Cranker's Brewery

(Big Rapids, MI) — Through the Big Rapids grapevine, we heard about the newly-opened Cranker’s Brewery and have been biding our time until we could try it. Luckily, the Traverse City Film Festival gave us an excuse to stop on the way for lunch! We meet Johnny V and Leah (and, briefly, Bug), then prepare for a beerfestive meal...

He Fed:

At first, we’re not quite sure we’re in the right place. Cranker’s Coney is an old-school style diner, with 50’s decor and colorful booths, but we don’t see any beer-related paraphernalia. After a minute of searching, I see the entry near the back. Walking through is like entering another world. The brewpub is spacious, with old wood decor, solid furniture, and a long bar against one wall. Vats perch overhead, presumably filled with beer. Impressive!

I begin with a sampler of their brews, which includes 5 types: Bulldog Red Irish Ale, Torchlight Munich Blonde, Professor IPA, Dambreaker Brown Ale, and Strongarm Stout. They actually make 6th — The Local Cali Common — but it’s still fermenting and won’t be available for a couple weeks. (Figures...this is the one that I probably would have liked best.) I sip my samples. Being a beer aficionado, I recognize microbrew in the beginning stages. The brewer has not infused a personal style yet; they taste like standard starter craft beer.

Our first bit of bad news comes when the waitress informs us that the lunch menu is a very small version of what is available starting at 3pm. Lunch is really stripped down fare, basic sandwiches and pub food. (It is worth noting, the menu posted on their website is the full mention of a restricted lunch menu.) Still, we’re game and start with onion rings. They’re pretty lame, thin and obviously purchased through a mass food distributor. Again, our waitress confirms it, telling us we should come back later to try the Lager Rings which are beer battered in-house. Grrr...tell me what else I can’t have! She says the regular cook isn’t in for lunch, so they just threw something together for us in back. thanks.

With such a limited menu, I order my standby: reuben. The bread is pretty solid, toasty yet not too hard. Meat is standard corned beef you can get from any deli. Kraut soggy though not overly so. Cheese is good. All in all, it’s a solid reuben but not one I’d go out of my way to try again. Unfortunately, the coup-de-grace comes when we witness our waitress delivering Saganaki to a neighboring table...a dish that’s not on the lunch menu. Why didn’t our server tell us we could order some things off the normal menu? Not sure. We all look sadly at something else we evidently can’t have.

I began the visit excited to try some new beer and, hopefully, taste their unique menu. Instead, I get run-of-the-mill brew, ho-hum food, and spotty service. Maybe it’ll take some time for them to find their stride (they opened in April) but we don’t get up to Big Rapids that often, and there’s always something new to try, so it’s going to take some convincing from other folks before we try them again.
She Fed:

I’m excited to begin our four day weekend and to meet up with friends we haven’t seen in ages. I’ve heard Cranker’s is a chain that serves really good gyros and I’ve pretty much made up my mind to order one for lunch unless something else grabs my attention.

We walk in the front door into a time warp as this is obviously an old donut shoppe (with two “p’s” and an “e”) or an old-time diner. It’s a few minutes before 1 pm and none of the patrons are under the age of 70. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just a little disconcerting and not the “local brewpub” experience we were expecting.

Jeremy spots the brewery at the back of the building and we walk through said time warp into a room with dark wood, high ceilings and several big brew tanks. Whew! Our waitress arrives quickly and takes our order—a water for me to start, a beer sampler for Jeremy, and an order of onion rings. I’m hungry and brew pubs usually have the best onion rings. Unfortunately, we learn Cranker’s day menu is scaled back and the beer battered onion rings are only served after 3 pm. The ones served at lunchtime are clearly not handmade, but rather sourced from a generic 25-pound bag out of the deep freeze.

I taste a few of Jeremy’s beer samples and land upon the Dambreaker, a caramel-y brown. I order a pint and a gyro. While we wait for our food, we ask to see the dinner menu and are both impressed with how ambitious it is...lots of variety and most of it house-made from scratch.

The gyro is fine, but it’s nothing special. Now I have to admit, I’m one of those people that likes the flaccid grey “gyro meat” that most restaurants use. You know what I mean—it tastes kinda like beef, kinda like lamb but is pretty indistinguishable. I once made gyros out of lamb meatballs in cooking class and liked them much better than that pre-made meat. But I still harbor a love for the pre-fab variety. Especially in those Mediterranean joints where you can watch them shave off a hunk of meat, shaped a bit like a lamb leg. I know I’ll lose my “foodie cred” for admitting it, but I like it once in awhile.

The sauce tastes like salted yogurt. There are no onions and no cucumbers (huge miss in my opinion), only icy cold diced tomatoes. The pita bread is soft, warm, and flavorful. As a basic cheap lunch, it works for me but is certainly not a spectacular gyro by any means. The fried mushrooms are just like the onion rings, pulled from the frosty depths of the deep freeze. At night they serve ‘shrooms hand-dipped in lager batter. So while I won’t be driving one hour north for lunch at Cranker’s again, I would certainly venture up to try the dinner menu.

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