Category Archives: Eateries

Creative, Conscientious Cuisine at Grove

I had already been to Grove, one of the new restaurants in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about three times when I realized I hadn’t blogged about it. Partly because it’s such an enjoyable experience that I want to savor it for what it is rather than worrying about how my photos turn out. But this place is one of Bill’s and my new favorites in town. So I just have to spread the word. Grove brings the earth to table with modern, authentic cuisine featuring fresh, natural, local ingredients.

One of our favorite things to do when we go out to dinner, especially at the end of the week, is to sit at the bar. You rarely need a reservation, the service is great, and you can ask the bartender a lot of questions. (I’m sure they just love the interruption!) Grove has a creative list of unique cocktails, many that include homemade infusions. (Check out the jars on the shelf.)

So last weekend, we started off with drinks at the bar, followed by not one but two of our favorite appetizers there: The Whole Barnyard and Otto’s Crispy Chicken Lyonnaise. I love seeing Michigan wines on their drink menu and I went with M. Lawrence GR from the Leelanau Peninsula, where I’ve spent a lot of time visiting.

After an amuse bouche of seasonal pickled vegetables, the appetizers made their arrival.

The Whole Barnyard is just what it sounds like: a sampling of meat dishes, including Otto’s chicken rillettes, Creswick pork spread, rustic pork terrine, and condiments that accompany these delicious flavors.

The Crispy Chicken Lyonnaise included a slow-cooked egg, greens, beans, and local potatoes all topped with a crispy drumstick.

Grove’s mission is to “responsibly source as many ingredients as are available from local, family and sustainable farms.” As their website attests, “We take great care in the preparation of these ingredients to demonstrate our respect for how our farmers raise or grow these products.” If you want to know the farms they source from , you can see the list on their website. The reason I love this place is because their menu changes daily, based on seasonality.

For dinner, Bill order the S&S Duck Breast while I ordered the Parisian Gnocchi with Zingerman’s goat cheese and local vegetables.

It seems we make it to Grove about every two months—just enough time for the seasons and menu choices to change. Truth is, we’d probably go more often if we lived down the street. Grove is one restaurant in Grand Rapids that’s doing things right with a focus on conscientious, creative cuisine.

Trillium Haven Heaven

I knew it was coming. There had been plenty of press. But when you get your food locally and hang out with other people who do the same, the word gets around even before the newspapers publish the story.

I had heard of Trillium Haven Farm when it was a CSA (community supported agriculture). Then came rumblings about a farm-to-table restaurant planned for the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan. So I added it to my list of must-try eateries. When my friend Sue over at StirThePotGR suggested we go together, voila! We picked a date and went.

The restaurant, owned by Anja Mast and Michael VanderBrug, is located in the Kingsley Building, a  renovation project by Bazzani Associates, which focuses on  sustainable development and building practices–evident as soon as you walk in.

Since I was already a Facebook fan, I took a sneak-peek at the drink and food menus before I arrived. Trillium Haven offers fresh, seasonal produce from their farm and humanely raised grass-fed meats.

Even the drink menu is inspired by the season. It was another hot July day, so my mouth was watering for the Blueberry Spritzer before I got there. Sue had the very refreshing Spicy & Sweet Margarita.

For an appetizer, we tried the Smoked Whitefish Pate. Taking our time over drinks and pate, we eventually ordered–and shared– the Tuscan Kale Caesar (with yummy garlic bread crumbs) and the Tomato Pie, one of the flatbread pizzas on the menu. You can just taste the freshness in every sip and bite.

Trillium Haven is what farm-to-table eating is all about–delightful, fresh flavors that just make you feel good. I can’t wait to see how the menu changes with the seasons!

The Publican: “Pristine Product, Simply Prepared”

Photo credit: Bob Briskey Photography [Photo via The Publican]

“Pristine product, simply prepared.” That’s how Executive Chef Paul Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston describe The Publican, a Chicago restaurant designed like a European beer hall and located in the meatpacking district.

I had first read about The Publican in Bon Appetit magazine and put it on my mental list of restaurants to try the next time I went to Chicago. Finally the opportunity arrived so I went this past weekend with my friend Cathy. For some reason, I was thinking it was a locavore spot, but I have to admit I didn’t do my research before going.

The About section on the restaurant’s website describes an “eclectic menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare.” But farmhouse doesn’t always mean your local farmer’s house. Indeed, the menu included sources from as far away as both U.S. coasts, and beyond. That’s where the “pristine product” comes into play. While my philosophy toward food is about local, organic, sustainable, and humane, I know that not everyone has these preferences. Having spent my summers growing up in Rhode Island, I would bet the Rhode Island Skate Wing on the menu was delicious.

A number of meat items came from Slagel Family Farms, which I had seen on Illinois menus before, but nothing was labeled “pastured” or “grassfed” so I asked our server about those products. His answer was that their animals are not grassfed nor pastured, although if you read the Slagel Family Farms website you’ll learn that the cows are fed “a diet of grass, grain and alfalfa, hay and wheat straw.” Their beef products are “natural” but nothing indicates the cows roam on pastures. Same with the chickens. And the pigs, in fact, are raised in “open lots.”*

So, I opted for the Lake Erie lake perch. I’ve got  my own issues with fish as well–that’s another can of worms, so to speak, because of the farmed versus wild debate. I’m not sure consuming fish out of Lake Erie is better than “natural” beef. Still, I was happier eating meat from a fish that was likely freely swimming most of its life as opposed to a cow whose life I know nothing about or a pig raised in an “open lot.”

