October 2008 Archives

Bloody Mary Tour Stops #6 &7
By Lydia on October 29, 2008 5:56 PM| | Comments (0)
Anchor Bar

Lower Bridge Street, on the West Side just West of 131, may be one of the more annoying bar streets in Grand Rapids. In just one block lie both O'Tooles and Montes, douchebag bars of great note. On weekends popped collared dude-bros and cold-looking women spill onto the streets in a obvious effort to mate without regret, lubricating the enterprise with faux-microbrews and well cosmopolitans.

Blue Moon swigging hoopleheads aside, one of my favorite bars sits just across the street, in a cavern-like space with tiny booths and a really fetching mermaid painting behind the bar. Yes, my friends, I speak of the Anchor. Where else could my moped-riding Navy cohorts and I feel so at home in our Sperry Topsiders? Where are happy hour drinks just $2? Where can you find such delicious free bar popcorn for the munching? And where besides the Anchor is Grand Rapids best Bloody Mary thus far? Nowhere!!

Anchor Marys start with pint glasses, ice and vodka, duh, but then the bartender got out a large plastic bar bottle filled with a reddish substance just faintly labeled "MIX." That went into our glasses along with olives and pickles and was given a quick shake with the top of a cocktail shaker. The shaking was a lovely touch, and I wondered why it is so rarely seen. I had to do no tiresome prodding at at my drink with a wet pickle, and everything was nicely homogenized. Questioning the bartender we found out that the MIX was a base of Zing Zang, doctored to a secret recipe. Upon sipping my companions and I quickly decided that these were the best bloody marys had in recent memory. They were nicely spicy and full bodied, with a tang and a bite. Halfway through I got that lovely all-over warming sensation that relaxes stressed muscles and releases that sense of peace and communion with one's fellow man. Not least, the pickle was a near-perfect specimen, not flaccid like many garnishes. With marys at $4 each, the Anchor  going to be pretty hard to beat.


Eastown staple Mulligan's neccesitated a visit, so I sucked it up and visited the Land of Concrete, Brick and Unfortunate Teenagers. I dislike Mulligan's, mostly because of its pervasive smell of vomit, but on the day in question it was nearly pleasent, bright and quiet, with cartoons to watch and only 4 bar patrons. People in bars at 4 o'clock are less offensive than their midnight counterparts. They are quieter and keep to themselves. They are there for the alcohol, not the scene, and they couldn't care less that you and your friend are having an uncomfortably personal conversation across the bar. Also, you and your drink have the bartender's full attention, as they are bored, and your dollar tip is most likely a quarter of their hourly pay.

The drink itself was wholly passable. Yes, it had a bit too much dill sauce for my liking, but overall it was fairly well balanced and it had a familiar kind of flavor. I feel like this is the bloody mary you would get at any professional, practiced, utilitarian bar in the country. The $4 price tag seemed fair here, not a steal like at the Triangle, but not a rip-off like Graydons.

On A Side Note
I didn't ever know Ben well, but I liked him, and I feel sick knowing another kind, creative, special person has been taken from us. I hope you who were close to him are doing ok, and my heart hurts for his family. Please let's be careful in and out of our cars and hope this stops happening. 
Bloody Mary Tour Stop #4 and 5
By Lydia on October 23, 2008 11:29 AM| | Comments (5)
Graydon's Crossing

I expected big things from Graydon's, the faux-English public house on Plainfield and Leonard. Dark-wooded and festooned with rally towels, this is the place that gives you a bible sized menu as though it just came down from Sinai. So it was with anticipation that I watched the barkeep assemble bottles of variously colored goo. Worcestershire, tabasco, dill sauce, horseradish, pepper, "spice," vodka, and tomato juice all went into a 12 oz glass. Mistake #1: not using a pint glass. Too many ingredients tied together with tomato juice makes for a thin Mary, especially when most of the glass is full of vodka and ice. Although maybe the most "authentic" of the bunch, this drink had no balance, was watery and bitter, and I honestly had to force myself to finish it. I will never, ever, order a bloody mary here again. Also, at $5.50 this drink should have been primo. It was the worst bloody mary I have had yet on the Tour.

