Wally’s, Saugatuck

I was in Saugatuck yesterday. After a visit to the state park, I headed into the downtown area. Unlike warm summer weekends, crowds on cold Monday nights are far calmer, and it was much more enjoyable. Sure, the shops were closed, but I wasn’t in town to shop. I was in town to begin my plan of world domination. But first, dinner.

I stumbled across Wally’s on Hoffman street completely by accident. The slick exterior caught my eye first, and when I paused on the sidewalk to view the menu, I saw nachos and was sold.

Wally's, Saugatuck

Wally's, Saugatuck

The problem with bar nachos is you never know what you are going to get, and I ordered them with an open mind:

Beautiful nachos

Beautiful nachos

They looked good. As for taste… for the third time in a row ordering “bar bar” nachos (Birch Lodge and The Watershed being the previous two), I was happily surprised. Those at Wally’s were excellent. The ground beef /chorizo combination  was  one I had not seen before, and both were great. Wally’s was generous with the meat and the veggie toppings. And those chips – nearly perfect. I could have eaten just the chips and salsa and been happy.

I didn’t know what to expect with the various colored peppers. Honestly, if green peppers are listed on the menu, I usually have the kitchen keep them off. But, I decided to see how the green, orange, and red peppers would work, and the sweetness of the peppers contrasted nicely with the spicy jalapenos. Sometimes, getting something out of the ordinary pays off.

Wally’s wasn’t my first choice. I had intended on visiting TripAdvisor‘s number one ranked restaurant in Saugatuck, but it was closed. But I’m happy it was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have found the town’s primo spot for nachos.

Advertisements

Chillin’ at Cheli’s Chili Bar, Dearborn

I expanded my horizons last weekend with a trip to Dearborn. Though I wouldn’t call it a cultural event, my dad and I saw Red Green perform at the Ford Theater & Performing Arts Center. Before that, though, food was required. And when you think of Dearborn, what kind of food do you think of? Right – nachos.  So it was off to Cheli’s Chili Bar.

Though busy, we were seated fairly quickly, but things moved very slowly after that, either because the Wings had played earlier that day or a server mix-up or sunspots – not really sure. Luckily, we had plenty of time to eat, and there was no shortage of TVs to watch. It was a sports bar, after all. Plenty of sports paraphernalia, both from Chris Chelios (the restaurant’s namesake) and other sources, was on hand to ogle.

Cheli's Chile Bar

Cheli's Chili Bar

As I mentioned earlier, I ordered the nachos, and it was a big tasty pile, which is much better than a small nasty pile. The chips were topped with cheese and beef (meat extra). The filler was kept to a minimum, but I liked the way Cheli’s did it – the lettuce formed a barrier to keep the salsa and sour cream, which were placed on top of the nachos, from getting them soggy. Well played.

Cheli's Nachos

Cheli's Nachos

In addition to being soggy-less, they tasted good, too. The salsa and beef had a little bite to them (I suppose that’s a nibble) and the toppings were applied generously. The black olives were NOT on the nachos, because olives are awful things to put on nachos. Really, who came up with that idea, and why do so many places do it? I think this calls for an independent prosecutor. I have made my disgust “BO on nachos” pretty plainly several times, and I will continue to do so until the entire world agrees with me. Admittedly, it could take a while, but I’m patient.

This was my second Cheli’s visited, the other being in Detroit. The nachos were good enough to order again, though next time, I will probably get one of their pizzas. The Reuben also looked appetizing. So what I’m saying: Good food, good selection, and a great big mural of Mr. Chelios on the back of the bar. What more do you need?

Chris Chelios mural

Chris Chelios mural

RiverHouse Inn, Williamston, MI

The bread and butter were both fantastic, but the butter was the star of the show. I savored and saved it, and I used every last bit that I could scrape out of the plastic tub for two nights worth of rolls at home.  I hope they eventually sell it.

Getting bread before a meal is not unusual, but the quality of it at The RiverHouse Inn in Williamston was outstanding. The RiverHouse was a place we had wanted to go for a while, but for whatever reason, it never came up when the time came to choose a restaurant for date night. So this was  our first visit, one initiated by a Deal Chicken coupon I had bought months ago and saw lurking about my computer.

Out of kindness to those people who wish to remain anonymous, I have blanked out the license plates for those cars closest to me as I took the picture. So you people going to a discreet rendezvous don’t have anything to worry about. But next time, I’m turning you in.

