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food in grand rapids and beyond.

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 bases 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.

Pho Challenge #3.

ASIAN PALACE PHO 99

So you must be thinking, “It’s about freakin time!”

Or, you may feel more like, “Huh? Challenge what?”

Back in 2013, I gave myself the task to try out all the reputable pho spots in town to seek out the best of the best. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been slacking on my mission.

Sowwie.

So, here we go!

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VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS

These were flavorful and crisp, and the sauce they serve was heavy with fish sauce, which I love. Delicious!

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PHO ACCOMPANIMENTS

None of the sides were old or stale, and they give you a lot more jalapenos than other places. I was incredibly happy with that, and you could tell how fresh they were because they were very potent! I loved it!

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SPECIAL COMBINATION PHO

Before adding any of the fixings to my bowl, I always taste the broth first. It’s noticeably sweeter here than average, which I’m not a fan of. However, after adding all the jalapenos, basil leaves, and sprouts, it’s not as obvious. The quality of ingredients were good but the portions scarce. Sadly there was only one piece of tendon and just a few of tripe. The beef was good, and it’s great they actually serve rare pieces, but they were all pretty lean, no fatty bits and such. Healthier? Yes? More tasty? Nope.

Pho 99 is a good spot for pho but it does not rank as the best for me. Some fantastic pros here  but not without some disappointing cons. I know it’s a popular spot, and many locals prefer their noodles here to anywhere else. It just goes to show how different everyone’s tastes are. The atmosphere is spacious and casual and the service was good. Prices are about the same as the other pho spots in town.

Three down, two more places to go!

Slow’s BBQ In Grand Rapids Has Opened!

SLOW’S BBQ

Slow’s is a very popular BBQ restaurant located in Corktown in Detroit. They recently opened up their second location here in Grand Rapids, right in the Downtown Market. As BBQ and Southern Cuisine have been gaining immense popularity over the past several years, it was only a matter of time before GR would have a spattering of Southern influenced dining spots opening up.

One of the best, if not the best thing about this place? They use humanely treated animals from family owned farms, where they are fed a vegetarian diet and are never pumped with hormones or antibiotics. Awesome.

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STEWED BEANS, MAC N CHEESE, SWEET POTATO MASH, ZINGERMAN’S CORNBREAD
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THE LONGHORN

A pile of incredibly tender and fatty beef brisket topped with onion marmalade, spicy sauce and smoked gouda. You have your choice of a Poppy Seed Roll or Zingerman’s Toast.

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THE LONGHORN

Admittedly, I have never been a fan of BBQ. I enjoy learning about the processes and the different varieties of culture and tradition that BBQ actually entails, but it’s just not something I ever craved or sought out. However, Slow’s is a restaurant I actually want to go back to. The quality of food is great, and all the sides and the sandwiches were delicious. Next time, I’ll go with a side or two that is lighter, as all my choices for this trip were heavy and rich.

They have a full bar as well, and an interesting set up of ordering. When you walk in, stand in line to make your choices, and then you give them your name, and you pay. When your food is ready they have servers walk around and call your name until they find you. They have separate servers to take your drink order, and you cash out with them for your cocktails. The atmosphere is spacious and nice, and they have outdoor seating and open walls for warmer weather. I had an enjoyable first visit, and I’m looking forward to my next one.

Do You Like Banh Mi?

LY’S SANDWICHES

Banh mi is a Vietnamese and French fusion sandwich, a tasty result of the time period when the French had colonized Vietnam . From the western end, you have your baguette and pate. From the east, you have your pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, fresh jalapeno, cucumber. The two sides do it, and then they make a delicious sandwich baby.

BANH MI SPECIAL COMBINATION
BANH MI SPECIAL COMBINATION

Located in what I think is called the Golden Plaza on Division, more people know it as the place where Chinese restaurant Wei Wei Palace is located. Ly’s is pretty much just a hole in the wall, with a vibrant and vast collection of various Vietnamese food wrapped in plastic. There is also a large array of packaged snacks and drinks. Limited seating can be found right outside the store.

I always order the Special Combination, which consists of the aforementioned ingredients but also sliced pork and pork belly. I may be incorrect on this but I don’t think she uses mayo, as many do, which is fantastic. Not a fan of mayo. Now, there have been a few inconsistencies with the freshness of ingredients. But my last visit, the photo above, everything was very fresh with plentiful portions and the pork belly was just, so great.

As far as I know, Ly’s is the only place in town to find banh mi. I love this little shop.  I’ve also had their banh cuon (rice paper crepes) which was delicious as well (I had them made fresh, not one of the plastic wrapped ones.) Oh, and did I mention that the sandwich costs 3 bucks? However, bring cash. As of now, they don’t take credit cards!

