Have Appetite, Will Travel: A Guide to Grand Rapids Restaurant Week 2014

Restaurant Week Grand Rapids is happening August 13-24, 2014. Sixty restaurants offer three-course tasting menus featuring their culinary team’s skills and the West Michigan harvest. Molly Crist, Experience Grand Rapids blogger and Onward Travel tour operator, fills us in on this year’s RWGR highlights.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Grand Rapidians love food, beer, wine, and getting out on the town… which makes Restaurant Week one of the best times of the year in our corner of the Mitten. It’s time to head to West Michigan and warm a restaurant seat while soaking up the waning summer because RWGR is happening Wednesday, August 13 to Sunday, August 24. Read on for highlights of this year’s event that combines creative chefs, a range of beverages, the peak of Michigan’s harvest, and summertime revelry.

Great food for a terrific value

Three-course menus are $28 per person, though you’ll find two for $28 at several restaurants: Lindo Mexico, Rezervoir Lounge, Fajita Republic and Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine. Check out Fajita Republic’s DIY guacamole – fresh haas avocados with a selection of toppings (spiced pepitas, pico de gallo, bacon, chiles, oh my!) that you can mix until your heart’s content.

Perfect timing

August is the height of harvest in West Michigan. It’s the best time of the year for farmers markets and gardeners (holy summer squash!), which means locavore chefs are smiling, too. RWGR menus celebrate the bounty and your taste buds will, too. From sweet corn, to heirloom tomatoes, to Great Lake fish, it doesn’t get any fresher.

Food and beverage pairing

Alambre_Especial1

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

This year’s theme is Perfect Pairings. GR’s reputation as Beer City USA is well established with fifteen craft breweries and more popping up all the time. The Great Lake’s ability to insulate coastal farmland, keeping it cool in summer and preventing a bitter freeze in winter, means Michigan has a climate for wine production, and fortunately many local producers are creating delicious wines. Distilleries are popping up around the state, with creative spirits growing in popularity. To celebrate Michigan’s status as a beverage-producing-triple-threat – not to mention all the carefully roasted and brewed coffees – RWGR’s theme emphasizes the art of pairing food and drink.

CitySen is featuring a Southern-Style American menu, from Fried Green Tomatoes, to Chicken and Waffles, to Pecan Pie. Try the Baby Back Ribs braised in Bell’s Oberon paired with a pint of Oberon mixed with Founders’ Rubaeus, a good complement to the fruity house-made BBQ sauce.  Bar Divani has an eclectic, flavor-forward-menu that offers an appetizer, salad, and entree – try starting with the Pulled Pork Rangoons with Sesame Chili Sauce, paired with a glass of Noel Bougrier Vouvray.

Local beverages are in the food, too!

In addition to pairing food and drink, chefs are cooking with locally-made beverages. At Grand Rapids Brewing Company, you can enjoy Michigan’s only certified organic brewery and chef-inspired, gourmet cuisine. The Brewer’s Flan on GRBC’s RWGR menu is a chocolate stout custard with cocoa nibs, salted caramel and mint, no doubt delicious with some stout in your glass, too. The Rubeaus Cheesecake at Licari’s is quite decadent, too, with Amoretti Cookie crust and a suggested pairing of Ferris Coffee Nicaraguan brew or Atwater’s Decadent Chocolate Stout.

Do good while dining

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

One dollar from each meal goes towards a scholarship fund at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. Since 2010, RWGR participating restaurants have donated almost $75,000 to the fund. It’s all about growing our local food culture in Grand Rapids, from farms to classrooms.

Cocktail competition

Local mixologists at participating RWGR restaurants are shaking it up for the Grand Cocktail competition that debuts August 6. Mixologists will vie to win an all-expense paid trip to Woodford Reserve in Kentucky. You can participate by sipping cocktails around town and voting at restaurantweekgr.com. Start at Judson’s at the B.O.B. with a sip of their Bufala Negra, a seasonal concoction of Woodford Reserve, basil, brown sugar, ginger beer and balsamic brown sugar simple syrup. Cheers, indeed!

Be a part of the fun

Beyond the tantalizing food choices, RWGR is an annual dining highlight because of the bustling atmosphere and feeling of culinary-inspired revelry.

Take advantage of an opportunity to visit a spot that might normally be out of your price range, a newly opened restaurant, or a place you’ve never been. invite your friends and enjoy wonderful food, a bustling city, a walkable downtown with many dining choices, and al fresco dining options to make the most of the beautiful summer nights ahead.

