Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tailgater’s Sports Bar, 3075 28th St SW - 1/28/10

Update: The restaurant has closed as of  7/23/11

We went looking for the E3 Bistro, listed on a restaurant website at the above address - oops! Out of business and replaced by Tailgater’s. It was obviously no longer a bistro but we stopped in. It’s a large sports bar and was quite empty (when we left at 1:30, there was no one else in the place except two people playing shuffleboard). A blond-wood half-moon shaped bar holds center court, booths line two walls, with a small stage and dance floor taking up the corner. Pool tables and shuffleboard take up the other end of the bar and a multiple of small tables fill in the rest of the space. The walls are dark purple or dark red, and the decor overall is gaudy. As befitting a sports bar, TVs are everywhere but there are no large projection TVs found in better sports bars. Mixed in around the TVs are tailgates, gators, beer signs (my favorite are the mirrored beer signs with an animal painted on them) and a lot of team sports flags. The whole effect is garish.

There were a few people at the bar and five other occupied booths, all being served by one server/bartender. (Later another woman appeared and asked us if we were waiting for our check; we were waiting for our food :) But she was friendly, as was our server. The menu is not surprising on the whole, large enough to please everyone, and consisting of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, subs, pizza, wraps, salads, and five dinner selections. Looking for something out of the ordinary, we chose Irish egg rolls for our appetizer (corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese wrapped in a wonton and deep-fried). Irish? (Look up Irish egg roll and it’s pretty much not this.) In spite of the misnomer, they were very tasty and not overly deep-fried. They arrived with 1000 Island Dressing for dipping - Reuben anyone? There has to be a better alternative than hauling out the 1000 Island, maybe a mustard sauce of some kind? As in Ottawa Tavern, the appetizer was served without small plates and utensils. So perhaps that’s a sports-bar thing.

One lunch item ordered was a special of the day, Swiss Steak sandwich, and the other lunch selected was the “Patte’s” Melt (beef burger, sauteed onions, American and Swiss cheeses on Van’s English Muffin loaf bread *) with huge onion rings, all of which was nicely done. Condiments are not kept on the table so the Melt came with three small cups: ketchup, bistro sauce (horseradish sauce of some kind), and yes, 1000 Island dressing. The Steak sandwich was a surprise - it came on Texas toast with mashed potatoes, heavily covered with beef gravy. It was something you would expect at a mom-and-pop diner, and although the beef gravy was a bit salty, the beef was tender and everything was quite good (and it didn’t come with 1000 Island dressing). The platters were large and each of us took half of our food home.

A little research on the start of this restaurant, which opened last spring, indicated that the new owners promised their business would be more of a restaurant than a bar, and they were, therefore, allowed a liquor license. Their menu is perhaps more extensive than other sports bars but this is still a bar, albeit with decent food. Dinners feature a Wet Burrito, Taco Platter, Grilled Chicken, a House Sizzler, and Grilled Salmon. Everything is under $10.00, except the Pizzas, and we walked away with a $30.00 tab including tip.

*van’s pastry shoppe, 955 E Fulton St
Tailgaters Sports Pub on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ottawa Tavern, 151 Ottawa - 1/21/10

7/1/12 Update:  Ottawa Tavern has closed per
"Long-terms plans for our company have been to exit from properties we don't own. We have sold Bite, Trillium, closed Thornapple and with an impending lease renewal at the Waters Building, I fast forwarded the decision to continue on the long-term plan." (Greg Gilmore)

Great location on the corner of Pearl and Ottawa, this casual sports bar is also a popular lunch spot and was fairly crowded. TVs, large and small, are everywhere. High tables edge the room, the bar is in the middle, and a dining area is located at the far end of the restaurant. We took a high table by a window and were promptly served by a friendly waitress. The appetizers included some interesting choices and we chose the Chicken Apple Spring Rolls (chicken, red onions, cilantro, apples and thai sesame aioli). Unfortunately, the rolls were incredibly overcooked. The flavors were all there but the rolls were so dry they would have been inedible without the sauce, which was delicious. They were also served without small plates so we were eating over the table; a little awkward.

Our lunch choices were the Prime Rib Sandwich and the O.T. Burger. The Burger was ordered medium rare and no option was offered for the Prime Rib (and to be fair, we didn’t ask). The Prime Rib came well done but was a great sandwich (peppers, onions, provolone and horseradish aioli). The accompanying fries, while attractive with sprinkled parsley, were so heavily salted they were rendered inedible. The O.T. Burger was medium rare on one side and moved to medium well on the other but on the whole was a good burger (Michigan white cheddar, smoked bacon, herb roasted tomato, Bibb lettuce, and garlic aioli on a kaiser bun).

