Sunday, December 30, 2018

Danzon Cubano, 1 Carlton Ave SE, Grand Rapids ~ 11/20/18

Named after an Aaron Copland composition, the restaurant opened last October on the ground floor of the Fulton Square building (corner of Carlton and Fulton).
The owner is not Cuban but according to their website, he was inspired by Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro's Cuba. The site mentions one particular person, and that his father was friends with Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, but the connection between them is not made clear, and Hemingway is just irrelevant.
Nonetheless, enter off of Carlton (street parking or park across the street at Family Fare) and you walk into a long rectangular space, tables laid out from the entrance to the far windows, with a bar on your left just after you enter. The entrance wall is covered by a map of Cuba and posters of well-known Cubans.
The bar is a lovely piece of work. Some (maybe all?) of the wood looks repurposed, and in a space that is otherwise not warm or cozy, the bar is a stand-out.
We took a table at the far end of the restaurant and were promptly served by a friendly and informative server, Courtney.
We first asked what was behind this mystery door in the middle of the wall :-) It turns out it's a very small office.
After perusing the menu, we began our dining adventure with Tostones Rellenos (twice-fried plantains) stuffed with spicy shrimp. The plantain cups were spicy but the shrimp not so much. The house-made citrus & garlic sauce that was served with the plantains, however, called Mojo, was a delicious accompaniment! All in all, it was a very fine dish.
The Cuban sandwich has been tried in pretty much every restaurant we have ever been in, so today it was a must-have and it did not disappoint. In fact, we are claiming that this is the best Cubano you will find in Grand Rapids (mojo-braised pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, house-made pickles on Cuban-style bread), all the flavors blended and mashed together to form the perfect Cubano.
There are many vegetarian options if you're dining out with non-meat eaters and the Tamal en Cazuela sounded too interesting to resist (Cuban-style polenta with bell peppers, onion, garlic and seasoned ground tempeh, served in a tomato white-wine sauce). It was impressive, full of flavor and texture contrasts.
We noticed that the tables near us were black and the rest of the room was filled with brown tables. The reason for that is the black tables are removed on the weekends for a dance floor. Color-coded tables :-)
With all of the windows it would be difficult to over-decorate but what they have done is tasteful and clever. Some tall greenery hides a service station.
We sat overlooking their patio, which we hope to enjoy this summer. We also appreciated the paper straws.
We are looking forward to returning here soon. Danzon Cubano is a great addition to Grand Rapids!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Jonny B'z, 701 Wealthy St SE ~ 8/24/18

Opened in 2010 at 638 Wealthy, Jonny B'z moved across the street in 2016 into a remodeled gas station. It is such a great use of an old building.
They remodeled the garage doors, which open on nice days for the main dining area.
A full bar and a hallway connect the dining area to the arcade section, unisex restrooms, and the entrance to the patio.
We've been here twice, the first time in June when there was a dishwasher failure and everything was served in/on paper goods. It didn't take way from the food, however :-)
These jalapenos were stuffed with brisket, swiss cheese, and peanut butter, and then wrapped in bacon. Served with tomato-bourbon jam, this combination of flavors was incredible although the description might sound strange. Creative goodness.
Smoked pastrami with mustard on Nantucket Bakery rye bread was delicious as was the 'Pick 3' selection under the Smoked Meats section of the menu (wings, brisket, and kielbasa). Everything is smoked in-house.
On today's visit, we began with whitefish dip, which was nicely presented, great tasting, and soon to be off the menu for the season.
Sometimes we order inadvertently very consistently, and so another pastrami sandwich was served, this time with a side salad.
The Sloppy Jonny is also being discontinued and this messy smoked rib meat in sweet, heat sloppy sauce was a winner, except for the extra napkins needed.
For a smoked-meat place, there are plenty of vegetarian options on the menu. The atmosphere is diner-like and comfortable. Service was superb on both of our visits (Mark was our server each time). They don't use styrofoam for leftovers which is always good to see. And for you hot dog loving fans, dogs are still prominently featured on the menu.
There is a small parking lot in front of the restaurant, which is convenient for customers looking to park but not so great for patrons looking out at car grills. The patio is a nice seating option, assuming it's under 90 degrees. If you're a smoked meat fan, or just want to experience a fun, neighborhood spot, be sure to stop in Jonny B'z.
Maybe someone soon will re-purpose the old Wild Bunch building across the street and Jonny B'z will have a better neighbor :-)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Forty Acres Soul Kitchen, 1059 Wealthy St, SE ~ July 3, 2018

