If you’re going to open a new restaurant in West Michigan, you better stand out. The Friesian Gastro Pub understood that from the start
Opened by three Grand Rapidians in April of this year, Friesian is already making a name for itself as a local hangout spot and destination eatery. It’s all about innovative food, welcome vibes and outdoor seating.
In fact, the new restaurant’s biggest claim to fame might just be its rooftop deck, despite it not even being open at the time I write this.
“That’s something we get calls on daily,” said Zan Lamkin, co-owner of The Friesian.
The 50-person rooftop deck will look over Michigan Street in Grand Rapids, with a view stretching up to the Medical Mile. On the ground level, a 20-person patio in the back offers a nice outdoor compromise for the height-averse. Lamkin said they hope to have both spaces open by the end of May, but you’ll have to see for yourself.
(Editor's note: As of May 31, both outdoor spaces are open.)
Of course, it takes more than open-air dining to make a lasting impression around here. The Friesian’s true appeal starts with the inside, from the moment you walk in the door and see the welcoming bar in the center of the room, surrounded by original exposed walls and ceilings. From the beginning, Friesian’s owners wanted to be part of the community, listening closely to the Midtown neighborhood’s input on exactly what the area needed. In the end, Lamkin said it’s meant to feel like a “hangout spot,” not a stuffy restaurant, but also not another late-night bar, of which the area has plenty.
Lamkin, who has worked in the financial industry, opened the restaurant with friends Phil Reinstra, who has worked as an I.T. consultant, and Craig Jones, a local industry veteran. Jones cut his teeth at various restaurants and bars around town, such as Rocky’s Bar & Grill, J. Gardella’s Tavern and Monarchs Club, which helped him smoothly manage Friesian’s kitchen and taproom right off the bat.
More importantly, Jones created a strong groundwork for the menu, which Chef John Seekford built upon. And the food is really what stands out at the Friesian. The moment I sat down to talk with the owners, I was given a bite of Pork Belly Burnt Ends, served in a cream-leek sauce with brussels sprouts. That one bite — with a perfect mixture of textures, creaminess, acidity and umami — filled me with hope for a better world. I only stopped eating to leave room for the rest of the meal.
On a separate trip, I tried the lamb chops, which were equally transcendent thanks to a stellar red pepper cream sauce that perfectly complemented the juicy lamb chops and tender candied lardon. I didn’t leave a drop behind.
Probably the best example of Friesian’s philosophy is the rotating meatball skillet, with wildly inventive features like a pork meatball with ancho blueberry barbecue sauce. Line cooks typically aren’t part of the creative process in restaurants, but here they’re encouraged to invent these rotating specials and are even rewarded for it, making extra money for every dish sold.
For my meal with the owners, the charcuterie board kicked things off with an unusual selection. There was elk salami made with blueberries, goat cheese with vegetable ash, pickled leeks, and “milk jam,” alongside some other approachable meats and cheeses.
Left: The Friesian Gastro Pub's interior. Right: Co-owners Phil Reinstra, Zan Lamkin and Craig Jones. Courtesy Photos
After that, I was feeling excited but trepidatious, only because they’d brought me something I don’t typically like: dates. I’m always open to being converted though, and it turns out stuffing dates with roasted garlic, wrapping them in house-smoked bacon, covering them with hot honey and sprinkling them with feta is one easy way to make me a believer. If you can expand my culinary horizons in any way, I’m on your team.
Then came the main dish, the Harissa Hot, a Southern-style fried chicken breast with harissa hot sauce, sweet and sour pickles, black pepper aioli and a sesame bun. It’s not at all your typical chicken sandwich — the chef said harissa is an ancient sauce, made with hot chili pepper paste and a wide variety of spices. The pickles are housemade, which means they don’t taste quite like any pickle you’ve ever had before.
“Things are better if you do it yourself,” said Chef Seekford.
He’s right. Combine that with some spot-on fried chicken and an affordable price tag of $10 and this could be your new go-to lunch.
The Friesian notably also goes big on the dessert menu, created by a pastry chef. In fact, it’s the largest part of the menu, but for good reason.
“We’ve gotten that comment from multiple people, but then they eat the dessert and they’re like, ‘We understand,’” Lamkin said.
I understand now too. The Friesian isn’t showy about it, but the menu is full of thoughtful, innovative, unique food that only makes you want more. As Michigan Street continues to fill up its apartments and storefronts, Friesian is part of the growth, providing a place to relax any time of the day with a drink in hand and some delicious food on the table. Everyone’s welcome.
“It’s great coming in here and seeing people you know and they’re having a great time,” said Lamkin, who himself loves to just hang out at the restaurant. “We really wanted to cultivate great food and a great environment.”