Enquirer picks the best restaurants of 2020
It was an unusual year in food in 2020.
Most of the year left a sour taste in our mouths. Thanks for nothing, world-wide pandemic.
Many restaurants were shut down at different times during the year, or had their menus reduced to just take-out options.
But 2020 did give the Bill’s Bites crew a chance to look back at more than a half-decade of sampling the best local restaurants had to offer.
After visiting more than 120 restaurants in the area over the last six years, Bill’s Bites spent most of 2020 handing out our Bill’s Best rankings – listing the “Top 5” dishes we’ve had in several categories like Best Burger, Best Breakfast and Best Buffet.
We are going to end 2020 by ranking the best of the best.
Here is the Bill’s Best rankings of the Bill’s Best rankings. If that’s too confusing, and it probably is, it simply means I am taking our No. 1-ranked selections from each of the Bill’s Best lists we did in 2020 (we did eight of them) and then listing those in order of the best.
Here is the Bill’s Best of 2020.
No. 8 – Figgs Burger
If this was the middle of summer, this might be higher on the list. However, Figgs Burger is a seasonal restaurant and, you know, out of sight, out of mind. And even when it’s open, Figgs Burger is kind of a mystery, but it was our No. 1 selection in our Best Burger category.
It is the kind of place you hear rumors about but maybe have never been to. Tucked away, off the beaten path, this nondescript, small box of a building with the words Figgs Burgers painted on the outside isn’t much to look at. But, boy are the burgers good, which is why this establishment has celebrated more than 30 years of business.
Made to order, after you shout through a small window to your burger cook, Andrew Figgures, you are asked to wait as the some-of-the-time long lines are worth it. Make sure to get the Double Figg Burger, where we are talking about two huge patties, close to a half-pound each, stacked on a bun with the usual treatment: ketchup, mustard, onion, mayo, lettuce and tomato. Unlock your jawbone for this one as it is a two-handed monster. But regardless of the amount of beef, it is cooked perfectly juicy, made simply on the flat-top grill in the small kitchen that makes up more than half of the Figgs Burgers building.
Where to get it: Figgs Burgers – 559 Hamblin Avenue, Battle Creek
No. 7 – Dacey’s Sportsbook and Taphouse
When I’m not writing about food, you may now that I also have a gig as a sports columnist for the Enquirer. Which also means, I spend a lot of time in sports bars. So we had to have a Best Sports Bar ‘”Top 5″ and Dacey’s came in at No. 1.
Dacey’s Sportsbook and Taphouse at the FireKeepers Casino has an advantage over every other sports bar in the area when it comes to making sports fans happy – a gambling window. Now that sports gambling is legal at tribal casinos in Michigan, Dacey’s Sportsbook and Taphouse is one of the only places in the area where you can put a few bucks on your favorite team to win while enjoying some good food from their sports bar-oriented menu. With a bank of TVs nearly 20 feet tall, Dacey’s is the place to be to watch the game. Add in some of the biggest and most flavorful wings in the area, plus items like the Pub Pretzel – a German-style pretzel as big as your head – and you will leave a winner. Dacey’s has recently revamped its menu, including Roman Style Pizzas, Brisket Chips and a Burnt End sandwich, among many other new items.
Where to get it: Dacey’s Sportsbook and Taphouse – 11177 East Michigan Ave., Battle Creek
No. 6 – Cricket Club
If you have a Top 5 Sports Bars list, we were asked, what about the other bar restaurants? Well, we took care of that too during 2020 and the Cricket Club was our No. 1 choice for Best Bar Restaurants in the area.
With good drinks, a great atmosphere and even better food, the Cricket Club hits a bull’s-eye. In the center of downtown Battle Creek, the Cricket Club features one of the longest bars in the state and boasts more than 50 craft beers on tap. Many frequent this bar for after-work drinks or to play darts, but don’t sleep on the menu. A highlight is the appetizer size or large flatbread pizzas, including choices of pepperoni or sausage or ramped up with BBQ chicken, chicken Alfredo pizza and prosciutto pesto. Sandwiches like the Cocky Oinker are a favorite also. But don’t leave without trying the Angry Bread, a garlic bread with mozzarella, jalapenos, bacon and a devilish sriracha drizzle, served with a side of ranch.
Where to get it: Cricket Club, 36 W. Michigan Ave.
No. 5 – Pastrami Joe’s
With food you can carry, or hold in your hand, being pretty important in the “no tables available” Year of 2020, sandwich shops were key destinations for many of us. The Bill’s Bites crew has a favorite with Pastrami Joe’s coming in at No. 1.
For a restaurant that was good enough to draw people from around the country in its annual World Reuben Eating Contest back in the day, Pastrami Joe’s is still the go-to place for sandwiches at its Battle Creek and Marshall locations. The PJ’s Reuben is what all the excitement was about for the big eaters during that era, or better yet, try one of our favorites, the Jomama, which is a Reuben with coleslaw. But it doesn’t get much better, when talking sandwiches around here, than the simply perfect Joe’s “Soon To Be Famous” Hot Pastrami. Piled high with thinly sliced pastrami with dark mustard on marble rye, it is hard to beat and a big reason we are talking about it at the No. 1 spot on our list.