Who Has The Best Pizza In Town?

NANTUCKET BAKING COMPANY

Oh gosh, I love pizza. I mean, love. Do you love pizza? If not, don’t talk to me, because I don’t talk to crazy people.

I had always heard about Nantucket Bakery’s pizzas when I first moved to Grand Rapids some six or seven years ago. Earlier this year, I finally got my lazy ass to try them out. What I fool I was for procrastinating!

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(I SOMEHOW DELETED THE ORIGINAL PHOTO, AND THIS WEIRD CROPPED ONE IS ALL I HAVE LEFT. SORRY, I SUCK.)

Quality of ingredients is great, fresh, and all their pizzas are 12 inches and wood fired. They have plenty of specialty pizzas but I always end up building my own. Sauce is very important to me, and while their’s has a sweetness to it, it’s not overwhelming or unbalanced.

The service is always friendly, and fast, although I usually go in there late at night. I would say that the prices are mid range, and I’m fairly certain they don’t deliver. Nantucket’s pizzas are easily in my top two of best pizzas in town- I only wish that they had an actual seating area, as I would love to consume their delicious, flavorful pizza pies as soon as they come out of the oven!

The Old Goat, Brand New!

The Old Goat, newly opened in the Alger Heights area, is the newest project from the owners of the popular Electric Cheetah on Wealthy Street. They are brand new, so when Nathan and I dined here this past Saturday afternoon, they were still offering their Soft Opening Menu.

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THE OLD GOAT INTERIOR

I was a bit in awe when we first walked into the place. Everything was brand new, of course, but also contemporary and country-ish (?) and gorgeous. (I’m definitely no interior decorator.) The high ceilings, large floor plan, and design reminded me of a couple of spots I have dined at in Chicago.

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COMPLIMENTARY CORNBREAD PANCAKE WITH JALAPENO BUTTER.

At first I thought the butter was too sweet, but once the jalapeno made it’s presence known I enjoyed this much more.

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CAJUN FRITES

Sweet and spicy cajun fries with four dipping sauces. These were addicting. I’ve been pretty aioli’d out (that’s a word, right?), so I preferred them without the dipping sides.

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JAMBALAYA
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JAMBALAYA

Shrimp, andouille sausage, peas, jalapenos, tomatoes, black eyed peas, corn, and a crab claw set in smoked tomato paste and hock broth with basmati rice and crusty bread. The bread was chewy, with no crunch to it, and since all the sauce had soaked up into everything else in the pot (none left for the baguette!) it was a little pointless for me. I think they could do with half the size. The jambalaya itself was great; flavorful, nicely spiced and with big fresh shrimp and well cooked basmati. (I want to note that I’ve never had authentic jambalaya so I cannot speak for that comparison.) The cast iron skillet came equipped with a small claw cracker thing and I recommend not using it if you don’t know what you’re doing. Wear protective eye wear.

The menu carries heavy Southern inspiration, with some German as well, and to be honest there wasn’t much else on it that intrigued me. I am curious to see what their menu will look like after the Soft Opening and I will definitely go back to check that out. The prices are reasonable, and our server did a good job. We were sat at a small two top that was wedged in between other two tops; I am not a fan of that kind of seating. I don’t think anyone is, or perhaps it bothers me more because I hate most people and their idiotic conversations. Other than that, I enjoyed my dining experience and I’m happy a new restaurant opened up in the Alger Heights area!

Kitchen 67 Michigan Bistro.

Kitchen 67 is owned by the same company as Brann’s Steakhouse. However, the difference from the chain restaurant is that Kitchen utilizes locally sourced products for their menu. They also use local spirits and brews, not only for their bar menu but for their dishes as well. I’m not gonna lie, my expectations weren’t high; I can’t even remember the last time I ate at a Brann’s. High school, maybe? Which was a long time ago.

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67 STEAKHOUSE BURGER

I enjoyed the burger! (I added fresh onions, which I don’t think are normally on it.) I don’t know what they season the meat with, but I really liked it. The fries were a little disappointing though. The flavor was good but they were just a bit stale, barely hot, like they had been sitting out for a while.

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ICE CREAM WITH ELEPHANT EAR CHUNKS

For dessert I had this martini glass of deliciousness. Ice cream with fried sugared dough chunks, or elephant ears. It made me happy.

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THE GRAND RAPIDS

Kitchen’s version of a Manhattan. It was really good!

Overall I enjoyed my dining experience here. The interior is spacious, modern and pretty and our server did a good job. Most importantly, the food and drink did not disappoint! For the most part, anyway. I don’t think this place is super special, but I do respect the effort. Coming from a large chain already gives some people a stigma about this place (stuck up jerks! namely….me), but you can never judge until you actually go and try it, right?

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