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Shopping in Grand Rapids

Apologies if a similar post already exists, but my searches mostly brought up posts about dining out rather than groceries...

So here's the deal. I recently moved from Toronto to the bustling metropolis of...Big Rapids, MI. While there are things I love about the area (landscape...whitefish...sausages), there are some things I am starting to desperately crave. I decided fairly last-minute this past Saturday to make the pilgrimage down to Grand Rapids, but ran into car trouble early in my trip and had to turn around. I figure this is a blessing in disguise because now I can properly plan my trip and fully stock my pantry/freezer. I am already planning on a stop at Penzey's (living in Canada, I have never had access to them even in mail-order form, let alone an actual brick and mortar store in which I can smell and feel the product...SO EXCITED) and a most reverent stop at Founder's for refreshment. But I could use more guidance for other things, since I'd rather spend my day buying and eating than driving between disappointments.

Namely:

1. I am in desperate need of Korean/Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai foods. Any suggestions for places to buy ingredients, or even somewhere to grab lunch to stave off the cravings? I'm going through serious withdrawal, and while I'm doing my best to fake it up here, the fresh herbs and produce are difficult to mail order, and the tiny tubs of kimchi at Meijer last me about a day and a half.

2. I need pork belly! Beef tendon would be nice too.

3. Lately, I am having wicked cravings for prosciutto, and the pre-sliced packages in the deli case are just not cutting it. Any suggestions for good ham and serious cheeses would be greatly appreciated.

4. I could use a really good, go-to wine/spirits/beer shop. Doesn't have to be huge, just well-curated and interesting. I finally have a car again, which means I can properly stock my bar and wine rack.

5. A solid grocery store. There really isn't a single regular grocery store up here - we have Meijer, and Wal-Mart, and discount stores for the students. A regular, well-stocked grocery store would be refreshing.

I am originally from Midwestern stock, so I'm open to any and all suggestions of other things to check out that will help me re-acclimate. Any local specialties I haven't yet been introduced to...please share!

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  1. Hi Wahooty,

    Not really sure for some of your requests as I haven't lived in GR for a while. I do know that I would suggest GB Russo to find good meats, cheeses, and beer/wine/spirits. It's been around forever and always has very helpful people working who can direct you to their products or someplace else that may have something particular you're looking for. http://www.gbrusso.com/ It's a great "international grocery" and has a fairly large selection to get you stocked up. Also, I have heard Grand Central Market is pretty decent, but I have never been there.

    For pork belly, I'm not sure which groceries have it if you want to prepare it yourself. There are multiple restaurants in the area that have it in some way on their menus. Some that I'm pretty sure I remember seeing it and you might want to try are Six One Six, Bloom, Republic, and San Chez.

    Let us know what you find. I'm back that way often and would definitely like to know of any new places with great selections.

    -----
    Grand Central Market
    57 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

    1. For number 1 I would start at the Golden Bridge Plaza 4242 S. Division. It has a Chinese restaurant, Vietneamese restaurant, and Asian grocer and a couple other things.

      2. Pork Belly - Sobie Meats, (really any butcher, but I have ordered it from him before) 3919 Remembrance. I order online via the West Michigan Food Co-Op (you order online and pick up once a month, so might be a good deal for someone out-of-town, access to all things local), http://www.westmichigancoop.com/

      3. G.B. Russo for beer (best prices, generally), wine, meats, cheeses.

      4. Martha's Vinyard 200 Union, NE, though Russo's is more than adequate.

      5. There is Grand River Grocery 496 Ada Dr. SE

      6. All-around-cool place Art of the Table 606 Wealthy SE

      6 Replies
      1. re: planojim

        For a solid grocery store try Big Top (complete name is Steve Deyoung's Big Top Market @ 3630 Clyde Park, SW) or Kingmas Market 2225 Plainfield NE.

        Big Top may have beef tendon - not sure, they have calves' feet and pig heads - so you may be in luck there.

        Keep your head on a swivel as you drive, too. There are lots of places, like on your way to Big Top you will likely pass an Asian Market (newer one, I haven't been in sometime and the name escapes me), there are a few smaller Asian stores near (just north, also on Division) the Golden Bridge Plaza that planojim mentioned.

        Here is an article on some Thai restaurants, opinions will vary on which is best, and I bring no expertise to that question:

        http://www.mlive.com/business/west-mi...

