It is not unusual for us just to do regular stuff while I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan with my mom. We run errands, do doctor appointment, shop, and, well, eat. It is significantly cooler here than at home where temperatures are already reaching 99 degrees Fahrenheit. It is early for it to be that hot in Texas; usually we don’t get to those temperatures in June. In contrast, being outside here in Michigan is so pleasant, especially in the evening when it cools down.
Between errands, we did sneak in a few other outings. Seems I have spent a lot of time on the edge of the West Side just where Michigan Street crosses the bridge over the Grand River and becomes Bridge street. The corner of Bridge and Stocking is apparently my corner. Lots of wonderful restaurants and bars here, some old, some new. They have even taken concrete barriers and blocked off part of the busy street to create outdoor dining. More restrictions are being lifted here in a few days, but already vaccinated residents are embracing the summer outside.
My cousin Tom met me at The Blue Dog Tavern, just around the corner on Stocking and a bit away from all the activity on Bridge Street. The bar is reviving after the worst of the pandemic. This historic building was at one time a bank and they still have the vault to prove it. Outside, the building still bears the bank’s name. Look for the traditional pub sign and the banner featuring the blue dog at this corner establishment.
We were there after work on a weekday and it was pretty full. The area around Bridge is home to students and lots of young singles, but Blue Dog is removed enough that tonight’s patrons were slightly older than the college crowd. There is a good pub menu and several options if you want a burger, hot dog, or craft beer. Tom recommends the tater tots which come in many varieties.
Today, Mom is going for a eye doctor’s appointment and then she wants to stop by the post office on Michigan and cross the bridge over the Grand River for a return to the Bridge Street Market. The appointment took long enough that we were ready for lunch before buying our groceries. We ate at Maggie’s Kitchen at 636 Bridge Street at the light at Stocking. Parking is in the back. This is a truly authentic Mexican food eatery, complete with specialty beverages from Mexico. Yes, I came all the way from Texas to eat Mexican food.
We love Maggie’s. The restaurant celebrated its 38th birthday on May 5. The date is no accident; Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is Mexican Independence Day Maggie (who I have met several times) is retired now, but she still comes in two days a week to check on things. The tacos and burritos are probably the most popular, but I love the the enchiladas. I always add a Jarrito fruit beverage too.
Afterwards it was the return visit to Bridge Street Market. Michigan takes a 10 cent deposit on plastic, can, and glass beverage containers, but you have to return the containers to a store that sells that particular beverage. So before going inside, we put the bottles in the machines (kinda fun it you don’t have to do it all the time) and got our receipts. Some of the people at the recycling station have made a business of collecting the items that others just threw away instead of recycling. They are doing it for the money, but I was just glad to see the containers being recycled. Michigan has had this policy for decades and the return stations at the stores are well established.
My readers will share in my success. Mom and I safely navigated the checkout station, even utilizing a coupon and redeeming our recycling receipts. Mom was particularly excited that we snagged some of the manager’s specials but still made it to the required total to use the coupon; more Topo Chico helped. It is the little victories that can mean so much.
I am doing some cooking while we are here, but I also wanted to have another lunch of Lake Perch before heading home. There is a seafood market on Plainfield Ave less than 8 miles from the house that also does wonderful fried fish. On another visit years ago, the spot was briefly held by a family wanted to make a go of the venture when the established owners were ready to move on. The food was so bad (and the proprietors so completely overwhelmed) that we didn’t go back. Sanitary Fish is just so close and our other perch experience in Wyoming was not what we hoped for, so we decided to give it another try.
We are happy to report that Sanitary Fish and Marketplace is under experienced ownership and that the perch was terrific. Their health protocols are also top notch. They have thick screens and a mask policy is still in place for all customers. I called ahead and they asked us to come in 30 minutes, so allow time for the preparation. Since I am trying to eek out every possible moment of comfortable weather, we headed over to Riverside Park to enjoy our fish and fries.
This beautiful park, also known as Comstock Riverside Park, sits along the Grand River. It is a long, narrow urban park with historic bridges, baseball fields, pavilions, boat ramps for fishermen, and lots of picnic tables. My grandmother loved this park and I have been coming here for decades. My uncle chose a spot where we were bordered on one side by the river and the other by the park’s lovely ponds. We were near the children’s playground.
