January 30, 2013 was a big milestone for the team at Cranker's Restaurant & Brewery. The date marked the release of their first-ever bourbon-barrel-aged beer, appropriately titled the Barrel #1 Bourbon Porter. But Cranker's taps were no strangers to innovative beer or the high-pitched squeals of happy pint glasses. The brewery had already racked up awards at the World Expo of Beer for their Professor IPA, Crankenstein Amber Lager, 5th Voyage Coconut Porter, and Honey Kolsch.
That last brew, the Honey Kolsch, is the beer of choice when ordering a basket of Cranker's fish and chips with homemade tartar sauce. Indeed, the bartenders and servers are always happy to make beer-pairing suggestions for their homey entrees. For Detroit-style coney dogs, for instance, they recommend their Bulldog Red Irish Ale. Or if diners show up early, they pour Oakenshield Stout to go with eggs, sausage, and other breakfast staples. They also have the perfect substitute should diners want a less potent beverage: a cool glass of homemade root beer, either served by itself or as a float.
The team at Hog Island Subs stuffs myriad meats and cheeses between fresh bread, creating classics such as BLTs and inventive food that includes a steak sub topped with hot sauce, jalapeños, and banana peppers. Their generous helpings of pork products—especially when thrown into the middle of the ocean—help Hog Island earn its name. Chefs put together subs such as the five-meat italian or the Three Little Pigs, a triad of pulled pork, imported ham, and smoky bacon topped with sun-dried tomatoes. They also bake flatbread pizzas in variations such as the Hog Island Flat, which is topped with cheese, bacon, ham, and pepperoni.
Because it's their eponymous dish, it might seem like the Burger 84 would be the natural thing to order. But there's only a very, very select few who can handle it. The monstrous creation piles four 8-ounce Angus beef patties beneath eight toppings of your choice, and is paired with a full pound of french fries. And those who can down it in 84 minutes or less are sufficiently rewarded: their photo is hung in the restaurant's wall of fame and they're sent home with a commemorative T-shirt.
For those who couldn't possibly tackle a meal that huge, there's regular-sized burgers customized with Angus-beef, black-bean, or turkey patties. Topping options include everything from jalapenos to homemade chili, and finished creations can be sandwiched between pretzel, kaiser, or whole-wheat buns. In addition to burgers, there's also hot dogs and cheddar-peppercorn brats.
The cylindrical cooks of All American Chili Dogs craft their menu of tubular fare with all-beef hot dogs, free-flowing chili, and mounds of free, plentiful toppings. Upon entering the ketchup-red and mustard-yellow-colored eatery, guests have free reign to decorate any dogs; try the bacon chili dog or the All American dog, which can be served plain, with chili, as a corn dog, or with a deep-fried copy of the Constitution. A pantheon of free toppings await placement on the bready seat of destiny, including pickles, sweet relish, and jalapeños. Regular-sized sides rush in to lend a savory hand, such as the deluxe nachos and bacon cheddar ranch fries. Instead of dumping a vat of glitter on your plate, give the meal some more color with a regular soft drink or a large malted milk shake.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Angus beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market. This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun Häagen-Dazs shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded to 160 restaurants in five years, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
Voted Best Chef by the readers of Grand Rapids Magazine, Eric Chaitin, executive chef of all three restaurants, oversees an edible empire emphasizing creativity and customer service. Take your taste buds on a dream date to The Grille and ponder its sophisticated menu, which entices eaters with wood-fired pizzas, hearty pastas, and meaty marvels such as a Wagyu New York strip ($18.95). Rush Creek Bistro's menu slays cravings with an eclectic assortment of sandwiches and rib-sticking entrees, while the menu at FireRock Grille includes shrimp ($9.95) and steak ($15.95) that can be cooked on a 500-degree FireRock like those used by Stone Age tailgaters before the first Super Bowl. Each menu changes seasonally, accentuating locally grown, seasonal produce and fresh meats. All three locations feature scenic country-club views, outdoor dining, and bar areas for debating with strangers over which of the Founding Fathers had the nicest singing voice.