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Grand Rapids, MI :: Shopping & Dining Getaway

You might remember from my previous post that I absolutely love Grand Rapids, MI. It is not too far from Northwest Ohio and is the ultimate getaway destination. There is so much to do! On the last visit we focused on the breweries and the attractions. This time around we focused on shopping and dining, two of my favorite things!

Did you know that Grand Rapids is one of America's leading entrepreneurial cities?! It is evident when you look at the quantity and quality of shopping choices. I wanted to explore the local store owners and their one-of-a-kind finds. When you shop in Grand Rapids, you have several options. We explored the downtown Grand Rapids' shopping scene (yes there is one!) with the help of this handy to use Downtown Shopping Guide.

First stop, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. This mixed-use facility that brings together production, distribution, marketing and education about local produce. The indoor facility features a 24-vendor market hall, while dozens of farmers and artisans line our outdoor farmer's market shed. We were so impressed with the offerings at the market and we spent quite a bit of time there.

We visited on a weekday during lunchtime, and it was bustling with activity. The line at Tacos El Cuñado was especially long, which sparked our curiosity. We decided with a line that long, we had to try it! I am so glad we did. These were hands down the BEST tacos I have ever tasted. Period. You can see from the photo above that they are nothing fancy. But the flavor just explodes in your mouth. Mario Cascante and Hector Lopez are responsible for bringing Tacos El Cuñado to Grand Rapids. They source many of their ingredients from Michigan rotate dishes that are popular in Costa Rica and other Central and South American countries. They want customers to taste real Latin American food. You’ll recognize the ingredients, but the preparation will be something new. If you visit, you must try it! Keep an eye on those cupcakes for later.

We also enjoyed visiting Old World Olive Co. in the market. I am a big fan of olive oil (I think I was Italian in a past life) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find two people as passionate about olive oil as Shasta Fase and Cory DeLong. Their store, Old World Olive Co., is now in three Grand Rapids-area locations. Their motivation? Avoiding mid-life career fatigue.

After traveling the world, the couple became enamored with Italy and decided olive oil was where their hearts were. Shasta and Cory work with artisan farms from around the world who pick only at the peak of harvest in a first press, cold press, old world procedure.

What caught my eye was all of the flavors of olive oil! I couldn't believe it! You can sample them too, which was really fun and interesting. I decided on two bottles to take home: Meyer Lemon and Basil. I have had so much fun trying them in new recipes. They are so delicious!

Speaking of cooking, what has fragrant flavors, bold savory tastes, and an exotic history spanning more than 1,000 years. Curious? It’s all at Spice Merchants, Lisa Freeman’s gourmet spice and seasoning shop. She opened her first store in Saugatuck in 2003 and has expanded her business to several franchises across the country. Shopping for spices is fun, but sometimes the selection (at other places) can be boring. Not at Spice Merchants!

Lisa knows that spices can be healthy and transformative to a meal, especially when done right. She uses hand-blended ingredients and can’t wait to hear how her customers combine her spices with other products throughout the market. The shop carries over 250 spices and blends and 100 tea varieties. We took several varieties home.

Remember those cupcakes from earlier? Look above for the reminder. Sweetie-licious Bake Shoppe owner Linda Hundt is changing the world, one pie (or cupcake) at a time. Sweetie-licious focuses on simply fresh, completely homemade, and seasonal ingredients to make their pies and other baked goods, and the team often refers to old cookbooks to improve recipes. Sweetie-licious specializes in creating a vintage ambience, from the aprons to the décor to the treats that hearken back to Grandma's kitchen. I tried the Cherry Chip Angel Food Cupcake - so delish!

Wanting to preserve the abundance of produce in what has been dubbed the “Fruit Belt” of Southwest Michigan, Ryan and Julie Thornburg began packaging preserves, jams and jellies, honey, and syrups in 2011. Now, they've opened their first retail shop, Thornburg and Company, at the Downtown Market.

Trying is believing, and we sampled several preserves and the most amazing maple syrup. Ryan uses old-fashioned techniques to make his products, but the flavors are hardly outdated. This is quite evident when you try their whiskey-barrel aged maple syrup. Wow is that stuff good. We also purchased the raspberry jalapeño jelly which we were told was amazing on crackers with cream cheese. Oh yea, it is.

Also downtown, you will find the Ferris Coffee & Nut Company. They offer the very best in coffee, nuts, and other gourmet treats made right in West Michigan. Ferris has been a local roaster and regional distributor of specialty coffees and gourmet nuts since 1924. They even offer educational tours showing the growing and processing of coffee and nuts. The store has so many choices, so we decided to try several, as you can see above. Some of our favorites were the caramel corn and the cherry nut mix. What a treat!

Just a short walk from our hotel, we strolled down Monroe Center for some downtown exploration. We came across MoDiv, a retail incubator in downtown Grand Rapids that houses unique retailers under one roof! I was quite curious as to how this would work. You can see in the photo above (top right) that the retailers are separated by glass walls. What cool concept!

We had several shopping options right at our hotel, the Amway Grand Plaza. Whether you forgot to pack something, are looking for that perfect gift to take back home, you'll find everything right inside the hotel. We stopped in the Plaza Essentials Gift Shop and noticed a great selection of merchandise - lots of fun Grand Rapids items. Also in the hotel, the Plaza Men's Shop for a wide range of business and casual attire and accessories. You can also explore several boutiques, shops, and art galleries!

