Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Craic on a Culinary Corner

You would be hard pressed to find a better culinary corner, tucked into a residential neighborhood, than Union and Lyon in Heritage Hill.

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Many years ago, when I first moved to Grand Rapids from the frontier town of Allegan,  I lived on College St.   A  short walk to Martha’s Vineyard was all that was needed for the basic staples of bachelor sustenance.  It was a terrific neighborhood party and convenience store.  Fast forward a decade (still back in the day but no longer part of the Heritage Hill scene) I had a good friend who was mentoring me on the world of wine.  He told me, if you want to learn about wine, there is only one place to go in Grand Rapids and that is Martha’s Vineyard.

I remember the day well when I took him up on the offer.  We took a long lunch and ventured to Martha’s Vineyard with my personal objective to learn more about wine and to place an order for the biggest party of the century, the mother-of-allpartiesNew Year’s Eve 1999.  The wine expert we met with with was non other than Kameel, owner of Martha’s.  He greeted us at the door and escorted us up the spiral staircase (which I did not even know existed) to the wine loft and preceded to engage us with tales of the vine.  A memorable experience and besides being extremely knowledgeable, he was good salesman as I ended up buying a case of fairly expensive champagne to give to friends on New Years Eve.

January 30, 2009, Grand Rapid. I pick my daughter up from theater class at the Civic and decide to buy a bottle of wine and some bread for dinner.  It was a rough day.  Wine and bread seem appropriate. I remember Martha’s is nearby and decide to stop in on my way home.  Martha’s had become less of a destination for me and it was many years since I stopped in.  I parked, walked in and was blown away.

Paradise found. A spectacular vision.   Cheesecake and dessert counter to my left.  Further along was a deli-case of specialty sausages, ham, salami and cheeses and many “take-home” staples of deli cases like hummus, dips, and salads.   As I moved forward there was a wall of premium liquors, humidors of cigars and coolers and coolers of specialty beers. The pièce de résistance of course was the wine selection.

Of course there are many specialty stores like this in the area.  But not really.   I have never been in a store where everyone that was working was so “happy”.  Not goofy happy, but happy to be of service.  Without a hint of being overbearing I had several employees ask me if I needed help, make some recommendations and be of good cheer.  It has been a LONG time since I had such a genuine, positive retail experience.   After checking out, I then stopped next door at Nantucket Bakery, a sister store with pizza, breads, soups and desserts.  Much smaller but with the same size heart.

So there you go.  One corner, two stores and a four-star experience.

One other thing that I admire…a fine website!

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First Annual McGurk Award- Brian Rider

To understand the whole McGurk thing, you will have to read the previous post.

For those who want to cut to the chase, McGurk is the kid who saw an empty parking lot and imagined a circus of total wonderment….

The First Annual McGurk Award goes to: Brian Rider– Founder of Digital Wingman

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Brian is a twenty-one year old , entrepreneur, mensch, raconteur and GVSU student.

Brian, a self-described geek, “gets it”. His brand could be described as:

  • Smart
  • Funny
  • Hard working
  • Genuine
  • Humble
  • Ambitious
  • Grounded
  • Innovative

Like a true McGurk, Brian sees things that as they could be. That is a rare breed.

In a sea of bad news, Brian and Digital Wingman are an island of sandy beaches, good fishing, wild music and great craic!

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If I Ran Grand Rapids…

If I ran Grand Rapids, I would give a copy of the Dr. Seuss classic, If I Ran The Circus and make it required reading for anyone wanting to be part of the development, promotion, and stewardship of this community.

For those too old to remember (or without young kids) here is the synopsis:

“Behind Mr. Sneelock’s ramshackle store, there’s an empty lot. Little Morris McGurk is convinced that if he could just clear out the rusty cans, the dead tree, and the old cars, nothing would prevent him from using the lot for the amazing, world-beating, Circus McGurkus. The more elaborate Morris’ dreams about the circus become, the more they depend on the sleepy-looking and innocent Sneelock, who stands outside his ramshackle store sucking on a pipe, oblivious to the fate that awaits him in the depths of Morris’s imagination. He doesn’t yet know that he’ll have to dispense 500 gallons of lemonade, be lassoed by a Wily Walloo, wrestle a Grizzly-Ghastly, and ski down a slope dotted with giant cacti. But if his performance is up to McGurkian expectations, then “Why, ladies and gentlemen, youngsters and oldsters, your heads will quite likely spin right off your shouldsters!” “


images Yes my friends, I have had the pleasure of getting to know a few McGurks and a couple of Sneelocks…in fact, this city is full of these folks. Why do you think anything is getting done? (No offense, but it is not the politicians!)

