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Tag Archives: Michigan

Brandywine (Lake Drive) | Grand Rapids, MI

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Madcap’s branding is also pretty solid.

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

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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.

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

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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

The Electric Cheetah | Grand Rapids, MI

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Rowster New American Coffee | Grand Rapids, MI

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Coffee beans are available by the pound as well.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

Beyond Breakfast: Yesterdog | Grand Rapids, MI

In some ways, I can’t even begin to write about Yesterdog, because it’s such a major part of my upbringing. This little hot dog joint has been around since my dad was younger, so he and my aunts and uncle and grandmother remember going there long before I was born. Yesterdog is one of those decades-old institutions that every city brags on, where regulars flock regardless of how good the food really is. Oftentimes, the less complicated the food, the more people love it. Hot dogs are probably one of the least complicated of American staples, so any visit to a hot dog joint is easily justified by, “Let’s go for lunch” or “Let’s go out with the family” or “Where do we eat at 1 am?” Under that guise I’ve eaten at Yesterdog countless times: parties and family occasions growing up, late night college runs, and now nostalgic visits when we’re home.

Yesterdog is a centerpiece of Grand Rapids’ Eastown district, a budding little neighborhood with brick streets, big murals, and an eclectic mix of shops and bookstores and restaurants (including a very good breakfast at Wolfgang’s). The main entrance is a barely-visible screen door, with your first sign warning you that they are a cash (and oddly, check) only business. Seriously, don’t even ask about using a debit card.

The entryway leads into a long, crammed space facing the “kitchen.” If you’re a regular, you know to shuffle in and wait until the next employee starts taking orders. If you’re a newbie, it can be a little intimidating, because it’s typically packed and people are yelling at you. Some tips on your first visit:

1. Line up to the left if you haven’t ordered. Line up to the right if you have.

2. They’ll start with hot dogs, then do drinks and chips. Don’t even try to customize your dogs. Just order from the menu. Seriously, there are only five hotdogs. Odds are, you’ll find one you like. (Hint: they’re all good.)

3. After they’ve taken all the orders, they’ll collect payment. Remember, cash or check only. Marvel at the employees adding up your order in their heads (I’ve never seen them get it wrong), and then they’ll ring you up at the old cash register complete with real “cha-ching” sound.

While you wait, see if you can sink some coins in the tip jar (upper right corner, above). You can begin taking in all the retro decorations and passive-aggressive signage. The small space is crammed full of them.

5. Remember your order. They make giant trays of hot dogs all at once and bring them to the counter to divvy up into orders. They’ll ask you what you had, so don’t forget.

Then take your tray laden with hot dogs (be careful not to spill your drinks – I speak from experience) and find a seat in the restaurant. Take time to absorb all of the old signs. There are multiple boards filled with photos of customers who got their pictures taken around the world or with famous people while wearing their Yesterdog T-shirts.

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The service may be a little surly at times, but that’s part of the experience. If you’re concerned about absolute cleanliness or about being treated like a king while you order hot dogs, you’re in the wrong place. It’s a hot dog joint, for goodness sakes.

One of the restrooms.

The Yesterdog space hasn’t changed much over time. It boasts big wooden floors, sweeping from the front of the store to the back.

Lots of signs. Old booths. Tin ceiling.

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The booths have been carved up with initials and messages over the years. It didn’t used to be like this when I was younger, but over time it started and couldn’t be stopped. I saw an interview with the owner in which he said they once tried painting and fixing the carvings up, only to have it happen again. Given that the restaurant is run by a small crew and open late into the night, it just wasn’t worth their effort to constantly repaint all of the booths. Too bad, I guess, although it adds some of the “charming” rough-around-the-edges feel.

The hot dogs themselves are boiled and the buns are steamed. The menu includes five items:

Yesterdog: chili, pickles, onion, ketchup, & mustard

Cheddardog: chili & cheese

Veggiedog: cheese, sauerkraut, onion, pickles, ketchup, & mustard

Krautdog: sauerkraut, ketchup, & mustard

Ultradog: chili, cheese, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard

As you can see: simplicity. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that their ingredients all come from Gordon Food Service. Nor would that stop me from visiting. Aside from the hometown comfort factor, I love these hot dogs because they’re soft and the ingredients are generously piled on. The chili has a little bite to it, the kraut is sour enough, and I love the texture of shredded dill pickles. It’s impossible NOT to make a mess of yourself when eating these (there are stacks of napkins on every table). I typically order a handful of Ultradogs, and they are always, always good. Time of day, time of year, company, occasion, doesn’t matter. I’ll always eat more of these.

Speaking of which, if anyone from Grand Rapids is headed through Ohio soon, let me know…

If you want to visit:
Yesterdog
1505 Wealthy St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 262-3090

yesterdog.com
Also on Facebook and @Yesterdog1505
Open Mon-Sat, 10:30a-2:30a; Sun, 10:30a-9p
Cash/check only!

