Kalamazoo Brewing Eccentric Day?
- Rene G
Frequent poster on Chicago board but first time here, I think. Living in Chicago, I have enjoyed Bells beers for years. Kalamazoo Brewing Company--maker of Bells Amber, Oberon, Two Hearted, many great stouts, and lots more--is clearly one of the best of the Midwest craft brewers. One of these days Im hoping to visit the brewery.
I wonder if anyone has firsthand experience with Eccentric Day. This once-a-year event in their Eccentric Café (I believe this year on Friday, December 12) marks the release of the new batch of Eccentric Ale, one of their more memorable brews. Is Eccentric day fun, crazy, mobbed? Might it be better to visit at another time? Does the Café serve food?
Elsewhere in Kalamazoo, Im especially excited about Coney Island (hot dogs since 1915, homemade chili sauce!) and Sweetwaters Donut Mill (52 varieties, 24 hours a day!). Any other places not to miss?
Coney Island in Kalamazoo (go to the downtown location) is a dog unlike any other you'll find. The sauce is very juicy and gets the bun really soggy and loaded with flavor. Some ask for the coney dry (they drain the meat sauce). It's a special kind of place.
Definitely go there!!
Sweetwater's does have great donuts. Is it worth a special trip to get one? I suppose it is if you really like donuts.
Try Bimbo's Pizza -- it's a block from Coney Island downtown. Just got remodeled and it almost looks too nice. The pizza is very thin crust, cut in squares. When I lived in town, I lived on this pizza -- at least 3-4 days a week. My parents have been going there since they were dating in the '60s, I took my wife there when we were dating, my sister-in-law goes there with her boyfriend ... it's kind of a family thing. It's an institution in K'zoo. The same people have worked there forever. Ron owns the place now and his kids work there along with long-time pizza-maker sisters Sherry and Patty.
Don't confuse this with Bilbo's Pizza, which is a totally different style.
Also in the area, go north to Plainwell were Arie's Cafe and London Grill are excellent. London Grill has English/Indian food. Arie's is fairly upscale and I have not been in several years, but it has a great reputation. London Grill has declined a bit over the years, in my opinion, but the food is still very good. It's almost always busy. It's a neat place.
Need directions to any of these places? Want more suggestions? Let me know. I grew up there and still visit several times a year.
BTW, downtown Kalamazoo has turned into quite a place. Tons of renovations, remodeling, rebuilding, etc. Lots and lots of money being invested. Many new restaurants and bars. District Two-Eleven is very nice (that's a restaurant). One of the newest places is a bar called Shakespeare's; it's named that because it's in the building that used to be home to Shakespeare fishing rod company.
Just talked with one of my kids and he says Eccentric Night at Bell's is the best party of the year in Kalamazoo. Yes, it will be crowded - but a really good time. The way I understood what he said is that they serve a special "Eccentric Brew" - same every year, but only served on Eccentric Night. Also, they open up other parts of the brewery and you can go around and try different beer in various areas. There will be music and people wear costumes - the crazier the better - and if you come in costume the price of admission is reduced (he thinks it isn't very much anyway - maybe $5)(usually there is no admission charge unless there is a band). Bell's is great - (I like going down there in the summer when you can sit outside in the back garden). When my whole family is home for Thanksgiving we'll go there - I'll check the date for this years Eccentric Night and post it here. Bell's does have food (not great, but better than some - more to choose from than just burgers etc) - but they may not be serving food on Eccentric Night.???
