Chophouse dining

Slow down for an evening at Bowdie’s Chophouse.

Editor’s note: This feature was written before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to shut down restaurants for dine-in guests.

The menu at Bowdie’s Chophouse in Gaslight Village offers a breathtaking page of delicious thrills with plenty to peruse, which is good because here you’re encouraged, expected really, to partake in the theatricality of chophouse dining. Besides, it takes a while to flame a 36-ounce tomahawk ribeye steak. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Don’t expect a quick night out or casual dining. Bowdie’s offers guests a chance to indulge in the dinner hour. Chophouse dining takes time, so settle in and plan on spending at least a couple of hours here.

Everything is glamorous and under the microscope at Bowdie’s EGR — black tablecloth dining, winking candlelight and wait staff uniformed in starched white shirts and French aprons —knowledgeable, engaging and fitted with a crumb scraper.

The restaurant offers an indulgently fun atmosphere, harkening to an evocative jazz speakeasy with expansive brick walls, curved tufted leather booths, tin ceiling, polished hardwoods and linear chandelier. An enchanting bank of wine lockers demarcating the dining room and bar is designed for regulars to store their carefully procured wines from the restaurant.

“It’s all about taste here,” said Tyler Bowdish, vice president of the restaurant group started by his parents, Scott and Lisa Bowdish, in 2015. The pair opened the first Bowdie’s Chophouse in Saugatuck — a spot they loved for boating.

Two years later, in 2017, Bowdie’s added a charming 38-seat restaurant in Lansing. And, a few months ago, Bowdie’s introduced its third steakhouse to Gaslight Village’s High Street. It’s a perfect fit for the well-heeled neighbors pining for a reason to sparkle, to dine in a gorgeous spot and to hang out bar side watching the overhead televisions and enjoying craft cocktails. Bonus: The chophouse validates parking in the car park nearby.

The prime — as the steaks are called — number only five, perhaps six, including the nightly special. All designed for sharing. All the beef is masterfully cut and aged by Halperns’ Purveyors of Steak and Seafood (now an acquisition of Gordon Food Service) at its Kalamazoo facility.

“You’re not going to get this kind of simple perfection anywhere else but here at Bowdie’s,” executive chef Lilah Plaggemars said. At 17, this wunderkind dual-enrolled at Rockford High School and Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. With a fresh culinary degree in 2017, Plaggemars headed for Hawaii, landing with Merriman’s in Kapalua. Once back in West Michigan, Bowdie’s hired her within two days of her job interview. “I got really lucky. (Bowdie’s) took a chance on a 20-year-old sous chef.”

Every steak glistens with chive butter and can be dollied up with à la carte accompaniments such as homemade Worcestershire sauce — made with 34 ingredients and aged 30 days — or a lobster tail for a surf-and-turf option.

Since the steaks are so thick, Plaggemars lets each steak rest six to eight minutes after searing to redistribute its juices, then pops them into the broiler for a split second to heat up the outside immediately before serving.

For many regulars, the seafood tower — a tiered fantasy with oysters on the half shell, crab claws, shrimp and lobster — is the alpha and omega of dining at Bowdie’s, and it’s often all they order.

The roasted (femur) bone marrow, similar to a bread-and-butter spread, tingles with marbled warmth, citrus salt and toasted crostini. The deconstructed crab cake tumbles together all the elements — sautéed jumbo lump crab meat, North African roasted pepper paste harissa, bread and arugula.

On our visit to Bowdie’s, we ate too much: escargot (shells already removed — yay!) floating in butter spiked with garlic, shallots and chives; shrimp bisque, velvety with coconut milk; a fully grilled Caesar with raw egg and anchovies; bone-in cowboy ribeye — smoky, salty, edged with marshmallow-y fat; truffle fries; and crème brûlée. We spent $108 — excluding beverages. Not bad considering casual chain steakhouses can add up fast — without all the delicious spoiling.

Don’t forget dessert. Bowdie’s offers beignet-style doughnuts fried and dusted with powdered sugar; a warm fudge brownie with a peanut butter-whipped buttercream and chocolate sauce; and the chef’s own carrot cake layered with cream cheese frosting sans nuts and raisins.

The three mainstays are made at the East Grand Rapids location and shipped to Saugatuck and Lansing. “I was a pastry chef at the very beginning when I was 13,” Plaggemars said. “I ran a business out of my parents’ home making cakes, cupcakes and desserts for catering places. I still have a passion for pastries, and I’m fortunate enough to share that with our in-house pastry chef.”

Q&A with Tyler Bowdish, VP of Bowdie’s Chophouse collection

Tyler Bowdish
Photo by Stacy Feyer-Salo

Why open a chophouse when plant-based eating is trending?
My dad has always loved the whole steakhouse thing, dinner as the event. This is all about real food, pure ingredients, wonderful cooking that renders the fat perfectly on the prime. We can accommodate allergies, gluten-free and intolerances in nearly every dish, but we know that 90% of our clientele come here for beef. On the weekends, we often do three covers a night because people crave being at a physical restaurant that offers warmth and welcome.”

Other recommendations besides prime steak?
Faroe Island salmon and roast half-chicken. These are the only mains that come with sides.

Any advice for chophouse dining?
It takes time to properly prepare a steak of this specification. We’re not trying to rush it. We guesstimate that groups of four or less spend two hours for dinner. Larger groups should plan to dine for two-and-a-half or three hours.

Get to know the prime menu at Bowdie’s Chophouse

• 18-ounce Kansas City is a bone-in New York Strip. “The softness and flavor are fantastic,” Vice President Tyler Bowdish said.
• Bone-in filet at 14 ounces. “Something that you don’t see on a lot of menus,” Executive Chef Lilah Plaggemars said. “You can only cut two bone-in filets per cow in the spec that
we need.”
• Bone-in ribeye tomahawk at 36 ounces, including the cap of the ribeye. It’s carved tableside into equal portions, so everyone gets a piece of the good stuff. “It’s a scene-stealer for sure,” Bowdish said.
• 10-ounce filet mignon. The name means “tender filet”
or “fine filet” and is
“that barrel cut,
straight in the middle, and you only get one, maybe two, out of the whole tenderloin,” Plaggemars said.
• 26-ounce, bone-in cowboy ribeye, balancing fat, marbling and full-on flavor. “If animal fat is your thing, then this one’s for you,” Plaggemars said.

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