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justagrainofsalt.

food in grand rapids and beyond.

New Hotel Mertens

New Hotel Mertens is a French restaurant that just opened in downtown GR, located on Oaks Street. As their name implies, Hotel Mertens was once a hotel that opened back in 1914, and closed in 1960 when the neighborhood started to decline. Now, it has been re-opened as a modern French restaurant. I love the history and beautiful revitalization they have achieved!

ONION TART

This dish was nice, not really my thing though. However, Nathan found it to be delightful. (That was indeed the adjective he used for it.)

COQ AU VIN

A classic French dish, I’m glad I finally got to try it. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it! I like meat as a side, never the main component of a dish, but the Coq Au Vin was lovely, very tasty. There were young potatoes and mushrooms served with the tender, wine braised chicken. The sauce was fantastic.

CHOCOLATE TORTE

We had a great chocolate torte for dessert that was thankfully not too rich. The garnishes were fun additions to the dish.

SLOE GIN FIZZ

I have always loved the Sloe Gin Fizz. The one I ordered here was a little sweeter than what I typically like, but not bad.

Justagrainofsalt’s Rating

Food: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Ambiance: 5/5

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Squibb Coffee & Wine Bar

I’m not a big coffee drinker. If I do feel like partaking in the culture, I’ll have an iced Americano or just an iced brew. So as one would assume, I’m not one to frequent coffee shops often. However, I did like this place enough to want to post a little entry about it!

Newer and located in Uptown on Wealthy Street, Squibb is unique in the area because they also serve wine and beer. Along with that, you can find baked goods and a selection of different cheeses and meats.

SQUIBB’S CHEESEBOARD

I actually enjoyed this cheese board. I say that because I’m not typically a cheese or meat person. But bread, good crackers and those delicious bread pickles with mustard on there? I’ll eat all day long. However, the entirety of this selection was great and even though I wasn’t the one who ordered it, I couldn’t help but keep nibbling on it, even after I told my friend Alex that I was done eating his food.

CAPPUCHINO

This is actually a photo of Alex’ drink, as mine was just an Americano and not nearly as fancy looking. Tastewise though, mine was good! I was trying to be a responsible adult that day, so I didn’t get to look over or try any of their wines. Next time!

Justagrainofsalt’s Rating

Food: 4.5/5

Drinks: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Ambiance: 5/5

Balinski’s

Balinski’s is a newer Polish-American restaurant that opened in Comstock Park. The space is small and a little bit diner like, very casual. Their menu offers Polish dishes with some American fusion.

Polish food, and the little amount of European food that I have tried, have never been my favorite. Who doesn’t love pierogies, though? To my pleasant surprise, it was not just those popular dumplings that I enjoyed.

CUCUMBER SALAD/ DILL PICKLE SOUP (ZUPA OGORKOWA)

The cucumber salad was fantastic. It wasn’t nearly as heavy as it looks, and there were fresh onions in there as well as cucumbers, so I loved that. The soup was good, sour of course, and served with your choice of bread.

PANCAKES/ CHEESE & POTATO PIEROGIES/ MUSHROOM & SAUERKRAUT PIEROGIES

The potato and onion pancakes were delicious. Balinski’s makes their own pierogies, and they were good. I preferred the sauerkraut and mushrooms ones as I found the cheese and potato variety a little too salty. And of course, you have to have the caramelized onions on there!

Justagrainofsalt’s Rating

Food: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Ambiance: 3/5

One Bourbon

At this point, saying that the west side of GR is booming will probably sound like an understatement. Bridge Street, specifically. When I go there now it’s almost incredible how different the area looks, and more importantly, feels.

There are new places popping up left and right. One of the newest ventures is called One Bourbon, and they are bringing the whiskey and bourbon movement with farm to fork dining to Grand Rapids.

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PICKLES & CHEESE

For an appetizer Nathan and I shared the Pickles & Cheese plate, which we both enjoyed. The bread was fantastic, and I liked nearly everything on the plate (I’ve never been a fan of olives).

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LOADED MAC ‘N’ CHEESE

The cheese for this dish was milder, which was good. The chicken was very tender and fatty, so uh, I loved it. I also loved the fresh jalapenos in there, and the generous amount of it. The only thing I wasn’t wild about was the bbq glaze over everything. The dish would have been more enjoyable if the sauce was only over the chicken, or if there was a smaller amount of it.

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CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE ALA MODE

For dessert, they have rotating kinds of pie, so we went with the Chocolate Mousse with vanilla ice cream on the side. Good stuff!

The service we received was great. Nathan and I went on a Saturday evening during prime dinner time, and we put our names in for a forty minute wait. The hostess let us know that we could grab a drink at the bar and head upstairs, where they have a large, sort of lounge area? There is also another bar in a separate room, but that didn’t look completely finished yet. The hostess came upstairs each time to let people know that their table was ready, which I thought was a nice touch. Our server did a good job as well. 

 The ambiance of the atmosphere is nice,  although the restaurant doesn’t appear to be completely finished yet. Be prepared,  the noise level on a full night is intense. It’s something that I don’t typically notice but Nathan did immediately. 

Overall I enjoyed my time here. I don’t think they’ve been open for even a week yet, so I’m interested in going back again when some time passes and see what it’s like then!

Brickroad Pizza

So some time ago, as vague as that can possibly be, I wrote an entry about one of my favorite places to get pizza, at Nantucket Baking Company . At the time, I stated that the title of one of the best pizzas belonged to them. Well, that’s because I actually have another crowned favorite as well. In fact, as time has gone by, I will even dare to declare that this restaurant is officially my favorite place for pizza.

Brick Road Pizza on Wealthy Street!

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BRICK ROAD STICKS & TOMATO BASIL BISQUE
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HAND TOSSED CRUST WITH EXTRA HOUSE SAUCE, EXTRA GARLIC (FRESH, NOT ROASTED), MUSHROOMS, FRESH BASIL

I order from Brick Road so often that I’m kind of hoping that none of their employees reads this, as my Old Faithful pictured right above would give me away, and that’s kind of embarrassing for some reason that doesn’t make sense.

The pizza here is fantastic, folks. Great sauce, fresh ingredients, and a large variety of toppings, sauces, cheeses, and faux meats are all available! In fact, Brick Road doesn’t just have pizzas. Their menu also consists of a large selection of sandwiches, pasta, salads, burgers, appetizers, calzones….if it sounds like every other pizza place, yes, you’re right. But I’m telling you, it’s not. What’s different? Well, the ingredients are high quality. The choices are creative. And the menu focuses heavily on vegan options, and using locally sourced food and goods! But keep in mind, the menu is not strictly vegan. There are plenty of classic ingredients as well.

The service here is always great, and they have a small bar in the back of the restaurant that I like relax at. The drink menu is fun and changes with the seasons, and I would say the prices are on average with the Uptown/East Town area.

Am I right, am I wrong? Is there another spot in town where their pizza is a can’t miss? Let me know!

Harmony Hall.

Grand Rapids’ Harmony Brewing Company recently opened their second project, Harmony Hall, located in the West Side. Considering that I imbibe like it’s my freakin job, beer is surprisingly a scene that I don’t partake in. I know, what a waste of a GR resident, amirite?  What I can attest to, however, is the the food and enjoyable ambiance here.

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PEAS AND CARROTS

I was very pleasantly surprised by the Peas and Carrots appetizer, and will order another one to myself the next time I visit. No sharing. The pancakes were more savory than I had expected, and these were my favorite part of the entire meal. Served with sweet potato puree, the dollop of creme fraiche was perfect with the pancake. Good stuff.

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BRAUN MI

Of course I ordered the Braun Mi, as everyone knows that I am a huge Banh Mi fan. I ordered extra jalapenos so the sandwich was stuffed pretty full. The freshness of the ingredients was great, and the pate was nice, but I wasn’t crazy about the kimchi in there. The kimchi itself was good, I’d just prefer the sandwich without. What mildly killed the sandwich for me was the sauce, because there was just so much of it. I think banh mi and variations of it are amazing because of the lively flavors of fresh greens and tangy pickled vegetables. With the heavier sauce (in flavor and amount), all the prior is inadvertently snuffed out. The fries were pretty overdone as well, but the curry ketchup was good.

I did have a bite of the Che’s Baret, Harmony’s version of a Cubano sandwich, and it was fantastic. I will definitely order that the next time. The menu is heavily inspired by German cuisine, which  I’m not typically a fan of, but I love that there is also plenty of unique, global influence going on, such as Asian and Latino fare. They do fusion here very well!

The ambiance is wonderful. With two stories, Harmony Hall is just that; a grand hall that is comfortable, modern, laid back, and pretty. It just feels so nice being in there. The cocktail menu is fun and they do have a full bar as well. So far I’ve only received good service. What else? Their menu consists of food from local farms and suppliers, and they highlights those ingredients on the menu. I love that! So it is safe to say that Harmony Hall has already become one of my favorite spots in town.

Curry Leaf.

In my mid to late twenties, Indian food was an obsession. I couldn’t get enough of it. As time went on, the diversity of my food choices was greatly broadened and my love of the cuisine quietly slipped away from the spectrum. On top of that, the last two or three times I had  Indian food  were disappointing and only compounded my dead desire for the cuisine. That is, until Curry Leaf opened.

