Text: R. Collins // Photography: GROW Café + Bistro
Known primarily for its rolling dune beaches, great beer, and quaint, vacation vibe, Saugatuck also offers something special to western Michigan’s culinary makeup in its cozy, upscale bistro, GROW Café + Bistro located downtown, just off Kalamazoo Lake.
GROW’s scratch kitchen has become known for its thoughtful, localized twists on diner fare—think carrot cake pancakes or skin-on rainbow trout fish tacos stacked with sesame slaw and other delicious additions—all dreamed up by the café’s team of owners, Lindsay and Alec Payleitner, who also run the kitchen and front-of-house.
Though the bistro was made for the breakfast and brunch genre, GROW has always embraced opportunities beyond the two, like its one-off, multi-course pairings and locals-driven weekly buffets known as “Sunday Suppers,” as well as the family-style menus the team began creating for quarantining households to takeaway last spring. This flexibility for GROW would come in handy when the team dreamed up its next big idea: a new evening bistro in an adjacent space which would launch during pandemic.
“In each of those [other] formats, we featured a Middle-Eastern- and Mediterranean-inspired menu, which consistently received the best reviews. When the adjacent space opened up, we jumped at the chance to delve full-time into that concept,” said Lindsay Payleitner, co-owner and chef at GROW Café + Bistro.
The resulting concept is called The TRAP and it opened last month adjacent to GROW as an evening bistro offering the foundational tastes of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in the locally-bent, scratch-made style GROW has made its name. Payleitner’s goal for the menu was to keep things exciting yet approachable, so the menu lineup incorporated the herbs, spices, and flavors of the regions into recognizable dishes.
“On the east side of the state, where I grew up, diners that incorporate these flavors alongside traditional American fare are ubiquitous. I remember this ‘diner fusion’ as a kid—French fries dipped in toum, a Lebanese garlic spread. So, for starters, we knew needed that magical condiment on the menu,” Payleitner said.
Toum makes an appearance on the entrée section of the menu—which includes lamb meatballs in a coconut curry stew and braised beef with shawarma-style spices—as do other American favorited mainstays of the continental regions such as tabouli, hummus, falafel, handmade pita, and the Payleitners’ favorite: the baked goat cheese from Evergreen Lane Creamery in Fennville and spinach dip with coriander, cilantro, and cardamom.
Other highlights from The TRAP’s new menu are the Kibbeh dumplings—beef, bulgur croquettes, and Chicago-style giardiniera—and the sweet relief of the red velvet cake with cocoa, beet root, and goat cheese frosting. As a kitchen-forward experience, the cocktail menu is also kitchen-driven, and Payleitner notes the Preserved Lemon Margarita and Medjool Date Old Fashioned as complementary must-haves from the new menu.
The TRAP will be utilized this spring and summer as a waiting room for sipping mimosas or a cup of coffee while guests wait for a spot at GROW, and staff will work between both restaurants, ensuring that GROW’s signature hospitality component carries over to the evening culture of The TRAP. The notably dog-friendly atmosphere of GROW will also be supported by the expanded outdoor seating that the new space provides.
While The TRAP’s support for outdoor space and adoption of a fan-favorited menu helped to ensure its successful creation, Payleitner noted that opening a new space is always a challenge, perhaps even more so in a pandemic environment. This summer, the restauranteur is looking forward to the simple things that make working in restaurants and hospitality worthwhile: the eager visitors and avid local fans, and a safe, social atmosphere that is, now, even more precious.
“My favorite summer moments are when I get to briefly step out from the hot, bustling kitchen and see a packed, sun-soaked patio full of fork-wielding guests, smiling amongst their loved ones just living in the moment,” Payleitner said. “A seasonal town coming out of hibernation is a living thing. It’s palpable. That’s what makes the challenges all worthwhile.”
GROW Café + Bistro | 302 Culver Street, Saugatuck MI
Friday through Monday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET
Open for indoor and outdoor dining, first-come first-served
The TRAP from GROW Café + Bistro | 121 Griffith St, Saugatuck, MI
Friday through Monday, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET