Category: Fish

Dinner at Hillside House, St. Ignace, Michigan

There are many places in the Great Lakes region where Whitefish is listed in the menus of restaurants as being “fresh” as well as being labeled with, “caught locally”. The Straits of Mackinac, located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, is one of those places where this designation for fish can be quite valid. This evening I was able to enjoy some broiled Whitefish that had likely been swimming this morning.

Prior to last year’s Michigan Association of Mayors workshop and conference, Mary and I enjoyed a lunch at Snug Harbor overlooking Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. This evening here in St. Ignace, Michigan, the day before this year’s Mayoral event gets underway, we had dinner at the Hillside House Restaurant overlooking the eastern tip of Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island itself. While Mackinac Island doesn’t show in any of these photos (we’ll visit the island tomorrow morning), it was right there a couple miles away along the horizon.

Hillside House Restaurant is an old home that was converted to its present business some time ago. There are remnants of a motel next to the property along the same level as the restaurant. I can imagine the motel may have been owned by some of the owners of the house, and may have been quite popular in its time 30 or 40 years ago.

Update, August 4 – In an email overnight, co-owner Judy Childs provided more information on the history of the house: “The house was built in 1950. It was purchased by the Belisle’s in 1952. At that point it was an office for the motel next door as well as the Belisle’s home. In 1963 the house was converted into a restaurant. It has faithfully been serving customers every year since then except one year, 2000. It was purchased by the present owners in 2001, Jeff and Judy Childs.”

The garage of the house has been converted into a commercial kitchen. The dining and living room areas have been opened up, and the old hardwood floors are intact around a central fireplace. Out front, a wide deck is across the front of the old living room. Thick, hardwood hexoganal picnic-style tables with umbrellas populate this deck for the gorgeous overlook.

Once we were seated and had our salads served, our server Janet was talking to us about how warm it was. It is quite sticky up here, which is fairly unusual for a location in Michigan above the 45th parallel. But after a while a good breeze came across the Straits and the humidity settled down.

I ordered the Whitefish dinner seen in the first photo. The filet was nicely season with few herbs and spiced, and had been beautifully broiled with skin intact on the underside. The zuchini and onions had been sautéed on the grill and had wonderful flavor and a good “bite” to them. The seasoned rice was an excellent side, as was the biscuit.

Mary had a serving of the Spaghetti Pie. This casserole-style dish was quite firm, had an excellent flavor and was cooked as spaghetti should be. So many places get this wrong, with spaghett so wet it falls apart or so dry you have to use a knife to cut through the crispiness. This was neither of those, and was very nicely done. The herbed garlic bread was a nice compliment to the flavor of the sauce as well.

Of course, we had to have a good Michigan dessert, particularly since it’s strawberry season.

Mary had a serving of the Strawberry Shortcake, something she really likes. I decided on a triple-berry pie, with strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. This homemade pie, warmed, with it’s tender and flaky crust, all topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, really hit the spot after a long day of traveling.

Just call me Mr. Talbot. Right, Janet?

Father’s Day, A Tribute to Dad

Many of you know my dad passed away late December in 2008 at the tender age of 85. I’ve written before of his signature dish, Eggs In A Frame, and of his despising melted cheese in any form even though I have a photo of him eating pizza. But while I’ve posted a lot more about mom regarding her cooking techniques and recipes, I really haven’t spent a whole lot of time discussing dad’s cooking techniques. And the Eggs In A Frame dish is really his only recipe that I’m aware of.

That’s because dad really didn’t cook much that I can recall. Why?

Because when it came to cooking or even doing dishes, that was mom’s job.

Dad was a classic child of the farming communities of the 1920s and 30s. The menfolk, if you will, headed out into the fields or the livestock barns and worked their butts off. Meanwhile, momma and the girls would be inside taking care of the cooking and cleaning. That’s just how it was. Dad told us he would look forward to coming home to find a couple slices of thick, buttered and still-warm bread on a plate in the kitchen as an after-school snack. Of course, that was after the 4-mile walk from school so he was pretty tired, ya’ know?

