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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crooked Goose, 355 Wilson Ave NW, Walker ~ 4/29/14



This place has been open since 2012 and we finally made our way there. Its location in a strip mall makes it feel like a national chain and you might continue to have that feeling when you first enter. Walk in the first door and you are greeted by a second, very heavy, needing-help-to-open glass door, through which we found the hostess desk.

The space is much smaller than its sister, Twisted Rooster, and is divided into bar and dining areas. The bar is attractive and holds a row of high tops. The dining area contains a row of booths and a row of tables with a combination of both in the back. Flat screen TVs are everywhere, at least 15 of them, and they showed sports (no surprise) and news (surprise). Music was playing but not at a volume that made us raise our voices. The dining area is set off from the bar by glass screens, which is a nice touch.
                                    
And, there are stuffed animal heads on the wall. We weren't clear on the purpose but were later informed that the management believe they contribute to the feeling of this being a neighborhood pub. You be the judge. We were promptly seated and just as promptly were waited upon. Our server was friendly and informative, and when she learned this was our first time there, she quickly reviewed the menu for us, emphasizing the local Michigan connections, and we loved that.

Appetizers were semi-interesting and the Gator Tail stood out: tender batter-fried spiced alligator tail with Ancho Aioli sauce. We asked our server about the Gator and she told us it tasted like chicken, but it didn’t. Its consistency was more like calamari, which was fine with us, but the batter was slightly salty. The sauce was a delicious enhancement, and altogether it was a fine and unique choice.
Shortly after our appetizer arrived, the manager stopped by to introduce himself and to bring us a complimentary Crooked Loaf, since he heard this was our first visit. The herb/garlic baked loaf of bread, served in a bag, was deliciously greasy, as was reflected on the bag (which also served as its own take-home container), and was a nice touch by the manager. The bread was piping hot, fresh, and flavorful. If you don’t get your own free loaf, please order it.
The menu is fairly large but after some consideration we decided first on the Red Hot Honey Chicken Club sandwich, described as follows: grilled chicken breast, smothered in red-hot honey sauce, chopped bacon, caramelized sweet onion, cheddar cheese, and lettuce and tomato on a sesame seed bun. Only the end of that description will remind you of the McDonald’s Big Mac :-)
Overall, it was a good sandwich with a large piece of chicken, a thick slice of cheese, and double tomato slices. But the chicken was a little bland and the sweet honey sauce wasn’t hot enough to quality as red hot. Steak fries were thick and nicely spiced.

Our second dish was the Crooked Chicken Pot Pie, which consisted of slow-braised chicken, sweet peas, carrots, and onion, topped with a crispy puff pastry. The menu lists asparagus as being included but our server gave us notice that asparagus was not yet available. We loved that the restaurant adjusts to in-season produce. The available vegetables were crisp and nicely prepared, and the pastry was better than you'll find in most pot pies anywhere. This is highly recommended.
The aforementioned Michigan emphasis extends to their rotating selection of Michigan craft beers, which we’ll have to return to enjoy. We liked this place and understand that they are catering to their Grand Valley student population with their TVs and happy hour offerings. That is their demographic. And dinner time probably will probably afford you a very different experience. But our service was lovely, and this manager actually responds to negative and positive comments on UrbanSpoon. The restaurant name was chosen at random to connect to Twisted Rooster, which was chosen at random (see Twisted Rooster link below).

The Crooked Goose is owned by Meritage Hospitality Group, which owns 100+ Wendys restaurants throughout the country, and also Twisted Rooster here in Grand Rapids. Using fast food money to open fresh food restaurants ~ alrighty. We support the latter but not the former. We'll be happy to return here but probably not to Twisted Rooster. Here is our visit to the latter back in August, 2010:

Twisted Rooster 2010 

Find Crooked Goose on Facebook and visit them soon, at least for lunch.
Crooked Goose on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rincon Criollo, 1523 Grandville Ave ~ 3/21/14

Scouting for restaurants we haven't written up, we came across this one south on Grandville Avenue. As we got close, we started to recall being here before some years ago and when we walked in, we were sure of it. At that time we took a look around, no one was there, employees or customers, the buffet looked closed, and we walked out. Today we stayed and were glad we did.
The small space holds about 8 tables for 4, and again, there were no customers there but we were eating a very late lunch. Three employees were on hand, however, and we were immediately greeted by a server to take our beverage orders (it's bottled water or cans of soda). Music was blaring so loud when we walked in we knew we had to say something. But before we could, our server turned it down.

That server was replaced with another who brought us our menus and was incredibly friendly and informative. He let us take our time and had helpful suggestions. The buffet was available but we tend to avoid buffets. Ordering off the menu, we started with a recommendation, Tostones Rellenos, stuffed fried plantains with miscellaneous vegetables, spices, & chicken. Wow ~ we could eat these everyday.
Contrary to our usual ordering practices, we ordered our main dishes before our appetizer arrived and that turned out to be a smart move. This chef is making everything from scratch and we were there one hour before our entrees arrived. While we were waiting, several customers came in for take-out orders and another couple entered to dine in. Everyone knew everyone else, except us :-) Then a gentleman entered who greeted the seated couple, walked into the kitchen where he greeted the staff, and walked back out holding what looked like a potato. He joined the seated couple. After a few minutes, he walked over to our table and told us there was one Alcapurria left and in 5 minutes if we didn't order it, he would. How could we resist? He said it was more addictive than Lay's potato chips ~ you can't eat just one.
So we said yes, we wanted it, and he promptly went into the kitchen and got it for us. We sliced it up to share it. And this item, mashed up plaintain crust, briefly deep fried, and stuffed with pork & spices, was incredibly tasty. This friendly man soon left, saying he had to meet a client. Then our main dishes arrived ~ Bistec ala criollo ~ sauteed skirt steak with veggies, Puerto Rican rice (server recommended), and salad with a lovely oil & vinegar dressing.
The other was a dish offered for two, Bohio Criollo ~ skirt steak, chicken & shrimp sauteed with green peppers, red onion, and mushrooms. It was a work of art, and massive! Matt & Rachael shared it and took huge take-home boxes. They also split an accompanying salad.
We all added hot sauce (provided on the table) to our dishes. The food is loaded with flavor but not with heat so we adjusted accordingly. A little while after our dishes arrived, the chef came to our table to ask if we like the food. That was wonderful, personal service. The fairly large menu is in Spanish with English translations and contains entrees, sandwiches, appetizers & sides. Just ask your server (or restaurant customers) for help navigating the menu. Highly recommended for the authentic food and great sense of community. We were asked if we'd be back and we promised we would.
Rincon Criollo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bangkok Taste Cuisine, 15 Jefferson ~ 2/20/14