Do you plan to check out Grand Rapids Restaurant Week? 

Take a Staycation, Explore Culinary Hidden Gems in Northern Michigan

You won’t find salt water beaches, palm trees, or coral reefs in northern Michigan – and that’s just the way we like it. Traverse City and its surrounding areas are some of the most scenic and beautiful destinations in the world, and they just might be in the comfort of your own back yard. If you’re a northern Michigander, here’s a roundup of some of the off-the-beaten-path food and culture gems to check out when you want to get away without going far.

First things first- the beer.

Traverse City is home to many breweries, taprooms, and pubs that you can only find when visiting.  You can’t truly call yourself a craft beer connoisseur until you try some of the many, many delicious brews that have made the breweries famous.  Some of the most popular destinations to grab a cold one:

  • Brewery Terra Firma fall-color-tour
    • Brewery Terra Firma is unique in its approach as a brewery and as an agricultural destination. Through the integration of sustainable production methods, environmentally conscious waste management and innovative water recycling/reclamation techniques, they hope to become a model for breweries and agricultural destinations throughout the nation.
  • The Workshop Brewing Company
    • The Workshop Brewing Company exists to preserve Northern Michigan’s spectacular natural environment, to reinforce Traverse City’s warm and vital community, and to honor traditional craft. They do not consider their business to be a success unless they are demonstrably and sustainably doing all three. They express this commitment by using the Trifidelity symbol, which stands for their motto: Nature. Community. Craft.
  • The Filling Station Microbrewery ???????????????????????????????
    • Established in the spring of 2012, The Filling Station Microbrewery is a family owned and operated business, dedicated to providing friendly and knowledgeable service and the highest quality of hand crafted brews and edibles.  Located just off the TART Trail in the historic railroad district, the Filling Station Microbrewery features a rotating list of at least 10 craft beers, which pair perfectly with our wood-fired flatbreads and fresh salads.  Whether on your own, meeting friends or with your family, patrons of all ages feel welcomed in our casual pub-style setting.   You’ll enjoy views of Boardman Lake from inside the pub or out on the patio, live music and the occasional train passing by.
  • Right Brain Brewery
    • Right Brain Brewing is committed to using the best available local ingredients in every small batch of  craft brew. Featuring a rotating right brained beer menu & artwork!
  • Short’s Brewing Company
    • Today Short’s Brewing Company continues its efforts to make the best beer on earth in Northern Michigan. Although Shorts has quickly grown to be one of Michigan’s largest breweries, they still take pride in their hands-on, mom-and-pop approach and the energy they put into the quality of our beer, food, staff, customers and facilities.
  • Stafford’s Noggin Room Pub
    • The Noggin Room Pub’s casual and comfortable atmosphere provides a great place to break from shopping the near-by Gaslight District, meet with friends and enjoy our award winning selection of domestic and imported beers. With personal service from the “Best Staff in Northern Michigan” (as voted by Northern Express), we’re sure you’ll feel right at home.

For those looking to enjoy their favorite node of Traverse City wine, check out these taste rooms and vineyards:

  • Left Foot Charley LeftFootCharly
    • The winery has since grown to around 6000 cases and is located in the former Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Traverse City, Michigan. The urban environment has served to bring the terroir to the people. LFC is a Michigan version of an Austrian Heuriger – a place where aromatic and flavorful wine is an everyday event. Locals and visitors alike have come to realize that the non-traditional setting pairs perfectly with the atypical fruit sourcing and old style winemaking that defines LFC. Left Foot has a committed a focus on white wine varietals, hard cider, and sparkling wine.
  • Blustone Vineyards
    • Bluestone’s story started 20 years ago visiting Leland as a family for the first time. The simplicity and beauty of the “tucked away” secret that is Leelanau has always been what we treasure most about the area. There is a connection to the land found only here amongst the lakes, dunes, hills, and sunlit fields and our dream to start Blustone was born out of that.

If you give a mouse a cookie, they’ll ask for a glass of milk. If you give a tourist a beer, they’ll ask for something to eat.  

