Brewery Vivant: Cherry Hill Smoke Week

(Grand Rapids, MI) — Summer has come early to West Michigan and it’s almost comical watching the glee with which local restaurants plunge into seasonal offerings. We share their enthusiasm by partaking in the bounty offered up at the farmer’s markets. But nothing says summer like good barbecue, so when we hear Brewery Vivant is hosting Cherry Hill Smoke Week, we immediately make plans for a return visit. On a perfect summer evening, we meet dear friends JoJo and Ivy out on the deck...

He Fed:

I’m very excited. It has been a long week, capped off by some personal accomplishments that put me in the mood to celebrate. I’ve known about the Cherry Hill event for a couple weeks, but I was starting to doubt whether or not we’d be able to make it. Thankfully, JoJo and Ivy step in with an invitation out of the blue. And Juliet is up for it! Oh, happy day!

We snag a table out on the patio and immediately order some of our favorite starters: Garlic Parsley Frites and Beer Cheese with pretzel sticks. The fries are crispy, sheened in oily green flakes, and redolent with roasted garlic. Dipped in aioli, they’re hard to beat. My favorite, though, are the soft-baked salty pretzel “sticks” (more like buns) slathered in thick, tangy cheese flavored with brew. Wash that down with a chalice of Triomphe—their signature Belgian IPA—and tell me that ain’t living!

As far as ‘cue goes, there is much to choose from, including ribs, chicken, brisket, salmon, and pulled pork. Each has been rubbed with a secret house mix then smoked over cherry wood provided by Cherry Street Market, and slathered in carolina-style sauce. I don’t really have a rough time deciding because ribs are on the radar. They are out of the dry ribs, though, but that’s okay...I really like wet ribs anyway. Ivy gets the pulled pork so we can share. (I secretly hope Juliet opts for the brisket, just so I can steal a piece or two but, alas, she sequesters herself with the incredible pulled duck confit nachos instead. And since JoJo is a vegetarian, there goes the brisket option.)

I know we’re in for a good meal when the charred rack appears from out of the kitchen, the meat literally sliding off the bone. Ribs are done perfectly, and although I’m not a huge fan of vinegar-based barbecue, these are amazingly tangy-sweet. The rub is tantalizing, with hints of citrus and sundried tomato (though our server couldn’t procure the exact recipe for us). The cherry is not overwhelming, nor is the smoke. Well balanced barbecue has me wishing for more room in my already prodigious gut.

Likewise, the pulled pork dazzles. Great use of vinegar to get that puckery sting on the lips, but just enough brown sugar to keep you wanting more. I do love pulled pork that actually looks like someone is back there pulling it apart by hand. Not a lot of grease, either. All around great BBQ. Sides are a bit of a mixed bag. I could care less about the slice of Wonder Bread because, frankly, there isn’t all that much to sop up. The pork n’ beans could have used some bacon or anything to jog them out of mediocrity, but I’m a big fan of the whole mustard seed in the potato salad.

We finish the evening with great conversation, a close game of cornhole, and quite a few games of euchre...all on a still, warm June night that seems endless. Next year, Cherry Hill Smoke Week will be on my calendar once again.
She Fed:

Despite a late lunch, I am famished the moment we’re seated. I’m sure the smells of charred meats and smoke wafting from the kitchen hasten my hunger. Ivy and JoJo arrive moments later and Jojo announces “I’m starving. We need to order baked pretzels and beer cheese. And probably a few orders of fries.” It’s moments like this when I remember why I adore this girl!

We put in a drink order and, indeed, we do get pretzels and two orders of pommes frites. After a few sips and nibbles we seem to be able to focus on the menu and not our growling tummies. The boys have been debating which meat to order; Jeremy goes for the ribs with wet rub (they’re out of dry rubbed ribs at 5 pm) and Ivy orders pulled pork. Both are not so secretly hoping I’ll order brisket so they can try a bite. I’m usually a huge fan of ‘que, but after a few weeks of eating less meat, even flirting with 100% vegetarian meals Monday-Friday, the thought of a huge hunk of pork, beef, or chicken sitting on my plate just isn’t grabbing me tonight. (No worries, I can assure you I won’t be going full-on vegetarian anytime soon.)

I go against the grain and order the pulled duck confit nachos with brie cream, caramelized onions, tomato concasse, and duck cracklins. I’ve had this dish before and I know it will be salty, crunchy, slightly sweet, and flecked with bits of duck. Not too much meat, but just enough to be a bit of an indulgence. JoJo (a full-time vegetarian, none of this “weekday only” namby pamby stuff for her) orders the goat cheese and grilled asparagus sandwich, plus we agree to split the beet salad.

The nachos are exactly what I expected and hit the spot. There’s nothing like digging for a tidbit of cracklin with a nacho chip. The beet salad is gorgeous with golden and purple beets, creme fraiche vinaigrette, watercress, and hazelnuts. The meatiness of the beets with the bitter watercress and crunchy hazelnuts is absolutely divine.

I may not want a hunk of ‘que on my plate, but I have no problems with the boys’ plates and manage to snatch a bite of Ivy’s pulled pork and a piece of Jeremy’s ribs. The pulled pork is tender and smoky with a distinct tang of vinegar in the sauce. The rib is rich and slathered with a thick earthy sauce. We debate what’s in the sauce and decide on cherries and possibly other red fruits. I also steal a bite of Ivy’s potato salad, studded with grainy mustard and tasting of summer in Michigan.

While I didn’t truly embrace the spirit of the special “Smoke Week” menu, I enjoyed tonight’s dinner immensely. Brewery Vivant has some of the best fries in Grand Rapids. Their duck nachos are over the moon (both Jeremy and Ivy couldn’t resist my plate either!) The service is solid and while I’m not a big beer drinker, the cider is always tasty.

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