RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

Propaganda Donuts | Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_0542
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

IMG_0540
“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.

IMG_0538
The sandwich board out front gives you another clue that these donuts will be anything but traditional.

IMG_0531
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.

IMG_0529
Even the counter itself is stacked with stuff like detective novels, an old wooden filing cabinet, a bottle of moonshine, binoculars.

IMG_0526
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.

IMG_0535
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.

IMG_0533
The old desk in the waiting area keeps up the detective theme, with books, a typewriter, newspapers (some real, some fictional), and photos.

IMG_0546
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

IMG_0482
Brandywine
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

Visited
: 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.

IMG_0485
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.

IMG_0479
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.

IMG_0457
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.

IMG_0461
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.

IMG_0473
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.

IMG_0469
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.

IMG_0477
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

IMG_8528
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.

IMG_8562
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.

IMG_8566
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.

IMG_8543
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.

IMG_8537
My brother also ordered the oatmeal stout on nitro tap. The addition of oats to the beer lends a wonderful smoothness.

IMG_8576
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.

IMG_8545
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.

IMG_8552
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.

IMG_8550
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.

IMG_8556
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.

IMG_8560
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

IMG_8623
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

IMG_8605
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.

IMG_8607
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.

IMG_8609
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.

IMG_8613
Madcap’s branding is also pretty solid.

IMG_8615
They’ve got all the accoutrement for sale: beans, mugs, shirts, etc.

IMG_8617
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.

IMG_8619
Mrs. Bfast w/Nick ordered a latte, and it was rich and creamy and balanced.

IMG_8611
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

IMG_1941
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.

IMG_1902
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.

IMG_1905
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.

IMG_1899
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.

IMG_1900
Founders also utilizes the appropriate glassware for their brews.

IMG_1912
On this visit we also had the Frangelic Stout, a rich and creamy stout that’s not too heavy, with a light hazelnut tone.

IMG_1922
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.

IMG_1929
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.

IMG_1898

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
foundersbrewing.com
Also on Facebook (both the brewery and the taproom) and @FoundersBrewing

Founders Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

The Electric Cheetah | Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_5284
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.

IMG_5268
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.

IMG_5251

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

IMG_5277

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.

IMG_5250
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.

IMG_5253
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.

IMG_5257
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.

IMG_5260
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.

IMG_5264
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.

IMG_5271

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.

IMG_5272

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

IMG_5280

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

Photos: a tale of two markets

IMG_5202
I don’t get to farmer’s markets as often as I’d like, despite the proliferation of them around Columbus. We learned to love farmers markets while living in Grand Rapids, Michigan the year after we were married. We actually sold jewelry my wife made at GR’s Fulton Street Market over the summer, so we got to know and love it. Grand Rapids has been doing pretty well for itself since then, with a lot of investment in their downtown and in infrastructure. One of the bigger additions downtown is the new Downtown Market. We heard about it down in Columbus because the creators visited our famous North Market and spoke with its vendors, examined its layout, and so on.

IMG_5199
The GR Downtown Market is in its first phase, with the outdoor farmers market now open. We strolled through it recently, and boy, were we impressed.

IMG_5218
The outdoor market takes place in a huge wooden covered walkway. It’s wide and spacious, and the organizers and vendors have done an excellent job of providing clear signage. Each vendor had an official sign identifying the business, where they were from (there were a lot of Michigan farmers), what forms of payment they took, etc. Mrs. Bfast w/Nick observed that the market must have educated everyone on proper presentation and how to provide a consistent look.

IMG_5205

We strolled up and down the walkway, marveling at all of the fresh vegetables and fruits in stunning presentation, plus the baked goods, coffee, potted plants, and more. Look at these baskets of ripe Michigan cherries.

IMG_5208
They’re beautiful. Just like the Mrs. :)

IMG_5216

Me being me, I eyed anything breakfast-related. We stumbled upon Go Nuts, a stall that makes tiny fresh donuts with funky toppings, and of course I went all camera crazy.

IMG_5213

Go Nuts’ little fryer slowly cranks out the donuts in a larger bowl, and then you order a bag of them with toppings. I went for simple cinnamon and sugar. They were soft and warm.