Along with famous craft beers, Traverse City is known state and nation wide as a hub for unique and tasty meals from your not-so-typical mom and pop type restaurants.  Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast, fresh caught walleye, or a mouth watering burger, Traverse City boasts it all.  At the risk of leaving out some hidden gems, here’s a few nibble nooks you won’t want to miss:

  • Bay Bread Co.
    • Specialties: Breakfast and lunch sandwiches and some of the best baked goods you can find!
  • Cherry Republic

    • Celebrating the beauty and spirit of northern Michigan in everything we make and do, Cherry Republic has grown from a t-shirt sold out of the trunk of a car to the world’s largest exclusive retailer of cherry food creations. Along the way, we have turned one man’s vision into a nation of citizens embracing his creed of life, liberty, beaches, and pie.
  • Pepe Nero Kabob
    • PepeNero is a cozy and intimate restaurant snuggled inside the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Owners Giorgio and Monica Lo Greco are experienced professionals who know how to amaze your palate by preparing simple, genuine Italian food utilizing the gift of fresh seasonal ingredients from local markets and the high quality of imported Italian products.
  • Quay Restaurant and Bar
    • Quay Restaurant + Terrace Bar, pronounced kwā, is located in the beautiful town of Charlevoix, Michigan.  Come enjoy our three story restaurant and bar offering a New American menu along with a comprehensive wine and beer list.
  • Terry’s of Charlevoix
    • With over 35 years in the business since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Terry Left, the proprietor, and Paul Bradley, the executive chef, have brought their years of experience to bear in developing exquisite recipes complemented by just the right sauces. Terry’s offers excellent full course dinners in a warm, casual dining atmosphere. Given the close proximity to the Great Lakes, their fish entrées are a fresh and ever-popular selection.
  • City Park Grill
    • In 1997 Bob & Mary Keedy, Dick & Laura Dinon, Chef John Norman, and Patrick Faylor purchased the Park Garden Café and changed the name to City Park Grill. The menu was changed as well to reflect their scratch kitchen and daily/seasonal specials. Since then, the restaurant has been restored to the glory days of the past, serving a wide array of guests from around the world.
  • Twisted Olive Quattro beef_1920x1200
    • A true Northern Michigan gem, Twisted Olive Quattro offers some of the most unique and decadent samplers, entrees, and drinks of anywhere in the mitten.
  • Cafe Sante
    • A casual, European-style bistro serving The Classics—simply and with flair. Featuring wood-fired pizzas, mussels and frites, pastas, Panini, unique breakfasts and casual cuisine from other fine European traditions.

Now that’ you’re good and full, you’re probably wondering what is there to do?

From the Sleeping Bear Dunes, scenic Lake Michigan beaches, and countless trails to explore, there truly isn’t enough time in one day to see it all.  If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, we encourage you to check out a guided tour or make a stop at one of the local museums.  You can’t go wrong with what you pick to do in TC, but here’s a few of our favorite things to get you started:

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes tour outdoors_naturepark_dunes
    • You will find a wide variety of activities for every age available to you at the Lakeshore. Climb the Dunes, swim at one of the many beaches, or take a hike through the Maple/Beech forest to some beautiful overlooks. Maybe you will want to spend some time in the museums or tour Port Oneida to learn about the rich history and culture of the area.
  • Music House Museum Tour
    • Recognized by Forbes.com as one of the ten reasons to visit Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Music House Museum offers a unique collection of instruments that provide guests with a walk through the history, the artistry and the engineering of automated music.
  • Earl Young House Tour
    • This tour will take you around the triangular block bounded by Park Avenue, Grant Street, and Clinton Street.  Here you can see some of the most famous, and most beloved, work of long-time Charlevoix resident, Earl Young, homes he built or remodeled beginning in the late 1930s, and culminating in the construction of the “mushroom house” in the 1950s.
  • Castle Farms Garden Tour kings_grand
    • Northern Michigan’s very own fairy tale castle! With cobblestone courtyards, soaring stone towers, and magnificent sweeping gardens, Castle Farms has earned a reputation as one of Michigan’s premiere historic attractions, as well as a celebrated wedding venue. Whether you’re on a travel adventure, or searching for the perfect site in which to exchange marriage vows, this French Renaissance style castle offers the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern-day elegance for visitors seeking family fun and bridal couples-to-be.
  • Little Traverse History Museum
    • The Little Traverse Historical Socity was established in 1905 and, 1969, it was incorporated as a non- profit organization, “To preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge of the history of the Little Traverse Bay Area.” To this end, and with the support of members and winter and summer residents, they acquired and restored the abandoned Chicago and West Michigan Railroad depot. Originally built in 1892 to accommodate the large influx of summer resorters, the depot now serves the area as The Little Traverse History Museum.  The museum houses the historical society’s archives, long term displays, and an annual new summer display.  It is also the site of ongoing programs.  Currently, the museum is only open during the summer season (Memorial Day – mid October).
  • Cooking demonstration at Fustini’s
    • The company was founded by Jim and Lane Milligan, who lived in Minneapolis/St. Paul and took frequent family vacations to the beautiful resort town of Traverse City, Michigan. Like many others before them, the Milligans fell in love with northern Michigan and hoped to “someday” settle down there.  Flash-forward to today and Fustini’s is a Northern Michigan staple!

