RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

Market: Brunch Bites at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market


It’s been fun to watch my hometown of Grand Rapids grow throughout the years. Every visit home to see family, we find there are more interesting shops, districts, restaurants, breweries, and attractions cropping up. Grand Rapids has been particularly successful in revitalizing its downtown. The already strong Art Museum, Public Museum, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Hall, and surrounding streets have been bolstered by Art Prize, the Silver Line bus route, and over the past year the Downtown Market. We visited the outdoor farmer’s market last year, but at the time the indoor market hadn’t yet opened. It’s been open for some time now, and Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I visited on a Sunday after learning about their Brunch Bites event.


The Downtown Market has a large amount of planning going for it. I remember reading that they visited other urban markets, including Columbus’ North Market, to interview vendors, examine layouts, and get a sense of the challenges facing them. The strength of any of these markets – from North Market to Cleveland’s West Side Market to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market – is the ability to collaborate. So I think it’s vital they do events like this, that keep customers exploring the whole market and uniting vendors under a common theme.


The Brunch Bites – which seems to run nearly every Sunday – is a perfect example of this unifying event. A temporary bar stands in one corner, where customers can order a customized Bloody Mary. Then they’re welcome to stroll the market to purchase the regular offerings or the specialized menu items created for the day.


One of the more eye-catching stops is Field & Fire Bakery, with their beautiful trays of croissants, brioche, and breads.


We sampled a croissant while we strolled, and it was lovely. The owner of Field & Fire came to the market after baking for years at the famous Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. (Yes, Buckeye fans, good things can come out of Ann Arbor.)


We also swung by the Sweetie-licious bakery, where they were making crepes.


At Sweetie-licious we nabbed a baklava crepe. Why have we never thought of this before?! It’s a crepe loaded with walnuts, pistachios, and honey. It was sweet, steaming hot, and delicious. The only downside: the warmth lets the honey sink to the bottom of the crepe. Bonus: the final bite is soaked in warm honey.


The other market vendors include the usual favorites, like the Fish Lads (with their beautiful logo). There’s also a florist, olive oil shop, grocer, spice shop, juice bar, cheesemonger, coffee corner, and many prepared foods. You can see the current list here.


The market still has lots of space to grow, but it’s getting there. And you can’t beat the modern construction with lots of natural light, and a solid integration into the neighborhood landscape. There building has an upstairs, too, that’s open to the lower floor. On the upper level are community and classroom spaces.


There’s also an active greenhouse (with beautiful views of the city) that’s used for classes and events.


BONUS! If you’re stopping by the market, you can also scout out Madcap Coffee downtown.


Madcap is a solid “third wave” coffee roaster and shop. The Mrs and I enjoyed a cappuccino and a cafe miel (pictured above and below).


Similar to a honey latte, the cafe miel features espresso and foamed milk with cinnamon and honey. It’s very rich and tasty. (“Miel” is French for honey.)

Propaganda Donuts | Grand Rapids, MI

Propaganda Donuts (Facebook / @PropagandaDonut)

117A S. Division Ave. (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 40503
Open Mon, Wed-Sun, 8a-12p; open Fri & Sat, 8p-12a
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y

Visited: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 9:30a

“Danger. Intrigue. Donuts.” That’s the tagline for Propaganda Donuts, a hip new donut shop set up just south of downtown Grand Rapids on Division Avenue. It sets up an air of mystery and curiosity, which is followed through with a location more like a film noir set than a traditional donut shop. The space itself is an old storefront – one I’ve never visited before – with an in-set tiled entryway, a wooden door, and big windows.

The sandwich board out front gives you another clue that these donuts will be anything but traditional.

The interior is one long room, the left wall all exposed brick. There’s a small counter, while the rest of the customer space is dedicated to a few seats for waiting and a desk.

Even the counter itself is stacked with stuff like detective novels, an old wooden filing cabinet, a bottle of moonshine, binoculars.

A small display case shows off the offerings for the day. It takes a moment or two to triangulate which sign goes with which donut.

When we visited, 5-6 people were waiting for one of their daily specials – a French cruller – to be made. But we hopped right up to the counter, ordered, and were on our way.

The old desk in the waiting area keeps up the detective theme, with books, a typewriter, newspapers (some real, some fictional), and photos.

