Grand Rapids Magazine Top 10 Restaurant of 2021: Quarantino’s

The Best New Restaurant to emerge this past year was inspired by the pandemic.
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Editor’s note: This is Part 10 of a 10-part series on the top 10 Grand Rapids restaurants for 2021. To see a list of all of the restaurants, click here.

Quarantino’s Pizza feels like a secret, impossibly so as it’s located on a busy boutique-lined stretch of Lake Drive in Eastown across from its sister business The Early Bird. Here, chef Joel Wabeke’s latest darling rocks out his Detroit-style pizzas, truly addictive squares with crispy charred edges and ingredients reverse layered so they’re blanketed by red sauce.

Quarantino’s, 1444 Lake Drive SE, isn’t just any pizza place, it’s creative and crafty concoctions stand out, like the Greek pizza, which pays homage to Detroit’s Greektown with brick cheese, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, spinach, red sauce and herb-marinated feta. The pesto in the chicken pesto pizza is pared down to basil, olive oil and garlic — skipping the pine nuts and Parmesan to ensure the safety for those with food allergies. And Quarantino’s vegan pizzas are equally alluring, such as the Fun Guy with Violife vegan cheese, plenty of mushrooms, herb oil, mushroom cashew cream, leeks
and cracked black pepper.

“The whole thing starts with the pans — these square pans originally came from Detroit’s auto plants and were meant to hold stuff like parts,” Wabeke said.

In the late 1940s, Gus Guerra invented Detroit-style pizza with those square pans and opened Buddy’s Rendezvous — which later became Buddy’s Pizza.

“Living in Detroit was so good for me — that’s when I came across Detroit-style pizza,” said Wabeke, reflecting on the blissful time when he cheffed in Detroit’s astonishing urban-inspired restaurants such as Wright & Company.

Back in Grand Rapids, Wabeke and his wife Sarah Wepman started their restaurant collection with The Early Bird and Littlebird. The couple closed another of their properties, Kingfisher — a casualty of the state’s pandemic restrictions — and transferred the staff over to Quarantino’s.

“I decided to open a Detroit-style pizza place last summer in response to COVID,” Wabeke said. “I knew pizza would be more successful than other types of restaurants.”

This corner site — open for takeout and delivery only — is stuffed with all of Wabeke’s hopes. There’s an old-fashioned ice cream maker because he might roll out a late-night kiosk for slow-churned ice cream and freshly fried doughnuts. New to the menu are Wabeke’s handmade lasagnas to be baked at home — including a vegan option with marinara, mushroom, spinach, artichokes hearts, semolina pasta and Violife vegan mozzarella.

This story can be found in the March 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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