Cold subs are also available, and we often enjoy the Bada Bing with a cup of soup, plus salads and even pizza. Pastrami Joe’s has found its niche as the premier sandwich shop in the area, with the rest all fighting for second.
Where to get it: Pastrami Joe’s Deli, 80 W. Michigan Ave., Battle Creek, and 105 N. Jefferson St., Marshall.
No. 4 – Torti Taco
Open for less than four years now, Torti Taco has quickly risen to the top of the list for Mexican food in the Battle Creek area. Our memorable first taste of Torti Taco was trying the Torti Burrito Challenge, which is a monster burrito. If you can eat it in three minutes, you win the Torti Burrito Challenge. But if the size doesn’t get you, the heat will – needless to say the Bill’s Bites crew failed the challenge. Recently, a stop back at Torti Taco had us trying something new to the menu: calamari tacos. A different take, the calamari isn’t fried, but comes in a corn tortilla and is a memorable bite. Before COVID-19 restrictions, Torti Taco was also known for its expansive salsa bar, but you can still get different flavors for carry out. Torti Taco recently said it has plans to expand soon with a second location in downtown Battle Creek.
Where to get it: Torti Taco, 5275 Beckley Road, Battle Creek
No. 3 – Cascarelli’s Pizza in Homer
The biggest debate you can get into when it comes to food is, “What’s the best pizza in town?” Well, the Bill’s Bites crew found that the best pizza in this town, is a little ways out of town. To get the best pizza in the Battle Creek area, you have to take a dip just outside Battle Creek. Established in 1935, Cascarelli’s Pizza has long been known to have some of the best pizza, not just in this area, but in the state. This is traditional pizza pie made right in the window of the classic building which sits on the main drag of the small village of Homer.
Right on top of the menu is the House Pizza, with the description of “a classic for 40 years.” With the “classic” three pizza ingredients of pepperoni, sausage and mushroom, this is simple, but perfect, and a big reason people come from all over the county and the state to give it a try.
With toppings that reach all the way to the edge and are popping out of the mound of thick cheese, the square pieces are just the right size to take to your mouth with a trail of gooey goodness still attached to the pie plate. What makes Cascarelli’s so good is the zesty sauce and high-end ingredients that are the core of this pizza palace.
Where to get it: Cascarelli’s: 103 E. Main St., Homer.
No. 2 – Lux Cafe
Lux Cafe is not shy about being considered the top breakfast in town, as it often hasthose words right on its roadside sign. We tend to agree as Lux is the Bill’s Best choice for No. 1.
Lux has been No. 1 with the Bill’s Bites crew since we tried the Country Skillet – a big breakfast that has few equals in terms of size and uniqueness. The skillets at Lux all come to the table in the pan they were cooked in and start with diced potatoes or hash browns and cheese, along with eggs. The Country Skillet adds sausage, onion, green peppers, Monterey Jack cheese and country gravy.
And that’s just one of the skillet choices. There’s also a Meat Lovers Skillet, featuring ham, sausage, bacon and cheese, the Farmer Skillet, with country fried steak, gravy and cheese, or even a gyro and feta skillet.
Where to get it: Lux Cafe – 2587 Capital Ave SW
No. 1 – O.T.’s Up-n-Smoke BBQ
Now, at the top of our list. We aren’t talking the best this or the best that. We are talking the “Bill’s Best of 2020” – the best of the best. And longtime Battle Creek eaters will tell you, if they only could pick one place to get some food, they would head to O.T.’s.
The king of BBQ in Battle Creek continues to be O.T. – Owen Thompson – owner of O.T.’s Up-N-Smoke. From his food truck to his brick and mortar takeout restaurant, O.T.’s has long been the choice of locals when looking for good smoked food.
The winner of dozens of BBQ competitions, including the Kalamazoo Ribfest, it’s hard to pick out his best product. The Bill’s Bites crew just can’t get enough of his pulled pork, which comes in hefty portions, piled high in the takeout box, smothered with sweet and tangy sauce. But what makes a trip to Up-N-Smoke special are the ribs, where that same sauce is married to a rub that has the seasonings, which include brown sugar among other secret ingredients, jumping on your tongue for a taste sensation not experienced many places in the world of barbecue. And a reminder, a trip to O.T’s wouldn’t be complete without getting some sides, and don’t forget about the famous cornbread.
Where to get it: O.T.’s Up-n-Smoke BBQ – 450 Capital Ave. NE, Battle Creek
That was a taste of the food of 2020. We are all looking forward to 2021, where Bill’s Best will sample some of the best desserts in the area, and maybe, when restaurants fully reopen, the best dining experience. But until then, the Bill’s Best gang says have a happy New Year and mask up, except when you are putting a fork in your mouth.
Bill Broderick can be reached at bbrode[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@billbroderick