Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Matthew Munoz, Executive Editor
It’s a Thursday evening and there is not a parking spot to be found atBell’s Eccentric Café in downtown Kalamazoo. State of Michigan flag displayed proudly out front, the restaurant which is attached to Bell’s Brewery has been a Kalamazoo staple and source of local pride since its opening in 1993.
The brewery is open seven days a week and has reached wide-spread acclaim for its beers outside of Southwest Michigan with several of its lagers available in 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. For many, it is a way to share a piece of the region and its local flavor with those near and far.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” For those of us who are not yet old enough to be loved by God, there is Bell’s Eccentric Café. The restaurant is serving up a menu of appetizers and sandwiches for customers of all ages, whether or not the food is paired with one of Bell’s famous beers.
“What can I get you?” said the waitress who leaned over the bar and indicated that we move closer to hear her over the roar that echoed in the lower level of the large, wooden room packed with patrons enjoying a beer or three. There is no one to guide you to your table here, no fancy napkins, no one who walks by and asks you how you are and refreshes your water. Walk up. Order at the bar. Pick it up at the little window and seat yourself where you please.
If you like noise, then the first floor bar area is the perfect place for you. If you are looking for a calmer dining experience, find your way up the wooden staircase to the balcony level of the restaurant which overlooks the crowded bar and tables below. If you are dining with a large group, conjoining a few tables to accommodate everyone will not be a problem as no one regularly stops by to check on you and it is a bit of a free-for-all.
The menu, which is certainly eclectic, though not extensive, is posted on a large chalkboard for anyone interested in indulging in a sandwich, wrap, or maybe a few orders of Red Bean and Poblano Pepper Dip. With items ranging from a Barbequed Pork Sandwich to a tofu wrap, the short menu runs the cultural and culinary gamut.
While the food is a refreshing departure from peanuts and Chex Mix, it is still bar food. It is food meant to be paired with a few drinks and at around $7.50 average for a sandwich and chips, it is not a bargain for students compared to restaurants that offer a half-off student discount.
Perhaps the best-case scenario order off of the menu, the Smoked Blackened Catfish Sandwich and Salt and Pepper Chips is substantial and satisfying. The catfish filet, breaded, seasoned, and fried to a golden crisp, is situated atop a fresh roll with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Like movie theatre pop corn, the salt and pepper chips are downright delicious and addicting; allow your hand to wander and you may end up eating them all before you start on the sandwich.
A major detraction from all of the sandwiches was the bread-to-filling ratio. The Roast Beef and Bleu Cheese Sandwich, while quite tasty, was comprised mostly of the thick, bready roll with not much meat and condiments to be mentioned in between. The sandwich was once again served along side the addicting salt and pepper chips.
Sandwiches are not the only thing available on Bell’s menu, with a few wraps available along with vegetarian options for any non-carnivores. Among the array of food ordered, there were two vegetarian options—the Black Bean Burger and the Tofu Wrap. The tofu wrap turned out to be quite delicious: Marinated and grilled tofu served in a large tortilla among fresh lettuce and tomato. The wrap stood out in contrast to the burger, which left much to be desired. The large blackboard, which touted that the burgers were house-made, worked up excitement for something astounding, but ultimately fell flat. The patty failed to catch my attention as something unique and it was once again overwhelmed by the large amount of bread which encased it.
So what does one make of the food at this otherwise outstanding local brewery? At the end of the day, the food is quite tasty but it is not a dining destination in and of itself. It is bar food—food meant to be paired with a few beers, each one enhancing the other. Well underage students, perhaps this is a leaf best left unturned until you have reached the wise, all-knowing age of 21. It is definitely a place that anyone who dares to call themselves a West Michigander must try at some point in their life, but this time in your life, when there is money to be saved and a belly to be filled, may not be that time.
If you go expecting a beginning-to-end dining experience, you will be left underwhelmed. With our sandwiches finished in a matter of minutes, the bill pre-paid, and no beers to refresh, we took our plastic baskets to the trash. “So guys, while we have the car, do you want to split some cheap dessert at The Union?”