With everything there is to eat, drink and do in Northern Michigan, there’s no reason not to plan your staycation!  These are just a few of our own suggestions, however.  For more information on how to plan your own staycation in Northern Michigan or any other #PureMichigan destination, visit michigan.org

Celebrate National Asparagus Month with These Fun Facts and Events

Did you know that May is National Asparagus Month? Today, guest blogger Nicole Heslip from Michigan Farm Radio Network shares some fun facts, events and a simple, delicious recipe to help us celebrate asparagus season in Pure Michigan. 

For other ways to celebrate Michigan agriculture, visit michigan.org to help you plan a visit to a U-pick farm, orchard or farm market near you.

Asparagus3It’s nutritious, flavorful, and one of Michigan’s first signs of spring. Michigan asparagus is the state’s first green vegetable harvested each year, and this year, it’s fashionably late. A typical Michigan asparagus harvest begins in mid April, but in the wake of our long, cold winter and cooler spring, that’s not the case this year. After a near-three-week delay in the growing season, asparagus stalks are finally making their way to a farm stand or produce isle near you! 

Nestled on Michigan’s west coast, the majority of Michigan asparagus is grown in Oceana County, the Asparagus Capitol of the World! Hart, Michigan is home to the National Asparagus Festival, set for June 6-8th this year, and our very own Asparagus Queen. Travel down the coast near South Haven, and you’ve stepped foot in the second-largest producing area of the state. There are about 10,000 acres in Michigan producing asparagus, mostly between these two regions.

Harvest is typically a six to seven week season, with May in the center of it all. In fact, May celebrates Michigan Asparagus Month! Unlike crops like corn that can be picked, combined or chopped just once, all asparagus in Michigan is hand harvested. Throughout the season, asparagus will continue generating new growth, which means harvesters could make 25 to 35 trips across each field to harvest the complete crop. Import competition and labor shortages have dropped acreage in Washington state from 32,000 acres down to less than 6,000. As a result, Michigan moved up in the ranks as the 2nd largest producer of asparagus in the nation, producing just less than 21 million pounds.

ApsaragusThis year’s harvest is expected to be in full swing around the middle of May and through June. Despite the late start, the crop can have a successful year, as long as Mother Nature cooperates and farmers find a workforce for harvesting. Our fresh-picked asparagus will be marketed one of three ways. It can be processed as asparagus cuts or whole spears, or it will be sold on the fresh market.

Coming to farm markets and produce sections near you, with only a two month harvest window, be sure to stock up and enjoy fresh Michigan asparagus this May.

Once you’ve made a visit to your local U-pick farm or farm market, keep the Michigan asparagus celebration going with this delicious recipe from Michigan Ag Council:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 5.25.48 PMHerb Frittata with Michigan Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Servings : 4
Time : 15 minutes

Ingredients:

6-8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (May also roast. steam or sauté asparagus)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used some dried dill weed from my last year’s garden)
3/8 teaspoon salt
A pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces soft goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)

Directions

Combine asparagus and 1/4 cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water; drain. Combine chives, dill, salt, pepper,nutmeg and eggs in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.
Preheat broiler to high.
Heat a small ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat.
Add asparagus and egg mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes or until eggs are partially set, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese.
Place pan under broiler. Broil 2 minutes or until eggs are set and top is lightly browned.
Remove pan from oven. Run a spatula around edge and under frittata to loosen from pan; slide frittata onto a plate or cutting board. Cut into 4 wedges.

Have you been to a Michigan farm market? Where did you go?

Nicole_Heslip_headshotNicole Heslip is an Agri-News Reporter for the Michigan Farm Radio Network, bringing the latest market updates and agricultural news to more than 250,000 listeners across Michigan. She also currently serves on the communications workgroup for the Michigan Agricultural and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).  Nicole grew up as a dairy farmer’s daughter in Allegan County, where her family today milks more than 2,200 cows and operates a custom farming business.