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Getting the News

With the “demise” of the Grand Rapids Press…well, demise is a bit dramatic, but with the downsizing of the Grand Rapids Press, I am increasingly using Rapid Growth Media for a source of what is happening in this region.  I am no Pollyanna but for crying out loud, not all news needs to be bad!  After being subjected the mainstream media’s new reports I half expect to wake up as a character from Cormac McCarthy’s novel; The Road:

“Cormac McCarthy’s tenth novel, The Road, is his most harrowing yet deeply personal work. Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the world to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi. The sky is perpetually shrouded by dust and toxic particulates; the seasons are merely varied intensities of cold and dampness. Bands of cannibals roam the roads and inhabit what few dwellings remain intact in the woods.”

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I can’t wait to see that movie….NOT.

Back to point, at least the fifteen or twenty minutes that I spend reading the news and articles from Rapid Growth Media, I end up feeling a bit more optimistic about the economy and life in general.  I mean how good is it that someone is opening a Mexican Restaurant in the Herkimer Hotel!  Making taquitos for heaven’s sake!  By the way, I think I know that Bellgraph guy….an old Amway crony of mine.  Maybe just the same name.  Anyway, I will certainly check this place out.  The salsa better be good.

$20,000 Herkimer Hotel renovation brings Mexican restaurant to Grand Rapids’ Heartside

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

“Pinch me, I’m dreaming” is a phrase Robert Bellgraph must be using these days. After 20 years of working toward opening his own restaurant, he’s nearly ready to welcome his first customers to Taquitos Mexican Grill at 327 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids — part of the historic Herkimer Hotel building owned by Dwelling Place.

As a teen, Bellgraph worked for his cousin, the owner of Palermo Pizza, and that’s when the “restaurant bug” bit.

“I love the restaurant business,” Bellgraph says. “I enjoy the service part of it a lot. I have a passion for service. I know it sounds weird but I generally like to pick up after people, it’s nice to see people’s faces when someone takes care of them.”

Bellgraph and the restaurant’s manager, Joe Martinez, have done the renovation work themselves, sprucing up the old bar and kitchen on the corner of Division and Goodrich.

Martinez was born in Mexico and the menu items—carne asada (marinated grilled steak), barbacoa (slow roasted shredded beef), chicken mole, burritos, tacos, whitefish and taquitos–are made with his family’s traditional recipes.

“We want to make the taquitos famous,” says Bellgraph, whose goal is to create a franchise and expand it to every major city in the United States.

The history of the 2,300-square-foot space includes time as a bar and as a restaurant. He repainted the walls rich shades of brick red and Sahara yellow.

“There hardwoods throughout the whole place,” Bellgraph notes. “Dark oak trim, oak on the walls, crown moldings, beams across the ceiling. We cleaned up the oak booths that are about 40 years old and put new seats on them.”

Bellgraph estimates a $20,000 investment. He plans a February 2 soft opening, with a grand opening in March.

Source: Robert Bellgraph, Taquitos Mexican Grill; Heather Ibrahim, Dwelling Place, Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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Bar Divani

Hello there, Valerie here. Last night, the girls and I went to Bar Divani, to catch up and take advantage of their happy hour specials. With the way the weather in Grand Rapids has been hitting us, we all agreed that going out early and then hanging out at home playing cards was a safer plan. I follow GR_food_police on twitter and they mentioned that the happy hour at Bar Divani was a good deal, so we met there.

If by deal they really meant to say steal, then they weren’t kidding. $2 for a plate of focaccia with warm dipping oil?? $6 for baked goat cheese with warm crostini! $6 for spicy tuna! And that was only some of the amazing food. Then there were $6 martinis, the one I got was champagne, peach schnapps and something else. But wait there is more, $2 off glasses of wine! My bill at the end of the night was $30 for two martinis, sushi, 1/2 of a pommes frites order, orange chicken, and 1/2 a bread pudding (don’t judge… I like food and shared with everyone). I know the next thing you are thinking, “Wow that IS cheap, but I bet you get what you pay for. It probably wasn’t that good.” Not at all, everything was really high quality. The Chef really knows what he’s doing back there.

Apart from the food and drinks, the atmosphere is also really nice. Warm mood lighting, exposed wine racks for viewing their selection, nice chairs, and two separate sitting rooms. Not once did I feel like we had to yell to each other (I have a relatively soft speaking voice and was able to talk at my normal level). Another problem that I have with a lot of places with bars is that they get smoky, but not at Bar Divani. There was even a woman sitting directly behind me smoking and I only smelled it when she first lit her cigarette, after that the smell was whisked away by some invisible force.

I know it sounds like I am puffing it up to be this amazing place, but really, I just had a great time and definitely recommend it.

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