GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is no shortage of incredible restaurants in Grand Rapids. But with so many options, how do you choose where to indulge? We — 13 ON YOUR SIDE digital producers Riley and Amy — have set out to find the tastiest spots in the area and are documenting our journey with a series called 13 Eats.
13 Eats is all about highlighting the best restaurants in the Grand Rapids area. This week, we’re tasting the Caribbean heat at Chez Olga.
About Chez Olga
Eastown is a hustling, busting pocket of Grand Rapids filled with small businesses, delicious food and historic charm. But when walking through the area, one particular building really stands out. With dark, twisted wood and a large, stained glass window centerpiece, 441 Wealthy Street SE looks like a real-life hobbit hole. The building is beautiful and almost mysterious, making many Eastown-goers — ourselves included — all too curious: what could be housed in such a unique building?
Well, we’re here to tell you that the cozy cove is home to Chez Olga, a mother-and-daughter-owned eatery with a lot of spice and even deeper cultural roots. The restaurant opened its doors in 2010 and has been serving up traditional Caribbean delicacies ever since.
We started our trip with an appetizer of Pate ($6.00), which is a plate of three fried Creole pastries filled with chicken, beef or vegetables and served with a tangy strawberry sauce. We chose beef, and when the plate arrived, the pastries looked like crispy, perfectly-fried pockets of golden goodness.
When split apart, the pastry halves send a line of steam rising through the air with the scent of seasoned, savory beef. The filling was warm and creamy, softening the insides of the pastry, but allowing the outside to have the most amazing crunch.
We were a bit wary of a strawberry sauce with such a savory dish, but when dipped in the cup of red goodness, it added an immaculate balance of sweet, savory and tangy.
For our main course, we decided to split the classics: Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo ($14.00) and the Jerk Chicken ($13.00). Both dishes arrived smothered in a hearty red sauce, a side of rice and the option to choose how spicy you want the dish from a scale of one to ten.
The gumbo is prepared with okra and white onions. The red sauce was brothy and had a salty, tomatoey taste. We chose a two for spice level, providing us a wonderful little zip of spice in each bite. The perfect forkful was a sauce-lathered piece of meat with an anchor of soft rice.
Chez Olga: The Food
The Jerk Chicken features two chicken legs coated in seasoning with a coconut jerk sauce and white onions. The Caribbean spices worked in perfect unison with the sweet coconut flavor. When we cruised through each entrée, we realized we could eat through this menu all day.
► See the full menu here.
As previously mentioned, the outside of Chez Olga is basically a J.R.R. Tolkien scene. It’s warm, whimsical, mysterious and very persuasive. The building draws your attention and basically invites you inside. But the magic doesn’t end there. Through the teardrop-shaped door is a quaint eatery filled with tropical décor, brimming with a sweet and spicy aroma.
Chez Olga: The Vibe
The inside of Chez Olga is bright and inviting. Shades of greens and blues fill the space and are met with laid back dining tables and chairs. The atmosphere is casual overall, and the décor is simple, but all in a way that feels just right. The casual space, paired with the smell of homemade Caribbean food, creates the perfect foodie getaway.
Chez Olga is unlike any restaurant we have stopped by so far, mostly because the cuisine is very unknown to us. As people who had never truly experienced Caribbean cuisine, we were excited but nervous to give it a try. Luckily, our decision to dive in really did pay off. The food was delicious and perfectly balanced between sweet and spicy. While we’re very far away from the Caribbean islands, the food was comforting and felt like home. We loved how each dish came out warm, flavorful and full of soul.
Additionally, while we loved the food, we loved the atmosphere, too. In our opinion, the Chez Olga building might be the coolest in Grand Rapids. Its whimsy, dark exterior is truly a destination in itself, but paired with its bright interior and delicious meals, Chez Olga is a restaurant we believe every West Michigander should visit.
When the endless winter weather advisories of our area get the better of you, this little slice of paradise has just the right amount of sunshiney goodness to bring you back to that island state of mind.
►Chez Olga is located on 1441 Wealthy Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
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