Located in the old Fleetwood Diner in Kentwood (R.I.P. Fleetwood Diner) it’s confusing when looking at it from the outside. They haven’t remodeled at all so it still looks like a restaurant from an era ago. When Nathan and I walked in this past weekend, I was very surprised to see how busy it was. At an off time on a Sunday afternoon, the place was nearly packed! And with about 80 percent of the customers being Indian, I took that as a very good sign.

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MIRCHI-KA-SALAN AND MUSHROOM MUTTER MAKANI

We didn’t know that we would receive complimentary dosas in the beginning of our meal. A thin crepe with a layer of cheese and filled with spiced potato, they were fantastic. For an appetizer I ordered the samosa, typical I know, but I was really craving potatoes. Next time I’ll go with the dosas instead, and I recommend for you to do the same!

Everything was great. From the appetizers to the naan to the entrees to the tea, so delicious! And what really surprised me was Nathan’s enthusiasm about the whole meal, especially about his Mushroom Mutter Makani. There have been times in the past when I craved Indian food and he never wanted it. I have a feeling this restaurant will likely change that.

The only tiny negative we had about the meals was the spice level. I asked for mine spicy, and it was good, but I would have enjoyed a little more. Nathan said the same about his dish, and keep in mind that he’s kind of a wuss. He asked for medium spice, and found it a little lacking. But you know, something like that is subjective, so take it with a grain of salt. (See what I did there?)

After only one visit, I can say that I love Curry Leaf. The food was awesome and the service was warm and friendly. You can tell that they are genuinely excited and happy to be there. I think the prices are typical for an Indian restaurant. As Nathan said, he will surely miss his Hippie Hash from Fleetwood, but, Curry Leaf is quite a welcome addition to the neighborhood!

Gojo Ethiopian Cuisine.

Ethiopian food is easily one of my favorite types of cuisine. I went to a festival years ago that was held downtown in GR, and Gojo Ethiopian Cuisine was one of the vendors down there. That’s how I first tried Ethiopian food, and I immediately fell in love. However, the popular restaurant Little Africa became my go-to for African fare. Only recently I visited Gojo again, and I found out that there are new owners that took over the little restaurant in East Town. Gojo was good before, but you know what? After my two recent visits, this place has jumped to the top of my list; definitely not pushing Little Africa from its throne, but more so forcing room so that they can both sit comfortably in the same spot.

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VEGETARIAN PLATTER
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MY FAVORITES

The new owners at Gojo plan on changing the menu gradually, where you can choose what dishes you would like. Currently, they are still using the old menu where they don’t have individual sides as much as they have platters. Because of that, I don’t know all the names of the dishes that were served with the Vegetarian Platter I ordered, so I just circled the ones that I found to be absolutely delicious. Alicha, spicy green beans, salad with fresh jalapeno, beets, and stewed lentils. So good.

The new owners have been very friendly, just like the prior ones. So far it seems that the new menu will reflect lower prices; I feel like higher price points was a reoccurring complaint about the old menu, but that’s just what I gleaned from reading old reviews.

If you ever think about visiting Gojo again, or for the first time, I highly recommend it! They have plenty of meat dishes as well, like tibs wats and siga wats. If you’re going vegetarian and not knowledgeable about the names of dishes, like me, show them the photo above with the circles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Seoul Market Cafe

Hey. Hey! Korean food in GR! Korean food in GR!

I visited Seoul Market Cafe about two months ago, within their first week of opening. Located inside one of my favorite stores, Seoul Market, they put up some walls and made a tiny space into a dining area that offers a large selection of traditional Korean jjigaes (stews), soups, Korean BBQ, and stir fried foods.

So don’t hate me. Actually, if you do, I legitimately couldn’t care less. I did have a couple minor complaints about my meal.

First of all, the banchan (side dishes) were good and most importantly, fresh. The complimentary mackerel that comes with jjigaes was fantastic. It made my mind and feelings hurtle back through a portal of time to my childhood. It’s amazing when our senses do that to us, isn’t it? For my meal, I ordered the Kimchi Jjigae. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was good. But, the meat was marinated and sweet, which I didn’t like. And there was much more kimchi than anything else in the stew , so it was actually a bit too sour for me.

Do I still love this place? Yes I sure do. Overall everything was great, and  in my opinion, Grand Rapids needs more cuisine that is culturally diverse and authentic. Not to mention the fact that my opinion is based on only one visit, within their first week of them being open! I’ve only heard great things from others about the place, and the excitement of a legit little Korean restaurant opening here in town cannot be denied.

While you’re there, take the time to look around and see what the rest of the market has to offer. I highly recommend the Cuttle Fish Snacks. Trust me.

 

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