Ten Reasons to Participate in
“Cool Brews. Hot Eats.” 2014 in Grand Rapids

Save your appetite – Cool Brews. Hot Eats. starts on February 17, 2014! For the second year in a row, Grand Rapids chefs prepare to wow the masses with two weeks of unique menu items, off-the-wall beer and food pairings and putting a twist on eating out in Beer City USA. Here are 10 reasons to participate in this year’s event from Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rpaids

1. It’s year two!  In case you weren’t involved last year, Cool Brews. Hot Eats. (CBHE) was born in 2013 as a community opportunity to celebrate the rich brewing culture we’ve cultivated in West Michigan.  It’s a chance for chefs and brewers to meet in the middle and concoct wacky pairings that will truly boggle your palette.  It’s also a chance to draw attention to some restaurants that utilize beer year round.

2. Cider is in!  This year, the powers at be have also encouraged chefs to utilize the abundance of local cideries to try a menu item with hard cider.  This is truly great news if you’re gluten free or not a huge beer lover. Check out One Trick Pony’s Cider Charcuterie option.

3. There’s no pricing structure that restaurants have to follow!  During Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids, many chefs prepare amazing meals based on a decided “two-for $” price, which can limit the ingredient options for chefs and the capacity to sample for the guest.  For CBHE, you can get one collaboration item off the menu to try, and hop all over town eating as many menu features as you can handle.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

4. On the other hand, these two weeks could be your chance to attend a full beer dinner affordably.  At an assortment of participating businesses, you can enjoy the full cooking with beer experience in five courses, aka the commitment meal.  Check out Amore Trattoria Italiana’s five course Beercentric Menu for a delicious example.

5. As part of the Grand Rapids Beer Week leading up to Winter Beer Festival, Experience Grand Rapids is excited to release the Beer City Ale Trail Map to the public!  This map features an extensive listing of the finest breweries, wineries and cideries around, so make sure you grab one when you’re ready to hit the Ale Trail.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

6. Everybody’s doing it! The whole city is rallying behind our proud Beer City banner in the week leading up to Winter Beer Festival.  This is the second year Grand Rapids has won Beer City USA and the week warming up to it is expected to be big for beer tourism around the city and surrounding areas.

7. Tap Takeovers! These will be all over town so ask your bartender where to head next.  For example, the Mitten Brewing Co. and Our Brewing Co. will be taking over at The Green Well, who reportedly use 7-10 gallons of beer every week in their cookery!

8. Hotels are on board the beer train as well.  The Marriott Springhill Suites North is including Beer City pint glasses at check in, or check out CityFlats Hotel for a complimentary growler and fill at check-in.  Click here to check out other participating hotels.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

9. Many of these collaborations include locally sourced, Michigan focused foods. From Bistro Bella Vita to Bobarino’s, these collaborations are another chance for local chefs to source as much as possible from the Mitten state!  Try Frank’s Kielbasa, locally smoked cheddar cheese, or the “Tim Allen” at Derby Station – a Pure Michigan Turkey burger filled with diced bacon, Derby Spice Blend, topped with Tandoori sweet potato fries, jalapeno mango aioli, avocado salsa and Mud Lake Farms mixed greens on a Little Rooster Brioche Bun.

10. There are so many great restaurants in the Grand Rapids area. Why not break up winter and try a few during these two weeks?  Click here to see a full list of participating restaurants and their menus. Try not to drool!

For more information on Cool Brews. Hot Eats. 2014 and other winter events in Grand Rapids, check out the video below.

Did you attend Cool Brews. Hot Eats. 2013? Tell us about your experience. Let us know if you’ll be at this year’s event!

Author: Lyndsay Israel originated in Northern Michigan and is now a dedicated Grand Rapids resident.  When she grows up, the plan is to teach high school English and Chemistry classes.  She writes to show how much she loves the mitten state!  Look for her articles at The Awesome Mitten and Experience GR, or follow her on Twitter @lyndsayisrael.

