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November 28, 2022

  • 155 W. Michigan Avenue
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49007
  • (269) 743-7038
  • Website
  • Menu

Date night! Man, do we need more of these. Good news, too. I finally writing a blog post for a restaurant in Kalamazoo. It’s been a while.

J bought us tickets to go see Whose Live Anyway show at the State Theatre as a Father’s Day Present. I used to watch that show all the time going all the way back to the Clive Anderson days when Comedy Central aired the shows that orginated for the UK’s Channel 4 in the 90’s.

The show was on a Sunday night and we asked Nana and Grandpa if they’d watch the kids for us so we could go. The kids both had ice skating that night so J and I got them to the rink, got skates on, and got them going with their coaches before heading downtown for dinner.

We hadn’t really talked about it but we both had an idea of where we wanted to go for dinner. A new restaurant just opened in the Exchange Building.

JungleBird is a new restaurant from Mark Sellers. You might not know the name but you know his restaurants. His most well known creation is HopCat which he eventually sold off. He also is behind Max’s South Seas Hideaway and Stella’s in Grand Rapids.

JungleBird is in The Exchange Building on Michigan Avenue near the intersection with Rose Street in downtown Kalamazoo. The restaurant is on the first floor of the multi-use commercial building facing Michigan Avenue. There’s an outside entrance from Michigan Avenue but there is also access to the restaurant from the lobby of The Exchange. The building does have it’s own parking garage but I never see the “Lot Full” light go off so you’re best to try to find something on the street in the area. If you’re there after normal business hours, the courthouse parking is usually pretty empty and a short half block walk to the the restaurant.

We were heading down for dinner around 6:00 on a Sunday night. We assumed we didn’t need reservations but we probably should have anyway. When we walked in, the hostess asked if we had made reservations and when we said no, she stared at her screen for a while trying to find a table. There were a couple of two seater pub tables open and a couple seats at the bar. She asked if that’d be ok. We were fine with either but took the pub tables. If you plan on going on a weekend, it’s probably best to make reservations.

The restaurant is really what you would expect from Mark Sellars. The decor has a Latin/Cuban theme. This was a brand new build out from an empty space so they had a blank pallet to work with. There are two levels of seating and both have their own bars. It didn’t look like they were using the upper level space whether that be because it’s a party space or they didn’t have the staffing, I don’t know. J said the thing that jumped out to her was the lighting. Sellars is so good at setting the mood with lighting in his restaurants. It’s soft enough that it gives the place a more intimate feel even though the high ceilings and concrete floor make it kind of loud.

The main bar is along the back wall on the lower level and it’s a centerpiece of the room. The spirit bottles are accentuated on the black wall with mirrors and lighting that make them pop. The design of the ceiling here leads in to archways the surround the shelves.

A night out with no kids and an emphasis on the cocktail menu means we were starting with drinks.

I picked the Rum Old Fashioned over a beer…mostly because I didn’t see a good beer list and I didn’t want to ask. I like Old Fashioneds anyway so it wasn’t too much of a compromise.

The Rum Old Fashioned is made with “One of Our Favorite Rums” (menu doesn’t say which one), demerara, and orange bitters. I still prefer a whiskey old fashioned but this was still really tasty. Rum isn’t really my thing but I don’t mind it every now and then. I always have to remember that the portion sizes are smaller with cocktails so I gotta sip slowly. Need to have some left for dinner.

J’s first drink is JungleBird’s signature cocktail. It’s called, simply, JungleBird.

The drink is Jamaican Rum (again, not sure which one), pineapple, lime, and Campari. J really liked this drink. It was a little more of a substantial drink with the fruit juices so she did not sip as slowly as I did.

The waitress working the bar area had a lot going on so when she came back with drinks, we asked if we could jump right in to putting in a food order.

The menu is pretty small but there’s a lot of deliciousness to choose from.

I was leaning between the Cuban Sandwich and the Little Havana Burger. I picked the burger which actually surprised J. She thought for sure I’d go for the Cuban.

The Little Havana Burger is an Angus beef and chorizo patty topped with shaved ham, red dragon cheese, tomato jam, house made pickles, shoestring potatoes, and and “mojo mayo.” The first thing you notice about this sandwich is the shoestring potatoes. This is something pretty popular in Caribbean sandwiches. I had a couple meals when we were in Puerto Rico that had these on them. The Tripleta Sandwich pretty famously uses. The meat on the sandwich is a mixture of spicy and salty deliciousness. There was so much going on with the meat and the potatoes that I didn’t notice much of the jam or the mayo. They were there and they added a bit of freshness to the sandwich but they are not something that is going to overpower the stars of the meal. The sandwich was served with some regular fries that were pretty heavy on the seasoning on the side in addition to the shoestring potatoes.

There wasn’t quite as much for J to choose from as she tends to stick to chicken sandwiches or salads without meat. The thing on the menu that jumped out to her right away was the Taco Platter.

The Taco Platter is three tacos each served with a choice of pulled pork or tinga chicken. She chose the chicken which was accompanied on the corn tortillas by cilantro, onion, and a queso fresco. The plate has the traditional rice and beans on the side along side a roasted salsa and a lime crema. The tacos were delicious. It’s a lot like what you’d get at any good taco stand but kicked up a notch. The beans were whole beans instead of a refried bean typical with Mexican food which J really liked. She ate two of the three tacos and gave the third to me knowing how much I love a good taco in a corn tortilla.

We probably should have called it a night at this point but we were without kids and J wanted dessert. It was about 6:45 at this point and our show started at 7:30. We figured we’d have enough time for another drink and a dessert.

We put in an order for a Caipirinia which the menu calls the national cocktail of Brazil. It’s made with cachaca, sugar and “lots of fresh lime.” The drink was recommended by our server so J rolled with it. Cachaca is kind of like rum but also not really. We were going to split this drink because we both planned to have a drink at the show. It was tasty but I was starting to get a little antsy with the time so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have and just kind of chugged.

We put in order for Churros after we saw the table next to us get them. We assumed, wrongly, they would come out pretty quickly and we could get out of there. It took about a half hour to get the churros so by the time we got them, it was kind of a competitive eating type of situation where we wanted to eat them, pay our check, and get to the theater. I say we ate quickly but we did take the time to enjoy them. The six churros come with an absolutely delicious spiced chocolate cremosa. J called it a better tasting Nutella. We were passing back and forth the little bowl of the chocolate and dipping churros.

The bill was… a lot. After tip, it was over $100 for the two of us. We could have went cheaper without the second drink and without the dessert but we rarely get out just the two of us so we went a little nuts. It was expensive but it was worth it.

JungleBird is a great addition to downtown Kalamazoo. It’s pretty similar in ambiance and menu to Brick and Brine across the street at the Radisson but the cocktails at JungleBird are far superior. Kalamazoo has either super fancy restaurants downtown or grab and go lunch options now that the Millennium Restaurants have left the mall. Having a place like JungleBird that creates great food based on popular bar food items is a welcome addition.

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