Early in my own life I do recall he had his outdoor cooker. However, it wasn’t much. No matter what time-period I think back to, there was that Hibachi. He always had the little cast iron version, set on top of a 2′ square concrete block set on its side on the patio. He would use both wood and charcoal to fire it, along with paper and lighter fluid. Dinner then was hot dogs and burgers, with the burgers being rather thin and kinda dry. Still he tried so it was good. He might also put a can of baked beans on the grates to heat as a side dish.

One time, when he was finished and was getting ready to clean that Hibachi, he set the grates on the patio tile to dump the coals … and promptly put all of his weight on the still-hot grate. He had to peel that grate off his foot before going to see the doctor. I believe he probably still had that scar when he passed away.

For most of the time they lived in that house from the late 1950s onward, dad had a rather active garden. I remember being directed to go out there to weed, or pick beans, or help plant the corn. There was always the corn and beans, along with onions, carrots, cucumbers and peas. Dad also dabbled in potatoes and peanuts. One gentleman from the GM plant dad worked at wanted to plant some lima beans but no one would let him use their garden space as he was black. So he ended up planting at our house, to which I owe my love for those limas. But I do hate gardening.

Dad wasn’t a hunter (I haven’t hunted a single day in my life) but he fancied himself a pretty good fisherman. He had a lot of old fishing poles, a couple casting reels, a fly-fishing reel or two, and even a couple bamboo poles we could tie lines to. We’d go to one of the “fish farm” ponds up on old US-23, but mostly we went to what was then Wildwood Park, a Michigan State Park south of Flint. We’d rent a canoe and head out for perch, trout, bass … whatever we could find. We’d get it home and mom would either cook it up, or wrap it in foil for the freezer only to throw it away a couple years later after it ended up with some bad freezer burn.

In the mid 1970s Dr Walker diagnosed dad to be hypoglycemic. Dad mis-interpreted the diet page to mean he was supposed to eat six times each day, including a half head of lettuce. This made for dad occasionally eating way more than he could handle, and ending up being miserable by the end of the day. None of us had the heart to sit down with him and explain it correctly.

When it came to restaurants dad had a tendency to seek out some seriously good family places. We had a tradition on Friday evenings of heading out for dinner at a restaurant and then we’d go to the grocery store for the week’s shopping. (Dad always disappeared to the meat department and spend the whole time shopping finding six packages of meat.) On occasion we’d go to a Flint coney place or Haloburger for a deluxe cheeseburger. But dad’s penchant for finding good family diners was unmatched. As it turned out, dad was finding Greek-owned places that had become all the rage for what was “real food”.

Dad would have a real issue later on when prices started climbing above $3.50 per entrée. He felt no meal was worth more than that, and that particular price-point, along with the demise of Hamady Bros. grocery in the Flint area, marked the beginning of the end of our Friday night family tradition.

While I was in college I asked dad when he was coming to Columbus to visit. He said he’d have to ask mom, to which I said I wasn’t asking about her. After a pause dad mumbled, “I’ve never been anywhere without your mother.” He came down to Columbus by himself for a four-day weekend during which he enjoyed a Bahama Mama at Schmidt Sausage House, and some good ribs. Later during my own US-based travels with the Navy I got dad to eat some more “exotic” foods outside of his Veal Parmesan comfort zone, such as crab legs, and steak that wasn’t always cooked to be well done. In the years after my divorce he’d eat chilled taco salad, my oven-roasted potato salad, Tex-Mex breakfast burritos, and even some good Hungarian food.

In the last few years before his death the old softie, who fought the savage “Japs” in WW II, acquired a taste for both Japanese and Americanized Chinese foods, happily visiting the Chinese buffet in his hometown many times.

Helping him eat a couple last meals in the nursing home, I got to thinking about what I was feeding him. Obviously it cost a bit more that $3.50 for the whole meal from the nursing home kitchen. I doubt he would have liked that at all.

Happy Father’s Day, dad, I miss you, my friend.

An Odd Way to Make New Friends, and Jeanne’s Café, Grand Haven, Michigan

The Smoked Salmon Omelet with cream cheese, capers and dill at Jeanne’s Café in Grand Haven, Michigan

I didn’t eat this omelet. Neither did Mary. Oddly enough, some biker we met at a rest area ate this particular Smoked Salmon Omelet.

