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.