Matt had been here before with a group of friends but we had not been there together so today it was our lunch choice.

Walk into this place and you are greeted by a large, airy room, holding about 15 tables. If this was done in One Trick Pony style, the room would have been stuffed with double or triple the tables. As it is, each table has some privacy, and if they develop a crowd-waiting problem, they have plenty of room for expansion. Decor is minimal and tasteful with most pictures depicting food. This one is in the ladies’ room.

We took a seat in this alcove, holding 4 more tables. At one point a cute little Thai woman stepped out from behind the screen (that leads to the kitchen) and waved at us and said hi as she headed to the ladies’ room. Everything about this place is friendly.
And the menu is quite reasonable for a Thai restaurant, just two large pages, and we started with pork spring rolls. Ah, make that one pork spring roll. (1) is indicated behind it on the menu but we were ordering under time pressure and missed it. Our fault but another server might have mentioned it. Served with wonderful plum sauce that I can still taste as I write this, the roll was deep fried pork wrapped with ground pork, vermicelli, black mushrooms, and carrots in a spring roll wrapper. The pork flavor was a little strong for me but fine for Matt.
We both ordered Pad Thai, mine with tofu, Matt’s with pork, that is described as “the most famous Thai dish.” How could we resist? Stir-fried rice noodles with egg, bean sprouts, and green onions topped with crushed peanuts and lemon ~ amazing. The little taste of lemon juice overall, the lovely noodles, and the egg that was actually noticeable made this an incredible dish, served in a beautiful bowl.
There are five spice levels ~ no spice, mild, medium, hot, extra hot. Matt went medium because he had been here before and can take food a little spicier than I can so I was dilly dallying between mild and medium and our server pipes up with the fact that I could order mild+. Alrighty. Done. We were both happy and be warned that the medium spice level is quite hot.
The portions are large and we each took a box home. Service is exemplary and friendly, the atmosphere is pleasant, and the food is remarkable. This is now our favorite Thai restaurant in Grand Rapids (sorry Erb Thai).

We couldn’t find a website but they are on facebook, although it’s a pretty inactive account.
And like most Thai restaurants in Grand Rapids (Little Bangkok, Forest Hills, the exception), they don't have a liquor license but are working on it.
Bangkok Taste Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Aperitivo and Fish Lads, Downtown Market - 1/30/14

We decided to make another visit to the Downtown Market to see how lunch options were shaping up. And choices are becoming more numerous ~ Tacos el Cunado (although our favorite chef pictured here has left). (The market sign above was also obviously taken earlier.)
Rak Thai (we've already dined at their Northland Drive location)

Rak Thai ~ 12/22/10


                     Fish Lads (earlier photo & current lunch menu),
 

and Aperitivo (offering a grilled cheese sandwich, and otherwise cheese plates & charcuterie).
We were leaning towards Fish Lads but there was no comfortable place to sit. They have only a small counter (oyster bar) with stools. Tacos el Cunado has a small seating area behind it but we’ve already sampled their tacos. The market provides a dining area for all to enjoy whatever they’ve purchased but it’s an aesthetically cold, pale, and unfriendly space ~ metal furniture with no plants, art, or color.
Granted, there are more tables and chairs there now then when this photo was taken on 8/31 but the atmosphere is not improved.

So we’re toying between Fish Lads and Aperitivo (who has small dining area and now a lunch menu), liking the space at Aperitivo but wanting something from the Fish Lads menu. Out of the blue, a Fish Lads employee tells us we can eat our food over at Aperitivo so long as we purchase a beverage from them to accompany our lunch. Score!

That sealed the deal, and after placing our orders we headed over to Aperitivo to take our place at their counter. One of the owners waited on us and after we informed her of our lunch selections she expertly paired beers for us.
Shortly thereafter, a Fish Lads employee brought us our seafood lunches. Our appetizer was a delightful Crab Cake topped with a delicious aioli and accompanied by a fresh green salad. Exquisite!
We split that and then dug into our main dishes Arctic BLT (Arctic Char, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo) and Fish & Chips (Cod). Both dishes came with fries that were a little over done but there was no complaint about the fish. It’s flown in daily and the flavor reflects that, as does the price. However, Fish Lads announced recently on their facebook page that due to the large volume of business they were doing, they would be able to lower their prices. Good news.
To close out this posting, I'm going to share some photos of the market from its opening weekend (8/31/13 & 9/2/13), which then included a huge Farmers' Market in its parking lot. We're looking forward to that coming back this spring.
The building design is beautiful.
 Second floor greenhouse and the view from upstairs.
This graffiti is now gone and other less than subtle changes are also taking place, including fencing off a nearby underpass so the homeless can no longer sleep there.
 
To finish off this digression, here are photos taken on 12/3/13 when our staff enjoyed a lunch there.
Cheers!
Aperitivo on Urbanspoon