GRAND RAPIDS–Any restaurant engaged in the annual Cool Brews. Hot Eats. has an appetite for enhancing beer culture. Though beer has been paired with food for a long time, there are still folks out there who are newcomers to the concept. Thankfully they can experience this phenomenon at 51 different locations throughout Grand Rapids from February 17-28th.

cool brews hot eatsExperience GR is working with the area’s restaurants to create these unique beer and food pairing deals and centering the week and a half long event around the annual Winter Beer Festival.

I’ve taken some time to look through the pairing options that we have coming up for Cool Brews. Hot Eats. I was pleased to see a range of subtle uses of beer as a cooking medium, all the way to creative collaborations of pairing a specific glass of Michigan beer with either a lunch or dinner plate.  

While digging through the various restaurant offerings, I found out that everyone is obsessed with cheese. Go figure. Beer and cheese will forever be the ultimate pairing, so venues have decided to play up this known fact by offering selections such as the Beer Cheese Soup at Tom and Chee’s ($3.50/Cup, $5/Bowl), which is made with a Five Cheese Blend and New Holland Brewing Company’s Sundog Amber Ale. Aperitivo is offering The Meltdown, their ever-changing fancy grilled cheese paired with beer. They’ll create your special pairing AND you’ll get $2 off if you order both.

If you’re excited to gorge on meat and beer, don’t you worry. Cool Brews. Hot Eats. restaurant participants knew you’d crave it, and there is no shortage of deliciousness like pot roast and pork belly being offered. For instance — Ramona’s Table is serving up an Atwater Vanilla Java Pot Roast Sandwich plus a side dish ($9.99). The sandwich is made of Vanilla Java Porter Simmered Pot Roast served on a Grilled Pretzel Bun with Haystack Onions and is sure to stick to those ribs to keep you warm for excursions such as the Winter Beer Festival.

Looking for a fresh catch instead? Check out The Heritage at Grand Rapids Community College to educate your palate with their Dark Mahogany Shrimp Etouffee made with Founders Porter ($14.50). It’s sure to make for a satisfying lunch. Osteria Rossa also collected their ingredients from the sea with their Cioppino. Made with Brewery Vivant’s Farmhand, their Cioppino consists of P.E.I. mussels, Tomato Broth, Manilla Clams, Italian sausage, Potatoes, and Fennel. It sounds oh so fresh — yet hearty.

The beer selections themselves caught my eye most of all. Founders Brewing Company is forever present with their Porter, Dirty Bastard and All Day IPA (among others of course), but Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk made an appearance on almost every other menu I saw.

Though these giants in the Michigan beer scene are prevalent, it was wonderful to see lesser known items pop up such as the Odd Side Ales Troll Toll IPA that will be used at the Black Heron for their Troll Toll Risotto and Łosoś ($22). This Parmesan and Lemon Risotto made with Odd Side Ales Troll Toll IPA comes with a Salmon Steak topped with a Cherry and Thyme Chutney. It will turn quite a few heads I’m sure.

Thought that you were all done with your beer pairings because you’ve moved onto dessert? Think again. Pairing beer with dessert is a special sort of perfection in life, and sure enough there are several venues that will indeed be proving this to you. CitySen Lounge anyone? Take a walk into the CityFlats Hotel and visit the Lounge so you can test out their pairing of Bell’s Double Cream Stout with their Peanut Butter Double Cream Stout Brownies that comes with Sticky Plum Jam and White Chocolate ($6). Decadence without a doubt.

With 51 restaurants, breweries, and brewpubs participating, be sure to visit as many venues as you can to get in on these great deals and personal approaches to pairing the fine suds of Michigan with a meal. The lessons gained can only comfort the residents and guests who lovingly call Grand Rapids, Beer City USA.