The RiverHouse Inn

The RiverHouse Inn

We were seated by the fireplace in the bar. It had a nice view of the river behind the restaurant, and Andrea and I both wanted to return in the summer when we could enjoy the patio in all its Williamston glory. The RiverHouse had several rooms for seating in the converted house, but the bar area was my favorite. I don’t like to be too far away from the booze, after all, and I could envision the previous owners hanging out in the den watching TV or planning world domination. Because if I had a den, I would be constantly thinking about taking over the planet.

On the topic of beer (not world domination), Thursdays are half-off beer, which is music to my ears. Equally pleasing – they had Founder’s porter on tap. Great, cheap Michigan beer – you had me at “beer”, but the other adjectives were appealing, too. And it was the beer so nice I bought it twice, and it would have been thrice, but I had to drive.

My entree was the “Roasted Red Pepper Alfredo”. The title left out the most important ingredient, grilled chicken. When my dinner was set before me, the first thing that I thought was “It’s the cheesiest”. There was a lot of cheese sauce, and the chef was very generous with the chicken. All this was over linguini, and it tasted wonderful. And in case you missed it, I liked the bread and butter.

Some cheesy chicken and pasta linguini

Some cheesy chicken and pasta linguini

For dessert, Andrea and I shared a warm chocolate cake topped with vanilla ice cream, and the whole thing was drizzled with chocolate sauce. There wasn’t any oozing chocolate erupting from the center, but the cake didn’t survive our onslaught. Chocolate cake is my favorite dessert, beating out even Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes, so I was happy to have some of the good stuff.

We were both happy with our RiverHouse Inn experience, and it will be a place we go back to. It’s easy to miss, tucked in on Grand River Avenue, but try it out – you will enjoy the experience.

Birch Lodge, Grand Rapids

Birch Lodge is a “bar bar”. It’s a small joint in Grand Rapids on Michigan Street between Grand Avenue and Eastern Avenue, and I could have easily missed it had I not been looking for it. Nothing fancy on the outside, same on the inside, though I did enjoy the red lights around the bar. A little Christmasy, a little evil.  It was fairly crowded, which I like to see at local bars – don’t want our small businesses to go under – though maybe the woman next to me with the braying laughter I could have done without. Listening to her companion talk, there really wasn’t much to laugh about, but I suppose we all have different tastes.

Birch Lodge

Birch Lodge

As regular readers may know, I’m a nacho fiend, and nachos is what I was on the hunt for. But, as the place didn’t look outstanding, I kept my expectations low. This is what I got:

Birch Lodge nachos

Birch Lodge nachos

So far, so good. They looked excellent, and I’m happy to report they had a taste to match. There were plenty of cheese-covered chips to fill me up, even after a 5-mile run. The beef was good and the vegetation atop the nachos was just right . Too many places shove a pile of lettuce (i.e. filler) on top to make the nachos look big. Or maybe they are trying to keep the heat in by burying everything in lettuce.  Look, nacho creators of the world, that junk just gets pushed to the side.  Of course, I told them to hold the black olives, for they are the work of the devil, almost as bad as mushrooms.

In fact, Birch Lodge’s nachos are among the best I’ve had in Grand Rapids. They are on par with those at Bobarinos, of which I was a big fan. Bobarinos had the advantages of larger portions and no one with a donkey-like laugh next to me, but Birch Lodge had cheaper nachos, especially on Monday night, when my tab was 25% off. Yowzas, I liked that.

One thing I didn’t like was of my own making. I ordered a Guinness with my nachos, and that was just a bad idea. Don’t do that, kids. Both are good on their own, but they are certainly not good together. They should have had a warning above the bar regarding that awful combination. Live and learn, though.

Birch Lodge

Birch Lodge

I certainly recommend the Birch Lodge nachos. They were well-portioned, tasted good, and fairly cheap, even more so when you go on a Monday. But if you go, remember this: Friends don’t let friends say “hee haw”.

India in East Lansing – Mumbai

Our last visit to Mumbai was for the U2 concert in June of 2011. East Lansing was crazy so we didn’t hold the slow service against them that day. We hadn’t been back since simply because it’s not one of our regular stopping parts. If we’re in that area of East Lansing, it’s usually for a Topopo salad and a pitcher of Margaritas on the roof of El Azteco. But we were both in the mood for something different, and to Mumbai we did go.