        1. re: planojim

          You guys are fabulous. Consider GB Russo and Golden Bridge Plaza added to my list, and the co-op sounds like something I could get a lot of use out of (more so if pickups were on any day but Wednesday, but oh well). Will keep you posted if I discover anything new while I'm down there!

          1. re: Wahooty

            I'd like to hear back what you like or dislike about any of the places. Always nice to know what is going on out there.

            Also, this may be of interest to you:

            http://www.restaurantweekgr.com/

            1. re: RyanS

              Thanks for the heads up on this. Is this the first year Grand Rapids is doing a Restaurant Week, or no? I would love to hear anyone's input or reviews of this event. Maybe I can plan ahead to make it down for next year.

              1. re: tokyo

                This is the first year for Grand Rapids. Hopefully it goes well and it becomes an annual event.

                1. re: RyanS

                  Hmm...interesting. Since it's the first year, it might be worth checking out - these restaurant week things seem to go downhill quickly once they take hold, but always start out with good intentions. If any GR hounds are interested in doing a RW meetup, my e-mail is in my profile. :)

        2. If you like sausage, I'm sure someone 'round here knows who's making the good kielbasa these days.

          1. "3. Lately, I am having wicked cravings for prosciutto, and the pre-sliced packages in the deli case are just not cutting it. Any suggestions for good ham and serious cheeses would be greatly appreciated"

            1. Reporting back after my first mission:

              Due to unforeseen circumstances (read: the Big Ten network comes standard with my apartment and I had to watch a little football before I could start my trip), I got a late start and couldn't quite cover all of the ground I wanted to. However...

              G.B. Russo - FANTASTIC. Exactly what I was looking for. I couldn't explore as much as I wanted, since the most pressing matters on this shopping trip were non-food related and meant that I didn't get there until about 15 minutes before closing time. Just long enough to get a half-pound of serrano ham and a few tiny chunks of cheese to make my dinner. The first slice off of the machine was way too thick, so the deli guy handed it across to me to munch on while I waited. I am in love. He also commented on the priciness of my ham (on sale for $19.99/lb). I didn't have the heart to tell him that Meijer is selling me pre-sliced packages of vastly inferior ham for the same price.
              Hit the wine section just as the "hello, we're closing, please get yer asses to the register" announcement came on...so I grabbed a marked-down zin and headed for the door. Got home and realized it was a DAMN good deal. Should have bought more, and will if it's still there the next time I'm in the area. Seriously love this place - reminds me of a favorite spot in Toronto.

              Golden Bridge Plaza - again, just what the doctor ordered. I now have pork belly and beef tendon in my freezer, and more Vietnamese and Thai herbs than I know what to do with. Can't wait to play with them this week. The clerk asked what I was making - I think my answer of "I don't know yet" may have thrown him. I'll be back for more, especially when I need my banh mi or pho fixes.

              On my way to Golden Bridge, I stopped in at Lee Supermarket...I am now the proud owner of a large jar of (I believe) house-made kimchi. And it is wicked good stuff. A VERY happy little find there. Next time, I buy the VERY large jar instead.

              Add in the goodies from Penzey's, and I'm a very happy camper. My kitchen is feeling much more complete than it did 24 hours ago. Thanks, guys!

              5 Replies
              1. re: Wahooty

                So, a year later, I figured I'd update with some of my other frequent haunts. The above places are part of my standard loop, but I have learned to branch out.

                Grand Central Market - nice sandwiches and such for lunch, but as a grocery destination, it didn't do anything for me. Would much rather go to Russo's or Kingmas - what they have is nice, they just don't have the shelf-space for significant stock.

                Siciliano's Market (2840 Lake Michigan Drive NW) - originally made the trip to get a few packets of champagne yeast, and dropped quite a bit of money on beer. Particularly for those interested in European beers, it's absolutely worth checking out.

                20th Century Market (610 Bridge Street NW) - stopped in this weekend for bacon and kielbasa. The former was lovely - I've been looking for a good, solid slab bacon, sliced to whatever thickness I want, for years. So many I've bought have been smoked badly, or with the wrong kind of wood, or pumped full of water, etc. This was just...very nice bacon. Similar to the stuff I grew up on (and learned later in life had spoiled me). The hickory sticks were pretty much the same as I would get anywhere...haven't tried the kielbasa yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if my car still smells like garlic from the ride home, and I consider that a good sign.