Riverside Park is located at 2001 Monroe. There is a bike lane on Monroe and at least three roundabouts near the park. It is across the street from the Veterans Retirement Home. Our view to one side was the weeping willows which lined the pond. Canadian Geese swam on the pond and meandered in the grass on the other side. With a cool breeze, we enjoyed the view and our wonderful lunch of fried lake perch.
Next it was time for Mom’s haircut. It was the end of the day on Friday and I thought the salon would be packed, but it was thinning out. Most of their patrons are elderly so they come earlier in the day. The stylists were very friendly and I asked about their COVID experience. They were completely closed for three months and Julie said she didn’t dare do any work in people’s homes. She knew of stylists that were fined $1,000 and lost their license for violating the prohibition during the worst of the pandemic. Of course that is the only way to protect the public health, especially in an elderly population. They did mention that many of their clients have limited strength and dexterity and come to them each week. The shutdown was particularly hard of them; many of their clients were unable to wash their hair for three months.
The next morning Mom slept in while I headed out to the Meijer Sports Complex in Rockford to see one of my nephews (yes a second cousin again, but I explained that) pitch in the 15 and 16 year old division of a summer baseball league tournament. Kyle is really a good pitcher and I hope to lure him to Texas to play college ball. It has been two years since I have seen him pitch (COVID again) and his skills have massively improved. Plus, he now towers over me, is finished with the braces, and speaks in a deepened voice. Even with a few sprinkles and cooler temperatures, I loved being outside to start off the day. The rest of the day is work around the house and visiting with more of my cousins.
Sunday is Father’s Day and my uncle is busy. As a Roman Catholic Priest, this is his busiest day of the week. Mom and I are on our own so I suggested we go for brunch after mass. We decided on The Old Goat in the transitioning neighborhood of Alger Heights. The Old Goat is part of a restaurant family in Grand Rapids that includes The Electric Cheetah, another favorite. The Cheetah is closed on Sundays, but The Old Goat has a fabulous brunch menu. I opted for the steak and eggs. Mom, who likes more sweet than savory, choose the French Toast.
We drove through ever changing neighborhoods as we headed south of Eastern Ave to reach the transitional Alger Heights area where The Old Goat is located. According to Niche.com, “Alger Heights is a neighborhood…with a population of 7,106… and is one of the best places to live in Michigan. Living in Alger Heights offers residents a dense suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Alger Heights there are a lot of parks. Many families and young professionals live in Alger Heights and residents tend to have moderate political views.” The site rates the neighborhood as an A- and named it the 7th best neighborhood to buy a house in Grand Rapids; the 9th most diverse neighborhood; and the 5th best in terms of a low cost of living. The site rated 31 desirable neighborhoods in the Grand Rapids area. Alger Heights posted pretty impressive statistics for the second largest city in Michigan.
The Old Goat has pleasant outdoor seating along Eastern Avenue, although we chose to sit inside under the alternating lighting of retired church lights and oil barrel overhead fixtures. Parking for The Old Goat is around the back. There was a steady and diverse crowd of patrons and we did have a bit of a wait for a table. It was well worth it. I highly recommend their food. We enjoyed our food and drinks while listening to the jazz quartet performing during the brunch.
I have to say one of the highlights for me was the mimosas. You can get a single for $5 or a pitcher for $24. I thought that pricing was off so I asked how many mimosas came in the pitcher. Glad I asked. If you order the “pitcher” they actually bring you a bottle of Michigan champagne-yes, I know there is really no such thing, but it is on the bottle-and a carafe of orange juice and you mix to your desired potency. What a deal! Yes, I ordered the pitcher. For the record, a sparkling wine can only be champagne if produced in the Champagne region of France. Apparently this Michigan winery is flying under the radar.
The Old Goat is at 2434 Eastern Ave near Ken’s Fruit Market. Ken’s is a small traditional grocery store serving the Alger Heights community since 2010. They have a wonderful meat market and fresh fruits and vegetables. However, in my mother’s eyes their claim to fame is the hard candies and salt water taffy that is sold by the pound. The mix and match collection means you put them all in the same bag and have to sort them out at home. Of course, we popped into Ken’s after brunch. Ken’s has another, larger location on Plainfield Avenue which opened in 2012. They also recently opened Ken’s Farm Market in Ionia, Michigan where Ken got his start in the grocery business.
