Monday, September 19, 2011

Village Cheese Shanty (Cheese Shack)

Nestled within Leland's historic Fishtown is a shack you can't afford to miss!

Award winning Leelanau County wines, over 60 imported and domestic cheeses, a grand selection of local brews, packed lunches for island hikes and fishing trips and more.  Yes, ladies and gents, you have entered the world of Fishtown's own Village Cheese Shanty!

Nautical decor and local food; a day out in Leland, MI does not get any better than this!

Fishtown is a historic fishing village located in the small town of Leland, MI on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Its shanties house some of the most eccentric, wonderful shops and foodie finds.  It oozes history and makes one feel as though they've stumbled off of the Mitten and landed on some northern New England coast in the midst of fishing lore.  The fresh air, the sound of the waves, the historic boats, the sweet little shacks and the ferry heading to Manitou, ferrying campers and hikers, all combine to make for a deliciously surreal experience. 

In the midst of all this wonder rests the Village Cheese Shanty.

Plenty of wine options abound for the avid picnic basket filler within us all.

The Shanty offers a wide array of goods, including wines from such fabled Leelanau vinters as Blackstar Farms, L. Mawby, Gills' Pier and beyond.

The beer selection is wonderful.  From Arcadia Ales to Bell's, Short's to varied other local lovelies, the lover of the hop is certain to be pleased by this selection.  Some are sold by the bottle, nice and cold.  Is it legal to take your single brew and sit at one of the dockside picnic tables and enjoy?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Just do it, blame it on Nike.

Even the chips are local at the Village Cheese Shanty is Leland, MI.

Despite the grand selection of local wonders: chips, cherry products, hot sauces...................

Life is nothing without dessert!

.........homemade desserts..........

A myriad of tasting experiences rests within this little case at the Village Cheese Shanty.

.........massive amounts of varied cheeses..............

For those of you that love a local brew, the Village Cheese Shanty in Leland, MI is the place to be!

........and, again, the beer, there is but one reason that locals and travellers alike flock to this tiny shanty on the dock:  The sandwiches.

The main attraction: sandwiches.

Completely homemade (including the bread, you MUST try the pretzel bread, best ever!), these sandwiches are of a wildly different form than any other sandwich that you have ever tasted.

Do not be afraid to ask the artists what you should try. 

When I asked the purveyor what form of meat and wheat I should partake in, she did not hesitate:

"Leelanau with turkey on pretzel bread."

I was in!  I ordered the selected sandy and was soon in crusty creation heaven!  My sandwich consisted of turkey (instead of roast beef), Leelanau peppercorn fromage blanc, onion, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and dijon mustard.  It was sublime!

El fresco doesn't get much better than it is in Leland, MI!

Now, I'll be the very first to admit that one's surroundings have a huge effect on whether or not one enjoys their meal.

My surroundings consisted of a crystal clear river, the smell and feel of the fresh, wide open out-of-doors (as my grandma once said), the sun, the amazing company and the surrounding Fishtown.  Would I of loved this sandwich as much were I eating it in Fulsom Prison?  Perhaps, who knows?  All I know now is that this was the perfect combination of ambiance and edible brilliance, a tour de force of awesome, if you will.  No restaurant in all the land, no matter how fine, could match what I was surrounded by at that moment.

Be sure to explore the other shacks of Fishtown!

Lastly, please notice that my can in the first sandwich pic is from Arcadia, not Pepsi.  I drank it at the river's edge, in full view and did not get ticketed.  That's proof enough of non-illegality for me!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sugarfoot Saloon

Out in the middle of nowhere is a culinary delight; Sugarfoot Saloon.

When I say that you need to leave the comfort of familiarity and venture out of the perceived boundaries of your new-found locale,THIS is what I'm talking about!  This little joint is a true slice of local, Northern Michigan dining.

A friendly, welcoming staff and decor inhabit this Cedar, MI restaurant.

Quite literally out in the middle of nowhere (technically Cedar, MI), Sugarfoot Saloon is a favorite of the local farmers, neighbors and TC peeps needing an escape from the downtown hustle and bustle.  Sugarfoot Saloon is a perfect example of how my mantra (LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL......oh yeah, and: OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE) comes into play to score a HUGE hit.

Sugarfoot Saloon lives up to its name with a fully stocked bar.

What do I mean by "LOCAL"?  That's obvious, I won't be answering that. 

What do I mean by "OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE"?  That statement simply means that if you find yourself in a city, town or place that you have never been, DO NOT stick to the well travelled path!  Venture to where the locals go and I assure you that you shall find an experience that is truly LOCAL.

Even if you have lived within a certain locale for many years, there still exists a comfort zone that you need to shuck off.  If you do, you WILL find something new and wonderful within the bland and familiar.

Family friendly and fantastic, Sugarfoot Saloon is a favorite hang-out in Cedar, MI.

Lisa and I have a CSA farm out in Cedar.  A CSA farm is a place where you buy a "share" and throughout the growing season you are able to pick up farm fresh produce, eggs and meat once per week.  It is divine!

On one of our excursions to our farm, we took a different route (yes, we got a little lost, but it was FUN!).  On this route, we passed by Sugarfoot Saloon.  At first it struck us as a place that may not be too welcoming to strangers.  Boy, were we ever mistaken in that assumption!