IMG_5212

Of course, the process is part of the product. It’s fun to watch the fryer slowly turn over donuts as they travel down the line.

IMG_5211

This type of model is brilliant for farmers markets. They’re cheap, they’re easy to buy, and they’re always fresh.

IMG_5224

We also sampled of mix of fresh bagels from Great American Bagel, based in Holland, MI. Very nicely done, although they had just run out of everything bagels when we got there.

In addition to the farmers market, there was a food truck and a small cooking demo with a local chef. And this is just the outdoor market! The indoor building is still under construction and is scheduled to open later this summer. This will feature food stalls similar to Columbus’ North Market; from the news I’ve seen on Facebook, they’re already assembling a solid line-up of vendors.

IMG_5234

Our second stop was the Fulton Street Market, a mile or so east of downtown. This was where we once sold jewelry. When we sold there (over a decade ago), it was a simple walkway with metal frames for vendors’ signs and coverings. The remake of this market stunned us, too. Now the walkway has been completely re-shaped, the traffic flow is re-routed, and there’s a gigantic roof covering the whole thing.

IMG_5227

Again, there were beautiful displays of baked goods, fruits, vegetables, you name it. Like this Michigan asparagus.

IMG_5228
Columbus, you have a number of wonderful markets, but Grand Rapids is giving you a run for the money. This type of investment in small businesses and infrastructure can really revitalize a city’s core. It’s amazing to see it working here.

Anna’s House | Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_5190
Anna’s House
(Facebook)

3874 Plainfield Ave. NE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 361-8500
Open Mon-Sat, 6a-2p; Sun, 7a-2p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.

IMG_5177
Even though I’m a native of Grand Rapids, even though I fervently follow the breakfast scene there, even though I follow breakfast just about anywhere, somehow I had never heard of Anna’s House until it was announced that they were voted the best breakfast joint in the state of Michigan. After I got over the shock that my neighborhood favorite Real Food Cafe didn’t win the honor, I was still happy to have something new to explore, and to know that the Grand Rapids breakfast scene is getting its fair share of attention. Of course, voting polls like this always bug me, and you can always get nit-picky about one person’s opinion. But in some ways I feel bad for Anna’s. Whenever something is declared the #1 anything, you’re setting up people’s expectations unnecessarily high. All this is to say that we were still excited and slightly apprehensive to finally check out Anna’s on our recent trip up to GR.

IMG_5182
Anna’s can be found in northeast Grand Rapids on Plainfield Avenue, in a building that must have once been a Pizza Hut or some other fast food restaurant. This is away from burgeoning districts like downtown, Eastown, or Wealthy Street, but it’s good to spread the breakfast love to all four corners of the city.

IMG_5173
Fortunately, the space has been thoroughly redecorated so that nothing remains of the sterilized corporate atmosphere.

IMG_5179
Instead, the interior is colorful and eclectic, with lots of artwork, multiple dry erase menu boards, and plenty of tables and booths. We hit the place up right around 8 am, when the sign inside the door still said “Please seat yourself.” By the time we left, the waiting area was packed full of people. Another double-edged sword of winning awards: you’re full all the time, and you’re full all the time.

IMG_5161
Anna’s has a wide-ranging menu, covering ground that includes skillets, eggs benedict, burritos, sandwiches, omelets, pancakes, quiche, and nearly everything in between.

IMG_5175
Of course, the standard menu barely scratches the surface. The true feature is the colorful menu board listing weekly specials. Here they’re covering more ground that includes seafood, southern specialties like chicken and waffles, French toast that’s baked overnight, a vegan hippie hash of root vegetables and sprouts, and traditional dishes with crazy combinations. This is a wonderful array of things, but this wide-ranging eclecticism starts to undermine the identity of the restaurant.

IMG_5163
Is Anna’s trying to be a working class, third-shift go-to for breakfast grub, like you see with the mis-matched mugs and strong, hot coffee? Or is it trying to be a hippy-haven with servers with flowers in their hair and recipes that they literally dreamed up? Or is it trying to be a pastel-colored casual cafe that appeals to the old folks? There are authentic hints of each of these elements, but at times it felt like Anna’s House (there isn’t an Anna, by the way) hasn’t quite decided what to be.

