Thursday, September 6, 2012

SpeakEZ Lounge, 600 Monroe NW - 8/18/12

The restaurant opened last February in the old Cambridge House space, and we finally stopped in for a late lunch. The knight’s armor is gone as is the wall that divided the bar from the restaurant. The dark booths are still there along with the dark wood bar, low lighting, and cool atmosphere. 
We took a booth and were promptly greeted by the server/manager on duty, who mentioned the appetizer special, which we took him up on, 3 jerk pork sliders for $1.00. It was an excellent start with very tender, well-spiced pork, topped with sharp cheddar, baby spinach and pineapple aioli, on fresh mini brioche buns.
The menu is one large page, with plenty of choices that include vegetarian and vegan items. Several selections offer a small and large portion option, and we began with Plum Crazy! Stir-Fry (small portion). It was a lovely combination of chicken, water chestnuts, carrots, baby corn, shallots, and julienne squash, tossed in a sweet and spicy plum sauce. Served over pineapple basmati rice, the dish was a bit sweet but still satisfying with fresh and crisp vegetables. 
Pesto Pasta Primavera was our second entree choice (small portion) and it was beautifully prepared but with a slightly messy presentation. The dish contained sautéed asparagus, mushroom ménage, split grape tomatoes and shallots. Everything was tossed in a pesto voloute and served over wheat rotini. It all combined wonderfully - the pesto flavor did not overpower, the vegetables were not over-cooked, and we noticed the messy bowl only when looking at the photos later. And we loved the bowls that both dishes were served in; forget those shallow, filled-to-the-brim bowls that you cannot eat from without spilling. SpeakEZ has this solved.
About a week later, we visited on a Sunday when looking for a restaurant open downtown before 4pm. It was a very light crowd and we had the fortune to have our same server/manager. We tried to order the Catalonian Romesco but were told it was unavailable; the Sautéed Calamari was recommended in its stead. Served with shallots, thai sweet chili sauce, and fennel, it was a fine substitution. 
Right upon the calamari delivery, we were brought Escargot Normandy, complete with burning rosemary, complementary, to make up for the absence of the Catalonian Romesco. It was a nice touch that was followed up by a visit from chef, Ken, who chatted with us about the restaurant and other Grand Rapids restaurants. 
SpeakEZ took second place in the recent Grandwich contest (lost to Skywalk Deli by 8 votes so feel bad if you didn’t vote for them :) and still features the Jerk Pork Cuban as a special. It is one fine sandwich and here is their description:

“Locally sourced pork shoulder pulled and mixed with SpeakEZ's Signature Carribean jerk sauce, then topped with Fulton Street Farmers Market pickled zucchini, summer squash, and red onions. All topped with Mozzarella Cheese, and covered with chipolte mayo and pineapple aioli. Served on butter grilled ciabatta.” It is a very fine sandwich, being a lovely combination of flavors, slightly spicy, and is highly recommended.
Then the insane Irish Pirate sandwich arrived. From their menu: “by popular demand: roast beef, ham, turkey, bacon, cheeses: munster, swiss, parmesan, mozzarella; lettuce, tomato, pretzels, potato chips, roasted garlic aioli, mustard aioli and mayo. All served on sourdough bread; no side. Really?! really.”
This has to be the biggest sandwich you’ve ever seen, or tried to consume. There are several methods that have been tried to accomplish the task of eating this sandwich and our server commended us on the taking-it-apart-to-eat-it approach. It’s an interesting combination but we would prefer the pretzels and potato chips on the side :) 
We don’t usually name servers/managers/chefs, for good or for bad, but Calin deserves a mention (as does the above-named, Ken) because he is knowledgeble and the perfect combination of good service - genuine attention without being obsequious, informative, and absent any of the fake cheeriness experienced with national chain employees (you know of what I speak).

SpeakEZ is a friendly, comfortable restaurant, with good food, great service, a fantastic Grandwich selection, and is so worthy of your patronage.

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