I have been coming to Grand Rapids Michigan in the summer for as long as I remember. I leave the extreme heat and humidity behind for longer days, cooler evenings and mornings and a chance to actually enjoy the outdoors in summertime. Mostly, I am visiting family. My uncle preserved our grandmother’s home, so I still stay in the same house I visited as a child. It is in the NE part of the city, not far from downtown and the growing medical complex that serves most of Western Michigan.
What am I doing when I am not visiting? I am eating. Don’t get me wrong, Houston has fabulous food, but here I can have all the kielbasa (Polish sausage) my heart desires. My “achilles heel” is the bread. There are so many wonderful bakeries and farmers’ market bread booths here that at some point I just give up trying not to eat it. The traditional standout is Van’s Pastry Shoppe on Fulton. This Dutch bakery still has their regulars sitting at the tables enjoying their coffee each morning. The décor is “eclectic cookie jar” (and they have 400 in their collection). The bakery has been around since the 1920s and at their present location since 1941. My mom went there as a child. Emma loves the cherry turnovers so much she orders 3 dozen to take home with her each visit and has even had them shipped to Texas. Try the windmill cookies. My mom and uncle favor the lunch sticks and I love raisins so I go for the fat boys. For National Donut Day in June they give the donuts out for free.
The bread standout for me is Nantucket Bakery with wonderful cranberry walnut and sourdough bread. My mom loves the rye and multi-grain bread. It is on Lyon Street and just around the corner (in the spot that last year also included the bakery) from their pizza take-out on Union. The pizza parlor is fabulous and open late. The bakery supplies to restaurants all over town and is worth the drive over even if you are not on the NE side of town.
Did I mention the sausage? We arrived just in time for Kielbasa Idol held the first Saturday in June in the St. Adalbert’s Hall parking lot. For $5, you gain admission and the chance to try kielbasa from anywhere from 9 to 16 meat markets and vote for your favorite. For the past three years the winner has been Sobie’s Meat Market. Mom and I took a drive over to Sobie’s last year and stocked up. But my absolute favorite is Lewandoski’s Market on Walker. The sausage there is wonderful, but the bacon is to die for. Best bacon I have ever eaten! You can also get fresh pierogies while you are there. Couple of years ago I bought Rocky a market tee shirt and he advertises for Lewandoski’s in Texas.
On our first visit to Lewandoski’s this year, we also tried the Polish food at the neighborhood eatery, Westsider Cafe, on Walker. The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch. Rocky had the ham and cheese, mom the potato pancakes, but I went for the Polish Combination Plate. All were wonderful. Portions were so big that even with us eating off each other’s plates we still had to take some home.
My grandmother’s tiny kitchen is a challenge, but I do do some cooking in there as well as eating out. I shop at the Meijer Food Store chain. They are huge now, but I remember the small one at Fuller and Michigan where my grandmother did her shopping. There are some comfort eateries in GR that we always try-Grand Coney on Michigan, Russ’s with multiple locations and the iconic dutch boy sign, Stake and Shake, Bob Evan’s. Brann’s–with multiple locations and an off-shoot concept Kitchen 67 that mom and I found next to the Meijer’s on the East Beltline-has a pretty good steak special at lunch or early evening, $6.99 for a 6 oz steak and a baked potato. The real deal may be the elephant ear dessert for only 99 cents. We have also been to the Twisted Rooster on the East Beltline; its “commit to the mitt” motto originating from the common association of the shape of the state with a mitten and a menu prepared from locally sourced items from Michigan.
Although my sister Emma has tried Anna’s House, a comfort food eatery and the home of “Michigan’s Best Breakfast” according to multiple periodicals, this was my first visit. They now how three locations serving only breakfast and lunch and “Saving the World from Ordinary Breakfast”. I went to the older and recently renovated location on Plainfield. The decorations were bright and cheerful with colorful bell jars in the windows. I had a wonderful chicken salad, my uncle had the chili, and mom had Anna’s Gourmet Nut & Berry Salad. Talk about cleaning my plate. I lusted after the breakfasts I saw being served (although I am really not a breakfast person) and will try the newer East Beltline location when Emma arrives next week.
Mom and I went exploring for a new place to eat in East town after mass on Sunday and found The Winchester on Wealthy. With the look of a bar (and it is open until 2 am), this hipster place has some great food. I had the stake and eggs with a wonderful aioli mayonnaise drizzle. The Winchester has a great bloody mary bar for those who care to partake-I am a mimosa girl myself. Mom commented that she was the oldest person in the place. I was probably the second oldest. Across the street is The Winchester Herb Garden and a neat looking eatery with a white wash and black umbrella tables outside. No branding, but we found out it is called Donkey, serves Mexican food, and has great margaritas-so it has been added to the list.
So what is a Texas doing having Mexican food in Michigan anyway? Well actually I am used to Tex-Mex and this is not the same. I do like the food at El Arriero on 28th street. Not as spicy as Tex-Mex, but the fajita nachos are great and I enjoyed my sangria margarita.
As for the wandering around thing, Mom and I have done it before and discovered The Electric Cheetah also on Wealthy. This comfort-food eatery has a fabulous brunch menu and a wide variety of craft root beers. It is worth it just to see the unique decor and art behind the bar. I have been here on multiple visits to GR.
If we keep going east on Wealthy along this street which is brick in parts, you’ll end up in East Grand Rapids. Go through the gaslight district and run into Reed’s Lake where my mom used to go for the big pavilion with a roller skating rink inside and a few amusement type rides. There was also a pipe organ and double-decker, steam-powered paddle boat. Today it is home to the Grand Rapids Yacht Club and Rose’s. Rose’s has a perfect setting with views past the marina to the lake. On a pretty day, you can sit outside and right next to the water (and get splashed by the wake as my cousin Tony did on one of my two visits this trip to GR). At the end of your meal, they bring your check and caramel popcorn in homage to the local popcorn vendor who sold his product at this spot along the lake back when my mom was a child.