-Grubbing in Michigan
Where the locals eat.
It took almost all of June but I think summer weather is finally here. The heat index was high this past weekend and the reason people from Chicago deal with nine bad months of weather a year is for the amazing three months of summer has begun. Chicago might be the best city on the map when it comes to traveling during the summer months. There isn't a place on earth with more stuff going on from the festivals to the baseball to the beaches there's always something to do and visitors come by the 100's of 1000's everyday. With all that said one of the reasons the locals love summer so much is because we get to leave the traffic and tourists here and head out to the many summer vacation destinations that surround Chicago. The people of Chicago are very lucky to have access to so many different areas via a short car ride and the shores of Michigan might be the most popular stop for us FIB's.
Freshwater coastline is abundant in Michigan
I'm sure that by now you've heard or seen the "Pure Michigan" ad campaign that's been going strong for at least three years now. I don't know about you but Tim Allen and the people behind them do a damn fine job in making me want to get out of the city and head up to Michigan. It's no doubt one of the prettiest states in America over the summer period and like the commercials say there is no place in the world with more fresh water coastline so its also got the beaches. I happen to be big on beaches and have been to quite a few all over Florida and the Caribbean and I still think Michigan has the best beaches in the US without question. The sand is perfect and jumping into the fresh water of Lake Michigan and Superior are about as refreshing as it gets on a 100 degree day. Fresh water is much better than salt water and you don't have to worry about any crazy creatures swimming around looking for lunch.
Michigan has great summertime produce and many master micro brewers
The people of Chicago travel all over Michigan but a huge percentage can be found in Michigan's Harbor Country. Its just 90 minutes from Chicago and a totally different world where people party and relax. It doesn't matter if your 19 or 59 everyone has a good time up there over summer. Its collection of quaint little beachside towns is the perfect summer getaway without getting on a plane. In fact I have yet to come across a place in all of Michigan that I didn't like and yes I've been to Detroit a few times-great eating and interesting sites in Detroit and Windsor.
Pure Michigan = lots of green
Over at the Pure Michigan website they describe Harbor Country as a place "where five star dinners go with flip flops and the day's agenda can change on a whim. Where the fast pace of life slows down and yields to the lazy luxuries of sunsets over Lake Michigan, plankwood sidewalks and dockside cafes. Of art and antiques and long afternoons whiled away in the tasting rooms of world-class wineries. Just 90 minutes from Chicago is Harbor Country, a treasure of lakeside towns, shabby-chic shops, countryside communities, heavenly beaches and the most spectacular sunsets in the state.' I told you they do a good job because that's a head on description of whats its like. But what about the food? oh that's pure too.
The Food Stops of Michigan's lakeside towns
South Haven's blueberry Fest is a blast...the pies and ice cream shine
Whenever I head up to Michigan over the summer I make it a point to get off at the Warren Dunes State Park exit on I-94. The first reason for this is the beach at Warren Dunes. It just might be the best beach in Michigan. It has perfect everything so I like to stop there and get some water and sun and then continue my journey by taking the bi-way's of the state so I can get a real feel for it. On my last trip up there I was rewarded heavily for my ways by coming across a heavy smell of BBQ in the air as I rode Blue Star Memorial highway into St. Joseph's. The smell was strong and I knew there was some BBQ to be had somewhere and then out of nowhere I passed Dale's Donut Shop. Dale's is a popular independent donut shop that I have yet to get too. Its closed on Sunday's but making up for it is the state of the art BBQ pit parked in the lot serving out smoked meat sandwiches. The Hickory Pit people can be found serving their real smoked meat BBQ sandwiches in the parking lot of Dale's from Thurs.-Sun.
Pulled Pork was good with a nice hint of smoke
The Smoked Bologna was my favorite
Smoked and chopped ham was also mighty good
So as you continue down the scenic Blue Star highway further into Michigan you will pass by Roxy's Hamburgers which is also located in St. Joseph. Roxy's is an old school drive-in that play's the 50's style of the genre. When you walk in there's all sorts of memorabilia from the '50's along with those little jukeboxes at each table. I'll be the first to say it felt a little gimmicky upon entering but there was something about it that also made me think it was at least worth trying. maybe it was the old school sign or maybe it was the fact there were many locals eating in there right between dinner and lunchtime. I figured if it was busy during the off-season it must have something going for it.
The burgers of Southwest Michigan
The burgers at Roxy's are typically served in a deluxe manner but I decided to try my usual first order for a burger spot. I got a cheeseburger with mustard, pickles and onions and passed on the fries since I could see they were plain old freezer fries. I thought the burger might of been a tad dry like they were using 85/15 beef but it wasn't so dry it was inedible. In fact it was a perfectly fine variation of a old school cheeseburger. If I passed by again and was hungry for a burger I might stop in again.
old school style with just mustard, pickles, onions
Back into the car and back along the road of M-140 aka Blue Star highway into one of America's most historic little towns you've probably never heard of. I spend a week or two each summer in Sister lakes, Michigan which is a nice little town on a lake minus the chaos of the Harbor Country. Its great because its made up of a bunch of lakes and is still close to the great lake. It's not too far from M-140 and so I'm very familiar with the area. One thing you know about this site is we dont BS-I'm telling you if your looking for peaceful harmony with no traffic jams and want to get away from the people in harbor Country who you already see everyday in the city then try the many little lakes of Sister Lakes, Michigan. The small little vacation community takes you back to a time when life was simple. So ride a boat, swim, fish, BBQ, take a walk around the lakes and take in the scenery-it doesn't matter the only activities involve some form of relaxation.
