Cruising southwest for a new restaurant, we came upon this one claiming to be “chief (alright, foreman) of the tacos.” How could we resist? Two entrances make it a little confusing ~ one opens into a dining room and the other into a smaller dining area with a take-out counter and waiting area. The smaller room holds about 8 booths along with the open kitchen, and the dining room holds about twice as much seating area.
It was busy this lunch hour, complete with dining-in Wyoming police, and we had to wait a bit for service. Our first server brought us menus, and shortly thereafter, tortilla chips and very spicy red (hotter than the green) and green salsa. Unfortunately, we didn’t get small plates on which to enjoy them but had to apply salsa individually to each chip. Also unfortunately, there’s a lot of styrofoam used here along with plastic silverware.
Another server came to take our order, neither of them spoke much English, and both seemed a little ill at ease with us and we’re not sure why. We decided on beef gorditas for our first dish: onions, cilantro, beans, lettuce tomatoes, cheese, with a touch of sour cream, and a side of rice and beans.
The rice and beans came out along the grilled vegetables ~ radishes, green onions, jalapeno, and limes ~ and then came the main dishes; the second of which was tacos dorados: 4 crisp beef tacos with beans, rice, lettuce tomato, avocado, and sour cream. With both the gorditas and tacos coming with lightly fried tortillas, we couldn’t judge the tortilla freshness but we were both very satisfied with our selections, particularly with the prominently featured cilantro and avocado ingredients.
The food was flavorful and all house-made ~ you can watch the cook at work. We don’t like to use the over-used-in-restaurant-reviews-word “authentic” but this is fresh, well-prepared food with no Americanized versions of Mexican food on the menu. The atmosphere is simple, stark, and clean, and the food is delightfully delicious, including the rice and beans being above average. Go for the food, but not the ambiance.
Sometimes we meander around to see what we might find and today we happened upon Cranker's via a smart phone. It looked like an old drive-through something and we discovered it was a Schlotzsky's Deli in its previous life. Back in 2008, the Crank family purchased it and opened another Cranker's Coney Island.
Last year the family added a brewery to its Big Rapids location, and this year they did the same to their Mount Pleasant and Grand Rapids locations. We haven't been to the other locations, but this restaurant has a very weird vibe to it.
Walk in and it will feel like you are in a New Beginnings or Anna's House, and the menu confirms your feelings - a full breakfast menu, a 15-minute guaranteed lunch menu, and lots of retired people in the restaurant - but with beer! There are about 21 booths located in 5 short rows, and behind that, the kitchen and small brewery. A very small outdoor patio is also available.
There is a small bar tucked in the corner but no one was partaking of its goodness this afternoon but us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the Ambrosia Honey Kolsch and Professor IPA.
The 6-beer menu suggests pairings with menu items, which is so appreciated, but the appetizers consisted of typical bar food, except for the Saganaki, so that was our choice.
We subsequently decided to go with burgers, and thanks to Stella's, it's difficult to resist a stuffed burger, particularly when it's filled with cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers.
Our other choice was the simpler, but not much smaller, bacon cheeseburger.
The Cranker's version of onion rings (Lager rings) was most impressive, with thickly cut onions, well-presented.
The soundtrack playing easy listening, pop hits was fine for us but I doubt anyone else in the place, other than staff, recognized any of the songs. We're assuming that a different crowd rolls in at night. Our server was excellent - friendly and efficient - and pretty much worked the room herself with a little assistance from a manager and the take-out window order-taker.
When we asked about seeing the brewery, we were told that most of the beer is brewed at the Big Rapids location but a little is brewed here (with its 3-barrel nano-brewery). Lastly, this sign was bothersome grammatically.
They have several facebook pages, a twitter presence, and an outdated urban spoon page. We feel the need to visit them in Big Rapids.
Located next to Kollen Park on Lake Macatawa, the location is irresistible on a summer day. You can arrive by boat, if you have one, or by car, which we did today.
Walking in shortly before noon, we found a few people waiting to be seated by two hostesses. The patio fronting the lake was reasonably full, the large interior not so much. But still we waiting at least 10 minutes to be seated. Hostesses were awkward, slow, and just semi-friendly. While we waited we looked into the glass-enclosed kitchen, where chefs were checking the computer screen for orders.
We choose to sit on the wrap-around patio that had one table in the shade available. The wind was fierce so no umbrellas were permitted but we had a lovely view of the water, and the condos and homes of the very wealthy.
Starting with a Sam Adams Octoberfest and an Oberon, we enjoyed the ambiance but not our server’s continual use of the royal “we”, e.g. “do we know what we’re having yet?” She tried to rush us at first but then realized that was not possible.
The appetizer ‘house specialty’ is seafood chowder and we both began with a cup of it. According to our server, the ingredients vary depending on what is available fresh. Today we believe it consisted of tilapia, salmon, crab, shrimp, calamari, potatoes, and carrots. It was thick and delicious, and very filling, and was served with two dinner rolls that may have arrived warm but cooled off in two minutes with the wild patio wind.
We were happy we waited to order our main dishes because they were out in two minutes - microwave suspect. Great Lakes perch was fresh and delicately fried. (The great flavor held over to the next day when the leftovers were consumed.) It was nicely enhanced by the tasty dill and caper remoulade. Nonetheless, five pieces for $17.95 is a bit pricy.
