(Grand Rapids, MI) — It’s Grandwich season! The 2nd annual competition pits nearly 30 local restaurants against one another to determine who can make the best “signature” Grand Rapids sandwich. Although there has been some controversy over the concept, from our perspective it’s just a fun way for chefs to get creative and give the hungry public some fresh food. Here’s what HeFed tried in the first week...
I begin with a lunch trip to Grand Woods Lounge to try “The Politician”. It’s pulled pork, pork sausage, and bacon on a pretzel bun accented with red onion, white cheddar, blueberry chutney, and whole grain mustard. At $9.95, you certainly get a lot on the plate, but it is messy. Worse, the pulled pork is so greasy it eclipses nearly every other flavor. The bacon is floppy instead of crispy; the sausage is standard breakfast quality; and the pretzel bun is lacking flavor. I do like the idea on paper, and the blueberry-onion combo works, but otherwise it’s a messy failure that sits in the gut afterward.
Next is SpeakEZ Lounge (where Cambridge House used to be). They offer the “Jerk Pork Cuban” for $9, consisting of pulled pork shoulder, jerk-style, pickled veggies, mozzarella, pineapple aoili, and chipotle mayo on a buttered, grilled ciabatta. If I’m nit-picking, I’d like the jerk seasoning to be more predominant, and the pickled veggies more like a pickle to really sell the Cuban idea. Otherwise, it is a great sandwich. I wouldn’t mind ordering it again. The risotto cakes on the side are fine, but too heavy on the garlic aoli.
Of course I am intrigued by Reserve’s inside-out entry: Grilled Cheese Soup and Tomato Sandwich for only $8. The sandwich is a Visser beefsteak tomato, sliced in half, and filled with Evergreen Lane Farm chevre, herbs, and some lettuce, on a drizzle of blis truffle oil, sprinkled with sea salt. It’s fresh and fun, but you have to knife-and-fork it (which is fine by me). The soup? Probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s chicken soup steeped with toasted breadcrumbs and two year cheddar, with a couple green onion slices on top. In...cred...i...ble. I want that soup every day for the rest of my life. (You might think I’m prone to exaggeration here, but go try it and let me know if I’m wrong. I double dog dare you.)
On my way home, I slide into Founders to snag “The Louis A. Cornelius”. Toasted rye bread from Nantucket Baking Co bookends a high stack of corned beef, roasted chicken, cheddar, cream cheese, thousand island dressing, and Dirty Bastard soaked sauerkraut. It is a tasty reuben for $8.25, but it’s also one of their standard offerings. You can get it anytime. In fact, when I asked for their Grandwich, the deli counter clerk didn’t know what I was talking about! You can tell they weren’t really that interested in the contest, and if they’re not excited about it, then I’m not excited about their entry.
Gardella’s is a great place to grab a cheap beer late at night, but their menu is pretty comprehensive. Their entry, the $8 “Edam and Love Muffin”, is a strange-looking but pretty delicious lump of fennel and onion sausage, topped with melted cheese, arugula, haystack onions, and balsamic reduction on a toasted english muffin bun. Not my fave, but still a surprisingly solid sandwich.
I’d never been to Corazon, but their “El Diablo Corazon” for $8 lured me and a buddy to give it a try. I’m glad we did! Sobie beef brisket roasted with ancho peppers, coffee, and red wine tucked into Nantucket cheddar bread smeared with chipotle mayo, pickled jalapenos, and goat cheese spread is probably one of my favorite sandwiches in recent memory. Right now, without having tried many of the other entries, this gets my vote.
Stay tuned for week 2!