Cool Cuisine in Kalamazoo

It’s always a marvelous night at Food Dance

Bread Baking slide

By Sarah McKibben

When you get the urge for a regional culinary adventure, where should you go? If you head north and west, not too far away, you’ll find some of the richest farmland in the country and gustatory pleasures to match in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This small city is a craft food and beverage lover’s delight and the top attraction is its acclaimed farm-to-table eatery Food Dance, which has been serving fresh, local and ethically sourced food for more than 20 years under the sure hand of owner and executive chef Julie Stanley.


Top: Food Dance market sells breads and pastries made on-site, fresh-cut meats, craft chocolate and a carefully curated selection of wines and cheeses. Below: Seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, like this pasta special with asparagus and poached egg, take the lead at Food Dance. Photos courtesy of Food Dance.

Everything served at Food Dance—from the ketchup to the croutons—is made from scratch, with as many local ingredients as possible. From the baked goods made one floor below the main kitchens to the meat butchered in-house, despite serving some 3,000 meals a week, Food Dance keeps it homey.

The welcome at Food Dance is as Midwestern-warm as it is professional, with expert servers who stand out for their knowledge and friendliness. The menu features familiar, upscale, nicely balanced American dishes made with uncompromising care, such as roast chicken, pork chops, salmon and pasta, as well as burgers and sandwiches and salads. Numerous vegetarian and gluten-free items are thoughtfully labeled, and some dishes can be made vegetarian upon request.

At lunch, Edible Michiana editor Maya Parson and I enjoyed a terrific beet and goat cheese terrine the bright colors of an island sunset along with a sampling of regional meats and nuts, followed by a Square Dance salad with caramelized onions, dried Michigan tart cherries and pine nuts and a robust house burger. All this was washed down with a deliciously tart pint of Red Streak cider from Fennville, Michigan’s Virtue Cider. (We declined Food Dance’s artisanal cocktails since we had to drive home, but we understand those are pretty nice, too.)

For those with children, a separate kids’ menu is affordable and crowd pleasing, yet subtly dressed up. Breakfasts include buttermilk pancakes with Callebaut chocolate chips, egg with brioche toast, Monster Crunch granola with organic yogurt, as well as sides. Lunch staples are quesadilla, grilled cheese, chicken tenders, mac and cheese, PB&J with homemade jam on brioche, pizza and a gourmet burger. Basically, these are dishes kids tend to like made with ingredients that parents can feel good about giving them.

You may want to take Food Dance with you when you leave—we certainly did! Fortunately, the attached market sells their own bread and pastries, fresh cuts of meat, a selection of regional and national gourmet chocolates, wine, cheese and take-out items.

For those who plan a bit further ahead, the restaurant also offers popular classes each month. The March Meat Madness series will hone your knife skills, decode butchering and sausage-making and demonstrate a techniques dinner. Spring continues with two cupcake classes in April, a spirit tasting in May and the sixth annual Fire & Sky Grilling class on the rooftop in June (see website for further information).

However and whenever you go, be sure you add Food Dance to your culinary dance card.

FoodDance3Someone’s in the Kitchen at Food Dance…

Originally from Detroit, Food Dance owner and executive chef Julie Stanley attended Western Michigan University and has been in the food industry for more than 47 years. Gorgeous eyes sparkling behind trendy glasses, she beams as she talks about the business that’s her passion.

First in a diner and later in the full-scale restaurant, Stanley’s vision was always locally rooted slow food of the kind she found in Europe, long before the concept became a catchword in this country.

Stanley calls Berkeley’s Alice Waters her “idol” for inspiring her own drive to buy food closer to home, to know whom she’s buying it from and to give back to the community, such as by supporting Fair Food Matters, which seeks to improve community health through local food. Stanley knows the farmers who supply Food Dance individually, visiting their farms and working with them. She also features regional artisanal ingredients and cheers the deepening of Midwestern food culture.

With a business philosophy that rests on care for thefood, guests and the staff that serves them, Stanley is a savvy businesswoman. She practices rigorous quality control alongside experimentation, constantly exploresways to do things better, keeps precise tabs on those slim restaurant margins such as by knowing precisely how many eggs (400 dozen) and everything else are used each week, employs open-book management that involves every member of the nearly 100-person staff in making things a success, and savors both the flavors and the pragmatics of running a flagship restaurant.

Largely self-taught—apart from a brief, though formative, stint in Wisconsin cooking school—Stanley is at once indefatigable and down-to-earth. The foundations of Stanley’s success go back to her working mother, whose detailed instructions for making dinners not only imparted the basics but no doubt fostered confidence and independence. The “dance” in Food Dance comes from the notion of working together in a kitchen built on respect. Even today, “dance” is the term used to refer to taking food out to the dining room. Long may the dance continue!

What to Do in Kalamazoo

You could easily spend half a day (or more) at Food Dance. Make sure to plan at least one full day in Kalamazoo to explore all that this delicious city has to offer! Here are a few other standouts to visit while you’re there:

Kalamazoo Farmers Market, one of the oldest in Michigan, is open seasonally, May–November. 1204 Bank St.

Fandango Tapas Bistro offers tapas, paella and other Latin treats. 247 S. Kalamazoo Mall

Bell’s Eccentric Café is a fun stop for brews, eats and music. 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave.

Rustica offers rustic European cuisine (handmade cheese, house-cured meats) sourced from local farmers and vendors. 236 S. Kalamazoo Mall

Visit the adorable Water Street Coffee Joint for quality coffee and tea, pastries, salads and sandwiches. 315 E. Water St.

At Confections with Convictions (located a bit off the beaten path, south of downtown), try the caramels and organic, fair trade chocolate bark. 116 W. Crosstown Pkwy.

Try the Victorian Bakery for organic, locally sourced goodies. 116 W. Crosstown Pkwy.

Food Dance
400 E. Michigan Ave.
401 Kalamazoo, MI

When she is not experimenting in the kitchen and hosting potlucks, Sarah McKibben teaches Irish language and literature to the Fighting Irish.


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