Local Eats: Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine is serving up Dominican flavors in Grand Rapids
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic isn’t ideal, but Gilma and Edward DeLaCruz made it, sharing the Dominican Republic culture through tasty food in Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine.
The couple hope that their restaurant, which opened last summer, continues to be a welcoming, colorful downtown establishment for those unfamiliar with their Dominican roots.
Chef and co-owner Gilma DeLaCruz said plans to expand from her popular El Caribe food truck to a restaurant in March 2020. Closures to slow the spread of COVID-19 delayed opening at 55 Monroe Center St. NW until July.
She said her goal was to expose Grand Rapids to the cuisine she grew up with in the Dominican Republic, which she described as homely, warm and hugging. That means being very aware, from their recipes to how the restaurant is set up.
“People aren’t very familiar with the Dominican concept, but we’re trying to make (Grand Rapids) diverse and share the culture,” DeLaCruz said.
“Our restaurant not only shares the aspect of food, but also the art that we have here on our walls. We want to make sure people come here and feel the warmth of the Dominican Republic when they are here – the music, the food, the art, the cheers for our culture. “
As guests walk in, they are greeted with a wave of bright colors, from massive painted walls by Caribbean-inspired artist Erick Picardo to carnival masks and hand-painted mugs straight from the Dominican Republic.
While the art shows elements of Dominican culture, DeLaCruz said she wanted to appreciate Grand Rapid’s creative culture in her own way.
“We definitely wanted that connection with the city in the restaurant,” she said.
The creativity extends to the menu. DeLaCruz highlights traditional products like the oxtail stew. She said the slow-cooked, tender piece of beef is paired with rice and beans that are made with love – drop the cans and opt for freshly made beans that are cooked in-house.
At Mi Bandera, you can try oxtail, rice and beans – the name for a Dominican plate that combines rice, beans and meat.
DeLaCruz said that plantains are a real Dominican staple and are present in a variety of ways at Art Caribbean. She said the idea of plátano force, which is a regional nod to plantains given to baseball players as a nourishment, and the widespread use of the banana-like fruit make it a must-eat meal.
The restaurant uses the versatile ingredient in both plantain chips and as a bread substitute in some of their hearty sandwiches.
But what shines the most, DeLaCruz said, are the Art Caribbean empanadas, doughy vessels that contain mixed fillings like cheese, meat, or vegetables. She likened them to a hot pocket or sales, but to their warm, filling interior that you can share or eat on the go.
“When I think about what we’re going to be doing in the empanadas, I want to make sure everyone gets a bite of everything,” DeLaCruz said. “So if we put cheese, onion, and meat in there when you take a bite, we want you to grab it. All this warmth, all this food – grab it all in one empanada. “
Served in groups of three for a total of $ 9, the empanadas range from salchiqueso with sauteed cabbage, smoked Dominican sausage and cheese to coconut chicken with spicy curry chicken and coconut cream. Each comes in different shapes and colors of dough to bring in an artistic creativity that makes each serving unique.
“We make them tasty; We make them cute, ”said DeLaCruz. “We can incorporate anything you can imagine in our empanadas. That’s why they’re so fun. “
Art Caribbean also serves yuca fries for $ 5 per plate, a divisible dish made from the root of the cassava plant. The fries are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and go well with a garlic, coriander and aioli sauce.
“We go through about four cases of cassava a week because it’s so popular,” DeLaCruz said. “They’re a great divisible plate and people fall in love with yuca fries here in Grand Rapids.”
Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine, which opened during the pandemic, has limited dining space and the socially distant tables are cleaned regularly. You can also dine outside, which is in a designated social zone. So, guests can get drinks from nearby restaurants until DeLaCruz can get its liquor license.
While summer is still a long way off, guests don’t have to wait for the weather to warm up to sample tropical cuisine, according to DeLaCruz.
“Even if you don’t know who we are, come in and ask us,” said DeLaCruz. “We’re very kind, we’re a local family trying to be successful and make a difference in our community. So we hope people come in and feel this warmth and homestyle here. “
The Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine is open Tuesday to Friday from 3pm to 8pm and Saturday from 12pm to 9pm. To reserve a table or view the menu, visit the website or call (616) 724-4370.
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