Thursday, December 4, 2014

Menna's Joint, 44 Ionia Ave SW ~ 12/3/14

Part of a local Michigan chain, this seventh location is the only one that's not built in a college town. But seeing that it is on Ionia Avenue, Grand Rapids' restaurant/bar alley, they are probably doing just fine. Every night they stay open until 3:30 or 4:30 am, depending on the night. But first we had to find the entrance.
We walked toward their awnings to the first available door but that went nowhere. So we turned around and entered under the apartment awning.
The place is small and with counter service. There are six booths, two standing-only high tops, and two sets of five stools facing the street ~ and one small church pew.
Stepping up to the wall menu, we tried to decipher what we were looking at and had to have "Dub" defined for us, and there are all kinds of them listed, 23 to be exact (prices range from $5.00-$8.75). It's not a burrito and it's not a wrap but something in between due to the grilled tortilla. There are also a couple of salads and soups available as well as "Munchies" (French Toast Sticks with Syrup and Mac 'N Cheese Bites along with the usual Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken Tenders, Onion Rings, and Cookies?). So we each selected a Dub and waited down at the end of the counter for our food.
Here is our food being prepared.
While we waited we took a good look around and decidedly felt like we were in someone's college dorm room. All the requisite signs and posters were there, and Corn was playing.
There are two TVs, one in each corner and each showing some daytime TV, no news or sports, and one with an ill-placed lamp.
Our food was ready in about 10 minutes. Whether you take it to go or for here, it arrives the same.
Here's the Gyro Dub opened up. This wasn't the best choice but it was my own fault. Why get anything Gyro-like other than at Sami's Pita House? So it was okay but very light on tzatziki and without that distinctive gyro flavor.
Our second sandwich was the Chik'n Philly: chicken, swiss, onion, green peppers, mushroom, topped with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce.
Probably a better choice than the Gyro but still nothing extraordinary. We did both like the grilled tortillas, however. They are a nice vehicle for the ingredients and add a crispy texture to the sandwich.

We tried one side, the loaded fries ~ red skinned potato cubes deep fried and topped with cheddar and bacon. But every bite tasted burned. They apparently sat in the deep fryer a bit too long and we couldn't finish them (see photo above with the unwrapped Dubs).

Just on a whim, the next day I stopped in during lunch to try one of the Breakfast Dubs and selected the Classic to go: scrambled egg, cheddar, and potatoes. The order-taker wisely suggested that I add something, and I took the menu suggestions and added bacon, onions, and green peppers for an additional charge of $1.50 on the $5.00 sandwich. This dub was much more enjoyable than our other choices and had an even blend of ingredients.
I spoke to a neighborhood friend who regularly stops in and he mentioned that the food quality depends on who is cooking. So there you have it ~ inconsistent quality but at 3am in the morning, I'm sure no one cares. Just like they won't care about the "Extras" on the menu being called "Hook Ups."
The restaurant is not looking for business lunchers and won't get many. Menna's knows its niche and it's late night. There was one couple dining in when we had lunch, and three people came through for take-out. Today there were four people dining in. The owners may also want to get some permanent signage on the restrooms.
All that being said, and in spite of the cliched, dorm room-kit decor, this place beats all other fast food restaurants hands-down. Your food is prepared when you order it. And you can also avoid supporting the ubiquitous national chains seeping into our downtown by frequenting this local chain. Online ordering and delivery are available, and they are currently looking for drivers. 
Menna's Joint on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Garage Bar and Grill, 819 Ottawa Avenue NW ~ 11/12/14