Global Flavors, Local Scene at
Ann Arbor Restaurant Week

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week begins this Sunday, January 12th and runs through January 17th. Today, Laura Berarducci from Visit Ann Arbor takes us on a culinary tour of  some of Ann Arbor’s finest global flavors. 

A lot of people are talking about starting diets now that the food-indulgent holiday season has passed. However, for this foodie, the real holiday is about to begin. I invite you to join me on a global culinary adventure — feel free to leave your passport at home.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week kicks off Sunday, January 12 and lasts six delicious days. There are 55 amazing restaurants participating, all of them contributing in their own way to Ann Arbor’s designation of “Best Midwest Food Town.” One of the things that makes Ann Arbor such a remarkable culinary destination is the culturally-diverse options.

Before we pack our bags, here’s a quick over view of how it works. Each participating restaurant offers a prix fixe menu with lunches at $15 and dinners at $28. What’s even better is that many of these restaurants offer 2-for-1 deals! Check out the full list of restaurants and menus at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com and make your reservations early!

Destination: Spain
Restaurant: Aventura

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fennel Photography

This Spanish tapas restaurant and bar is the newest addition to Restaurant Week and the décor is as beautiful as the food is delicious. Head Chef Jules Botham has compiled a menu that is sure to showcase the authentic flavors which inspired owner Sava Lelcaj after a trip to Spain. The menu (dinner only) consists of five courses, including “pintxos” which are small appetizers served on bread secured with a toothpick.  One of my favorite elements of this prix fixe menu is the numerous options presented in each course. You could probably dine here every night during Restaurant Week and have an entirely different experience each time.

Destination: Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, and Austria)
Restaurant: Amadeus

When you walk into Amadeus, you immediately feel like you’ve been transported to a small European café. From the tin ceiling to the large windows looking out onto the city streets, the ambiance sets the stage for the meal you’re about to enjoy. In addition to offerings such as snitzel, placeki, and pierogi, the desserts are one of a kind. The options at Amadeus for Restaurant Week can fit a party of any size – offering 2-for-1 prices, prix fixe options with multiple courses, and even a Sunday Brunch.

Destination: Ethiopia
Restaurant: The Blue Nile

Photo courtesy of VisitAnnArbor.org

Possibly the most unique stop on this culinary excursion is the warm and friendly Blue Nile. However, be sure to leave your inhibitions behind as the etiquette in Ethiopia is to share food from a single plate without the use of cutlery. Instead, tear apart pieces of “injera” — Ethiopian bread with a spongy texture — and pick up the food by pinching it between your fingers. You’ll be provided a hot towel both before and after your meal, so you may as well dig in! While you’re there, be sure to warm up with a hot cup of Ethiopian tea.

Destination: India
Restaurant: Shalimar

I’ll be the first to admit that I can easily overindulge at an Indian buffet, so choosing from a prix fixe menu during Restaurant Week is a nice way to keep myself in line. Shalimar specializes in Northern Indian cuisine with a focus on tandoori and biryani dishes. Both the lunch and dinner menus offer a lot of options and variety; however, with a samosa appetizer on the lunch menu and a Masala Chai with dessert on the dinner menu, I’m going to have a very hard time choosing between the two.

Destination: Germany
Restaurant: Metzger’s

The Metzger family has been serving authentic German cuisine in the Ann Arbor area for more than 80 years. Now located on the west side of Ann Arbor, it is also one of the few restaurants on the list with easy parking. With the dinner pricing so reasonable, be sure to order a stein filled with a German beer from their rotating taps. You’ll definitely want to bring a friend with you since Metzger’s is one of the restaurants providing the 2-for-1 option for both lunch and dinner.

These five restaurants are just a few of the gastronomic gems Ann Arbor has to offer so please take a look at the full list of participating restaurants at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com and design your own adventure. Don’t forget to pack your appetite!

Laura Berarducci is the Director of Marketing for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been an Ann Arbor resident for more than 30 years. She loves to plan walking food tours with out-of-town friends. For more information about Ann Arbor and its 300+ area restaurants, check out www.VisitAnnArbor.org

The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

This summer, John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 551 S Division St., Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo.