Restaurant pairs French cuisine, cider


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Paul Vander Heide is confident the best meal in Grand Rapids on Sept. 27 will be at Vander Mill.

It will be the second cider dinner held at the company’s Grand Rapids location, 505 Ball Ave. NE, which opened this spring, but Vander Mill’s owner said there have been others at the original Spring Lake location that help highlight two objectives.

Vander Heide said the first objective is to help educate consumers by exploring the various types of cider available. The second is to show cider’s “incredible ability to pair with food,” he said.

This month’s dinner will focus on cuisine derived from Northern France — an area with strong cider connections — with 30 spaces available at $75 per person. The price tag might seem steep to some consumers, but Vander Heide said the dinner is an evening of experiences lasting more than two hours.

“For these dinners, we really focus on matching the food quality with our beverage experience,” he said. “We want to provide guests with an amazing food experience, beverage experience and service experience, all in a casual atmosphere.

“We like to break down the barrier that it needs to be a formal occasion for a true culinary experience.”

The dinner is five courses, with multiple dishes, many served family style. Between courses, Vander Heide and Executive Chef Justin Large break down the history of the dish and cider and why they were paired together.

Prior to the dinner, guests receive a welcome cider as they explore the space and get to know the other guests.

“Food and beverage really can bring people and community together,” he said. “It’s not super common in West Michigan, but it’s fun to put people next to strangers and allow them to realize how much fun it can be to talk to someone they’ve never met before about food and beverage.”

While the cider dinners give Vander Mill’s kitchen a chance to shine, Vander Heide said they also are meant to help raise awareness of the restaurant’s everyday menu. Bringing Large home from Chicago was a major boost for what Vander Heide hoped to accomplish with raising his company’s culinary assets to be on par with his cider, he said.

When the restaurant opened in spring, the menu largely was French country inspired, but Vander Heide said the menu was met with some hesitation, as many customers wanted burgers, sandwiches and wings.

“We could have done a little better job educating guests on what to expect before they came in,” he said. “We revamped the menu and made the menu a little more approachable to the food people expected, while maintaining a lot of the entrées how we envisioned and are working back to the original type of menu to elevate dining experiences.”

The menu is soon to see a slight overhaul as the season switches to fall. Changing menus can be hard for consumers, Vander Heide said.

“Change is hard for a lot of people,” he said. “They come in expecting a dish they really liked and it’s not there anymore, but we can say if you liked that one, you’ll really like this one.

“We want to gain that trust from the diner to know we’ll treat them right.”

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