Well, I'm into the third day of my vacation, and I have literally traveled from one end of the state to the other: On Saturday Fellow Traveler and I drove to Detroit to pick up her son, who's visiting from New York City, and then yesterday we drove all the way up to Leelanau County to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
We couldn't have had a nicer driving day yesterday -- temps barely pushing 70 and the bluest of blue skies. After taking some good-natured ribbing for navigating my citified companions into a whole lot of nowhere we reached the charming, historic and artsy village of Empire right next to the dunes, and had lunch at Joe's Friendly Tavern , at the end of Front Street, the village's main drag.
Joe's Tavern is a village fixture, comfortably "up north" without being precious, and attracts everyone from locals out for Sunday dinner to the large numbers of kayakers, cyclists and other outdoorsy folks who hang out in this area, to garden-variety fudgies like ourselves. Their menu is great -- they're locally famous for their hamburgers, and have a long list of specialty burgers, and they also carry a number of menu items with interesting regional twists.
We started out our meal with a basket of paper-thin sweet potato chips and a bowl of black cherry salsa -- for you non-Michiganians out there, you need to understand that, in this cherry-growing region of the state, if cooks can add cherries or cherry products to anything, no matter how improbable, they will do so -- that were excellent; the slow-burning, sweet heat of the salsa was great with the crispy brown chips. (The bar also serves a sweet potato nachos dish that includes more of the salsa, plus bleu cheese.) FT's son ordered a barbecued buffalo brisket sandwich that was mighty tasty, while FT and I split two appetizers -- whitefish strips and "Joe wings." The whitefish -- another regional speciality, and so fresh it tasted like it had just come in off the docks down the road -- was cut into strips, breaded with flour and cornmeal and deep-fried; like fish sticks for discerning grownups. The chicken wings are coated generously with the bar's own wing sauce recipe, which -- surprise! -- includes cherries; assertively nippy without being overpoweringly hot, but with a hint of sweetness. All of which is to say...we enjoyed our meal a great deal, and were so full afterward that we eschewed all our other favorite snack-attack destinations the rest of the day...not even the Phoenix Cafe in Beulah, which makes the ginger scones that I need at least one of each year to call it a summer.
After crawling around in the dune sand a bit, we headed up to Leland, just to give The Kid a quick tour of Fishtown, and to stop in at the Good Harbor Vineyard winery, where we toured the facilities and then engaged in some wine tasting. (Fellow Traveler and I love the Fishtown white table wine, which lends itself to a lot of foods and is also pretty inexpensive.) I picked up a dry Riesling and a chardonnay -- the stores around here sell a very limited selection of Good Harbor wines, and none of the varietals, so it was interesting to see some of their other wines. In the village of Leland we ran into the local grocery store, where I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the local Leelanau Cheese Company raclette (which makes the best top-drawer grilled cheese sandwiches), and fresh hummus from a local organic-foods restaurant. (We did not, however, stop in at The Cove, a popular restaurant next to Fishtown, whose signature cocktail is a "Chubby Mary" -- a Bloody Mary sporting a hollow-eyed smoked chub from the fish smokery next door, instead of a celery stick.)
It was a fun day. Long but fun.