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Restaurant of the year: Grove, 919 Cherry St. SE, 454-1000, groverestaurant.com

Grand Rapids Magazine’s 35th
Annual Dining Award winners
Including the 2014 Best Restaurant, Best New Restaurant and half a dozen additional categories.
By Marty Primeau and GRM Staff
Photography by Johnny Quirin

The kitchen at Grove is small — tiny, actually — but the spirit of camaraderie in the East Hills restaurant is huge.

“Everyone is part of the team,” says Executive Chef Patrick Wise. “We work together on everything. There’s no hierarchy in this kitchen. It’s the challenge of creating something new and special that makes everyone want to come to work.”

For the third year in a row, Grove has been named Restaurant of the Year by the Grand Rapids Magazine staff.

Wise and his team continue to impress us with imaginative cuisine that’s also visually stunning. There’s attention to detail in every bite.

We love the small plate concept — three dishes for $38 — that allows us to sample a variety of amazing dishes.

And we love that Grove sources much of the seasonal ingredients it uses from local, family and sustainable farms and businesses.

Besides great food, the friendly servers and front-of-the-house staff make us feel welcome in the casual, yet elegant, setting.

Each day is a culinary adventure at Grove and we wanted to see how it all happens. After spending an afternoon behind the scenes, we have an even greater appreciation for this Grand Rapids’ gem.

Left: Raul Jimon, dubbed “the most important person in the kitchen,” washes all the fresh produce that comes into the
kitchen and keeps the kitchen shipshape. Center: The Grove servers gather late afternoon to go over the menu before
doors open at 5 p.m. Right: Executive Chef Patrick Wise grabs a tub of celeriac from the cooler.

 

Grand Rapids Magazine's Dining Awards
2014 proved to be a savory year in Grand Rapids’ dining community as new eateries opened and established restaurants continued to thrive. As always, choosing winners in seven categories was difficult. But picking GRM’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year was a snap. For the third year in a row, Grove takes top honors for its forward-thinking, locally sourced and always delicious cuisine — “a tribute to earth’s bounty” as the website declares. We look forward to another year of innovations, with such new places as The Bandit Queen on South Division and Gravity Taphouse Grille on East Beltline, and the growth of the brewery scene.

Without further ado, our picks.

Best New Restaurant: Osteria Rossa, 16 Monroe Center NE, 988-9350, osteriarossa.com
There was buzz about this place even before it opened.

 

Osteria Rossa

Chef Chris Perkey — many Grand Rapidians were fans of his Firehouse Grille in Gaslight Village —and business partner Brittany Bonham spent months renovating the space by Monument Park in downtown GR into a casual, family-style, farm-to-fork Italian eatery with house-made pastas, wood-fired pizza, drool-worthy small plates and main dishes — most priced under 20 bucks.

The gnudi spinach-ricotta dumplings are amazing, and who knew we’d actually love octopus? Pork Ossobuco with creamy polenta and kale in a lemon-sage sauce also earns raves. Customer service is stellar.

For downtown dwellers, the place has become a neighborhood hangout — something Perkey predicted when he chose the location. Besides lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, the staff hosts wine dinners and special events.


Brewert Vivant

Best European: Brewery Vivant, 925 Cherry St. SE, 719-1604, breweryvivant.com
You don’t need to be a beer drinker to enjoy the cuisine at this renovated funeral chapel with its stained glass windows and European-style bench seating that lets us get chummy with perfect strangers.

At Brewery Vivant, beer and food are thoughtfully and artfully paired. The French-Belgian inspired menu offerings include Duck Confit Nachos, Roasted Bone Marrow and Venison Sausage. Much of the fare is locally sourced by owner Jason Spaulding (whom we’ve spied shopping at Fulton Street Farmers Market). The Belgian frites are served three ways with a béarnaise-aioli sauce and there’s a nice list of artisanal cheese.

As for the beers, all have hints of unique Belgian yeast that separates them from other local brews. Contemplation, brewed with local honey and hops, has light fruit notes, while Big Red Coq is a marvelous, citrusy, hoppy red ale.

 

XO Asian Cuisine

Best Asian: XO Asian Cuisine, 58 Monroe Center NW, 235-6969, xoasiancuisine.com
Let’s be perfectly clear: It’s impossible to single out one Asian restaurant as the best in the city. There are so many different types of cuisines, so many specialties, and so many little mom-and-pop places.

