toddler Court has toddler-sized inflatables and a safe play area for children three years and younger. All the inflatables are made with the highest-quality materials and the Wrights are persnickety about cleanliness, so you can feel good about letting your bashful brood get its bounce on.
Teens and adults can fly at Sky Zone Grand Rapids (3640 29th St.). Imagine a seemingly endless sea of trampolines, all connected to form one massive trampoline surface. Now, imagine that surface enclosed with angled trampolines that allow you to bounce off the walls. Just like when mom accidentally gave you mocha cappuccinos in kindergarten! With the first Sky Zone built in 2004, they know how to have high-flying fun. This 3-D play experience can be enjoyed by just about any age, shape or physical ability. Start free-styling in the open jump, which is a favorite of the bouncy and jiggly Miss Carolita. Join a 3-D dodgeball game and release your inner third grader. Or, get serious with the SkyRobics fitness classes. Sky Zone is not only fun, it is healthy and great for families and group outings.
After all that exercise, you will want to join the Amway Grand Plaza Supper Club (187 Monroe Ave. NW). The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel has had a dining membership program for years, offering discounted meals at Cygnus 27, Bentham's, GP Sports and Lumber Baron Bar. Last year, the membership program was extended to include Amway properties such as the JW Marriott and Downtown Courtyard by Marriott. The club's benefits now include buy-one-get-one-free dinner entrees at six.one.six, 20 percent off breakfast and lunch and six.one.six, and 20 percent off all food and beverage at The Bistro in the Courtyard by Marriott. The program was named the Supper Club to reflect the "club" culture that had developed along with the program, as many members see each other at the participating restaurants and at the special members-only events. Join the "in" crowd and enjoy some of the best dining and exclusive events in Grand Rapids for only $129 per year.