-The 3rd Blog Entry In Our Grand Rapids, Michigan Emerging Concept Tour Series
Move over BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, pack it in Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and watch the wine club memberships deplete like the 1929 stock market Coopers Hawk Winery! The Barstillery has arrived! Let's all give a warm welcome to Flatlanders micro-distillery restaurant. The latest to join the micro-brewery, micro-winery, micro-roaster, micro-juicing restaurant trend.
During our recent tour of emerging Michigan restaurant concepts, an old high school friend turned us on to this self proclaimed "Hillbilly Chic" hipster magnet. Built in a former lumber yard, there is no lack of texture and symbolism to get you in the mood to toss back some fine hooch, shine, specialty cocktails, bourbon aged brews and even flights of spirits for the adventurous with a DD in tow we hope.
That all being said (Yes, we will get to the part about whether the shine was fine...), Flatlanders gets it mostly right with truly tasty vittles even hill folk with a partial set would tell their spouse/cousin about. Lots of local, of course, including a selection of sausages from the micro-butcher next door, beer cheese poutine on hand punched fries, expected/welcomed Flatlanders BBQ Bourbon pulled pork and Sweet Potato Hobo Pie for dessert to name a few.
A number of our picks are shown below. A must have are the Devil's Eggs served over sriracha and garnished individually with a jalapeno slice. Tasty, with a nice sharp heat balanced by the creamy egg yolk. Next up, Sweet Potato & Apple Hush Pups. Of course they are healthy, they have sweet potatoes in them right? They are even extra heart friendly with the accompanying brown butter sage dip. Continuing the hillbilly fusion menu flow was their apparently seasonal fall favorite Fried Chicken & Pumpkin Waffles with bourbon syrup. Not sure if the chicken and waffles were the best, but you could pour that bourbon syrup on a carburetor your eyes would still roll back in your head from the savory, sweet, liquory (That's a word right?) wonderful coating of your taste buds.
Opportunities? Possibly off track from the hillbilly fusion theme were Mahi-Mahi fish tacos? What's up with that? Buffalo shrimp? Then there is the uninspiring salad section and glaring lack of theme appropriate sausages like Cajun, Andouille, wild boar, we could probably think a few more up if we took 10 seconds...I mean work with us here Flatlanders you have to nail this sausage thing.
How were the spirits? It is a Barstillery after all. They are locally distilled using Flatlander recipes, but not distilled on-site. Who cares. 4 our of 5 were amazing! Especially, the bourbon. It is clearly their signature product being featured first on the menu in a non-alphabetical top to bottom list. Gin is at the bottom of the list, as it should be, after tasting a flight and a few cocktails. With the surging popularity in botanical gin, they may want to work on this one. We were thinking of continuing with the Michigan theme on the Gin with one called "Ole White Pine" (A nod to the great indigenous conifer that is also the state tree of the mitten shaped state and the pleasing pine needle aroma that some gins can bring to the party.) which has been a proven road driven by Rogue with their popular Oregon made Pink Spruce Gin. The bourbon on the other hand, don't touch the recipe!
As expected, a signature Flatlanders spirits cocktail selection rounds out the menu. In particular, the Mayberry Manhattan, Mississippi Mule and the Oh Canada with maple syrup, cream liqueur, fresh cream and a maple sugar rim made for a comfortable fall evening experience.
Additional revenue is driven through off-premise sales at local retailers where the liquor line-up can also be found helping prove the promise, drive trial, solidify fans and grow the higher level brand.
Finally, nice work on broadening the concept with a week of barrel aged beers during Whisky Fest. The Saugatuck BA Bonfire Brown beer was exceptional after being aged in Flatlanders bourbon barrels for a limited run.
So foodie friends, restaurant experts and stumblers upon this rambling blog does a Barstillery restaurant have more speed to market than a three legged hillbilly hound? Can it play in Austin, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco metros and still find room to play in the burbs for scale? Should BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, Yardhouse, Old Chicago and others strike now with their own self-stilled shines before these micro-newbies like Flatlanders, Park Distillery and Bardenay (Who now has three locations and claims to be the nations first restaurant distillery.) steal their mash and customer base?