Already, you’re definitely getting the wrong image of the guy. Believe you me, we had an entirely different image of him at first, which was also quite wrong.

Lemme tell you this story …

 Traveling along I-96 last Wednesday we pulled into the rest area just west of Lansing near Portland, Michigan. We pulled in next to a Harley with a lovely young lady standing next to it. We were guessing she was in her early 20s. In the rest room I spotted the other rider … a man obviously in his 40s. My first thought was, “Wow he’s way too old for her.” As Mary and I were walking back to the van she was thinking exactly the same thing. That was, until the guy turned to us and innocently asked, “Would you take a picture of my daughter and I?”


It turned out Alexandra is only 14 but, like my own Briahna, easily looks older then that. She and her dad John are from Windsor, Ontario, and had rented the Harley from a shop in Farmington Hills. I would learn later her dad had promised her this trip on her 12th birthday so, as she put it later, “I had to wait two years for this!”

But I digress.

We chatted a bit at the rest area. We told them we were headed for Grand Haven. John and Alexandra had been headed for Traverse City but felt there wasn’t time, so they were headed for South Haven. We chatted a bit more, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Or so we’d thought.

You know how, every once in a while, some really odd coincidence will happen, and the world will suddenly seem very small? That happened to us the following morning when we were leaving the hotel and Mary said, “Hey, isn’t that … ???” There they were, John and Alexandra, leaving the hotel in front of us! We don’t recall telling them exactly where we were staying, so the odds of us showing up at the same hotel some 80 or so miles from where they were headed are somewhat astronomical.

John and Alexandra in front of Jeanne’s Café with their Harley.

As I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post I was already planning on dropping Mary off for her morning sessions and heading for Jeanne’s Café so I told John about the 25 omelets there. When I got to the restaurant, John waved me over to their table. We had a most enjoyable visit, while at the same time enjoying some of Jeanne’s wonderful omelets.

Jeanne’s Seafood Omelet

I knew what I wanted. The previous evening I’d had some of Jeanne’s wonderful Smoked Salmon at the Michigan Association of Mayors reception near the Grand River and I knew that same salmon was in the Smoked Salmon Omelet. John ordered the Smoked Salmon Omelet shown in the first photo and obviously loved it. (Alexandra had ordered the pancakes and said they were also quite good.) But Jeanne had told me of her Seafood Omelet, containing both crab and shrimp, some Swiss cheese, all topped with hollandaise sauce. I’ve always enjoyed a good seafood omelet, particularly one containing crab. This particular omelet was rather good and the Hollandaise sauce was a perfect complement to it. I’m glad I ordered it.

[Yes, I know that’s not real crab, and Jeanne herself had mentioned this the night before. Just because it’s imitation crab doesn’t mean the omelet’s not good. It was delightful, actually. At over $20/lb right now, real crab likely won’t make it into any omelet I eat any time soon, so I’ll certainly take it this way.]

The exterior.

After feeding Mary and the other city leaders Jeanne came back to her café to chat with customers. After spending some time at our table she was off chatting with others … but after a while came back. She asked if I had my camera as she wanted to show some of the buffet photos from the previous evening to some new friends. After sending John and Alexandra on their way I headed to the table Jeanne wanted me to speak with. It turned out the folks there were Larry and Lisa from the Cocoa Cottage Bed & Breakfast further north in Whitehall. I’d heard of their B&B before, and Mary and I had talked about visiting such a place where chocolate is a way of life. We’ll have to head up there sometime.

You guessed it … the interior.

The following morning I once again dropped Mary off for her sessions and went back to Jeanne’s Café for another omelet. After going through the list of 24 possibilities (I planned on something different from the Seafood Omelet) I settled on the Philly, with its roast beef, sautéed onion, green pepper and mushrooms, some Swiss cheese and a side of cream cheese. The dark rye toast seemed appropriate for this omelet.

The Philly Omelet

So far this one’s my favorite. The roast beef was tender and juicy. There were just enough veggies and cheese to give the impression of a good Philly Cheesesteak sandwich without going overboard. And as Jeanne had told me, the cream cheese made for an excellent topping.