The lightly breaded fantail shrimp platter also fared well but the fries accompanying both dishes were completely underdone. Pale, semi-raw, and inedible, we left them for the trash. And placing the lemon in the creamy cole slaw may be creative to look at but messy to pull out in order to spritz the seafood.
The crowd outside was mixed with workers on lunch hour, and retired people, and then a David Crosby look-a-like arrived.
Outside the restaurant we found a boat parked in the carry-out location, and a sign crediting the boat manufacturer to a non-existent town in Illinois (Tinley Park, perhaps?). Photograph yourself in it at your own risk.
Lastly, we recognized an old ArtPrize sculpture which apparently found a permanent home. Too bad people are taking souvenirs from the “fingers.” It’s a great location for a restaurant, and the interior has glass all around so you can take in the lovely view (except for Padnos) but you will take your chances on the food and service.
It's a Friday night, the four of us are looking to meet for dinner, and it's Restaurant Week when you can enjoy three courses for $25.00 at many area restaurants. There were so many restaurants with great offerings but being last minute people we had to find one that was open to take reservations that day. And Bistro Bella Vita it was.
Our options of adding to the 3-course meal menu special were a bread-jam-butter choice or a cheese coursebut we went to the main menu for antipasta - Italian meats, artisan cheese, garnishes, & crostinis. We've had it here before and it never disappoints.
Then we selected from the 1st course options from the 3-course menu: three of us chose the House Made Sausage (cotechino sausage, brussel sprouts, apple mostarda, pecorino),
and one chose the Albacore Cruda (cerignola olivetapenade, brown butter crouton, lemon mignonette).
Both dishes were beautifully presented and there was nothing to complaint about. But we were soon on to our second course options. One order of Amatriciana (house made guanciale, farm tomato sauce, gnudi, parsley, pecorino) was placed upon our server's recommendation but it ended up not being a favorite of ours. Guanciale (pig cheek) was too fatty. The few lean pieces were overwhelmed by the tomato sauce, which was delicious in its own right. The gnudi (a lighter, cheesy type gnocchi) was exquisite, however.
The next choice fared better - Cioppino (shrimp, lobster boudin, scallop, salmon, mussels, romanesco, fennel, heirloom tomato, in lobster-chili broth). Ordering seafood in the midwest is always a risk but tonight's offering was fresh and tasty, and the romanesco was a nice touch (Roman broccoli, a variant of cauliflower).
The last two diners both selected the S & S lamb "Paella" - lamb chop, roasted lamb, lamb sausage, and braised lamb, accompanied by peas, peppers, saffron basmati, and smoked tomato vinaigrette. That was a lot of lamb, but there were no mutton complaints, and the rice and vinaigrette made for a very nicely balanced dish.
Third course was dessert and three of us chose the panna cotta (summer berries/granola) and one selected the chocolate tart (peanut butter pastry cream/sea salt caramel/white chocolate).
This is one of our favorite restaurants and tonight confirmed that. Our server was attentive and knowledgeable, and the food was creative and interesting. Their sister restaurants, The Green Well and The Grove, are also part of The Essence Restaurant Group who emphasize natural and local, sustainable business practices, and it shows.
After our first time we decided to wait for a second visit to write up the restaurant. But lo and behold, by July the owners had been re-shuffled and the name had been changed, mostly.
Digging up old notes we found that back in February we enjoyed a beautifully tangy, organic cream of tomato soup, the Trillium Cuban sandwich, and Mac & Cheese. The soup was amazing, the Cuban sandwich rated up there with the one who orders and rates it wherever possible, and the Mac & Cheese, with its sauce thickened with cauliflower & parsnips was delicious.
Spring forward to July ~ we began with pickled crudite, and a half Cobb salad, ordered a fried egg sandwich, and the now called Terra Cuban, with a side of Mac & Cheese. So it was an inadvertent partial repeat but things were different this time.
The pickled farm veggies were wonderful, but the Cobb salad contained a glob of blue cheese that should have been crumbled.
The Egg Sandwich came nicely sunny side up with bacon, greens, and garlic mayo, complete with cloth napkins.
Terra Cuban (house smoked pork, bacon, swiss cheese, McClure’s dill pickles, dijon mustard, mixed greens on house made baguette) was better in February. The mustard was barely detectable today, which made for a sandwich that was greasy on the plate (from the bacon) but dry otherwise. But the pasta was
again exquisite: orecchiette pasta, wilted greens, cheddar cheese, and
in July, thickened now just with cauliflower.
Service on both visits was exemplary and the interior continues to exude a cool atmosphere. The large space is divided into two main sections - the bar featured on one side, and the open kitchen on the other. The ladies room is an old vault and storage room and rates up there with the coolest restaurant ladies’ rooms.
The John Deere tractor is gone and the lovely summer deck is very inviting.
Unusual for a restaurant anywhere, we saw staff eating at the bar during our July lunch - not a positive note. We’ll be watching to see how the restaurant evolves but all-in-all, this one is worth your time.
Website and facebook presence are still found under Trillium, fyi.