Their claim to fame is the “Build Your Own Burger” with tons of toppings and sauce choices available. But this is probably a better bar than food venue. Next time we’ll walk through to try the connected “Bite”. (Both are part of the Gilmore Collection.) It is a friendly, comfortable atmosphere but better suited for Happy Hour than dining. With the tip, our bill came to $30.00.

 Ottawa Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Parsley Mediterranean Grille, 80 Ottawa Ave NW - 1/14/10

Located on the corner of Monroe Center and Ottawa, this restaurant is a fairly new addition to Grand Rapids. It’s fairly close to Sami’s Pita House and only time will tell if or how that will impact either establishment.

The basic set-up is similar to Sami’s: walk up to the counter to place your order, take a seat, and wait for your order number to be called. But the general feel of the place is so much warmer and welcoming than Sami’s (but pretty much every restaurant is). The colors are subdued and attractive, decor is minimal but tasteful, 4 TVs are placed high throughout the room, and about 16 tables for two or four complete the space. There’s a large board menu on the wall when you first walk in and staff waiting to take your order. We felt a little rushed because people were behind us in line while we tried to rapidly peruse the menu. With our choices quickly made, we stepped up to order and had some trouble hearing the clerk as she explained our options. Noise volume is a little high and our clerk spoke a little softly. The first two items we tried to order wouldn’t be ready for ten minutes, which we thought was unusual for a “fast” food restaurant (albeit one of good quality). So we selected something else, found our seats, obtained our beverages from the fountain, and waited for our lunch. As we waited, we laughed about not being willing to wait ten minutes. If we were in a non-fast food restaurant, our server would never have warned us about a ten minute wait, nor would we have changed our order because of it.

So about ten minutes later (yes, we enjoyed the irony), our food arrived in vast quantities. We started with Chicken Parsley Eggrolls for our appetizer that came with a house sauce. They were exceptionally good but we had to eat fast because our main dishes were sitting on the table as well. Beef Shawarma was excellent, both as an open sandwich and as a Pita Wrap. Greek Salad and Fattoush were both nicely done. A side of Baba Ghannouj was a little bitter but the pita bread was fresh and of excellent quality.

Interestingly, the food is served in hard plastic take-home containers. We thought that was strange but when we had finished eating and still had half of our food left, suddenly it was now quite convenient (it has to be somewhat environmentally unsound, however, unless they are recycling those that get trashed, probably not). One other negative is the small, thin napkins available, and you know the napkins I mean. They’re not big enough to spread on your lap and are good for about two bites of messy food.

The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful; there were five working as order-takers or cooks, and the owner and another were changing the light bulbs in the track lighting, for which they apologized several times. It’s a comfortable setting with good, freshly-prepared food. If you are yearning for a gyro, stick to Sami’s. Gyros are not on this menu and no one could beat Sami’s anyway. But if you want to try good Mediterranean food in a nicer setting, visit Parsley Mediterranean Grille. Lunch prices are mostly under $10.00; dinners under $15.00.

Parsley Mediterranean Grille on Urbanspoon

Tavern On The Square, 100 Ionia Ave SW - 1/12/10

This is the old Black Rose Irish Pub morphed into a really nice restaurant. The main entrance was pulled back from the street to provide an outdoor patio with a fireplace, and seating in the summer. Upon entering, an attractive bar with some seating is on the left and an intimate seating area around a fireplace is on the right. The rest of the room is divided by a half wall; on the right - 2 long booths and about 15 tables, and on the left a room about half the size with a raised stage holding 6 tables. On weekends the stage is taken over by a DJ. The entire space is very tasteful with muted colors of black and brown, and mirrors help to belie the actual size of the restaurant. Decor is sort of Pre- and Post-Revolutionary War Patriotic and pictures were on the floor waiting to be hung. Exposed brick and wooden floor complete the picture. Cloth tablecloths are covered with brown wrapping paper, which is disconcerting only if the paper hangover is too long.

The lunch menu offers sandwiches and the Tavern Burger, Salads and Soups, and a daily feature, the “Red, White and Blue Plate”. There are no appetizers but you may select one of the four “hot sides” or one of the five “cold sides”. Our server recommended the Pedestrian Turkey Sandwich so we ordered that as well as the Pesto Chicken Club Sandwich. They came with sweet potato chips (they’re really too sweet to be a nice accompaniment to a sandwich). Beef and Barley soup was very good (it’s on the menu and doubled today as the “soup of the day”). Sandwiches were both great.

