Jan 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


EatingOurWayThroughGrandRapids said...

Thanks for the wonderful list!

Anonymous said...

George, sometimes it's hard to take you seriously. You mix a list of solid dedicated restaurants with gimmicky, mediocre and even the dreaded chain.

Roses? The view is great, and happy hour pricing is awesome. But great meals are few and far between.

Ruth Chris is a chain. It's also a gimmick. Sizzle plates? Ask and chef (not working at Ruth Chris about sizzle plates). Also using cover counts as a judge of quality is a huge mistake. Santa Margarita shatters sales records for Pinot Grigio, but would you consider it a serious winery? Someone passionate about quality?

6-1-6..... Seriously? Does service play any role in your love fest with the restaurant in your hotel? Terrible.

My Hotel Life said...

Dear Anonymous,

Is life that bad that you can't give a constructive criticism? You are absolutely entitled to your own opinion, but it's easy to express a very bitter opinion under an "Anonymous" alias.

I love how people jump on the anti-chain wagon. Sure, RC is a chain, however, over 93% of the revenues stay in Grand Rapids which employs local staff and pay for taxes that I am sure you benefit from. Do you shop at Meijer or D&W, by the way? I hope not because they are chains too.

I am for eating and supporting local but it's not fair to bash chains for the simple reason that it is not "local." Tell me of one restaurant who buys everything local? Just one.Don't forget other products such as napkins, furniture, wines, beers and even office supplies. We live in a global world, my friend.

Please share with us your 12 restaurants for 2012 and your identity so we can have a dialogue. And please make sure they are 100% local.



Anonymous said...

Funny, didn't mention a thing about local. I notice you didn't mention the sizzle plate or defend you comment about 300 covers a night equal good. Mc Donalds has served billions of people where were they on your list if covers is a major criteria?

My main issue with chains is the idea that we can't do better. I agree with the impossibility of being totally local anymore in an age when we as consumers want everything our way now. We got that way because of large corporation or chains that had the money an resources to make that happen.

What makes Ruth Chris better than Chop house (another chain)? More people eating there? The sizzle plates? Or is it the quality of the meat they source? Do you even know? I honestly don't.

Look, I read this list as 12 places you must eat this year, but it's as if you got to 7 or 8 and then said "what else is there... Ruth Chris is popular... How about Roses... Everyone loves a view".

It was a safe list, a few highlights and a few disappointment. Just me opinion.

Perhaps you should learn to take criticism better. If I find a completely local restaurant I will be sure to let you know.

My Hotel Life said...

Dear Anonymous,

I welcome constructive criticism. People email me all the time with their opinions and I do my best to respond to every single one. But there is a big difference between constructive and bitter criticism especially behind a cloak of anonymity. I can tell by your tone that your point is the latter. It's easy to do that under an alias.

By the way, have you been to Ruth's Chris or are you just hearing this information from friends of friends? Sizzle plates, sure it's gimmicky, but you know what, it's part of the appeal for some of the guests. Every restaurant has some kind of gimmick - local farmer listings, wine flights, ipad menus, QR codes, even butcher paper handwritten menus. As for the cover counts, numbers are important in running a business because a lot of new restaurants don't make it past one year (Bloom was one of my favorite joints, but it failed to survive). The point is this... locals love going to RC and don't mind paying the higher average check. The restaurant is doing well and that's great for them. I have also enjoyed all my experiences there - and I am obviously not alone on this one. That's it. And yes, I am quite familiar with the food quality at both RC and Chop House because I've been to both places (and have talked to the managers) several times this year.

How many times do you go to Rose's every year? I live walking distance from Rose's and I have always had a good meal and service there. I'm sorry if yours is not same case.

As for six.one.six, sure I am bias, but I never conceal the fact that I work at the hotel and I truly believe in the product.

It's easy to be anti-chain restaurant and anti-big business. It's fashionable, I guess. But I do want to know if you avoid all chains because if you do, then I give you a lot of credit for truly living up to your word.

I can't fault Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio for their impressive marketing. Sure, it's not a Burgundy, but I respect the fact that the wine is enjoyed by many. Wine snobbery almost killed the wine industry by making wine selections so complicated and intimidating for the average consumer. I just love the fact that people are drinking wine - any wine.

