Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wheelhouse, 67 Ottawa Ave SW ~ 6/1/16

Other than the 30 or so Wendys that Meritage Hospitality operates, they also own Twisted Rooster, Crooked Goose, and Freighters Eatery and Taproom (the latter in Port Huron). Each of the three is an individual restaurant, not a chain, but Wheelhouse is the first of their restaurants to be built from the ground up. And it's obvious. When you walk into Twisted Rooster, you know you're stepping into a place that used to be something else. But when we walked into Wheelhouse today we had a moment of deja vu when we were greeted by 4 hostesses at the hostess table.
This space is the ultimate in cool. The entry opens into a sweeping bar with high tops, seating for about 25 at the bar, and some dining tables.
Further to the left is what they call a porch, with windows opening, rattan furniture, and doors that can close off the room for private parties.
The decor is subdued and tasteful, and where we were seated in the bar dining area, we could look out at the Van Andel Arena. This has to be a great location for concert goers.
We started with these lovely crab cakes: jumbo lump crab, fennel with orange slaw, and peppadew aioli. The orange slaw and aioli made these the perfect crab cakes, and the presentation wasn't bad either.
Our first main dish was Grilled Prawns. They were not overcooked and beautifully combined with fried green tomatoes. They were not enhanced, however, by the roasted corn chow chow, aka, popcorn. The popcorn didn't add anything to the dish but a bit of visual variety. And the green onions would have been better chopped. Pretty to look at but difficult to consume. The dish was complemented nicely by the corn grit aioli and tomato vinaigrette.
The Spaghetti Carbonara gave us us nothing to complain about. Pancetta, garlic, parmesan and pecorino, egg, and parsley along with al dente pasta made a lovely dish, and one to be ordered again.
So the meal was great, service even better, and we were taken by this painting hanging on a wall leading into the porch. The color stands out in this otherwise black-brown-beige but very tasteful setting.
We were hoping it was a local building by a local artist but alas. It's a non-identified building by an artist in Texas that was enlarged on canvas for the restaurant. Still a nice accent but it could have been more interesting and local.

We checked out the dining room located at the right of entry as we left. Booths and a continuation of the same tasteful lighting and decor really recommend this restaurant, located at the base of the new Arena Place. And if the good food continues, this is sure to become a downtown favorite!
Wheelhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, May 27, 2016

Little Lucy's Cafe, 1747 Plainfield NE ~ 5/27/16

This place opened just last Monday and, as indicated from the lunch time crowd, people are hearing about it. Upon entry, we found ourselves in the bakery and noticed it was empty of goods. Upon questioning, we were informed that the bakery would officially open next Tuesday (5/31). The hostess station was just to our left and we were promptly seated, after being asked if we lived in the neighborhood. Alas no (is it still okay that we're here?).
The narrow restaurant space has ten stools along the street window, three tables for two and two for four located along the far wall.The opposite wall shared by the bakery contains a window between the two spaces and ends in the open kitchen, which is surrounded by an L-shaped counter. Filling in the space are about ten flexible tables for four.
Decor is clean and minimal with the light colors seeming to perfectly suit this cheery breakfast/lunch place. The only piece of decor/signage we didn't like was the restroom locator sign, asking if we "Need to Tinkle." Everything else is very tasteful. Our server appeared quickly and after giving us menus, asked us if we were from the area. Again, alas no.

We were thrilled with the diverse and interesting menu ~ this is no "Real Food" menu (no offense to Real Food lovers). (But don't fear that you can't get a standard breakfast ~ you even have the option to build your own breakfast.) Our first order was Chorizo and Crawfish Etouffee, with an over easy egg. The last time I had Etouffee was in New Orleans, and this dish did not disappoint. Crawfish, chorizo, celery, onion, red pepper, and tomato, in all its buttery deliciousness, was served over basmati rice, and topped by the egg.
Our next dish was Cheesy Grits with Sausage Ragout, also topped with the optional egg, this time poached. Slightly sweet overall, blue corn grits were melded nicely with ricotta cheese and the spicy breakfast sausage with bell pepper and onions. The side of bacon didn't fare as well. We like it crisp but we could taste the burn on these that apparently got away from the cook.
These lovely terrariums were on every table, just more evidence of the care that has gone into this restaurant. And the entire staff is friendly, informative, and efficient.
There are narrow windows leading into the next space over, which will be turned into their next venture, Brighton Graye's Bistro. We could see work going on in there, a staircase leading up, and furniture boxes galore. We were told it would be opening in about a month.
It looks like an outdoor patio is also in the making, which will make everyone in Grand Rapids very happy due to our short season of nice weather.
This latest venture of L & B Portfolio (Graydon's Crossing, Logan's Alley, Derby Station) has really provided a great addition to the neighborhood and eliminated an unused, vacant building. Neighbors (and others who'd like to drive over, thank you very much) can enjoy coffee and baked goods to go, dine in for breakfast or lunch, or have dinner in what we assume will be a lovely place next month. We'll be back to check them out and to try more items from Little Lucy's menu.

