Local Food Restaurant Review: The Electric Cheetah

I don’t have any way to track where my readership lives, so I don’t know how helpful it will be to review a local restaurant, but it certainly fits in with the purpose of this weblog.  For those of you in the Grand Rapids area, read on.  For any non-local reader, look forward to my upcoming entries on Stinging Nettles and Rhubarb.

The Electric Cheetah is located in the rapidly gentrifying area around Wealthy and Madison in downtown GR.  Wife and I ended up there after the restaurant we intended to go to was packed with a near-hour wait.  As we were looking at the menu, the very extroverted host ushered us in and let us know it was the Cheetah’s second day in existence.  As a result, they were using a “soft menu”, so we only got to choose from about half of what they intend to offer.
He also let us know that the restaurant was housed in a LEED-certified building, with a green roof and runoff going into what they intend to be a backyard garden.
Traffic was light, as it was late in the evening, so the staff was very attentive and eager to explain the restaurant and food.  The menu and staff both described a rather vague commitment to the idea of eating locally, with one staff member throwing out 25 miles as the target radius from which they would buy their ingredients.  As it stands, there is not a lot in season in Michigan in early May, so there were a lot of food-miles in each dish.
Any restaurant with a commitment to local food has to find a balance between at least three factors—edibility, affordability, and philosophy.  It seems the Cheetah has leaned heavily towards the first two categories, with an adherence to local food practices on the back burner.  The food was quite good, and very “non-threatening” to a casual diner.  Wife had the grilled cheese with their house soup, a saffron-tomato bisque, and I had a chicken Caesar salad with sweet potato fries.  Prices were very fair, comparable to other restaurants serving similar fare.
Reading over our food selections should set off a few local-food alarms, though.  Tomatoes?  In early May?  Sweet Potatoes?  Saffron?  SAFFRON?  To have a house soup based on an ingredient that’s available for 2 or 3 months out of the year seems short-sighted when the goal is local (and presumably in-season) food.
To their credit, the romaine lettuce in my salad was grown in a hydroponic greenhouse a few miles outside of town.  The chef/presumed owner told me that himself; there was no indication anywhere on the menu where any of the foods came from.  I assume that the Parmesan cheese and anchovies were not sourced locally.
One very appealing feature of the Electric Cheetah is their milk-and-cookie desserts.  About halfway through our meal, our server asked us if we were interested in trying them.  We were encouraged to place our order then, as the cookies are cooked to order and served hot out of the oven.  I avoid flour-based sweets, but Wife enjoyed her cookies with organic milk immensely.
I would definitely recommend the Electric Cheetah to anyone looking for a reasonably-priced restaurant in the Wealthy Street area, but hesitate to endorse them as a source of local foods.  I’m sure they have great intentions, and I hope to see them realized, but some of their flagship dishes (the saffron tomato bisque and sweet potato fries, especially) seem unsustainable on a local level.  As a local food proponent, I’d like to see on the menu where the ingredients were sourced.

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3 Responses to “Local Food Restaurant Review: The Electric Cheetah”

  1. glge Says:

    I had a comment from someone, inexplicably on my “About” page (which I haven’t set up) instead of here, but I thought it was relevant. It follows:

    I recently read your article about The Electric Cheetah. I went there with my family and had a wonderful experience. I was aware of what you had written about the saffron but wanted to inform you that on their menu it states
    We use as many fresh, local, and organic products as we can.
    Unfortunately, food distributors do not offer a wide variety of organic products, but we do our best to ensure that our ingredients are of the highest and freshest quality. If we can get it local without causing you exorbitant price increases, WE DO! Everything is homemade!
    I am very pro local and the cheetah assured me that when tomatoes and sweet potatoes are in season they will be bought right from a farmers market. No reason to be so anti. Thanks, T

    Thanks to Trish for her comment, and I hope that the overall impression of my review was not negative. This weblog is focused on local foods, and on the subject of local foods, there are some legitimate concerns with the Cheetah’s menu. In a place like Michigan, eating locally means eating seasonally, and having a set menu showcasing two tropical imports and a spice from literally the other side of the planet is off the mark.

  2. glge Says:

    I’ve had a few other comments singing the praises of the Electric Cheetah, and it’s wonderful to live in a community that is so invested in local businesses. The food was good–I strongly urge my readers in the area to check out this and other local businesses. However, the topic of this blog is eating locally, so I’m going to manage my comments so that only those on the topic of local foods are posted.

  3. Nathan James Says:

    i just went back to the Electric Cheetah for the first time since their opening day (when I posted this entry). It seems they no longer make any claims of locally-sourced food on the menu. They do have options for gluten-free sandwiches, and they served me the best (and only) burger I’ve had in the past decade. Still very much checking out, if you’re in the area, but no longer an intentionally local-food restaurant.

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