Last weekend was my first time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and while I was excited to see the city that Mark calls home Mondays through Thursdays every week, I didn’t expect to be blown away. However, in a matter of three nights and three days, that is exactly what happened. Between the food, the lively city center, the artsy Eastown neighborhood, and the parks, Grand Rapids turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows that I did in fact eat my way through Grand Rapids, and I owe it all to Urban Spoon and the fabulous recommendations of the locals. My culinary journey began with dinner on the night I arrived. We were famished after Mark gave me a running tour of downtown, and luckily Bistro Bella Vita was only a stone’s throw away from the hotel. Since I was only able to see Mark during the evenings (he had to work straight through the weekend), we wanted to make sure we were hitting up the best places for our dinners together, and Bistro Bella Vita did not disappoint. The homey brick and dark wood interior was warm and relaxing, as was the delicious Rigatoni Bolognese we both had for our dinner selection.
The following morning, after I left Mark at Bissell, I looked into a hot breakfast spot called Wolfgang’s. They boasted to have the “Best Breakfast in Grand Rapids” on their website, so how could I possibly pass that up? While I can’t be sure if it was in fact the best breakfast in town, it certainly was scrumptious. I had a version of eggs Benedict that was made up of a slice of English muffin bread layered with a veritable pound of crispy bacon, a massive over-easy fried egg, and rich hollandaise sauce. The hash browns (with my “free onions” as they were offered to me by my very kind and attentive server) were golden, crispy on the outside, and perfectly potatoey on the inside. Yes, I just made up the word “potatoes”; the situation demanded it. After turning down a third cup of diner-lovely coffee, I reluctantly pushed myself away from the counter and walked across the street to the every-so-convenient running store, Striders. The staff was friendly and helpful, and the store itself was large, organized, and well stocked. Bonus points: I finally managed to find a pair of sunglasses that didn’t make me look like a complete dweeb. Huzzah!
After breakfast and Striders, I hit the popular Kent Trails for a long bike ride. I didn’t want to neglect my training while I was away (and I definitely needed to work off the previous night’s pasta). One of the Bissell employees that Mark works with is also a triathlete, and she suggested the trails because they are paved and there is no street traffic. The trails stretch for 15 miles over a vast area that ranges from wooded, riverside, marshy, open plains, and lakeside terrain. They were smooth and mostly flat, with the exception of some rolling hills near Millennium Park and Lake Leota. I highly recommend these trails to anyone who visits Grand Rapids. If you don’t like biking or running on pavement, there were also plenty of off-road trails.
The 27.5 mile bike ride of course had me starving by the time I packed everything back into the CR-V, so once again I trusted Urban Spoon’s reviews to steer me in the right direction. I was steered towards The Electric Cheetah. Obviously I had to go when I saw it pop up on my list of options. Cheetahs…um, hello? They’re only, like, the coolest animals on the planet. As soon as I walked in and sidled up to the counter (I’m a sucker for eating at counters), I was in love. The atmosphere was fun and eclectic, but not in that annoying Friday’s kind of way. There was original art on the walls, fun lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and of course a giant metal cheetah sculpture. The oven-hood was surrounded by this beautiful metal work of cheetahs running through tall grasses. It truly was stunning. One of the restaurants “things” is root beer. They carry/feature 28 different kinds of specialty root beer. Seriously, could this place get any better? My waitress was very helpful in recommending a creamy, slightly sweet selection, which went perfectly with what was no doubt one of the best (and aptly named) sandwiches I’ve ever consumed in my life: The Optimus Prime. I almost feel silly calling it a sandwich because it was more than that; it was a work of art. This art piece consisted of tender prime rib, crispy asparagus spears, velvety melted cheddar, crunchy fried-onions, and creamy horseradish sauce, all of which was neatly stacked on a soft pretzel roll. Sweet baby Jesus, it was heavenly.
After Mark returned from work, we decided to try a restaurant called Grove that a Bissell employee had suggested. Located on Cherry Street, this small yet modern establishment changes its menu daily based on the local ingredients it receives, and it was an instant favorite with us. Wanting something on the lighter side since I was still recovering from my lunch, I ordered a crepe stuffed with goat cheese and peas, sitting on a carrot puree along with a kale salad. Mark had pork two ways, which included crispy pork belly [insert smacking of lips here]. Though my dish may sound boring, especially when compared to Mark’s (pork belly!), it was perfection. Light, fresh, colorful, and packed with flavor, it was, in a word, lovely. Feeling comfortably full, we both didn’texpect to order dessert, but when we took a look at the menu, dessert was a must. Mark ordered these adorably tiny, ice-cream sandwiches, which he quickly dispatched, and I ordered what I thought was simply “chocolate fudge.” However, it was so much more than that. The dessert was composed of a thick layer of chocolate fudge, some sort of airy cake, a brûlée topping, and some sort of sauce. I wish I could remember a more accurate description, but I inhaled it so quickly, I barely had time to think about committing it to memory. It was insanely delicious. Upon the suggestion of our waitress, we topped off the night with drinks across the street at The Green Well. In short, it was the perfect day.
