Fishtown

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Fishtown is one of those places that are hard to imagine unless you actually visit them. This is a historic fishing site on the Leelanlau Peninsula, that has been preserved for hundreds of years.

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The local businesses along the pier include a sandwich shop, fish market and craft gifts. Fishtown is one of the places my aunt would love to visit on Lake Michigan. Small, historic, quiet, with quality food and shopping.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

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Man I am surprised that I made it to Painted Rocks, a national park further away from Chicago, before I ever made it Sleeping Bear. I was saving it for a special trip, I guess. About a week ago I took that trip to one of the last remaining wild refuges of rugged shoreline left along Lake Michigan.

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Etta and I did the driving tour, along an approximately 3 mile loop, with stops for photos. The sky was overcast, but that looked to be changing. I stopped for a locally made (Leelanau Pie) apple pie and newspaper (Leelanlau Enterprise). By the time we got to the first stop the grey was giving way to blue.

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The dunes are immense. The scale of sand helped me reach an epiphany. I am obsessed with the history of glaciation, but I could not truly picture a miles-high ice sheet in my backyard until I saw that sand. For the first time, I could see how the sliding ice would pick up boulders and stones, and grind them down.

sleeping bear dunes leelanlau pie enterprise national park 3rdarm michigan

Over many cycles of advance and retreat, along the deeper basin of the Great Lake, all this sand was deposited, replenished by prevalent winds. The warning sign said to stay away from the bluff, steep and hundreds of feet down to the lake. A family of foreign visitors may not have been able to read the sign, and descended far down.

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Fortunately they made it back up. The need for the sign speaks to those who were not so lucky. It was September, and along with overseas tourists, the only other visitors were blueheads, groups of seniors, who in their isolation from the rest of society were as rowdy as teenagers.

sleeping bear dunes leelanlau pie enterprise national park 3rdarm michigan

The bottoms of the clouds scraped by this borderland of ghostly glaciers gone-by, leaving behind in their wake sunshine and blue sky stretching to the horizon. The tops of the dunes, a habitat uniquely their own, smelled piney, herbacious.

Mission Table

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We rolled up the dirt driveway and parked next to a Chevelle from the sixties. The parking lot sits directly next to wine vineyards. I imagined the old muscle car belonging to one of the Old Mission wine barons.

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Mission Table, housed in a historic, sprawling building that renowned Michigan breweryJolly Pumpkin calls home as well, could not have been more cozy. There were comfortable chairs beside a roaring fire. The dining room had its own fireplace, and windows on the lake.

old mission peninsula mission table restaurant jolly pumpkin wine barons sunset 3rdarm

Etta and I loved the food here, one of the best meals I have had in Michigan. Mission Table pairs classic technique with local ingredients, and the resulting dishes are high quality and flavorful.

old mission peninsula mission table restaurant jolly pumpkin wine barons sunset 3rdarm

We had lake trout in a light, acidic tomato broth, and steak in a rich sauce of beef shortribs. The locally grown vegetables were shining, at this time of harvest. My girlfriend enjoyed her cocktail. An interesting part of the restaurant is that they make all their own beer (Jolly Pumpkin), wine and spirits.

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Right before the entrees arrived, the sun burst through the grey pall blanket of clouds on its descent. The bottoms of the clouds caught pink reflections. The resulting contrast was so surprisingly beautiful many of the diners, including me, stopped eating to step outside and see.

Old Mission State Park, Part 2

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Old Mission and Leelanau are two of the most beautiful peninsulas in the United States. Together, they make up as much coastline as Cape Cod or Door County, and yet they fly much lower under the radar than either of those two destinations.

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When I first stopped in Traverse City, on our circle tour around Lake Michigan, we drove out to the Old Mission State Park to watch the sunset. This year, we spent a weekend just exploring both peninsulas. Again, we found ourselves out on the tip.

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It was a chilly September Sunday evening. The lake was at it highest level in several years. With the wind blowing, and green leaves turning yellow, and summer retreating, the historic Old Mission Lighthouse was oddly reassuring.

old mission state park swans feeding michigan peninsula 3rdarm

On the drive out of the state park to dinner, we pulled over and watched two swans. They were feeding in rough water, their white bodies bobbing up and down in the swells, with waves breaking over their backs. The water was warmer than the air.

