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.
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.
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.
FARM TO TABLE: The Sovengard
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