On the Road: Grand Rapids

It’s been 6 months since my last post and while I find that a bit embarrassing and have chastised myself often about it, I’ve decided to shrug it off and move on since it couldn’t be helped. However, for those of you looking for an explanation lets just say the past 6 months involved 3 job changes, lots of 12 hour work days, a few computer meltdowns, the birth of a puppy, quite a bit of freelance work, fleas, a bit of  home reorganizing, some super secret plan brainstorming with super secret people and a couple of short vacations, the last of which was a day trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The trip was sort of my last hurrah for the summer, since I started my new full-time position as a children’s librarian today. No more 12 hour days for me = more time for blogging, cuddling with dogs, taking pictures and pursuing my other interests!!!

Why Grand Rapids? Well, I’d been hearing a lot about the wonders of the Megabus and their cheap fares, so I decided to see where it would take me from Chicago. I was limited to day trips since a) I had about 3 million things to do before starting the new job and b) I felt bad leaving the dogs with a sitter for longer than a day, since Nick was on tour in the Pacific NW with his vegan straight edge band, Poison Planet.  Grand Rapids was perfect, because it wasn’t terribly far, I knew they had good vegan food (or so I’d been told, since this was my first visit) and I had 2 coupons for free sandwiches from Bartertown Diner thanks to Nick’s contribution to their Kickstarter last year. I texted my friend M and asked her if she’d like to join me and next thing we knew we were being dropped off in a parking surrounded by warehouses in Grand Rapids.

The first place we went was the Bartertown Diner (6 Jefferson St SE, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 233-3219). Bartertown is a vegitarian/vegan/raw, worker owned and operated diner. According to their website, their goal is to: “promote fresh, local ingredients along with a positive, fair working environment.”

Bartertown is a casual place with tables made from old doors and a counter made from reclaimed wood and old window panes. They have revolutionaries painted on their walls in red and black and several figurines gracing the counter next to an assortment of hot sauces, like a Ric Flair action figure and this pig:

At first glance, the menu appears a bit Spartan, with it’s 2 appetizers, 5 sandwiches and 4 entrees, but when you stop to think about the fact that they only use local ingredients that are in season, it makes sense. Plus, they had a couple of daily specials up on a board above the counter.

M and I got excited when we saw that they had locally made sodas, so she ordered a Black Cherry Soda which they served up in a mason jar and I ordered a root beer, which unfortunately the were out of 🙁

Black Cherry Soda

As I mentioned before, our coupons were for sandwiches, so we both ordered the Deluxe Chickpea Melt, which featured a patty made from mashed chickpeas, diced veggies, and vegenaise topped with tempeh bacon, lettuce and tomato served on delicious bread toasted to perfection. I opted for the side of baked beans, which tasted more like chili without the meat or veggies than the sweet beans from a can that I’m used. They had a slight kick to them that went well with the sandwich and I was very pleased with my choice.

M opted for the curried coleslaw as her side. I’m not typically a fan of slaw, but it was surprisingly good with the slightly sweet curry they added to it.

As you can see they don’t skimp on the portions. Both M and I left feeling more than satisfied. We also got a piece of raw chocolate cheesecake from their dessert case to go, which was delicious, but I failed to photograph.

We spent the majority of the afternoon wandering around downtown Grand Rapids admiring the architecture, hanging out by the river and reading magazines in the periodicals room of GR’s beautiful library.

Our initial plan was to get dinner at Brick Road Pizza (1017 Wealthy St, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 719-2409), which we’d heard great things about from several people, unfortunately they are closed on Mondays though, so we had to come up with a plan b.

We walked a few store fronts down to visit Tree Hugger (947 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 454-8733), a package free grocery store (though I’d call it more of a general store than grocery store) just to see what it was all about. Walking around the store made me wish there was something like it in Chicago. Tree Hugger is very environmentally conscious. Not only do they sell package free groceries, they also sell upcycled and recycled items AND they have a recycling center.

The way the grocery part of the store works is you either a) bring your own container in or b)buy a mason jar from them and fill it with everything from laundry detergents to Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to Daiya to grains and more, which is rad!

The rest of the store had eco-friendly items for every occasion. There were several Preserve products, compost bins, bamboo kitchen items, grocery totes, clothing, stationary, purses, soy candles, bath and beauty products and more! I was really impressed how every business we visited in Grand Rapids seemed to be all about eco-friendliness and buying local.

Once we left Tree Hugger, we got onto Vegan Grand Rapids to figure out what the nearest option was for us that would keep us in the area or take us back in the direction of our bus. We ended up settling on The Green Well Gastro Pub (924 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 808-3566), which seemed like the antithesis of Bartertown Diner. Unlike Bartertown, the Green Well serves meat and unlike Brick Road Pizza, they don’t have a dedicated vegan menu. Instead there’s lots of meat, cheese and wine. The clientele reminded M and I of something out of The Stepford Wives. There were women in pearls and skirt suits and lots of middle aged men wearing polo shirts. Needless to say I felt a little out of place in my jean shorts with the ink stain and a tank top. There were cloth napkins and the sinks in the bathrooms looked like something you’d find in a spa.

Our waiter was friendly, though, he seemed a little taken aback when I used the word “vegan” while ordering. He came by frequently to re-fill our waters and see how things were going. M and I both decided to go the safe route and order the Pad Thai, since it was the only thing the folks at Vegan Grand Rapids recommended that didn’t require us telling him to omit anything. We were both pleasantly surprised by what he brought us. It wasn’t traditional Pad Thai, instead is was rice noodles in a sweet and slightly spicy curry sauce with seasonal local vegetables topped with peanuts and it was delicious!

Like the other businesses we visited, the Green Well Gastro Pub was not only concerned with sourcing ingredients locally, they are also  located in an LEED certified building and offer locally crafted beers. They were a little on the pricey side for me and the ambiance was far too formal, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there again, but it’ll do in a pinch.

All in all, it was a nice affordable day trip filled with good food and great company and I look forward to doing it again sometime.

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