Kirby House

(Grand Haven, MI) — We’ve never spent much time in Grand Haven. Not sure why, just never had the opportunity or time to explore the area. Until now. We find ourselves with a free Sunday afternoon with which to stroll downtown, peek into the stores, and try to find a place for some lunch. But where? The Kirby House looms prominently on the corner nearest the riverfront so we decide to pop in for a bite...

He Fed:

Kirby House (or Kirby Grill) is a multi-functional structure. There’s a massive bar near the front with tall tables and stools, while the main dining room is at the back, featuring booths and low tables. Downstairs is a nightclub lounge called the Dark Room; upstairs is more seating and special event space, I gather. There's a French bistro vibe, with large Parisian posters adorning the wall and dark wooden furniture. High ceilings and soft sunlight easing through the front plate glass windows makes the restaurant feel inviting and comfortable.

We ask for a booth and our hostess leads us to the back. Our server is friendly and efficient, quick to offer advice about which dishes she recommends. I get a beer and we scan the menu for a starter. I’m really curious about the Crab & Conch Fritters with habanero-mango mustard. Will Juliet be on board? She’s surprised I even suggest it and agrees. The fritters arrive, looking like hush puppies on a long plate. I take my first bite, enjoying the slightly crispy exterior and creamy but dense interior filled with more breading than crab or conch. Clearly the seafood has been blended into the filling. I’m not sure the insides should be so soft and gooey—in fact, Juliet doesn’t appear to dig it—but I like the fritters, especially when dipped into the sauce.

I’m confused about the Spring Vegetable Risotto, featuring fresh asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, baby spinach, and fresh beets. Asparagus in October? I ask our waitress to check whether this is just an old menu. Surely they’re featuring more autumnal ingredients? Nope. I’m told the veggies are indeed as printed. Against my better judgement, I order it. I do love a good risotto, even if the vegetables are off-season.

Bad move on my part. A huge bowl of dull risotto is placed before me. It looks like a lumpy pile of white oatmeal with some pale, lifeless bits of vegetable mixed in. Had it been sitting in a vat in the kitchen for days? I take a taste. Ugh. Butter overwhelms any other taste. Half-heartedly, I pick out some veg but after just a couple spoonfuls, I have to send it back. It is the worst risotto I’ve ever had.

To get the starchy, gluey taste out of my mouth, I order Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps. The chicken is grilled and moist; the bibb lettuce, thin-sliced cucumbers, and bell pepper strips are crisp; and the peanut sauce is addictive. It’s the perfect balm for the risotto.

Kirby House turns out to be a mixed bag. Although the risotto is deeply disappointing (and remained on our bill, despite having sent it back), the fritters and wraps really hit the spot. When we’re next in Grand Haven, I might be tempted to go back for either of those dishes but I would rather see more seasonal and local choices on the menu.
She Fed:

It’s a gorgeous day and we’re itching to get out of the condo and soak up some West Michigan sunshine. The last thing I want is to be in the car when I just spent so much time commuting this week. But when the sky is bright blue on an October day in Michigan, the shoreline beckons. The ride passes quickly and we easily find parking in downtown Grand Haven. After a bit of walking and shopping, we decide on lunch at Kirby House.

We order drinks and Jeremy suggests the crab and conch fritters. I’m slightly surprised as I still think of him as that guy who hates fish and seafood. The fritters are gorgeous when they arrive, fried golden brown with swirls of saffron-colored habanero mango mustard. Sadly, I’m disappointed as soon as I bite into my first one. The dough is undercooked and barely warm inside. The mustard sauce gives a nice tang while the exteriors of the fritters are nice and crisp. But the raw dough inside is a huge turnoff for me.

Our mains arrive and I can immediately tell there is something wrong with Jeremy’s risotto. It looks like it’s been sitting under a heat lamp for too long or worse yet, was leftover and nuked in the microwave. There is a telltale overly cooked ring around the edges of the rice and a thin layer of something opaque over the top of the entire dish. When he dips his fork in, even I can see the consistency of the dish is like overcooked oatmeal. He’s about three bites in and I say, “Just get something else, it looks horrible. We didn’t drive all the way out here for mediocre food.”

What’s odd is our waitress’ reaction to the whole incident. She approaches the table, sees his risotto pushed to the side and says, “Not working for you, huh?” When Jeremy confirms and orders something new she whisks the dish away. It almost feels as though she was expecting the dish to be sent back. She never apologizes or offers us anything, a free drink, no charge for the app, nothing. The whole situation is bizarre.

My lunch choice however, is wonderful. I order the tilapia sandwich and am not disappointed. It’s flash fried with a tortilla crust, served on focaccia with pepperjack cheese, napa cabbage slaw and a spicy mayo. The bread is amazing—more like a ciabatta roll than focaccia, but I’m not complaining. The slaw is fresh, bright and crunchy while the cheese and mayo give it a creamy, rich kick of heat. The fish is flaky and mild and very clean tasting. I upgrade from chips to onion rings and gobble up the rings. These taste housemade, not like the freezer burnt counterparts you’ll find at some places.

All in all, this was a tasty but inconsistent lunch. Next time we’re in Grand Haven, I’ll consider stopping by for a bloody Mary (which I’ve heard they’re famous for).

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