Pizzeria Vivo

(Big Rapids, MI) — Quite some time ago, when we were scouting around for new restaurants to visit, a friend suggested Pizzeria Vivo in Big Rapids. We don’t often visit the area much anymore, but recently we were invited to a family gathering and immediately remembered the recommendation. Thankfully, everyone else was game to try it so we drove north to meet them at a place that looked more like a house than a pizza place...

He Fed:

Clearly, Pizzeria Vivo was once someone’s home, converted to an eatery. It’s a two storey residence with a large backyard transformed into patio seating. Although the temperatures encourage us to grab a table outside, the brisk winds and scudding, intemperate clouds shoo us indoors.

Immediately inside is a small bar with no chairs I can see. Awards adorn the walls, along with colorful paintings which boost the European vibe. Beyond, a series of rooms serve as the dining area with small tables pushed together in different configurations to accommodate larger parties.

It takes some time before our waitress pays us any heed. We find out that she is the only one working today, and she’s clearly overtaxed. Maybe they don’t get so many guests on a Friday afternoon? We are given menus and drink orders taken. I opt for a pint of Shorts Locals Light, which is refreshing but without much body or taste. Later, I switch to a bottle of Shorts Pontius Road Pilsner, which is way better.

Juliet and I are starving, after a very light breakfast. I immediately order the Goat Cheese Dip and someone else selects the Pesto Bread Sticks. I’m not real sure why we would order breadsticks before pizza, but I’m glad we did; the sticks are cheesy, herbaceous delicious dough. Dunked in fresh blended tomato sauce, they are superb. I like the goat cheese even more, with chunks of roasted red pepper, green onion, and more crostini than we need. A great start to the meal!

Everyone else in our group is gravitating to pizza. Vivo offers personal size versions of all their specialty pizzas, which is unheard of anywhere else. I, however, decide to do something different and get the Buffalo Wing Mac & Cheese. It is a piping hot dish of corkscrew noodles riddles with chunks of white chicken meat sauced in Frank’s Red Hot, and drowned in a sea of bechamel sauce, cheese, and dusted with crunchy breadcrumbs. For a lunch portion, it is very generous. I only wish the hot sauce was more customized or homemade, and the gorgonzola more predominant. Otherwise, it hits the spot. Everyone else seems very happy with their dishes, too. The pizzas look fresh, the dough risen quite thick and cooked golden brown as if wood fired (though I don’t think they have a wood fired oven).

Our poor waitress is rushing from room to room, trying to keep her head above the water. We even jokingly ask if she needs a hand clearing other tables. Sadly, twice she upends a plastic waterglass that she had filled with dirty silverware, scattering the cutlery loudly onto the floor. The noise chases me out the door ahead of everyone else. Good food can only take you so far. Inadequate service can scare customers away.

She Fed:

My Auntie Bette asks if we have time to visit Big Rapids and my Uncle Lee who’s in town for a high school reunion. Lee lives in Texas, so I don’t get to see him or his wife Nancy often, which is a shame as they’re both great fun. Lee’s sense of humor reminds me of my grandfather, who I miss terribly. We compare schedules and a late Friday lunch works perfectly.

Jeremy and I have been eating vegetarian and even vegan this summer, partly to celebrate Michigan’s great summer bounty, but also because we get more than our fair share of meat and dairy when we travel to various culinary events or help our friends with competitive barbeques. So when the chance to enjoy pizza presents itself—sometimes with meat, but nearly always smothered with cheese—I usually dive right in.

Awhile back, a good friend suggested we give Pizzeria Vivo a try and this seems like the perfect opportunity. It’s in a former residence converted to a restaurant. Both Uncle Lee and Auntie Bette mention having gone to school with a girl who lived there. I find myself trying to figure out which room was what, way back when. Are we sitting now in what used to be the living room?

We’re a hungry group. My cousin Paula and her two boys have joined us, so we order the Pesto Breadsticks and the Goat Cheese Dip to start. The pesto sticks taste better than they smell, if that’s even possible. They’re slathered in pesto, topped with cheese, baked and served with two small sides of pizza sauce. I like the sticks better without the red sauce and I find myself thinking about ordering another batch of these for my lunch. The goat cheese dip is baked in a gratin dish with green onions and red peppers. The toasted crostini are a little floppy and colorless; they should’ve been toasted a bit more. And while the dip is darn good, (what’s not to love about tangy warm goat goat cheese schmeared on bread?) I keep thinking about the pesto sticks.

Our waitress is the only server on staff today and she’s clearly overwhelmed, as the place is hopping. She’s genuinely friendly and keeps a smile on her face the entire time. I just keep wishing someone could step in to help the poor girl.

Pizzeria Vivo has several salad options, which is what I should order after those decadent apps. Instead, I opt for a personal-sized Vivo’s House Special pizza with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and red onion. I don’t notice until it arrives, it has white sauce instead of red. It’s tasty but even better when I dunk it in the pizza sauce leftover from the breadsticks. I devour all four slices of my pizza, already thinking about a return trip, if only to try the Pesto Garden Vegetable pizza. I’m guessing it’s the pesto sticks with veggie toppings. Yum!

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