For dinner, Cathy and I started out with two delicious dishes from the Vegetable menu: the Pea Salad and the Grilled Asparagus.

Along came my fried lake perch, garnished with parmesan, bok choy and fried lemon slices. These were amazing! I had never had fried lemon slices before!

Cathy had the sirloin steak, which was topped with grilled ricotta cheese. (The steak is there somewhere…buried under the lovely salad!)

And who could resist a rhubarb dessert when it’s in season? We shared the Rhubarb Sorbet as well as the Rhubarb Waffle with Honey Butter. The sorbet was refreshing and a perfect finish for the meal. The waffle would have been a great start for breakfast! (But still, we liked it!)

While I’d like to see more “happy” meat on the menu, I was thrilled with the freshness and flavors of the dishes we ordered. There are many reasons to try The Publican—I’d love to hear about your experience!

*Note: While researching information for this blog post after dining at The Publican, I did learn that other pork items on the menu come from Becker Lane Organic Farm in Dyersville, Iowa, where the pigs are pastured.

Go Halfsies: Eat Less, Give More

Here’s a great dining-out concept I just read about in The Daily GOOD.

Halfsies: Connecting the Dots from Go Halfsies on Vimeo.

Go Halfsies, a social initiative, offers choice to diners to eat a healthier portion size, reduce food waste, and help fight hunger. According to GOOD, “Halfsies plans to partner with local restaurants, beginning in Austin and New York City, that will designate a certain portion of their menu to the initiative. When a customer chooses a meal with a ‘go halfsies’ symbol, she’ll pay full price while receiving only half of the portion. Ninety percent of the proceeds are donated to support the fight against hunger.”

Download their brochure to learn more. And watch for the Halfsies icon on menus! 

A Special Dinner

Last night I had the privilege of collaborating with Butch’s Restaurant in Holland, Michigan to promote my cookbook, Nothing to Sneeze At, during a dinner for which Chef Adam prepared wheat-free, corn-free, cow-dairy-free recipes from the book. I think several of the dinner guests were pleasantly surprised when they tasted the dishes he made and realized how delicious they can be–even with substitutions. For me, it was a treat to taste my recipes made by a professional chef!

We had a great turnout of 20 people and dinner was held in one of Butch’s private dining rooms.

The evening started with a book signing and, after a brief introduction about the cookbook, we began our four-course meal.

Each of the courses was chosen by Chef Adam from one of four sections in the cookbook: soup, meat, pasta, and vegetarian.

Dessert was a yummy vegan chocolate cupcake provided by the baker at Uncommon Grounds in Saugatuck, Michigan, who also bakes for Butch’s.

The event was a fun way to share my experience with food allergies, which were first introduced to me by Bill.

Thanks to Butch for hosting the event–the first of its kind at his restaurant with a focus on food allergies–and showing how the restaurant values its customers by accommodating special dietary needs.

Can You Canoe?

Photo via Canoe Restaurant

During my visit to Toronto this past fall with my friend Cathy, one of the culinary highlights was Canoe.

Located on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion (TD)  Bank Tower, it was a big step for me, who doesn’t do skyscrapers–let’s say nothing higher than 30 floors–since 9/11. I know, it’s irrational. But that’s where I landed after the traumatic experience of that event. I figure I can run down thirty flights pretty quickly if I need to.

It was worth the trip once I got off the elevator. Opening a bottle of wine right away helped, of course.

But the real draw–besides the view of Toronto and Lake Ontario–was the chef’s creative use of artisanal Canadian ingredients. It’s all spelled out on the menu.

While our server assured us that the Chef chooses local ingredients whenever possible, not everything was regional. I’ve come across the same dilemma in the States as well. Sometimes you have to go to the prairie states or provinces to get the best pastured lamb because there may not be a supplier nearby that can accommodate a restaurant’s demands. At least it’s better than procuring from New Zealand.

So, I had the Alberta lamb with turnips and butterball potatoes that night. And it was divine. Nothing beats seasonal vegetables to accompany a meat like lamb.

Before the main course of lamb, I started the meal with a duck bacon.

And finished with artisanal cheese, nuts, and cranberry bread.

I think it may be one of the best restaurants in Toronto. And, if you’re not afraid of heights, it won’t be a challenge to zoom to the 54th floor of the TD Tower!

Sunday Brunch at Gilead Cafe

Last month when I was in Toronto with my friend Cathy, one of our favorite spots to eat was Gilead Cafe, a restaurant in the historic Corktown district. It was started by Jamie Kennedy, known across Canada for his commitment to sustainable agriculture, advocacy of local food, and  fostering connections between farmers and chefs.

Isn’t it obvious by the decor?

Jars of preserves, pickles, and vegetables lined the walls of the restaurant.

Sunday brunch, with homemade jams and freshly baked pastries, is a delicious way to start off the day.  The menu changes frequently and is written on the chalkboard and posted at the door.

I had the very yummy Brunch Tart with Salad.

Cathy had the Bacon Rösti with Cheesy Scrambled Eggs.

What I really like about Gilead Cafe is its simplicity: local, fresh ingredients in an unpretentious, intimate setting. It’s the perfect place for Sunday brunch in Toronto.