Propaganda is nailing the style, and it’s not without substance. We grabbed one of each of their daily offerings. These ranged from the standards of plain, powdered, and cinnamon sugar to more unique eats like honey roasted beets, vanilla bean buttermilk with chocolate and raspberry, and a bourbon caramel with mango, pineapple, passion fruit, and sprinkled with coconut. There wasn’t a bad donut in the bunch, although our preference was for the three more creative specials. Even the combinations that might seem too funky for some (honey roasted beets, for instance) worked quite well. And clearly they’re catching on, given the waiting crowd and the fact neighborhood folks were stopping in for coffee and a donut while walking their dogs (that’s always a good sign to me).

Downtown Grand Rapids is experiencing a bit of renaissance, with new restaurants, the new market opening, brewpubs, and more. So it’s fitting that it would get an interesting donut place, too, and I deduce (see what I did there?) Propaganda is filling the niche. With some fun flavor combinations, responsible sourcing of ingredients, and supreme dedication to their branding, they could be on track to becoming a destination like places like Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.

Propaganda Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Brandywine (Lake Drive) | Grand Rapids, MI

1345 Lake Dr. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 774-8641
Open Mon-Sat, 7a-8p; Sun, 8a-8p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

In my hometown of Grand Rapids, the general rule is that whenever possible, you go to breakfast. Business meeting, catching up with friends, class discussion? Go to breakfast. In most cities you find breakfast and brunch joints busiest on the weekends, but in GR they’re busy every morning. So when we wanted to meet up with some good friends, we naturally went to breakfast, and we picked a spot we haven’t visited for years. Brandywine is a long-established restaurant in GR’s Eastown district, home to a string of old bookstores, gift shops, coffee shops, pubs, classic eateries like Yesterdog or newer additions like Terra GR (formerly Trillium Haven). I’m not sure when Brandywine opened, but I always remember it being there, and it being a favorite of many friends. The last time I visited, however, was back in college.

Brandywine’s exterior is easily identifiable by the bright orange and purple coloring. Parking can be a challenge if you don’t know right where to look. There’s a little on-street parking nearby and a few small lots next to the building, but you have to watch the signs to make sure you’re not parking in another business’ spots.

The interior is a long, carpeted room with a low ceiling and walls filled with photos and paintings. Both sides are lined with booths, a row of four-tops cuts through the center, and there’s even a small counter with stools and the cashier in the back corner. In many ways, Brandywine is set up like a diner, complete with the sassy servers who consistently top off your coffee; but in other ways it’s very un-diner-ish, like the general color palette or the carpet. Even the name implies something a little fancier.

Brandywine also steps up their game with an expansive and often creative breakfast menu. It ranges from benedicts to pancakes (including sweet potato pancakes) to French toast to sandwiches to scrambles to omelets. Our group eyed the specialties, like the country benedict with buttermilk biscuits, sausage patties, poached eggs, and sausage gravy. Served with a slab – that’s the only way I can describe it – of browned potatoes. It’s the best of both worlds: biscuits & gravy + eggs benedict.

I quickly spied out the Eggs Timothy, a benedict adaptation with two over easy eggs on corned beef hash, hollandaise, toast, and potatoes. Almost all of it lined up the way I’d like: the eggs, a pretty lemony hollandaise, crispy hash browns. The one downside was the canned corned beef hash. I’m not a fan of it; it’s ground too thin and tastes too much of the can. Even if a restaurant doesn’t want to go so far as brining their own beef, they could still get it from any deli and chop it themselves.

Amongst the toast choices was the rare English muffin toast. This ended up meaning toast made in a similar style, with big pockets from the bubbles created by the yeast. Like a light, white toast.

The real winner of our breakfast was the Smoked Chicken and Black Bean Hash. Seriously, I need to eat more breakfasts like this. The base has was made from black beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted red peppers, and diced chunks of a (sightly dry) smoked chicken. It was topped with two poached eggs and served with a side of rye toast and fruit. The hash was generously seasoned – lots of cumin – and blended together nicely.

Clearly we liked it.

Brandywine is a funny hybrid, like a colorful, creative, carpeted diner. Our server was very fun and friendly, the food several notches above diner standards (aside from the canned corned beef hash), and the overall atmosphere cozy enough to explain why the place is packed with regulars on a weekday.