The menu changes completely for dinner and consists of Small Plates, Green Plates and Soup, and Plates by Design. They’ve created some really interesting sounding dishes that you can look up on their website, or stop by to pick up one of their small paper menus. Several times throughout our meal, we felt we were being rushed by our server (because we were), but she tried to make up for it when she brought our bill and told us to take our time, and was otherwise pleasant and polite. This is a lovely atmosphere with good food, and a great addition to Grand Rapids dining.

Sandwiches and Full Salads are almost all under $10.00; dinner Small Plates and Green Plates with Soup are under $10.00 as well; Plates by Design run $14.95.

Tavern on the Square on Urbanspoon

Charley's Crab, 63 Market St SW - 1/10/10

It’s been at least 15 years since we’ve been to Charley's Crab. The name occasionally pops up and on a whim we decided to try the Sunday brunch. The fear with going to what is/was a landmark restaurant is that it lives on based on name and longevity, or its view, and that substance and quality will be in short supply. So we were pleasantly surprised. We were seated away from the other clusters of patrons (and yes, we hate being seated on top of other people when there is space available). Service was polite and informative. Our table was outside the bar area and by a window providing a wintery view of the river. The “main” dining room was a little darker and more congested but our seating was light, open and airy; a charming setting in which to dine.

The brunch was expansively laid out and contained some non-seafood items to keep everyone happy. Having lived on Long Island and with frequent visits to Louisiana, we are particular about seafood and are hesitant ordering it in the Midwest (that strong fishy taste indicates fish is not fresh, Midwesterners). But Charlie’s Crab does it right. Fresh shrimp, crab legs, and steamed mussels were great. Sushi was good quality (only one bad bite) and cold salmon with dill was on the edge with fishiness flavor. All the other usual suspects were present: cut fruit, breadstuffs, eggs & bacon, lettuce salad fixings, desert table, and much more. The Eggs Benedict were better than some we’ve had freshly prepared. Shrimp Primavera was also notable. The Insalata Caprese was a failure with soggy tomatoes, too little basil, and not-fresh Mozzarella, but that was the exception. Also available are an omelette bar and prime rib table.

Brunch is $21.95/person, and Mimosas and Bloody Marys are available for $3.50. The service was exceptional in a lovely setting. As a side note, there are now 12 Muer Seafood Restaurants around the country (7 in Michigan). So maybe it’s not strictly a local restaurant anymore but at least it’s “locally grown”.

Charley's Crab on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cottage Bar & Restaurant, 18 LaGrave Ave SE

It’s the oldest operating bar and restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids. We’ve both been there countless times, with each other and with other groups, because it’s a Grand Rapids staple. We occasionally run into people that haven’t been there and are always amazed. The Cottage Bar is humble and charming in its own way: an old, worn wooden bar and booths (the booth backs irritatingly move back and forth), tables and booths crammed together in the back room around a fireplace, an “overflow” room in the front that has no ambiance whatsoever (seating of last resort), and in the summer, a small, narrow, outdoor alley, optimistically called an “outside café”. But it’s always our default location (like your favorite pair of old shoes, always comfortable with no surprises).
The Cottage burger (voted best burger in Michigan by USA Today)
and the Black Bean burger
The restaurant is noted for its burgers and chili, and is a favorite spot for after-Civic-Theater goers (the performers all show up). Service is generally good and very friendly, and we’ve had almost everything on the menu. Stick to the burgers or chili, order the cottage fries, and you can’t go wrong (one shout-out for the Parmesan Peppercorn Chicken Salad). The current owner also owns One Trick Pony, separated only by the “outside café”. Be sure to visit this “oldest, established, permanent” restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Apparently not even music theater people catch the reference, so see "Guys and Dolls.")
 Cottage Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 8, 2010

Angel’s Thai Café, 136 Monroe Center NW - 1/7/10

This new addition to the Monroe Center restaurant scene is in a good location across from Rosa Park’s Circle and is well worth a visit. Smaller and much more casual than the nearby XO, the restaurant was not busy today at lunchtime so we finally got a chance to try it (our previous attempt was met by a packed room with people waiting in line). There are roughly 6 tables and 5 booths so it does fill up quickly. Decor is minimal but that’s preferable to cheesy oriental-themed decor frequently found in Asian restaurants. The menu, unfortunately, in our opinion, is massive (50 entrees). They are divided into categories: Main, Curry, Noodles, Fried Rice, and Dinner-only entrees. Each entree may be ordered with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or vegetables.

