The Best Time to Explore Grand Rapids’ Food and Drink Scene Is Right Now
Eat and drink your way through this Michigan city with the new Flights of Flavor program.
Grand Rapids has been on the radar of food lovers across the country for years now: The city was crowned “Beer City USA” in a national online poll back in 2012 (and remains the titleholder). More than a decade later, the accolades continue to roll in as Grand Rapids’ robust food and drink scene continues to grow and evolve. Most recently, one writer dubbed it the “Craft Beverage Capital of the US,” acknowledging not just its craft beer scene but also its craft ciders, meads, and spirits. And for the last two years, it has also ranked in the top 25 on an annual list of the “Best Foodie Cities in America.”
All this recognition comes as no surprise to locals. Michigan has a tremendous amount of agricultural diversity and is a national leader in the production of many different crops: cherries, apples, asparagus, sugar beets, blueberries, peaches, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and more. Grand Rapids is smack-dab in the middle of verdant farmland and surrounded by the fresh water that gives it all life. What you will find in Grand Rapids is true farm-to-table dining and grain-to-bottle drinking.
In celebration of the bounty of flavors that can be found in Grand Rapids (and across the state), the area has introduced a brand-new program called Flights of Flavor, which encourages diners to sip and sample the many fantastic offerings at local restaurants, breweries, bars, and specialty food shops. Through this program, visitors (and locals) can take advantage of custom “flights” at more than two dozen participating eateries, which include flights of beer (obviously), wine, whiskey, and cocktails, as well as food and beverage pairings featuring oysters, pizza, tacos, bao buns, and even curated prix fixe meals. Just check into participating locations on your smartphone (using the free mobile passport) when ordering from a Flights of Flavor menu and earn points that can be redeemed for T-shirts, baseball hats, flight boards, and more. Points can also be exchanged for donations to local charitable organizations.
Flights of Flavor is an ongoing, area-wide promotion with new locations and new offerings being added all the time, so you can eat (and drink) your way through Grand Rapids one flight at a time. Below are just a few of the highlights from participating locations.
Broad Leaf Brewery + Spirits
Broad Leaf Brewery + Spirits first opened its doors in 2019 in Kentwood with a focus on emerging beer styles. (Think all manner of hazy, juicy, West Coast, and other IPAs, fruited sours, and new twists on classic European styles.) As a brand-new concept from the owners of long-time local favorite Brewery Vivant, Broad Leaf quickly gained a following as a modern American craft brewery (and later, distillery), enough so that just last year they opened a second location on Grand Rapids’ Westside.
The two locations offer distinctly different food and cocktail menus, and both are participating in the Flights of Flavor program. At the original location, they’re offering a flight of four draft cocktails featuring their house-made spirits for $20. Cocktail offerings change seasonally, but you can expect options to include their house vodka distilled from grapes and their house gin distilled from red wheat. Over on the Westside, they’re serving up a “Boards & Baos” special, featuring four signature draft cocktails plus specialty bao buns for $30. This flight of four fluffy buns is just waiting to be 'grammed, so have your camera ready: Phone eats first!
This fast-casual taco chain now has seven locations in Michigan, including two in Grand Rapids, and it's offering a mini margarita flight for Flights of Flavor. For $18 you get to choose any three flavored mini house margaritas made with fresh fruit puree to create your own mini marg flavor rainbow. Choose from strawberry, peach, mango, blood orange, cucumber, jalapeno, prickly pear, and pineapple.
The mini marg flight pairs well with the menu of casual, flavorful Mexican American items. Get creative and add your own complementary pairing flights, like the “Three Buds” sampler of any three house-made dips plus tortilla chips. (They have half a dozen different queso options alone, plus a variety of salsas and guacamoles.) You can then choose from their selection of suggested specialty tacos or choose to build your own from dozens of different options.
Have you ever walked into a dessert shop and found yourself suddenly stricken with decision paralysis? Well, you won’t have to worry about that happening with DreamScape Desserts’ “Let There Be Cupcakes” Flights of Flavor offering: For $20, you’ll get a flight of 12 mini cupcakes in 12 unique flavors that change weekly.