I have two requests:

Please share with us your 12 favorite restaurants to visit in 2012. In fact, if you write an article in the same format as mine, I will publish it on my blog. This is your chance to share with us your opinions.

Secondly, I would like for you to join me for dinner so we can critique a dining experience together? I am sure I can learn a lot from you.

Are you game?


Anonymous said...

It has nothing to do with "wine snobbery" George. The point Is that Santa Margarita is a huge, mass produced wine, designed for the American market. It's not evensold over there.

Similar though to say Starbucks. I drink Starbucks. They have delicious Carmel drinks. But, if someone asked me about the best coffee houses in GR I wouldn't say Starbucks.

Now I'm sure youd disagree. Fair enough.

RC is a corporate steak house started in New Orleans, head quartered in Florida with hundreds of locations over the world. Do they have tasty steaks... Yes. But what makes them special? What makes them a must try this year?

Yes, I've eaten there. Actually in A few cities on business. It's good. It's just what its supposed to be, steak, big wine list... It's a steak house. My question still stand, what makes it better than Chop House? Is their filet better than Chop House? I don't hate RC. I simply question why it made your top 12? The main reasons you gave were it's popular.

My Hotel Life said...


Just for clarification, the article is not the "Best of" list...it's a list of restaurant I plan on frequenting in 2012 because I enjoy dining there (and I hope my readers will too). I probably would have included San Chez and Bella Vita if it was a "Best of" list.

So with that, I am not saying the RC is better than the Chop House. I love the bisque at the CH, I love the sweet potato side dish at RC and their Prime and Choice steak offerings are just as good. However, I love RC's dining room much better as it is sexier and the energetic than the subdued atmosphere at CH.

I don't disagree with you on the Starbucks opinion. I love MadCap the best (check my blog), but for convenience, I drink Starbucks and illy almost everyday. Starbucks started out like a MadCap and then it became a chain.

Santa Margherita PG is still wine so let the "amateurs" enjoy them. I used to live in Chicago in the 80's and I remember the best restaurants and hotels serving this relatively unknown bottle on their lists. It was fresh and crisp and a perfect accompaniment on a summer day. When the brand exploded, that's when it became passe for wine snobs to drink it. That's all.

This has been fun. Let me know if you ever want to take me up on my offers.


My Hotel Life said...


In fairness to you, I have been to several RC's that look exhausted on the inside. The one we have in GR is pretty special compared to most of them.


Anonymous said...

Fair point on it not being a best of.

On the topic of Santa Margarita please dont fall into the corporate line that all of a sudden the wine was out of style for pros and that's all.

Granted many restaurant pros have their snobberies for the sake of being "in" or "out". But, in most cases it stems from an understanding of what these brands have become. Santa Margarita increased production 10 fold... With that quality plummeted. Creating on that scale it has to. The big issue is that prices have increased. They are preying on the blind demand of the masses. They are selling lower quality wine for more than they were when the quality was higher. Same Idea as Veuve Clicquot yellow label. The production has risen as have the prices. The only thing that fell was quality. Veuve still puts out some of the best bubbly on the planet, but when Mr Henriot took over he was on a mission to make veuve fashionable. Flashily orange label on diamond clad models in GQ magazine. His saw a opportunity to make money mostly by focusing on an American culture who, let's say, responds well to advertising.

You mentioned Chicago, it's the Cubs syndrome. A team that hasn't won in 100 years yet still remains one of the highest priced tickets in the league and sells out every game. People go for the same reason they drink Santa Margarita... They get drunk, have fun and dont really care about anything more than that.

The Cubs charge those prices because they can. Santa Margarita sells out because it does. It's all marketing. Im sure you yourself could name 10 pinot grigios of better quality for lower price, no?

filipino said...

I like the Grove!, when we visited this place, we had an indulgent, multi-course lunch here on our last day in Auckland. Everything was amazing. There is an extensive wine list, the service is prompt and professional without being intrusive, and the food is outstanding. he menu is amazing and the crayfish was so tender it melted in my mouth! Y

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