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Beer O'Clock GR

It's 11.21am On Friday January 22 And It's Happy Hour Right Now at 3 Bars In GR

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Trattoria di Stagione: Proper Italian without a Trip to the Hinterlands

Julia Child famously said “anyone can make a bowl of pasta but it takes a skilled chef to put out a fine French meal.” The great writer was not a fan of Italian, which she considered to be lacking refinement, preferring a less rustic cuisine (though, in fairness, Child later changed her mind about this). The idea that Italian cuisine is a workhorse is not new. America has taken that to it’s logical extreme, of course, with the proliferation of pseudo-Italian preparations primarily served by busy parents and bad cooks — everything from dried pasta with canned sauce to what many American restaurants call (and I loosely refer to as) “pizza”.

Grand Rapids has no shortage of this. From the chain AmerItalian places to the lackluster spaghetti served by your mother-in-law, Italian as a cuisine is bastardized and poorly represented nearly everywhere. Until recently, getting excellent Italian in GR meant getting in the car and driving to the middle of nowhere to enjoy Amore — which is why I haven’t yet gone, despite the laudatory reviews. It’s just too damn far for dinner. I on a regular basis crave great Italian, in the city, accessible by something other than a 25-minute drive. Finally, the gods of handmade pasta have answered my entreaties: Trattoria di Stagione.

Located in the former Radix and Queens Pub building in Eastown (connected to Bombay Cuisine), the new eatery is joint venture between Bal, owner of Bombay Cuisine, and chef Dan Chudik, of the much-loved (and regrettably, shuttered) Tuscany Express restaurant in Cascade.

Chef Chudik describes the cuisine as “the seasonal cuisines of Italy[,]… sourcing local artisanal and imported products.” Indeed, the name in Italian means “Restaurant of the Seasons”. For our stop there, the Beer O’Clock team, Megan, Dan and I, went on the first night of Restaurant Week, and the place was packed. Far more people were talking, drinking and enjoying a bite than I had ever seen at the building’s previous incarnations, Radix or Queens Pub.

For those who have never been, Grand Rapids Restaurant Week challenges chefs to create 3-course prie fixe menu set at $25. Eateries all over the city participate, making it one of the most expensive and bloatiest weeks in the calendar for local food lovers. Trattoria did not disappoint.

Our first course, a timeless romaine salad with anchovy-heavy Classic dressing, was fabulous. Salty, a little fishy, tangy — right on. We also enjoyed two excellent pastas: a house ravioli with creamy tomato sauce and pasta with pan sauce and pancetta. Am I doing them justice in the description? No, but I’m not a food writer, and all I can say is they were stupidly delicious. The first bite of ravioli caused much eye rolling at our table, and possibly some noises that made other diners slightly uncomfortable. We capped the whole thing off with a grab-the-side-of-the-table-so-you-don’t-fall-off-in-your-bliss lemon cake. I’m not always a huge fan of citrus desserts, but this one was damn near a perfect sweet, and this coming from a guy whose mother is a professional baker and has had some of the best.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this a bar site? Don’t you review places at which to drink? Yes, we are, and yes, we do. So how would Trattoria be to drink at?

No. Fucking. Clue.

Honestly, I was so completely enamored of the food that I forgot to actually do my job. So, off the cuff, here’s what I gathered while I wasn’t covering my body in pan sauce and grunting like a rutting wildebeest:

  1. They have beer, and I enjoyed washing down my food with it. They have a good drink list, with local beers and fancy cocktails. They will also make a negroni, which you should be sucking down like Anthony Bourdain in Rome. It’s worth a visit just to try one if you haven’t.
  2. They have a bar. One would assume that you can drink at it, were you so inclined.
  3. The wine list looks good, but we here at Beer O’Clock only know that we like to drink it, not what makes it good, so…. yeah.
  4. It has happy hour specials — I know because they are written on napkin smeared with my tears of joy.  M0nday-Friday from 4-6PM, half off drafts, glasses of wine, well drinks, and small plates.  Not too shabby.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that Trattoria is a place that one goes to enjoy the fine things. It’s not somewhere that I would go to get a cheap beer. I wouldn’t stop in after work to have a few pints with my buddies and talk loudly and obnoxiously about my workday. I would discourage you from doing that also. It’s too good for that. It deserves better.

It deserves you in a something other than a ripped t-shirt and those pants with the hole in the crotch. It deserves better than you getting shitfaced and knocking over a bar stool on the way to sully the bathroom. It deserves your attention. It deserves your time. But most of all, it deserves your appreciation.

Trattoria is something special. Treat it as such.