The following morning, after a quick run on the Kent Trails around Millennium Park, I opted for a lighter breakfast at Madcap Coffee, where I had the prettiest latte I’ve ever seen and the most wonderfully tasty blueberry scone of my 33 years on this planet. Madcap also gets bonus points for having almond milk. I dedicated the rest of the morning to exploring the shops back on Cherry Street. I stopped in at YT Galleria, which sells a mix of locally made items. Found was another little store that sold vintage clothing, furniture, and various other household decor and items. Lamb, a funky odds-and-ends store next door to Found was another retailer where I had to remind myself that I couldn’t buy one of everything. I really fell in love with this quaint street and it’s collection of fun, interesting stores and people.
Just around the corner from the Cherry Street boutiques was my next food stop. One of the employees at Striders had told me about the place, and since I was faring well upon those recommendations, I decided to check it out. Marie Catrib’s is now a qualifier for my top 10 favorite restaurants of all time. Not only is the restaurant itself hip and fun, the food was amazing! Once again. there was a focus on using ingredients from local farmers, and everything was fresh. I took my server’s advice and went with the fish tacos – known as the Bruce Anchor on the menu – which were hands down the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten. To quote the menu directly, the Bruce Anchor is “Grilled barramundi fish tacos served with our own creamy garlic-lime-citrus slaw with your choice of flour or corn tortillas.” In case you’re wondering how this ends, I went with the corn tortillas, and while I was munching away on said fantastic tacos, I couldn’t help but notice a display case near their lunch counter (sadly, I did not get a seat at the counter this time) that housed all of their beautiful desserts. Naturally I had to order something. All of the cakes and cookies looked pretty and hearty. When I asked once more for the waiter’s suggestion, he said I should get the pudding. I looked at it, and it was, well, ugly. Alright, ugly is a strong word. It looked unassuming. However, I wasn’t going to argue with someone who clearly knew his stuff, so I got the pudding…and thank the stars I did. It was euphorically fabulous! Even though it was thick and rich, it still managed to be light. Pure magic, I tell you. Pure. Magic.
I worked off some of my lunch and waited for Mark to get back from Bissell by traipsing around the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. I had originally been searching for a quiet park area to sit and write in my journal, but what I found was this amazing greenhouse on steroids. By the time I arrived, I only had 30 minutes until it closed, so I sort of saw the place at sprint pace. Still, it was breathtaking. Each of the greenhouses were separate. There was an arid, carnivorous, Victorian, tropical, and perennial greenhouse, and all were equally beautiful and impressive. Though there were smaller sculptures and art pieces inside, outside is where the really amazing pieces were located. The grounds that these sculptures were on were green and lush. There was a marsh, a waterfall, rolling hills, an amphitheater, and more. My favorite sculpture that I saw (there were lots that I didn’t have time to see) was the The American Horse.
That night, Mark and I were to have dinner with his team at – according to all of his coworkers – the best Indian restaurant in town: Bombay. While Indian food is not Mark’s or my favorite, this place was very tasty. I had the Mushroom Matter, which I had never tried before. Also, it was the best naan I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming, and I consumed a lot.
Though I don’t have a fabulous meal to report on for Sunday, I do have a fabulous race. Since I was in town, I decided to volunteer at the Grand Rapids Triathlon. I’m so glad I did. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at a race, but I’ve been either too busy actually racing them or it just didn’t line up with my schedule. The course was very nice, and the race itself was very well-organized. The race, which was comprised of a sprint, Olympic distance, and half-iron, was completely sold out: 1500 racers. It was so cool, for lack of a better word, to be able to watch everyone come out of the water and run to the transition area. I literally applauded every single racer that ran by. A few of the racers were pulling special-needs children in kayaks, then pulling the kids behind them on their bikes, and finally pushing them in strollers for the run. It brought tears to my eyes to see these dedicated parents – both fathers and mothers – scooping up their children and running with them to the transition area. All of the kids had huge smiles on their faces, as did their parents. The crowd all around me clapped and cheered as they ran by us. It was truly an amazing experience and I felt very lucky to be able to witness it all from a spectator’s standpoint. During and after the race, several of the triathletes thanked us for volunteering. I made a mental note to myself in that moment: thank EVERY volunteer I encounter during my races.
If it hasn’t been made clear as of yet, I very much enjoyed my short stay in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I told Mark “I could easily live here,” and though I have a tendency to say that often (Melbourne, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, New York), I really mean it this time. I hope I have the opportunity to go back in the near future. I still have several more restaurants to try.