It’s 1 p.m. midweek at Morning Belle, just weeks after its opening, and the restaurant is packed with a line waiting for tables in the foyer. It’s perhaps not what you would expect for a restaurant nestled among the office parks and dentist offices on East Beltline. But as other culinary concepts around the city have proven, Grand Rapidians turn out for brunch fare.
Morning Belle is Meritage Hospitality Group’s newest restaurant concept, revamping its 9-year-old Twisted Rooster (known for its bistro-style offerings and creative mac and cheese dishes) into its first breakfast/lunch venue.
Outside, the building’s façade remains similar to its past life, but inside, there’s been a dramatic transformation. Gone are the darker interior and mood lighting, and instead, the space has been opened up and given a brighter, lighter tone. You’ll notice a variety of seating, not only in size but in style and color.
The expansive wraparound bar anchors the center of the room, surrounded by metal patio-style sets and white-washed wooden tables with a country home style, while pallet wood-like partitions lined with plants help make the large white room feel roomier. Doors on the west side of the building open onto a small side patio in the warmer months. Hanging planters and basketweave pendant lamps hang from the ceiling, while colorful citrus paintings plaster the back wall.
The design was created to bring a different experience to breakfast.
“Breakfast can be a pretty habitual dining experience; how can we keep that interesting?” said Luke Theaker, executive chef. “We wanted it to feel warm and inviting with an emphasis on greenery and white space with pops of color. With our mismatched chairs and tables — your experience sitting at a booth is different than a round group table.”
Theaker isn’t new to helping shape new, creative restaurant concepts. He previously worked with the corporate chef to develop the menu for Stan Diego in Standale (a casual, SoCal-themed taco joint also owned by Meritage Hospitality Group).
A fresh, new menu
Browsing the veg-forward menu, you’ll find an eclectic array of menu items, from the expected (bacon, eggs and toast) to the creative (gardener’s toast: brioche topped with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, arugula and two eggs). Dig into the cloying doughnut waffle (topped with cinnamon-maple glaze, raspberry jam, lemon mousse and powdered sugar) or the savory pork belly bowl (a tasty take on Korean bibimbap). And for lunch, order off the list of burgers, salads and wraps. For the portion sizes, the prices seem fair, ranging from $6-13.
True to its “fresh” theme, there aren’t any fried menu items — in fact, Morning Belle doesn’t even have a fryer in the kitchen. Instead of fries as a side dish, you’ll get root chips or a fruit cup.
“Since we can’t fry any of these items, we have to invest in the quality of ingredients, we have to think about how we prepare them,” Theaker said.
Two of the “guiding principles” the Meritage team outlined during the restaurant’s development process was a chef-inspired menu (yet, one that could be prepared consistently by cooks) featuring fresh ingredients.
Wheelhouse executive chef Jeremiah New and General Manager Jonathon Perkins were challenged to create the menu. Then, the Meritage team tasted over 100 dishes throughout the summer to narrow it down to the current menu.
As Twisted Rooster patrons will remember, that concept had emphasized using local ingredients and local vendors. And while they still leverage local sources, the emphasis is more on preparing consistently high-quality ingredients.
“Fresh in Michigan can’t mean local unless you want to limit yourself,” Theaker said. “In the winter, you’re stuck with beets, onions, potatoes.”
He gave the example of blueberries for pancakes; he wants consistently high-quality blueberries all year-round, not just during the peak-season months in Michigan.
“High quality also doesn’t mean we have to make (all the ingredients),” Theaker continued. “We’ve partnered with a bakery, Michigan Bread Bakery, and they supply us with great bread. We even gave them a Jonathon-created focaccia recipe, allowing a company who does things amazingly well with infrastructure to make it for us.”
Theaker continually emphasized the focus on hospitality and guest experience. “It’s a relationship you’re having with each guest. Come over and dine with us. We’ll walk you to your seat, we’ll do the dishes.” GR
Seven extra questions with executive chef Luke Theaker
Favorite meal: “Perfectly roasted chicken, wonderfully crusty baguette, excellent mustard and cheese.”
Favorite GR restaurant: “Marcona on Lyon — my wife and I have three kids, and we haven’t gone out a lot at all. At Marcona, the food is the perfect blend of extremely approachable, interesting and comforting.”
Typical date night: “Dinner at Marcona on Lyon and (Eastern Kille Distillery) for drinks afterward.”
What’s the origin of the name Morning Belle? “We had an open forum in the office, and a staff member submitted the name. It hit all the notes — lighter, more feminine and there weren’t any other Morning Belles around.”
Favorite Morning Belle menu item: “Pork belly bowl — you can have it for breakfast and lunch. It’s extraordinarily savory yet doesn’t eat so heavy.”
Food trend he’s keeping an eye on? “I love the renaissance that David Chang started with ‘Ugly Delicious;’ you’re going to want this dish because it’s delicious and there is a story behind it, not because it wows you with technique or fancy ingredients.”
Most passionate about: “Changing the culture of the food industry. The more you invest in your people, the more they have a personal investment in the business.”