Raven Brewing & BBQ
Well, we’re done in Traverse City this time, but still not back to Kalamazoo. Hang tight, just a few more blog posts and I’ve got one back in the area that this blog is actually named for.
First thing’s first though. Our trip home from Traverse City.
We checked out of Great Wolf Lodge at the last possible minute. L did one last craft in the lobby then we packed the car and headed south at about 11:45. We had all eaten breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts inside Great Wolf so we weren’t really hungry yet. We were just trying to get on the road and get home. It was a fun weekend, but also a very tiring one.
Not long after we got on the highway, J asked if there was a brewery along the way we could stop at for lunch. I mean, there’s still several in Grand Rapids I haven’t been to, but there’s also one in Big Rapids. One that does not only beer, but BBQ as well.
Raven Brewing & BBQ is in downtown Big Rapids on Michigan Avenue. It’s just to the north of Maple Street in the building that housed the beloved Pepper’s Cafe & Deli. The brewery is owned by the same people that own the Blue Cow next door. When Pepper’s closed, the Blue Cow bought the building, renovated it, and named their new brewery after the building’s original name. Raven.
We made it to Big Rapids a little after 1:00. We were lucky enough to find street parking right in front of the building, but there’s also a huge municipal parking lot behind the building.
We walked into a pretty amazing bar and were greeted right away by the one woman working the front of the house as hostess, waitress, and bartender. At the time, she only had one other table and a couple people at the bar, so it was a pretty slow Monday afternoon. She grabbed a couple of menus and took us to a booth not too far from the entrance. There’s also a row of large pub tables that run down the center of the space and some regular four tops…..but with the high chair, the leather backed booths were the best option for us.
The first thing you’ll notice at Raven is the bar. They’ve left a lot of the original brick and wood floors exposed creating a dark, but inviting atmosphere. There’s a huge “BEER” sign in lights that hangs above the bar which serves not only their own beers but a variety of Michigan craft beers and ciders as well. The beer menu is on a TV on either side of the bar just below the old punched tin ceiling tiles that contribute to the throwback atmosphere of the place.
First thing out of my mouth? You guys do flights? The answer was yes, so I picked four of their beers even though any beer on the board is available in the flight.
I started with a new one on tap at Raven. It’s called Spring RIPA. I had actually ordered a Strong Ale but that one had just been taken off, so the waitress offered me this one instead. Rye IPA’s are typically solid beers for me. It doesn’t have the fruity bitterness of the kind of IPA’s I like, but they have a much more complex flavor. This one was actually a good start to the flight even though it was an IPA…which I usually wouldn’t start with.
The second beer I picked up was the Raven Chocolate Stout. It was the first of two stouts that I chose and both had a silkiness yet distinctly different flavors. As the name implies, this one had a much richer, dark chocolate hint to the taste. It still had a little bit of a hoppy finish which rounded it out nicely.
I grabbed the other stout next. This one was the Raven Coffee Stout. Very similar to the chocolate stout, but instead of that smooth dark chocolate taste to the beer, this one was more coffee. I bet if you mix these two you’d get a wonderful new beer out of it. Damn…wish I had thought about that. They were both tasty on their own though which makes me think they’d be delicious together.
The final beer of my flight was the typical one for me. I chose the Passion Fruit IPA. Why? Because I like citrus-y IPA’s….and this was the only on the menu. They list it as an American IPA. It wasn’t the overpowering citrus flavor I was expecting, but still a solid, light IPA that’s easily drinkable.
J found an old favorite on the beer menu and went that route. Her selection was Blake’s Flannel Mouth. A solid cider that she has enjoyed many, many times.
Lunch got off to a little bit of a rough start. We picked a bad day to stop in to Raven because, well, their smoker was down. They had a little bit of meat left over from the weekend, but no brisket, no naked pulled pork and very little chicken. The only BBQ they had left was some pulled pork that had already been mixed with BBQ sauce. That really cut into what was available. Almost everything I was looking at had some kind of BBQ mixed into it, so that was a little disappointing. I was really hoping for a brisket sandwich, but I had to go looking for something else.
I chose The Burger. This simple sandwich is a half pound of house ground steak topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a Chipotle aioli. I wanted none of the toppings choosing instead to add on cheddar cheese and a fried egg….at $2 a piece. The sandwich is served on a house made brioche roll that was super soft and flaky. It did an amazing job of holding together the tender, juicy burger and the slightly runny egg. You can always tell when a place puts some extra effort in to making a good burger and Raven does. This burger was incredibly tasty.
The downside? The burger costs $14 and came with no side. No fries. No chips. No nothing. It was a great burger and I get that you pay a little more for great food, but a handful of chips couldn’t hurt too much. I didn’t realize when I ordered the sandwiches were a la carte. It didn’t say on the menu they weren’t so I shouldn’t assume.
While I felt a little cheated, J got exactly the opposite. She ordered the Pork Carnitos nachos. Whatever pulled pork they usually use they must not have had so the waitress asked if it was ok if they use the BBQ pulled pork. J didn’t care. She actually likes a lot of sauce on her pork.
This huge plate of nachos starts with a base of corn tortilla chips that is topped with five cheeses, corn, jalapeno, queso fresco, and an heirloom tomato salsa. The slow smoked pork is usually covered in a spicy vinegar BBQ sauce, but what J got was a much sweeter sauced pork.
The nachos were probably enough to feed two or three people. J had no chance at actually eating the whole thing herself. She gave B some of the corn and pork off her plate and shared a little with me, but we still ended up taking about half of the meal home for later.
L really wanted macaroni & cheese, but they didn’t have any so she had to get a grilled cheese instead. Like most kid’s meals, this one was pretty simple white bread with cheddar cheese in the middle. L was being L and didn’t want to eat, so I ate a little off her plate while convincing her to eat half. We gave some of my half to B as well and he seemed to really like it. I thought it was delicious.
Our bill for lunch was a little over $50 before tip. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I really felt a little cheated with a $14 burger. Everything else was fantastic. The beer was great. J’s nachos more than made up for what I felt was lacking with my sandwich. The space is awesome. It’s the kind of place that just looks like it’s fun to hang out at night. I just wish we had picked a day where they weren’t having smoker problems and we could have had more BBQ options to pick from.