Last Saturday I had the extreme pleasure of attending my first-ever food blogger meet-up. Taste of Michigan was organized by Rachel of Rachel Cooks and Liz of The Lemon Bowl. Rachel and Liz are both Grand Rapids natives and thought it would be fun to get together with other Michigan food bloggers for a day of fun. The location was perfect for me as I live just southeast of Grand Rapids and wouldn't have to get a hotel room to attend this event. What was first planned as a casual get-together, quickly morphed into a sponsored event highlighting local Michigan companies and produce. There were a total of 20 bloggers, most of whom live in Michigan, or are from Michigan, or have Michigan ties somehow. A few of them were from out-of-state and just wanted to see all the great things Michigan has to offer.
I didn't get a whole lot of pictures, 1. because many times I had my hands completely full and couldn't (farmer's market) and 2. I was pretty embarrassed about my crappy camera when all the other bloggers were whipping out their fancy DSLRs and taking amazing pics whether the lighting was good or bad. But I did get a few, so here they are.
All dolled up for the big day. I have to mention: the weather was horrible that day! I'm pretty sure it was the coldest day of the season so far. We were supposed to have a high of 50, but after I got home I told my husband that I would be very surprised if it even got that warm. Sure enough, it only reached 48. And it was super windy too. I kept thinking that it felt more like February than early October. Not the ideal weather to go walking around downtown Grand Rapids all day, but oh well!
We had breakfast at the food truck The Silver Spork. That was really neat for me because I had never eaten at a food truck before.
I got their baked oatmeal. It was really good. Packed with brown sugar, apples, and dried cherries, and topped with almonds and drizzled with maple syrup, it was perfect for a chilly fall morning. I also got a hot apple cider to go with it.
This was also my first time at the Fulton St. Farmers Market. I had heard lots about it, so I was excited to check it out for myself. It runs from May through Christmas.
This picture doesn't show it very well, but this building goes on forever! There were so many vendors there; I couldn't believe it. The variety of goods for sale was just amazing. Not only fantastic produce (there were some heads of cabbage at least twice the size of my head if not three times the size!), but all kinds of baked goods like many varieties of freshly made pizza doughs, breads, cookies, etc, and fresh flowers, and homemade candies and things like soaps and lip balm. Shopping there was truly an experience!
After shopping at the farmer's market, we carpooled over to Wealthy St. and stopped at a neat shop, Art of the Table. This place is a foodie lover's dream! It is stocked with all kinds of artisanal and locally made goodies, like salsas, sauces, snacks, oils, etc. They also have a cheese case and a great variety of specialty wines. I splurged on a wedge of Idiazabal cheese that they were sampling. Delicious! We were also given a goody bag filled with some yummy granola, a jar of spicy sweet mustard, a bag of chocolate-covered blueberries, and a Michigan chocolate bar.
The Michigan chocolate bar came from Patricia of Patricia's Chocolate. Patricia gave us a demonstration and tasting of her ganache chocolates. They come in flavors like Cherry Hibiscus, Allspice Balsamic, and my favorite, Vanilla Juniper Berry Caramel.
When we were done at Art of the Table, we had some free time to check out the shops along Wealthy St. and the neighborhood. The group I was with stopped in at an organic market called Nourish. I loved this cabbage mural on their wall.
When we were done on Wealthy St., the group I was with headed to another neighborhood on Cherry St. We ended up walking about a mile and a half round-trip, which is great, except that I was wearing a dress (bare legs, brrr!) and dress shoes. But it really wasn't that bad. Our last stop before turning back to the cars was Under the Vines Tasting Room, where we got to sample some locally Michigan made products such as tortilla chips, cherry salsa, and dip mixes.
By the time we got back to the cars, it was time for lunch. We had a private lunch at Bistro Bella Vita. They aren't open to the public for lunch; they created a special lunch just for us! Liz demonstrated making her family's recipe for hummus in KitchenAid's newest food processor. Megan of What Megan's Making won the drawing for a brand-new stand mixer and Becca of Crumbs and Chaos won a new toaster. Lunch was really good; we were served two different kinds of salad (one was kind of a Greek salad and the other had apples and parmesan with a dijon dressing), two different kinds of pizza (one Mediterranean, one bacon, I think). The entrees were amazing: a beef short rib risotto (my fav) and a pasta with arugula, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese. They set out a platter of small bite desserts. There were chocolate-covered strawberries, a flourless chocolate cake, a vanilla cheesecake, a lemon bar, and I can't remember the others! (I had the chocolate cake and the cheesecake: yum!)