After a big brunch and that “pitcher” of mimosas, we decided a bit of walking was in order, so we stopped at the Fulton Street Market on the way home. The best, but most crowded, time to visit the market is on Saturdays when the farmers bring in their produce. Don’t expect cheaper prices than the food store chains, but everything is fresh picked for the market. On Sunday, it becomes a craft market; not all the stalls are used. Today is Father’s Day so it wasn’t crowded at all.
The Fulton Street Farmer’s Market was founded in 1922 and my mother has been going their her whole life. Although the current structure dates from this century, the market has been operating at this same location and in this same configuration for 99 years. During the growing season, May-October, produce is available at markets held on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, Saturdays only during the off season. The number of booths occupied varies with the season and day of the week.
One of the things often found at the market is fresh flowers. When we got home from the market, we took a few pictures of the lilies that border the garage which were originally planted by my grandmother.
“My trip is winding down, but there are always new things to try. This evening it is Pietro’s on 28th Street. The address is actually 2780 Birchcrest Dr., but it runs parallel to 28th with just a grassy strip in between. The restaurant serves familiar Americanized Italian food, but it is far better than the chain restaurants. Pietro’s mades their own pasta. The also have a banquet facility in the back.
We didn’t get off to such a good start. We arrived right on time, but there was no handicapped parking available (only two spaces for a large restaurant and banquet space?) so I drove around until I thought I better just drop Mom off at the door. She got to the hostess at 6:03 for 6 p.m. reservations. I walked in a few minutes later after parking and the hostess’s first words were “you are late”. She had found the reservation, but said we would have to wait 30 minutes. Another couple came in after us and were seated promptly. The group of 4 that arrived before us and had a reservation were still waiting when we were finally seated. The table where we were seated could have accommodated them.
The restaurant was originally recommended to Mom because of their Sunday Brunch. They are no longer hosting that as of the COVID closure. They do still have their Mystery Dinners. One of the things that really surprised me was that they gave us each an electronic menu on a tablet. Innovative, but during a pandemic? I promptly pull out a sanitized cloth and wiped them both down. Once you turned them on and figured out how to use them, you were rewarded with lots of information. They even have pictures of all the food they serve. Mom struggled a little with it.
As I said, the food was uncomplicated but tasty. The portions were generous. We had rosemary chicken with potatoes and veggies and a pasta trio combination. I think the restaurant is still staffing up after COVID and like a lot of the country is having to deal with a worker storage. On the way out, the hostess told me she had only been working there for two weeks and this was her first night alone. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt on service. Emma had a good experience on a previous visit.
The next morning my uncle and I sorted and taste-tested the candies from Ken’s Fruit Market. Candy for breakfast is not recommended; we did our testing after the nice breakfast Mom made us. It is my last day here, so Father Jim is staying around for the day. I had a Zoom meeting and packing to do, but we still had a great day. We wanted to squeeze in one more picnic and food from one of mom’s favorites, so late afternoon we ordered burgers, steak fries, onion rings, and malts from Choo Choo Grill.
The Grill in on Plainfield just off the intersection with Leonard and sits right along the train tracks. It is open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and serves breakfast and lunch options. Choo Choo Grill has been here since 1946 and is family-run; the names of some of breakfast plates reflect their historic clientele. “The building was built in 1924 as the yard office for Shipman Coal Company.” The space is very small so it is often hard to find a seat inside. The family is friendly, greeting those they know by name. I would say this is one of Mom’s favorite places because her dad worked for the railroad, but it might just be the food. Perhaps the words on the door say it all, “The best burgers on earth or anywhere else.”
Still hoping they bring back the direct flights to Grand Rapids soon. The Chicago O’Hare Airport was packed and I practically had to run to make my connection. I was going from a gate in the F concourse in terminal 2 to a gate in the C concourse in terminal 1. This hike includes transferring to C through the tunnel under the tarmac. Fortunately my flight from Grand Rapids landed early. Everyone is clearly traveling again (at least in the U.S.A.). There were so many people, it was hard to move through the terminals. I did discover a cool map on the United App which showed the map on how travel from one gate to another. Another feature on the app was to show luggage status. Despite the tight connection, I was able to see when the luggage made it and even when it was about to appear on the carousel in Houston.