by Richelle Kimble • photography by WLM Staff
Perhaps you’re exiting the Van Andel Arena after an incredible night with Paul McCartney, or maybe you’re simply roaming through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids on a weeknight. Upon approaching the intersection of Ottawa and Oakes, the ever-growing Arena District grabs your attention; the tall windows, open-concept dining and modern design of newly opened Wheelhouse Kitchen & Cocktails invites you to join in the dining experience.
The new American bistro opened in June 2016, and marks Meritage Hospitality Group’s fourth casual dining establishment. Meritage is mother to Freighters Eatery & Taproom in Port Huron, and two of West Michigan’s staple restaurants: Twisted Rooster and Crooked Goose. Each restaurant is locally shaped to integrate and bond the nearby community; local farms, wineries and breweries constantly fill their menus and community partnerships flood their annual calendar. As Marketing Manager of Meritage Hospitality Group, Lindsay Stone said, “Our ‘Commit to the Mitt’ philosophy is in the heart of all we do. Commitment to this community goes far beyond our menu.”
In addition to the innovative and growing company at its core, Wheelhouse staffs passionate leaders that lay the framework for the ultimate drinking and dining rendezvous. Headed by General Manager Eric Teasley, Executive Chef Andrew Alcid, and Mixologist T.J. Shibbish, the restaurant’s flow, cohesion and ideation is set for continual improvement. The three aim to work together for constant menu satisfaction, drinks that tingle the palate, and service beyond expectations.
Location, Location, Location
Upon opening in May, Wheelhouse added to the expanding Heartside neighborhood. Surrounding the restaurant is a variety of growth, including 100 apartments and several businesses within the Arena Place development space above Wheelhouse (including the relocation of Meritage’s Restaurant Service Center). The downtown scene is experiencing an exciting revamp from this growth, shifting and further expanding the city’s bustling epicenter.
The Meritage reputation and Wheelhouse’s prime location and versatile space puts this restaurant on the map, and for those who have already visited or have yet to visit the establishment, follow along for a detailed glimpse into the Wheelhouse experience.
With high tops, dining booths and bar stools; and artisan cocktails, eclectic fare and locally sourced features, you might ask yourself, “Where do I begin?”
Start with your intention. For the business professional delivering a work orientation, choose the far left dining space that includes a 12-foot HD video wall for flawless presentations. For the out-of-towners, try perching at the oversized bar for recommendations from a bartender or sparking conversation with a fellow tourist. For the family, friends, or couples looking to enjoy a more private yet comfortable meal, perhaps you choose the far right dining space next to one of their three built-in gas fireplaces.
Once greeted, peruse the menu with the understanding that whatever is ordered, it will be enjoyed. Paralleling Grand Rapids’ growing support for locally sourced ingredients and Meritage’s other casual dining establishments, Wheelhouse is focused on supporting local farms and businesses for the freshest sips and bites. Couple that with Shibbish’s 12 years of mixology experience an Alcid’s comprehensive qualifications as a chef, and your taste buds are in for a sweet, refreshing or savory treat.
“The Wheelhouse menu is built from a refined technique, using the freshest local ingredients Michigan has to offer,” Alcid said.
The freshness is apparent when you bite into the pineapple garnish of the Andromeda’s Garden, for example. Sophisticated and delicious, your cocktail might be highlighted by one of T.J.’s favorite Michigan’s distilleries, New Holland or Long Road.
Your dish will likely arrive promptly; the modern plating delivers a wave of excitement as you anticipate devouring the chef’s intentional artwork. That is essentially what a well-developed and passionate restaurant delivers: edible artwork.
Let the upscale ambience light your meal. Sit back and relax as you enjoy Michigan’s offerings prepared by a Michigan-driven establishment and a passionate, skilled staff!
“We seek to give greater Grand Rapids residents and tourists alike a dining experience unlike any other,” Stone said. “Our commitment to honest, quality food paired with our focus on impeccable guest service allows us to serve each guest with the type of ‘uncommon hospitality’ Grand Rapids has come to be known for,” Stone said.
At the Core
When asked for the three words that describe Wheelhouse, Stone responded, “It has to be four words: Commit to the mitt!”
In addition to a locally sourced menu at their casual dining restaurants, Meritage is committed to giving back to the community and plans to continue the participation in city-wide initiatives that contribute to the growth of Grand Rapids. You’ll see Wheelhouse on the Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2016 list, competing in the Grand Rapids Cocktail Contest, hosting art during ArtPrize, sautéing in the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction, and serving guests at several Van Andel Institute charities and galas. Already in their short opening period, Wheelhouse partnered their grand opening with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and raised over $5,000 for live-saving research.
“We are dedicated to be a long-standing community partner, engaging with the greater Grand Rapids community to contribute to the overall growth of the city,” Stone said.
The next time you find yourself trekking the sidewalks of Grand Rapids seeking an intimate location amid a big-city feel, find solace in one of Wheelhouse’s 270 seats; this is your local opportunity to relax, refresh and enjoy the experience.
Wheelhouse is located at 67 Ottawa Ave. SW and is open 11 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour rings in from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the weekdays. For more information about The Meritage Hospitality Group or their restaurants visit www.committothemitt.com.
When she’s not editing for WLM, Richelle enjoys exploring, traveling, writing, reading, cooking, learning and playing. Follow her for adventure inspiration: @richelle.kimble