Sunday, August 14, 2016

Marie Catrib's

Marie Catrib’s
1001-1003 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
QISA (4, 4, 3.5, 3.5), $7-12, Vegetarian-Friendly

Marie Catrib’s is where the beautiful people eat. This is not the house of the wealth and well-dressed nor the movers and shakers of the Grand Rapids elite. No, this is the place where the actual beautiful people eat, the incredibly attractive college age men and women, the young families with photogenic children, and the occasional “normal-looking” middle-aged and elderly thrown in for good measure. Even the old man toddling his way past the bar looked stooped and creaky but not unattractive. This is the land of clean living.

Marie Catrib sounds like the name of a 18th century pirate queen, buT in fact she is the founder and owner of this experimental restaurant using, “a twist of Lebanese, a hit of Yooper and a yen for unique pastries.” I enjoyed the artwork on the walls which ranged from an impressionist painting of an 18th century woman pouring tea to a surrealistic painting of an airplane flying past planets to a lovely close-up photograph of Playmobile toy characters in an inner city setting. Obviously, the word has gone out about this restaurant because the place was hopping at lunchtime. I waited 20-30 minutes for a table for one. Upon arriving, I put my name on a yellow legal pad and waited along with the other hopefuls.

The restaurant is quite vegetarian friendly; the many creative vegetarian and vegan dishes offered are clearly mere afterthoughts to appease non-carnivorous patrons. I ordered the lentil quinoa burger, a side of Marie’s seasoned potatoes, and (because how could I not) a half pot of Turkish coffee. The burger had a pleasant chewiness and curry spice, and it was loaded with lettuce, curried vegenaise, and ginger-tomato chutney. The generous portion of seasoned potatoes were cut into large chunks, coated with a tangy, salty seasoning, and roasted. The accompanying pickle spear was just slightly under crisp for my taste, but it was moderately spicy which came as a pleasant surprise.

The Turkish coffee was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was strong, slightly sweet, and flavored with a touch of cardamom, creating a perfectly balanced blend. The half pot was clearly intended for more than one diner, but this did not stop me from refilling my little cup over and over again.

Marie Catrib’s is comfort food with a creative exotic twist. I definitely plan to come back to try out her falafel or her ancho lentil tacos or perhaps her marinated portabella mushrooms and onions on grilled challah bread. And perhaps next time I will treat myself to one of her wonderful looking pastries. I am definitely getting another half pot of Turkish coffee and nursing it in the corner. Y’all can get your own.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bartertown Diner

Bartertown Diner
6 Jefferson Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
QISA (3.5, 4, 4, 3.5), $7-12, Vegan

A vegan, community-focused, breakfast and lunch joint like Bartertown Diner could only exist in a small liberal college town. San Francisco, New York, or Chicago? They are way too trendy and metropolitan for anything this grass roots. South Bend or Terre Haute, Indiana? Way to blue collar, and slightly too red. Bloomington, Indiana? Possibly. Maybe.

But it is Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan, a city of 192,294 people nearly evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters, a city where the largest college is Grand Rapids Community College (student population 32,000), that supports this unique establishment. In fact, it is Grand Rapids with its beautiful three dimensional murals gracing the side of buildings downtown, visual and performing art institutions, and variety of locally-owned, locally sourced restaurants that is the perfect place for Bartertown.

Bartertown Diner advertises its mission as serving, “delicious affordable food that increases the overall well-being of our health, our community, and our planet.” They use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. They sell Sonder Farms organic produce in the corner of the restaurant like a micro-farmer’s market. They also give much lip service and ink to paying their wait staff a fair living wage and advertise themselves as a “no tip restaurant." Instead of leaving a tip, they encourage patrons to purchase $2 taco or $5 food bowl coupons that can be used by ANYONE who walks in the door. These coupons are posted on a large bulletin board near the door, and are used every day by college kids, homeless people, or whoever else needs a free meal. It’s a great way to provide judgement-free food to the community while encouraging vegan eating.

The food itself is quite good, not fantastic, but still very good. I ordered the jalapeno lentil burger, topped with cilantro aioli, spinach, thick slices of tomato, thin slices of jalapenos, and their house mustard. The patty was a soft puree rather than a chewy burger. It was moderately spicy with a lot of flavor. I liked the taste, but I personally think it could have used a grain to give it more crunch or chewiness.

The Fox Force Five smoothie contained almond milk, banana, peanut butter, cacao, and chia seeds. It was blended smooth with only a slight graininess, and the flavor was balanced nicely without being too sweet. I could almost feel the antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids turning me into a better version of myself.

I treated myself to a dense, cakey cinnamon-sugar coated donut. If you are looking for baked vegan pastries, you could do a lot worse.

In fact, you could do a lot worse than the Bartertown Diner. I recommend it for its mission of healthy, locally-sourced vegan food, its tasty meals, and its devotion to the community. I even purchased a $5 food bowl coupon and proudly taped it to the bulletin board. Hopefully, some young student at the Grand Rapids Community College will make good use of it.