                And Martha's Vineyard has become my go-to whenever I'm looking for a special or hard-to-find bottle of wine or liquor. Their staff are amazingly helpful, and I always look forward to going there. Fabulous website too - I actually went once looking for something that was difficult to find on the shelves, and a staff member let me pull up the site on their computer to confirm that they had it.

                Finally, it only took me a year to finally get to Hopcat. I didn't have any food, but I loved everything else about it. Beer, staff recommendations, music, friends I made at the bar...all top-notch. Will have to stop there more often.

                -----
                Grand Central Market
                57 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

                Hopcat
                25 Ionia Ave SW Ste 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

                1. re: Wahooty

                  Thanks for the update, seems like you've found the best places in GR. I was just at Hopcat last night for their Sunday Jazz Night. From 7-8 a trio (rotates each Sunday with the only constant being Randy Marsh on drums), then from 8:30 to 10:30 other musicians from the crowd (invited by Marsh, so it isn't open mic night or anything) join in. It was a great vibe last night, eclectic crowd, seating hard to come - and of course great beers on tap.

                  Some newer places (to add to the thread):

                  http://www.breweryvivant.com/

                  Brewery Vivant opened within the past year. I haven't been in for a few months, the beer is Belgian/Northern France in focus; none have blown me away (but, I'm more a hophead). The food was pretty good (they were still working out kitchen kinks last time I ate there); they brought in a chef from NY. They have (or did have) what they term "European seating", i.e. long tables, bench seating which encourages customers to visit with one another, along with booths on the perimeter.

                  http://groverestaurant.com/menu.html

                  Grove just opened about a month ago, and more importantly just received their liquor license last week. I have not made it in there yet, but have heard good things.

                  I normally get my prosciutto from G.B. Russo's, and still would have no issue doing so, but recently picked some up from D&W in East Grand Rapids (Breton and Burton, I wouldn't try any ol' D&W, but serving EGR this one seemed on top of things) and thought it was better then what I'd been getting at Russo's, though mileage may vary on that and I'm far from an expert.

                  My favorite chef, Matt Millar (formerly owned Journeyman Cafe in Fennville), is at Reserve now in downtown GR. Pricey...

                  Pho - Recenty had some pho at a place near 44th and Division (name escapes me, but in the Plaza/mall there at 4242 S. Division). It was fair. Asia's Best on 28th street, near Clyde Park remains my favorite pho place.

                  -----
                  Hopcat
                  25 Ionia Ave SW Ste 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

                  1. re: RyanS

                    Vivant - been there a couple of times, enjoyed it. I do love the Belgian style beers, but their standards don't wow me. Over the summer, though, they made a sour that was phenomenal. I'm also a fan of the duck nachos. :)

                    I've been to that Pho joint in Golden Bridge Plaza - I also thought it was fair (same also goes for the little deli/banh mi shop right next to the market). I mostly make my own now, but will check out Asia's Best sometime to compare.

                    Oh, and since this is also a sort-of RW thread...I wound up making friends at Hopcat and getting invited along on someone else's RW reservation at Bistro Bella Vita this weekend. It was fine. I had the lamb ragout, which was quite good, but also not particularly exciting. The fall vegetable salad was meh (missed all traces of the vinaigrette), and one of my companions had the farm squash ravioli that I thought was too sweet. The waiter seemed to be a firm believer in the beef bourgignon, but I make that so much at home I wouldn't let myself order it. Good value for $25, but nothing that would make me rush back to try the regular menu.

                    1. re: Wahooty

                      I've made pho a few times, still trying to refine. If you don't mind sharing, and it isn't too much trouble, I would love to have your recipe.

                      1. re: RyanS

                        I don't really have a recipe, I just sort of do it. I'm not sure I've ever done it the same way twice...

                        This is what I use as my jumping-off point:

                        http://steamykitchen.com/271-vietname...

                        I like that one because it's more of a method than a recipe. I use the marrow bones, a decent sized chunk of brisket, and some oxtails in order to end up with a nice, clear broth that jels as it cools. Also, a package of beef tendon. This one gives a good idea of the timeframe for brisket and tendon (although I think it overcooks the tendon - I pull it earlier):

                        http://answers.yahoo.com/question/ind...

