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food in grand rapids and beyond.

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’s 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.

 

Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop

I’ve been on a big soup and bread kick lately, which is pretty new to me. I don’t know if it’s the weather or what, albeit this winter has been pretty tame so far! This new found craving brought me to Uncle Cheetah’s. The same people as Electric Cheetah and The Old Goat, the soup shop focuses on high quality ingredients with a variety of options, including those that cater to vegetarians and vegans. Their menu consists of sandwiches, salads, and soup that change on a daily basis.

I enjoyed the Sammut Code, which was made with organic spinach, roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic reduction. You get a couple choices of bread so I picked garlic toast, or something like that. The Curry Corn Soup was very good and not sparse with ingredients. (Some places like to be stingy with their fillings!) The pretzel bread was boring. Yes, there is such a thing as boring bread. There’s an idiom about it somewhere out there, right? I’m really bad at those.

I’m glad I finally stopped by this cozy shop. The food was good and they consistently have new and more unique soup choices that sound enticing. The service was good too, and even though the space is quite small, it was still comfortable to dine there. As long as you can manage to snag a table!

 

Wolfgang’s.

I have mentioned before that I’m a very rare breakfast eater. I’m never awake during the time reserved for the early bird meal, and if I am, it entails me rolling out of bed and heading straight to work.

Grand Rapids is crazy about their breakfast spots! All the ones that I see on a regular basis always seem to be packed out. The long line for typically bland or oddly sweet food has never appealed to me. However, Wolfgang’s  is an exception. This incredibly popular breakfast and lunch joint has been a part of East Town since 1977!

You’re probably thinking that my choices look a little boring, especially in comparison to the large menu boasting more exciting (and some creative) choices such as skillets, omelettes, burritos, pancakes, and loads more. But what I really like about Wolfgang’s is that here, even the simple is flavorful. The redskin potatoes are fantastic and the homemade granola was so tasty too! Mo’s sandwich really hit the spot.

Usual long line in the morning? Yes. Worth it? Surprisingly, yes! The food is great, and I’ve always had good service as well. You can always dine in after the busy hours too. The last visit I went around one in the afternoon on a Saturday and there was plenty of seating available!

Seoul Part Two: Food Market, Street Food, And A Bit Of Etc.

Gwangjang Market

Visiting Gwangjang Market located in Jongno-gu was awesome. It is one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in Korea, and it was so much fun to experience. Crafts, souvenirs, clothing, traditional medicine, textiles, and food food food! We went during a public holiday, and I don’t know how it usually is on a regular day but it was packed. When I go to Korea again, this will be the first place I’d like to re-visit.

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GWANGJANG MARKET

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There was jeon (Korean pancakes) everywhere! So many different varieties, with cute old ladies manned at every station. Many of these food stations have seating available so you can plop right down and feast. So cool. And be prepared to leave with the smell of grease on your clothes!

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JEON AND ASSORTED FRIED FOOD
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FRESH SEAFOOD AND A BUNCH OF MEATS
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I ALWAYS FEEL BAD FOR THE CRABS BUT GODDAMN, DOESN’T THIS LOOK AMAZING?
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FRESH SEAFOOD
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WHAT A GORGEOUS SIGHT

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HUGE ASSORTMENT OF DIFFERENT NOODLE, SOUP, AND RICE DISHES. AMAZING!
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DDEOKBOKKI

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Myeongdong 

Myeongdong is an area in Seoul that is very famous for its shopping, which includes Korea’s booming skincare and cosmetics economy. Endless streets and corridors filled with stores with  street food that is very fusion, very creative, and sometimes weird! From roasted chestnuts to cooked corn on a stick, to little egg bread and french fry covered corndogs. There’s a lot of unique things to try!

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CREPE FILLED WITH NUTELLA, BANANA, CRISPY WHEAT CEREAL THEN ROLLED UP

I’m not a big sweets person but this was pretty delicious.

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TWIST POTATO

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As I mentioned earlier, I’m not much of a dessert fan but ice cream is the major exception.

Insadong

Insadong is popular for its representation of traditional Korean culture. Here you can find a plethora of crafts and goods unique to Korea and not easy to find elsewhere. It’s also a hot spot for artists and art lovers!