DreamScape Desserts specializes in custom cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, and they offer more than four dozen different flavors in their cake repertoire. Each week features a different mashup of flight flavors, but some of the possible options might include Death by Chocolate, Key Lime, Strawberry Shortcake, Confetti, Snickerdoodle, Cayenne Carrot, Banana Cream, Red Velvet, and so many more.
Love’s Ice Cream & Chocolate
At Love’s Ice Cream & Chocolate, they share the love of their namesake desserts with people of all dietary needs, offering a wide variety of dairy-free, low-net-carb/keto, gluten-free, and nut-free options. The dessert shop prides itself on using intentionally sourced ingredients in all its frozen treats and sweets, including non-homogenized, grass-fed, organic dairy and ethically and mindfully sourced chocolate, pure vanilla extract, and cane sugar.
For Flights of Flavor, Love’s is offering an ice cream flight featuring any five luscious flavors from its daily lineup of 16 for $7.95. Choose from the rotating selection of nearly 70 different traditional dairy ice creams or dairy-free gelatos in smooth, creamy flavors that range from the classic to the more creative. (Think chocolate coconut curry, whiskey fig, cardamom orange blossom, Mexican chili hot chocolate, and blood orange mango.) While you’re there, be sure to also pick up some of their artful chocolates and confections that are almost too pretty to eat.
The Mitten Brewing Company
There is quite possibly no better pairing for beer than pizza, so it stands to reason that “Beer City USA” would also be home to some top-notch pies. The Mitten Brewing Company is a vintage microbrewery and gourmet pizzeria that’s been around since 2012, the same year Grand Rapids was first christened “Beer City USA.” It now has three locations throughout Michigan, from nearby Saugatuck to the city of Northport on the Leelanau Peninsula (aka “Up North”).
The Mitten Brewing Company is offering both a beer flight and a pizza flight for Flights of Flavor. The beer flight allows guests to sample a selection of the nearly two dozen beers they have on draft, ranging from easy-drinking lower-ABV beers in a range of classic and modern styles to heavy-hitting IPAs and stouts, and plenty in between. Hungry patrons can also order a pizza flight, a sampler of any six of their specialty pizzas, including their rotating weekly special. Try the barbecue-centric “Hog Heaven” topped with pulled pork and chipotle barbecue sauce, or opt for something meat-free with the “Field of Greens” topped with pesto, mozzarella, and a pile of fresh veggies. (Vegan and gluten-free options are also available for all pizzas.)
One Bourbon, a nationally acclaimed whiskey bar on Grand Rapids’ Westside, has a selection of over 500 whiskies from all over the world, earning it the distinction of being named one of “America's Best Bourbon Bars” in 2022. The bar's slogan is “Beer City was missing the bourbon,” and it certainly filled in the gap. For Flights of Flavor, they’re offering the “Illusion of Control” cocktail flight plus a house-made biscuit board (you’ll need it to soak up all the bourbon).
You don’t have to be a bourbon drinker to enjoy One Bourbon or even to enjoy the cocktails. Their flight features four from-scratch signature cocktails made with a range of spirits: the Burnt Orange and Vanilla Old Fashioned (made with bourbon), Houdini’s Paloma (tequila), the Sakura Collins (Japanese whisky), and the extremely social media ready Honey Lavender Lemonade made with vibrant violet gin.
Railtown Brewing Company
Located in the picturesque town of Dutton just 20 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids, Railtown Brewing Company is a neighborhood hub. What started as a teeny-tiny taproom with no kitchen expanded into a brand-new, two-story facility with a full kitchen and spacious patio in just a few years thanks to overwhelming community support. If you haven’t made it over here yet, check it out and instantly become part of the Railtown family.
Railtown serves a full lunch and dinner menu and features 20 taps with beer, cider, seltzer, and wine — all hand-crafted on-site. For Flights of Flavor, Railtown is serving their new “Good Food, Good Mooed” flights, pairing three of their favorite beers (including the popular “Good Mooed” milk stout) with three brand-new snack-sized menu items, crafted to complement the flavors of their beer pairings. Their beerstagram/foodstagram game is strong and their beer can art is legit art, so grab a seat on the patio for that good diffused natural lighting and snap away.
Learn more about Flights of Flavor here.