Monarch Club

Thank god for the West Side, which has been soundly trouncing the East. The Monarch Club has become one of my favorite bars by virtue of its consistently non-obnoxious vibe, cheap drinks, and some of the best bar decor in GR. Think nice big windows, white tile, high ceilings, and wooden booths, but with a glaze of Stocking Street honesty.

Monarch Club marys start with a pint glass (good) and continue with vodka, dill sauce (which makes me immediately suspicious,) spice mixture, Major Peters mix, and agnostura(!) This may be the most different set of ingredients yet. For one, Major Peters is certainly not an oft-used mixer, but it suffices. Use of bitters has also been uncommon, but welcome here, as our bartender used a light hand. This bloody mary had a creeping spiciness that I liked, and it had a very good body and balance. Please, just lay off the dill sauce, people!
Mixed Business
By Lydia on October 22, 2008 11:08 AM| | Comments (6)
Soy Curry 101

Many thanks to Dustin for his help this week in my first foray into tempeh. Yes, I admit it. I had never cooked the stuff before last Thursday. I love the stuff I eat, but I had never had any idea how to make it into delicious Tesh Lou-esque curry. Luckily, Dustin once brought me a container of soy curry at the bar (I was drunk and hungry and I still count it as the best thing the internet has ever done for me) so I called him up and begged for info. The notes I took looked a bit ee cummings:

TVP     or ground tempe?
saute onion can tomato
                               paste/       tvp water (cup?)
          -spices         curry cumin
                                         cardamom          pepper

                 simmer + add tvp
1/2 can chickpeas

                              ground sunflower seeds
                                          or sesame seeds

Thanks again Dustin! It was delish!

Beer School For Ladies

I went with San Chez friends SarahMunoz and Roanna to the HopCat's Pussycat Beer Guild last night. I was pretty aprehensive coming into a group of lady-friends like this, but they didn't make us feel intruding. It was kind of rowdy, a little loud with talking over the music, and there were 10 or 12 women sitting around smoking and drinking beer. There were the three of us Chez employees, three ladies from Founders, and 6 or 7 others who I didn't know. There was not much general discussion, mostly small groups talking about whatever, until a HopCat employee came over with  four unlabeled beers. Word was an absent member named Rachel has brewed a great cream stout and dropped it off for us to try. Sample glasses were passed about and comments bandied about. The verdict was excellent. Later, after some people had left, a woman named Stacy Faba sent down to the bar for some beers she had brought from her store in Lowell. There was a raspberry beer that put Framboise to shame, and an even more wonderful cherry brew from a tiny brewery in Wisconsin  called New Glarus. The beer is called "Wisconsin Belgian Red" and it is not available in Michigan. The bottle we were drinking was a little bit of contraband, and I loved it . Thanks again to Stacy. If you find yourself north east of the city stop by her store, Pauly's, at 11250 East Fulton.

Pussycat Beer Guild meets in the HopCat smoking lounge the third Tuesday of every month.

Restaurant Bloom
By Lydia on October 18, 2008 10:49 AM| | Comments (2)
I have been meaning to visit Restaurant Bloom for a long time, since its old location on Cherry Street, and after, pretty much every time I ride my bike downtown. Granted, I had heard some mixed reviews, most of which said effectively the same thing: Bloom was good, but inconsistent.

Bloom occupies the space of Cafe Solace, and uses its liquor license. The room is painted a olive shade which, paired with a certain smooth starkness and a glut of bamboo and polished wood invokes a sort of nouveau-Green frippery. There are only about 10 tables in the place, which is good, as any more would seem like wishful hubris. There was one table there when we arrived, and one more when we left, and this was at 7PM on a Friday night.

