Brewed crew

I’ll just be honest. Brewed Awakenings has been one of my favorite restaurants in Grand Rapids for as long as I’ve lived here. But now that my apparent bias is out in the open, let me explain.

First: I’m a coffee snob. No sense in mincing words on the subject, I just am. So when I first moved to Grand Rapids, I immediately went to Brewed to check it out, and have been very impressed by their coffee. Using locally roasted beans from Alakef out of Duluth, they arguably have the freshest, boldest, most flavorful espresso in town. With that in mind, anyone who enjoys espresso-based coffee drinks can find these beverages with a solid foundation at Brewed.

So that’s why I’ve liked them for so long. It actually took awhile before I ever ate anything there.

But that was a nice surprise too. So second: they have a large menu of healthy and flavor-rich eats (nice bakery selection too, all of which are certainly not ‘healthy,’ unless you count comfort food as being spiritually healthy). To show that I’m not too biased, I will say that their muffins can be an acquired taste at times. First time I had one, I was expecting something a little sweeter. But that’s not what these are: they’re hearty, fiber-centric muffins.

That aside, I swung by Brewed Awakenings on Wednesday, video camera and mental note pad in tow, to talk to the owner, Joan Foster. The café has been through a lot of different stages over the past 17 years, beginning as a coffee cart outside a grocery store. Now it’s a dining landmark in Grand Rapids, well known for fresh, organic ingredients, and for being one of the only major selections around town of gluten-free and vegan friendly options. Aside from coffee, the café specializes in soup. With 77 different soups (not all available at a time though), which are all original vegetarian recipes, you could stop by every day for a month and never have the same soup twice.

I was planning on having the soup, but Foster suggested I try the day’s special: Tamale pie.

Apparently, those behind the counter are asked daily what they have available that’s gluten-free, encouraging them to expand their menu of items without wheat, barley, or rye. The tamale pie fits in this category, making it suitable for a wide-variety of diets. And not only that, it’s also vegan, meaning there are no animal by-product ingredients: no meat, no milk, no none of that. Therefore... I had to try it.

For those who may be wary of a menu item labeled gluten-free and/or vegan, fear not. This is not a synonym for “taste-free.” The tamale pie, consisting mostly of pinto beans, along with peppers, onions, and garlic, inside a cornmeal crust, is a dense serving of spice and flavor. Served with salsa and guacamole, there were a lot of ways to slice it to create the flavor profile one prefers. There was even a spicy zip to it, evidence of a little jalapeño in the pie. For those sensitive to spice, take note, but on the whole it was just good for flavor and not so much for heat. I would’ve preferred a little hotter actually, but apparently that’s what the bottles of hot sauce at the counter are for.

Capping things off, I had a cappuccino, which was made beautifully with a slight swirl of foam and crema (but no cappuccino art, unfortunately), and some gelato. Gelato is an Italian ice cream, made with milk instead of cream, making it lower in fat. They make the gelato on-site on a weekly basis. I had the peanut butter, which was sweet, rich, and of course, tasted like peanut butter.

For a small-town café, there’s a lot available that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. And once you find out what to expect, you discover there’s something else too. For instance, despite the focus on vegetarian options, they have some great deli-style meats such as roast beef and ham, which are used for their sandwiches.

For more info on Brewed Awakenings, visit www.brewedawakenings.biz.

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