Bites with Beca: Martell’s, Kalamazoo

(Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

These monotonous, gray, and blustery Michigan months have us dreaming of the days when we could unwind on a restaurant patio with our favorite drink in hand without suffering from extreme hypothermia. February in southwest Michigan might seem like an impossible time to enjoy your favorite meal on the deck of your ideal restaurant, but Martell’s in Kalamazoo has transformed that dream into a reality. Like a few of their sister restaurants in the Millennium group, Martell’s has installed cozy igloos for outdoor dining, and I was one of the lucky few to indulge in the experience.

My dinner companions and I were promptly greeted and escorted to our igloo by a friendly and warm hostess. She showed us inside our dining area and explained that there was a heater under our table plus a built-in Bluetooth speaker that we were free to use if we chose to play our own music. Our table came complete with a sanitized glass dome that held our plates, silverware, salt and pepper, and even a small bottle of antibacterial hand-spray. I felt instantly impressed at the extra lengths being taken to ensure safety.

It didn’t take long for us to select a few adult beverages (a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Martell’s Maple Manhattan, and Martell’s Marilyn Monroe cocktail), and then we had the daunting task of narrowing down what appetizer to choose. We ended up deciding on the coconut crusted shrimp that came complete with an orange-horseradish dipping sauce. If you’re searching for a taste of summer, look no further than this appetizer! It delivered a satisfying crunch, a burst of bright flavor, and had the perfect amount of heat on a frigid February evening. 

For my entree, I went with the campanelle pasta, which came tossed in a truffle cream sauce and peppered with prosciutto and peas. My only complaint for this dish was that the bowl it arrived in wasn’t bottomless! The cream sauce was dreamy and smooth without being overpowering in truffle flavor. The addition of the prosciutto and peas complimented the flavors perfectly and gave a delightful amount of texture. My dining companions chose the prime rib and “Black and Blue” burger, and both dishes were equally amazing! I stole bites from each entree and I can safely say that all three stood out in their own way. The prime rib came accompanied by asparagus that was cooked to perfection and the burger was positively brimming with bacon and bleu cheese bits. Hot tip: make sure you order a side of sweet potato fries. They arrive with a balsamic reduction drizzled on top that is absolutely drool-worthy.

Our bellies were bursting at this point, but our outstanding server twisted our arm into tasting one of Martell’s signature desserts. A lemon cheesecake with blueberry compote was delivered to us, and our igloo became deafeningly quiet as we were busy devouring it. The cheesecake itself was velvety and luxurious with a subtle yet bright note of lemon, while the blueberry compote spilling overtop the pie complimented the citrus taste beautifully. The flavors all went hand-in-hand with this dessert and we couldn’t get enough.

This was my first experience with outdoor dining in the winter and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered beforehand if I would get too cold, if the igloo atmosphere would be claustrophobic, or if it would even be worth the risk of dining out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first thing I will say about this experience is that my dining partners and I all felt extremely safe while at Martell’s. Our server (and any other waitstaff we saw) was masked at all times. We removed our masks while we dined but masked-up when our server would come into our igloo. I also never felt claustrophobic in our small space because the enclosure was encased in clear plastic, and was sealed shut with magnetic buttons. 

While the electric heaters did provide a decent amount of heat, warm coats and hats and scarves were still a necessity while dining. Towards the end of the meal we had very cold feet, but that was also after over an hour and a half of being outside. My advice for future igloo diners would be to remember that despite being in an enclosure and provided with additional heat, this IS Michigan in late winter and to bundle up! 

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, Martell’s is offering an exclusive menu just for the special holiday. Bring your loved one in to dine and opt for the three-course meal that includes options of two different starters and a choice between three different entrees. Your meal will be topped off with their extravagant molten chocolate cake that arrives with a warm liquid center. If Valentine’s Day isn’t your vibe, Martell’s offers complete meals to-go every day after 4 p.m. and will even bring your order to you curbside. 

Martell’s provides a much-needed amenity during this time of COVID by servicing the community with a safe place to commune for meals while supporting a local business. This establishment has it all, from warm and friendly customer service to delicious dishes that are sure to delight. Grab your scarf, hat, mittens, and favorite dining buddy and head to Martell’s for a taste of Italian American cuisine all accompanied by a stunning view of Willow Lake. 

For more SW Michigan foodie reviews, follow along with Beca on Instagram @bites.with.beca