Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a Family Friendly Gem
I sometimes don’t realize how new some things are here in the Grand Rapids area. I’m a transplant that arrived at the tail end of 2013, apparently just a few short weeks after the Downtown Market opened.
For me, it’s a given that this is a frequent place to visit whenever we are near the Heartside neighborhood, but to those who have been a while, may not realize what a gem is tucked away a few blocks south of the Van Andel arena.
As Downtown Market approaches its 5th birthday, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite things to do there. Most of them fall into the realm of eating delicious food, but that’s a given since almost 80% of their year round stalls feature exceptional cuisine.
1- Soak up Sunshine in the Greenhouse
Since most of the food vendors are cafeteria style, the Downtown Market has several dining areas through the lower level and primarily the second level. Here is where you will find one of the best spots to sit and eat, their greenhouse.
On a typical day, the greenhouse is set up for dining, but on some occasions is configured for large group events. If this area is open, it is where you want to be to bask in all that glorious sun.
2- Bring the Whole Family to Kid Friendly Events
The Market is known for hosting a whole array of family friendly events throughout the year and their calendar is always worth looking over. Past favorite events have been Super Heroes in the Greenhouse, Harvest Hullabaloo, Strawberry Fest, and Nature Day.
3- Simmer Camp & Kid-Centric Classes
If your aspiring Master Chef Junior is looking to hone their skills, Downtown Market not only offers classes to teach, but does so in a specially-designed teaching kitchen. Various classes are held throughout the year, and there are three Simmer Camps sessions over the course of the summer.
4- Specialty Markets to Find Treasures
In summer the Market hosts two popular markets: The Vintage Street Market and the Made in MI Pop-up Marketplace. You can browse through dozens of vendors who set-up shop out front under the roof in the area known as the Market Shed.
5- Let Your Taste Buds Soar with an Ice Cream Flight from Love’s
Hands down one of the most popular stops is Love’s Ice Cream. Their Mitten Pop ice cream bars are sold at eateries all over the state, but the Downtown Market is where you can find a rotating selection of their inventive ice cream flavors, both dairy and non-dairy based. Since it’s always so hard to choose, the go to item is an ice cream flight featuring five single scoops of whatever combination you like.
6- Everyday is Taco Tuesday at Tacos El Cuñado
Another popular shop within the Market Hall is Tacos El Cuñado. Their à la carte menu is straightforward, but boasts a wide selection of protein options including several vegetarian ones.
7- Watch as Award Winning Pies are Baked at Sweetie-licious
One of the cool things about the Downtown Market is that you can watch the action in many of the kitchens as chefs and bakers do their thing. It’s so fascinating to see it all live and somewhat up close and Sweetie-licious is one of those vendors. Watch them as they bake up all sorts of tasty delights and you can even take home some of those pies, whole or by the slice!
8- Brunch in Style at Social Kitchen & Bar
One of the newest additions to the Market is Social Kitchen & Bar, which features full table service as well as a bar. Two things that are always raved about when dining at Social are their breakfast skillets (fully customizable) and the fries. A single order of them is more than enough to satisfy the whole table and they are pretty darn tasty to boot. Another great to remember too is that Kids Eat Free Monday – Friday at Social Kitchen.
9- Kids (and Grown-Ups) Love Dorothy and Tony’s Gourmet Popcorn
Flavors rotate but look for favorites like Jalapeno Cheddar, Chicago, and of course Kettle Corn at Dorothy and Tony’s Gourmet Popcorn. They offer a wide variety of sizes including a kid’s size perfect for a quick snack (you can also get a free kid size with the purchase of any larger size).
10- Get Fired Up at Rocket Pies
Watch as your Neapolitan style pizza is assembled in front of you before being fired in a brick oven that’s 800 degrees at Rocket Pies.