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SIDEWALK BAR

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You can order booze, right outside on the sidewalk. They make your cocktail, put it in a sealed plastic bag with a straw poking through, and you’re on your merry way. Aaand, why don’t I live here?

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This guy puts on shows with the ice cream, and those are all cones you see stacked around the stall. After a minute of him hiding my scoop and making me look at other things to distract me, I told him I just wanted my ice cream. Please.

And Etc.

I was very curious how Seoul does food from other countries. I wanted to experience some of my favorite foods, pho and sushi, in Korea and see how much it differed, if at all.

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VIETNAMESE APPETIZERS
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PHO ADD ONS

The pho sides were quite different from what I’m used to. They still use chilies and sprouts, but you also see tangy and sweet marinated onions and pickled radish. I definitely missed my holy basil and lime.

PHO
PHO

The broth was very beefy, and not complex and delicious as what I’m used to. The meat was lean, and if I’m remembering correctly, they didn’t add tendon or tripe. However, I only went to one pho place so of course, I’m not speaking for the whole city.

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COLD SOBA, SUSHI AND TEMPURA MORI

I love cold soba but I have only known one place here in GR that served it, and it was temporary. The tako sushi (octopus) really stood out to me. It was incredibly tender and so tasty.

That’s the conclusion of my vacation in Seoul! If you’re obsessed with food, travel, and rich culture, do yourself a huge favor and book yourself a flight to this vibrant, energetic, cuisine filled city. Keep in mind that while the scene is vast, it’s not the most diverse. You may not be able to indulge in wonderful Ethiopian or Middle Eastern food, for instance. (Maybe in Itaewon, the foreigner’s district?) However, there is so much deliciousness entailed with traditional and fusion fares in Korean culture and all of it is a must try! You won’t be disappointed. This trip certainly reignited my passion for it.

Village Inn Pizza & Sports Grille.

VILLAGE INN

Located in the Kentwood area,  I was really surprised when I first walked into Village Inn. Because of other restaurants and bars with the same name, I didn’t expect the new looking decor. There are plenty of highly hung flat screen tvs with a clear and loud sound system for all the sport fanatics out there. The food is similar to all the other pizza and sports bars in GR; their large menu also consists of sub sandwiches, appetizers, soups and salads, Mexican dishes and pasta entrees.

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MARGHERITA PIZZA

Their Margherita pizza is what I usually order, and it’s on a very thin crust. It’s not the most authentic version of the classic pizza, but I still like it. I especially appreciate the chunks of garlic they top it with. This pie is on their Specials, so I don’t know if it will become a permanent fixture. The pizzas are the only items I’ve tried here, and I’ve enjoyed them all. For the area, this sports bar is a better choice than others.

The service in this casual dining restaurant has always been good, and I bet this place fills up and gets rowdy during important sporting events! I, luckily, have been able to avoid those times.

You Love Food? You’ll Become Obsessed With Seoul!

I’m back from South Korea! Actually, what I truly mean is, I’m back from South Korea.😦

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GWANGHWAMUN

Nathan and I stayed in Gangnam, and we spent time in Myeongdong, Insadong, Gwanghwamun, Soondae, and Jamshil.  We were outside of the city as well in Yongin, Gyunggido.

Seoul is a food city. Cuisine steeped deep in tradition, Koreans love their fresh, pickled, and fermented veggies, meat, seafood, noodles, rice, and spice. You can’t go anywhere without a plethora of delicious options  right at your feet. Local little eateries line up and are smushed side by side down tons of vibrant side streets and alleyways. The main streets have more variety of food from foreign cuisines. Street food is everywhere and cheap (although not Penang cheap). Oh, and coffee shops? Do you like coffee? Because in Seoul, there is no escape. They are everywhere, and they will haunt you.

I don’t even know where to start. I’m getting overwhelmed as we speak, trying to figure out how to go at this without incessant excited rambling and bombardment of 200 photos!

Let’s start off with food from the restaurant Donwoori, located in Soondae! It is one of my favorite Korean barbecue places to eat at. (It’s not just because my cousin runs it with the owner, who is also his best friend.) This restaurant is all about pork and delicious food! The service is great here too.

