Vestal Inn

(Belmont, MI) — It is just after sunset at the Taste of Grand Rapids BBQ competition, and we’re all craving sustenance other than ribs or chicken or brisket. But where to go? We don’t often get up near Fifth Third Stadium or Comstock Park, so aren’t sure what’s around for a quick bite. Thankfully, LettersToJ is more familiar with the area and suggests Vestal Inn just up the road. With the promise of pizza ringing in our ears, we pack up to discover this new eatery...

He Fed:

What is it about West Michigan where small town, out of the way bars housed in little more than aluminum-sided garages lit by fluorescent tubes are called “Inns”? That term makes me think of some quaint, historic establishment with notable architecture and gruff barmen, not the nondescript industrial looking Keno bars with large unpaved parking lots. Vestal Inn is no exception. A sign on the side of the building, bolted to the aluminum siding, proudly proclaims this “The Heart of Belmont”. We enter.

I smell the ghost of cigarette smoke and urinal cake as soon as I step inside. Two pool tables and shuffleboard lurk in one corner of the dining room; televisions mime a baseball game; the bar is aglow with the intimation of forgetfulness and, perhaps, absolution. In many ways, it feels like home...the home of my childhood, where my father might well have been found, three sheets to the wind, roaring with drunken laughter at a joke one of his buddies had just told.

Our waitress delivers menus, brews, and the bad news that, despite LettersToJ’s fond memories of pizza past, the pie options have diminished since his last visit. No matter; we are there to unwind and put something solid in our bellies before sleep. To start, we go with the Scotch Egg, a pre-fab, pre-formed, direct from GFS version. Still, it’s a hard boiled egg...coated in sausage and deep fried. Dipped in honey mustard, it fulfills a certain craving, though not without an immediate pang of guilt.

I venture a bite of Juliet's deep fried mushroom and find it disgusting. Again, straight from a plastic bag into the deep fryer, to the plate. Inside, the mushroom is barely warm, though the coating is almost smoking hot. You really have to love mushrooms to choke these down.

At last, our thin crust (not made in-house) pizza arrives. It is topped with ham, sausage, and green olives. We wolf it down in no time, avoiding eye contact, like feral animals only wanting it to disappear so we don’t have to acknowledge its presence. If it’s gone, it never happened, right?

After an aborted shuffleboard game, we head back out into the night. We are sated, had our fill of beer, bar food, and regret.

She Fed:

Cookie and I have been working hard all day in the brutal heat and sun. Today I made four side dishes to be judged at the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s (KCBS) barbeque competition held in conjunction with Taste of Grand Rapids. Making and plating a vegetable, potato, baked bean, and dessert side dish might not seem like a big deal. But considering we’ve been working in the parking lot of Fifth Third Ballpark with a wood-fired smoker and charcoal grill in soaring get the picture. I should mention it was my first time doing sides for a competition, but luckily I had Cookie and LettersToJ lending their hands and expertise.

We are hot, tired, and for my part at least, slightly hangry (part hungry/part angry). When Jeremy suggests we grab some ice cold beer and a pizza, LettersToJ says he knows just the place. A few minutes later we arrive at The Vestal Inn in Belmont.

Justin Timberlake is blaring on the jukebox but the patrons look a bit long in the tooth to be JT fans, making for an interesting disconnect. Our waitress brings ice waters and menus all around which is when we discover The Vestal Inn no longer offers the array of pizzas LettersToJ remembered. In fact, all they have is 12” cheese pizza with your choice of eight toppings. It’s not the amazing variety we had been hoping for but we will not be deterred.

While we debate toppings, we order a round of brews and two appetizers: fried mushrooms and Scotch eggs. The Scotch egg is slightly different, with sweet Italian sausage coating the egg and a spicy-sweet mustard dipping sauce. The mushrooms are the standard breaded type, clearly straight from the deep-freeze. There are nights when only bar food will do and while I know it’s not very “gourmand” of me, I have to admit I love a basket of hot fried mushrooms with cold ranch on the side. I eat far more than my fair share of the basket.

Despite our urging him otherwise, Jeremy orders two of the exact same pizzas with ham, Italian sausage, and olives. The crust is crispy, the toppings salty, and it’s all smothered in ooey gooey mozzarella. I’m on my second Summer Shandy, enjoying the chilly air conditioning, and the pizza is truly good. The service has been solid and the bar food hits the spot.

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