Monelli’s Italian Grill & Sports Bar – Portage
It’s been a while since we just went out for lunch on a weekend. It seems like all of our weekends lately have been fast food, pizza, carry-out or traveling somewhere. Admittedly, it’s a little harder with two kids now, but for the most part, they’re pretty good at restaurants. B is getting to where he can start gumming some of our food, but for a while there, we had to hold him while trying to eat. We’ve finally hit the high chair stage and that makes dining out a little easier on us.
I’ve been wanting to try the new sports bar in Portage since it opened a couple of months ago. After a major meltdown at the Tanger Outlets last Saturday, J promised L that she could pick out a toy if she could keep it together all week and not throw a fit at bed time which had become a common occurrence. L lived up to her end of the bargain, so J was ready to live up to hers. I suggested we head to Portage for lunch and if she was good through that, we’d hit up Toys R Us for her reward.
Monelli’s Italian Grill & Sports Bar has been open since the end of May on Westnedge Avenue just to the south of Romence Road. It’s actually really close to Texas Roadhouse and when we were using a gift card there last month, I longingly looked down at the full parking lot at the new restaurant. This location in Portage is the second for Monelli’s. They also have a Grand Rapids area restaurant in Wyoming on Byron Center Road near Metro Hospital which opened in February.
We pulled in to the parking lot off Westnedge just after 11:00 and had an “oh crap” moment wondering if they were open. There were no cars out front, but once we turned in, we noticed a couple of cars along the side of the building. There’s also a huge parking lot in the back. The front of the building, where the patio is, is a pretty small lot with a few spots for carry-out which has a separate entrance right next to the large patio. The main entrance to the restaurant is actually on the south side of the building which you’ll see if you drive to that back lot.
The restaurant is quite large and they have a large waiting area right inside the door near the hostess station. There are three dining options and we really had our pick of any of the three. There was only a couple of other tables when we walked in, but that would start to change as our lunch progressed.
The dining room and bar area are separated with the bar being a large, open, high-ceilinged room with large TV’s mounted about seven feet off the ground all the way around. There are a large number of booths and tables mixed in to this space with a large U-shaped bar along the back wall. The dining room was a little more cozy, but still had that high-ceiling which makes the room look really big.
We passed on both of those options and went for the patio instead. L had requested it and it was a nice enough day so we figured why not. The patio is a mixture of high-tops and regular tables with ample shade. We took one of the low tables along the wall next to the wait station to stay out of the sun and it actually made things a little chilly. It was actually a perfect day to be outside and enjoy some drinks.
The beer list at Monelli’s is pretty great. They have a large selection of craft beers (52 taps to be exact) including a number of beers I haven’t seen in Michigan before. I actually ordered a Hardcore Chimera from Finch Beer Company. I’ve had beer from Finch in Chicago before but I have never seen in the Kalamazoo area. Hardcore Chimera is a double IPA that’s very drinkable. I found it a little hoppy, but in a good way. A little bit of citrus and a little bit of pine go along with those hops to give a delicious, but pretty average flavor as far as Imperial IPA’s go.
J asked about cider’s and they did have a couple on the menu. She passed on those and ordered the White Sangria instead. The simple drink is white house wine, brandy, juice, and fresh fruit. Like I said, it was a nice day to sit outside on the patio and drink and this was the perfect drink to do just that with.
The menu at Monelli’s is quite large. They are both an Italian restaurant with pizza and past dishes as well as a sports bar with sandwiches and salads. I always like trying lasagna from Italian places, but it was the sports bar part of the menu that won me over.
They don’t have a huge burger section, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ones they do have. I chose the Cheddar Bacon Burger over the Bleu Cheese Burger. That’s not something you see me do often, but I was going for simple this time.
The Cheddar Bacon Burger is an eight ounce grilled Angus beef patty topped with cheddar cheese and bacon. The burger is served on a Brioche bun and this was actually the highlight of the sandwich for me. First off, the burger was delicious. It was juicy with slight hint of pink in the middle and the bacon was nice and crispy. The bun, however, was soft, flaky, buttery, and had a slight grill mark from where it was toasted. I think you could have put almost anything on this bun and it would be tasty.
The sandwich came with Brew City Steak Fries which I find a little disappointing. I have nothing against Brew City Fries, but for a place that makes so much from scratch, using a food service fry seems wrong. The fries are battered and crispy, but don’t stand on their own very well. That didn’t stop me from eating them and it didn’t stop me from giving a couple to B, but something cut and fried fresh would have made this a much better meal.
J already had a salad on her mind when we walked in and she was excited to see a list of delicious salads on the menu. She chose the Spinach Salad. In addition to the obvious spinach, this salad had dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts, feta cheese, and pancetta bits. The dressing that came with it was a balsamic vinaigrette. Monelli’s has the option to add protein on to any salad for an additional charge ranging from $2.50 for chicken to $5 for steak, shrimp, and salmon. J declined on all those and took the salad how it was. She said it was a delicious, fresh meal and exactly what she was hoping to get when we sat down for lunch.
We let L pick her own meal again and while she tried to pick Mac ‘n Cheese, we pointed out there was a pepperoni pizza on the kids menu. To our relief, she chose the pizza when the waiter came over to take our order.
The pizza is a small, maybe 6″, fresh made thin crust pizza with a sweet pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. L ate about half of the pizza then J and I swooped in to finish it off. We both expected just take a bite, but the pizza was quite tasty with it’s crispy, thin crust and the sweet sauce. We’re both looking forward to a return trip where we actually order a pizza.
Our bill for lunch was just under $40. Monelli’s Italian Grill & Sports Bar is really a fast casual, chain-like restaurant, but the menu and atmosphere is so much better than that. We are already talking about taking my parents there the next time they are in town just because the food is so delicious and it’s a nice, relaxed atmosphere that we don’t mind taking the family. I don’t know what the plans are regarding expansion of this concept, but I know right now, it’s one we wish was on the west side of town. We’d end up doing carry-out a lot. For now, it’s a place we’ll keep on the back burner when we’re in Portage.