Trillium Haven

(Grand Rapids, MI) — The farm-to-fork concept has been heartily embraced by many Grand Rapids restaurants over the past few years, almost to saturation point. When “cheese from this farm”, “vegetables from our garden”, and “pork from that farm” shows up on every menu, things start to blur. Trillium Haven embraces this idea and ramps it up by sourcing most of their ingredients from their eponymous farm in Jenison, to give it a more holistic approach. Ever since they opened in July 2012, we’ve been wanting to give them a try and finally a window opens for a “quick” dinner on a pleasant Thursday evening...

He Fed:

Parking couldn’t be easier. There’s a paved lot around back, but a quick u-turn and we find a spot out front (meters free after 5p on weekdays). The patio is enjoying some brisk business on this sunny but cool night, and we hope to snag a seat outdoors. Unfortunately, we’re informed there is only one table free and it has been reserved in advance. Boo! We are given a table in the corner instead. I sit on the booth side so I can snag some pics of the restaurant interior, but it also means I have to battle the setting sun by donning sunglasses for a few minutes, as I cannot escape the glare. Finally, the damnable sphere of blazing fire slips behind a nearby building and I can observe our surroundings.

The dining area is essentially split into two rooms, both very open with high ceilings. One side has a small bar area while the other showcases the open air kitchen and brick wood-fired pizza oven in the corner. Decor is modern, yet rustic. I love the warm, inviting design of the light fixtures. Everyone seems friendly, bustling around, busy. Our waitress is friendly, though perhaps a bit too eager to rush us into ordering. Despite our initial desire to have a simple meal, the atmosphere all but demands you slow things down, savor the experience.

I start with the Beet Margarita, which is surprisingly delicious, earthy and warming. I mistake the salted rim to be sugar, though, so my first sip is a salty explosion. Ugh. Not a big fan of salt on a margarita glass, though Juliet is. Still, once I get past that, the drink is lip-smackingly good. We order the cheese board with crackers, sliced apple, pickles, mustard, honey, and some kind of pear ginger marmalade. Four cheeses come on the plate: blue, goat, cheddar, and sheep’s milk. Our waitress rattles off the varieties too quickly then provides “they’re local, from Wisconsin and other nearby places”. Thankfully, we’re familiar enough with cheese boards to guess at the various farms, but her brusque explanation is kind of surprising, given the restaurant’s adherence to local sourcing. I would have liked to have known the origins!

Believe it or not, Trillium has Belgoo beer on tap. I’ve only had it one other time in Chicago, in bottle. It’s a wheaty Belgian brew that goes very well with I cannot help but order the Diablo Flatbread. Boy, am I glad I did! Smoky peppers hold sway atop red sauce, mozzarella, fennel sausage, and onions. No secret I dig thick crust and the dough is phenomenal, yeasty, crunchy yet soft. Wow. Wow. Wow. It is worth at least three wows. If you like spicy and you like pizza, get one of these ASAP. And don’t forget the Belgoo.

Thanks to the flatbread, the leash is off. I want more of everything. Immediately. Their Heritage Pork is prepared differently, depending on the day and the cuts they have, so I gamble; if it’s loin, then I’ll get something else, but if it’s shoulder I’m going for it. Our server checks with the chef and returns with the verdict: shoulder. I’m a lost soul. Two slabs of fork tender pork arrive, ascending a mountain of mayacoba bean mash, corn, onions, pickled red cabbage, greens, and tomatillos. Each bite is seemingly better than the last. Although I steal a nibble of Juliet’s excellent meatloaf, I skip nary a beat on my quest to devour the shoulder.

One weird thing: I order a glass of red wine and allow the server to pair. She confers with the bartender, who pours a Rubini Schioppettino that smells and kind of tastes like Raid bug spray. I even have her sniff it. I simply assume it is a strange wine, not bad, just unlike any I ever had. Moments later, the bartender arrives to explain the bottle has oxidized slightly and brings me a glass poured from a freshly opened bottle. Ah! Much better! I appreciate that attention to detail, though I had asked our server to write down the vintage and she never did.

