April 8, 2018
One of the perks of being a local food blogger is the rare, spontaneous invitation to epicurean events. The GRFoodieChicks were invited to taste some menu items for a new restaurant opening in Grand Rapids. All three chicks managed to clear at least part of an afternoon to head to Sysco Headquarters and sample some menu items being considered for a new, upscale soul food restaurant.
40 Acres Soul Kitchen will open to the public in Spring 2018 to serve the hungry yearning for all things southern comfort food. Owner and managing partner Lewis Williams and majority owner Darel Ross II gave us some background on developing this type of restaurant. Ross describes himself as a chronic entrepreneur and co-led LINC with Jeremy DeRoo. Williams originally came from Brooklyn to Grand Rapids to launch the Sierra Room in the mid-90s. At that time, opening an upscale restaurant there was considered a huge gamble as Van Andel arena was not opened yet and people were not coming downtown. How things have changed in twenty years.
The two have been putting a lot of thought into making the restaurant authentic to their upbringings while also intentional in their desire to bring the first large scale soul food restaurant to Grand Rapids. When pressed about his meaning of intentional, Lewis says they want all people to be able to come and have real soul food and this includes vegans and gluten-free diners. He wants to create an atmosphere of inclusivity in a relaxed but authentic soul food restaurant. Williams also stresses they will source locally and strive to have a positive economic impact on the restaurant’s neighborhood. The two hired Chef Trimell Hawkins as the executive chef. Although from Chicago, Hawkins was trained locally at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education in Grand Rapids.
Let’s get to the food.
First up was Chef Hawkins’ nod to grilled cheese. Not like grilled cheese I remember; it’s better. The cheese is served melted in a cast iron skillet covered with a chimichurri sauce served with unleavened bread. Gooey and warm, the cheese and sauce complemented each other well. Chef also prepared fried okra and fried green tomatoes with his own remoulade sauce that set off the delicate flavors of the vegetables and batter.
Another appetizer we sampled was gizzards with Wonder Bread sauce and spicy crisps. Now, I am the product of a wonderful Irish woman who nightly served us meat cooked well and potatoes cooked all-ways. She would dip a sensible shoe onto the wild side occasionally and make spaghetti. So when I tell you this is the first time I have tried gizzards, forgive me. They were awesome as only gizzards fried and served with this crazy sauce made from Wonder Bread and served with spicy chips can be. I knew this had to be good as Ross did not say much in the presentation before the sampling but he was sure to be first in line when if Chef brought this dish out again.
The main dishes we tried included a shrimp Po Boy with Chef’s remoulade sauce and a Philly Cheese Steak Bowl. I did not know traditional Po Boy sandwiches are filled with potatoes but Williams educated me. The potato Po Boy will be offered on the menu along with the shrimp. The bun was perfectly grilled and not soggy from the wonderful sauce. My favorite of all the dishes, though, was the Philly Cheese Steak served in a bread bowl. The flavors of the steak and two kids of cheese with the crunchy yet soft-in-the-middle bread hit all the comfort buttons for me. I had to stop myself from thirds.
Before we could barely recover, Chef brought out what he called hand pies. Hand pies are smaller pies for one person that his grandmother would make him and his cousins at family gatherings.
We tried blueberry, apple and peach. Chef and his grandmother know what they are doing. The homemade crust was warm and flaky with a thick, fruity filling that was not overly sweet but just right.
Located at 1059 Wealthy SE, 40 Acres Soul will have seating for 80 with another 50 on their patio in warmer weather. They will also offer a full bar, to-go options, vegan and vegetarian options and catering. Another welcomed and needed addition to the diverse options in our community!