Move over craft beer! It's time to give handcrafted cocktails a little spotlight.
If you haven't noticed, the West Michigan dining experience is becoming more heightened, thanks to the marriage of elegant food and beverages curated with thoughtful combinations.
Osteria Rossa owner Chris Perkey calls his restaurant the kind of place "an Italian family would open if they moved to West Michigan"—where locally grown food is used to create the menu. It's the same approach they take with cocktails. "We use the freshest of herbs in both our cocktails and our food. If blueberries are in season, we make blueberry simple syrup. We only buy from Michigan distilleries now." Wine is easy to pair with food, Perkey adds, "But cocktails can be a little trickier. We have a scallop dish with pork belly on it. I would suggest a cocktail with slight bitterness and splash of lemon to help cleanse the palate, so it balances out the fattiness of the scallop dish."
Carrie and Phil Caldwell, owners of Pumpernickels, moved from South Florida—where mixologists perfected the art of splashy, unique drinks. They wanted to bring that flair to the popular resort town. A signature drink is a smoked old fashioned. "There are a lot of craft breweries, which is fantastic, but we felt there needed to be a focus on craft cocktails. There's a lot of interest of that right now, especially with millennials," Carrie said. "They want to pair food with specific cocktails to enhance the flavors." Phil notes the menu changes with the season. "We have a cocktail with a lot whisky and cantaloupe juice, which pairs nicely with a nice seared tuna appetizer and spiced blackened mahi-mahi."
For the past two years, 18th Amendment has crafted high-end Pre-Prohibition/Prohibition-era cocktails.
"There's a giant range of liquors, bitters that have complex flavors that may have gone to the wayside," bartender Becca Bedrosian said. "We're bringing them back to this generation!"
The handcrafted part may take a few minutes due to straining, shaking and stirring ingredients, becoming bonus entertainment. Bedrosian encourages guests to try a spicy drink with a delicious Lebanese cheese appetizer.
Feel intimidated trying the higher end? Divani is working to change that. Owner Molly Kopen notes you don't have to be a connoisseur. "Our staff will never be condescending, and we will help you enjoy learning what we serve." The entire staff travels together two or three times a year to get inspiration from bigger cities—and it seems to be working. "I take them on these trips so we can see what's up and coming in the industry, like crazy ice cubes injected with different flavors and smoke and fire drinks. We are an all-made-from-scratch kitchen. Even our ketchup is made from scratch.
"I want the food and beverage end not only to be high-end products, but a memorable experience."
Visit West Michigan Woman for more about these restaurants.
Written by Jennifer A. Pascua, Digital Content Strategy Manager for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.