About other "don't miss" eats in Kzo - well, coming from Chicago you probably won't find anything all that remarkable here. I've never been to Coney Island, but I agree that Bimbo's has the best pizza in town. Aries London Grill in Plainwell was consistently fantastic 10 years ago (better than most Chicago food). Now I think it's uneven - I had a great meal there a couple of months ago, but have also had some dinners there that were not all that good. They seem to have lost some of their energy, or sometimes cut corners, plus it's gotten more expensive. I heard the London Grill is under new ownership. My favorite places in Kalamazoo are Cosmo's on Vine & Locust just west of Westnedge - I especially recommend the Saturday and Sunday brunch; they have O'Duffy's Pub downstairs (closed Sunday) - you can order from a short menu there or from the Cosmo's menu. Cosmo's is upstairs. It's a great atmosphere, reasonable prices and consistenly creative and delicious. My other recommendation is Martini's on Westnedge a block south of Vine. This is basically take-out, but there is a counter where you can eat in. Great house salad, Italian sandwiches, pizza, freshly squeezed veg or fruit juices and they also serve breakfast. Everything cooked to order, large portions and always excellent.
The cafe serves food, but food is free during eccentric days past. They have several buffet tables out, and it doesn't come from their kitchen. It comes from a wide variety of sources. A friend of mine provides 5 dozen pickled eggs each year. There's a jalepeno/butternut squash soup that's been a big hit for several years. There's a huge variety and amount of food available. Should you want to leave and sit down for dinner, the London Grill is about two blocks away and has great food and beer. Actually, the Grill in Plainwell is better, but both are worth a visit. Food Dance Cafe is about a block away, and is a great restaurant (internet searches will get you more info here). Also, Zazios offers high end italian in the Radisson, about 4 blocks from Bells. Not close to Bells, but not far, is B'witched - best lunch and best sandwiches in Kalamazoo.
Oh, yes - there's never been a cover (unless it was last year, which was my first miss in about 10 years). However, you MUST be dressed eccentrically in order to get in. A google search for Eccentric Day Photo's will give you some inspiration. However, Larry is considering not having the party this year because it got out of hand last year. Too many morons who can't hold their great beer.
As a long-time Kalamazoo-ian, I love Bell's Beer but am not too crazy about the brewery itself because the attitude of the staff varies so wildly. Sometimes it's totally friendly, other times there's a really obnoxious clubbiness and tendency to ignore customers. It'd definitely be worth a visit, though, if you've never been--hopefully you'll get lucky and have one of the friendly nights. It's a cool building, and just an interesting spot since it's one of the first little indie breweries that hit big . Deciding whether or not to go on Eccentric Day should depend on how claustrophic you are. Too packed for me, and the mandated eccentricity gets my goat.
I think the best pizza (heck, the best overall restaurant) in town is MArtini's, which was mentioned above. Bimbo's pizza is undeniably good comfort food and has a cool old interior, but it's doesn't have the insane depth of flavor of Martini's. GREAT late-night post-beering spot to get your grub on, though, is old Bimbo's. I think they still keep some late hours. And yeah, a Coney Dog after beering it up is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Sadly, they removed the booth jukes when they remodeled. Otherwise, I still love 'em.
I second the rec's for Food Dance and the London Grille as nearby walkable spots to get a little higher-end fare.
Something that hasn't been mentioned is that if you just want smaller dishes, stumble across the street from Bell's to Water STreet Coffee Joint. They roast their own coffee and always have a deli case full of really good, reasonably priced, house-made, locally-sourced sandwiches, salads, soups, and OH MY GOD THE PASTRIES!!!!
OH! Forgot to mention SPROUT downtown as well. Nice, cheapish asian fusion.
Another hidden gem is Just Good Foods, located in the basement of the Rose Street Building on the corner of Rose and Eleanor Streets downtown. Sadly, they don't seem to have a website (or nighttime hours), but they are extremely well worth a lunch/early evening visit (I think they're open till 6:30 pm
Mmmmmmm, Sticky toffee! Deliciousness. Good choice--the London Grill has the nicest service in town. They must treat their employees really well--I know a couple of the waitstaff have been there for as long as the place has been open. They know their stuff, and they're the perfect balance of super-friendly, attentive, and helpful without being hover-y.
FYI: Kalamazoo Brewing Company has changed their name to Bell's Brewery, Inc., naturally. I'm a Bell's man, myself.