It’s no question the world of dining is quickly evolving to more casual atmospheres within the restaurants.
A precious few of the city’s dining establishments are keeping true to the fine dining experience, and perhaps the most notable example in town is The Chop House, 190 Monroe Ave. NW.
For a restaurant that’s been a staple in the downtown Grand Rapids dining scene since 2004, that fine dining pizazz is well-established and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. The restaurant was opened with “elegant mid-20th century steakhouse” mind, so that is where they keep it.
“Of course, it will always start off with a great product, we’re always looking for top quality beef or top seafood,” said Brittany Gray, general manager of The Chop House in Grand Rapids. “We also want to make sure we have an amazing staff, because service is part of an amazing meal. When you’re here, you’re pampered like royalty.”
The Chop House is owned by Mainstreet Ventures, an Ann Arbor-based restaurant group that has a variety of concepts across the state. There are also The Chop House locations in Ann Arbor; Toledo, Ohio; and Charleston, West Virginia. Other Main Street restaurants in Grand Rapids are Palio and Real Seafood Company, 141 Lyon St. NW, which opened last year near The Chop House.
The restaurants all have an air of yesteryear, a touch of classiness that makes a diner feel like they’re having a special night. The Chop House particularly provides customers a dimly lit dining room, shielded from the lights of the street.
While Gray acknowledges the setting and price can provide a place for celebratory dinners, be it a big birthday, anniversary, or a big promotion, she also said they know they can serve as a place to feel at home.
“We’re here to create memories, people come here for special occasions and to create those memories,” Gray said. “But we also want them to feel comfortable coming for a casual dinner or sitting at the bar. It might sound weird, but we want to be that neighborhood steakhouse.
“It’s a warm place to be. It’s tying everything together, having great quality food, service, attention, and the ambiance.”
A recent visit to The Chop House faced the new-found challenge of a dairy allergy in the group. Sitting at the bar, the bartender expertly guided the diner through the menu, well aware of what dishes posed a problem for a dairy allergy, while suggesting others that could have minor substitutions.
Also refreshing was one of the more substantive non-alcoholic cocktail and beer menus seen in Grand Rapids.
“When I first proposed it, there weren’t a ton of them around, it hadn’t quite turned into the trend it is now,” Gray said. “But we have dry managers, dry staff and I’m not a big drinker. So, we’re seeing more and more options other than soda. We did really dive into that.
“And now, through how successful it’s been, the company has started to implement it in other restaurants.”
The non-alcoholic bar menu helps showcase a key aspect that Gray said she hopes diners realize when eating at The Chop House. While there is a certain amount The Chop House remains tied to the past, it won’t stay so stagnant diners miss the trends.
“Grand Rapids is booming, especially the restaurant scene, so you have to have a delicate balance on staying up to date with the trends and staying true to who we are,” Gray said. “Customers know what they’re getting and what to expect, but we’re also trying out new ideas and trying to stay relevant because the city is doing so well and there are so many new concepts and great spots.”
While there is a growing number of restaurants in town, particularly downtown, there is a communal aspect to the industry, Gray said. It is not unusual for Reserve, across Monroe Avenue from The Chop House, to need a product and run across the street, or vice versa.
“I feel like we all work well together and support each other,” Gray said. “We borrow, we lend. We team together when you have those big conventions and events.”
Even with a sister restaurant so close, Gray said expectations for last year were blown away.
“We expected sales to go down with the company opening a restaurant nearby, but we had a record year,” Gray said.
Part of the great 2022 was capitalizing on the return of conventions and business returning to downtown.
Still, there is an effort to cater to companies that might be cutting budgets with tough economic times potentially on the horizon, or not that far in the rearview mirror. Acknowledging The Chop House might lose some customers in those budget cuts, Gray said there’s a new focus on providing businesses with a more affordable option: heavy apps during a cocktail mixer, a business-sponsored social hour of sorts.
Beyond the shift in offerings for businesses, The Chop House will continue to come up with new offerings for the general customers as well. The restaurant is rolling out a chef’s table, which will take a reservation and provide customers a blind, five-course menu.
“Each course, you don’t know what you’re going to have,” Gray said. “We ask questions ahead of time, what you love, what you don’t, any allergies? Guests are looking for that fun and unique experience.
“We’ve merged that with our signature dinners, we did the most of those last year than the entire company.”
The signature dinners are regular events at The Chop House that feature a five or six course meal, paired with wine or bourbon pairings, or sometimes mixed up with courses paired with a beer, cocktail or wine.
Whether it’s a specific vineyard or distillery highlighted in designed pairings, or a dinner curated with varying drinks in mind, Gray said the featured dinners help further connect guests with staff.
“Those have been wildly successful,” Gray said. What’s great about it is our traditional menu has its staples and customers know what they’re going to get, but those aren’t necessarily the space for chefs to be creative and show off their skills. These dinners give them the opportunity to try out recipes.
“It gives guests the opportunity to interact with the chefs and talk with vineyard representatives.”
Along with well-known beverage producers, Gray said The Chop House will continue to look for more local companies to highlight their offerings with special dinners.
“We’re constantly looking at other local businesses and purveyors to highlight for dinners and features,” Gray said. “We’ve featured Eastern Kille spirits and Pebble Creek Mushrooms. We’re always hoping to feature a distillery or brewery, or this local meat that is out there phenomenal. We want to highlight community partners and products; those are the best to highlight.”
Must try dishes
The cheesy popovers served to every diner are incredible. Made with tapioca flour, as well, so they are gluten free.
Oysters and shrimp are fresh, a perfect start to precede a meaty main entrée.
Pan Seared Diver Scallops might be the best thing on the menu.
Australian Rib Lamb Chops are divine when cooked perfectly.
Steak of preferred cut, highly recommend the bone-in New York Strip
Great sides are the brussels sprouts with Dijon and bacon lardons; the creamed corn with diced jalapeno peppers; and the garlic smashed potatoes.