(Spring Lake, MI) There's nothing like a break in the weather to lift your spirits and cast your mind's eye on the warmer months ahead. After a week of moderate temperatures and sunny skies, we decided to head toward Lake Michigan on our latest adventure. Some friends had recently attended the Michigan Winter Beer Festival and had nice things to say about Old Boy's beers, headquartered in Spring Lake near Grand Haven. Although the earlier forecasts had predicted rain, Sunday dawned partly sunny. A perfect day for a short road trip...
There is an intangible something about brewing establishments that appeals to me. Oh, sure, they serve beer, but I'm talking about an eclectic vibe that you just can't find in your (gag!) average chain restaurant and is somehow beyond the reach of the neighborhood bar. Around here, we are blessed with several such places: HopCat, Founders, and Grand Rapids Brewing Company (though that latter one has certainly dwindled over the years). When you walk into these places, there's a relaxed feeling of belonging, as if by purchasing a pint you become almost family. It's comforting and keeps you coming back for more.
When we enter Old Boy's Brewhouse—with lunch companions John and Rachel—that same feeling settles over me like a cloak. The first thing I see in the foyer are the tuns and vessels that make up the brewery, gleaming stainless steel and copper behind a large window. Beyond this are clever t-shirts, mugs and assorted paraphernalia for sale. A sign invites us to "please take a seat". We glide into a larger hall with many tables to the right and a medium-sized bar to the left. An even larger room extends beyond, and we choose a table here for more privacy. Windows overlook the nearby river, where people pass by walking their dogs. Already, I can tell this is a hopping summer spot.
Our initially offish waitress hands us paw-shaped menus with the back-story printed on them (essentially, the place is named for the owner's departed dog). It is an extensive selection of food! I immediately order a beer sampler while everyone else makes up their minds. All of the brews are solid, not overly intimidating. The Kolsch and the Golden Sour (the Kolsch with lime-aid in it) are standouts, calling with summer's siren.
We start off with some Pluto's Pickles and Scoobie Snacks. (Are you starting to see the theme here?) Pickles arrive as deep-fried spears, crunchy but deserving of more than Ranch dressing for a dipping sauce. Scoobie's snacks are nothing more than glorified nachos and I am not a big fan of their too-thick and tasteless tortilla chips. They are loaded with salsa, chicken and beans but even with sour cream and guacamole on the side, they are instantly forgettable.
While everyone else gravitates toward sandwiches (Juliet orders perch, John gets a reuben, and Rachel selects prime rib), I decide on the brisket. Oh man, am I ever glad I did! A too-generous helping of shredded beef brisket bathed in chipotle strawberry barbeque sauce lounges on a large platter next to tater tots and vanilla bean sweet potato mash. Each forkful is sweeter, hotter and more flavorful than the last. Sadly, I can only work my way through half of it. In retrospect, I should have eased up on the potato portions but it was all so delicious, I had a hard time keeping my mouth in check.
Everyone proclaims my dish the winner, and I am happy. I ask our waitress (who has warmed up to us or to her day-long stint working) to pass along my compliments to the cook...something I don't ordinarily do. On our way out, we pass the dessert tray, loaded with double-wide carrot cake (a personal fave), gigantic swathes of deep, dark chocolate cake, and some kind of monster sundae. Not today, sweets. I am too sated.
Without a doubt, my experience at Old Boy's is memorable. In fact, once summer is in full swing it will be torture to be away. For now, I can only imagine sitting out on their deck on a sunny, warm day, sipping a cold beer and enjoying more of that beef brisket.
I have heard great things about Old Boy's Brewhouse, mostly their Bloody Mary's, margaritas, and awesome summertime deck. Paired with 45-degree weather (still too cold for the deck) and sunshine after a dreary winter, the drive to Spring Lake was a welcome adventure. But the real adventure came in finding the place! It's one of those joints you don't see until you've passed it, off one of those wanky inverted cloverleaf overpass/underpass highway structures.
We walk in and proceed through a hallway filled with cool sweatshirts, tee shirts, polos, and doggie treats. There are pictures of dogs, and dogs with their owners, plastered everywhere. I spot (pun totally intended) a photo of a dog taking a whiz on a sign reading "No animals allowed on the beach." This is clearly going to be a laid back, relaxed lunch site.
To get to the non-smoking section, we have to walk through the bar and a fair amount of smoke. We find a nice table for four in and our waitress brings us menus (shaped like a dog paw) right away. There is a wide selection: pizza, burgers, sandwiches, salads, entrees, and plenty of interesting-sounding appetizers.
Jeremy orders a beer sampler right away and I order a house-brewed root beer. I'm not big on full sugar soda, but the fact that they brew it onsite is just too good to pass up. The beer sampler arrives and is presented (trust me, it was a production), then Jeremy orders deep-fried dill pickles and "Scoobie Snacks" (aka nachos) for the table.
I'm a sucker for fried pickles. Old Boys' are good, but nothing out of the ordinary. Crispy coating, hot dill pickle, and ranch dip. The nachos arrive and are HUGE, gorgeously dotted with black beans, tomatoes, cheese, and bits of chicken throughout. I like when toppings are mixed throughout the chips and not just dumped on top. And while I am a fussbudget about ordering chicken in a restaurant, Old Boys does not disappoint: All white meat, very clean-tasting with no funny parts or pieces. (A lot of restaurants try to sneak in a chunk of cartilidge or the part that went over the fence last.)
Our meals arrive quickly and I can tell that ordering the side of mac and cheese was a good move. Baked in a crock, it could have been lunch on it's own, rather than just the side for my perch sandwich. The perch filets are tiny and dry but the bun tastes like it was baked that morning. I discard the sandwich and delve headfirst into the mac and cheese. When I ordered my lunch, the waitress asked about some sort of toppings for my sandwich and I said yes without paying attention. Turns out she was asking if I wanted "chives and bacon" on the pasta, not the sandwich. I was clearly giddy with the prospect of mac and cheese for lunch. The layer of bacon and green onions (not the same thing as chives by the way) is nearly an inch thick. It's lovely, but even I have my limits and peel it away nicely.
John (who's battling a cold, so who knows how good his taster really is) reports his corned beef sandwich on marble rye is "very good". Rachel's prime rib boursin sandwich on foccacia is pronounced "flavorless", but she takes it home...probably for their dogs. Jeremy's smoked brisket in strawberry chipotle sauce is the clear winner and we all take a few bites. The portion of brisket is best described as GUTBUSTING. With two sides, it could easily be shared if you're willing to pay the $2 fee to split an entree. Our waitress is efficient and cordial, but slightly offish. Even though our group's reviews are mixed, I would go back to Old Boy's this summer to enjoy drinks and apps on the deck.