No need for dessert, but as usual I can’t help but order a little something. I get the Peanut Butter Pie, a very small glass jar of layered peanut butter and chocolate with graham cracker crust in the bottom. It’s sweet, salty, and yummy. Juliet isn’t much help, as she’s hit the wall already, so I soldier on alone.

Despite some rookie handling by our waitress—something not isolated to her, as we noticed many other food runners and servers struggling to find a rhythm—the food is top-notch, soulful, and a great embodiment of the farm-to-table philosophy. I can assure you, we’ll be back and very soon. Meet me at the bar for beer and pizza!
She Fed:

After much anticipation we finally manage to find time to get to Trillium Haven on a day when it’s open. Being closed on Sundays and Mondays makes it difficult for us, given my travel schedule. The weather is gorgeous, but the patio is packed so we’re seated inside. Poor Jeremy has the setting sun blinding him for a few moments, but this time of year it sets quickly and he’s only temporarily discomforted.

We are not seated long when our waitress approaches to take drink orders. After eyeing the beet margarita, I decide to play it safe and order my usual Gruner Veltliner. When I don’t know what I’ll be eating, I like to start with a gruner. It goes with so many things. But who am I kidding, this glass will be long gone before we actually eat dinner!

Jeremy’s itching to try a flatbread after a chef friend recommended them. We decide to start with the cheese plate, though right after we order it, the table next to us receives their smoked eggplant flatbread. It’s thick and crusty looking, more like a pizza. I know right then Jeremy will find a way to fit in an order of flatbread to share as well.

The cheese plate arrives and it’s gorgeous. Our waitress turns to leave, then remembers to tell us about the cheeses, a blue, a goat cheese wrapped in ash and two harder cheeses. All are from Wisconsin, but she never mentions any particular farms or regions. There’s pickled cukes and summer squash, a dollop of honey and mustard, sliced pear, some sesame crackers and a spicy pear marmalade to accompany the cheeses. While the cheeses aren’t anything you can’t find elsewhere, the pickles and the marmalade are standouts for me. Both are clearly housemade, the pickles briney and tart while the sweet marmalade is spiked with peppery ginger.

As I predicted, Jeremy suggests we share a flatbread and we settle on the Diablo with spicy peppers, onions and fennel sausage. It looks and smells even better than the one our neighboring table had. The crust is amazing and the sausage is glorious with lots of fennel and sweet porkiness. The hot peppers and onions give it some serious kick. I want to eat half of the flatbread but have to stop myself at two slices.

Because we’re ordering entrees as well! I go for the meatloaf stuffed braciole style with potato salad. The meatloaf is incredibly dense with beef, pork and no noticeable fillers. It’s rolled around spinach and mozzerella, making for the most gorgeous meatloaf I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the best I’ve ever eaten with a serious umami, meaty profile. The potato salad is good, but the arugula mixed into it is woody and tough. I eat around the big green stems but I’m so full I request a “to go” box for an entire slice of meatloaf and most of the potato salad, knowing this will make Jeremy very happy to take for his lunch tomorrow.

Throughout the meal I feel as though we are eating at a Manhattan restaurant in the theatre district because our waitress seems to be rushing us as though we have an 8 pm curtain call or something. While I’m sure she just wants to make sure we’re not wanting for anything, it feels a bit like she’s trying to turn our table quickly. She is pleasant and accommodating, but clearly not used to patrons who want to have a leisurely and relaxing meal, which strikes me as odd for this type of eatery. “Farm to fork” and “rushed” just don’t work well together.

Another slight service glitch. We are seated right by the door from the restaurant to the patio, giving us a view of the expediters delivering plates to tables. Only problem, they have no idea which table gets what so they tend to huddle right by the door and wait for the servers to point them in the right direction. Of benefit to us is the opportunity to see just about every starter, soup, salad, flatbread and entree on the menu pass by, then halt until further dispatched. But it’s also a bit disconcerting at the same time.

Jeremy opts for dessert, ordering the peanut butter pie, one of my favorites. It’s presented in a small canning jar - so charming. I indulge in one bite to find perfection; rich, peanutty and fudgey. But I am stuffed and opt to sip the rest of my Cote du Rhone. Liquid dessert for me!

The food and wine is spot on. I’m sure we’ll be back to see how their menu changes through the seasons. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little inspiration for how to eat farm to fork in the winter.

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