One thing I really enjoy doing is making friends at out-of-the-way restaurants the locals go to but that we’d normally never hear of. There in Grand Haven, with Jeanne’s catering service and her café, and with John and Alexandra unexpectedly showing up in the mix as a nice bonus … this is a place, a city, a group of friends Mary and I plan on visiting again when we can.

A word of warning: The backs of the t-shirts read, “PLEASE don’t feed the waitresses”. I get the feeling that’s a sentence we should all heed …

Jeanne’s Catering, Grand Haven, Michigan

Baguette Slices with Roast Pork Loin and Pumpkin-Chipotlé Ceviché

This past Wednesday evening as the Michigan Association of Mayors Summer Workshop got underway in Grand Haven, Michigan, I got the chance to make a new friend. I tend to leave Mary on her own in these situations as we’re most certainly not at these events for my own benefit. While she was off reconnecting with other folks from last years’ summer workshop, such as Mayor Janiece “Chi Chi” Rogers of Rockford, Mayor Gerri Moen of Howell, Mayor Bob May of Hastings, and Mayor Roger Bergman and City Manager Pat McGinnis of Grand Haven, I was off taking pictures of … well … of course … the food.

Asparagus wrapped in Phyllo Dough and Prosciutto

The people I found on the other side of the buffet under a tent near the Grand River were Jeanne Welling and her Aunt Sally. Jeanne was the one who made a lot of the main dishes, but she made sure to give credit for the delicate desserts to Aunt Sally. Between the two of them they can knock an event such as this one right out of the park, and at the same time make it look easy.

Members of the Michigan Association of Mayors enjoy the evening buffet prepared by Jeanne Welling and Jeanne’s Aunt Sally.

As I chatted with Jeanne I learned quite a bit about what she does. She owns a restaurant called Jeanne’s Café on Robbins Rd., there in Grand Haven off highway 31. The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, closing at 2 in the afternoon. But while it’s only open a short time each day, she also told me she offers 25 different omelets on her menu. Yes, you read that correctly … 25 different omelets. Longtime readers will know of my hankering for a good omelet and that Adam and I have done omelet buffets for groups in the past. I was immediately making plans to visit Jeanne’s restaurant the following morning.

Jeanne’s Smoked Salmon Platter

It seems that, when Jeanne was trying to start the catering portion of her business, no bank would lend her the money. Her customers, whom should properly be called her “patrons”, didn’t like this one bit. Five of them came forward and put together the money Jeanne needed to get the business going. The results are as you see here; beautifully-made food for private, corporate or government events, which tastes as good as or even better than it looks.

Monroe Mayor Mark Worrell chats with Mary at the reception Wednesday evening.

All of us, city leaders, spouses and assistants alike, ended up heading back for more from the delectable buffet created by Jeanne and Aunt Sally. At one point Jeanne quipped, “I guess they didn’t like the salmon”. Of course she was smiling … all that was left was the skin! The group had made fast work of almost everything on the buffet with wonderful comments coming from from every table. This was a truly enjoyable buffet, made by people who know and appreciate good food.

A display of Aunt Sally’s two-bite Key Lime Pie desserts

As I’d mentioned earlier, I was already planning on visiting Jeanne’s restaurant the following morning. I wasn’t feeling too badly about dropping Mary off at the Grand Haven Community Center the next morning and heading over to Jeanne’s Café for a breakfast on my own. Jeanne had already told me she was cooking breakfast for the group at the Community Center anyway. So much for the Association’s agenda, which indicated the attendees should eat at the hotel as there’d be a fuller breakfast there.

And little did I know. I ended up with breakfast with some unexpected new friends at the Café myself the next morning …

Photos: Lenten Fish Fry Dinners, American Legion Post 193, Luna Pier, MI

A plated Lenten Fish Fry Dinner at American Legion Post 193, located here in Luna Pier, Michigan.

Coming out of American Legion Post 193 after shooting these photos, while still looking forward to having dinner there with Mary, my right foot hit the front edge of the bottom step out the front door of the place. The foot twisted around and all my weight went onto my toes as they rolled under. The sprain is one of the worst I’ve had. No, we’ll not sue! That would be nonsense. I’ll head up there sometime with some yellow safety paint for the edge of that short step as it’s definitely built wrong and is very deceiving. This is the second time I’ve twisted an ankle on it. Mary went in later to get dinners to go, and we ate at home. Even though she and I were able to share a quiet evening eating dinner at home, we were really looking forward to spending time with people there at the Post and will likely return another Friday for their company.

