“We’re called Beer City, USA for a reason,” says Bryan Belknap, a barista at Madcap Coffee, one of the most highly regarded coffee roasters in the country. His home-city of Grand Rapids, Michigan expects 10 new microbreweries to open this year alone. So, when he’s not holding it down at Madcap, you can bet he’s kicking back with a pint. Let him be your guide to Michigan’s second largest city, from innovative ice cream, to proper fish and chips, and beach weekends at the Great Lakes.
Where should I stay?
I would recommend Airbnb because there are some very cool old-1900s houses in Grand Rapids—in this one historic neighborhood called Heritage Hill, especially.
Where should I grab breakfast?
Grand Rapids needs a better breakfast scene. But I love the croissants from Field and Fire. I’ve also recommended San Chez to people who have asked me at the shop. It’s a tapas-style restaurant with breakfast and brunch, and even though the menu is always changing, I really like their seafood and pork belly.
If you’re not at Madcap, where can we get a great cup of coffee?
Lyon Street Café. They are in a really killer area in Midtown, and I know I can get a cortado or cappuccino of great quality when I’m nearby.
There’s obviously Founders Brewing Co., which is fantastic and the big gun in town. But my first favorite is actually a place called Brewery Vivant. It does Belgian- and French-style beers, so it’s definitely different from Founders, and it also has an incredible menu with French food, such as poutine and duck au vin.
The best market to eat your way around?
The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is filled with several different awesome restaurants, First, Field and Fire (the place with the croissants) is there. Then this place called Fish Lads—I go there whenever I can to eat proper fish and chips. After that, I’ll stop by Love’s, an ice cream shop with the best ice cream in Grand Rapids. Last week I had a great lavender-blueberry scoop, if that gives you an idea.
Best place to see great art?
I like the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), which is where you’ll get smaller shows of up-and-coming local artists. The last time I was there, there was this installation where artists brought their own projects and cast shadows onto the walls while you walked around the space. The big art museum in town is the Grand Rapids Art Museum (also called The GRAM), and that’s where you’ll see Andy Warhol paintings and other well-known pieces.
Hottest new restaurant?
Everyone here loves Grove. It has a tasting menu of farm-to-table fare that it’s constantly updating with new, fresh ingredients. You can also order a la carte, if you’re not up for the tasting menu thing. It’s gets a lot of love, and one publication even called it the best new restaurant in Michigan. The other one that people are excited about is a new Neapolitan pizza place, Rocket Pies, from Chris McKellar of Love’s, that’s set to open in a few months. Otherwise, just outside of Grand Rapids, a new place by a James Beard semi-finalist just opened called The Southerner; it has chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits—all of those foods—and it’s getting a lot of buzz so far. If you want a new barbecue spot, Two Scotts is great.
Best old-school Grand Rapids institution?
Get a Cottage Burger at The Cottage, which has been around for over 80 years. They also host a major chili cook-off every year.
Best cocktail bar in town?
I like Reserve Wine & Food, a wine bar that does really excellent cocktails. If you’re staying for food, get the Reserve Burger; it’s definitely one of the best in town.
Good live music?
The B.O.B is the place to see smaller acts; it’s several stories and each floor has a different restaurant on it. One level is a steakhouse, for instance, but there’s also a level that’s a music venue. If a comedy show comes through town, it’ll happen at The B.O.B. The bigger names come to Van Andel, a hockey arena.
Where to get in trouble for the night?
Ionia Ave is a good bet. That’s where you’ll find the HopCat, which has a huge selection of beers, and another brewery a few doors down on the same street. The space between those two breweries is packed with different, random bars. On that street alone, you could do a lot of damage. If you want to go dancing, The B.O.B. has a big dance party on the weekends—and so do many of the bars on Ionia.
Where to eat when the party’s over?
Logan’s Alley is hands-down the best drunk food in Grand Rapids. It serves big plates of tots that really do the trick after a night out.
Best day trip?
Try Holland, a smaller city with lovely shopping, bars, and restaurants. Grand Haven is another good one, and is a similar situation—a more relaxing, smaller-scale version of Grand Rapids. They’re both off of Lake Michigan as well, so you can hang out near the water.