Brandywine Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Photos: Lunch at Founder’s Brewery

Over Christmas break we traveled up to my hometown of Grand Rapids, and any visit there usually includes a stop at Founder’s Brewery. I’ve written about Founder’s before, but only from the perspective of enjoying their beer, and prior to recent renovations.

Since that visit, Founders has expanded their production facility, the front patio, the seating area, the gift shop… well, everything. The space is still beautiful and open, with lots of natural light, a big long bar, and plenty of tables. The live music stage has also been raised.

One of the additions is a small expansion of the seating area in the former space of the gift shop. It wasn’t as big as I expected, but more seats are more seats. They also installed a second smaller bar (not pictured); it’s the original bar from Founders’ first space.

You sometimes have to play the wait-and-hover game to find a table. We expected lunch to be less busy, but I’m guessing everyone had the same idea, to stop in for lunch when on winter break. After a short wait, we found a group of diners packing up and snagged their table.

The first order of business was buying a round of Founders Sweet Repute, the latest entry in their Backstage Series of specialty brews. Sweet Repute is a wheat wine (a strong and typically malty ale containing at least 50% wheat on the grain bill) that’s aged in both bourbon barrels AND bourbon barrels that held maple syrup. So, sweet and boozy is the name of the game. I loved the Sweet Repute: it’s rich with a 12.6% ABV bite.

My brother also ordered the oatmeal stout on nitro tap. The addition of oats to the beer lends a wonderful smoothness.

This smoothness is compounded by the nitrogen. A nitro tap uses a majority of nitrogen when carbonating the beer, rather than the standard carbon dioxide (so it’s technically nitrogenation and not carbonation). There’s typically the beautiful “waterfall” effect after the beer is poured, where you can watch the tinier nitrogen bubbles cascade upward to the surface to form a soft, pillowy head. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller and they don’t infuse into the liquid as well, so they help produce that creamy mouthfeel that pairs especially well with stouts.

But it wasn’t just beer for lunch! We sampled a variety of Founders’ deli menu, too. I’m a sucker for a good reuben, so I had the Rubin’s Reuben. It did not disappoint: crusty rye bread sandwiching corned beef, 1000 Island, Swiss, and pungent but not overwhelming sauerkraut.

There’s also Charsie’s Reuben, which substitutes turkey, havarti, cole slaw, and sourdough with a load of veggies like spinach, tomato, red onion, and avocado.

Finally, there’s the toasted Founders Cheesesteak, with roast beef, provolone, peppers, onions, mayo, and a surprising bite of horseradish. Their menu says it’s their most popular sandwich.

Almost all sandwiches are available in half or whole; it’s really a better bargain to get the full. Plus, the sandwiches are excellent. It’s a nice balance between Founders’ solid beer line-up and good bar grub.

At the end of lunch I requested a sample of another taproom-only special: the Infiltrator, a clear, golden triple IPA that starts sweet and then punches you with bitterness on the back end. I loved it, but having this first would have ruined our palates for lunch.

One of the major points of renovation was the addition of giant outdoor patios, partly covered and with two big firepits. This eliminates the small amount of parking out front, but in the warmer months will easily double the amount of space for customers.

In summation: I already knew Founders had great beer. Now I can confirm they have great food, too.

Madcap Coffee | Grand Rapids, MI

Madcap Coffee
(Facebook / @MadCapCoffee)

85 Monroe Center NW (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 242-9194
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-7p; Sat, 8a-7p; Sun, 10a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Visited: Saturday, December 27, 2013 at 3:00pm

What does it say when other people tell ME about cool places to go in MY hometown? Well, it probably says that I haven’t lived there in over a decade, and the place keeps getting cooler and cooler with each passing year. Exhibit A: Madcap Coffee. Opened downtown almost six years ago. I didn’t hear of it until about a year ago. And now we’re finally making it.

Madcap is a great example of “third wave” coffee (1st = Folger’s, 2nd = Starbucks). “Third wave” shops are the small-batch roasters who treat coffee on par with craft beer, wine, etc. In other words, they’re sourcing, roasting, and brewing coffee beans with care.

Madcap has a beautiful corner space in downtown Grand Rapids on Monroe Center, a pedestrian-friendly diagonal stretch full of shops and restaurants. The space is brightly-lit, with tall windows, wooden floors, some art spread around the walls, and a large back brick wall.

Madcap’s branding is also pretty solid.