This new restaurant opened mid-May and is truly a wonderful addition to the Grand Rapids food scene. Both the clever name and the established date of 1863 are hugely significant moments in American history.
The interior is modern, clean, and sleek, with large windows all around and minimalist decor.
There's a full bar and outdoor seating that wraps around the building.
Everything about this interior is cool, from the lighting to all of the outlets and charging stations. Kudos to the designers.
There were so many things we wanted to try but we settled on Fried Green Tomatoes (served with tabasco-pickled okra & cajun remoulade) and Soul Rolls (black-eyed peas, collard greens, dirty rice, & chicken) for starters. Excellent choices on both accounts! The Soul Rolls in particular, we could eat everyday.
From the 'Build Your Own Platter' section (choose protein, two sides + bread), the fried chicken was irresistible and arrived with the selected grilled corn and macaroni & cheese.
For an additional cost, other sides can be added and the cole slaw was an addition. Less creamy than we are used to, the slaw was tangy and tasty. Macaroni & cheese and corn were fantastic but the cornbread was a bit dry. The chicken was as delicious as you will find anywhere, crispy on the outside and moist inside.

The fried catfish platter was served on garden spaghetti and accompanied by fried okra. It was all well-prepared and for the most part delicious. The vegetables in the spaghetti were fresh but the tomato sauce was completely bland. It definitely needed some seasoning.

Just for the fun of it, we ordered fried bologna sandwiches to go. And they were just as described: fried bologna on Wonder bread :-) but in desperate need of condiments.
There are lots of vegan options and there are also catering and take-out menus available. As one last service to customers, each bill has suggested tip amounts listed: 18%, 20%, or 22% with the amounts broken down for you. Well done, 40 Acres!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

ROAM by San Chez, 250 Monroe Ave NW ~ 5/3/18

We noticed this sign on 2/18/18 when leaving DeVos Performance Hall.
About a month later it was open and we made our way there today for lunch. As soon as we walked in, we knew we were somewhere special. The map-top tables, the huge windows, interesting glass lights (they look old), and cool artwork all added up for a pleasant and unique atmosphere.
It's not a big place but it is charming. There are 6 tables for 4, and 6 more for parties of 2. The bar seats around 10 and a counter along the South window seats about 7 more. There are 2 long high-tops near the bar that look to seat 8 each.
The bar and high-tops appeared to be made from recycled wood to very cool effect. 
The menu is small but so intriguing, emphasizing what they call global street food, 'they' being the owners of San Chez, who have been specializing in tapas since 1992.
Our server politely asked if we needed help navigating the menu but we did not. Our first choices were the Kati Roll and Gua Bao (descriptions, along with source country, are included on the menu).
You also choose your sauces, with server recommendations. We had Ragili Ginger with the Kati Roll and soy sauce with the Gua Bao. We loved them both although the Kati Roll is really greasy. Maybe that's part of what made it so good :-)

Our next two items were the incredibly huge Nolburger (with pork belly, peanut butter, & more) and Currywurst, served with a spiced, smoky tomato sauce.
And if we didn't think this place was cool enough, a trip to the restroom confirmed our impression.
The restroom interior was awesome as well.
Being Dutch, we couldn't resist ordering the Oliebollen to go. By the time I remembered to take a photo there was just one left. And it was so much better than the ones I remember from my childhood. Those were dry, deep-fried dough with a raisin or two to be found. These were chuck full of cherries and apples. So either my relatives had it all wrong or Michigan/ROAM has improved the oliebollen!
ROAM has a full bar with a creative cocktail list, as well as many appealing non-alcoholic beverages.
We sat at the window and saw the chairs that are soon to be out on Monroe for some outdoor dining.
Being right across from DeVos Performance Center should be great for business. ROAM is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you like eating the same familiar things constantly and do not seek out new food experiences, this is not your place. For all the rest of you, set your sights on ROAM.