Come together

Use our helpful tips to prepare your holiday table.
meal table setting place settings
Photo by Bryan Esler

Written and styled by Deidre Remtema
Photography by Bryan Esler

Special thanks to
New Hotel Mertens, Butcher’s Union, The Sovengard, Mokaya, Donkey Taqueria and Art of the Table

Get ready for a magical holiday celebration with amazing food and decorating ideas, regardless of the theme. Fall and the holiday season usher in a great time of gathering and festivities. Traveling to see loved ones or a block party with your favorite neighbors, each get-together is unique with its own recipe for fun! Get inspired for your next party and create memories that carry you into the new year with these tips.


Driving through Grand Rapids on a late Sunday morning, it is easy to see the rapid growth of restaurants serving brunch. Parking is overflowing, as families, groups of friends and couples pour in for the most heartwarming meal of the day.

In the fall, serving brunch should feel casual with a variety of dishes to taste. Decorating the table shouldn’t be fussy and layers of warm texture remind us of the harvest season.

New Hotel Mertens is known for its love of simple French cooking, big portions and full flavor, and Chris Craft, the morning sous chef, has a favorite brunch dish, eggs en cocotte, for you to enjoy at home. Order baked goods from New Hotel Mertens bakery to accompany the eggs and enjoy.

Design tips

Use craft paper as a tablecloth

Plaid cloth napkins add color and are reusable

Copper flatware, napkin rings and a teapot bring in the warmth of fall

New Hotel Merten’s Eggs en Cocotte


2 eggs

¼ cup chopped mushroom

½ cup Comté cheese

2 tablespoons heavy cream

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon minced mixed herbs (chives and tarragon)

1 slice of toast, buttered with crusts removed and halved


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

2. Layer the cocotte dish
    a. Sprinkle all but a tablespoon of cheese on the bottom of the dish
    b. Add half the mushrooms on top of the cheese
    c. Then break two eggs on top of the mushrooms
    d. Sprinkle with salt
    e. Add cream
    f. Add the remaining mushrooms
    g. Top with the remaining cheese
    h. Cover and bake for 10 minutes or until desired doneness
    i. Sprinkle with herbs
    j. Serve with toast points


Entertaining guests for dinner during the holiday season brings to mind the hearty dishes Butcher’s Union is widely known for. Its elevated comfort food, seasonal menu and crowd favorites are the perfect inspiration for a dinner with friends and family.

Devin Cook, executive chef, prepared a hearty feast, including his white chicken chili, shrimp toast (an original Butcher’s Union dish!) and beef stroganoff, among others.

To complement these flavorful dishes, make a statement with a strong but simple color palette for the tablescape. Green, black, white and gold make the food stand out while creating a strong backdrop.

Design tips

Start with a white linen tablecloth

Layer with a bright green burlap table runner and black utensils

Add gold chargers for depth and sparkle


Cocktail parties are a fantastic way to entertain friends and business associates. Easily held during the week or on a weekend, they are an opportunity to bring people together for a couple of hours to celebrate and spend quality time during a busy season.

The variety of cocktail recipes and the proliferation of fresh and local ingredients at The Sovengard on Bridge Street would inspire anyone to host a cocktail party. Liver pâté, charred baby carrots, eggplant fries and drinks with names like the Rosemary Clooney and the Queen of Thorns bring together a delightful mix of sweet and savory. Mimic The Sovengard’s mission of using every part of the plant, whether it’s as a garnish or in soup stock, keeping waste low.

Throwing a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres party should be fun, so bust out the patterned tablecloth and bling-covered glassware.

Design tips

Use a tablecloth with a large print for texture

Add metallic cocktail napkins

Use wood serving boards to bring in warmth

The Sovengard’s Sloe Gin Fizz


1½ ounces Long Road Distillers Dry Gin

½ ounce Plymouth Sloe Gin

¼ ounce each of fresh lemon and lime juice

1 ounce egg whites


Combine all ingredients into a cocktail-shaking tin. Shake for 30 seconds or until the tin starts frosting. Strain back into another tin. Discard the ice and shake again until your arms are tired. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice, gently releasing the foamed egg whites into the glass after most of the liquid has been poured. Garnish with a lemon peel or seasonal fruit and herbs.


Dessert is an opportunity to have fun and wow your guests. Not only should dessert taste amazing, but it also can be a visual delight. Dessert can be served after dinner or as the main event. Gather friends and colleagues before the symphony or a theater production for coffee and sweets.

If you are looking for inspiration, Mokaya on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids creates the most amazing chocolate treats, including tarts, pastries, ice cream and richly decorated truffles. Chef Charles Golczynski has been making chocolate desserts for nearly 20 years and opened Mokaya with his son, Max, four years ago.

Try Golczynski’s Ecuadorian Chocolate Tarts at your own holiday party — add a few Mokaya truffles and specialty drinks and you are all set. Let the bright truffles shine with white, gray and black dishes. A variety of small plates creates a beautifully layered setting.

Design tips

A white marble serving tray for truffles shows off the variety of options

Soft gray fabrics underneath serving dishes add subtle pattern to the table

A mix of round and square plates creates visual interest

Mokaya’s 72% Ecuadorian Single Bean Chocolate Tart


Sweet tart shell dough

1¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup confection sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate filling
(will make eight 4-inch tartlets)

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons honey

24½ ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (72% Ecuadorian single bean chocolate)

½ cup butter

Sweet tart shell dough preparation:

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter to flour mixture using a pastry cutter. Mix until texture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add egg and vanilla extract and mix until dough pulls together. Flatten into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove dough from refrigerator and let soften for a few minutes. Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness and fill tartlet pans (best to use 4-inch tartlet pan). Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes. Cool shells and fill with chocolate filling. Place in refrigerator until topping is ready to pipe.

Chocolate filling preparation:

Bring cream and honey to a simmer on the stove. Remove from heat, add chocolate and butter, whisk until smooth. Fill tarts and refrigerate. When cool, top with whipped cream or Italian meringue.


Tailgating is a fall tradition that brings people together in a uniquely American way. Eating and drinking with friends before, during and after sporting events is a great time to get caught up on life, share good recipes and tease the opposing fans.

Mexican food is perfect for this tradition since it is easy-to-transport finger food. Trevor Metevier, kitchen manager at Donkey Taqueria, said the key to the restaurant’s success is its pride in high-quality ingredients, the restaurant’s flexible indoor/outdoor spaces and the fast-paced service. Whether you are coming in for a half-hour or two hours, the service is fast, and the food is fresh.

When decorating for tailgating, creating a casual atmosphere is king. Paper products, metal and wood containers ensure glass doesn’t get broken and cleanup is easy.

Design tips

Cover a portable table with white butcher paper and let the kids play tic-tac-toe

Use napkins in team colors or a cozy fall pattern

Keep salsa and chips contained in a wood tray that adds texture and groups food items together

Donkey Taqueria’s Esquites Dip


(Makes 1 catering serving)

12 ears sweet corn, cut off the cob, roasted and cooled

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayo

½ cup queso cotija

¼ cup lime juice

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried cilantro


1 fluid ounce salsa valentina to garnish

½ ounce chile salt to garnish

Sprinkle of dried epazote to garnish


Mix all of the ingredients in the recipe (minus the salsa valentina, chile salt and epazote, which get sprinkled on at the end) in a large stainless mixing bowl. Then serve cold in a bowl or serving dish. This portion size makes enough for about 15-20 people as a snack.

*Chef’s note:

The chile salt used at Donkey is called Tajin and can be found in most grocery stores. The dried epazote can be a bit harder to find but is available at most Mexican markets. It can easily be substituted with fresh cilantro.

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