This reincarnation of the old Teazers Bar opened in mid-October and it is a cool spot.
The basic structure remains the same and the new owner will continue the summer block party tradition. But it's brighter now when you walk in. Booths are still located along the wall on the left and large metal tables for four run through the middle. These five over-sized metal-topped tables take up so much space and seat only four people but we snagged one up front.
The bar still stands to the right, with twelve seats against the wall that divides the main dining area from the side room, which contains a pool table, more seating, and a dance floor. We liked the rustic yet modern ambiance of the place. We also liked the mix of customers ~ working class gents, young and old professionals, the landlords, and the restaurant owner.
               The garage decor is interesting, unique, and not overdone.
But on to the food. The menu is small and creative. They are not trying to be all things to all people and do boast that everything is made from scratch, nothing ever frozen, and no item over $10.00. Great concept. We started with Meatball Bearings. And get used to menu items having auto garage references. If that bothers you, you won't be happy here :-) The meatballs were homemade as was the accompanying marinara sauce. Only a few ingredients were listed (beef, veal, ricotta) and the dish arrived topped with green onions and cheese. Without the sauce, the meatballs would have been approaching dry but with the sauce it was great. Also very notable was the fact that they were not overly salty, as they are in so many restaurants.

The Radiator Grille sandwich (American, Swiss, & Provolone cheeses) can be upgraded to a Cadillac Grille by adding bacon and egg for $2.00 more. Matt couldn't resist and enjoyed its butter-soaked sourdough bread deliciousness.
It was somewhat unseasoned but was brought to perfection by adding a little salt and pepper. We appreciate so much the absence of saltiness in food served in restaurants, as salt frequently covers up poorly prepared, bad food.

When we visited Teazers back in 2009, we discovered they were known for their French Dip sandwich so that's what I ordered. It was fitting to try the current version here in the Garage, the Flathead French Dip.
The ample serving of au jus was great but when I picked up the roll it was soft and soggy, not crispy and toasted as advertised. That was disappointing but the onion jam, provolone, and roast beef was flavorful and needed no additional seasoning. The fries on both of our plates were over cooked so again, we were a little disappointed. But we weren't disappointed by our service. It was great in every way.

There are a few TVs in both rooms and a 1980s soundtrack was playing. The room was loud during our lunch but mainly due to the people behind us. DJs are featured on the weekends, along with a Bloody Mary Sunday, and the Garage also has a selection of craft beers.
This place is definitely worth a visit and we'll be back, not for the DJs but to try more food and maybe a Bloody Mary. Take note, Grand Rapids ~ we have another restaurant option for Sunday! And this one has a working garage door.
Back in 2009, when we timidly started this blog, we didn't take pictures but here is our brief  review from our Teazers visit. Garage Bar & Grill is a nice conversion of an old biker bar in a building built in 1941.

Teazers 11/24/09 

 Grand Rapids Garage Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aroy Thai, 11221 Commerce (Lake Michigan Drive) ~ 10/23/14

After a trip to a Sprint store for a phone needing repair, we headed further west down Lake Michigan Drive to see if we could spot a new to us local restaurant to try. Lo and behold, there was Aroy Thai.
We spotted a car at the drive-through and almost bailed. What kind of Thai restaurant would have a drive-through? This location was obviously the previous home of some kind of fast food chain. But we decided to check it out.

Ten booths line two of the walls and four tables for four fill the middle. The kitchen must be very small and here is the view of the counter and cashier (you need to walk up to payout). These people are adapting around the fast food format. Decor is sparse and cheesy art hangs on the walls. But the place is clean and the service was attentive and friendly.
We started with crispy rolls: chicken, onions, vermicelli, and carrots wrapped in rice paper and served with sweet chili sauce. Altogether good but slightly salty.
We toyed with trying one of the three soups but decided against it. But we were served the soup of the day with our order ~ a chicken and rice concoction. It was very yellow and greasy with just a slight chicken representation.

Five spice levels are listed but as we discussed the mild vs. medium with our server she advised that I could get a mild plus. Perfect. Shades of Bangkok Taste Cuisine.

As per my usual Thai order, I had to go with Pad Thai with Tofu. The ingredients are all the same everywhere but here the dish was slightly salty. It was the noodles, and yes, I have an aversion to salt, which masks every other flavor. The mild+ was not as hot as promised and it was a huge jump from mild+ to medium, which was Matt's order, Peanut Curry Noodles. 
The steamed noodles were sticky, the abundance of carrots were a delight, and it was hot, as advertised. Don't complain about spice levels here because they have not Americanized them down.

