Ah, July ... when the rank gym sock and week-old kitty litter-like funk of month-old sweat steeps into your nostrils in an un-air conditioned apartment prone to carpenter ants. It's time to get a dose of good, cold food before your constant head-in-the-fridge relief results in Freon poisoning, hypoxia and freezer burn.
Owner-Operators Keith and Lisa Langdon's Full City Cafe Restaurant & Catering (2026 Parkview, Kalamazoo and 7878 Oakland Dr., Portage) is a delicatessen marvel where salads are ethereal. Keith has worked previously as Muhammad Ali's personal chef and Lisa has learned tricks from Grandma and culinary team world champ member Chef Fraz. Fresh from scratch local ingredients, together with Keith and Lisa's intimate knowledge, have kept Full City filling Kzoo County stomachs since last century.
Present and popular for more than 15 years, the must-do here is to order a plate of Apricots and Chicken. This seasonally fresh green super salad features natural chicken breast (free of hormones and steroids) and dried Turkish apricots, toasted almonds, sweet red onions, tomatoes, seedless cucumbers, is topped with Feta cheese and a homemade balsamic dressing to drool for. The term “balsamic” supposedly means “life-giving” or “restorative” and, although I think it is the whole dish here, the dressing is better than any store brand and the medley of flavors present, coupled with the lightness of the salad, make for perfect summer fare. If that doesn't sound right, the Strawberry Chicken Salad ought to, alternating apricots for strawberries, balsamic for raspberry poppy seed vinaigrette, and the almonds for candied pecans.
For something a little different, head over to Grand Rapids gem San Chez, A Tapas Bistro (38 W. Fulton St.), for some gazpacho and sangria. San Chez is a restaurant with ethical standards I could never live up to: it has a wide menu for the allergic, is a member of the EPA's Green Power Partnership long before going green was a national phenomena, a member of WasteWise, has worked with Grand Rapids' recycling center since 1999, and is a strong purveyor of community involvement. Regardless of Owner Dan Gendler's reservation in heaven, San Chez has some of the best chilly good summer treats. Ladle up a cup of Gazpacho Andaluz, a classic take on the cold Spanish tomato-base soup, chock full of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and more. If you have more of a sweet tooth, opt for the Gazpacho De Frutas Frescas, a chilled fruit soup with fresh mangoes, dried cherries and hints of cinnamon. For alcoholics, a pitcher of sangria (wine, citrus juices, triple sec, and brandy) will help keep the heat off, but not the 5-0.
Gelato is an European ice cream with very little air whipped into low butterfat cream and cannot be replicated in the United States outside of the 49408 zip code because of topographical physics and magic (or so I think). This oddity has led Fennville's Palazzolo's Artisan Gelato & Sorbet (413 Third St., Fennville) to open in 1986 by Marie Palazzolo and her son Pete, who make each pan of Gelato to order without any artificial ingredients. This may not seem like much, but it has more than 600 flavors — that's 600 HANDMADE FLAVORS — to choose from. If you have been to Italy and have missed this authentic summer staple, it actually exists in Michigan.
In direct opposition to gelato is a high butterfat ice cream easily found at the Plainwell Ice Cream Co. (621 E. Bridge St., Plainwell). Not as large as its Hudsonville neighbors, Plainwell offers a smaller yet stiff competition. It serves the ideal head freeze — inducing dishes, cones, banana splits and sundaes we've all grown up on in the familiar flavors of our summer childhoods: Blue Moon, French Silk, Butter Pecan, Superman, Lemon Chiffon, as well as some not-so-ordinary flavors: Cotton Candy, Toasted Coconut, Caribbean Caramel and more.
Marilyn's Malts & More (6749 E. Fulton, Ada) is just a 25-minute drive down Fulton Street from San Chez. Latch onto a Salsa Dog for some substance (an original hotdog concoction covered in lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa) before you overdose on Owner Marilyn Roger's soft-serve malted masterpieces, flavored sodas, or floats. Suck down a traditional Brown Cow (blended vanilla ice cream and root beer), a Boston Cooler (blended vanilla ice cream and ginger ale), or a Firehouse Rock (orange sherbet and Sprite). Also up for those with indecisive palates is a Color Burst — any eight flavors of ice cream heaped onto a cone — a dream come true for your dentist when he pries sprinkles and a chunk of waffle cone from the hollow stump of molar you call a tooth.