The Grand Wrap-It
Even though I love to travel and spend a large percentage of my time out on the road, as a New Yorker I’m still required by birthright to be hyper-critical of any other place I visit — and in no realm is that more true than food. When evaluating a new city’s food scene, one of the most important criteria is the strength of their after-hours offerings, because there’s nothing worse than getting drunk in a strange city, learning that the bars close at some obscenely early hour like 1am, and then finding yourself wandering strange, grid-less city streets with nary a pizza place open to soak up the booze.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan for a college friends’ wedding last week, my pals and I were pleasantly surprised to find a pretty happening revived downtown area, and particularly pleased with Hopcat, a serious beer geek’s bar with an impressive handpull list (and a A+ rating from Beer Advocate). At least on the liquid side of things, G-rap was shaping up to be a more exciting city than I had imagined.
I did, however, have one major problem…
After throwing back a few extra-hoppy Michigan beers with the bride and groom the night before the wedding, all present agreed it was time for some not-so-late night snacking. We spent a good deal of time perusing the amazingly Midwest menu (beer cheese, mac ‘n’ cheese, cheese-y pretzel, cheese fries, etc…), before settling 3 or 4 cheese-y fried items to share. I approached the barman and started rattling off half the things on the menu when he cut me off to say “sorry, kitchen closed at 11.”
WTF! 11? Grand Rapids’ status is taking a serious nose dive right now. How can you close the kitchen — at a bar — at 11 on a weekend night? Combine this with the soon-to-be-discovered fact that they stop serving shots at midnight, and I was about ready to board an early plane back to the East Coast.
But then two friends went out for a cigarette and returned with amazing news. Shortly after 11, Grand Rapids’ street food scene comes to life with a proliferation of late-night hot dog carts set up directly outside the bars. I’d previously experienced the late-night hot dog stands in Chicago, and while you can count on the Midwest to deliver a delicious tubed meat product, I find their hot dogs to have the same problem as their pizza — TMI — too many ingredients. Loaded with relish, onions, mustard, peppers, tomatoes, pickles, and god I can’t even remember what else, these dogs were delicious, but not exactly something you can eat while walking down the street without dropping a trail of toppings like some shitfaced hansel and gretel.
In Grand Rapids, however, they’ve come up with an ingenious solution that allows for both the Midwest’s signature over-ingredienting and the East Coaster’s insistence on eating while stumbling home: the Grand Wrap-It. An all-beef hot dog loaded with all the fixins you could want (mustard, ketchup, onions, pickles), the bun removed and replaced with a warm tortilla — keeping the spillage to a bare minimum. Now that is some late-night snacking. Score one for Michigan.