We both took food home and on the way out checked out the drive-in. It turns out it was from a previous restaurant and the car we saw there when we arrived was obviously not in the know.
The car seen here is parked :-) Check them out if you're in the Allendale area because it's not bad but not great. We'll try other dishes there if we make our way back because it seems to be a great addition to a location saturated by national chains. And just so you know "Aroy" means delicious.
Aroy Thai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Flat Lander's Bar, 855 Michigan St NE ~ 5/6/14

From the street, the building that houses the restaurant is not that interesting. It's somewhat nondescript and looks so uniform you expect it to be housing national chains, although it does have some nice-looking apartments with terraces on the second floor. A local butcher shop is next door and on the end, Snap Fitness. What becomes very interesting, however, is when you walk in the door.
The bar is off to the left and has a few tables on two sides of the bar, but otherwise people take a few concrete steps down to find a place in the dining area. In the middle rear of the photo, you can see the Bird Cage stage where live music is hosted. The rear left view shows an alcove that holds two high-tops for six each, which is where we seated ourselves. Here's the view from there.
And here's the alcove, complete with old brick walls.
This is the old Miller Zeilstra Lumber Mill, and the original brick walls were preserved and exposed. Other old materials were brought in ~ barn wood, metal roofing, and old janitor doors from Michigan State University (you will find the doors in the restrooms). All materials that went into the furnishings are either recyled or re-purposed. This is such a cool space.
So on to the spirits. The barstillery's (as they liked to be called) focus is to offer certified organic products distilled in Michigan with Michigan water and grains. Apparently the actual distilling is happening in Three Oaks, Michigan for now but infusions and other creations are happening here on the premises.
We don't usually have cocktails with lunch, even a late one, but here we couldn't resist. We ordered a Flat Lander's Appleshine (white whiskey and Michigan apple juice) and a Recovery Room Bloody Mary (organic vodka and house-made bloody mary mix). As promised, the Appleshine was apple pie in a glass, and the Bloody Mary was thick, spicy, and altogether wonderful.
Our starter was Buffalo Shrimp ~ tossed in Buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese sauce. Beautifully spicy, the shrimp were just slightly cooled down by the blue cheese sauce.
Matt ordered the Southern Pork BBQ, a pulled pork sandwich served with cole slaw, on the sandwich, along with pickles. The pork BBQ was fine but the cole slaw did not do anything to enhance the sandwich and didn't combine well. It would have been preferred as a side.
I ordered the Kapusta Burger, medium rare, which arrived medium rare, with some version of kapusta (great sauerkraut, not too tart), cheddar cheese, and spicy brown mustard. This burger is highly recommended. (I originally wanted to order the Flat Lander Burger but it sounded just a little too huge.) If you want anything but chips with your sandwich, there's an upcharge of $1.00 but that will get you fries, potato salad, or cole slaw. And I loved this potato salad, just for the record. The dressing was light and the potatoes were fresh.
When we first walked in, there was no server or employee to be found and we assumed we were to seat ourselves, so we did. After more than 5 minutes, we spotted a server who let us know she would be with us shortly. It turned out she was the only server in the place and we cut her some slack. She was great overall. On the negative, there was a cook/chef seated at the bar each time one of us walked by to find the restroom.

The outdoor patio, which is ready to open, will certainly help the seating situation. Although you're looking at a parking lot and Michigan Street, at least you can be outside, community style. 
There's one last thing to talk about regarding this Bar & Grill and that is its vibe. They call it hillbilly chic and they're onto something. The soundtrack, playing loud enough to hear but not loud enough that you're shouting above it, ranged from Willie Nelson, CCR, Johnny Cash, and the Highwaymen, to the banjo/guitar duet from Deliverance and some good old timey country and rockabilly.
The name of the bar stems from the derogatory nickname given by people living in the mountains to those who live on the flat lands. People in Vermont use the name for any out-of-staters who visit, Wisconsin uses it for their Illinois visitors, and in Michigan, anyone living south of Saginaw is considered a Flatlander by those who live north. So the name is clever and appropriate :-) Check them out on Facebook and see the hillbilly wisdom they share every week, and definitely visit them in person.
Flat Landers on Urbanspoon