It’s no secret that Real Food Cafe – in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan – is our favorite breakfast spot ever. It’s the benchmark by which we judge all other places. And while, yes, there’s an inevitable sense of hometown nostalgia related to it, I still think objectively it’s one of the best breakfast places ever.
I’ve documented our visits to Real Food many times over the years, in 2008, 2010, twice in 2011, and as part of a Grand Rapids travelogue in 2015, but it felt like we needed to give an updated look at the cafe space and menu.
Real Food actually sports two locations – one on Eastern Avenue in the Alger Heights neighborhood and one on Plainfield Avenue on the north end. I’ve never made it to the Plainfield location, because Eastern Ave. is close to my family. It really is the neighborhood spot.
Over the past few years, they’ve expanded into the space next to them and updated the restaurant floors, tiling, and other details. It’s helped brighten and modernize the space while retaining its signature colorful and comfortable aesthetic.
Real Food serves up a full coffee menu, including cold brew and espresso drinks. We usually order straight-up hot coffee with a little milk; they use beans from a Michigan roaster.
First things first: if you visit Real Food Cafe, it is REQUIRED that you order a cinnamon roll. They’re easily the best we’ve ever had – fluffy but well-structured, heavily laced with cinnamon, topped with a thick and sweet-but-not-too-sweet icing. I pretty much can never get photos of them because they’re eaten so quickly.
The whole breakfast and lunch menus are superb – we honestly haven’t found anything we don’t like (even though we’re primed to respond positively). My favorite dish on the menu – and in the running for one of my favorite breakfasts ever – is the Irish benedict.
It combines an English muffin, properly poached eggs, spinach, house-made corned beef, and a perfectly balanced hollandaise. All of their benedicts come with a side of house potatoes, which again set the standard for breakfast spuds: baked first so they’re soft, then seasoned and browned on the grill, mixed with a touch of onions.
The whole dish comes together nicely: a good mix of flavors and textures, hearty and filling ingredients, all thoughtfully prepared.
Of course, the regular eggs benedict is top-notch as well, only swapping out on the spinach and corned beef for the classic Canadian bacon.
Props to the veggie benedict, too. It skips the meat but expertly layers in spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes with a roasted red pepper hollandaise.
I tend to lean savory with my breakfasts, but there’s no denying the draw of their French toast, waffles, and specialty pancakes. Remember those cinnamon rolls? Try them in pancake form!
Their corned beef also shines in the corned beef hash. They mix it in with the potatoes and add a side of toast plus your choice of two eggs (hint: get poached).
Over the years, our whole family has worked its way through the menu, including the occasional specials that pop up. The breakfast menu ranges through omelets, frittatas, and scrambles; skillets and sandwiches; biscuits & gravy, quesadillas, and burritos; yogurt and oatmeal; plus all sorts of flavors and stuffings for the waffles, pancakes, and French toast.
All this is to say: you really can’t go wrong.
Real Food has become such an important place to our whole family. It’s part of our Christmas traditions to all gather there for breakfast one day. And any time any of us visits Grand Rapids, it’s inevitable that we’ll make one or two trips there.
The morning of my mother’s funeral, it felt appropriate to go grab breakfast at Real Food. The place feels like a bit of home to us all, so it was truly comforting to be there that day. And in honor of her, I ordered her usual: the Northland scramble.
Owner Frank Amodeo, his family, and his whole staff have been wonderfully welcoming to us over the years, so we’ll always be singing their praises. But even taking a step back from the years of memories connected to Real Food, I can still say they serve a terrific breakfast, all expertly prepared, hearty, flavorful, and at a great price point. If you’re ever, ever passing through or visiting Grand Rapids, please go visit Real Food!