We love the Vietnamese pho at Pho Soc Trang (one fan calls it “heaven in a bowl”). Seoul Garden offers unique Korean fare in an upscale dining room. Wei Wei Palace has dim sum to die for. Maru is our choice for stand-out sushi. And shabu-shabu — cooking a la Japanese hot pot — is a delicious experience at Osaka.

But one place always crops up as the go-to spot when we crave Asian fare. XO in downtown Grand Rapids has a menu that includes Chinese, Japanese and Thai specialties. It’s one of the few Asian restaurants to offer a brown rice option. For those diners who really know their stuff and want to request a particular spice, the kitchen will try to accommodate.


Reserve

Best New American: Reserve, 201 Monroe Ave. NW, 855-9463, reservegr.com
Oenophiles have flocked to Reserve since the doors opened in 2010. Where else can you order a glass of Barolo and know that it will be served slightly cool and tasting like the bottle was just uncorked? Ditto for more than 100 other wines by the glass, thanks to its sophisticated Cruvinet system.

But it’s not just the vino that makes Reserve a stellar restaurant. In the kitchen, Chef Mathew Green and staff dish out locally sourced, seasonal dishes, often incorporating hints of Dutch and Polish flair (try the delicious Fennel Sausage & Potato Dumplings, inspired by traditional Polish Kopytka).

The atmosphere is contemporary yet cozy, whether dropping by for a bite of cheese and charcuterie before a show or settling in for a delicious multi-course dinner. Also impressive are the servers, who can make suggestions about everything from beverage pairings to dessert.

 

Donkey Taqueria

Best Mexican/Latin American/Caribbean: Donkey Taqueria, 655 Wealthy St. SE, donkeygr.com
No enchiladas, nachos or (gasp) wet burritos. Dare we call this a Mexican eatery?

Yes, because owner Paul Lee (who also owns Winchester and What the Truck) understands the one thing that designates true, authentic south-of-the-border fare: flavor.

The tacos, from white fish to pork belly, have just enough zing. They’re served with three tasty salsas — mild chipotle, medium green verde and a hot habanero — not in bowls but in easy-to-squirt plastic squeeze bottles. (Warning: the habanero is really hot!) Our favorite dish is the Queso Fundido appetizer, a mix of Mexican white cheese, house-made chorizo and roasted poblano peppers, heated and served in a mini cast-iron skillet along with mini corn tortillas.

There’s also a full bar with beer, wine and margaritas. All this in a cool, modern space that used to be a service station. In warm weather the garage doors open up to a spacious and often crowded patio.


Leo's

Best Classic American: Leo's, 60 Ottawa Ave. NW, 454-6700, leosrestaruant.com
We’re always ready to try trendy new places and we rave about adventurous, locally sourced fare. But there are times when we crave a traditional meal with a menu that doesn’t require googling. Leo’s fits the bill.

From fresh catch specials to delicious steaks and other landlubber fare, this downtown restaurant offers consistently fine food and service in a spacious dining room. Each visit, we promise to try something different, but there are some favorites we can’t resist. Lobster and shrimp cakes. BLT Wedge. Leo’s Surf & Turf. And don’t get us started on the house-made desserts.

Located in the lower level of a parking ramp adds extra points for easy parking in any kind of weather.

Best Mediterranean: Shiraz Grille, 2739 Breton Road SE, 949-7477, shirazgrille.com
This city has many great Middle Eastern eateries, but Shiraz is a standout (and not just because it features belly dancing on Thursdays).

 

Shiraz Grille

We love, love, love the grilled kabobs, but it’s the savory stews and rice dishes that make dining here really special. The khoreshes combine beef, lamb or chicken with veggies, herbs and dried fruit, nuts or beans — simmered until all those flavors meld. Shiraz’s specialty rice creations go way beyond ho-hum side dishes. The Shirin Polo is saffron rice with candied orange curls, barberries and sautéed julienne carrots, with slivered almonds and Persian pistachios.

Besides great fare, the surroundings are serene and service is stellar. There’s a full bar and nice wine list. Join the Shiraz Club and you’ll receive info on special wine dinners and more. GR

 

 

 
   
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