                        And, to keep this on-topic, I get all of the necessary parts, herbs, noodles, etc. at Golden Bridge Plaza. :)

              2. Latest update: there is a new Mexican supermarket on Division (Supermercado Mexico) just south of 32nd. Today they were doing a big grand opening, complete with free samples, mariachi band, and a Mexican clown. Place looked very nice - nice to see ANY grocery with actual butchers cutting meat behind the counter. They were also selling barbacoa, carnitas, and menudo by the pound. Some nice-looking fresh baked goods and bulk beans, dried chiles, and flor de jamaica. Considering it's right on my Asian grocery route, I'll probably be a frequent customer to get the Mexican goodies I can't get up here.

                Also had a genuinely lovely lunch at Chez Olga that I posted about elsewhere.

                1. surprised that no one has mentioned Frank's Market on Fulton near straight (west side of town) been there since the 30s GREAT kielbasa.. hot shots (peppered beef stick) kracki (a garlic loaded ham type lunch meat) also 2 good bakeries in town SWealthy Street Bakery and Nantucket Bakery (which is next door to Martha's Vineyard which was lsited earlier)

                  Also good coffee at Herman's Boy in Rockford (try the Pantlind Blend)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: prison cook

                    I just wanted to thank you for this mention. I've driven passed Frank's I-don't-know-how-many-times but never stopped. Your post was well timed with my boyfriend mentioning he wanted to find a good butcher near our place, so we stopped last night after work. The steaks we brought home were *amazing* and we have bacon and hamburger in the fridge of bacon burgers later tonight. I'm really excited!

                  2. I second the mention of Wealthy Street Bakery and Nantucket Bakery. Wealthy Street is closer to our apartment, so we're there all the time. The fantastic Art of the Table is right next door, which carries lots of foodie odds and ends (jams, wines, beer, cheeses, etc). Just up the street from there is Nourish Organic Market. They just opened in the fall/late summer but they had a pretty good selection the last time I was there and do have some coops available.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: annarhoswen

                      What sorts of things do you like at Wealthy Street Bakery? My only experience there was a quick drop-in for a croissant between stops in the area, and that didn't leave me itching to go back, although I certainly would the next time I'm down there.

                      prison cook - have you been to Twentieth Century Market? Is Frank's kielbasa better? Does Frank's do other sausages like andouille, or is it strictly Polish in theme? The kracki sounds delicious. I'm looking at another shopping trip on Friday, so I'll be filing these suggestions away.

                      1. re: Wahooty

                        I really have yet to find something there that I don't like. If you're in town after 4pm, definitely grab a pizza. They do a very tasty, very light sauce on a nice chewy crust and have a ton of toppings to choose from. If you're not a marinara person, their chicken Alfredo pizza is similarly fantastic. They also have a great selection of deli sandwiches and salads and every soup I've tried there (especially the loaded baked potato) has been great.

                        We like to pop in and grab some breakfast occasionally (I'm a huge fan of their cinnamon rolls and my boyfriend drools after their Danish) or grab a loaf of bread to take home for lunch. The French bread is my boyfriend's favorite while I really enjoy their sourdough.

                        Overall, it's hard to pick just one favorite thing there! They also have great coffee and tea selections, as well as juice and "specialty" sodas (like Izze).

                    2. Ok, new mission...

                      My parents are coming to me for Thanksgiving for the first time ever (we have not actually spent Thanksgiving together since 1999). We usually do duck rather than turkey (I'm not sure what the 3 of us would do with an entire turkey anyway) and I went scouting today and it doesn't look like I have a local source unless I bargain with my students who hunt. ;) Do Meijer/other grocery stores/butchers in GR carry it? Should I just head for the Asian markets?

                      Also...are there any good sources for fresh wild mushrooms in the area? It may be getting a little late, but if there's anyone that brings in porcinin/chanterelle/etc. I'd love to know about it. Love my 'shrooms.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Wahooty

                        For the mushrooms have you heard of Earthy Delights? (http://www.earthy.com). They are a mail order operation located in Dewitt MI.

                      2. Hello former Toronto from current Laval.
                        This isn't a local source but there is a special on shipping right now. Clear jel and lots of other stuff.
                        http://www.kauffmansfruitfarm.com/Cle...