Houlihan's


(Grand Rapids, MI) — With relatives in town, we’re tasked with choosing a dinner venue. But where? ArtPrize is monopolizing some of our favorite haunts, clogging up reservations and streets, so we decide to try our luck out toward Kentwood. We pick up our visitors from their hotel then head over to the newly-opened Houlihan’s in the Breton Village Mall, where we hope the meal impresses the out-of-towners...

He Fed:

Juliet and I have been to Houlihan’s on numerous occasions. Only, this was in Lansing and nearly fifteen years ago. At the time, we thought it was the height of fine dining. What would we make of it now? As we pass through the glass doors, I’m more than a little concerned that we’re taking my inlaws to a chain restaurant. (I actually did some recon work a few days before, stopping in for a quick beer and to gab with the bartender about the menu, which allayed my fears...a little.)

There’s a bit of a hiccup as the hostess doesn’t see my name on the reservations. “Oh, did you make them on our website?” I nod. “That explains it. Sometimes they don’t transfer over.” I resist the temptation to respond that they should use OpenTable instead, then. Nevertheless, we’re shown to a large booth on the far side of the dining room. Warm wood tones dominate the design work and we’re allowed a glimpse into the brightly-lit kitchen. Our waiter brings drinks and steers us through the massive menu. I try to suss out the items he doesn’t like, but he sticks to his guns, smiling. “Everything’s great.”

To begin, we agree on two small plates. Juliet selects the steamed potstickers with ginger-pork filling and spicy soy dipping sauce. And when they say “spicy” they’re not joking around. It’s a delicious dipping liquid with red pepper flakes that burn the lips so good you can’t help but go back for another dunk. For my part, I can’t resist ordering Goat Cheese and Artichoke Poppers. They’re lightly deep-fried (if that’s possible) balls of cheese and artichoke, so creamy and tasty, with fresh thyme and lemon zest. The poppers are the clear winner, despite the potstickers’ best spicy efforts.

I’m not really in the mood for a huge slab of steak or even the fussy trappings of street tacos (though they do sound pretty good). Instead, I opt for another small plate and a flatbread. Since the calamari are battered with a peppery buttermilk batter, much like Twisted Rooster’s, I go that route. The squid are cooked just about perfect, and when dipped into the sesame-ginger sauce, even better. Without hesitation, our waiter recommends the BBQ Chicken Flatbread over the Italian Sausage Flatbread. The thin dough is cooked crispy, chunks of BBQ chicken on top, with mild red onions, cilantro, and three kinds of cheese—pepper jack, romano, and cheddar. I share a couple pieces, but I’m digging it too much to let it go without a fight.

Despite the allure of Carrot Cake in a Jar, none of us is up for dessert. Everyone is too pleased with their dinner selections to ruin it with the risk of sweet, it seems. As we bid farewell to our friendly server, we promise him (and each other) we’ll be back soon. Next time I’ll save up my appetite to find out if their Stuffed Chicken Breast is as good as we’re told.
She Fed:

The last thing I want is to take my folks to a chain restaurant their first night in town, but we’ve heard good things about Houlihan’s and it’s fairly close to their hotel, making it a good bet after a long day of travel.

We are shown to a cozy booth towards the back and spend some time studying the menu. The selection is extensive with everything from small plates, entree-sized salads and flatbreads to steaks, sandwiches (including street tacos) and entrees (down home pot roast anyone?) There are so many choices we have to ask our server for more time, twice in fact!

Jeremy orders the goat cheese artichoke poppers and I order potstickers for the table to share; both orders arrive just moments later. You can order potstickers five or ten at a time at Houlihan’s and I suspect the server didn’t hear me correctly as the small lidded dish sitting in front of us couldn’t possibly hold ten. When we open the lid to dig in we are pleased to find ten generously sized potstickers within. The potstickers are wonderful—as good as any ethnic restaurant could turn out. The goat cheese in the poppers is tangy, the artichoke heart is rich and meaty, and the crispy batter is light and lemony.

I want some greens, but have been hankering for some red meat as well. As tempting as the street tacos sound right now, I go for the Puffy Taco salad with beef cooked rare. It’s a large salad, in a puffed up corn tortilla shell that’s crispy but not at all greasy like you find at some places. The kitchen is very generous with the beef, which is perfectly cooked to order and seasoned beautifully. Corn, avocado bits, cotija cheese, cilantro, jicama and green onions are studded throughout the shredded romaine and spinach. (I had them “hold” the tomato.) It’s an incredibly tasty salad and one that I can’t stop eating. The one thing that doesn’t work for me is the “warm Doritos croutons” which taste like plain polenta cakes to me. No mind, I push them aside and dig deeper into the salad.

My folks each order salad, she the Heartland Grilled Chicken and he the Grilled Salmon. They insist we try a few bites of each (in the interest research mind you) and both salads are out of this world. The salmon portion is humongous—nine ounces—and the grilled chicken is juicy and succulent.

Our server is friendly without hovering or being overly attentive. The wine pours are generous and he is quick to refill waters. The variety and low price point of the small plates makes this a fabulous choice for grabbing drinks and apps with friends. I’ll admit the $16.95 price tag on a taco salad might make some people cringe, but it was basically a hunk of steak on a salad and worth every penny in my book. (Chicken is $13.95 for the record.) Grab a group and check it out!

Houlihans on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. Just found myself here for lunch quite on accident. Bartender was friendly and the service was good. Burger was a bit greasy but I blame myself for covering it in Swiss, bacon, and mushrooms. I was pleased it arrived a true medium rare...hard to find these days. Fries were crispy and good...not great but good. It does have that chain feel about it but the food and service were good enough that I will be back.

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  2. Definitely a good assessment. As far as chains go, Houlihan's is pretty solid.

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