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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

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

Photos: a tale of two markets

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.

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.

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.


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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

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

Anna’s House

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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