Little Fleet

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This is not necessarily a big success story for Little Fleet, because when I went on a chilly, windy off-season Sunday afternoon there were no food trucks open. However, the bartenders welcomed us to bring back pizza from across the street. The pizza was great!

Little Fleet as a concept deserves five stars, and I will definitely eat there next time I am in Traverse City. It was really neat to drive up from Chicago, and be able to stop first at Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, and then Little Fleet in TC.

Michigan cities are stepping up their support for small local business, and we get all the treats!

Interlochen

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Lake N’ Pines Lodge was the choice after hours spent looking at spots to stay near Traverse City. Etta has a great track record picking good places, and she did not disappoint this time.

We were welcomed to LNP by the couple who own the small lodge. We stayed on the second floor of the guest house, with a deck looking out onto the water. The rooms were clean and comfortable, with a calming, woodsy decor, and a lot of thought put into the details.

The owners had left us a couple sodas in the fridge, and lots of nice soaps and stuff in the bathroom. They invited us to canoe on the lake, but I really wanted a nap after the drive in from Chicago, and my girlfriend found the hundreds of channels on TV.

lake n pines lodge interlochen michigan 3rdarm etta arthur mullen kostick

We filled out a menu card, and breakfast was brought up to our room in the morning. It was a really treat, and for guests like us who would rather eat a private breakfast, the best accommodation a B&B could make.

The location was super close to Traverse City and the National Park, but also set off plenty, on back roads. Interlochen reminded me of the north woods of Wisconsin, and is home to a major NPR station. The stay at Lake N’ Pines Lodge really put me at ease.

Downtown Market Grand Rapids

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What a great idea for Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan behind Detroit. It’s an Eataly-style market, and instead of Italian, the focus is on local businesses.

downtown market grand rapids michigan

Etta and I got a cup of coffee, crepes and some popcorn. The coffee, locally roasted, was outstanding. The crepes were good for what they were: made-to-order street food style crepes with off the shelf fillings.

There may have been a defect with the Dorothy / Tony’s cheese / caramel popcorn: I was unable to close the bag after it had been opened.

Xoconostle

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The second annual weekend-long ModMex event finished with a special Sunday night dinner at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. I was the closing manager: because it was not my restaurant, and the redundancy of other managers, I pictured myself hanging back until the end of the night, when I would take over and close the restaurants. Instead, I was put in charge of reformatting and correcting the menu, correlating the microphone and music for the chefs speeches, and expediting five courses from the kitchen. It was a lot of fun, something different, and I got paid.

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My favorite part was the xoconostle (prickly pear) marshmallows: so tartly acidic and insanely sweet at the same time. Thank you to chefs who gave them to me, and gave them to, and gave me the rest. I also really appreciated my friend the media director’s immense writing talent. DT’s live blogging made me feel like I was in audience for the chef’s presentations at Kendall College on Saturday morning, when I was in fact still in bed. ModMex is all about where the state of Mexican cuisine is today, and the prisms of its future and past. Here is a link to David’s witty recap from this year’s event.

Way to the Door of Death

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It made me so happy to have Meghan along to visit some of our favorite spots in Door County. I felt a sense of fulfillment sharing these things with a close friend, and I also felt the desire to go farther. The outer lands themselves are actually an island, cut off from the rest of the peninsula by the Sturgeon Bay canal, and there are more islands out there.

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We drove the winding road out to the end, to see the water named Death’s Door by mariners hundreds of years ago. It’s a place where many ships have been wrecked and many met a watery grave. This is where one catches the ferry to Washington Island. Etta asked if we would go there next year, and I said yes.

Outer Lands

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In addition to all the natural beauty in the county and state parks, Door County has many family-owned, independent businesses that make it a place worth visiting. In Ellison Bay, they are taking the region’s apples, some even brought by ferry from Washington Island, pressing them for juice. After fermentation, the lovely stuff is bottled and sold under the name Island Orchard.

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Right where the tip of the land funnels low pressure systems coming West from Minnesota and North from Chicago, they see hundreds of water spouts off the coast every year. This place is home to delicious pie, featuring Door County’s own fruits, and plenty of Wisconsin butter. Bea’s Homade Products makes my all favorite treats: cookies, donut holes, and pie.

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