Bell’s Eccentric Cafe
You know, if I keep doing this long enough, I’m going to have to keep writing new blog posts for restaurants I’ve already been to. Things change and it’s not really fair not to update. I’ve already done a couple of new ones in the past, but this will mark the first time that I have written about the same restaurant three times.
What restaurant could that be? Oh, one of my favorites. One that grows on me more every time I go there. One that never disappoints. One that could only be Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.
The reason for my update from my last blog post on Bell’s in 2013 is a big overhaul to the way the cafe operates. On our very first visit to Bell’s after moving to Kalamazoo 2009, I commented on the ordering system being tricky. That didn’t change for the 2013 post, but the food did….so I reblogged. Now, two years later, a lot has changed. That ordering system has changed. The food has changed. Heck, even the dining room has changed.
The Eccentric Cafe is still in the same place. It’s at the original brewery on the corner of East Kalamazoo Avenue and Porter Street in the Central Business District. The entrance is still on the Porter street side and parking the parking lot is still pretty small. They do, however, have a couple of overflow lots at a wharehouse building on Willard Street between Porter and North Pitcher plus they have an unpaved lot where The Emporium Antique store used to be.
My mom and dad were in town for my birthday and, since it was my birthday, I got to pick dinner. I didn’t hesitate. Bell’s has kind of become the yearly go-to for a birthday meal. I can get a flight and everyone else can enjoy delicious food.
J had an appointment at the salon so we met her downtown after that was done. She parked in the lot off Willard and we met her back there and walked up to the cafe. There was a little bit of worry because all of the parking lots were pretty full already. I had back-ups but was still hopeful I wouldn’t need to use them.
The big difference in the Eccentric Cafe is that they now offer table service. In the past, you always either ordered at the kitchen window or the bar. They gave you a buzzer and you picked up your food when you were done. It was confusing the first time we were there, but once we figured it out, we came to like this set-up. The table service was going to be something new.
The hostess stand is in the front entryway that separates the bar and the beer garden. I told the host we had five people. he asked L if she wanted to help and handed her the menus and beer list then he showed us to a table in the new dining room. They converted office space into a large, spacious dining area. The original bar area is still a first-come, first-serve area and they’ve expanded the bar to take up space where the kitchen used to be.
We were taken to a table near the back of the space that over looked the main parking lot. On the way in, I grabbed a sampler paper and a pen and went to work filling it out. To my surprise, my dad was looking over the beer menu for something to drink. He kept asking questions and I eventually told him that he would probably like the lager if it was on the menu. I was thinking Lager of the Lakes, but they only had Bell’s Lager. It’s been a while since I’ve had that one, so I couldn’t tell him what it tasted like. He tried it and seemed to enjoy it. He told me, jokingly I think, it tasted like a Schlitz.
At last year’s birthday dinner, I’m pretty sure the flight boards were six beers. This year, it was only four, so I decided to make the most out of my four selections.
The first beer was something I never would have selected if there wasn’t a story behind it. I chose Andrews’ Ale to kick things off. It’s an ESB, but the story behind it is the interesting piece. The beer is fermented in 100 year old Stroh Brewing Company wooden tanks. The beer is made with Chevallier which is an extremely rare type of barley from England. Bell’s was one of only a handful of breweries to get their hands on this particular malt. Again, ESB’s aren’t really my thing. I enjoyed this and would drink it again though.
My second beer was something I’ve never had from Bell’s before. A sour. It’s called L’Appel Du Vide Saskatoon. Sours and I have a weird relationship. Sometimes I’m all for them. Sometimes I just can’t stomach it. Luckily, this was an “all for them” time. The beer had a funky beery taste to it and was just delicious. It’s a session sour ale with Saskatoon berries included. I thought it was pretty solid. I’m not an expert on these types of beers…just kind of a knew when I like them kind of thing.
The last two beers are the ones I was really excited for. Beer #3 was Double Two Hearted. As the name implies, it’s a Double IPA and everyone knows that two is better than one and in this case…..it’s still true. I love Two Hearted Ale. It’s my go-to whenever I’m just looking for something to drink or take to parties. Double Two Hearted has a huge hops flavor that just sort of punches you in the mouth. It’s not as citrus-y as Hopslam, but the citrus and pine flavors are there and really shine though of this huge 11.5% ABV DIPA
The last beer is a brother to the beer that just about knocked me out at The Funvitational. Larry’s Stupid Quadrupid IPA Citrus. This massive beer (15.1% ABV) burned the whole way down and that’s what I loved about it. It was a more intense, more concentrated version of something like a 120 Minute IPA or Devil Dancer. I know I couldn’t drink a lot of these, but I would pay good money to get a couple of these in bottle form.