They’ve got all the accoutrement for sale: beans, mugs, shirts, etc.

The counter is arranged like a large U: point of sale is in the middle; specialty drives arrive on the left, and on the right is a row of pour-overs. The menu at places like Madcap tends to be limited, not the expansive half-caf, double-whip, extra-shot menus of most corporate coffee shops. Instead, they focus on doing a few things very well: pour-over coffee, espresso, lattes, etc. I ordered a pour-over of a Guatemalan roast; I often prefer judging a new coffee shop on the quality of a simple pour-over, and Madcap’s was excellent.

Mrs. Bfast w/Nick ordered a latte, and it was rich and creamy and balanced.

Madcap seems to have a good thing going. I’m glad to have finally visited, and I look forward to hitting them up again when we’re back in town.

Madcap Coffee on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Founders Brewing Company | Grand Rapids, MI

I’m proud of my hometown Grand Rapids. It was always a great city, but since we moved away over ten years ago it’s gotten better and better in almost every regard. The downtown is bustling with new markets, there’s have an amazing arts scene, historic districts are being redeveloped, the food scene is fun and creative and diverse, and the city was voted Beer City USA 2013. Every time we go home to Grand Rapids to visit family, there’s a new brewery or beer bar opening up: the excellent HopCat, Brewery Vivant, Hideout, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., the list goes on. But one of the first – one of the founders, if you will – of the Grand Rapids beer scene is Founders Brewing Co.

Founders is a bright point on the map for any beer geek. Whether you love or hate their beers, you know of them and can appreciate what they do. Founders’ tap room is my model for a good brewpub. It’s an old warehouse space that’s wide open with rows and rows of tables. The bar stretches along one entire wall, with rows of taps. The shelves behind the bar hold the glassware for the annual Mug Club members. To become a member, you pay an annual fee and have a numbered mug that stays at the bar. Then you get special discounts on beer and events throughout the year.

Founders serves only their own beer. They split the beers into three classes, usually designating them by availability and strength. Class 1 includes their pale ale, their Dirty Bastard Scotch ale, Centennial IPA, All Day IPA, and the like. Class 2 is for beers that show up seasonally but aren’t incredibly rare. When we last visited, their Breakfast Stout was the only listed Class 2. Class 3 is for the more rare or specialized releases, like their Bolt Cutter Barleywine and Kentucky Breakfast Stout. They had the Backwoods Bastard, a barrel-aged Scotch ale, on top in this category. The important thing is that the menu is written in chalk. Some people bemoan chalkboard menus as a trendy thing for cafes, breweries, and coffee shops, but to me the signify a changing menu, which means that things are fresh and that specials can be easily rotated. The fun thing about going to the Founders tap room (as opposed to just buying bottles) is to catch those pub-only specials and experimental brews.

One recent visit coincided with a brothers-day-out over Christmas break. We all ordered the Bolt Cutter barleywine, a special release part of the Backstage Series, which consists of (usually) one-time brews. Bolt Cutter is a 15% ABV wollop of a beer, rich and sweet and boozy.

Founders also utilizes the appropriate glassware for their brews.

On this visit we also had the Frangelic Stout, a rich and creamy stout that’s not too heavy, with a light hazelnut tone.

Very good lacing. Lacing is the residue left on the side of the glass, and depending on who you ask, it indicates either the quality of the ingredients or the cleanliness of the glass, or both. I just think it’s pretty.

I’m barely scratching the surface of all the beers that are available, and the huge – and highly recommended – menu of sandwiches. In recent years Founders has been in a constant state of expansion, repeatedly upping their production capacity, and now enlarging the tap room, store, and more. Most of these pictures were taken on earlier visits, so expect it to look a little different if you visit.


ADDITION: And is there any connection to breakfast? Well, yes. Founders brews a couple versions of breakfast stouts, such as the stand Breakfast Stout (with coffee, oatmeal, and chocolate), the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (with vanilla, aged in bourbon barrels), and the ever-elusive Canadian Breakfast Stout (brewed with coffee and chocolate, then aged in bourbon barrels that most recently held maple syrup – you read that right). To celebrate the annual release of Breakfast Stout, Founders hosts the Breakfast Stout Breakfast, which we attended back in 2009.

