Friday, 03 February 2017 17:44

Matchbox Diner & Drinks brings fierce competition to Eastown dining scene

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The air of mystery around Matchbox Diner & Drinks finally has been dispelled.

Since Brandywine’s Eastown location closed, residents and passersby have wondered what the little spot at 1345 Lake Dr. SE would hold next. The Brandywine Facebook page then switched over to Matchbox Diner & Drinks, which began slowly teasing us all with photos of the interior being gutted and remodeled, followed by pictures of tantalizing brunch food. The restaurant then periodically posted individual sections of the menu, getting its audience excited. But still, a list of food descriptions does not a meal make.

After attending a soft opening this week with a group of friends, however, I feel prepared to say that (the now publicly open) Matchbox is destined to become another Grand Rapids brunch hotspot with a long weekend wait.

First off, the atmosphere is uniquely welcoming — a comforting blend of modern and vintage, with a touch of Gatsby. The space feels cozy, without being cramped. My group of six sat in a large booth, with room for more.

More importantly, the menus were what really impressed us, and I don’t just mean the silky-smooth material they’re made out of. While we were limited to the dinner entree, salad, soup and appetizer pages for this soft opening, we still had more than enough to choose from. Flipping through, I noticed that everything was impressively affordable, with all sandwiches, burgers and breakfasts coming in at $10 or less.

For our part, we started with the Fries To Share and Matchbox Deli Platter appetizers. The fries were thick and fluffy, well-seasoned, and served with two excellent dips: Goat cheese fondue and green goddess sauce. We noticed that the deli platter gave others in town a real run for their money, with a heaping pile of gravlax (cured salmon), some amazing pastrami, and a good assortment of cheeses, salami, chicken liver schmear, bacon jam and more.

When it came time for entrees, we made sure to go all over the menu. I opted for the Smoked Salmon Salad, which came with smoked salmon, potatoes, raspberries, mixed greens, endive, rapini and a horseradish dressing. The combination of flavors and textures was spot-on, filling without being too heavy. The Roasted Acorn & Butternut Squash Bisque was a similar experience. The portion was large, even for a cup, and it comes with french bread. On top of that, the soup itself was perfectly balanced.

We all also tried and enjoyed the roasted half-chicken and broiled whitefish entrees, but the real star of the night was the Braised Short Ribs. The ribs were packed absolutely full of flavor and fell apart in our mouths without being too fatty. To the side, the mashed potatoes that came with the dish were just as good, with all of us reaching in for a bite every so often.

Throw on a short, but impressive draft list (half of us went with Perrin’s The Hypocrite, an imperial blonde ale aged in merlot barrels) and the dining experience is complete. That’s all not even to mention the forthcoming cocktails and hand-dipped shakes and malts.

Not to rant and rave too much, but needless to say, we’re all ready to try out some half-pound burgers, pastrami sandwiches and build-your-own-bennies for lunch and breakfast (both of which are served all day).

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