Bites with Beca: HighDive, Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo’s newest restaurant has arrived at 214 E. Michigan Ave. hoping to offer a unique twist to the downtown food scene. HighDive opened their doors to the hungry public on January 18 for a soft opening, and aims to be Kalamazoo’s favorite dive bar with high-end food — hence the name. One glance at the soft opening menu was all it took for me to scoop up three fellow foodies and head to HighDive to experience it for ourselves.

The new restaurant does not take reservations so we planned accordingly and arrived around 6:30 on a Saturday evening. It was a chilly and quiet February night, but the small bar was packed to capacity inside and bustling. We noticed right away there was a bit of confusion regarding where to go when we first entered with no host stand in sight or clear instructions on what to do regarding seating. After flagging down a few members of the extremely busy waitstaff, we were able to put our names on a waitlist. I was told it would be roughly 40 minutes, and that we were able to sit in the restaurant’s “waiting area,” and someone would be stopping by if we would like to place a drink order from the bar. 

The area we were taken to was located in a separate room next to the restrooms. We did feel a bit as if were forgotten there, as it was completely out of sight from the waitstaff and felt a bit isolated. Between the confusion at the front door, difficulty getting our names on a waitlist, and the unique lobby situation we were just beginning to worry when the first happy surprise of the night happened: our table became available 15 minutes sooner than we anticipated.

Unfortunately, we were not asked for our drink orders while we had been waiting for our table, which meant we were parched and prepped for what we wanted to drink. Two of my dining companions went the bourbon-route, ordering two of HighDive’s signature cocktails; the Not-So-Old Fashioned ($11) and the Made Manhattan ($11). While those two drinks weren’t my cup of tea (er, cocktail), the Perdido Mojito ($9) my partner ordered definitely was, and I snagged a sip immediately. This mojito was perfectly poured and filled with bright citrus flavors and cool mint. I chose the Strawberrita ($12), which was made with Patron Silver, Triple Sec, sour, Roses lime, strawberry puree, and lime. This cocktail was a vibrant shade of pink and tasted as if it could be deemed the “official drink of summer.”

As some of you may have began to notice, I have a specific weakness for chicken wings and feel compelled to try them whenever they are offered on an appetizer menu. HighDive’s wings are smoked, coated in a lemon pepper dry rub, and served with an option of ranch or bleu cheese. I immediately put an order in of the Smoked Wings ($14) for our group along with the Beer Battered Mushrooms ($8). The wings were absolutely everything I wanted them to be — the lemon pepper rub made the most satisfying crust and covered tender and flavorful chicken. Not to be outdone, the mushrooms left us all speechless being plump and juicy on the inside, yet delightfully crunchy on the outside. Served with a side of cajun ranch (be ready for the heat!) they were devoured in minutes.

To our famished delight, both our appetizers and entrees came out quickly with the Chattanooga Chicken ($12) from the “Smashables” portion of the menu going to my partner. An enormous fried chicken breast smothered in Nashville hot sauce was stuffed inside a toasted bun, and topped with lettuce, tomato, and pickles served with a side of HighDive’s signature “Phantom Fries.” It is important to note he had actually ordered a side of coleslaw and not the fries, and our attentive server was quick to bring him the slaw, free of cost. Though the chicken was entirely too spicy for me, my partner loved the earthy flavors of the Nashville hot and he appreciated the kick that came along with it.

Next up was the Shrimp Po’ Boy ($12) and Pesto Ravioli ($18) for my other companions. The Po Boy was an open-face toasted hoagie bun loaded with “Boomin’ Shrimp,” lettuce, and tomato. The boomin’ sauce was a creamy, tangy, and spicy concoction reminiscent of Bang-Bang or Firecracker shrimp offerings at other establishments. The shrimp was delicate, fresh, and absolutely piled high on the bun. Though incredibly messy to eat, my dining partner was thrilled with his selection. 

The pesto ravioli entree comes from the “Heavy Plates” portion of the menu, which holds the more upscale dining offerings. Each ravioli was oozing with mozzarella and tossed alongside pesto, roasted tomatoes, vibrant bell peppers, and a balsamic glaze. Served with a side of toasted Hoagie bun, this dish was elegant, elevated, and incredibly delicious. 

Now, I will admit I made my own dinner selection days in advance as it grabbed my attention the minute I laid eyes on it: the Sweet N Spicy ($14). This monstrosity features two 1/4 pound smash patties, peanut butter, jelly, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and haystack-style jalapeños. A burger this unique was calling my name, and it was nothing short of memorable. My initial bite of just the beef patties and peanut butter left me puzzled, as it was combining flavors I had never thought to introduce to each other before now.

Sweet N Spicy ($14)

As I made my way further into the burger and had a bite with bacon and dollops of grape jelly and crispy bacon I felt even further perplexed. While not necessarily “bad” or even weird, these were all such seemingly random flavor combinations that it left the burger feeling a bit chaotic. My desire would be that the Sweet N Spicy had more of the fried jalapeños on top, as I only had three but each bite with one in it was outstanding. The sharp bite of the spicy peppers jived gloriously with the sweet and cool grape jelly, and went hand-in-hand with the rest of the burger. 

My entree, along with the other two “smashables” at our table, were served with an upgrade of the “Phantom Fries,” an item available also as an appetizer ($8). These fries were crisp and piping-hot, topped with truffle oil, truffle salt, large shavings of fresh parmesan, and herbs. Though some of us had mixed feelings about whether the fries were “too” truffle-y, they were tasty nonetheless. 

With our dining experience coming to an end, we reflected on our evening with our bellies full and satiated. Though we had ran into difficulties at the beginning of our night, from the moment we were sat at our table everything changed. Every member of waitstaff we encountered was understandably frazzled, yet incredibly helpful, friendly, and approachable. The vibe inside was cozy and intimate, with tables being close together and perfect for conversations.

The decor was funky and bright with the back wall of the restaurant splashed with a bright blue and yellow mural, and an open-concept kitchen meant an added element of excitement to an already immersive experience. Any issues we had encountered prior to our meal were all perfectly normal hiccups for a soft opening of any dining establishment, and I have no doubt those wrinkles will be ironed out in time. 

HighDive is currently open from 3-9 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday, but plans to be open in the future seven days a week to serve both lunch and dinner. More information can be found on HighDive’s Facebook page

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. 

Any views or opinions expressed in “Bites with Beca” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.