The view of Big Crooked lake from the lovely Hilltop Resort
About four or five years ago we took a little road trip from Sister lakes just to cruise around and see what was encompassing the area so we hopped on M-140. My buddies dad took us to Covert, Michigan to see if the local library was open on this specific trip. It was right after the civil war that both black and whites came together in this town that was a popular stop on the underground railroad. But its history goes all the way back to the 1860's when its settlers-also both black and white- lived as peers, friends and even family.
There's not much much going on in Covert these days but there are still a number of people both black and white living together and quite a few food stops in the outlying communities. I swear as soon as stepped foot and drove thru the neighborhoods and cemetery I could feel the history and became immediately enamored with this little farming community. Its history attracted historian Anna-Lisa Cox where for more than a decade she traced the trails of the pioneers and released a book in 2006. I would recommend checking out this story from NPR.org to learn more about Covert and its past. Its a good read.
Covert is a history lesson within a little town
I go back to Covert every year to just to take a drive and see what happening during summer. I imagine its pretty much the same as it ever was. Not much going on but anyone that knows basketball knows the state of Michigan produces talent and the tiny little town and high school of Covert has won what I believe to be four state class D titles. So as you continue on M-140 in Covert going towards the lake you will come into South Haven, Michigan and if your lucky enough catch a sign for Bob's Processing just off M-140 a mile or two down on 16th ave. Luckily for you there is no luck needed because I'm telling you to go there.
Click here to check out Bob's website
It was on the trip thru Covert that we first found this five star smoked meat shop run by Bob Filbrant, who also happens to be a member of the AAMP cured meat Hall of Fame. Bob grew up working in various meat departments as a youth and for almost 30 years now as operated Bob's Processing in South Haven, Michigan. Items available include hams, turkeys, chickens and the bacon. Yes Bob is bringing in the bacon. As in bringing in the best bacon I have ever had in my life. I've done quite a few award winning bacon from the various gastro pubs around Chicago and my days in Wisconsin. You'll get the idea when you walk in and see ton's of blue ribbons on the walls.
as a lifelong resident of South Haven...Bob and his smokers are well known
Bob knows bacon
If you have a place or are taking a vacation in Michigan this summer then you best get on over to Bob's and fill your basket with breakfast meats like bacon, ham and sausage. Not only will you thank me but whoever your traveling with will thank you...every bite they take. Just make sure to call ahead as the hours are on the early side.
BACON, BACON, BACON!!!!
I hope you like pig because our next stop is Ranch House Ribs right down the road from Bob's along M-140. The little BBQ shack can also be missed in the blink of an eye but if you catch it you'll be lucky. Like any other true BBQ shack it can be different each time in that when you smoke BBQ its never an exact time they come off when there ready and taste better fresh out of the smoker. With all that said its always been good on each one of my visits.
The sign along M-140
I like Ranch House for both their spare ribs and rib tips. Orders come with wonder bread and an assortment of sides along with mild and hot BBQ sauce which I ordered on the side. The smoke ring was perfect and while they weren't jello like (they smoke them) they also weren't the type you have to chew and struggle with like a dog. The hot sauce wasn't all that hot and the mild was very tangy and a little sweet, I always go sauce on side so that I can taste the meat. I prefer to just dip it and get a little sauce on each bite. Ranch House is a good bet for any BBQ fan in the area, The sides are decent and the chicken is good but the smoked pig parts are the reason to stop in.
Rib tips with hot BBQ sauce on top
Spareribs with sauce on the side
One thing you can expect to find on a cruise along Blue Star highway are bars/roadhouses. The choices are plenty but there's one spot where that the locals seem to fill up on a regular basis. The Curve Inn is a spot that I found with a friend on a cruise to the beach hone day and by the looks of the packed parking lot at midday on a weekday it was pretty obvious they did something right in there. Its the definition of a locals hangout so when you walk in you may get a stare or two from the regulars that don't recognize you.
Curve on in for some good eats
Grubbing in Michigan: Where the locals eat
The menu at the Curve Inn features plenty of fried foods and sandwiches but this isn't the fried food found in your grocers freezer. On top of the beer, pool and it being a place for locals to hang it is also a nice spot to eat. During my 3+ visits I have been anything but disappointed with the food. In fact I was as impressed as your going to get with the food from a little shack/roadhouse such as this. The majority of the menu features freshly fired items including the signature dishes of fried catfish and fried bluegill. Nothing comes from a freezer bag and the fresh cut fries and hush puppies are right on par with the best I have had. Another interesting item that seems to be popular with the regulars are the pig wings. They take a piece of pork and put it on a skewer and deep fry it and then toss it in one the sauce options. Think chicken wings but with pork.
fried catfish basket
Fried bluegill with hush puppies
So if your looking for me this 4th of July, I'll be in Michigan.
Dale's Donut Factory (BBQ pit in the parking lot)
3687 S Lakeshore Dr
St Joseph, MI 49085-9205
2629 Cleveland Ave
St Joseph, MI 49085-2203
70705 16th Ave
South Haven, MI 49090-9762
Ranch House Ribs
23090 M 140
South Haven, MI 49090-9427
10336 Blue Star Memorial Hwy
South Haven, MI 49090-9401