Graydon's Crossing

(Grand Rapids, MI) Last autumn, we heard some horrible news: one of our favorite restaurants, Graydon's Crossing, had caught fire. We later learned that someone had tossed a cigarette into a trash can at closing time, which then sparked flame that spread to the wooden deck and nearby property. The whole place didn't burn down, but there was enough smoke and water damage that the future looked grim. We patiently waited through the winter and early spring until, finally, it reopened in April. Would the menu change? Would all our favorite employees still be working there? On a whim, we decided to strike out for early dinner...

He Fed:
I make no bones about it: Graydon's Crossing is one of my favorite hangouts. The menu changes seasonally and the chef mixes it up on weekends with rotating specials. Plus they have the widest selection of libations on draught (expanded after their resurrection from 36 to 48 taps). It is exciting to pull into the parking lot and see a healthy number of cars already; evidently word has spread about their reopening. We manage to snag a free booth -- high-backed and private wooden alcoves stained dark, lit by small lamps. It is early enough on Saturday that we beat the usual rush, but not by much. Only thirty minutes later, arriving patrons are having a tough time finding a place to sit.

I begin with a Magic Hat Spring Odd Notion while we leaf through the menu. There are many enticing dishes on the May seasonal listing. I find myself gravitating toward the Jerk Fish, Mahi Mahi crusted with jerk seasoning and plantains, served with jalapeno slaw. I'm just not sure, though. Should I jump in with both feet and hope the fish is as good as at other places we've been recently? I need a minute or two to decide, so we both agree to start with homemade kettle chips and gorgonzola onion dip.

Our "kitchen runner" brusquely tosses the appetizer onto our table, mumbling "chips and dip" before scurrying away, presumably to attend to someone of far more importance. He neglects to notice we have no napkins, plates or silverware, and does not ask if we need anything else. No matter; I catch our waitress' eye and wave her over. Not that the chips and dip necessarily need silverware or plates, but the napkins definitely come in handy. At first the dish doesn't exactly wow us. The chips are crisp and hefty, perfectly seasoned, but the dip seems a bit too homogenous. After a few bites, though, I am able to discern the tame gorgonzola and my appreciation grows. We finish all of it.

Our waitress returns to take our dinner order. She is friendly but not overly-familiar with the menu. That's okay, in my book, considering the new staff (only a few pre-fire faces remain) is still ramping up. Juliet opts to go with the Jerk Fish Tacos so I change tack and order the Rib Eye special, medium-rare. Ordinarily I would not order a rib eye, but the description sounds great. Moments later, the waitress returns. "Did you say medium or medium-rare?" I set her straight, a bit worried now how the steak will actually be prepared. The "runner" wanders by again, tossing another dish onto the table. "Poppadoms." Although the crispy tortilla-like discs and spicy mango chutney are free with a meal, after our chips and dip they are unnecessary. I refrain.

When our meals arrive, I order a Black Magic (Guinness and Magic Hat #9) to accompany. Good thing, because they forgot my steak knife! I sip patiently in the meantime. Cold steel in hand, I immediately carve into the center of the steak and am greeted by perfectly-prepared medium-rare. Whew. I go to work, diligently carving off the first bite. Ugh! Fatty, springy and altogether tough to eat. Now I remember why I don't eat rib eye. With a surgeon's precision, I cut around the striations of fat and gristle. The meat I extract is, mostly, damn good. The jerk seasoning and cold carrot-jalapeno slaw go very well together, and the Black Magic washes it all down nicely. As with the chips and dip, my enjoyment starts low but ends up in positive country.

Juliet shares a bite of her tacos and they are good, but very, very spicy. I'm not really digging the fish and find out that I misread the menu; the fish tacos are catfish, not Mahi Mahi. Catfish has a greasy, fishy taste to my sensitive palate.

Clearly, Graydon's Crossing has a little catching up to do with their staff. Although most employees are friendly, some aren't quite up to speed and there are some synchronicity issues as well. In time, these should smooth out. The food is still very good (despite the quality of the rib eye I received) and the drinks are varied. We have had much better experiences in past but it is still one of my favorite hangouts.
She Fed:
It seems a little bizarre writing a review of Graydon's Crossing because it's our go-to place. I'm not sure I can be completely objective about a restaurant I've been going to on a regular basis for more than five years. And by "regular" I mean almost weekly. Having spent many a summer Sunday on their sunny deck, we've become friendly with a few of the staff members and have been eagerly awaiting the restaurant's re-opening.

The first thing I notice when we walk in is how incredibly clean and bright the interior is now. I suspect they had to sandblast the entire place due to smoke and water damage. The brick walls and beamed ceiling are pristine and the dark, slightly grubby floor has been replaced with very light wood planks. Luckily their gorgeous wood bar is still in place and still has lots and lots of beers on tap, but the staff is nearly all new...only one familiar face.

The beer, cocktail, and wine menu is still extensive and I start with a framboise lambic. Frothy and sweet, it is a great contrast to the bleu cheese and caramelized onion dip we decide to share. A generous amount of dip (more than a full cup) is served with Graydon's housemade potato chips. The menu listed gorgonzola in the dip and while I usually find gorgonzola to be a strong tasting cheese, I cannot taste even the tiniest bit of it in the dip. There are small dots of caramelized red onion throughout the dip, which is actually a bit reminescent of the kind you can make with a packet of dried onion soup mix. I don't mean that as a slam, but would guess that's not what the chef was going for with this dish. The chips are fabulous and the dip is pretty good, maybe worth a second chance.

There are several season specials and they all sound tempting. The grassfed lamb steak and Indian-spiced roast chicken sounds really good, but I just returned from a week-long business trip that involved several meat-centric meals. I decide to go for cajun catfish tacos, the onion soup, and a pint of the Left Hand JuJu Ginger, a spiced beer.

The soup is like French onion soup, only with Indian spices in the broth and a white cheddar-topped toasted Naan bread in place of the usual baguette slice. The soup is like any decent onion soup—rich and comforting, but the Indian spices give it a bit of a kick. It's both warm and warming. Unlike the usual baguette slice that easily disintegrates in the onion broth, the Naan bread is holding its ground and is very difficult to eat. I have to knife and fork it to break it into bite sized pieces. The spicy broth, the unctuous onions, the Naan with cheddar cheese...oh I'm in French-Indian onion soup heaven.

In between bites and slurps of the soup, I indulge in the first of my two cajun tacos. The flour tortilla is stuffed with a slaw of carrots, red peppers and jalepenos, a layer of pepper jack cheese and creme fraiche, blackened catfish nuggets dusted with cajun spices and some slivers of green cabbage. Between the jalepenos, the cheese, and the cajun spices, the tacos are not for the faint of heart. I find myself actually cooling my mouth down from a bite of taco with a spoonful of the Indian-spiced soup. My JuJu Ginger disappears quickly.

The staff is new and still seem to be finding their groove. Our onion dip arrives with no appetizer plates, silverware, or napkins and it takes our server ten minutes to check in after it's been delivered. She also waits until my lambic is gone to ask if I want a refill. In five years I don't think I've ever seen anyone wait for a drink at Graydon's. The busboy who brings the mango chutney with puppodums to our table (Graydon's always brings an order with dinner) says "Your pappodums" with all the enthusiasm of someone watching a documentary on how paint thinner is made; he is clearly bored.

It's not the same Graydon's, but maybe that's not a bad thing. The food is still innovative and fresh, and I suspect the service will even out over time. Any given sunny Sunday you will probably find me and Jeremy on the deck enjoying a beverage and a nibble.

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