I’ve obviously got the nostalgia factor going with Founders, since it’s a brewery from my hometown (not because I drank the beer growing up, obviously), but objectively I think they made really solid beers. Their standard pale ales, stouts, and IPAs are trustworthy, and I’m constantly on the prowl for their specialty beers. Their imperial stout is one of the best out there, and their Kentucky Breakfast Stout is my #1 beer. Fortunately for me, they distribute widely in the midwest and east coasts, so there are plenty of opportunities to try their stuff, even if you can’t make it to the tap room (which you should if you have the chance).

If you want to visit:
Founders Brewing Company
235 Grandville Ave. SW (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 495
(616) 776-1195
Also on Facebook (both the brewery and the taproom) and @FoundersBrewing

Founders Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

The Electric Cheetah | Grand Rapids, MI

Electric Cheetah
(Facebook / @CheetahSnacks)

1015 Wealthy St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 451-4779
Open Mon-Wed, 11a-9p; Thurs-Sat, 11a-10p; Sun, 10a-4p (brunch served Sundays only)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 10 a.m.

Electric Cheetah is another one of those hip restaurants that has opened since we moved away from Grand Rapids. It’s in the center of a growing district along Wealthy Street, which runs east-to-west a little ways south of downtown. Much of Wealthy Street’s brick streets have been rebuilt, and the neighborhood identity has lent itself to a growing number of restaurants, stores, a theatre, coffee shops (like Rowster American Coffee), bakeries, and more. Electric Cheetah fits well in the middle of all this: kitschy, trendy, fun, a little goofy, and a big draw.


Case in point: re-purposed family portraits are hung on the walls. Note the big one on the left.


The restaurant is mainly one giant room with an open kitchen. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in a lot of light. There are a handful of cafe tables out front, too.

Points to them for having an eclectic and creative menu, too. All of the brunch sections are given churchy names like Morning Service, Covenant Youth (for the kids’ menu), Benevolent Ladies Luncheon (for salads, pasta, and entrees), and Church Potluck Supper (for mac & cheese dishes). The individual plate names are fun, too: #hashtag for brisket & hash, Donkey Kong toast for banana bread French toast, or breakschetta for a breakfast bruscetta. Notice that there are a lot of vegan options, too.

Coffee is a standard order for us. It arrived in our preferred presentation: with cold cream. It’s good coffee, although I didn’t catch the roaster.

One of Electric Cheetah’s claims to fame is their root beer menu, which is certainly the largest I’ve ever seen. It’s an entirely separate page from the regular menu and it spans over 40 bottled selections plus one on tap. I’ve never thought to pair brunch with root beer, but I took advantage of their menu and tried a sweet Michigan brew from Wild Bill’s.

The brunch menu is a little pricier than a straight-up diner breakfast, but the creative dishes and flavorful combinations make up for it. I wanted something savory, and a huevos rancheros or chilaquiles always draws my attention, so I ordered the ranchero deluxe: open-faced corn tortillas topped with potatoes, eggs, and beef tips with gravy. Very rich with the gravy, but nicely seasoned. A really solid brunch dish.

Mrs. Bfast w/Nick ordered the S&!t on a Shingle. We love a good SOS, and liked this creative take on it. Instead of just chipped beef in gravy on toast, they top grilled baguettes with house-made corned beef, a “cheddar fondue,” and a fried egg. Again, a rich and flavorful dish – I especially liked the corned beef and cheese mixture (how could you not?), and almost preferred that to the huevos.


Electric Cheetah could be called Eclectic Cheetah (I’m not the first one to make this joke, right?). The brunch menu covers a lot of ground without feeling stretched. The decor includes the old family portraits, crazy ceiling lamps, plus a smattering of other styles of art. I liked this detail above the kitchen, of the plants and their roots painted on the bulkhead.


Even if you sit at the counter, you still get to eye the portraits.


We arrived about ten minutes prior to Electric Cheetah’s opening for brunch, and already there was a small crowd out front. By the time we left the place was full, and I can see why. The atmosphere and food is fun and funky without being too off-the-wall, and our server was very friendly and helpful, although the food took a little longer to arrive than expected. But that’s brunch for you: it’s supposed to be relaxed and casual, starting a little later in the morning and allowing you to ease into the day. And if Electric Cheetah is a sign of the neighborhood’s continued revitalization, I’d say they’re right on track.

Electric Cheetah on Urbanspoon


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers