Every two years Calvin College hosts the Festival of Faith in writing. While planning which enlightening sessions would fill our brains, my old college friend and I had a little more fun figuring out what Grand Rapids restaurant would fill our stomachs. Why eat college food if you don’t have to?
Mikado–Japanese for lunch. In fact Jamie suggested we order a “lunch box.” For less than $10, we each mmm’d and ooo’d over teriyaki salmon, vegetable tempura (a bit bland but more interesting dipped in the sauce), and six spicy asparagus rolls. This place is located in a strip mall on 28th St. just a couple of miles from the college, but they have “Best in Grand Rapids” articles hanging on the walls. And I love the way the sushi chefs yell HI! and SOMETHING JAPANESE! when you walk in.
Bistro Bella Vita–Jamie’s sister recommended this place. It’s hip (as far as I can define) and dark, challenging my already limited ability to see the ingredients in our mushroom polenta appetizer. We also split a warm spinach salad. Now before you say ‘boring’ or even ‘yuck mushrooms and spinach,’ know that both dishes were delicious and that house-made bacon was involved. Warm foccacia bread was served on the side, and we each ordered a Bistro spritzer, which did a lovely job scrubbing the palate in between the bites of rich food.
Phil’s Bar & Grille, Saugatuck–Hmm, a few more writing sessions or gathering life experience to write about??? We bugged out of the conference a little early on Saturday to spend a couple of hours in Saugatuck on the way home. After perusing the kooky shops and enjoying a brief wine tasting, we asked the–up until then unaccomodating–proprietor for a lunch recommendation. Despite his lack of enthusiasm about merlots, he made up for it with suggestions of where to eat.
Phil’s bar with its pork tenderloin sandwich–homemade horseradish potato salad on the side–was the obvious choice. Our decision was validated as soon as we arrived…
The tenderloin is sliced thick and layered with fresh spinach leaves, Swiss cheese, and an orange vinaigrette dressing all on a ciabatta roll, which is baked in-house. The bar appears to be a favorite with locals and the waitress/bartender is young and welcoming. The patrons were mostly couples having lunch, and we chatted with the older man seated next to us having quesadillas and vodka, until his wife scolded him for bothering us. The casual atmosphere and clientele would make this a choice again for me…except for the weird guy who kept checking Jamie out.
Uncommon Grounds—This place was on my list to revisit since the first time my daughter and I explored the town a couple of years ago. It wasn’t the place so much as the French Guiana latte, which is made with ground chocolate, cinnamon, AND cayenne pepper. Ouch! The pepper leaves a delicious sprinkle of heat on the back of your tongue. The coffee is Fair Trade (and if you don’t know what that means, shame on you, Dad!)
Marie Catrib’s–No restaurant owner has a better back story than Marie Catrib who was chased out of the kitchen as a kid by her blind grandmother. I don’t know if she still makes a big mess in the kitchen, but Marie makes up a simple and delicious plate of healthful, tasty, and original sandwiches and salads. [Sorry, forgot my camera this visit!]
I had the sweet potato and quinoa burger, so mild and sweet that I felt guilty biting into it except that the spicy curry veganaise that complements it beautifully bit me back. (Can I just say that I love the word veganaise?) I also recommend the Rushin’ (turkey, AMAZING homemade slaw and homemade Russian dressing, and Swiss [made in Switzerland or more likely Wisconsin]); Marie’s seasoned potatoes (they also bite); and chocolate pudding that is more akin to a dish o’ fudge. I eat here every time I’m in GR…delicious, noisy, and quirky.