Bloom is run by a couple of GRCC culinary school grads, and it strives toward a certain culinary school-educated pretension. Large, square, white plates hold a tiny piece of protein on top of a vegetable, with a broad swath of sauce streaked across the side. This is the food you saw Carrie Bradshaw eating at "fancy" New York restaurants 10 years ago on Sex and the City. I am not decrying presentation, but when it seems to be forefront on the chef's mind, before even flavor, something is seriously misprioritized.

An appetizer of cheddar chunks on toast was passable, if proportionaly skewed toward cheese to the detriment of taste, and the cippolini onions on top were quite nice. An entree of cod fared worse; its skin was crisped, but the flesh was overcooked, and it was entirely unseasoned. I haven't had such a tastless piece of fish since the last time I tried ordering sushi in a dream. I am not clear on what the sauce smeared to the side was supposed to be, but it was unpleasently sweet.

Our other dish was a pork tenderloin, which was delicious. It was well cooked, salted, unlike its cod friend, and it came with a really tasty bit of turnip and kale. Unfortunately, it came with a "sauce" which unless corrected by the waiter I would have believed to be nothing more than an undercooked roux. I was informed that it was meant to be almond sauce, but I am still pretty suspicious.

I am perhaps being too harsh with Bloom. I can admit that my disappointment may be making me too critical. It is great to have ambitious cuisine in Grand Rapids, a city so lacking in culinary excitement. Missteps must be allowed, I get that, but I wish that new and innovative food didn't have to come with the pompousness of Bloom. The service was awkward in its attitude of classiness, and even the server seemed uncomfortable with his script. This combined with the decor and the food seemed more like snobbery than a fresh take on food. I am willing to give Bloom a second shot, I hope that next time it doesn't feel this stilted and taste this bland.
Bloody Mary Tour of Grand Rapids #2 and #3
By Lydia on October 9, 2008 11:41 AM| | Comments (1)

Sunday drink time at the Sazerac with Chris and Audrea means sitting at a very specific booth in a specific arrangement of people, laptops, and newspaper (careful!) We settle in and order the requisite drink. They arrive in pint glasses, a good sign I think, as in too small a glass it is difficult to attain the proper proportions of juice to vodka while still managing to leave enough alcohol to kill a hangover. Unfortunately, balance was not on display that morning. The drinks were thin to the point of wateriness, and lacking in any flavor besides a faint Tabasco heat. At $5.50 not a bargain and not a treat.

Triangle Bar

For some reason I am biased toward West Side bars. Maybe I assume that the high ratio of drunks means better drink pouring? The Triangle, on Stocking and Garfield, is an unassuming little place, perhaps especially so when you show up just as the clock is striking noon on a Sunday. I had to be back at my house at noon-thirty to go on the Heritage Hills Home Tour with my fam so I was really hoping my drink would be good enough to suck down fast,. and what luck! The Triangle, working from a utilitarian recipe of vodka and Zing Zang, made the best Bloody Mary thus far! It was decently thick, with some peppery tang and a clean tomato aftertaste. This experience is humbling. Perhaps we all need to go back to the drawing board with our Marys. Maybe less is more. Maybe mixes are actually better than straight tomato juice. Fear not, gentle reader-drunks, in time all our questions will be answered as I continue tirelessly on this BMToGR!
Bloody Mary Tour of Grand Rapids Stop #1
By Lydia on October 6, 2008 4:09 PM| | Comments (2)
Well, it had to happen sometime. A couple of weeks back I had a Sunday off. Thus commenced Lydia's BMToGR. Stop #1 was Logan's Alley, that dark-wood paneled cove on Michigan. I must say, I enjoy it more when the clientele is early drinkers, not loud frat-douche types.

Logan's, or at least the bartender on duty, was very proud of its Marys. They go so far as to provide a tiny attendant sidecar of beer, kind of a man-servant to the Lady Mary. Unfortunately, Logan's  drink was less than ideal. Their heavy-handed use of prepared horseradish gave them a chunkiness, and worse, a distracting sweetness.  The quest for the perfect Bloody Mary continues.