Two women and one man were tag-teaming the service; the women were brusk (and efficient) but the man was friendly and outgoing, happy to answer any of our questions. Without him, we would have felt that we were being rushed through our meal. He recommended two entrees that were his favorites and we went with them. Six spice levels range from none to hot, and we were leaning toward the “medium-plus” (level 4) until our server informed us that some people complain that “medium” is too spicy and overwhelming. So we backed it down and went “medium” (good call).

Hot and sour soup was brought out (unsolicited) before the appetizers and had just the right amount of tang and great flavor. We each have a favorite Asian appetizer so we had to pick Chicken Satay (4) and Crab Rangoon (5); both were great. The pastry of the Crab Rangoon was really nicely done and better than most. The Chicken Satay needs to come with a warning - this is not your thin, sometimes tough but tasty, piece of chicken on a stick - this is almost a whole chicken breast. Its description reads: marinated curry-flavored chicken breast charbroiled on skewers. So we missed the clue. Regardless, it was tender & moist and stayed hot due to its huge size, and had a good accompanying peanut sauce.

The first entree was Pad Thai Curry (stir-fried rice noodles, bean sprouts, green onions, eggs, curry sauce, crushed peanuts, and chicken). It was pretty spicy but very tasty. The second dish was the House Noodle dish, which consisted of Lomein noodles, stir-fried with chicken, beef, shrimp, carrots, peapods, bean sprouts, broccoli, and water chestnuts in the house sauce. It was another winner.

Prices range from $6.95 - $8.95 for lunches, and $9.50 - $11.50 for dinners. Appetizers are $1.25 - $4.95, Soups $2.95 - $3.75, and Salads $5.50 - $6.50 (we never look at desserts, sorry). Each dish was nicely presented, and we’ll definitely return to work on a few more of the remaining 48 entrees. The atmosphere is nothing special but it’s nice enough. Just don’t let them rush you through your meal (and avoid high noon).
Angel's Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Olive's Restaurant and Bar, 2162 Wealthy, East Grand Rapids - 1/5/10

Recommended by a friend, Olive’s in East Grand Rapids was today’s choice. The setting is very pleasant and welcoming, and the lunch crowd was light. Located on a corner, there are large windows on two sides, seating upstairs, and an upper outdoor deck for our one month of summer (they call it “three-season” so it must be somewhat protected). There were about 14 or so tables for 4, and a small bar. One server and two chefs made up the employees and our server was great, friendly and informative. Our table was beneath a small opening to the kitchen that our server used to ask the chef a couple of questions for us; very friendly service.

At first glance, the menu looked ordinary (except for the appetizers) but when you read the listed ingredients it became apparent that this was not an ordinary menu. It varied somewhat from the online menu, which is a good indicator that they’re serving fresh ingredients that are available to them at that time.

Appetizers (“Small Plates”) consisted of five selections, all unique and interesting. We selected Lettuce Wraps: Boston Lettuce, stir-fried chicken, green onion, shitake, water chestnuts, wontons, and Asian dipping sauce. Very nicely presented, the dish included 5 red dots of what we assumed was hot sauce, and a small taste confirmed that. We asked our server what it was specifically, and he called the chef to the window to ask him. It’s called “Sriracha” and it is really, really hot. The chef said it “has a really nice kick to it”. Yes, indeed. This dish was amazingly good.

We then ordered a Cuban Panini (our server’s favorite item) and another appetizer, Mushroom Crostini. The panini included mojo marinated pork, caramelized ham, provolone, and aioli, on sourdough bread. The aioli was described as whole grain, which we didn’t understand but perhaps it was meant to apply to the bread. The sandwich came with a house-made pickle and lightly seasoned fries. Very good. The Mushroom Crostini sounded too interesting to pass up: sauteed wild mushrooms, toasted baguette, herb goat cheese, scallion oil, and demi sauce. And it tasted as good as it sounded. Our server once again had steered us right: it was large enough to be a main course and it was delicious. And like the other two selections, it was a great combination of flavors, beautifully presented.

The menu is not extensive but each item sounds intriguing. Olive’s is not trying be all things to all people but concentrates on making fewer items very well. Prices range as follows: Small Plates 9-14, Salads 5-13, Soups 5-7, Sandwiches 7-12, and Burgers 9-11. Olive’s has a full bar and they probably get a larger dinner crowd than lunch, but this was a great lunch.

Olives Restaurant on Urbanspoon