I thought I had seen it all when it came to restaurants since in my past life I was an entertainment editor. But the Load A Spud Potato Bar was a new one for me.
And it makes sense. After all, you have Subway that makes customized sandwiches and Qdoba that does the same with tacos and other Mexican-style cuisine. Also, when you think about it, potatoes do make a perfect base for just about any taste combination you could imagine.
Load A Spud Potato Bar, which is based in Grand Rapids, has six locations with one right in Kentwood at 1710 44th St. SW, just east of the Kalamazoo Avenue and 44th Street intersection. Enter in and the place is immaculate. Posters of various potato combinations and boards of potato quick facts adorned the walls. Centerstage was the potato bar itself.
The first thing we were told is that there are 20 different potato combinations or you could create your own. The most popular combinations are the Meat Lover’s, with chicken, bacon, ground beef, and steak; the Steak and Cheese, seasoned steak and cheese topped with A1 Sauce; the Cheese Broccoli with melted cheddar cheese and broccoli pieces; and the Taco featuring seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, onions and taco sauce. For $5 you can get a potato with any cheese or any veggie or with butter and sour cream only.
I opted for the Gyro ($7.99) which had gyro strips, feta cheese, onions and tomatoes. I also added lettuce and broccoli. The only hiccup I ran into was that Load A Spud puts butter on all of its potatoes, otherwise “it is going to be a very dry potato.” I am not a butter person, meaning I rarely put butter on anything. I agreed to just butter — the restaurant has several kinds of butter including a sour cream butter — and to be honest, I could not taste it. So the next time I go, I’m going butterless.
I did opt for the yogurt sauce — it’s a gyro so you must have yogurt sauce — and my traditional Diet Coke. Once fully loaded, Mike and I found a seat and dug in.
It was good. The favor combination of the meat and onions with the potato was a nice mix. However, a third of the way in, I fell into the majority of Load A Spud’s customers — I couldn’t finish the meal. The meal comes in a carry out container, so you can snap a lid on it and take it home for snacking later or tomorrow’s lunch. I actually had more at dinner with my daughter snacking on it as well and we still had about a third left.
My entire meal came to $9.53 and considering it ended up becoming three meals, I certainly got quite a bang for my buck.
My first experience with a baked potato bar came at a high school graduation party four years ago. The potatoes were baked, covered in tin foil, and ready to be dressed in the amenities laid forth on the bar. Bacon, cheese, ham, lettuce, spinach, green peppers, onions, sour cream and lots of butter were jovially added and I pondered to myself about the lack of a consistent potato bar in my life.
Fast forward four years to Joanne and I walking into Load A Spud Potato Bar at the corner of 44th Street and Kalamazoo. It had been far to long, but alas, me and my long-lost flame were about to be reunited once again.
As we entered the restaurant, potato facts lined the walls. No, seriously, there are facts about potatoes and the nutrients they provide all over the inside of the restaurant. Did you know that a potato has as many calories as a large apple? Or that nutritionists have shown that potatoes are low in calories and are an excellent source of carbohydrates? They are high in vitamins and contain no fat or cholesterol.
The wall of facts made me feel good about myself and the large quantities of food I was about to throw down the gullet. That’s all that matter in a restaurant, right? To make you FEEL good about what you’re about to eat. Load A Spud get’s an A+ for the feels.
To give you an idea of what Load A Spud is all about, it’s much like a Subway or Qdoba but uses a potato as its base instead of bread or a tortilla. This is no skimpy potato either. We’re talking a full pound that is then mashed together at the bottom of a bowl and topped with ingredients.
About those toppings, because a potato is a high quality base, there’s a lot of treble that can be added on top. In fact, Load A Spud has 20 signature combinations including a taco potato, shrimp alfredo potato, pizza potato, gyro potato, and many more. These signature combinations can then be further customized by a choice of four separate butters – regular, house (with cilantro), garlic, and sour cream – and a bevy of vegetables.
I decide to give the jerk chicken potato a whirl at $6.99 and added garlic butter, spinach, lettuce, red onions, green peppers, broccoli, colby jack cheese and tomatoes. I took the ‘load’ part in Load A Spud very seriously.
The meal was placed into a large bowl with a microwavable top just in case you couldn’t finish and needed to bring it home to heat up for later. How difficult could it be to finish a one pound spud and an assortment of goodies on top? Turns out, pretty dang hard. I shoveled the food into my mouth with no regards for Joanne or my own dignity. I dug into the spud with vigor and passion. As my stomach began to send the signals to my mind and mouth to stop destroying the bowl in front of me, I took a step back to see the damage inflicted upon my prey. My eyes bulged and my heart sank, how could it be that I hadn’t even finished off half of the meal? What is this sorcery!?
My mind quickly recalibrated and realized that what I had in front of me was now a meal for another time. One potato, one invoice, two meals.
One signature combination down, 19 more to go.