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Restaurant review: get smart at Scholar

Scholar, housed in a historic Ionia Avenue building, offers a transformed Art Deco dining experience with spacious seating, inventive cocktails and exquisite dishes, all complemented by exceptional service.
Facade of Scholar

Facade of Scholar /Allison Donahue

As soon as I pierced the threshold of this long-ago facility of fun, I daydreamed myself back to my younger years of cheap drinks in smoke-filled air in the historic Ionia Avenue building that formerly housed J. Gardella's Tavern

However, all this dissolved quicker than a sugar cube in a hot cup of early grey as I realized the transformation of this historic space that seemed to grow up with me. All the old, worn-out wooden tables and chairs were replaced with flapper chic adornments that made me feel like I was walking through a time porthole into the Art Deco age. 

We were kindly greeted at the host stand and promptly sat in a booth on the main level. I was impressed with the amount of space in our semi-circle vinyl booth. I genuinely appreciate having the extra room where I can feel comfortable throughout my dining experience. 

Our server for the evening greeted us with a smile and some water and asked us if we had any questions about their extensive and inventive drink menu. I ordered the Martinez cocktail, which consisted of sweet vermouth, bitters, maraschino liquor, and gin. The balance was executed well, and there was no shortage in the presentation and garnishment. My partner ordered the Lady Lavender which consisted of a small amount of grenadine, lemon juice and lavender. This was a mocktail that my partner decided to upgrade with a little bit of vodka. I appreciated the fact that they had a nice mocktail option. This drink transported my tastebuds to springtime with bright and floral flavors. 

We moved on to order appetizers. We decided on the shrimp cocktail and the crabcakes. The shrimp cocktail was displayed on a bed of ice on a tall-rimmed plate. The presentation was enticing, and the shrimp’s texture was perfect: plump, firm and cooked in a flavored water bath to add depth. Surprisingly, the cocktail sauce was a bit spicy, even though there wasn’t a lot of horseradish in it. I loved the simplicity, along with the thought that went behind this dish. The crabcakes were sauteed with a crispy and crunchy outer edge and finished with an emulsified sauce and microgreens. The balance of crab meat with the peppers and other ingredients was excellent in these juicy crab-filled delights.

For our entrees, I ordered the scallops which were caramelized and crispy, with the inside easy to bite into at a medium temperature. They were served with crispy “crash” potatoes, roasted cauliflower and broccoli in a creamy pureed cauliflower sauce with macadamia nuts. My partner ordered the lamb chops, which were cooked to medium-rare perfection and had a nice crisp to the exterior. The lambcops were served with a spring onion pesto, which set the dish off. It was complemented by a potato cake and roasted vegetables. Our food was executed perfectly, and the presentation was on point. 

I was pleasantly surprised and even thrilled that my time at Scholar was not only enjoyable but educational for my senses. The service was prompt, professional and friendly. The service staff was knowledgeable about all the items on the food and drink menu. I was a little skeptical before arriving about how our food experience would be, but I was pleased to learn that I didn’t need to worry. Everything that we ordered and tasted exceeded our expectations. This is a must-dine experience in Grand Rapids!

Disclosure: This review was written under a pseudonym to maintain the reviewer’s anonymity and ensure an unbiased dining experience.

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