GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Almost a year to the date Canopy by Hilton opened in downtown Grand Rapids, the $50 million hotel is celebrating the grand opening of its ground-floor restaurant.
Portico was slated to open last fall, but the pandemic had other plans. The space operated as a place to pick up fresh Madcap coffee and baked goods — until now.
On Friday night, Portico executive chef Trimell Hawkins will serve the full-service restaurant’s first customers.
“We’re just ready to open the doors and let the world see what we’ve been working on,” Hawkins told News 8 in late July.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
Portico’s seasonally rotating menu of new American cuisine includes pan-seared walleye with spiced quinoa and swiss chard, served with a beurre blanc and finished with scallion oil and rainbow microgreens.
Portico pays homage to summer produce with its filet frites dish, which features a 6-ounce steak filet broken apart to mingle with asparagus, tomatoes and butter herb roasted potatoes served with a nontraditional red chimichurri sauce.
Hawkins’ favorite dish is Cornish hen and cornbread.
“That takes me back to my roots,” he said. “At the end of the day, you leave with a smile on your face after having that dish.”
The dessert menu also aims to drum up nostalgia with a twist on s’mores and sweet potato pie.
Hawkins and his culinary team spent months perfecting the menu for Portico, which sources ingredients from Michigan farmers, growers and businesses including Field & Fire bakery, Ebel’s Butcher Shop, Hasselman’s Michigan Honey, Pebble Creek Produce and Revolution Farms.
“We’ve just been having fun. At the end of the day, that’s what cooking is really about… it’s cooking with your heart and with passion and having fun. So our team has been able to do so, and just take it to wherever we wanted it to go with it, and it’s been a great time,” he said.
WHAT’S ON TAP
Portico plans to serve up pre-Prohibition era-style cocktails named for Grand Rapids landmarks and an approachable wine list partly inspired by millennial oenophiles.
“We are going more value-oriented with our glass pours, fun, exciting labels… interesting grape varieties, and really make wine appealing (to) spark that curiosity,” hotel food and beverage director Nick Oostendorp said.
The restaurant’s drinks will also showcase local businesses, including Eastern Kille Distillery, New Holland Artisan Sprits and Long Road Distillers.
West Michigan beers will flow from six of Portico’s eight taps. One tap will also be dedicated to a draft cocktail.
LIFE IN THE KITCHEN: ‘I DON’T BOX MYSELF IN’
Hawkins has been cooking for a little over 20 years, including at Forty Acres, Black Heron and Gravity Taphouse and Grill in the Grand Rapids area.
“I feel as though cooking is probably one of the most vulnerable things you can do. You kind of let somebody take a peek into your soul, because you’re trusting them to critique you… when you put a plate of food in somebody’s face, you’re exposing your most vulnerable self,” he said.
But his life in the kitchen started with his grandma.
“Her style of food is soul food, so that’s my foundation. But I’m classically trained French. So, (it’s) a mesh of different types of techniques,” he said. “I don’t box myself in. I like to be able to be adventurous, explore and kind of push the boundaries of the culinary world.”
The Holland High School graduate said even when he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he was always “the person behind the grill” at parties. When he returned home after four years, he was back in the kitchen again.
Hawkins remembers the moment he wanted to become a chef, after a busy Saturday night working at TGI Friday’s.
“We had just gotten through the rush and everything else. And I was stoked. I was like, “I love this, but I want more. I want to do more than just put food on a plate,” he said.
Hawkins enrolled in the Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts. A month and a half after graduating, he became an executive chef.
He said that was always the goal.
“The reason why it was goal was because I felt like I was behind already because I had taken time away. Here I am in the classroom with people that are 18 and 19, and I’m older. I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got to speed this up… I’ve got to get to where I’m going.’ So I did. I put my head down, I worked hard,” he explained.
Now he’s ready for the next chapter at Portico.
“To be able to walk out and see the enjoyment and the excitement on people’s faces, when you do perform up to expectations or better, it is one of those things that’s really, really intriguing and that I love about it,” he said.
Portico will continue to operate as a café in the daytime; the restaurant will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.