Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Westsider Café, 1180 Walker Ave NW - 2/25/2010

If you have a taste for breakfast at any time of the day (before 3:00pm at least), this is your place. Being on the west side, the restaurant offers some Polish Plates (golabki anyone?) but specializes in breakfast. The food is high quality and the service and atmosphere are friendly. The restaurant is not large and has a small row of wooden booths against one wall, a few tables along the front window, the kitchen located on the opposite wall, and about 4 or 5 wooden tables fill in the rest of the space. It wasn’t very crowded at 12:30 but they probably do more business in the morning (they open at 6:00am M-F, 7:00 am on Saturday).

Run-of-the-mill eggs can be found in most breakfast restaurants, but this café is creative. The list of Westsider Breakfasts starts with the basic “1st Street” (eggs, choice of meat, redskins, toast), and moves through interesting egg variations that end at “10th Street” (fried egg sandwich, choice of ham, sausage, bacon, or kielbasa, and melted cheese). Six skillet dishes are offered along with omelets. For the non-breakfast diners, there are burgers, melts, sandwiches, soups, and the aforementioned Polish Plates. Interestingly, there’s a Cuban influence on the menu. You may order a Cuban Eggs Benedict or a Cubano sandwich (both of which will be popular with the carnivore crowd as they contain both pork and ham), and black beans are heavily featured in various dishes.

So many interesting choices made ordering difficult but the first item settled upon was the “6th Street” Breakfast Burrito: scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, redskin potatoes, black beans, and shredded cheese, wrapped in a tortilla and covered with green chile sauce and salsa. It was amazingly tasty with a wonderful combination of flavors. Our second selection was the #1 Skillet: scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, potatoes, and homemade gravy, topped with cheddar cheese, accompanied by english muffin toast. Again, it was a great combination of flavors, and both dishes were very nicely presented and required a take-home box.

The Westsider Café provides to-go and catering services so if you want to serve kielbasa, kapusta, or pierogies at your next party, or just want to enjoy a cheery neighborhood atmosphere, interesting food, and a great breakfast, check it out. Prices range from $5.59-$7.95.

10-19-12 Edit: Here are a few pictures from our visit today,
the gargantuan 7th Street,
and the more reasonably sized Polish Skillet.
We don't see an internet presence anywhere for this place,
but kudos to the hard-working and friendly staff!

The Westsider Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 12, 2010

Florentine Ristorante, 3245 28th St SW - 2/11/10

We spotted this restaurant en route to another and since it was Italian we decided to double-back later on. Finding a non-national chain Italian restaurant in Grand Rapids isn’t that easy (we have Noto’s, Pietro’s, and Tre Cugini - any others?). With twelve cars outside, we were surprised to find only one person in the restaurant (two men came in soon after and for some reason, took a booth right behind ours, with the rest of the restaurant empty; unfortunately, they were loud talkers :). The atmosphere is pleasant and welcoming. Textured, salmon-colored walls are complemented with wood trim and other warm colors. Throughout this fairly large restaurant on high shelves are interesting household items that we later learned were from every house our server (and decorator) ever lived in. Service was friendly and efficient; she let us take our time and was happy to make suggestions or answer any questions.

The one-page menu held no surprises and from the ten appetizers we chose the Italian Sampler: deep-fried zucchini, mozzarella sticks, and mushroom caps. All good, they were accompanied by marinara sauce, pizza sauce, and ranch dressing (marinara was the best of the three). Menu choices range from sandwiches ($5-8), burgers ($6.50-7.25, salads ($7-11), pasta ($7.95-8.95), subs ($5.95-6.95), and pizza ($7.95-13.95). A soup and salad bar is available for $6.95, and can be added to any entree for $2.99. Seeing as there was nothing special about the salad bar (except maybe the homemade soup), we opted for pasta dishes: lasagna and rigatoni. Pasta is made fresh at the restaurant each morning and was nice quality. The rigatoni was a little over baked so a few around the edge were hard and dried out. Lasagna was fine but the sauce on both could have been spicier and more flavorful. Portions are large with take-home boxes needed. On our way out, we saw where the owners of the other eleven cars were - in an attractive, little bar tucked off the entry way.

So it’s worth a stop, but just don’t expect anything out of the ordinary and you’ll be satisfied.
Florentine Grandville on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 5, 2010

Charlie’s Bar & Grill, 3519 Plainfield NE - 2/4/2010

Another recommendation from a friend for a humble, neighborhood restaurant/bar, Charlie’s was a great suggestion. When we walked in, there were two people at the small bar, and two other booths occupied (the side booth at the back of the restaurant contained a creepy-looking young man who unabashedly gawked at us with his mouth open for about five minutes - we dubbed him tomorrow’s pedophile, sorry; he was known to the server and was later joined by an older, heavier version of himself). The slightly curved bar in the front is sweet, made more intimate by half walls that hide a couple of booths. I liked the neon sign and stripes but my younger companion thought they were cheesy.

The dining area has booths along both side walls: on the left are five standard booths, finished off with booth seating/tables (where our “friend” was located). The opposite wall had four “gangster” booths (curved booths that can hold much heft and comraderie - we watch a lot of movies), with a mirrored wall. About 11 tables fill up the rest of the dining area. Other than the wall holding the standard booths, which is yellow, everything else is black, including the ceiling. So it’s dark and atmospheric (difficult for taking pictures surreptitiously without a flash - looking for a 007 pen-camera). The ubiquitous Keno is there along with two TVs in the main dining area and one in the bar.

It’s a big menu - sixteen appetizers to choose from and we picked the Maryland Crab Cakes. Served with roasted red pepper aioli and a shriveled lemon slice, with one cake broken apart, they weren’t pretty but they were great (they are better than those served at the Ada Grille, night-time version of the Schnitz in Ada). The one server/bartender in the place was friendly and helpful.

Along with the sixteen appetizers (3.29-7.99), there are four wraps (6.79-7.79), seven Mondo Burgers (5.99-7.99), twelve Sandwiches (6.99-7.79), five Baskets (7.99-9.99), seven Mexican Fare entrees (7.99-9.99), ten general entrees (9.99-16.99), and soup and salads (3.99-8.99).

Our main selections consisted of one of the specials, “home-made” beef stew, and a “what the cluck burger”. The beef stew came along with a slice of toasted garlic bread and the stew was just like what “my Mom used to make” - really. Tender beef slow-cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions made a nice hearty meal. And the burger was beautiful: 1/3 lb ground beef, American cheese, bacon, lettuce, mayo and a fried egg, yoke unbroken; the unbroken yoke is the problem. The sandwich becomes very messy to eat as the yoke breaks. More napkins needed but a tasty burger. Skinny fries ok but unremarkable. Our final tab with tip was just under $34.00.

This is a good northeast neighborhood find - we would have never stopped in there based on the unassuming frontage and lack of website. But we’re glad we did.

Charlies Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon