The Rapidian

Taste of Grand Rapids 2011: Ready for More

Eastown neighbor Samantha Dine shares her experience at Taste of Grand Rapids 2011.
1st place barbeque winners receiving their trophy

1st place barbeque winners receiving their trophy /Samantha Dine

Underwriting support from:

Barbeque Champs

A large part of the Taste of Grand Rapids is an official Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned barbeque compeitition.

Taking the 1st place title were the defending champions from the Cancer Sucks Chicago BBQ Team.

Sandmann's booth at Taste of Grand Rapids 2011

Sandmann's booth at Taste of Grand Rapids 2011 /Samantha Dine

Wing Heaven booth at Taste of Grand Rapids 2011

Wing Heaven booth at Taste of Grand Rapids 2011 /Samantha Dine

The 13th annual Taste of Grand Rapids and barbeque competition was held this past weekend at John Ball Park. The event offered an eclectic mix of bands and entertainment hosted by The FOX 101.3 ,B-93 93.7 and STAR 105.7, as well as a statewide barbeque compeitition and food samples from local restaurants.  I went down late Saturday afternoon with a single-minded focus on those food samples.

Upon walking in, I was set up with a handy menu guide with all 26 participating restaurants and their food and drink offerings. In order to sample either one, I needed to trade my money for tickets at one of the booths spread throughout the venue. A set of four tickets was $5.00, with most of the main dishes averaging four or five tickets.

Based on my lackluster college budget, which only allowed me eight tickets, I realized I had some serious decision making ahead of me. Though I was tempted to gravitate to a few of my old favorites, such as (my hometown) Rockford's famous Corner Bar hot dogs or the always wonderful XO Asian Cuisine, I figured I should get in the spirit and try a new taste of Grand Rapids.

A few of the contenders I would have gladly sampled were: Chez Olga, The Venue, Georgio's Gourmet Pizza, and GoJo Ethiopian Cuisine.  I finally settled on spending my eight tickets between Sandmann's and Wing Heaven

Sandmann's, a barbeque restaurant located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Fuller Avenue, is only a few blocks from where I live.  I have long been curious about the amazing, smoky barbeque smells emanating from the store as I've walked past.  I was more than ready to put this mystery to bed.

For Taste of Grand Rapids, I could choose from racks of ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, 1/4 roast chicken, corn on the cob, or BBQ wings. I went for the four ticket pulled pork sandwich and never looked back. This little aluminum wrapped sandwich was exactly what a pulled pork sandwich should be: an unpretentious soft bun filled with tender, flavorful meat and a barbeque sauce that was just enough to complement the sandwich without overwhelming it. I look forward to trying their great-looking ribs in my near future.

Wing Heaven, a local chicken wing restaurant with five locations in the Grand Rapids area, has a reputation for general awesomeness. I've heard about Wing Heaven dozens of times but haven't been in yet. This has forced me to be left out of many excited conversations about sauce flavors. Truth be told, I hate being left out and I love chicken wings, so my next ticket decision was an obvious one.

With my four remaining tickets, I was able to get a mixture of five traditional and boneless wings. The store offers 18 signature sauces and I was able to try their garlic parmesan, hot, teriyaki, honey barbeque and caribbean jerk flavors.  I had a thoroughly satisfying, time-stopping food moment at my picnic table in the sun with my combination of wings.  Maybe I'm a wing traditionalist, but I wanted more of the classic hot flavor more than any other. I'm part of the conversation now and I will Wing Heaven rave to anyone who will listen.

The Taste of Grand Rapids event is really that, just a taste of the wonderful local food available in the city.  I got the chance to try these two new places and I am ready for more, please.  It seems there are restaurants here for every unique situation and craving we citizens can dream up, with more popping up all the time. Lucky us, we have the opportunity to take big bites out of Grand Rapids whenever we want.

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