Thursday, June 6, 2013

[Up North] Honest Food & Friendly Folks in Southwest Michigan

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

It is hard to go wrong when picking where to spend a weekend along Lake Michigan in the summer. For our first summer getaway this year, we headed to Saugatuck/Douglas for a weekend of summer fun and good food.

First, your daily dose of trivia: As soon as we got into town, I made a pitstop at the grocery store where I picked up a 4-pack of New Holland’s Paleooza and a 6-pack of Saugatuck’s Singapore IPA. Why did they name a beer after a small Southeast Asian country, I wondered. The blurb on the side of the 6-pack talked about the lost city of Singapore. Assuming this was some bit of local mythology, I turned to Wikipedia and was surprised to find out that Singapore, MI actually existed. It was one of many towns along Lake Michigan to supply lumber to rebuild Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire. Without the protective tree cover to prevent erosion, the town was buried by sand.

Phil’s Bar & Grille
Saugatuck, MI

With appropriate rations for late-night drinking on the porch of our B&B, we headed to downtown Saugatuck for dinner. We settled on Phil’s Bar & Grille, which lured us in with a menu of upscale pub fare like ancho citrus broasted wings and potato encrusted walleye. I re-discovered “broasted” chicken last year and I am now singing its praises to anyone that will listen. The pressure-frying of broasting (versus regular deep frying) yields an insanely light and crispy batter and leaves the chicken dripping with juice. I suspect the shorter frying time required by broasting as opposed to frying helps keep in the moisture, which should be of particular importance to you white meat fans.

We ordered a batch of the hot ancho-chile citrus wings. First bite was crispy crunch from the batter, juicy wing meat, and nice chile-citrus sauce. I didn’t get a lot of heat though. By the time we were onto our last wings though, my mouth was tingling – that’s my favorite kind of spicy, the kind that sort of sneaks up on you that you don’t taste at first.

We had trouble deciding between the walleye and perch, but I couldn’t have it be a weekend at the big lake without some fried perch. Served with a housemade tartar sauce that was more on the mustard side of things instead of mayo – a major plus in my book.

I would be remiss if I did not dock Phil’s a couple points for their drink menu. Only three Michigan beer selections – Oberon and two from Founders – and zero Michigan wines offered by the glass (you can buy a bottle of L. Mawby sparkling wine). Do you really need every imaginable awful mass produced beer on the menu? I thought it was also just poor form to not support the thriving Michigan beer & wine scene. For the record, I had two Founders All Day IPAs.

After dinner, we strolled down Butler St. and ended at the patio at The Butler for a drink overlooking Kalamazoo Lake. (Again with the poor beer selection, Oberon was the only craft brew option).

M&M’s Blue Star Cafe
Douglas, MI

A Saturday morning full of garage sale and thrift store shopping builds up quite an appetite. Pregnant Mrs. T played the iron card again, demanding burgers for lunch. We went to our favorite pitstop we used to make driving to/from Chicago – M&M Blue Star Café.

It’s actually more than just a burger spot, they have a full diner menu and seem to do a solid brunch business, but Mrs. T and I go there for the burgers.

While the burgers are nothing too sexy, they always hit the spot on those sunny summer days. While the beef is not ground on-site, the patties are not frozen. The irregular-shaped patty and solid browning bear all the signs of a properly griddled and hand-formed burger. M&M also has a walk-up ice cream window for all your malt & shake needs if the burger wasn’t enough. We had some afternoon shopping to do downtown, so I grabbed my ice cream at Charlie’s Round the Corner. Charlie’s serves up Sherman’s Ice Cream - a favorite of mine. I opted for cake batter this time.

Salt of the Earth
Fennville, MI

For dinner, we ventured inland(!) to downtown Fennville for a place I have been meaning to get to for years. Salt of the Earth is a restaurant & bakery focusing on local farm-to-table dining. I realized that this was not your typical locavore restaurant when I parked the car around the corner from the restaurant.

A quick glance of the menu and it is clear that this is not the type of place you’d expect to find in rural Middle America – or maybe it is. They try to source everything within 50 miles of the restaurant, which really should not be difficult since the 9-mile trip from Douglas to Fennville brought us past dairy farms, apple orchards, blueberry farms, farm market stands, etc.

I had a hard time deciding which cocktail to start with and finally settled on the Sage Rub – gin, sage, lime sour, passion fruit liqueur. Amazing. I will be officially declaring a challenge to my mixology snob friend CLB to try to replicate this. Mrs. T also had rave reviews for her virgin mojito.

For starters, we got the crispy pork belly appetizer and roasted radishes. My first bite of the pork belly confirmed that these guys knew what they were doing – the fat spread like butter on the bread from the bakery. I have been on a radish kick lately – the lowly radish is a throwaway item when raw, but transforms into a delicious starchy bite when roasted.

For the main event, we decided to split the roasted confit chicken with a side of the balsamic fried brussel sprouts – the house specialty. Two more home runs. The chicken was tender, the skin was crisp – the simple roasted chicken is tough to beat when done right. The sprouts were on another level from the meager roasted sprouts I cook at home. Fried until the leaves turned a dark green, they were topped with housemade bacon and drizzled with balsamic.

I could have ordered another round of the sprouts for dessert had I not heard about the wood fire-roasted s’more with housemade marshmallow and salted caramel. This thing was just ridiculous.

New Holland Brewing Company
Holland, MI

The plan for Sunday was to stop by Holland on the way home, walk around downtown to do some shopping, and grab lunch at New Holland. Apparently the city of Holland has not got the memo that people like to walk around and spend money on weekends in Michigan – downtown was a ghost town and everything was closed. We killed some time and finally headed to New Holland where we were both excited to munch on some White Hatter mussels. Predictably, the waitress informed us that they were out of mussels. I drowned my sorrows in some Black Tulip Trippel Ale.

Aside from the hiccups in Holland, the trip was another excellent excursion to Lake Michigan.

Phil's Bar & Grille
215 Butler St.
Saugatuck, MI

M&M Blue Star Cafe
141 Blue Star Highway
Douglas, MI

Charlie's Round the Corner
132 Mason St
Saugatuck, MI

Salt of the Earth
114 E Main St
Fennville, MI

New Holland Brewing
66 E 8th St
Holland, MI

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. Stopped at Salt of the Earth and was blown away.