Founders Brewing Company
Going to Grand Rapids on my day off. That’s crazy talk. Yeah, I know, but I had a really good reason to go. J and I had been planning on going together since my meeting came up. She could drop me off, do some shopping, then we could go to lunch at one of the many, many places on my Grand Rapids list.
After I was done with the aforementioned meeting, J picked me up and we started heading back towards the south side of town for lunch. I had narrowed it down to either a place on Wealthy Street or Founders Brewing. She let me decide. I chose Founders.
Founders Brewing Company is on Grandville Avenue SW right next to the Rapid Transit Center to the south of downtown Grand Rapids. They have a really, really cool building. I wish I knew what the former use was. For some odd reason, it looks like an old post office to me, but I’m probably way off.
There’s a small, narrow parking lot in the front right off Grandville. That lot was full so I parked on the street at a meter. The entrance is up a short flight of stairs on to a concrete patio that, in warmer weather, is open to the inside of the building via large garage doors that run the length of the patio area.
The taproom is a large open room with hardwood floors and a beautiful exposed beam ceiling. I was shocked to walk in at a 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and see most of the tables full. I noticed a four top open quite a ways from the door alongside the glass garage doors that open to the outdoor patio.
The bar runs along the back wall opposite the garage doors. Another really cool feature is the stage on one end of the taproom that has windows into the production brewery.
As with most breweries, we couldn’t figure out how to order. There is a window near the kitchen that says “Order Here” but it was closed and there were servers running around to the other tables. We sat down and waited. A waiter came over and asked about drinks. They didn’t have a drink menu anywhere except on a chalkboard hanging above the bar. Since I’m not really familiar with Founders, I would have really liked a menu with descriptions. My gut said order the IPA, but I ordered the Pale Ale instead. J did the same and we were both really happy with it. There was a slight sweetness to it and just a bit of a citrus flavor.
While we were deciding on drinks, the waiter grabbed a couple menus off a nearby table for us. The problem is, when he brought back the beers, he didn’t take our order. We sat there for fifteen minutes wondering if we were doing something wrong. All of a sudden, all of the servers disappeared. Finally, someone came over near us and we asked how to order. She told us the window would open up at 3:00 and we could put an order in there….or we could put in an order with a server before then…but she didn’t offer to take or order or go find a server….so we waited some more. Finally, another waitress came over and asked if we had ordered yet. We said no and she took our order.
The menu at the Founders taproom is gourmet sandwiches and french bread pizza. The decision was tough, but I went with a sandwich called Devil Dancer. This sandwich starts with a French Roll from Nantucket Bakery that is stuffed full with roasted chicken, muenster and pepper jack cheeses, jalapeno, chipotle, and banana peppers, red onion, and chipotle mayo. The menu warns that the sandwich is hot and it was. The combination of the three peppers was crazy. I can’t think of any other sandwich I’ve had anywhere that puts whole chipotle’s right on the sandwich. I decided to leave the mayo on because I’ve found recently that I don’t mind chipotle mayo nearly as much as I do regular mayo. The thing is, I didn’t even know that it was there. The first few bites, I was thinking, “damn, this is tame,” but by the end, my mouth was on fire and we all know beer is not the way to cool your mouth. Still I chugged that IPA hoping for some sort of relief. Even with the heat, the sandwich was fantastic. In fact, I really like the combination of the three peppers and I loved the bread. It was a nice crunchy bread that held up well to everything going on between the slices.
J ordered what was going to be my original choice. She got the Backwoods Bastard which is pulled pork that is doused in a BBQ sauce featuring Founders Dirty Bastard then topped with Colby Jack cheese and coleslaw. It’s served on a Ciabatta roll also from Nantucket. While we were eating, it was hard for me to tell if she liked it or not. The sauce is not the sweet sauce that she typically enjoys. It was much more of a vinegar-y sauce. The pork destroyed the bread. The hearty Ciabatta became really soft under the pile meat. It was hard for her to pick up and there was too much bread for her to actually get it in her mouth, so she ate it open faced with a fork.
As I was finishing up eating, a third waitress came over and asked if we were doing all right. J was smart enough to speak up and ask for our check at this point even though she had a few bites left.
The bill came out to exactly $23. As we were sitting there, J was saying it’s a really good thing we don’t live in Grand Rapids. There are so many great restaurants and Founders is one of them. I was very happy with my lunch and cannot wait to go back to order it again. I think J was kind of on the fence, but she did say later she enjoyed it and really liked the restaurant.
Founders Brewing is a really cool, comfortable space. The food is fantastic and I love that they focus on the gourmet sandwiches. There’s a pretty funny disclaimer on their menu that they are not a fast food restaurant. Everything is made from scratch to order and they suggest that if you’re in a hurry, to go to a fast food joint down the street. That would be a mistake. Good beer. Good food. Good atmosphere. We were a little bummed about the confusion and lack of service in the beginning, but the meal was not a total disaster. Founders is definitely a place I would love to hang out at a lot more….so it probably is a good thing, for my wallet, that we don’t live in Grand Rapids.