A heavy downpour couldn’t keep foodies from gathering in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, to experience the top ten sandwiches that comprised the Grandwich competition on August 6. The standout? The G-Wrap. It featured crisp seared Big B Farms pulled pork, spiced barbeque sauce, local Andouille sausage, spicy pickle “slaw” on BBQ spiced naan bread, and was the winner of the Grandwich competition.
The G-Wrap was created by The B.O.B.’s Bobarinos restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids. It was just one of 48 local restaurants that created a new-recipe sandwich for the competition which allowed people to vote for their favorite sandwich. When asked about the inspiration behind the G-Wrap, Jared Miller, executive chef of The B.O.B. said, “It wraps Grand Rapids up!”
The top ten restaurants were the Grand Central Market, The BOB – Bobarinos, Skywalk Deli, 25 Kitchen + Bar, St. Mary’s Health Care, Peppinos, Greenwell Gastro Pub, Hopcat, the Omelette Shoppe and Rico’s Deli.
A list of sandwiches, and the rules for voting, were posted on the Grandwich website. The site also kept a running tally of the votes. The Grandwich idea was created by Nicole Infante. “I love food, I love to cook and going out to eat,” she says. Nicole came to the conclusion that “Grand Rapids needs a sandwich” after being inspired by cooking shows featuring signature dishes from other cities. The intent was to celebrate Grand Rapids with flavors as unique as the people who live there – and translate it into a sandwich. So the chefs brainstormed, created and perfected recipes for a sandwich they thought best represented the Grand Rapids signature sandwich or “Grandwich.” Infante said the goals of the contest were to support local business and encourage people to “try a restaurant they haven’t tried before.”
Beginning July 15, participating restaurants presented their Grandwich entry in their restaurants. Patrons could try as many as they wanted and vote for their favorite Grandwich through July 31 on downtowngr.org. The Top 10 Grandwiches were announced on August 1, and public voting continued for five days. Grand Central Market made the number one spot in the public voting round.
Christina Klunder of Grand Central Market, says “In the two to three weeks of the competition we had tons of new faces come through the door asking about our sandwich. Grand Central Market sold 850 “57 Monroe” sandwiches before the competition to “mostly new people.” The “57 Monroe” continues to be a popular request, Christina adds, “The Grandwich competition created lots of fun and great publicity. I hope there’s more contests like this in the future.”
Following is a breakdown of the finalists and their sandwiches:
- 25 Kitchen + Bar featured a braised Sobie Meats pork shoulder on local Wealthy Street challah bread topped with Michigan cherry apple chutney, smothered with smoked Gouda and Kowalski Honey Dijon.
- The Green Well Gastro Pub developed “The Schmeiderwich.” It included a slow braised crispy Creswick Farms pork belly, Grassfields Gouda, Michigan Apple & Ingraberg Farms cabbage-radish slaw, Nantucket Bakery’s Hopcat spent grain and Michigan Maple hoagie bun, Doodles Sugar Bush maple-Detroit ale mustard and a Rawkowski Farms fried egg. It was served with housemade El Milagro white corn tortilla chips.
- The Omelette Shoppe’s “Michigan Street Reuben” was a combination of slow-roasted, hand-pulled tender corned beef, sliced dill pickles, sweet and tangy homemade mustard and Great Lakes Swiss cheese – all on RW Bakers marbled rye bread made in Muskegon, Michigan.
- The Skywalk Deli’s “The GR Melting Pot” featured locally made chorizo sausage topped with a homemade sweet potato pierogi, Dutch Edam cheese, roasted red pepper and olive tapenade and a spicy Asian aioli on a grilled German Kaiser roll.
- Saint Mary’s Health Care created a grilled Michigan turkey sandwich with sweet cherries, apples and fresh herbs from their garden. It was smothered with blueberry goat cheese, fire roasted sweet Vidalia onions, greens, cabbage and carrots tossed with a light blueberry vinaigrette, and then layered inside Nantucket Bakery’s multigrain toast. Their goal was to create a sandwich that reflected the healthy lifestyles of Grand Rapids. The result was this tasty sandwich with only 500 calories.
