A new groove

Restaurant strikes balance between breezy and elevated with revitalized concept.

When East Hills favorite Grove, owned by Essence Restaurant Group, reopened this past spring, it was nearly unrecognizable from its former self.

And that was the exact intent after a two-year hiatus.

Grove’s pandemic-induced time away from the Grand Rapids food scene was intentional, grounded in the desire to reinvent itself with nothing to remain the same, from the chairs at the bar to the revamped menu.

Where moody booths and carpeted floors once presided, now there is overflowing bright light from large windows that illuminate reeded light wood accents. Walls lined with greenery fill the space, giving it a refreshing feel reminiscent of outdoor patios with fresh, Scandinavian design.

While contradicting its former self aesthetically, Grove has stayed true to its modern, progressive expertise serving up premium culinary experiences to Grand Rapids.

When Grove originally opened in 2011, it was designed to be a “chef’s playground,” said Hillary Edwards, Essence managing director. With the novel concept of farm-to-table cuisine, Grove tapped local farmers and fresh ingredients, prioritizing creativity and freedom in the design of the restaurant, as proven to this day.

“It’s really a space out of the group (of Essence restaurants) where we can push the boundaries and take risks,” Essence Executive Chef Jeremy Paquin said.

With this dynamic and ever-changing philosophy, Grove always has been open to change, evolving to best fit seasonality and new culinary explorations. However, nothing had prepared them to evolve quite as much as when the pandemic hit in early 2020.

Forced to close their doors, Grove took the uncertainty and apprehension of the pandemic and reframed it as an opportunity to reassess what the restaurant’s next chapter could be. The past two years have completely changed the restaurant industry, and Paquin said it was a blessing in disguise to slow down.

“We worked on the menu for six weeks and played with food. You rarely have an opportunity like that. Most restaurants don’t have that gap and time to think about (reinventing themselves),” Paquin said.

In summer 2021, the Grove team traveled to leading foodie cities like New York and Chicago to conduct research on what markets were doing at the tail-end of pandemic lockdowns. As Paquin pointed out, restaurants and menus have evolved to be much more experimental and inventive. “We were inspired and noticed that people weren’t eating like that in Grand Rapids. We thought about how they would want to eat moving forward.”

Grove’s renewed approach offers boundary-pushing dishes with quiet assurance, reflected in its distinguished new menu, which has evolved in a very intentional way.

“This menu is a practice of restraint,” Paquin said. “I think that is going to be a mantra because where we went wrong in the past was trying to be everything to everyone.”

With an assortment of approximately 15 items that transition seasonally, Grove’s new menu is built completely on sharing, giving guests the opportunity to indulge in an assortment of different flavors or foods they might not have experienced otherwise. However, there’s still room to partake in snacks and cocktails if that’s more your speed.

Grove offers a restaurant experience with a sense of fun and lightheartedness with no delineation of appetizers or main entrees to follow or pressure to order in courses. The menu’s variety presents customers with flexibility and choice, and an opportunity to choose their own adventure.

“We want (the menu) to be trailblazing in certain ways, but not pushing anything on everyone. We want everyone to have a special experience,” Paquin said.

Grove’s team is well-versed in accommodating a range of dietary restrictions. Included are a variety of vegetarian-friendly options like the seasoned cauliflower with a rich brown butter hollandaise sauce, adorned with tangy grapefruit and an unexpected hazelnut crunch.

Follow lighter dishes with options such as flaky potato-crusted fish with a hint of ginger, accompanied by tender bok choy or the fall-off-the-bone pork belly chop. And don’t forget to save room for dessert with an array of choices ranging from sweet chocolate to fresh fruit.

Sourcing the best ingredients locally is a top priority for Grove, so expect a transformative menu to experience and enjoy every few months. Accommodating the Midwest farming seasons ensures the freshest ingredients from family and sustainable sources.

The same intentional philosophy that the food menu embraces also is reflected in Grove’s new drink menu. Beverage Director and Chief Hospitality Officer Tristan Walczewski overhauled Grove’s beverage menu with an emphasis on creating a one-of-a-kind experience.

“We have a very small selection of vodka, gin and other spirits and chose those for specific reasons,” Walczewski said. “I wanted to create conversation of why we picked those, and introduce guests to progressive options, such as female-owned or Black-owned suppliers.”

Grove has leaned into new world wines and cocktails, partnering with small distributors and sustainable producers to push the boundaries of what’s expected in Grand Rapids. Prioritizing the freshest ingredients, Grove’s aim is to have an unmatched cocktail experience, leaving you yearning to experience it all over again. The purposefully curated lineup of beer, wine and cocktails intentionally complements the food menu.

Also available is an assortment of nonalcoholic cocktails, which is almost equal in variety to the number of traditional cocktail offerings.

With a growing number of people transitioning to a sober or “sober curious” lifestyle, Walczewski said it was important to include non-alcoholic cocktail options.

“We wanted to promote accessibility of an enjoyable social experience for all guests to feel welcome and to create their own experience,” he said.

This summer, Grove is hosting a four-part event experience series, which is an exclusive, ticketed dinner event designed to give guests a unique dining experience.

The events take place once a month on Tuesdays and run through September. Each experience is distinctive from the previous. The July gathering is an intimate wine dinner with a famed vineyard proprietor from Snowden Vineyards in Napa Valley. August will feature a menu centered on nostalgia and guests’ favorite foods from childhood. Rounding out the list is a farm-focused dinner highlighting all the purveyors Grove uses, with hopes of securing in-person visits to mingle with guests.

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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