After lunch we all headed over to Reserve Wine and Food, right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
We were greeted there with a glass of champagne. Mmm.
And a lovely selection of charcuterie and cheese. Among the offerings were chicken liver and foie gras pate, pork and garlic rillette, duck rillette, speck and capicola. There were several different kinds of cheeses, but I can't remember what they all were, except tasty!
The GM of Reserve was gracious enough to give us a grand tour of the place. Reserve is home to the winning artwork of the very first Artprize in 2009. Artprize is a large arts festival held in downtown Grand Rapids every fall. The public votes for its favorites, and the grand prize winner gets a quarter of a million dollars, or something like that. This piece is called Open Water #24. Speaking of Artprize, this was the last weekend of this year's Artprize, and there was a big concert that night, so downtown was just packed with people that day.
The building that Reserve is in used to be a bank, so they kept the bank vault doors and use them outside their wine vault. We got to go into the wine vault, which is kept at a cool 57 degrees, and see Reserve's most expensive bottle of wine. I can't remember what kind it was, but it's worth $2,700.
We had some more free time after we left Reserve. I went back to the farmer's market and got my car, bringing it to the J.W. Marriott, where we were to have dinner. Myself and two other bloggers got drinks at Mixology and chatted about blog stuff for a while.
I ordered The Campau: Bacardi Oakheart, rhubarb reduction, sweet vermouth, bitters, and white cranberry juice. Yum!
Then it was time for dinner. Dinner was at six.one.six, also at the JW Marriott. Table for 20 please!
The menu was specially crafted for our group. And the chefs had no problem catering to the vegetarian, vegan, and raw food diet members among us.
My food pics aren't great because of previously mentioned crappy camera that has to use a flash in low light like this. But they will give you an idea of how awesome dinner was. This is the cauliflower soup with apple puree.
Some really yummy bread and fresh butter.
The butter was sprinkled with some kind of salt and maybe something else. I'm a salt fiend, so I loved it.
Frisee salad with roasted beets and a maple dijon vinaigrette that was unbelievable. And check out the fancy tear-drop plate!
The entree was a mushroom stuffed chicken breast with veggies. All of the food at six.one.six is comes from local farms, and this chicken is from my little town! Otto's Chicken in Middleville. Neat!
Dessert was a very unique banana cream pie. The crust was made from crushed almonds and dried fruit, and the mousse was made from dried fruit and bananas. It was not only vegan, but also made with 100% raw food. The truffle was also vegan and raw, made from cocoa nibs and cherries.
Dinner was totally amazing, and I had lots of fun talking to my fellow bloggers. But there was one more amazing thing awaiting us as we left: the swag bags! Each of these bags contained over $500 worth of local Michigan products! Wow! Rachel and Liz should get some kind of award for swag bag collecting! These bags were so loaded with stuff that I was so glad for the free valet parking at the restaurant, so I didn't have to haul mine very far!
The next day I took everything out and snapped a pic. I could barely fit it all in the picture. In fact, I accidentally left out the Pure Michigan cookbook. All of the swag is great, but the two things that completely blew me away were: the voucher for a free bowl of stir fry EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR at BD's Mongolian Grill (a Michigan company) and two free adult passes to SEVEN different attractions around Grand Rapids, including Meijer Gardens, all the museums, art museums, kids' museum, and the zoo! That is awesome!
Swag aside, I had so much fun on Saturday. Getting to meet other food bloggers for the first time was simply amazing. I really learned alot from talking with them. I also found that I had some things in common with some of them. One blogger was a fellow pastor's wife whose husband is currently teaching at a seminary in Mississippi. And I met another who is a fellow LCMS Lutheran and whose former pastor was a good friend of my husband's in seminary. Quite a coincidence!
Thank you so much, Rachel and Liz, for organizing this amazing event. As a stay-at-home-mom with two little ones, I can't tell you how great it was to get out of the house and have a day just for me! And I can't imagine a better way to have spent it. Liz and Rachel are planning to make this an annual event, so if you are interested in attending next year's event, please contact them and ask to be put on the mailing list. I heard they are thinking of having it in Traverse City next year. That would be fun!