Foodies seeking adventure need venture no farther than Grand Rapids, Mich.
Between this city’s unique location in the heart of the farm belt, its proximity to the lakeshore and the myriad talented chefs cultivated at Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education — one of the top rated culinary programs in the nation — Grand Rapids has grown into a center of epicurean delight that makes it a distinct dining destination. (Lonely Planet, in fact, tabbed Grand Rapids the number one Travel Destination for 2014.)
During Restaurant Week GR, Aug. 13-24, a good bargain sweetens the River City even more.
For 11 days, Restaurant Week serves up opportunities to savor three-course menu options at over 60 of the area’s most definitive restaurants. Most offer a selection from a specially created three-course menu at the prix-fixe price of $28 per person, while some of the city’s more casual venues offer a three-course dinner for two totaling $28 (beverages priced separately).
At Grove, named “Restaurant of the Year” by Grand Rapids Magazine for the last two years, Executive Chef Patrick Wise’s already established, innovative three-course tasting menu will be offered at what essentially amounts to a deep discount. It gives diners over a dozen selections for each course.
“We felt we didn’t need to do anything different than what we already do on a daily basis, so this is basically a discount for Restaurant Week,” he explains. “Our goal is to have a nice diverse selection of offerings for each course available at all three of our restaurants — Green Well Gastropub and Bistro Bella Vita will feature five options per course — and then just let the diner decide what they’re in the mood for.”
Throughout the city, dynamic dining venues participating in Restaurant Week launch taste buds on a gastronomic odyssey. Visitors can indulge their way through a bevy of culinary experiences, from sophisticated downtown hotspots, trendy neighborhood eateries and wine bars to spirited brew pubs, elegant fine-dining and farmhouse-casual venues.
The focus for this year’s event is “Perfect Pairings” with “Farm-to-Fork” fare. It’s a double-edged theme that not only showcases chef creativity and Michigan products, but also aims to illuminate palates to the pleasures of flavor-enhancing wines, beers, ciders, spirits and even locally roasted coffees.
At Ferris Coffee & Nut, the barristas are looking forward to working with GR chefs to maximize the coffee-food experience, shares marketing director Mark VanTongeren.
“Typically people think of pairing breakfast and dessert with coffee, but it’s much more versatile when it comes to food and beverage pairings,” he says. “Certain foods can actually enhance your coffee experience. Coffee from a high-end roaster has two to four times more of the aromatic compounds that wine has, and when you let it cool to 180 degrees, it opens up and the individual flavor profiles of different coffee beans from around the world reveal themselves.
“Our objective is to have people look at coffee differently, as something other than just a hot beverage.”
That same concept applies to spirits. While most culinarians are familiar with the compatible nature of wine and beer, suggested “perfect pairings” during Restaurant Week will also channel spirits into the fold.
According to Travis Fourmont, Cocktail Ambassador for event partner Great Lakes Wine & Spirits brokers, Woodford Reserve bourbon has over 200 congener characteristics whose complexity makes it extremely versatile. “It has a pretty rich and powerful flavor profile, which pairs perfectly by itself with nuts, fruits, cherries and especially chocolate,” he notes. “If pairing with a meal, using it in a cocktail is the best way to go because it softens the boldness and you can add an aperatif, amoro, or digestivo to contrast and complement the food, which also adds to its functionality.
“With rich and fatty food like steak, you want to add something acidic to balance that richness, but you want something softer for more delicate foods like fish.”
“Grand Rapids has arrived as a food destination,” expresses Janet Korn, senior vice-president of Experience Grand Rapids. “The local restaurants’ topnotch culinary teams are combining their creative flair with use of local fresh ingredients not only for Restaurant Week, but year-round.”
She adds that ingredient hunting at local farm markets and the new Grand Rapids Downtown Market are even more reasons foodies should add Grand Rapids to their GPS coordinates.
“The new market offers the freshest seafood flown in daily, fantastic crusty breads, homemade ice cream, authentic Thai and Mexican cuisine, desserts, spices, teas and more,” she says. “In addition, there are local bakeries, wonderful cheese shops and even specialty donut shops for morning and late evening cravings.”
Staking its titleholder claim as “Beer City U.S.A” for the second year running — its burgeoning craft brew industry has garnered national acclaim — Grand Rapids is undoubtedly trending big time. Suffice to say, there is something to suit every taste and adventuresome palate.
The art of GR dining will not only tempt a trip to town, but also make you want to linger.
To view participating Restaurant Week restaurants and their three-course menus, as well as links for local accommodations, visit restaurantweekgr.com.
Mixing It Up
In conjunction with Restaurant Week GR, mixologists across Grand Rapids create a selection of mixed spirits to compete in the Grand Cocktail event. Sponsored by Woodford Reserve, whose bourbon is a required element in each of the bartenders’ recipes, the contest offers two categories for competition, which this year includes Best Woodford Cocktail for Appetizer or Dessert Pairing and Best Old-Fashioned.
Although a panel of food industry judges selects winners of the Grand Prize, People’s Choice awards are voted by diners throughout Restaurant Week. Last year’s categories encompassed Best Creative Cocktail and Best Manhattan.
Garry Boyd from Grand Rapids Brewing Co. won the judged event with his “Glen’s Creek Manhattan” (he also placed third with his creative “Kentucky Bourbon Ball”), with Torrence O’Haire of SpeakEZ Lounge earning the top prize for his Creative Cocktail, “The Tom Daisy.” People’s Choice awards were granted to Melissa Dembny of FireRock Grille for “It’s Just Peachy” in the Creative Cocktail category, with honors going to Joshua Hamlet of Cygnus 27 for his “Sunset Manhattan.”
Grand Prize Grand Cocktail: Glen’s Creek Manhattan (Yield: 1 serving)
Recipe by Garry Boyd/Grand Rapids Brewing Co.
2 ounces pecan-infused Woodford Reserve Bourbon (soak pecans in bourbon for at least a week, shaking daily)
¾ ounces Vya Sweet Vermouth
3 drops Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel cherry bitters
3 house-made brandied cherries; 2 mixing spoons brandied cherry juice
Chill 5.5-ounce coupe glass with ice and water. Add bourbon, vermouth and bitters to iced shaker and stir well. Empty coupe glass and shake dry. Strain shaker into coupe; garnish with cherries on skewer and float brandied cherry juice on top.
Pecans and bourbon are a natural pairing, so infusing the two gives this cocktail its unique aspect,” Boyd reports. “We use Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels in the brewery for aging and we just happened to draw about three gallons of bourbon barrel cherry bitters out of the barrel before we used it for aging our beer in, so I used it in this cocktail.
— Julie Burch
Freelance writer Julie Burch resides in Grand Rapids.