(Grand Rapids, MI) — Every year in the summer, Taste of Grand Rapids takes place and this year is the 14th anniversary. Juliet has volunteered to help some friends with their BBQ entries, so Jeremy is left to wander the event, take pictures and literally taste what Grand Rapids has to offer...
I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for nearly all of the 14 years the Taste of Grand Rapids event has been going on, yet I’ve never attended it. Why? Well, to be honest, the thought that Grand Rapids actually had a “taste” to share was kind of laughable. That is, until the last few years. Now, as most foodies are aware, Grand Rapids has seen an explosion of culinary goodness in our area. So, after so much time, I was actually looking forward to seeing what this shindig was all about.
It’s a beautiful sunny day, another in a string of unseasonably hot ones. Today, though, the sun is a little less brutal and I’m actually pretty comfortable. John Ball Park is a nice venue for the event, which sprawls in a series of ticket kiosks, food tents, and beer stands. At one end is a bandshell and beyond that is the BBQ contest. I immediately head to the ticket counter and load for bear. Then I turn with greedy intentions to the foodstuffs.
Immediately I’m disappointed because my beer choices are limited to nationally distributed brands. Nothing local. Isn’t this taste of Grand Rapids? A deal must have been struck with a local distributor who had no access to our great beer? Thankfully, they do have Magic Hat #9 and Summit Hefeweizen on tap (for $5 per solo cup) so that eases the pain somewhat. I’m stymied, however, why the amazing brews of Founders, Brewery Vivant, Harmony Brewing, and others weren’t included. That just seems stupid.
Likewise, the food tents are not the best representation of what we have to offer. Twisted Rooster and XO Asian Cuisine, sure. But Red Robin? Melting Pot? Really? I am a little excited about Jamaican Dave’s, hoping to score some plantains. I belly up to their tent, tickets in hand and order the jerk chicken. “Any plantains?” I inquire. The lone cook/server looks at me quizzically, glances around at his workstation, then shakes his head. Defeated, I take my chicken out into the sun to chow down. The jerk spice level is perfect, but the quality of the chicken is questionable with many bones to pick around. I end up throwing a third of it away. (Later, I discover another table just across the field that does serve plantains so I get my fill.)
A sad polka plays on stage as a few elderly onlookers soak up the sun. I also look despondently at the other lesser-known food vendors and decide I’m just not all that hungry anymore. According to the rumor mill, there’s supposed to be a larger sponsorship next year and some years to come. Let’s hope they’re able to flesh out a better representation of Grand Rapids’ true tastes.