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ThunderBird River Ranch

February 6, 2023

  • 701 E. Michigan Avenue
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49048
  • (269) 888-7788
  • Website
  • Menu

We used to spend almost every Saturday morning/afternoon at Arcadia Ales in downtown Kalamazoo. The BBQ was fantastic and the laid back atmosphere and cafeteria style ordering made it really easy to handle with kids. J and I could get some BBQ and a beer or two and we didn’t really have to worry about bothering other people because the place is so big.

Four years or so after opening, they changed to a full service restaurant. We kind of stopped going. It took longer to get meals and the laid backness of the place kind of went away. We’d still meet people for drinks on the patio but we stopped going as often as we used to.

Not long after that, Arcadia Ales went in to bankruptcy. The brewery closed and the building sat empty for quite a while.

The building is back now. It’s not the same as it’s glory days. It’s still a full service restaurant but the charm and character of the place is still there. We decided to head down on a Saturday afternoon for lunch.

ThunderBird River Ranch opened earlier this year on Michigan Avenue just to the east of Kings Highway. The outside of the place hasn’t really changed much. They’ve covered up the Arcadia logos which were prominent features of the building but that’s really the only thing.

A lot of the inside is going to look familiar to those of us that remember Arcadia Ales. The main room is still the bar area. The layout hasn’t really changed. There are still garages doors that will open in the summer time to the beer garden and the space is filled with large pub tables. There is some new decor on the walls including a lot of taxidermy and some old Arcadia bottle labels used as wallpaper.

The bar hasn’t changed at all other than they now offer other types of beer. I should have taken a better look on my way past the bar to see what was on tap. I was never offered a tap list and there’s not one on the table or online that I could find quickly so I had to ask the waitress.

The back room, which used to be the cafeteria style food service area, is now a full on sit down dining room. There are a variety of table options with the four tops along the large glass windows looking out in to the beer garden.

Along the kitchen side of the restaurant are large circular booths. This is where the hostess put us.

Taxidermy is a pretty heavy theme throughout this space now. The kids were super impressed by the light fixtures in the dining room area. The one above us was made of moose antlers.

The menus were already on the table when we sat down so we started looking while the waitress put in our drink orders.

I had to have the waitress read me the tap list and I kind of tuned out after I heard Two Hearted. I’d really like to be able to look at what was there but since we were doing it this way, I went with something I know well and love.

They did have a cocktail menu on the back of the menus and J instantly found what she wanted. She picked The Mule which is made with Absolute, ginger beer, lime juice, and mint. J loves a good Mule and this was a good Mule.

I had a few options on the menu I wanted to try. I typically stick with a burger when I can’t decide and that’s what I did this time.

The burger on the menu is called Smash Burger. The sandwich is a smash burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, and Bronco sauce. There are also Sweet Hot Pickles served on the side. I took off the tomato and onion then added the pickles. The burger is a smash burger so it’s pretty thin. It’s a tasty burger but could use a little more size. The Bronco sauce is interesting. I always assume these are some kind of mayo based sauces. I didn’t really notice it which is a good thing when mayo is on a burger for me. The sandwich came with chips but I upgraded to fries. The fries are frozen skin on fries with a salt and pepper season added to them. I actually stole the Thunder Sauce my daughter got with her meal but I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.

Like a lot of people, J really took a liking to pickle pizza during the pandemic when that became a thing. ThunderBird offers a Pickle and Bacon pizza made with cheese, ranch dressing, bacon, and pickles. She really liked it and took about half of it home for another meal. I didn’t even ask for a bite but I’m not one of those people that likes this combination on pizza.

We were not offered a kids’ menu nor did we ask for one so not sure if there even is one. Our kids both saw something on the menu they would eat so we ordered them what they wanted.

L just wanted Soft Pretzel Sticks. That kid will eat just bread for every meal if she could. The appetizer comes with four large, soft pretzel sticks. It also comes with Beer Cheese and Thunder Sauce. The pretzel sticks were actually a good meal for her all things considered. She doesn’t eat very well at restaurants so we just get her what she wants. She loves pretzels and ate two and a half of these sticks before sharing the rest with everyone else. She didn’t use either of the dips but she never does. I took the Thunder Sauce which seemed to be some kind of spicy honey mustard. It was really good. I used it on my fries and even snuck a little on to my burger.

We also ordered for B off the appetizer menu. We got him the Cheesy Flatbread. This bread is their take on garlic bread. The flatbread is topped with mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and a lot of garlic. A. LOT. OF. GARLIC. I’m in the camp as no such thing as too much garlic. I really liked it and I ended up eating most of it at home later. There was a lot of garlic. B wasn’t a fan so I handed over some of my fries and L shared a pretzel stick with him. It all worked out and I got this delicious, garlicky bread for a afternoon snack.

Our bill for lunch was right around $75 before tip so it was not a cheap meal nor did we expect it to be.

ThunderBird River Ranch is a good replacement for Arcadia Ales. The guys in charge have years of experience between Grand Woods Lodge in Grand Rapids and Martini’s here in Kalamazoo so they know how run a successful restaurant. I’m not sure it’s a place we would take the kids again but it is a place we’d meet friends for drinks and a meal. Can’t wait until they have the beer garden open again this summer to see how that changes the dynamic of the place.

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