With the beer all situated, we moved on to dinner. The menu at the new cafe is vastly different from the old. The food is still the locally sourced, upscale pub food you would expect from a brew-pub like Bell’s, it just takes on a different form than it did before the renovation. Before, we used to go to Bell’s for the BBQ. That had amazing pulled pork, smoked chicken, and smoked brisket. They still have some of those things, but it’s not at the forefront of their menu like it used to be.
We started with the Soft Pretzel Bites for the table. My mom gets these almost anytime she sees them on a menu now. They’re seasoned like an Everything bagel and served alongside a Third Coast rarebit. There was enough for all of us to have one with me somehow ending up with two. The consensus at the table was not at all a consensus. Some of us liked them. Some did not. I was on the like side. They appeared to be spent grain pretzels which I enjoyed. The rarebit could have used a little more flavor, but all-in-all, it’s a solid appetizer.
I got what I finally wanted from Bell’s. A delicious burger. On the menu, it’s simply titled “Burger.” It comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, choice, of cheese, and Russian dressing on a brioche bun. I left the dressing off and added bacon and a fried egg to the delicious grass fed beef. The fried egg came out with a very soft yolk, almost sunny side up. It added another dimension of flavor to the already tender, juicy, incredibly delicious burger.
For the side, I chose the fries. This is something else the “old” Bell’s
Both my dad and J ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich. This is what J always got at the “old” Bell’s. It’s slowed smoked pork shoulder topped with Motown BBQ sauce, and slaw (it was actually served on the side), The sandwich is served on a Brioche bun alongside fries, German potato salad, or dressed greens. Both my dad and J enjoyed the sandwich. My dad is not like me. He does not like dry BBQ like I do so the fact this was covered in a thick, sweet sauce was right up his alley. Both of them got fries which were the same fresh made shoestring fries I got with my sandwich.
My mom actually picked my backup meal. She chose the Brisket Dip. This delicious looking sandwich is smoked brisket, Piquillo peppers, horseradish sauce, Muenster cheese served on a baguette with a side of Au Jus. Just looking across the table, this looked really delicious. The brisket was very tender and the bread was softened with the Au Jus. My mom likes a little bit of the gravy on her sandwiches, but she doesn’t like them dripping wet. Putting the Au Jus on the side lets her control how much moisture the sandwich gets. My mom chose the German potato salad for the side. The red potatoes were cut in to cubes and covered in what looked to me like a spicy stone ground mustard. It was a little on the spicy side for her.
We let L pick her dinner and she chose a quesadilla off the kids menu. The flour tortilla is filled with cheese (and chicken if you want it…L didn’t) and served alongside salsa. As I’ve mentioned a couple times in the past, eating has been a struggle with our three year old recently and this meal was no different. We got her to eat about half and some of the delicious french fries. It wasn’t because of taste. Both J and I had a little bit of it ourselves. We’re just going through that power struggle right now over eating.
The bill for our meal was about $88 but $20 of that was my beer alone. J and I have held off going to the revamped Bell’s after some early reviews from friends didn’t come back so great. The two things I heard a lot were “it’s expensive” and “it’s too loud.” “Expensive” is subjective depending on who you are. Personally, I don’t think it’s that outrageous. The food is locally sourced and prepared fresh in house. At least with my meal, I did not feel as though the pricing was outrageous. Yes, it’s higher than most pubs, but Bell’s is going for something a little more upscale here and the food reflects that. J, on the other hand, thought her sandwich was the same as we used to get at the “old Bell’s” yet it cost quite a bit more than that sandwich did. As for the “it’s loud,” Yes, it’s loud. It was a little tough to have a conversation, but on the bright side, we didn’t have to worry about L being too loud and disturbing the tables around us.
My opinion of Bell’s hasn’t changed. There are positives and negatives with this new space, but all-in-all, I enjoyed my meal and will always love the beer. Just in the six years we’ve been in Kalamazoo, we’ve seen Bell’s grow and reinvent themselves so many times. This new Eccentric Cafe just puts them on another level when it comes to beer in Michigan.