Bar Louie

(Grand Rapids, MI) — We’ve had such a nice, relaxing time on a sunny, warmer-than-usual Saturday, we decide to join some friends for dinner after their movie. They suggest Bar Louie at Woodland Mall in Kentwood, Michigan. We’ve been there several times before, but not in a while, and not for a review. As we approach, we’re happy to see the patio still open and in full swing...

He Fed:

There is a sign at the front entrance that says “Please Seat Yourself”, which is kind of weird since it’s a Saturday night, but I lead the way inside. Indeed, there aren’t many people here. The bar is practically empty and we have our pick of any table. We head out to snag a four-top on the patio, since it is a warm early evening with very little breeze. Waters are soon brought over, so we can sip while we wait for our friends and scan the menu.

Soon, our friends JC and RC join. We order drinks all around while we catch up and hear about the movie they saw (50/50, which they quite liked). I order the Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest because it’s one of the varieties I haven’t tried yet this season. It is drinkable, not particularly noteworthy or any competition for Ayinger, but still a solid rendition. I stick with it for the rest of the evening.

To start, we get the Loaded Tots. Crispy golden tater tots, smothered in a spicy queso that is faintly reminiscent of Thousand Island; giardiniera including pickled jalapenos and carrot strips; scallions; and sweet, sweet bacon. This is the kind of appetizer that you just can’t stop eating. I keep picking at it with my tot, two tot, three tot, four. Soon, they are all gone. While not exactly a culinary masterpiece, they do satisfy with a playful hearkening back to middle school lunchroom fare. In past, the tots have been prepared differently, so perhaps Bar Louie tweaks the style occasionally?

After all that heavy potato and dressing, I decide to mix it up a bit. (Sometimes I order food just to throw a curveball either at my dining companions or my server. Not only do I get the pleasure of shocking someone, I get to try something completely different. It’s like I’m the Minister of Silly Woks.) I have whittled my choices down to a few, so I listen to what everyone else is ordering, then I let fly: Blackberry, Orange & Brie Salad.

Now, this is not your normal salad. It’s a heaping helping of chopped greens, covered in a tangy vinaigrette, orange slices, pecans, basil, and bacon. Little wedges of brie stand sentry at the four corners of the plate. But where are the actual blackberries? I flag down the waitress and she explains the blackberries are represented in the dressing. I’m not buying it, and put on my pouty face. She offers to scrounge some up and soon I am happily munching away. (Only later do I re-read the menu and see that, clearly, there should have been blackberries on the salad in the first place.)

JC’s Voodoo Chicken looks pretty damn good (he reports the rice is undercooked), and RC’s Southwest Burger sans jalapenos also seems to fit the bill. Our server is brusque and efficient, but not overly friendly. For an impromptu dinner, Bar Louie puts out decent enough tavern food to warrant returning when the weather is warm and the patio is open.
She Fed:

We used to go to Bar Louie fairly often when we lived on this side of town. At the time they had a wallet-friendly happy hour and a weeknight $1 burger special. You paid for adding condiments, but it was still a bargain. Now that we live downtown, driving out to Kentwood seems like a haul; much like driving downtown did when we lived in Kentwood. But when friends text us and suggest we meet up for dinner near here, Bar Louie seems like a natural choice.

The weather has been spectacular and we select a table on the patio with a good view of people watching as the weekend mall and cinema traffic flows. We arrive a few minutes early and we're both hungry so we order up drinks and "loaded tots" with queso, giardinara, bacon, and scallions. The tater tots arrive shortly after our friends do and we all four pronounce the app good. Crispy potatoes with warm, spicy cheese sauce and salty bacon I even need to say how good that combo is? I've never cared much for potato skins, but these tots are just over the moon good. I do notice there's not much giardinara on the platter, but I'm not complaining. It's not like you order loaded tots for the veggies, right?

I have every intention of ordering a salad and Bar Louie has several fantastic offerings. But by now I'm on my second "skinny margarita" and my resolve is weak. This is probably why it's best I avoid karaoke establishments and bars located near military recruitment centers. Luckily for me instead of breaking into song or joining the Army, I order the chicken nachos. I want more of that queso and the thought of it drizzled over chips with black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and chicken sounds good.

The patio has gotten busy since we arrived and it's actually slightly noisy outside. The sun is all but gone and the temps are dropping quickly, a sad sign of summer's imminent demise. As evening quickly falls upon us, the patio lights flicker on, adding a bit of ambiance.

Our meals arrive and now seems like a fabulous time to order another skinny margarita, made with fresh juice instead of a pre-packaged sugary mix. The drink is clean, slightly puckery, and so much better without the syrupy stuff. My nachos are humongous, clearly an appetizer our table could have shared. The chips are crisp (don't you hate it when they arrive flabby?), the grilled chicken cubes are flavorful, and the beans and pico give it some body. But while the queso is just as good as on the tots, it's been very heavily poured over the chips. With the cooling temperature, it's essentially a 1.5 sheet of "queso rubber" over the nachos which makes them hard to eat. I dig around the edges, which is plenty, given the size of the platter.

Thick queso withstanding, the food and service are solid. The menu has a lot of interesting riffs on classic dishes and cocktails making Bar Louie a fun place to gather with friends.

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