Beyond Breakfast: Little Africa | Grand Rapids, MI

I didn’t grow up an adventurous eater. It wasn’t until college and grad school that I began discovering world cuisines beyond Americanized Mexican or Chinese, with the occasional foray into Indian or Japanese food. And my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI isn’t exactly known (or at least wasn’t 10 years ago) as a hotbed of international cuisines. But just as my wife and I were finishing up college, a friend introduced us to a little restaurant just east of downtown called Little Africa. That’s where we first tried Ethiopian food, and it blew us away. Nearly every visit to my hometown includes a stop here to see the owner Loul Negash and enjoy a platter of his vegetarian food. His food is so incredibly rich and flavorful that eating it is almost like revisiting an addiction. I could easily consider Little Africa one of my favorite restaurants of all time.

Saying that sets the bar high, so maybe I should add that hometown restaurants tend to have a special place in my heart. So there’s a comfort factor that other places just can’t replicate. The Little Africa is simple and quiet, a single room with a few rows of booths. Ethiopian music (I’m assuming) plays quietly over the speakers. Loul clatters around in the back.

Every meal starts with tea. Loul serves other beverages, but we’ve never gotten them. Why? Because this tea is a delicious, complex, steaming, crack-laden drink of the gods. It’s hot and heavily spiced. We once tried asking him for the recipe, and he quietly deflected the question (understandably). From what we can taste, there are hints of cinnamon, clove, ginger, mint, and everything else that is delicious in this world.

This is perhaps one of the most beautiful sites in the (culinary) world to me: a fresh platter of Little Africa’s vegetarian fare (they only serve vegetarian dishes, although a lot of Ethiopian cooking does involve meat. But just look at it. The colors. The textures. The variety. Different legumes and vegetables and spices. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single one of these dishes; we just tell Loul that we’d like the vegetarian platter, and he brings out enough for the number of diners. But I know that there are dishes made with lentils, peas, injera, grape leaves, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, beets. We’ve had items made with pumpkin, too. Probably my favorite of the bunch is the dark orange/brown pile, just above center. It’s made with shredded injera mixed with a fairly hot spice.

Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands. Before the meal, Loul brings out small plastic bowls with a pinkish liquid: a lightly soapy concoction in which you wash your hands. The food is served on top of a bread called injera, made by fermenting teff flour, a grass that’s indigenous to Ethiopia. Injera is moist and spongy and a little bit sour. You tear off pieces of it and scoop up the food.

Ethiopian food is rich with spices and oils, so by the end of the meal the injera is soaked, which keeps any of the deliciousness from going to waste. I have never not left an empty plate for Loul to clean. I simply can’t. There is always more room in my stomach; my tastebuds are always eager for another a bite. My family still makes fun of me for the one time I polished off the leftovers by rolling the injera into a burrito and downing it. But I stand by my decision.

We’ve had other good Ethiopian food, but nothing has come close to Little Africa. Perhaps, because it was our first foray into the cuisine, it automatically became the standard by which we judge all similar fare. Regardless, this food has such special meaning to us, to the point that I think it has healing properties.

If you want to visit (and trust me, you do):
Little Africa
956 E. Fulton St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 222-1169

Little Africa on Urbanspoon

The Koffee Kuppe | Fremont, MI

The Koffee Kuppe (Facebook)
46 W. Main St. (map it!)
Fremont, MI 49412
(231) 924-1046
Open Mon-Fri, 6:30a-10p; Fri, 7a-9p; Sat, 8a-9p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Date of Visit: Wednesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Chalk this up as one of those simple, I-just-had-to blog posts. But I’m always excited to find THAT coffee shop, the one that’s bustling with activity, filled with locals, and smack dab in the middle of a smaller downtown.

The interiors are always new and nicely appointed, and they serve the full range of coffee drinks well. On our recent vacation in western Michigan, we stayed in Fremont and enjoyed a week of boating in the lake, tubing down a river, and other good family times. While jetting around town, we stopped in Koffee Kuppe a couple times. My guilty pleasure is an iced chai with a shot of espresso, and they did this very well.

But I was surprised to find a fairly comprehensive breakfast menu, including breakfast sandwiches, burritos, and paninis. They also had a peanut butter apple crisp (PB, apples, and granola in a honey wheat wrap) and the Jam ‘N’ Bananas, with cream cheese, strawberry jam, bananas, and granola in a flour tortilla.

One fascinating bit was the omelet bar. In a coffee shop. At first it seemed like a crazy idea, but after a moment it made more sense: you load up your ingredients, just like at a salad bar, then turn them over for the kitchen to whip into an omelet. Brilliant!

Overall, Koffee Kuppe made for a welcome respite and some delicious iced coffee on a busy vacation. Always nice to discover these places!

OTHER LINKS:

Koffee Kuppe on Urbanspoon

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