North of Grand Rapids lies the city of Rockford, a quaint burg strewn with tourist shops and restaurants along the Rogue River, including Reds on the River. It is a warm, sunny early evening as we make the short drive and spend some time peeking into storefronts before eventually wandering back to the restaurant. As we enter, we wonder if Reds will live up to its reputation or will our adventure turn sour...
I've been to Reds twice before and both times something's felt just "off". I'm hoping for a better experience this time, but our first mistake is choosing to sit in the air-conditioned interior rather than on the deck (it is too warm to sit outside and enjoy a hot meal, we believe). The hostess is clearly overwhelmed and we do that awkward dance at her stand while other patrons filter in behind us. Our seater makes no small talk as she guides us through the mostly-empty restaurant to seat us at a small two-top crammed against the window-wall looking onto the deck, right next to a table with kids. Our second mistake of the evening is not asking to be reseated somewhere else. We spend uncomfortable moments studiously ignoring the coughing child at the next table and feeling like fish on display next to the window.
Our server arrives to tell us the specials. She seems friendly, but we quickly find out she is just slightly "off": mixing up which beers are on draught; forgetting to check back after food is delivered; and promising to dry our table but never following through. Our busboy is inattentive as well; I have to remind him to clear dishes from our table. As I peer around the room, I am struck by the odd placement of tables which forces food-runners to weave unnaturally around other tables to properly deliver plates. And it is strange to see so many servers and busboys hovering at the perimeter of the restaurant, as if they are uncertain what to do or where to go. The food-runners glance repeatedly, almost nervously, at their order slips as they shuttle dinners. I feel vaguely uneasy but hope the food will quell my disquiet.
To start, I order the Chicken Wings tossed in a fresh Jamaican jerk seasoning with a lime cilantro and sour cream sauce. I envision crispy drumsticks crusted with caribbean herbs; instead, I receive a generous bowl of wings coated with green slime. I read the menu again and it is clear the cilantro lime should be in the sour cream, not coating the meat! No matter; I am a brave contender and these wings are going down. I take a bite and relish the perfectly cooked chicken, but am suddenly hit over the head with a lime sledgehammer. Wham! No sublety at all, just a pounding blow to the noggin' with that slimy coating. I try to muddle through but end up leaving three wings, even with Juliet's help. I know what you're thinking, "Jeremy never leaves anything on his plate!" I wash the lime away with my Short's Pandemonium Pale Ale (which our server refers to as "Patio Pale").
I am beefed out after a week filled with burgers at The Butler in Saugutuck and amazing brisket at Six.One.Six, so I already know what I'm getting after researching the menu online: Cajun Mac 'N Cheese! Cooked with Spanish chorizo, andouille sausage and onion tossed in a creamy gruyere and parmesan cheese sauce, this dish is evidently a steal at $17, right? Wrong. The shallow bowl arrives and our chins drop. Really? The wings had been generous, but something as simple as mac-n-cheese is being served as if it were gold? Tentatively, I take my first bite...smoky, creamy, cheesy...and then I bite into what can only be classified as akin to a bacon bit as fake-tasting as Bac~Os. After a few more forkfuls, I am overwhelmed by all the flavors and inauthenticity. I never thought it possible to mess up mac-n-cheese! Like the wings, I feel the heavy-handed thump of the sledgehammer. Unhappily, I push away the rest of the noodles and finish my wine. At least the $6 Alfred Roca Pinot Noir is good!
Both of us decline dessert, not wanting to risk any further injury. (In fact, we opt to drive back to Grand Rapids to enjoy amazing dessert at La Dolce Vita, but that's a story for another time.) It is worth noting that I have had satisfactory meals at Reds in the past, even if a little "off". I have to remind myself that we are not truly reviewing the restaurants on HeFedSheFed.com, but rather sharing this particular experience. Nevertheless, based on this adventure's unsatisfactory conclusion, I will not be rushing back to Reds on the River any time soon.
The weather is stunningly gorgeous with bright blue skies speckled with fluffy clouds. If only it were a tad less humid, I'd be up for sitting on Red's deck, which is bustling with activity. People in shorts and ball caps are bellying up to the bar or relaxing at tables. (I chide myself for wearing all black and dressing for air conditioning.) I notice several of the tables have white wines chilling on ice nearby. A few even have bubbly...how fun!
Such a stark contrast to the interior of the restaurant. It's 6p on a Saturday night and the place feels very much like a Bill Knapp's. Before you start to think anyone who dines out at that early on a Saturday might as well be at Bill Knapp's, I should explain. Our plan is to score an early table and have a fabulous leisurely dinner. I've been gone all week for work travel and am gearing up for another nine day junket. We need a nice dinner out tonight. I am thinking we'll be out til well past dark. However, my first thought upon entering and being seated at a tiny table smack dab next to the only three other occupied tables in the place is to turn tail and leave. Why is it that restaurants cram everyone right next to each other when the place is clearly not busy?
As luck would have it, the family at the table next to us has a child with either tuberculosis, whooping cough, or a serious smoking problem. Little Timmy hacks and snorts his way through his meal. Or should I say OUR MEAL? Without once covering his mouth, by the way. (Hello, Mom? Is it too much to ask that you teach your child some manners please?) Again I am reminded of Bill Knapp's because it sounds like a 90 year old man is sitting to my right. I understand Snuffleupagus's little sinus issue is out of Red's control, but why on earth would they put a single patron near this table?
After a week on the road, I am in dire need of a healthful meal. I order a half size portion of their pear and gorgonzola salad and the green peppercorn dusted salmon. The salad is lovely with mixed greens, whole toasted walnuts, hunks of mouth-puckering gorgonzola and sauteed glazed pears. (I do wish they had explained the pears are not fresh, but are cooked and coated in a sugary glaze. They are absolutely delish, but it would have been nice to know upfront.)
The service is extremely slow. The bus staff lacks confidence; they are awkward and uncoordinated. (Maybe students working their first summer job?) It takes far too long for the drink order to arrive, no one checks to see how our first course is going, our waitress keeps forgetting to bring a towel to wipe down our table which is coated in condensation from the water glasses, and she essentially forgets to take our entree order until we prompt her. She is extremely nice and I feel a bit guilty for dinging her for poor service because she is so darn friendly, but she seems frazzled and the place isn't even a quarter full yet. I would hate to be at her table at 8p tonight!
The salmon is cooked to perfection and sits atop a bright bed of cooked chard. The potato gratin is overcooked and the cheese has separated into clots of dairy and pools of oil. There is also a generous portion of finely diced seeded tomatoes dressed in a vinagrette with basil overtones. Having just attended two knife skills courses, I truly appreciate the time that went into these 1/4 inch tomato cubes. And for someone who has despised raw tomatoes her entire life, I find them to be delicious.
If I were rating Red's on the salad, salmon, and knife skills of the sous chef, I would give them a higher rating. However, we rate on the entire experience and there was much to be desired. I might consider going back to Red's but only if we were sitting on the deck. Then again, there are so many wonderful eateries out there, why would I risk mediocrity again? Even Bill Knapp's could get au gratin potatoes right. (I mean this not as snarky slam to Red's, but more as homage to all the amazing luncheons I had with my grandparents over the years.)
© 2010 HeFedSheFed.com