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KOREAN BARBECUE
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FRESH LETTUCE AND SESAME LEAVES
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BANCHAN
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BANCHAN

Korean barbecue is a staple in the culture here. In nearly every restaurant there are grills installed right onto the table top, or stove ranges for simmering food in shallow woks or cooking meat on metal domes. You order various choices and cuts of meat, usually pork or beef. Served with a bunch of banchan, which are various side dishes, you grill your meat, pile it up in fresh healthy greens, and choose how to top it off before you wrap it all up and shove it in your mouth. That’s sangchu ssam. Of course you also have your savory stews, water spinach, palette cleansing and heat calming soups, egg omelet cooked in pots, fish cake, tofu, salads, kimchi kimchi and more kimchi. And that’s maybe just half of them!

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SANGCHU SSAM

I like to assemble mine with fresh lettuce, steamed rice, fatty meat, fresh hot peppers, raw garlic, and gochujang (red chili sauce that Koreans put in everything).

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FISH CAKE & POTATOES

Fish cake up top and sweet potato at the bottom. Have you ever had Asian varieties of sweet potato before? Oh man, you’re missing out if you haven’t. I grew up with my mother just steaming them whole, peeling them like a banana and eating them plain.

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DOENJANG JJIGAE – SOYBEAN PASTE STEW

Another one of my favorites! I love jjigae and this may come as a shock to you, but I just have to eat this with rice.

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GAERAN JJIM – STEAMED EGG CASSEROLE

I was very surprised at how good this was. I was expecting it to be like Japan’s Chawanmushi, but I liked this much more. Light, fluffy, and more flavorful than I expected.

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BOKKEUMBAP – SPICY FRIED RICE

My cousin made this dish, and I just want to note that it was a big hit!

Now onto other places and foods.

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GAMJATANG – POTATO PORK BONE SOUP

This is one of my favorite Korean dishes, if not my favorite. Eat it with rice, and it’s one of the best things in the world.

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MOOL NAENGMYUN – WATER COLD NOODLE SOUP

I love mool naengmyun. I could eat it all year round, even though this is a dish that is popular in the summer time. I don’t care, I want it right now. I like adding hot mustard and more vinegar to mine, but it’s delicious as it comes as well!

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MANDOO – DUMPLINGS
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MOOL NAENGMYUN 
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SOON DAE – STUFFED INTESTINES BLOOD SAUSAGE
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MAKGEOLI

What are we looking at here? The creamy looking white substance in those bowls is Makgeoli! Soju isn’t the only alcoholic beverage from Korea. Made from rice or wheat, this lightly sweet and slightly carbonated beverage was my favorite to imbibe with. It is usually drank from bowls.

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MODEUM JEON- VARIETY OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF KOREAN PANCAKE

There are so many different types of jeon, which are Korean pancakes. These dishes were so fun and delicious! I grew up loving these, and I believe jeon might quite possibly be Nathan’s favorite food from our trip. For Koreans, jeon and makgeoli go hand in hand!

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KIMBAP WITH SPICY MUSTARD
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GOLBAENGI MUCHIM – SPICY SEA SNAIL SALAD

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JEYUK BOKKEUM – SPICY PORK
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JEON
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PYONGYANGSHIK MANDUCHUNGOL – PYONGYANG STYLE DUMPLING STEW
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PYONGYANG BULGOGI

Yes, Pyongyang. We went to a restaurant that served North Korean dishes, and I was really happy to be able to experience that.

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JOKBAL – PORK FEET
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BANCHAN
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BOSSAM – STEAMED PORK BELLY
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SANGCHU SSAM
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MYEONGDONG KALGUKSU
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MANDU
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BAEKSEJU

Baekseju, not to be confused with soju, will help you live to a hundred years!

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SIDE STREETS AND ALLEYWAYS WERE THE BEST PART OF THE CITY

Holy cow that was a stupidly long post, wasn’t it? And I’m not even finished yet! My part two will entail Korean street food, a famous food market, and foreign cuisine. Until then.

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