Service hadn’t improved much. We were seated quickly, but after that things moved rather slowly. That was the worst part of our meal, though it wasn’t so terrible as to affect our enjoyment of the food. And the jazz band was a nice touch, and something I wouldn’t have expected in an Indian restaurant. The musical accompaniment went beautifully as we watched the Michigan Flyer buses pull up to the Marriot across the street. (Nice service, BTW – I’ve used it to travel to DTW when I couldn’t get a ride lined up with relatives.)

On the subject of food… We started with the Punjabi Samosa, turnovers which looked like fat empanadas. They were filled with peas and potatoes topped with a light and crispy shell, and a great way to start the meal – very tasty. We have ordered them the last couple of times we have visited Mumbai. And the name Punjabi Samosa is cool – I’m thinking about making that my hip hop name since Wiz Khalifa is already taken.

Mumbai Samosa Punjabi

Mumbai Samosa Punjabi

I had read that Chicken Tikka Masala was the most popular dish in the UK. If it’s good enough for the Brits, it was good enough for me, so I ordered it even though I saw it involved yogurt. Well, new things and all that.

The Masala was excellent. The chicken and red sauce were served in a fancy bowl with white rice on the side. I ordered medium spiciness and it was exactly how I like it, a touch of spicy but nothing to distract from the taste.  The portioning was perfect. Well, along with eating the samosa as appetizer, it was perfect. Dinner  went along with the Simply Naked Pinot Grigio, a crisp wine that reminded me of seeing Mount Rushmore on a dewy morning while eating an Egg McMuffin. (I love to mock wine snobs.) Remember, if it has “Naked” in the title, how bad can it be?

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

I’m a fan of the food at Mumbai. In my experience, it is not a place to get in and out of for dinner quickly, so don’t be in a hurry. I would – and will – return to Mumbai because of the outstanding food they serve.

Roast, Detroit

It was a sort-of surprise for Andrea, this trip to Detroit. The focus of the voyage from Lansing Alvin Ailey’s visit to the Detroit Opera House. A good show requires a good pre-show meal, and for that, we chose one of Detroit’s best, Michael Symon’s Roast. Located in the Westin on the corner of Washington and Michigan, just a block away from the PeopleMover’s Michigan Avenue station, it’s downtown Detroit’s best restaurant.

Roast

Roast

We were seated in a semi-private booth behind the wine cooler. It was dark and intimate, a wonderful spot for couples. We had a view of the beautiful  wine collection and the bustling bartender. We made a minor dent in the collection, choosing the Heron 2010 Pinot Noir, a recommendation from the waitress because of the Pinot Noir’s versatility. Andrea and I usually get very different entrees (tonight being no exception) so need a wine that can jump through hoops for us. And for you gadget lovers, the wine list was an iPad application.

Roast Wine List

Roast Wine List

But before we reached the main course, we needed to navigate the oh-so-many appetizing appetizers. Our friendly debate decided on Stuffed Peppers filled with pork sausage and topped with feta cheese. There was a hint of spiciness in the pork, but the peppers were mild and the whole package was nicely done.

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers

My entrée was the hanger steak with pickle relish. The meat was tender and the sauce was complimentary the steak. The pickle relish wasn’t overpowering. After all, relish on a steak? Odd idea, but at Roast, odd ideas just work. Andrea ordered the duck ragu, and it was outstanding. She was disappointed that she couldn’t finish it all, but room had to be saved for dessert. Of the two entrees, I preferred the ragu.

Hanger Steak and Rosemary Fries

Hanger Steak and Rosemary Fries

We split a side of Rosemary Fries. Roast has generous  portions, which I find unexpected for restaurants with the chef’s name in the title.  Thin and crispy and lightly spiced, the fries were excellent. They were served with chipotle ketchup which tasted nice, like a mild salsa, though we both preferred the fries without it. We loved them just the way they were.

Dessert was the Chocolate Coconut Bomb. The best way to describe it is a Hostess Snowball. There was a soft cookie crust bottom topped with chocolate mousse and coconut pudding (for lack of a better name), and that in turn was topped with a soft chocolate shell and sprinkled with coconut shavings. Wow – truly excellent. Even better than a Snowball, if you can believe it. Glasses of Niepoort Ruby, a mild, smooth port of which I could become a regular drinker, went with our final course.

Chocolate Coconut Bomb

Chocolate Coconut Bomb

Though we don’t get to Detroit often, the variety of items on the menu, consistently good quality, and generous portions means there will be a fourth visit to Roast.