Does any sight gladden the heart more than the gleaming Art Deco chrome of a genuine diner? We were no further than Grand Rapids (okay, exactly 15 miles further than Grand Rapids) and already my Traverse City trip, for which I made requests here,
had paid off with an amazing conglomeration of no less than four vintage diners, a veritable Diner Stonehenge, including the one featured in a famous 70s commercial for Bounty starring Nancy Walker as "Rosie" (and hence earning the whole complex the name "Rosie's").
It was no trick to get my train-obsessed sons to sit and eat in a place that looked like a train. But I had to admit, we were perilously close to violating Mike G's Law ("If there's a reason to eat somewhere other than the food, the food's no good.") Would the food, in short, suck as deeply as the decor charmed?
Well, no. It was, let us say, about on par for a roadside place, not good enough that you'd have made the trip just for the food, but you could easily have found yourself having the exact same meal in drearily uncharming 80s surroundings of dusty rose Formica and "country" decor. The pork underneath that bottle-enhanced gravy and next to those canned, rubbery green beans was roasted and pretty real. If they hadn't quite risen to their surroundings, neither had they dragged them down with them.
And so on to Traverse City and beyond (about 20 miles north, a village called Sutton's Bay) for the Cherry Festival. Too many meals of whitefish with a breadcrumb crust, too many cherry syrups and jams and mustards purchased to accurately describe them all, too much ice cream and American Spoon gelato and fudge, fudge, fudge everywhere, but for at least one of my sons, a place where you can go around slathering crackers with jam to your heart's content in between amusement park rides was pretty much the best place on earth he had ever been:
One upscale meal: a place called Hattie's in Sutton's Bay. Intermittent points of excellence, other moments of amateurishness or dishes that didn't quite come off. Pan-fried ravioli with locally-caught morels were a little Thanksgivingy for the Fourth of July but undeniably tasty:
So, somewhat more surprisingly, were scallops dabbed with a wild blueberry salsa, the key making those two flavors work together being a mild curry taste to the panfried scallops:
A salad with tart dressing and sugar-crusted walnuts and a big glob of local goat cheese was unfocused, however; and our dessert souffle was comped because it just didn't rise. I know there are truly stellar restaurants deep in the woods near Charlevoix, like Tapawingo, and this wasn't quite there-- but I suppose the real marvel is that a rustic, aggressively quaint summer town like this can support even one place that is this accomplished-- and priced to match. It was full, too.
But enough of this faux big city high life. Remember this bit of advice from Leesh?
Last weekend we were driving around the interlochen area and stopped in the Karlin Inn (7465 karlin rd) which is about a mile past the interlochen arts camp entrance. we only stopped in for beer, but as the place filled with interlochen camp staff, huge plates of fried fish we flying out of the kitchen.
There it is, hot off the press, a photo of the very fish fry Leesh was talking about, and a lively, raucous time was had by all. To be honest, the fried perch here was a less delectable item than the breadcrumb-crusted whitefish found nearly everywhere else, which was uniformly excellent whether at Boone's in Sutton's Bay, Western Avenue Grill in Glen Arbor, or Bluebird in Leland. Good thing, too, because most of the times that I strayed off the seafood menu (once in a while I craved a burger) the results were pretty mediocre-- including, I should point out, at the famous, and to my mind inexplicably so, Redamak's in New Buffalo on the way home. (Sorry if you love the place, everyone there seemed to, but I could have at least three better burgers within a five minute walk from my house.)
By the way, Leland is also the home to Fish Town, a small cutesy district of shops in old fishing huts, which actually includes one surviving fish processor-- Carlson's. I have a tub of their smoked fish pate (smoked something or other whipped into cream cheese) and let me just say, I would not part with it for love or money. If you go, don't miss it.
And what, you ask, is that? A massive (and massively loud) Belgian dance hall organ at The Music House, a museum in Traverse City dedicated to mechanical musical instruments. It rained much of the time we were there, alas, so we had to hunt up fun like this. Quite an impressive collection, including an ultradeluxe player piano made for the "Body by Fischer" family, which was capable of reproducing dynamics as well as notes, meaning it sounded not like a rinky-dink piano but like the ghost of George Gershwin tapping the keys himself.
But you were asking about pie. And there was pie to be had in many places. This was from The Cherry Hut, in Beulah, a frequent award-winner and undeniably a fine pie. But we found a better one...
No, not here. Although this Polish butcher shop in Cedar did have excellent beef jerky which kept us going on the long drive home. But I considered some pies in their fridge, made by one Grandma Lu, and decided from the look of them that Grandma Lu had learned her crustmaking while plugging leaks in the local reservoir in the old country.
We saw this sign on the road out of Frankfort, Wendie's Country Oven Bakery, and immediately braked and did a U-ie. The pasties were, well, nothing with that much rutabaga in it is going to be finishable by me, but the pie... ah, the pie... blueberry pie... crisp yet flakey crust, a hint of cinnamon... there is one little piece left-- I'll wrestle you for it.