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Grand Rapids Brewing Co: great beer, mediocre food

Grand Rapids Brewing Co. has a fantastic setting and great beers. But noise, a ridiculous wait, and a strange distrust of vegetables spoil a dining experience.
Underwriting support from:

/Ryan Hagerman

/Ryan Hagerman

To begin, I am not a beer or food connoisseur. Having turned 21 six months ago, I have not had many opportunities to develop a professional taste or knowledge about beers. I do not even know all the types of beers there are.

I know the difference between ales and lagers, and I have found that my favorite type of beer is a porter and I will avoid stouts at all costs. I have been to Brewery Vivant and Harmony Brewing, both of which I enjoyed greatly for their atmosphere and edibles.

The first time I went into Grand Rapids Brewing Co. with few expectations. However, the name of the brewery sets up its own expectation. When a business takes on the name of its city as the name of its business, it better represent the city in which it resides.

This is not the first brewery to hold the name. A previous Grand Rapids Brewing Co. was a very successful brewing operation back in the 1800s. Since this new brewery decided to take on the same name, they also have a history with the name that they must carry on.

The first time I went to Grand Rapids Brewing Co., I went with a friend. We went on a Saturday night and arrived at about 6:30. The brewery was incredibly busy and we had to wait about an hour for our table. They took my phone number so that they could text me to tell me when they were ready to seat us. I like this practice because it allowed us to walk around downtown without fear of losing our space in line.

The brewery has three main dining areas and on that night all were full. There is the sports bar area, which has televisions and the bar. Then there was one dining area next to the sports bar area. This was where my friend and I were seated, and where there was a large birthday party seated as well. Then there is the back dining area, which is a large area with a couple of televisions and another bar.

The place was extremely loud. Everyone was talking at a very high volume. Personally, I don’t really like this sort of setting because after a couple of minutes, it gets tiring, especially if one wants an intimate dining experience.

The look of the place tries, and succeeds, to fit with the history of the name. The tables, the bar, the draft handles and the floor were all made out of old fashioned wood. The walls were lined with prints of old advertisements from the older Grand Rapids Brewing Co. The lights were old candescent lightbulbs with long filaments. It gives the brewery a classy feel, but it’s also kind of dark.

The place also has several large windows looking out to the streets of Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the windows mainly give you the view of the ugly neon lights from Buffalo Wild Wings or The B.O.B., but it also lets you see the snow falling onto the Grand Rapids streets. It feels like a scene from an old Coca-Cola Christmas advertisement.

I had a long time to make these observations, as it took us at least twenty minutes for them to give us our beers. I blame this on the incredible busy-ness of the restaurant.

I got a flight of samples of their drafts. The first was the Rosalyn Bliss Blonde, named after one of our city commissioners. It’s a mango-flavored beer. I think this was my favorite of the drafts I tried. It was very light, and the mango tint was nice. If I had to give one word to this beer, I would say it was cheerful.

The second one was Campau’s $90 Pale. It was a clean and crisp pale ale but not very memorable.

Then I had the Original Six. This was a dark and smoky beer. I’m not a fan of bitter tastes, but I felt cool tasting this, even a little badass. It has this dark and traditional feel to it, as if this beer came straight out of an old wooden barrel that was shipped by carriage in the 1800s.

Next was the John Ball Brown. This was also dark, but also tasted a little chocolate-y, and I liked that. Its taste surprised me, and I enjoyed that.

Then I tried the Fishladder. It was a very interesting IPA that had a light and dark taste. My tastebuds would flip between tasting the dark, rich flavor and then the light, hoppy taste. It was an experience.

Finally there was the Senator Lyon’s Stout. Now, I’m not a fan of stouts. I avoid them as much as possible, but this stout seduced me with its rich flavor. It tasted like a stout, but it didn’t sting my tongue. Other stouts feel like a slap in the face, but this beer danced with my mind. Currently, this is the only stout I would agree to drink again.

After the beers, my friend and I had to wait another twenty minutes before we got our appetizer, which was the kale “popcorn,” which was $3. I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian, but I thought I would try some of the vegan and vegetarian options that night. I have had homemade kale chips before, and they were really good. The kale “popcorn” however, was not good. They tasted like the fried outside of an onion ring. They are also very messy, though that’s more of the kale’s fault. I felt kind of gross after eating them.

Our waitress said the food would be out rather soon, which I thought meant five minutes after the appetizer, but it was another twenty minutes to get our entrees. I ordered the IPA Battered Cauliflower “Steak” Sandwich, which was $9. It was okay; the sauce and the tomato were good on the sandwich, but I did not like the fact that it was fried. Much like the kale popcorn, it did not taste like the food it was, in this case, cauliflower. Some would argue that is a good thing, but for me it says that the restaurant does not trust vegetables to taste good on their own; they feel the need to mask the vegetables by deep-frying it. This distrust of vegetables is puzzling, since the restaurant claims to be “all-organic.” I would think that if they want to be “all-organic,” and all the connotations that come with that phrase, they wouldn’t deep-fry the vegetables.

The dish also came with fries, which were pretty good. I was disappointed that there was not organic catsup and it was just normal Heinz. Again, if GRBC wants to be “all-organic,” this would be a good step to take.

All in all the meal cost around $27 and I find the price pretty reasonable for what I ordered. However, the food was not worth the one hour wait for a seat and the one hour spent altogether in the restaurant.

The second time I went was on a Wednesday. The owner graciously let me take photos of the place; the customers were not so kind, but instead gruffly ignored me. After spending an hour taking pictures, I was able to easily find a seat at the bar. The place was half as full from Saturday night, but still pretty loud. The bartenders seemed nice and friendly, though they spent a lot of time talking to a couple of friends they knew.

I got the Rosalynn Bliss Blonde in full this time, rather than a sample. It was still a very good beer. I ordered the All-Natural Steak Burger. The food and drink came much quicker than on Saturday. The meat in the burger was delicious. Again, it was a shame I only had Heinz Ketchup to put on it, because it just got in the way of such a good burger. I ordered mine well-done, which gave it a nice crispy outside and a juicy middle. This time the meal was about $16, which again seemed pretty reasonable for what I got.

Grand Rapids Brewing Co. is a great place for beer, and a decent place if you are going with a large group of people. However, the noise, the wait, and the mediocre food spoil what could be a great dining experience that celebrates Michigan.

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