Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Delicious Dozen

Are you a list hoarder?

If you are like me, New Year’s Day marks the day I jot down a million things I want to accomplish over the next 365 days. Creating to-do lists make me feel like I’m organized and in control even though I have more lists - between my phone, computers, Moleskine notebooks and loose scraps of paper in my office and home - than my actual number of “things to do.” But, what the heck? Lists are fun, and in some auspicious way, a therapeutic remedy to the hectic lives we live. So here I am adding another list, but this one will be worth hanging on to and accomplishing this year.

West Michigan eateries have raised the bar this past year by employing impressive talent and by producing the most memorable dishes I’ve had in the area. So here I am adding another list, but this one will be worth hanging on to and
accomplishing this year. They range from cozy dives to the sexy locales. These are the 12 restaurants I plan to visit more than once in the next 364 days, and I hope you do too.

Hot Restaurants

Grove Restaurant
919 Cherry St., Grand Rapids

Grove is so hot right now that I am adding fuel to the fire by making it even hotter by endorsing it as my go-to restaurant in West Michigan and a “must experience” in your 2012 list. Let’s just say that almost every dish that I’ve tried so far has been stunning – House-Made Charcuterie, Kimchee Stew with a slow poached 63-degree egg, Greek Yogurt Cheesecake and the lists goes on.

Kimchee Stew

Amore Trattoria Italiana
5080 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park

Chef Jenna hounded me on Facebook and on my blog until I finally gave in to her invitations to check out her authentic Italian restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Be prepared to stuff yourself with her delicious cooking and charismatic personality. This place is the real deal and the best Italian food in West Michigan. And if you are longing for a good cup of espresso, her husband Maurizio, makes a darn good one.

Steamed Mussels

Ruth’s Chris
187 Monroe NW, Grand Rapids

The opening of Ruth’s Chris shattered all expectations as this steak house continues its surge into the Grand Rapids dining market. How can you question numbers like 250 to 300 covers a night? Don’t even mess around and order the filet. There is a reason that the filet is the only cut of meat the restaurant features in its global advertising. The Sweet Potato side dish is good enough to order as dessert. And please, don’t touch the sizzling 500-degree plate.

The sexy dining room

Farm-To-Table Classics
235 Louis St. NW, Grand Rapids

This is my home turf and I can tell you that Executive Chef Justin and Sous Chef Jacob take their mission as farm-to table chefs as seriously as the surgeons in the ER. These guys and their team salivate when they are butchering a whole pig in the back. The Tempura Tuna Roll, Cheesy Pesto Flatbread, Whitefish and the NY Strip continue to be the rock stars but there are many gems with each season’s new menu offerings.

Otto's Chicken Breast

Food Dance
401 E. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo

John Gonzalez asked me once for the location of the best burger in the region. Well John, here it is and it’s worth the 50-minute drive to K-Zoo. But Food Dance is a lot more than burgers. It is a full-blown farm-to-table restaurant serving sumptuous meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dining room at Food Dance in Kalamazoo

Salt of the Earth
114 E. Main St., Fennville

I have been a fan of SOTE ever since we had the most delicious Mother’s Day Brunch here two years ago. Food can’t be more rustic than SOTE’s Half Chicken with Cheddar Polenta or the Whole Hog Pizza. The setting is charming with wood floors and a barnyard door dividing the two dining rooms.

A whole fish treat at SOTA

The Dives

El Granjero Mexican Grill
950 Bridge St., Grand Rapids

You know this is a special place when my most influential Mexicans friends gather here for their power lunches. The El Granjero Burrito is as huge as a boxing glove. And the Salsa Verde packs a punch like Juan Manuel Marquez (Thank you sir, I want another). This is hands-down my favorite Mexican joint in town.

Asian Palace
825 28th St. SW, Wyoming

If you haven’t had a bowl of Vietnamese Pho, then you haven’t lived at all. And this is the place to have it. Brace yourself because this restaurant epitomizes a dive joint: plastic floral tablecloths, stacking banquet chairs and a TV in the corner showing re-runs of Soul Train and CD collection infomercials. But the Rare Beef Pho is extra special and worthy of a visit even if you’re the only person in the room who is not Asian. Welcome to my world.

Rare Beef Pho

The Hangout

Reserve Wine Bar
201 Monroe NW, Grand Rapids

The staff and I are on a first name basis at Reserve. They know the wines that I love, more importantly; they also know what my wife likes. Grand Rapids is lucky to have a culinarian like chef Matt because he knows what he is doing. The buzz here is the 104 wines on tap and the charcuterie and cheese offerings, but don’t forget that the rest of the menu is just a good.

104 wines on tap and ArtPrize winner at Reseve

550 Lakeside Dr., East Grand Rapids

If I could own one Gilmore Collection restaurant, Rose’s will be the one. I have never had a meal I didn’t like at this East Grand Rapids institution. You can’t beat the outdoor patio in the summer with Reeds Lake as the backdrop. Don’t sweat the wait times because it’s all worth it in the end.  

Fricano’s Pizza Tavern
1400 Fulton St., Grand Haven
5808 Alpine NW, Comstock Park

I have a goal of trying out every pizza place in town this year, but to date, I haven’t found a better pizza than Fricano’s. This no frills pizza joint is a West Michigan treat with several locations in the region. The original tavern in Grand Haven gives you another reason to visit this beach community in the summer. The EBA (everything but anchovies) is a keeper.

The Sleeper

Mia and Grace
1133 3rd St., Muskegon

The West Michigan foodie world has been buzzing about this Muskegon restaurant for months now. I finally had the opportunity to experience the food when my 12-year old daughter and I decided to enjoy a late lunch one Saturday afternoon. The Farm Egg BLT with house-cured bacon is deadly delicious. The entire seasonal menu reads like a market stand. Mia and Grace gives you one good reason to drive to Muskegon.

Farm Egg BLT

And 3 more worth mentioning

Viceroy, Grand Rapids – I have been a fan ever since Viceroy converted their menu and cocktail lists more like a true speakeasy versus a vegetarian restaurant posing as a prohibition watering hole.
Hercules Bar & Grill, Saugatuck – The outdoor patio is a hidden gem in the summer.
Tomukun Noodle Bar, Ann Arbor – How I wish Grand Rapids had a place like this. This Asian noodle bar will do well anywhere in America. 

* As published in the Grand Rapids Press, January 1, 2012

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