IMG_5166
Whatever Anna’s is or is attempting to be, you can’t argue with the line of patrons out the door and some very creative breakfast dishes. For instance, I ordered the breakfast lasagna, one of their signature meals that exemplifies their creative spirit. This is the recipe that our server dreamt up overnight and began cooking. It’s an artful combination of tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, and fresh herbs. All very flavorful, although the biggest punch is delivered by the dollop of gravy on top. It’s served with a side of well-seasoned redskin potatoes.

IMG_5169
I’m a sucker for any place that makes their own corned beef hash in-house (canned stuff = blech), so we ordered it as a side. Generous pieces of tender corned beef mix well with the house potatoes, accompanied by the random plastic cup of yellow mustard.

IMG_5172
The Mrs. went for the grapes of wrath omelet special: an omelet with Brie, grapes, and bacon. Very interesting combination, although the texture of soft eggs, crispy bacon, and the Brie rinds wasn’t entirely to my liking. Served with a side of toast; I should note that Anna’s very readily does gluten free sides by request. This was also the best presented dish of the bunch. The lasagna and corned beef hash were tasty but a little slap-dash in their plating.

Is Anna’s #1 in the state? That’s impossible for me to say, really, but I can admit that my preference (at least in Grand Rapids) still lies with Real Food Cafe. Again, Anna’s offers some very creative dishes and a comfortable atmosphere, both of which merit a visit to the restaurant, but the hard-to-pin-down identity made it difficult to know exactly what to expect. Here’s hoping, though, that the #1 rating helps keep the restaurant open and the hard-working crew busy.

Anna's House on Urbanspoon

Trillium Haven | Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_2072

UPDATE July 2013: Trillium Haven has changed ownership and been renamed Terra GR. Expect that the menu and hours have changed.

Trillium Haven (Facebook / @TrilliumHaven)
1429 Lake Dr. (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 301-0998
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-3p & 5-11p; brunch served Sat & Sun, 10a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.

IMG_2065

Although we have a favorite breakfast in Grand Rapids – Real Food Cafe – we’re always trying to explore the new options around town. Grand Rapids has a growing food scene, with new cafes and breweries and coffee shops popping up in every neighborhood. One other development is an increase in farm-to-table dining, which means restaurants responsibly sourcing their ingredients from local farms, roasters, wineries, butchers, bakers, and maybe even candlestick makers, too. Enter Trillium Haven.

IMG_2031

Trillium Have is set up at a three-way juncture in Eastown, one of Grand Rapids’ hipper neighborhoods. The name derives from Trillium Haven Farm, about 15 minutes outside of Grand Rapids. A trillium, by the by, is a three-petaled perennial; it’s illegal to pick them from public land in Michigan. Hence, the farm name Trillium Haven.

IMG_2033

The very tall and bright space echoes the natural character of their menu: lots of smooth wood accents, warm lighting, creams and reds, greenery. Just the restaurant space itself is worth a visit.

IMG_2036

The restaurant is split in half with an open bar; on the right you’ll find a large seating area plus an open kitchen. On the left is more seating, with curtains indicating even more space for larger parties.

IMG_2023

This type of menu is designed to make a breakfast- or brunch-lover drool. Try reading some of it aloud: hash with coffee-smoked pork belly and root vegetables. Kale eggs benedict with Canadian bacon and brown butter hollandaise. Frittata with black beans, ancho chilis, and squash.

IMG_2029

Coffee is locally sourced from Rowster New American Coffee, about a mile away. Inspired by Trilium’s menu, we visited Rowster after brunch. Trillium offered a nice coffee setup, with pottery mugs and dishes, and a carafe left on the table.

IMG_2057

This is the pork belly hash, complete with slices of the belly (smoked with Rowster coffee), root vegetables, brussel sprouts, a white cheese, and a couple eggs to order. It’s all drizzled with a little maple syrup. It’s a really interesting contrast of flavors: smokey and salty in the pork belly, earthy notes from the veggies, a little tart from the cheese, and then a sweetness from the maple syrup. This certainly isn’t a traditional hash, but there’s a lot to like about it, although oddly enough the syrup sometimes overpowers the other elements.

