Aperitivo


(Grand Rapids, MI) — One of the concerns we had when the Downtown Market opened in Grand Rapids was “Where are we going to eat?” Thankfully, the many food vendors have risen to the challenge of providing unique nibbles to the hoards of farmers market shoppers. Chief among them is Aperitivo, the brainchild of Amy Ruis (from Art of the Table) and Kate Leeder. The open air shop is also a casual restaurant, of sorts, that specializes in cheese. We love nothing more than cheese, so we sought repast during a weekend visit...

He Fed:

It is both bittersweet and exciting to see so many people visiting the Downtown Market on a cold Saturday afternoon in December. We weren’t sure whether the market would entice visitors when the regular farmers stalls had dissipated, but the parking lot is satisfyingly full. It’s great to see so many people out exploring the city. We’ve had a long drive, however, and are in dire need of sustenance so make a single-minded beeline to Aperitivo.

At first I’m certain we won’t find a free chair but the three-top near the front window is empty. Lucky! We settle in to await our waitress, who appears after a longish pause, but she is friendly and informative so our empty tummies are forgiving. Turns out our timing is perfect; only moments after we take our seats, a family of three arrives, eyeballing our table jealously.

Juliet orders a glass of Chateau Renni Brut Rose. After discovering they are still out of the Stone Ruination IPA, I decide to follow suit. How about a bottle? my lovely wife suggests. Sounds good to me. We’re not in any hurry. It’s a lovely French-style rose from Spain, with just enough pungent yeast to round out the sweet fruit.

Even before we made the drive, I knew what I would order: grilled cheese. Aperitivo’s version is “The Meltdown” for $10, and it changes on a regular basis. Today’s is a baguette with melted Andrulis from a Michigan dairy, crumbling Garrotxa from Spain, and plum preserves with green cardamom from Thornburg. The bread is expectedly firm and a tough chew (though totally worth it), while the cheese is ooey gooey with subtle, oily sheep’s milk undertones and flirting with the soft plum fruit. It is soulfully satisfying and pairs exquisitely with the wine. Although my jaw is a bit tired from tearing into the bread, I’m awfully glad I made the effort.

Juliet gives me a taste of her foie gras dish, but I’m not thrilled by it. I only have stomach-eyes for cheese today, it seems. The last of our bubbly disappears just as sun breaks through the sullen clouds, giving us a peek of blue sky. My heart aches momentarily, yearning to spend more time in the city. The sensation passes, though, and I signal for our bill. Reluctantly, we give up our table and head out to explore the market, bellies full yet craving more.

She Fed:

When we lived in Grand Rapids and I worked from home a few days a week, I made regular pilgrimages to favorite foodie spots on my “lunch hours”. GB Russo’s for pizza dough, wine, blue cheese salami , and cheese. VanBall’s Prime Beef or Kingma’s Market for great meats. The Cheese Lady for, well...cheese. Wealthy Street Bakery for foccacia and the world’s most amazing babka. Right next to the bakery is Art of the Table, where I routinely stopped for spices, oils, Zingerman’s pimento cheese, fresh burrata, and snarky cocktail napkins. So when we hear the good news that Art of Table is opening a sister location, named Aperitivo, in Grand Rapids’ new Downtown Market, we know we’ve got to check it out.

Aperitivo smartly offers a retail area chock full of wines, beers, cheese, salumi, crackers, terrines, and all the accoutrements for a charcuterie board. Spanish manchego? Check. Rustic flatbread? Check. Tinned octopus? Check. Seriously, they’ve got you covered.

In addition to the retail area, there's a counter and a family-style table perfect for sipping a glass of wine (or a pint of beer) and nibbling on a cheese plate before you hit the shops at the market. Most of the items on the menu are available for purchase, either in their shop or at other retailers in the market. Very smart indeed.

During a recent stop at the market we rest our heels and enjoy lunch at Aperitivo. Jeremy chooses the daily grilled cheese and I opt for the market plate featuring terrine of foie gras, cardamom poached apricots, and crusty bread. Throwing caution to the wind, we share a bottle of sparkling brut rose and settle in for a leisurely luncheon.

I’m a little leary of the apricots due to the cardamom; it’s a spice that can be easily overdone and overwhelming. When my plate arrives, I dip my fingers in the poaching syrup and find it just lightly perfumed with the warm winter spice, not at all overpowering. A schmear of foie on the bread, a slather of cardamom syrup, and a topping of apricot make for the perfect bite. The rose works beautifully with both our selections.

The staff is knowledgable, friendly, and approachable. Unlike one of their biggest competitors in town, there is zero snob appeal. Kudos to Amy Ruis and Kate Leeder for creating a comfortable, wine-and-cheese-centric eatery and retail venue.


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