Fish Fry Dinners on Fridays during Lent. They seem to be everywhere, from restaurants having all-you-can-eat fried fish and seafood specials on Fridays, to just about every Catholic parrish hosting the dinners as well. Yesterday morning during their news broadcast, our friends at 13abc listed some of the participating churches in the Toledo area which are hosting these dinners from now until April 10th.

When I was growing up, Myer Elementary School would never serve meat on Friday in the lunchroom. It was always Cheese Pizza made in a sheet pan. The cheese was shredded too small, and we thought it looked like maggots. Still, it was good, as the lunch ladies made it fresh. I’d have rather had fish though.

So what are these dinners all about? Where’d they come from? From Wikipedia, an article titled, “Fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church“:

Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini … Current practice of fast and abstinence is regulated by Canons 1250-1253. They specify that all Fridays throughout the year, and the time of Lent are penitential times throughout the entire Church … Under Canon 1253, the local norms for fasting and abstinence are determined by each episcopal conference … Abstinence from all meat is to be observed by all Roman Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent … Parishes in the United States often sponsor a fish fry during Lent. In predominantly Roman Catholic areas, restaurants may adjust their menus during Lent by adding seafood items to the menu in an attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics.

Other organizations also attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics by hosting their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners. Here in Luna Pier, where fishing is quite popular and fishing charters operate out of our in-town marina, American Legion Post 193 has hosted their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners for many years. These photos are from the dinner hosted for the public yesterday evening, and every Friday through April 10th.

Fresh-cut French Fries, not quite out of the cutter. These beautiful potatoes are Barbara Anns, supplied in 50 lb. restaurant-quantity bags by Smith Bros. Farms just a few miles from Luna Pier in Erie, Michigan.

Once the gang in the kitchen understood who I was and that I wanted some good photos so I could spread the word about these dinners, they were telling me all kinds of things about their operation there. The state had just come through within the last couple days for a health inspection, and the Post’s kitchen and processes didn’t receive a single “hit”. Not one issue on the inspection. The guys in the kitchen work quite hard to ensure a clean place, and it shows in the food they serve. They also told me that last Friday, February 27th, was the best night they’d ever had in all the years they’ve hosted these dinners.

A pile of frozen commercial Alaska Cod thaws briefly in a sheet pan for the evening’s dinners. All this fish would be served during a single evening’s fish dinner operation.

There were three dual deep fryers in the kitchen, countertop food-service-grade electric models that sell for $800 or so. With the cod, shimp and French fries all needing to be cooked simultaneously for these dinners I’m surprised there weren’t more fryers back there than there were.

The kitchen crew was starting with some fine-looking Alaskan cod. Filets were dredge in Young’s All Purpose Batter Mix, which is made in a small garage on Summit Street in Toledo. This batter mix is extremely popular, available at Kroger, smaller groceries, and Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Fisherman love the stuff. It works well and doesn’t overpower the fish while giving the fish a crispy coating that’s quite satisfying.

Shrimp arrives at the Post previously breaded from a food-service supplier. Unlike some breaded shrimp, the breading and sizings are rather consistent in the shrimp the Post is serving. Sides and condiments for these dinners include Cole Slaw from GFS Marketplace (with a hint of horseradish), a roll, and tarter and cocktail sauces for dipping.

I’ve mentioned before that Mary doesn’t really like fish. But with this dinner, she ate all of it. She seems to like lighter, more milder-tasting fish prepared well, and this dinner was certainly that.

A basket of shrimp comes out of one of the deep fryers.

The first pic of this post is a close-up of a plated serving of the Posts’s Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinner. For that photo, the plating had been prepared by and was being held for the photo by this young lady. An admitted Luna Pier Cook reader (she high-fived me when I verified this was me), it was also her 20th birthday. Her dedication to the Post really shows when you consider that’s where she decided to spend her birthday evening. Of course, she absolutely hates having her picture taken …