Top-notch Italian

New Ada restaurant Myrth offers savory simplicity
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Myrth's menu is made up mainly of wood-fired pizza, and pasta dishes shown here with a pork meatball appetizer. Photo by Amanda Kamppinen.

Less than a months after Paul Berglund opened the doors to his new restaurant, Myrth, the chef welcomed another new challenge to his life.

The James Beard Award winner and his wife, Tia, had a new baby. For many, the opening a restaurant is all encompassing, and while that is likely true for Berglund, he was quick to say any added stress was eased by the hiring of a top-notch staff — a challenge for any restaurant in recent years.

“It’s kind of crazy, I can’t believe it’s happening that way,” Berglund said in a July interview about opening a restaurant and having a baby at the same time.

“It is going well and that’s only possible because of the phenomenal team that I work with at Myrth. Somehow, we assembled a strong team right out of the gate, and they are doing so much of the heavy lifting for the restaurant.”

Berglund moved to Grand Rapids in June 2020 as his wife finished up a neurology residency at Mayo Clinic and found a job at Spectrum Health, now Corewell Health. The couple came from Minnesota, where Berglund won the 2016 James Beard Award as the best chef in the Midwest at The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. His wife, by the way, is a neuro intensivist at Corewell.

Upon arrival in West Michigan, Berglund knew his own restaurant was in the cards, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept those on the back burner. Eventually, though, Berglund fell in love with a space in Ada, 7423 River St. SE, and the process toward opening began.

“[The] plans were on pause for well over a year, and it wasn’t until 2021 that I started to find people were receptive to talking to me about opening a restaurant,” Berglund said. “Originally, I imagined more of an urban environment for Myrth, but the more time I spent with Ada Village and just getting to know it, the more I started to visualize the restaurant. There is so much energy in downtown Ada, it’s becoming such a vibrant spot and I’m excited to have Myrth be part of it.”

The menu at Myrth is unlikely to overwhelm diners. It is small, intentionally. But it is well designed and thoughtful. His vision for Myrth always was pasta-centric, and that is at the heart of the menu — which at time of press in July had approximately 20 items on it. Along with the pasta is a selection of woodfired pizzas, and a smattering of Italian-inspired appetizers.

“When I was doing a pop-up operation in Rochester [Minnesota], I was doing pasta, but I had to pivot to doing pizza takeout when COVID hit. I saw how important pizza was for people during that time and I realized that would be a great addition to the menu and that’s when the menu really solidified in my mind as a pizza-pasta restaurant.

“And that’s what it is now. It’s artisan crafted food.”

A few of the choices on the menu in July:

  • Wood oven roasted veggies, aged balsamic vinegar, gouda
  • Pork meatballs, tomato sauce
  • Spicy cheese pizza – mozzarella, pecorino, oregano, Calabrian chilis
  • Lion’s mane mushrooms, taleggio cheese, thyme
  • Pennette, Lake Superior whitefish, serranos, dill, cream, lemon, fish sauce
  • Spaghettini, garlic-roasted beefsteak tomatoes, basil

And there are options at Myrth for gluten- and dairy-free patrons, an extreme rarity for a restaurant focused on cuisine where carbs and cheese are such crucial ingredients.

“We’re trying hard to be welcoming to those with dietary restrictions,” Berglund said. “It is harder when your entire menu and kitchen is filled with wheat flour to be as precise as some restaurants are in controlling the environment, but we’re doing our best and we’re working to improve those options as time goes on.”

The potential evolution of Myrth tracks with the potential evolution of the dining scene in Grand Rapids. In the past two decades, Grand Rapids restaurants have grown by leaps and bounds, and there is plenty more room for the culinary scene to expand as well. It is not an isolated trend, but one that can be seen in cities across the US as people flock from the coasts and head to the Midwest and South.

Larger cities, of course, saw it first, which gives Berglund an inside look at the potential.

“Across the US we’re seeing smaller cities come into their own in terms of restaurant and culinary scenes, they’re becoming more mature,” he said. “The Twin Cities are about three times the size, and they saw this maybe 10 years before Grand Rapids did, but I really see some parallels between the two.

“As it’s harder to get a good quality life as an industry professional in New York or San Francisco, more people are moving to different regions and that’s what I saw in Minneapolis and what I’m seeing in Grand Rapids.”

Berglund moved to Minneapolis from San Francisco, taking part in the migration of culinary professionals. He made his way to the Bay Area about 20 years ago, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, and spent seven years at a restaurant called Oliveto, where he honed his cooking philosophy.

“It was a wonderful culinary education and where I really learned the fundamentals of cooking and the philosophy that exists in the Bay Area continues with me to this day,” Berglund said. “It’s just a real value on the upmost importance of ingredients that go into food. I try to take that wherever I go.”

It’s a two-fold situation, as well. It’s not just culinary professionals spreading across the nation. Professionals and families are migrating as well, looking for a better quality and cost of life. That, of course, is no secret to West Michigan, as many often return after living elsewhere.

With that brings a taste of what can be in terms of menus, and it all plays into each other.

“There is a synergy between people in the restaurant industry moving back and the diners moving back or those who have traveled the world and seen different culinary scenes,” Berglund said.

Myrth is still young; like really young. So there is plenty of evolving to be had in Ada. That said, assuming Myrth is successful, and Berglund continues to see his restaurant vision through, he does expect more to be had.

“I hope Myrth is around a long time and I hope that it becomes a real anchor for the Ada community, as well as the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. I hope that it can be a really welcoming place for all sorts of people.

“But one of the things I’m most excited about as the owner of a business is to see people I work with grow in their professions and thrive. Oftentimes that means making room for people to grow within the organization and that might, for us, means Myrth is not the last restaurant we open.”

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