IMG_2058

Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s favorite breakfast is pretty much anything with good smoked or salted salmon, so she ordered the smoked salmon scramble. It’s an open-face scramble served over toast and featuring the expected salmon accoutrement: capers, red onions, cream cheese. Overall, a really solid breakfast.

IMG_2061

Pork belly hash in progress.

IMG_2040

What’s brunch without a good Bloody Mary? Trillium’s was rich and heavily spiced.

IMG_2049

And you can’t pass up a good breakfast pizza. This one featured potatoes, bacon, greens, hollandaise, and a fried egg for dipping. A very good representation of breakfast in pizza form.

IMG_2062

The meal ended with a nice little touch: recipe cards given with your bill. This helps you continue your dining experience by recreating some of the dishes you’ve tried at the restaurant.

Our overall experience at Trillium Haven was a good one and I certainly recommend it as a brunch spot, although at times the farm-to-table descriptions can be overwhelming. I appreciate the attention to detail, but sometimes being given the low-down on everything from even the dab of butter to the glob of jam next to your toast can amount to so many details you can’t keep them straight. If you’re a person who prefers the simple eggs-and-bacon breakfast, Trillium may prove to be sensory overload. All the same, they offer a solid brunch with some really creative plates, attentive service, and a really beautiful space.
Trillium Haven on Urbanspoon

Rowster New American Coffee | Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_2120

Rowster New American Coffee (Facebook / @RowsterCoffee)
632 Wealthy St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 780-7777
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-7p; Sat, 8a-8p; Sun 9a-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Date of Visit: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.

IMG_2115

My hometown of Grand Rapids just keeps getting cooler and cooler. Why does this always happen after you leave somewhere? Following a breakfast at nearby Trillium Haven in Grand Rapids, we were in the mood for a little more coffee. We had noticed on Trillium’s menu that they served Rowster coffee, and when we asked our server about it she told us the roaster was just down the road. Very fitting for Trillium’s locally-driven menu.

We found Rowster’s corner storefront down Wealthy Street, a budding, brick-lined district that’s quickly filling in with new shops, bakeries, a theatre, and restaurants. Rowster has taken up a solid place in the neighborhood; their decor is a mix of old building wood floors and plus angular metallic accents.

IMG_2117

The whole space has a very casual, open feel to it. There’s nothing of the tightly organized coffee shop tables with plugs for every laptop. Instead, there’s a high counter in the window, a short one overlooking the actual roaster (a clear centerpiece of the space), then a long bench against the right wall with polished wood stumps for tables. There’s no menu scrolled in chalk on the wall – you simply amble up to the counter and a barista asks what you’d like. If you’re not well versed in coffee shop menus, you might be at a loss for words. Or you just have to be bold enough to ask, “What do you serve?” The answer is that they serve the coffee roaster basics: shots of espresso, cappuccino, machiato, pour-over brews, and the like.

IMG_2084

While you wait, you can browse the extensive shelves of bagged coffee, the brewing equipment that’s for sale, the small line-up of baked goods, or the charming collection of glasses holds spoons, sugar, stir sticks.

IMG_2074

Coffee beans are available by the pound as well.

IMG_2098

Their branding is pretty solid. I’m told this is called a propaganda-style: bold, square lettering, stars, patriotic coloring. It’s everywhere: the mugs, the coffee bags, the wall, the outdoor signage.

IMG_2103

Except for their to-go cups, it would seem.

IMG_2107

My wife and I ordered just a couple drinks. She had a cappuccino and dubbed it very good, while I tried a pour-over of their daily roast. They use a Chemex pour-over, which is one of the best methods for highlighting a coffee’s flavor profile. I forget the exact origin of the beans they brewed for me, but the result was – like every pour-over I’ve had – a rich array of flavors, foremost of which was a dark cherry or blueberry. I love the reminder that my cup of coffee originated as a berry.

IMG_2073

Although Rowster is a younger company, they’ve established a solid brand and identity, and the busy space shows that the customers are finding them. Coffee and coffee education is at the forefront of their game, as you can see from the equipment and the highlight of their roaster in the dead center of the space. I’ve only experienced Rowster at one restaurant and at their store, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in more places around the city, and the region, soon.

Rowster New American Coffee on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 237 other followers