(Grand Rapids, MI) — While Hurricane Irene terrorizes the east coast, here in Michigan we enjoy warm and clear weather somewhat humidity-free. In other words, deck weather. We quickly tally all of the places we could go to enjoy a little sun and fresh air for Saturday lunch, then come up with the winner: Rockwell-Republic. Our good friend, Ian, opts to tag along on this adventure too, so we drive in the sunshine to meet him at the restaurant...

He Fed:

We park in the slanted lot and are quickly met by Ian. After some pleasantries, we head to the entrance but find it locked. More patrons soon join us at the front door; clearly we are not the only ones with deck weather on our minds! Soon enough, a nice young lady takes pity on us and finally opens the door.

The restaurant is an unusual structure, split in two. On the left is Rockwell, a kind of neighborhood bar with white-and-red checked tablecloths and heavy, dark-stained wood furniture. On the right is Republic, more elegant and upscale. However, the rear deck upstairs is shared by both, sporting contemporary, metallic furniture. A wood trellis partially blocks the view of the new parking ramp just across the alleyway. There are unusual, Asian-looking pods that sprout into flowers growing on the fence.

Our waitress greets us promptly. She is friendly and efficient throughout our stay. We are immediately drawn to the happy hour menu, extended on weekends from noon until 5p. Sushi and cocktails are $5, while some beers are $3. Their seasonal tap is Bell’s Oberon, and though I’m not thrilled at this year’s batch, it’s too good to pass up on a sunny day. Juliet and Ian decide to split a $10 pitcher of mixed sangria.

To start, we order Sticky Chicken and sushi. The chicken is heavily coated niblets, drizzled with a sweet thai chili glaze, paired with spicy sweet kimchee and sticky rice. In past, it’s been served with lettuce leaves to sort of make wraps, but today it’s just on the plate. I’m kind of missing the fresh green crunch, but it’s still delicious. Even better, however, is the sushi. The cilantro, cucumber, and avocado roll is herbaceous, crunchy, and creamy, while the kobe beef asparagus with sambal cream cheese is earthy, spicy, and has some heft to it. We demolish all appetizers in a flurry of chopsticks.

Our appetites whetted, we proceed to the main course. I am eyeballing the green eggs ‘n ham. It’s proscuitto, cheddar, pesto, red onion, Frank’s red hot aoli, on a Nantucket bun. That sounds great, but I’m jealous of Ian’s sloppy joe on a habanero cheddar bun. Could I get my sandwich on that bun? Sure, says our server!

When it arrives, my mind boggles: thin-sliced ham is layered thick; bun redolent of spicy cheese; red onion cut into slivers; and over-easy egg on top slathered with arugula pesto. I slice down the middle, yolk oozing into the gap. Salty richness is soon overtaken by the heat of the bread. Each bite is a spelunk past the strata of flavors, only encouraging me to dive deeper, until everything, sadly, is gone. I drown my sorrows with the crispy fries dipped in homemade barbecue sauce.

While we finish drinks and make plans for the rest of the day, I am suddenly very happy to be living in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a beautiful summer day. When we have good weather, we cherish it, holding it close...for who knows how soon winter will decide to peek its grinning countenance through our door again? Until then, you’ll find me on a deck somewhere, hopefully enjoying food as good as Rockwell-Republic.
She Fed:

After a week away on business, I'm homesick for downtown Grand Rapids and when Jeremy suggests Rockwell-Republic I jump at the idea. Even better, our buddy Ian can join us! Our threesome is among the first to arrive and we have our dibs of any table on the spacious deck. After choosing one in the shade, we order up two sushi rolls, one with cucumber, avocado and cilantro and one with Kobe beef, asparagus and sambal cream cheese, along with one order of the sticky chicken. Jeremy goes for a beer, but Ian and I decide to split a pitcher of sangria.

The vegetarian sushi is absolutely divine. I've had veggie sushi before with cuke, carrot and avocado; actually it's one of my "go to" lunches to grab at the local grocery store. (I know some folks think grocery store sushi is questionable, but if you trust their meat and seafood departments, how can you not trust the freshness of the sushi?) But by removing the carrot and adding cilantro, the flavor profile goes through the roof. The Kobe beef, asparagus and sambal cream cheese rolls are yummy too, but I find myself going back for the veggie rolls just to enjoy the pairing of cilantro with soy sauce.

The sticky chicken is one of our favorites here and today does not disappoint. Lightly breaded and fried chicken breast is thinly sliced, tossed in a sweet chili glaze, and served with sticky rice and kimchee. The spicy kimchee and sweet chicken play wonderfully together. It's hard with my rudimentary chopstick skills, but I manage to get a few perfect bites of chicken, rice, and kimchee.

The boys both decide to order sandwiches, but I'm thinking of getting two more sushi rolls. I'm not really in the mood for traditional sushi with raw fish today, but there are 18 different rolls on the sushi menu and many of them are fish-free. I'm debating between the "Dynamite" with tempura shrimp, scallion, sambal cream cheese and more cilantro; the "Surf-Turf" with kobe steak and softshell crab; and the "Mushroom Roll" with lotsa mushies, swiss chard and carrots.

But then I see the bread on each sandwich is sourced from Nantucket bakery. I'm a sucker for a good pretzel roll so I jump the sushi ship and order the pulled pork sandwich with potato chips. The meat is succulent and smoky with a sweet and tangy vinegar-based sauce. There's a crunchy kohlrabi slaw atop the meat and the pretzel bun is lightly toasted. I can't get over how juicy and flavorful the pork is. It's so easy to dry out pulled pork but Rockwell-Republic seems to have perfected it.

The sangria is lovely, not too sweet and filled with fresh orange and pineapple slices. Ian and I easily kill the pitcher over the course of our long lunch.

We've had inconsistent service here in the past, but today our server is spot on. The great weather, delicious food and attentive service all combine to make today's lunch a fabulous experience. The generous Happy Hour menu makes it a reasonable visit too. We'll be going back for more sushi on the deck before fall arrives.

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