Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Quick Visit to Grand Rapids

Downtown Market
Despite being born and raised in the Detroit area, I somehow never visited Grand Rapids before. I didn't have anything against Grand Rapids. Instead, I found it too easy to keep visiting the places in Michigan that I already knew.

I have been wanting to visit for some time, and my work luckily took me to Grand Rapids on Monday. Since I had a meeting at 1 p.m. downtown, I left my home early enough so I could have two meals and see as much of the city as possible during my visit.

Argos Book Shop
Besides tasting a new city's food and beer, I always try to visit its independent bookstores, so my first stop was Argos Book Shop in the Eastown neighborhood. Argos specializes in used books, and it has a comic book section that looked impressive to this non-collector. The store has two rooms full of used books covering many genres. I could have spent more than an hour searching the shelves, but I had to eat lunch before my meeting.

The bar at the Green Well
For lunch, I chose The Green Well Gastropub in the East Hills neighborhood. The neighborhood was quiet because it was 11 on Monday morning, but I'm guessing it is bustling later in the day since it features several shops and restaurants, and one of Grand Rapids' many breweries, Brewery Vivant.

I was the first customer of the day at the Green Well, but the staff was accommodating. The restaurant's menu is full of creative dishes. I would have ordered a couple items and a beer, but I didn't want to drink before my meeting or be bloated with food. I ordered a delicious brisket sandwich (smoked beef, pimento cheese, pickled jalapeno, red onion, steak sauce aioli, Field & Fire burger bun). The beef was tender and the toppings gave it a slight kick that wasn't overly spicy.

The Green Well's brisket sandwich
I was hoping to visit Books & Mortar since it's a short walk from the Green Well, but it unfortunately is closed on Mondays (next time!). To get my indie bookstore fix, I went to Schuler Books & Music instead. Schuler is a three-store independent book chain with other locations in Okemos and Lansing. The Grand Rapids Schuler carries a mix of used and new books, as well as music and other gift items. It was a little out of the way from the other stops during my visit, but the trip was worth it because I was able to pick up a few books that I'd had my eye on for a while.

Schuler Books & Music
Grand Rapids is known for its beer, so I had to pick a brewery to visit. Unfortunately, I had to limit it to one, since I had to drive home that night. I chose Founders because it's one of Michigan's most famous breweries, and I'm a huge fan of their beer. Founders met my high expectations. I ordered two fantastic beers, the Rye Stout and the Nitro Sumatra Mountain Brown, and the Mug Clubber sandwich (chicken club with sliced roasted chicken, thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced McClure's pickles & mayo on San Fran sourdough). I took my time with the beers and the sandwich, savoring every last drop and morsel. I couldn't leave without a souvenir, so I purchased a growler of the Rye Stout.

Mug Clubber and Nitro Sumatra Mountain Brown
After Founders, I visited the nearby Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge. The below-street-level lounge has ample seating and a relaxing atmosphere. Unlike the "Come in, but take your coffee and get out!" feel of a certain large coffee chain, I was able to take my time while enjoying a well-crafted latte in the lounge.

My latte at Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge
It was a hot day, so I needed to cool off after my coffee. Ice cream was in order. The nearest ice cream place that popped up on my Google search was Love's Ice Cream. I'm still thanking my lucky stars that Love's happened to be the closest ice cream place. I ordered a small cone of the fresh mint chip and took a quick bite while the cashier was ringing me up. I have never tasted a mint chip that was so authentically minty. I told the cashier it was like a mojito without the alcohol. I've never called anyone about ice cream before, but I took out my phone and called my wife, Allison, to tell her how amazing the ice cream was. I wish I had figured out how to transport a vat of the mint chip home with me without having it melt all over my car.

Best mint chip ever!
Love's is located in the Downtown Market, an indoor market hall with multiple food vendors and two full-service restaurants. Fish Lads fish shop and Apertivo cheese shop caught my eye. I could easily see myself visiting the market regularly just to shop at those two shops if I were a local. The market also houses an incubator kitchen to help startup food businesses get off the ground. The market has an outdoor shed, where it hosts special events like the Vintage Street Market, food truck rallies, and kids events.  

My last stop was Long Road Distillers on the West Side. Craft distilling is taking off in Michigan, so I try to support this growing local industry. Long Road has a cool bar area and an interesting cocktail menu. Long Road uses locally grown ingredients and doesn't take shortcuts in the distilling process (thus the "Long Road"). Unlike many other distilleries, Long Road also serves food, but I couldn't eat another bite. If I were in town overnight and didn't have to drive (How much is a taxi/Uber/Lyft from Grand Rapids to Detroit?), I would have had more than the two small samples of bourbon and a wheat whiskey. I enjoyed both whiskeys and ended up purchasing a bottle of the wheat whiskey and a bottle of vodka for Allison, which she loves.

Long Road
I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit to Grand Rapids, and I am trying to find a weekend when I can come back for a visit soon. I know there is so much more to see and food and beverages to taste. If you are a Michigander who has not visited Grand Rapids, make plans to visit. I bet it will exceed your expectations as it did mine.

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