6.25 Paper Studio is a locally owned stationery company located right next to MoDiv. This small business strives to promote and support the local community while working towards a healthier planet. You will find many cute stationary gift items including cards, candles and books. Weddings is their specialty, and all-things-paper is their passion. 

Although we didn't visit the GRAM on this visit, we did stop by the Grand Rapids Art Museum Store. I love exploring art museum shops. You never know what you will find! We did find unique gifts, jewelry designed by local and international artists, decorative accessories, great children’s toys, art books, and fair trade items from around the globe. Such a fun store to play and browse!

Whew! Are you sick of shopping yet? Onto the dining! We chose to have dinner at Leo's Restaurant on our first night. Leo's offers fresh-off-the-boat ocean cuisine that is served in a casually elegant atmosphere. Choose from more than a dozen fresh catch selections, classic New England treasures, specialty pastas or fine beef. The decision was tough, but we decided on Walleye Amandine and Halibut Oscar Style. They take much care in preparing their fish dishes, and this was quite apparent. Both of the meals were divine. The fish was fresh and flavorful. The atmosphere is quiet and elegant. Yet, it doesn't feel too stuffy. I would definitely recommend Leo's.

My husband is such a burger guy. So when he heard that Stella's Lounge serves the "Best Burger in America" according to GQ magazine, he absolutely had to try one! I was happy to see that they carried a great selection of local craft beers. While you are waiting for your food, they have all of these awesome vintage arcade games that make you reminisce back to those good old days of Atari and Coleco.

Did I mention that they also have over 200 whiskies? What? I didn't even know that many existed. But there they were, right on the menu. Speaking of the menu, there is something for everyone. If you don't want to try that award winning. giant, juicy stuffed burger, they even offer vegetarian selections. So how was that burger? Big, juicy and quite delicious. They offer it many ways. My husband had the Queso Burger and I had the Government Cheese Stuffed Burger. The Queso Burger is stuffed with jalapenos and pepper jack and served with super hot mustard on the side. To make it queso, they also add the house made spicy queso cheese dip and pickled jalapenos. He loves all things spicy and this was no exception. My Government Cheese Stuffed Burger was stuffed with aged white cheddar cheese. Yum. Very good. Try it.

Finally, we were in the mood for some authentic Italian food. So after exploring downtown, we chose Tre Cugini, the recipient of several dining awards, including a four-time winner of Grand Rapids Magazine’s Award of Excellence. The authentic Italian cuisine is inspired by Executive Chef Daniel Chudik. In its fourteenth year of business, Tre Cugini has been able to transform the small urban space in downtown Grand Rapids into a stylish and tasteful establishment. The dining philosophy is to utilize the freshest products on the market to create home made dishes. We both started with a Cesar Salad, so delicious! The dressing was perfect. My husband ordered The Tuscan, a thinly sliced steak meat sandwich served with sautéed onions and gorgonzola cheese. I ordered the Gnocci di Patate alla Genovese, which is house made potato gnocchi served with a light pesto sauce. I was not expecting so much pesto, so I am not sure I would order it again. However, my husband quite enjoyed The Tuscan. I could definitely tell everything was very fresh, right down to the bread. So good!

We once again stayed at the beautiful Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. It perfectly blends the elegant history of the 1920s Pantlind Hotel with the modern amenities of today. With 682 attractive guest rooms and suites, you'll experience the timeless beauty of the early 20th century. Last time we stayed in the Glass Tower, offering a more modern décor and incredible views.

This time, we stayed in a classic guest room. The Pantlind rooms come complete with restored moldings and fixtures, beautiful wood furnishings, and period artwork. Each room communicates the quiet elegance of a more relaxed era. Just look at the photos! So beautiful. It is like stepping back in time! From the moment you walk through the door, you feel as if you've been transported - by the elegance, the details, and the gracious service. Literally every expectation of what a hotel can be is exceeded. No matter which room you choose, it’s sure to be a visit you’ll always remember.

Just a stroll through the Pantlind Lobby experiencing the classical architecture is a treat. Take a look at the photo above and you will see the gold-leaf ceilings, breathtaking chandeliers and a tranquil fountain. That is just the lobby! The Amway Grand Plaza has been making history since the original hotel - The Pantlind - opened in 1913. Fashioned after English Adams architecture by designers Warren & Wetmore, the hotel's special details included one of the world's largest gold-leaf ceilings in the Pantlind lobby. By 1925, The Pantlind was rightfully ranked "One of the Ten Finest Hotels in America." That distinguished history paved the way for the new Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Don't forget about the amenities! Take the fitness facilities, for example. The Amway Grand Plaza offers much more than a treadmill and few weight machines. You'll find a fully outfitted fitness center that will help you stay true to your active lifestyle even when you're on the road. The fitness center sits on the fourth floor of the Glass Tower and offers spectacular views of the city. The amenities will surprise you. How about and indoor pool with two hot tubs, lighted outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a sundeck, a racquetball court, a women's locker room with sauna, and a men's locker room with steam room!? Oh and by the way, there is also a refreshment bar with personal training is available. Wow. We loved the pool and hot tubs. My husband really enjoyed shooting hoops on the rooftop overlooking the city! What a view!

It was another home run for the perfect getaway! We can't wait to return. Grand Rapids has this great vibe, is thriving with cultural activity, and is just plain fun. Whether you want to shop till you drop or dine divine, you can do it in Grand Rapids. It has a big city feel with small city friendliness. Begin planning your trip by visiting Experience Grand Rapids. You will find everything you need to plan your visit. You can also find Experience Grand Rapids on Facebook and Twitter.