- The Grand Central Market’s Stone House Bakery created a red pepper and asiago cheese focaccia bread sandwich with Michigan Turkey Producer’s smoked turkey breast, Dancing Goat Creamery fresh chevre, Mud Lake Farms LLC mixed artisan lettuces, housemade pesto with Michigan basil, Old World Olive Press vinaigrette, tomato and sweet red onion. It was served with chips and a pickle spear.
- Hopcat’s “Sloppy Crack Fry Sandwich” provided a new twist on the Sloppy Joe by adding jalapenos, a full order of their signature, highly addictive “crack fries,” complete with soft beer cheese on a brioche bun.
- Ricos Deli/Liquid Cargo, “A Memory of Thanksgiving” included a generous portion of hand carved turkey breast topped with creamy Havarti, layered with homemade stuffing on hand-cut potato bread. It was accompanied by cranberry aioli and presented in a Panini with a turkey jus lie on the side.
The winner was announced August 6 at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids. Jeff Barrett of Status Creative emceed the event. Samples of the all the Grandwiches were handed out. Admission was a donation of cash or an item to Kids’ Food Basket, an organization that delivers sack suppers to schools and parks for children in the area who might not otherwise get dinner. A panel of local food experts and local celebrities judged the entries for the summer-long competition. Judging was based on use of local ingredients, uniqueness, taste, appearance and representation of Grand Rapids. The judges for the event included:
- Todd Chance, who is the owner of Double Thumb Planet, a social media consulting business in Grand Rapids and a devoted foodie. Chance has even flown to London to eat at one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants. Chance said his goal was to see what the chef was trying to say with what they were creating.
- Tommy Fitzgerald is a local chef and the owner of Cafe Stella in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who emphasizes use of local products and makes almost everything from scratch. Fitzgerald is committed to the community and has created his own fund for Kids’ Food Basket called the JuiceBall Initiative. Fitzgerald and Chance are currently working on a television show concept called One Plate Date that combines a cooking show with a game show. You can learn more at facebook.com/oneplatedate.
- Jennifer Gritters is part of the Meijer Culinary Team that is comprised of Corporate Research Chef Ray Sierengowski and Culinary Intern Daniela McClure. The team works to create the future of food for Meijer through Culinology®, the blending of culinary arts and food science.
- Chef Chris Wessely has combined his love of cooking with his business talent to create The Personal Chef Group, which is now serving the greater Grand Rapids area, bringing good, wholesome food to families’. Wessely said, “I like the concepts. This competition puts Grand Rapids on the map.”
- Shawn Winnell, also known as “Chops” on the Food Network show Ice Brigade, has been an ice sculptor for six years. “Chops” says, “I like the idea of shopping local and buying local.” He said it played a big part in his evaluation of the sandwiches.
- A local business woman and foodie, Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis is president of SallyZara Public Relations. She also created GreatFoodandTravel.com and GreatFoodandTravelBlog.com, which is packed with information about food, restaurants and travel sites along the Lake Michigan shore from southern Michigan to Mackinaw Island. As a project manager for Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, Sally helped Experience Grand Rapids launch the event in 2010.
Nicole Infante admits “I’m glad I didn’t have to be a judge. I tried them all and I love them all for different reasons.” On discussing the success of the Grandwich event Nicole says she is “happy and surprised with how well it went. It’s like ArtPrize, Iron Chef and a reality show all wrapped into one event!” “People were enthusiastic and appreciative,” she adds, “if only the weather would have cooperated.”
While Grandwich conversations continue to happen in restaurants, during lunch breaks and on twitter with the hashtag #grandwich we’re wondering – will there be a Grandwich 2012? Nicole says, “It’s a possibility.”