Radix Tavern

(Grand Rapids, MI) — Juliet has business out of town, so I’m left to my own devices for an evening. As luck would have it, my old buddy JohnnyV has descended from the northern Michigan climes on business of his own and wonders if I’m free for dinner? Yes, I reply—on one condition: he’ll have to share his side of the story as a guest commentator on our website! He readily agrees and after work I drive to meet him for dinner at Radix Tavern on a very special He Fed / He Fed adventure...

He Fed:

I’m excited to see JohnnyV, as always. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a chance to pow-wow. We used to tear it up, back in the day; now our lives move a bit slower and that’s probably not a bad thing. Still, we try to recapture a bit of that old magic now and then. We begin our evening at Brewery Vivant to enjoy a pint of Big Red Coq and catch up, before heading out for dinner.

A few months ago, the Queen’s Pub closed then recently reopened as Radix Tavern. It claims to specialize in “southern fusion”. I’d been to Bombay Cuisine nearly a decade hence, but never frequented the Queen’s Pub. I’m not sure what to expect. We find parking spots readily, then enter the dark interior. There’s a central bar with a couple small televisions mounted overhead. Booths and high-tops surround it. We’re greeted by a friendly server and given the option to sit where we like. There are only a few other people, but that’s not unusual for early Wednesday night. We choose a booth.

In addition to menus and a list of the day’s specials, we’re given a draught and cocktail menu. Radix offers quite a few good microbrew selections, more than I would have expected. JohnnyV and I both order the Southern Tier Pumking, since I haven’t tried a pumpkin beer yet this season. It’s unusually sweet, kind of like chai. I’m not certain I like the pumpkin-yam dynamic but I can appreciate the complexity.

Although our waitress recommends the fried green tomatoes to start, I only have eyes for the honey roasted cauliflower crowns. They’ve been cooked to willowy texture, perfect for languidly sluicing them through the house-made stone-ground honey mustard sauce. Crisp leaves of arugula add peppery notes, while the barbecued cashews and fire-roasted red pepper strips give it a smoky sweetness. Once we’ve cleaned the plate, I realize our vegetarian friend JoJo would really dig this dish.

A brand new plate added to the menu catches my eye: barbecued poutine of beef. Thick, shredded chunks of roast beef splay across wide cuts of crispy potato fries, all of it smothered in a cheese and gravy. Even though the fries look golden enough to be mistaken for sweet potato, they’re not...which is a good thing. This is like the best pot roast without any pesky vegetables to get in the way.

For a side dish, I order a small bowl of their golden Michigan beets, cubed, cooked and tossed in with bacon and ground cashews. Savory, sweet and almost good enough to be dessert. I’m happy to share a couple bites with my dinner companion, since he allows me a few tastes of his excellent southern fried chicken.

Radix Tavern truly lives up to their promise of southern fusion, even in a time when the term “fusion” has been overworked, diffused. I can’t wait to take Juliet there for dinner.
He Fed:

I strut out of my hotel to meet Jeremy for dinner. I am thrilled he picks a new tavern in Eastown for our boy’s night out. Back in the 90’s, I spent many nights in the area’s thoroughfares, usually starting at the Intersection, then Bogey’s and finally ending up in line to get a belly full of Yesterdogs. But Eastown has changed since then. The Intersection has moved downtown and Bogeys is gone, but replacing the bars is a number of new, exciting eateries.

I meet Jeremy at Brewery Vivant for a quick Big Red Coq, then drive a short distance to the newly-opened Radix Tavern. We both find a parking spot on the side of the building (not easy in Eastown) and walk in. We are greeted and seated immediately. The restaurant is large and airy with a modern, industrial feel. A TV over the large round bar shows the Food Network. There are only a few scattered patrons. Emma, our server, greets us with water and menus, before asking us what we want from the bar. Jeremy immediately orders a Southern Tier Pumking. Now, I am not a beer maven, but I do enjoy craft beers so I tell her to make it two. It is heavy on the pumpkin flavor with nutmeg tones, plus a hint of vanilla, to mimic whipped cream that adorns most pumpkin pie.

For an appetizer, Jeremy and I split Honey Roasted Cauliflower Crowns. Radix Tavern boasts to be “Southern Cooking with Michigan Ingredients”, so I choose Southern Fried Chicken as a main. Our appetizer comes and I order a Dark Horse Amber to help wash it down. The roasted cauliflower is dynamite, coated in honey and tossed with BBQ cashews, roasted red peppers and arugula with a homemade stone mustard sauce. It rocks and I enjoy having a light appetizer for a change.

Jeremy and I reminisce about simpler days gone by. I realize our food is taking a while, but Jeremy suggests the chef is taking his time to put love into the food. I silently wonder what would happen if they had a full house of eager, hungry people? When our food arrives it is worth the wait. My moist chicken is perfectly fried. I taste the buttermilk it was soaked in. The herb crust is light yet crunchy. The dirty smashed potatoes come with a soulful homemade chicken gravy. A side of string beans with onions and mushrooms are still crunchy. No overcooked veggies here!

To end the night, I order a Schmohz Oktoberfest. The toasty, caramel flavors make it the ideal desert beer. Over drinks, it dawns on us Radix Tavern would make a wonderful place for a vegetarian to eat: vegan appetizers, fresh-from-the-farm vegetables, lentil and bean soup, and other tempting dishes including a vegan Shepherd’s Pie (bring on the mushrooms!). Jeremy and I leave feeling more than satisfied. Radix Tavern definitely delivers fresh, unique food. There are a number of other entrees I would like to try. I do believe I will be back to my old college stomping grounds soon.

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