One place Cindy wanted to go during our trip to Western Michigan earlier this year was Grand Haven. Nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan, Grand Haven features one of the larger and most popular beaches in the state. It turned out that they were having the 24th annual Great Lakes Kite Festival that weekend. There was no place to park near the beach, so we ended up parking in downtown Grand Haven. After visiting a few shops, we decided to walk the 1.5 mile long Grand Haven Boardwalk out to the beach so Cindy could get some pictures.
It was a warm day and tons of people were on the beach or walking the boardwalk. The kite festival is obviously a big thing as a line of cars more than 3 miles long snaked their way through the streets of Grand Haven out toward the beach with the hope of being able to take a quick look at the dozens of colorful and unusual kites that were in the air that day. A very nice breeze coming off the lake made for a picture perfect day in Grand Haven. It was a long walk out to the beach and pier, but it was absolutely gorgeous.
After getting a few pictures and enjoying the day on the pier, we started back toward the downtown area. The walk back was a little less enjoyable than going out. The refreshing breeze that was in our face on the way out was to our backs coming back in. It was hot and we were getting tired. We'd had a hearty breakfast earlier in the morning, but it was around 3 p.m. and Cindy decided that she was getting hungry. There were a couple of small snack shacks along the boardwalk, but we decided to wait to eat when we got back downtown. We'd parked in a lot across from a place that we saw earlier in the day - The Kirby House - and decided to eat there. (See map) We were hot, tired, thirsty and hungry when we were seated around 3:30 p.m.
The Kirby House sits on the spot where the first permanent resident of Grand Haven - William Montague Ferry - built his house in the mid-1830's. Ferry, a Presbyterian minister, started the first church in the village, started the first bank and opened the first school - the Ferry Elementary School - which is still in existence today. In 1866, fire destroyed Ferry's house and the Kirby House hotel was built on the spot in 1873. In 1900, the hotel was bought by Henry Gildner and renamed the Gildner Hotel. The hotel was sold to Winston and A.J. Schuler just after World War II and the name was changed to the Schuler Hotel.
Eventually, Winston Schuler removed the original third floor off the building, then closed the hotel down in the mid-60's and turned the main floor into a restaurant. From the mid-60's until the late-80's, the restaurant went through a series of name changes before it was bought by restaurateur Greg Gilmore and became part of his company - Gilmore Collection - that oversees the operation of two dozen restaurants and entertainment facilities in Western Michigan. Tim Riley is the G.M. of the Kirby House and Andrew Sprite is its executive chef.
We were seated at a booth in the back of the spacious dining area and given menus. The dining room is sort of a mix between contemporary and old world architecture featuring a high ceiling with exposed ductwork with art deco lights hanging from the ceiling. They had brick walls that were covered with years and years of crayon graffiti. A large contemporary bar was at the front of restaurant. A small stage at the front of the bar/dining area stood in front of the large windows that looked out onto Washington Street. They also had a dining patio out back of the dining room. We inquired about sitting out there, but we were informed that it was full - even at 3:30 p.m. the dining area inside was well over half-full. We decided that we were hot enough from the walk back from the pier and sitting in air conditioning would help us feel better.
Since it was so late in the afternoon and we were going out for dinner that evening, we decided to eat light - salads were going to be the orders for us both. But then I saw a couple things on the menu that made me pause. They had a seared big eye tuna appetizer that was served with sesame seaweed and pickled ginger. Then I saw they had blackened mahi mahi fish tacos served with rice, cilantro, fresh avocado slices, a sweet corn and black bean salsa, feta cheese and lime cilantro aoili sauce. Uh oh... I'm a sucker for grilled fish tacos.
When our server, Britny, came back she asked if we had any questions. I wanted to know how many tacos came with the mahi mahi fish tacos. She said, "Three!" Cindy thought that was perfect - she could get a small dinner salad and eat one of the fish tacos and I could have the other two. Cindy asked Britny if they had any oil and vinegar dressing. Britny said, "We have an aged vinegar that we combine with olive oil." Cindy took that.
For drinks - Cindy got a tall UV Blue and lemonade, and I asked Britny if they had any of the Bell's Pale Ale available. She said, "No, I'm sorry. The only Bell's beer that we have is the Oberon Ale." I was finding that at many places in the area they only had the Bell's Oberon Ale available. And that was weird to me as the Bell's Brewery is located in nearby Kalamazoo. However, she said she did have the Founders Centennial IPA on tap. That was fine with me, but I do like the Bell's pale ale beers better.
It wasn't long before Britny brought out the fish tacos along with the small dinner salad for Cindy. She also brought a small plate for Cindy's taco. There was a load of fresh cilantro on the plate and I knew that I wouldn't be using it all, so I offered some to Cindy for her salad. She had me make up a taco with a chunk of the blackened mahi mahi, a chunk of avocado, the black bean and sweet corn salsa, some cilantro, feta cheese and then drizzled the lime cilantro aoili sauce on top. I made one up exactly as I did for Cindy and the taste was very good. The blackened spices on the mahi mahi had a nice little kick, but wasn't overpowering. The combination of the toppings went along well with the fish. It was fresh and light - perfect for a late lunch on a warm summer day. It was more than enough to tide us over before dinner that evening.
After lunch, Cindy remarked that she was happy we waited to eat lunch at the Kirby House rather than grab a quick snack or sandwich at one of the small little snack shacks along the way back from the Grand Haven pier. It appeared to be a very popular place and with the full menu they had to offer, I'm sure the Kirby House is a destination for many vacationers and inhabitants around the Grand Haven area. Britny took good care of us and we were very happy with the food. Grand Haven became one of our favorite Midwest places to visit on this trip and we hope to make it back sometime in the future.