Twisted Rooster

(Grand Rapids, MI) Earlier this year, the O'Charley's location on the Beltline announced they would be closing their doors. Almost immediately, the group that had run the franchise announced the location would become a new restaurant called Twisted Rooster and would offer locally-inspired cuisine. We had been to O'Charley's a couple times and it was pretty good, but we're not on that side of town very often so it never became a habit. The prospect of a new menu with unusual foods was very appealing, so we decided it was time for an impromptu lunch before grocery shopping...

He Fed:
Situated next door to an Applebee's (shudder!), Twister Rooster can only look good. Inside, we are greeted by a trio of pretty, young smiling hostesses and then shown to a booth. Unfortunately they use the practice of squeezing us into an empty booth between other parties nearby, rather than choosing one of the many empty booths by themselves. In the end it doesn't matter too much.

The decor is subdued rock and wood tones with ornamental, curving ironwork adding eclectic character. At the back wall is a long, curvy bar with comfortable seating. Many, many pretty waitresses scurry back and forth in their sleek black shirts. There is a definite air of sensual playfulness, which carries through to the menu. Local microbrews mingle with creative cocktails, while tried-and-true dishes have been tinkered with. I order a Schmohz Valley City Cream Ale to sip while I try to decipher the food choices.

We are curious about the Steak Cut Calamari. I know what steak cut french fries look like, but calamari? Our waiter informs us these are simply the long tentacles, dredged in milk, then flash fried. Sounds good to me! They appear from the kitchen in very short order, a low bowl heaped with spinach leaves, diced red peppers, and golden fried calamari drenched in a ginger butter sauce. The tentacles are tender and creamy. At first I think the breading might be a little too oily from the deep fryer, but Juliet suggests it is the butter sauce. Either way, these are incredibly delicious calamari, almost matching the quality I've experienced on the west coast.

For my main dish, I decide to try the Sweet and Spicy Reuben paired with Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA. I'm a Reuben aficionado and I usually try it first if offered on the menu. We also decide to split the Crispy Tater Tots dressed in blue cheese. The stacked Reuben arrives skewered with bamboo spikes. I take a bite into the very lightly toasted rye bread, my taste buds blasted with the salty goodness of the shaved pastrami, followed by the spicy cabbage slaw, then the soothing sweetness of the crispy noodles and smoked Gouda. Wow. My salt-and-pepper french fries and the Gorgonzola smothered tater tots all play second fiddle to this new-found love. Even though I'm only a few bites in, I can tell this is one of the best Reubens I've ever had.

Sadly, I don't have room to finish the sandwich but our waiter brings a take-home container (hooray!) before delivering the bill. Although our adventure at Twisted Rooster is last-minute, it is sometimes the unplanned excursions which reap the most reward. I will not hesitate to stop here again and try some new dishes, no matter how twisted.
She Fed:
I do not have high hopes for Twisted Rooster. It's owned by the same company as the former O'Charley's franchise, a mediocre chain at best. We arrive to find the interior changed and a menu boasting a policy of using fresh, local Michigan food and drink. They call it "commit to the mitt," which is clever. I immediately warm up to the place.

Our server arrives. "I'll be taking care of you today." I think it's time for servers to rethink this generic opening line. Surely there are better ways to bond with the customer? To make things worse, he asks if he can give us a "tour of the menu" and proceeds to point to each section. Do we really look like we can't read? He redeems himself, explaining the "steak cut" calamari is cut into strips instead of rings, soaked in milk to tenderize, then flash fried. I am proud when Jeremy orders it. He has become so open-minded and adventurous when we dine out; for someone who "hated all seafood" when I met him 20+ years ago, he has broadened his culinary horizons. The calamari arrives tossed with fresh spinach, diced red peppers, and a ginger buerre blanc. The spinach is crisp, the peppers sweet, and the calamari is the most tender I've ever had. The ginger buerre blanc adds a slight oiliness to the fried calamari. (I know, a butter sauce tossed with fried food is oily, what a revelation!)

I've heard the Twisted Rooster has great macaroni and cheese. There are two versions: traditional with white cheddar, and the "twisted" version with chicken, peas, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes. Too much activity for my taste. I opt for fish tacos, my fallback dish. Jeremy orders his fallback, a Reuben, and a side of blue cheese tater tots.

My tacos arrive: three corn tortillas stuffed with cole slaw, crunchy noodles that look like uncooked spaghetti, white cheddar cheese, cilantro sour cream, and a small plank of ale battered fish. They're good, but nothing too innovative. I eat the first taco; knife-and-fork the slaw and fish out of the second; and leave the third alone. I must save room for tots!

I know the last thing I should be eating is deep-fried tater tots mixed with Michigan Gorgonzola and topped with a blue cheese sour cream sauce. "I'm only having a few of these," I say as I stab one with a fork. Five minutes later, I've demolished more than a third of the dish. They're obscenely delicious and highly addictive. Foodie crack to be sure.

Despite my misgivings, I'd go back to Twisted Rooster. The bar looks like a fun place to hang with friends and order up a variety of apps to share. Save some tots for me please!

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