Thursday, July 04, 2013

Pure Culinary Michigan

  The state of Michigan is heavily marketing itself as a tourist destination under the catchphrase 'Pure Michigan.'  No doubt most of the ‘Pure Michigan’ TV commercials we’ve seen narrated by comedian Tim Allen, himself a Michigan native, are only seen here in the state.  They want us Michiganders to vacation at home.  “We’re on a Michigan adventure,” used to be the sing-song jingle that accompanied these marketing efforts.
       So Wendy and I decided to do a weekend Michigan adventure of our own so to speak, hitting some culinary hotspots between Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.  We’re always looking for a trendy new restaurant or an out-of-the-way diner that’s a hidden gem so to speak.
       The Grass Lake Diner placed third in the state for best breakfast, according to the newspaper chain M-Live which sent its own culinary experts out to find the best breakfast spots throughout the state.  Wendy and I stopped there first.  Grass Lake is a just a village and the diner reflects that.  I’ve seen living rooms that have seated more people than this place.
      The few people waiting in line with us stood next to the wall overlooking the diners themselves.  I’m sure those eating were conscious of me and Wendy watching to see who was close to finishing so we could grab their table.  While in line, we could study the menu which was on a blackboard behind us.   Their Elvis French toast is supposed to be their hit menu item.  But neither of us likes French toast, so I had a pulled pork hash while Wendy did the traditional bacon and one egg.
     The verdict?  My hash was spicy, made more so with tiny jalapeno peppers.    They listed peppers on the blackboard menu, but maybe they didn’t know how to spell jalapeno so they left it off.   Other than that, breakfast was fine if a bit disorderly with the waitstaff huffing and squirming to reach all the diners.  Grumbled one waiter, “We’ve had more diners in the last two months than we’ve had in the last two years.”  That’s the price of fame, bro.
     Watching over all of this from her post by the cash register was a woman we judged to be 80 years old.  She helped to clean up tables and spills, seated diners, and answered questions besides cashing people out and wrapping fresh silverware in napkins.  Wonder if she was the bouncer too if there were unruly patrons.
     That night, since Wendy and I are big fans of the burgeoning Michigan microbrewery scene, we visited the Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.   We tasted various ales and artisan cheeses, to the detriment of our pocketbook.  I think “artisan” is to food what “designer” is to clothes, just an excuse to jack up the price.

  One unique aspect of this microbrewery is that it’s located in a former church.  That gave me mixed feelings.  The rotating tap of current brews was listed on what obviously used to be a hymnal board.  And the bar itself was strategically placed on the former church altar.  Wasn’t there a story in the Bible about Jesus throwing people out of the temple for selling their wares?  Can you imagine what He would think about this?  They had outdoor seating here but I’m glad I didn’t sit under the darkening skies there, lightning bolts and all.
     Finally, on the way back from Grand Rapids we stopped at Joe’s Gizzard City.  If anyone’s heard of the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, then they probably know of his popular Diners, Drive-ins and Dives book and TV program.  Joe’s  restaurant was featured in a TV segment, one of the few Michigan eatieries so honored.  

This is one place you do NOT want to stop on the way to your doctor’s for a cholesterol check.  Most everything is deep-fried here from the featured chicken gizzards to desserts.  Yes, desserts.  Deep fried cheesecake anyone?  I settled for some onion rings and some fried gizzards which actually weren’t too bad when you dipped them in the proffered side of cocktail sauce.  Though I worried what my doctor would think, I’m glad I wasn’t the lady at the adjacent table who ordered a whole plate of deep fried gizzards as she received assistance breathing from her bottle of oxygen sitting on the floor next to her.
      I'll stay away from greasy fried foods when I'm on oxygen.  When it comes to Michigan culinary adventures, you have to draw the line somewhere.