A downtown Beacon

Beacon Corner Bar attempts tough concept; increases seafood options in GR

Grand Rapids is not flush with seafood spots.

Leo’s is a longtime staple downtown and for years Charley’s Crab kept diners happy on the banks of the Grand River before its demise during COVID-19. For a vibrant downtown dining scene, that’s probably not enough. Now, however, seafood options are starting to pop up from seasoned restaurant groups in the area.

The owners of The Chop House recently opened Real Seafood Co. on Monroe Avenue. But first, on New Year’s Eve, the owners of San Chez-A Tapas Bistro opened Beacon Corner Bar, 38 W. Fulton St. The same group also owns Roam by San Chez Bistro, 250 Monroe Ave. NW. Beacon’s location also once was San Chez Café, a casual offshoot of the keystone downtown restaurant that offered some fun breakfast options for downtown workers.

With the lack of seafood options in Grand Rapids, the Beacon Corner Bar concept is brilliant. The casual spot across the hall from San Chez, which was named among GR Mag’s best restaurants earlier this year, offers a menu that can turn heads. A place to grab a seafood boil is not commonplace in the lake-enclosed Mitten State. And that’s because it’s hard to pull off.

Beacon Corner Bar describes itself on its website as “coastal sea and land fare” and comes in part inspired by owner Cindy Schneider’s youth in Long Island, New York.

“We were just coming up with different ideas for restaurants; what does Grand Rapids not have?” said Nolyn Schneider, son of owners Dan and Cindy Schneider. “We don’t have a lot of really good seafood. We wanted to provide amazing seafood, but not white-tablecloth style.”

The unbuttoned approach to seafood is certainly welcomed.

“Casual and fun,” Schneider said. “I’ve never imagined doing a seafood boil in a suit and tie.”

That boil is what the restaurant would, at least partially, like to hang its hat on.

“We want to knock the boil out of the water,” he said.

Hoping to pull off a casual atmosphere and an unforgettable seafood boil is admirable, but it’s tough to pull off in Michigan. The boil is tasty and packed with spices, but the prices are potentially prohibitive for many. That’s the challenge in a Midwestern state — securing a pot of fresh seafood at a price point friendly to a crowd. Pricing is a challenge for every restaurant and business right now, so it’s certainly not the fault of Beacon, but it can give way to sticker shock for a group of diners heading in for a casual dinner.

The seafood boil at Beacon starts at “Skipper,” a $60 serving of potatoes, corn, onions, shrimp, mussels and biscuits. The $80 “First Mate” adds clams and sausage. The $120 “Captain” adds crab legs and artichokes.

The First Mate, with a half-pound add-on of snow crab ($35), could adequately feed two hungry adult men.

Additional add-ons are available, ranging from $10 to $20 for more mussels, clams, sausage or shrimp.

Again, the price is not the fault of the restaurant, but it can run counterintuitive to the casual approach Beacon hopes to pull off — which the ownership does wonderfully and affordably down at Roam, with its incredibly creative menu of street food items from across the globe.

It’s also important to note rising costs are becoming an issue across the board as people begin to watch their wallets and dine out less.

There are other features to Beacon that perhaps are a better focal point than the seafood boil. Beyond the boil, the Beacon menu has plenty of mouthwatering selections at reasonable prices.

There is a nice array of baskets, including coconut shrimp, fried oysters, Uncle Joe’s fish bites (walleye), brown butter perch and chicken tenders. The baskets range from $10 for the coconut shrimp to $19 for the perch.

Hand-held features include a pastrami sandwich, catch of the day and a smash burger that looks as though it could be among the best burgers in Grand Rapids. The $22 lobster roll can be ordered Maine style or Connecticut style.

The Corner Bar aspect of the name really shows off with the restaurant’s happy hour, which is 2-5 p.m. weekdays, during which wine and beer are half off and cocktails are $2 cheaper, bringing them to $12. Food during the special time includes $2 oysters on the half shell, $9 whitefish dip and $12 peel-and-eat shrimp.

The drinks are a creative way the restaurant taps into the ocean theme. The beers are well curated to go with the seafood and generally priced reasonably, especially the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale’s $3.25 price tag.

“We have fun cocktails, some tart, some sweet, great beer and wine, pairs really well with everything on the menu,” Schneider said. “We took a lot of inspiration from everywhere.”

Lunch also seems like a good time to frequent Beacon Corner Bar, with a great selection of features coming in around $14, including an oyster po’ boy, fried perch sandwich, and a sausage and pepper hoagie.

An interesting component of building the menu was figuring out how to get products to Michigan (certainly a key piece to the high price on the boil). One quirk Schneider pointed out while discussing fresh seafood products beyond figuring out the seasonality was live crawfish. They cannot be shipped into Michigan live because they are so invasive and there is a Department of Natural Resources rule against it.

Beacon Corner Bar is still in its first several months of operation, so it’s ironing out the kinks. The concept is top-notch, particularly to fill a niche of seafood — especially the casual type — downtown. Unfortunately, it’s insanely hard to pull off what Beacon set out to do at an approachable price.

This story can be found in the May/June 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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