Find them on facebook and on their website: www.littlelucycafe.com
Little Lucy's Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jia Yuan, 3500 Remembrance Road, Walker ~ 3/17/16

We read about this place and decided to stop in for lunch, and it was so worth it. We were late for lunch so had the place to ourselves. When we walked in we seemed to surprise the woman at the counter. But she gave us our paper menus and we took a seat to decide what we wanted to order.
It wouldn't be the Hunan Tirple Delight :-)
We always check out the hot and sour soup in any new to us restaurant and our server/proprietor dished it out from the lunch buffet counter.
It was hotter than most but quite good and a close second behind our always favorite from Wei Wei Palace.
Most dishes here are served in take-out containers which is convenient for all but were heavy on styrofoam, which is not good. Customers pick up their utensils, napkins, etc. from a central shelf that also contained kids' entertainment tools, which was cool. There were pitchers of water in the cooler from which we replenished our waters. It was a little like being in their living room and we liked the atmosphere, complete with kids' drawings lining the walls.
This looks to be a two person, man and wife operation, and other than immediately bringing our soup, cooked everything else to order. English was understood but everything was written down in Chinese. And back to our initial ordering, when we stepped back up to the counter and placed our very large order, she wanted to take the menus back from us but we kept them to use as placements and reference. Hope that was ok :-)

After the soup & wontons, the Szechuan Beef and Hunan Pork Vegetables arrived.
Vegetables were crisp, pork was a little tough, but all in all, very respectable dishes. We liked the plenitude of vegetables and the plates not filled up with rice.

Under the Special Combination Plates we selected Jia Yuan Special Chicken. It came neatly in its own styrofoam container :-(  with what we think might have been the best egg roll we ever tasted. It wasn't stuffed with no-name, no-taste fillers and was actually enjoyable with flavor, as was the chicken (General Tso style but not as sweet, and spicier).
The last dishes to arrive were Singapore Mei Fun Lo Mein and our dumplings. Usually the dumplings would have arrived earlier but these were obviously made with care and had an extraordinary, thicker, wonderfully textured shell. We requested pan fried and they accommodated us with these lovely items.
The Lo Mein dish looked appealing, the noodles were great, but there was an overwhelming spice in this dish we could not identify but did not care for (maybe Madras curry?). We're generally fans of curry in food but there was something about this one we didn't like.
The men's bathroom had a sign on it not to use and a trip to the women's wasn't good. Pretty dirty.

After all of our dishes were served, the man and wife came out and sat at a table next to us and began to eat. But before he sat down, he walked into the men's room and used it :-)

We had probably interrupted their planned lunch with our arrival which is why we received a disconcerting look when we first walked up to the counter. But kudos to this hard-working couple who puts out such great food! This is not your typical Chinese restaurant and although they have sweet and sour items on their massive menu, the food preparation is superior and highly recommended.
Jia Yuan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Taqueria Maravatio, 1100 Chicago Ave SW

Today we drove on a whim down Grandville/Chicago Avenue to see if we could find a small, unknown, local restaurant ~ because we love doing that. We happened on this place straddling a corner at Chicago Drive and Godfrey, across from Holy Name of Jesus Parish on Godfrey and a McDonalds on Chicago Drive.
Aztec or Mayan art decorates portions of the six-sided building but around back it's plain with the parking lot and two entrances.
When we walked in it looked like it was counter service and we did the awkward looking-around-trying-to-figure-out-the-place-thing with the locals staring at us. But we spotted a woman waiting on a table so we grabbed two menus off the very large counter and took a seat.

The place holds about 11 tables/booths wrapped along the exterior wall which is lined with windows so everyone has an outside view, except for this table for two. And there's a big booth down at the end.

The kitchen is open from the counter view and we spotted two men working there. The one and only server was continually cleaning when not waiting on customers. And the place is spotless. When I later walked into the Ladies' Room I saw washing your hands instructions in Spanish and English, along with the old washed-the-floor water. Well, at least it was washed.
We were quickly served chips and salsas, green and red, and both with a nice kick.
Water took a bit longer to come by and unfortunately arrived in large styrofoam, lidded cups. But the food did not disappoint. We selected from a simple two-page menu, complete with a hamburger with yellow cheese :-)
We each picked two tacos and a gordita. Steak, Chorizo, and Barbacoa tacos, and steak Gorditas. There was absolutely nothing to complain about. Fresh cilantro, plenty of limes, and other vegetables accompanied our food.
And most importantly, the tortillas are made in-house and that was obvious. This place rivals San Jose Taqueria and should definitely be visited. We needed to go back to the counter to pay, and that took a while on the old cash register. While I was waiting, the cook put a huge bowl of soup/stew on the counter and I asked our cashier/server if that was for her. She said it was and it was a concoction of meat and vegetables and soup, and she hadn't eaten all day. It was steaming hot and looked delicious! Hey, that wasn't on the menu...

There are two TVs back to back but nothing was playing, just a low-key music soundtrack. Decor consisted of a picture of John Paul II and a painting of a pope with Mary. But with all those windows, there isn't room for much more.
The tables are numbered by a taped up paper number. Not so classy but whatever works.
There were crazy locks on the way out, modified during the day by tape.
There's not much internet information available about this place but it looks like it used to be the El Kiosco Tapatio Restaurante. What is was before that we have no idea. It looks like it was some sort of fast food chain. But this is a lovely reincarnation of a unique building and an obvious local favorite from what we observed. Freshly prepared food in a clean, local restaurant with house-made tortillas - what more could you ask?
Taqueria Maravatio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato