Admittedly, I’ve never had a banana. Foie gras? Non, merci. But there are those out there who eat pâté like it’s pudding. These are the sort who point at me and laugh. I gave haggis a try once. The offal’s flavor tasted like a rusty bicycle. I spit it out. Still, I felt it, that thrill of exposing my palate to the dark side. Pushing the gastronomical boundaries, even an inch, can feel like a point of pride. And burgers and pizza do grow drab when a world of strange awaits. So take a break from the usual, make a risky pick, and you might discover a new favorite. To the adventurous foodie, here are some regional selections to challenge your curious taste.
Tacos de Sesos, $2
3536 S. Division Ave., Wyoming
Considered tacos non grata for some time, the cranial meat has enjoyed a comeback on authentic Mexican menus thanks to the adventurous and those with an appetite for intellect. Yes, sesos is brains, and brains taste good. With the appearance of fancy feast and the texture of firm tofu, the flavor is unmistakably beefy, and actually quite nice. Throw some cilantro, diced onion and a perfectly grilled tortilla into the mix and you have yourself a worthy substitute to typical steak and pork fare. At only two bucks a pop, you can feel safe making other brave choices like ojo (beef eyes) or lengua (tongue).
Roasted Bone Marrow, $12
925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids
When Vivant’s bone marrow arrives before you, the sight of it can be a little intimidating. Presented like the cross section of a velociraptor’s forearm, it’s not immediately clear how you’re supposed to eat the stuff. Our advice: Spoon the contents onto baguette like warm gelato and have a bite. Rich, creamy, with hints of fennel, the marrow tastes luscious and divine. It may open vampiric desires to fly into the night and suck on a sleeping cow’s ankle.
Pickle Library, $8
401 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
You don’t need a library card to check out these veggies, only an appetite for vinegary treats. The current selection would drive Peter Piper wild: mixed peppers, celery root, fashion pickles, leeks and dill beans. It’s cool to taste how the process affects each vegetable differently. The beans hold a lot of acidity, the sweetness of the mixed peppers complements the brine. Add an extra layer of funk to the board with the Hall’s Babirusa, a wood-aged farmhouse ale with a sour edge.
Blood Sausage, $12
Reserve Wine & Food
201 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Blood sausage is literally blood and filler cooked in casing, and if you can stomach that idea, then keep on. Tapping into American sensibilities, Reserve has given the dish a brunch twist, accompanying the sausage with a sauerkraut pancake, a quail egg, and bits of apple too. The sausage itself is a pig trifecta: pork, pork fat, and of course, pork blood. It melts away like soft-serve when you eat it.
Philadelphia Sushi Burrito, $13
1671 Marketplace Dr. SE, Caledonia
In the merging of cultural cuisines, someone stumbled upon a breakthrough: put the sushi into a burrito. Salmon, crab salad, cream cheese, avocado and rice are sushi staples, but transforming the bite-sized snack into a handheld experience gives the dish a novel spin. Embrace the fishy flavors and dunk the tortilla into one of Jaku’s amazing dipping sauces. You’ll never want to go back to the seaweed wrapped rolls again.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Burger, $12.50
Grand Rapids Brewing Company
1 Ionia Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
The advent of peanut butter everything is upon us. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to smear some on a patty. It’s not so much a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth sensation, more of a buttery accent, and the bacon/jalapeno jelly keeps the sweetness from becoming cloying. It comes on Texas toast too, adding to the lunchbag flair of the burger. Pair it with GRBC’s hefeweizen and the banana notes unlock a delight that would make Elvis swoon.
Chicken Masala, $11.99
Lake Michigan Sports Bar
4072 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Grand Rapids
Ok, so Chicken Masala itself isn’t strange at all. Maybe the most pedestrian item on this list, the dish can be found at any Indian place worth its weight in curry spice. You could say it’s the gateway grub to more sophisticated curries. Yet it comes as a surprise that it’s only available at 5-9 p.m. on Saturdays, on karaoke night, at a sports bar in Standale. It’s a truly unique experience to find yourself at 8 p.m., a pitcher of Bud Light deep, some Standalian belting Like a Virgin in the background, eating what is most likely the best Indian food in the city. It’s otherworldly, nailing that golden ratio of sauciness, sweet and heat, with West Michigan’s finest Naan bread to boot.