(update May 2018 – Rocket Pies is no longer operating as the space is being transformed into an expansion for Love’s Chocolates and Confections)
11- Cheer on Your Favorite Team While Feasting at Slows BBQ
Recently reconfigured this past winter, Slows BBQ now offers full service dining as well as an extensive bar selection. The BBQ can’t be beat and there are several screens that will keep you up to date on all things sports.
12- Plan Ahead for Your Week With Making Thyme Kitchen
Let the good folks at Making Thyme Kitchen do the heavy lifting of meal prep by picking up some of their offerings to serve at home later in the week. Specializing in foods to take home and then simply heat, they pride themselves on using fresh, locally sourced foods as much as possible in their recipes.
13- Sip on Bubble Tea from Ràk Thai
When you stop by Ràk Thai, you can choose from tapioca pearls, mango boba, or coconut jelly for a flavored smoothie with texture. It’s hard to go wrong with classic flavors like mango, strawberry, or milk tea, but they also offer more adventurous flavors like lychee, matcha green tea, and red bean.
14- Sharpen Up Your Cheese (and Other Charcuterie) Knowledge at Aperitivo
The friendly cheesemongers of Aperitivo are always on hand to lend advice on what cheeses work best in recipes or are comparable to other favorites. They often have samples to share and your kid might even surprise you by declaring his undying love for goat cheese (true story).
15- Dine Al Fresco and Watch City Sights
When the weather permits there is also an outdoor dining area available on the second floor, where you can admire the skyline as well as take a closer look at some of the rooftop plants that are a part of how the Market obtained LEED-certification.
Additional Market Hall Vendors You Will Want to Visit
Relish Green Grocer | A farm fresh grocery experience focused on locally-sourced produce and food products.
Madcap Coffee | A contemporary coffee bar offering specialty coffee drinks, signature milkshakes, and a toast menu.
Fish Lads | Local, freshwater fish from the Great Lakes as well as high-quality seafood flown in fresh daily. Raw bar and daily rotating eat-in menu.
Carvers | Artisan butcher offering high-end meats at an affordable price, with a full-service kitchen. (this is my go to place for a BLT)
Spice Merchants | Specialty gourmet spices, teas and seasonings with creative combinations of hand-blended ingredients.
Old World Olive Co. | Over 50 varieties of extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars created by using a first press/cold press old-world procedure.
Sushi Market | Serving fresh sushi, maki rolls, sashimi and seaweed salad made on-site, as well as mochi and Japanese soda.
Malamiah Juice Bar | Fresh fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies. Design your own drink or choose from a varied, health focused menu.
Field & Fire Bakery | Handcrafted artisan breads and croissants, using whole grains and a longer fermenting process.
Blue Spoon Pasta Studio | Fresh, handmade pastas and sauces.
PHO616 | Authentic Vietnamese food including pho noodle soup, banh mi, and Vietnamese coffee along with specialty Vietnamese grocery items.
The Oddest Supply Co. | Handmade Michigan-branded streetwear, apparel, and accessories.
Upcoming Events for 2018
Flight Friday | Friday, April 27, 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Vintage Street Market | Second Sunday of the month (May – September), 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Made in MI Pop-up Marketplace | Fourth Saturday of the month (May – September) 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM)
Food Trucks With a Twist | Wednesday, June 6, 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Simmer Camp (Japan, Italy, Australia) | June 25 – June 27
Kids at the Market: Chalk Day | Wednesday, June 27, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Kids at the Market | Wednesday, July 11, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Simmer Camp (Thailand, England, South Africa) | July 16 – July 18
Kids at the Market: Critter Barn | Wednesday, July 25, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Simmer Camp (South Korea, Jamaica, Canada) | July 30 – August 1
Meet the Machines | Wednesday, August 1, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
A Very Merry Market Day | Saturday, November 17, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
The Downtown Market is located at 435 Ionia Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
Parking in the lot is free the first 30 minutes, $2.00 for the second 30-minutes, and then $1.00 for every half hour that follows. There is also metered street parking available along Ionia and Logan.