Wednesday, October 3, 2012

[HOT LIST] Grand Rapids

Photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

This is the final weekend for Grand Rapids' ArtPrize, the world's largest art competition. 1,517 entries spanning across 161 venues over three square miles with over half a million dollars in total awards, ArtPrize is truly quite spectacular to see (and rather fitting for the city that is already home to the glorious Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park - it ain't called GRAND for nothing!). I've previously run a travel guide to Grand Rapids before, but for the purposes of this list here is just the food (with a few timely updates). But first, check out this story on the 10 finalists for just the tiniest idea of the scope of the works in this event, from massive multi-media installations to mini metal sculpture parks.

#1 Brewery Vivant 
Since their beer became available on our side of the state, it has become my go-to brewery of choice. Brews like Farm Hand and Triomphe are great drankin' beers, while special releases like Zaison and Escoffier show that these guys are for serious. So is their brewpub. From duck confit nachos to poutine glorious poutine, their locally-sourced hearty Belgian-inspired menu is the perfect complement to their extraordinary beers. And oh yeah, this Saturday they're also hosting their second-annual Wood Aged Beer Fest, breaking out 18 super-rare bourbon barrel-aged ales and Belgian-style sours. Thank me later with gifts of sour beer.

#2 Reserve
Opened September 2010 in a sort of trial-by-fire (they launched the opening weekend of ArtPrize), Reserve seems inextricably tied to ArtPrize itself: it is owned in part by Grand Rapids business royalty Rick and Betsy DeVos, whose son Rick started ArtPrize, and the showpiece of the restaurant is a massive back-lit mural above the bar called "Open Water," the grand-prize winner of the first-ever ArtPrize in 2009. Executive Chef Matthew Millar emphasizes seasonal cooking and works directly with small family farms for a menu that truly defines the region. Be sure to start with a charcuterie and cheese plate: they import salumi and cheeses from some of the top producers in the world, but also make their own terrines, pates, and rilettes and source local artisan cheeses from nearby creameries. Plus local craft beers and liquors and a custom-built, temperature-controlled cruvinet system holding 102 wines all available by the taste and glass, one of the largest such systems in the world.

#3 HopCat
It's been named one of the best beer bars in the country by pretty much everyone, and it is. Their tap list is enough to give you beer brain, but their bottle list? You might need a beer while you decide what beer to order. And don't skimp on the crack fries. Or just order the Grand Royale sandwich, their Sloppy Joe stuffed with crack fries and slathered in beer cheese sauce.

#4 Marie Catrib's
Their hours are pretty limited but if you happen to be in town for lunch, you must stop by for a sandwich. But don't think of it as a sandwich. Think of it as one of the best damn sandwiches you will ever eat in your entire life. (They're also vegan-friendly.)

Grand Rapids has some fabulous hotels, all located in the heart of downtown. Inside of these fabulous hotels are some fabulous restaurants. is one of these restaurants. Located inside of the JW Marriott, (a reference to the Grand Rapids area code) serves globally-inspired food on a local level (they even have their own chef's garden on the patio and list the dozens of different local producers and purveyors they work with on their menu and website).

Bubbling under MadCap Coffee, CitySen Lounge, San Chez Tapas Bistro, Founders Brewing Co., 25 Kitchen + Bar, Tre Cugini, Maru Sushi + Grill, Harmony Brewing Company, the Green Well, Trillium Haven, the Viceroy, the Grand Coney Island, Grove