Detroit is making a comeback. It’s picking up the pieces (of rubble) and rebuilding after decades of urban blight, white flight, and corruption. Now, the city is looking for an identity change, a new way to brand itself in a positive light; to find the perfect model that Detroit should follow, you don’t have to look very far.
Grand Rapids is where it’s at, there’s no doubt about it. Being a Spartan, I love Lansing–but, as a city, it doesn’t hold a candle to Grand Rapids. I have no problem admitting Ann Arbor is a beautiful place, but is too, let’s call it, quaint next to the urban-feel you get in Grand Rapids. Having said that, with all three of those previously mentioned cities being college towns, you won’t have a hard time finding fun in any of these areas–but when you sit down to eat, you’ll see what really makes Grand Rapids so…can I say grand?
Grand Rapids is very liberal, to sum up its population: the city is young, dreadlocked, and studying graphic design at GVSU. That creative nature and earth-friendly attitude really comes out with the food scene that has developed in the area recently. Most restaurants are going local and organic, giving the city a comfortable community feel. The beer you’re drinking, the bread you’re eating, and the person cooking it up for you are all local. If you’re into microbrews, then walking through the city is like your own personal tour of Wonka. Last weekend, I made a trip to the city with the sole purpose of grubbing down on some out-of-the-box eats and sharing some recommendations with you so you can go check it out for yourself. Farm-to-table isn’t the only kind of grub you’ll find on your culinary crusade of Grand Rapids. The city has an eclectic mix of ethnic cuisine: Mexican, Dutch, Italian, Mediterranean, fresh markets, anything you could want to eat is within reach. With limited time in town, I had to make choices on where I wanted to eat, so I opted to try all new places. So, this meant I that, today, I would not be showcasing San Chez, a tapas bistro, and home of my favorite sandwich ever–EVER: the Pork Belly and Pretzel B.L.T. Sandwich. Sweet, succulent, glazed pork belly, contrasted with cold, creamy apple slaw, fresh tomato, topped with a spicy jalapeño honey mustard, all enclosed in a steamy pretzel bun. So good that it hurt to write all of that. I do my best to sample all of the food showcased on the Travel Channel’s Man v Food and Adam Richman’s Best Sandiwch in America, and this sandwich truly trumps the field. This “only new restaurants” rule also meant I would not be going to another personal favorite, Marie Catrib’s–home of outstanding food that you don’t feel guilty devouring because it’s healthy and made from scratch. Definitely check out their falafel and desserts.
Good meals are something meant to be shared, and not eaten alone, so my dad and I arrived to town for a late dinner and decided to hit up the Green Well Gastropub. I may be a sucker, but I always get excited about places that refer to themselves as gastropubs. Some may consider gastronomy a snobby, bourgeois way to label food; but to me, it means you’re going to get something unique–and the Green Well menu is one of a kind. They have wines made exclusively for them by a local winery (Black Star Farms) and fresh baked bread baked right in town. Oh, that bread. We started with an order of their Breads & Spreads and were blown away. Great artesian breads, but the spreads were the talking point. Three spreads were given with the assortment of breads: a curry lentil dip, that was the perfect mix of spice creating layers of different tastes in the mouth; a blueberry jalapeño spread, an amazing union of heat from the pepper and cool from the yogurt-esque blueberry, interesting take on taste similar to the hot wing-ranch/bleu cheese combo; then, there was the tomato basil dip, perfect for a cool and crisp bite between the spicier spreads.
The appetizer was good enough to make a meal, but the carbs seemed a bit overwhelming so a real meal was to be had. I cannot recall the last time I was that overwhelmed looking at a menu. Everything sounded good. Korean braised beef and noodles? Yes, please. Fish tacos? All day. Chicken and Waffles, too? After many internal battles and episodes of cognitive dissonance, I finally made up my mind and ordered the Cuban Sandwich and pops went with the Green Well Pad Thai with braised beef.
Despite the plethora of other great choices on the menu, I did not regret my choice for a minute. It was the type of sandwich where before you even clamp your teeth down you get the rush of flavors to the mouth. You could probably sit there and just breathe the sandwich in and get your moneys worth (and you save the calories!). The spices on the pork merge with the bitterness of the Swiss cheese and tangy sweet mustard to create a gift to the taste buds, ending with a crunch of the fresh local bread. Perfection. After every bite I couldn’t help but let out a muttered “Dammit” or “holy hell.” It was so good it made me angry that I couldn’t have it in my life every day. You know a food is up your alley when it’s so good that you roll your eyes. I don’t know why that happens, but I have no problem with it.
The next morning, I woke up excited for the next venture. I did some quick research on my phone and found our next chowdown spot–we’d be heading to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. To anyone who describes themselves as a foodie, markets are always a utopia, and Grand Rapids didn’t dissapoint. Everything you’d want to find at a market you could find here. Fresh produce, butchers, artesian bakers, fresh squeezed juice, sushi, gourmet cheeses, the market is your oyster–they have those, too! After several laps around the building, stopping to stare at the sausage menu, the taco restaurant, and several other eye grabbing eats I ended at Fish Lad’s. I can’t see Po’ Boy on a menu and not indulge. I’m weak like that. It’s not often that you find a stellar Po’ Boy in Michigan. I had the option of shrimp, oyster, and soft shell crab; all of them sounded just as amazing as the next so I asked homeboy behind the counter what the go-to is. Before I could finish the sentence he exclaimed, “Crab. Gotta do the crab.” He looked trustworthy, so I followed his lead and went with the soft shell. I’ve never had one but it always looks good and I was (and continue to be) intrigued by how one can eat the entire crab shell and all. It was just as good as I had hoped it would be (paying as much as I did for it). Each bite a delightful crunch with a fresh seafood flavor that took you out of the frigid Michigan cold and straight to somewhere tropical. Good seafood makes me nostalgic, I can’t help it.
Take a trip to Grand Rapids, catch a Griffin game, get kicked out of the B.O.B., and find something new to eat. You won’t regret it. Now we need to take that creative gastronomy innovation going on in Grand Rapids and bring it to Detroit. Food brings people together, and creating a happening food scene is one way to start bringing in intelligent, young people who want to create something impactful from the ground up.