Walk through the back entrance of Holland restaurant Seventy-Six, and you’ll see a framed photograph hanging on the wall. The grainy image shows owner Lucas Grill as a third grader, beaming with pride over a brand new Easy-Bake Oven.
“That’s what I asked for that year for Christmas,” said Grill, smiling. “It was probably the first clue that food would be my future.”
Food has indeed shaped Grill’s life. The restaurateur opened Seventy-Six in 2017, propelled by the success of his first establishment, Public, in downtown Zeeland. Promising a creative twist on American favorites and a menu centered on locally sourced ingredients, Seventy-Six relies on local farms for its fresh flavors.
But oftentimes, menu decisions are made following a visit to the Holland Farmers Market, located just one block away from the restaurant’s doors. Market stalls piled with locally grown berries and the season’s first asparagus or sweet corn may shift the kitchen’s direction that evening. And to emphasize its reliance on fresh foods, Seventy-Six has no freezer on the premises.
“The quality of the produce in this part of Michigan is just fantastic,” Grill said. “I really want to take advantage of that.” At the same time, Grill isn’t afraid to throw in ingredients from other corners of the globe when he feels a dish needs a little originality.
Starter favorites at Seventy-Six (seventysixholland.com) include a creamy goat cheese and wild mushroom queso served with toasted cheddar ciabatta, and the much-loved Devils on Horseback, a tray of savory-sweet dates stuffed with Spanish almonds and wrapped in bacon before being slathered with BBQ sauce and baked.
Lunchtime specialties include a butternut squash bisque with a touch of cinnamon and a splash of calvados, and an impossibly creamy, herb-sprinkled tomato soup. The 36-hour braised short ribs are a crowd-pleaser at dinner, served with smoked Gouda mashed potatoes. And the restaurant’s Great Lakes whitefish is amped up with a jumbo lump crab crust.
Seventy-Six’s arrival injected new energy in the underutilized Holland Sentinel building where the restaurant is located. After consolidating operations, the newspaper’s headquarters had unused space, and Grill jumped at the chance to fill it. Outside, the brick building still bears the words “The Holland Evening Sentinel” three stories above the small outdoor patio where Seventy-Six serves diners in warm weather.
Inside, design elements heighten Seventy-Six’s sense of repurpose with exposed brick and walls covered in a herringbone design of faux salvaged wood (it’s actually ceramic tile). Dining room tables were custom made by Holland’s Cento Anni, a woodworking shop that specializes in crafting furniture from reclaimed lumber. A shoulder-high wall provides a little separation between the dining room and its small but well-stocked bar.
Two years after its opening, Seventy-Six seems to have been the harbinger of a larger renaissance for its West Eighth Street neighborhood, once reliably quiet after dark. A major revitalization project completed in late 2019 saw the opening of a new 11-screen movie theater, boutique shopping, residential lofts and half a dozen new restaurants and bars, all just a few steps away from Seventy-Six. Two of those restaurants also are owned by Grill: Poquito, serving Spanish tapas, and Obstacle No. 1, a cocktail bar.
Grill’s trajectory from his Easy-Bake Oven included graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business. Grill spent time working in kitchens at Jean-Georges and Aquavit in New York, and at Tru in Chicago, all of them Michelin-starred. He also worked at the storied 1913 Room in Grand Rapids’ Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. When the 1913 Room closed its doors in 2011, Grill was ready to branch out on his own.
“I fell in love with West Michigan while I was working at the 1913 Room,” Grill said. “The landscapes, the people, the produce.” It didn’t hurt Grill believed Holland and Zeeland underserved in terms of fine dining, and that he had grown up in central Michigan.
Now the chef/owner of four restaurants, Grill isn’t content just yet. At age 35, he said he still has at least one more restaurant idea up his sleeve, although he isn’t prepared to share details. ≈
Amy Eckert is an award-winning travel writer from Holland who travels the globe in search of good stories.
*Photography by Michael Buck
If you go: Seventy-Six Restaurant 52 W. Eighth St. Holland, MI 49423. (616) 994-8414 seventysixholland.com Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.