Forced Couple Fun: Wheelhouse GR

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What began as an excuse to actually make the time for quality time is turning into a blog series. There's no catchy name for this blog. (Yet.) In fact, we haven't fully outlined what it should become. But we know that if we commit to writing this blog, we'll go out and experience what we love together!

Who the heck are we? And what do we love? Jason and I met in ninth grade, went to junior prom together, and didn't date during high school. After graduation, we didn't see each other for 15 years. When we ran into each other in a bar in Traverse City, that's all it took.

We have been together 12 years, married 8½, and have 7-year-old twin boys. We have hectic schedules amid work, the kids and life. As a couple, we love travel, golf and experiencing great food.

Summers find us spending quality time together golfing. Once the snow flies, it's more difficult to get motivated and go out. A couple years ago, we started a list of all the new area restaurants we hadn't experienced and created what we call our Foodie Tour. This started out great, but life got in the way; last winter, we tried less than a handful on our list.

This year is going to be different. It's forced couple fun, but we get to experience the great foodie town we live in.

Our first stop: Wheelhouse GR. It's been on top of our list since the restaurant opened, and we weren't disappointed. We snuck out of work a few minutes early to avoid traffic and have a drink before dinner. Rather than go somewhere else, we sat at the restaurant bar. Jason is really picky when it comes to bar service. (He managed a bar and worked in restaurants for many years.) Mel, the bartender, introduced himself right away and set the stage for what became a great evening.

We looked around the restaurant, in awe of how it was set up. The bar was quite large, with a professional after-work feel, yet it felt cozy and warm. The restaurant layout fostered that same atmosphere, with everything open, yet having its space. We might have been getting a buzz from the lavish holiday decorations; regardless, we appreciated its warm, cozy feel.

We are, most definitely, appetizer people. At the bar, we ordered the tuna crudo. WOW! That's all we've got. I could not have imagined combining tuna, pickled strawberries and heirloom tomatoes, but it was spectacular! When bar time was over, we went to our table to settle in. It took a bit of time to get service, perhaps because of the holiday parties that surrounded us. But the wait was worth it.

We started with beef tenderloin carpaccio and the avocado, feta and tomato tartines. Did I mention we were appetizer people? What was different about the beef carpaccio was the shaved crimini mushrooms topping it. But the winner at the table was the tartines. We weren't expecting the feta spread, which made the overall flavor fabulous with the combined toppings of tomatoes, radish and chia seeds. We wouldn't normally make the combination, but the flavors blended together perfectly.

The onion soup rivals anything that you would have had at the old Schuler's in Marshall, with the gruyere cheese a perfect addition to the veal stock base.

Finally, the main course. Jason ordered the short rib and I had the grilled prawns. The short rib was cooked great, but the meal's standout was the ranch gnocchi. I took the server's suggestion with the prawns, grilled perfectly with just the right amount of flavor. What made this dish so good was the weird combination of corn grit aioli, roasted corn chow chow and fried green tomatoes. Other than the prawns, none of these are things I would normally eat or put together, but it was AMAZING!

We were too stuffed to order dessert, so we're no help to those of you with a sweet tooth. (Although our editor dreams about the maple boudino!) Maybe next time. And there will be next time. As Jason said, "I'd go back there in a heartbeat, again and again, until I've tried everything on the menu!"

As we reflect on our forced couple fun, I must point out that while it was great trying a new restaurant, it was even better spending time together. In times like these we get to catch up on life, dig deeper than we do at home, and really connect.

We hope you enjoy this new series. If you have any suggestions on where we should go, let us know!

Kasie Smith is the president and publisher of West Michigan Woman. She and her husband, Jason, are fans of food, travel and golf—and their twin sons, Jackson and Spencer. Watch WestMichiganWoman.com for more stops on their Foodie Tour!


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