Some great pulls occupy Sugarfoot Saloon's bar, including two brews of their very own.

To begin with, do not let this "out in the middle of nowhere" place scare you; its staff and patrons are some of the most welcoming folk you will ever meet.  And they make their own beer Heaven, I was in heaven.  Not only did I adore the modern saloon decor, but, when the first, crisp drop of Liquid Sunshine passed over my tongue, I was completely sold on the necessity of this place within the larger Grand Traverse area dining scene.

They, of course, have a full selection of other beers, a few locals and a few old standbys, as well as a full bar and knowledgeable bar staff.  No worries if craft brews are not for you.  But......if craft brews are not for you.....perhaps this blog isn't either.  LOCAL!!

Liquid Sunshine at Sugarfoot Saloon. It tastes as good as it sounds!

Sugarfoot's cuisine is equally pleasing.  Billed as a great place to grab some Mexican cuisine, it is also quite popular for its American fare.  Their broasted chicken is apparently to die for.  They have everything from a 4 piece to a 96 piece (with call ahead for the 96er).  I'd take this place over that nasty ol' Colonel any day!

The jalapeno poppers are a very fun, spicy way to start your experience here.  Their homemade salsas are also smokin'!

Sugarfoot has a wide selection for both Mexican and American food, as you will see from their menu on their site (which I linked to above).  I went with the HUGE sirloin tip wet burrito.  It was the absolute perfect match for my glass of sunshine.

Along with some grand sips come the superb bites!

While this place is about a 20-30 minute drive from downtown TC, it is totally worth it.  The drive is scenic, to say the least.  You are surrounded by farms (even a hop farm!), the countryside and some truly amazing people. 

Lisa and I will be venturing back for sure!  I am craving more Liquid Sunshine and another helping of something Mexican.

Moral: Do not be limited in your adventures by fear of the unknown.  A comfort zone is, oftentimes, a hindrance.  I point to cruise ships as a perfect example of this.  "We went to Jamaica, Cozumel and Key West!"  "Did you leave the tour group and hit up some place local?"  "No."  "Then, my friend, you did NOT go to Jamaica, Cozumel and Key West."

But Brooks, you say, in some places, venturing out to find something local can be dangerous! 

Don't whine to me about that!  I've done third world local, straight street-food, because that's where the locals went.  When I sat down, began speaking their language, eating their food, ordering their beer and appeared as at ease as they were, the tension completely melted away.

On the other hand, if you get into a tight spot, that's also a learning experience and a great story for later (if you survive) so.....good luck and you're welcome.

That's the third world.  This is Northern Michigan.  Quit with the whining and hit up Sugarfoot.  It will be a highlight of your journey, I guarantee!!

OH!  And try the apple dessert (if they have it), it will BLOW YOUR MIND!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Monday, September 5, 2011


Soaring 17 floors, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's tower dominates an otherwise unremarkable skyline.

Shall we discuss fine dining?  Why yes, yes we shall.

Aerie sits perched atop the only "skyscraper" in the TC area (actually just a little past the gas station paradise of Acme).  More commonly known as the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (an amazing place to stay, by the way, truly top notch!), the tower of this resort is the home of one of Traverse City's most amazing dinnertime views.

The decor delights the senses almost as much as the view!

The vista from any table in the joint is simply amazing.  You will literally be sipping your Cristal whilst overlooking all of the beauty that the Grand Traverse Region has to offer.  The panorama alone is certainly worth one of TC's highest price tags.

Is the view from Aerie in Acme, MI worth the rather subpar food and sky high price? Possibly.....

Now, let me tell you what I envision when I think of "fine dining."

Fine dining, to little ol' me, is all about new and exciting experiences.  As you can see from the pics, the ambiance offered at Aerie is quite lovely.  However, the experience of fine dining is about MUCH more than the patron's surrounding environment, to be sure. 

Aerie is truly an amazingly beautiful restaurant with loads of potential.

Inherent in the phrase "fine dining" is an exceptional encounter with food. 

During a recent trip to the top of the Resort, my lovely Lisa and I had a wonderful time.  But, that time was had more as a result of the company than as a result of the offered fare. 

Lisa and I are fans of the complete set of food-stuffs.  We had heard from a trusted chef friend that the bread, supposedly homemade, was quite tasty.  Well, while surrounding tables were piled high with bread and the accompanying oils, our waitress never produced a single grain.  We thought perhaps the bread only appears with a salad purchase, but that would seem a bit too "Big Boy" for such an establishment.  So we let it alone, a bit too amused by the situation to actually inquire about what was up.

Slightly put off, but still in lovely moods, we ordered a couple tasty appetizers.  My pork belly, complete with black beans and rice, was superb.  Lisa's Octopus was outstanding.  I sipped on a Short's brew and we made some EXTREMELY intelligent conversation, if I do say so myself!

For the main course we went with the seafood paella and the sea bass, both fantastic.  Dessert saw some rather unimpressive square creations, supposedly "cake," but rather tasteless and bland.

Caution can be thrown to the wind if you love a good local brew, Aerie has a pretty decent selection.

My final opinion of this establishment is this:  wonderful restaurant, but could/should be so much more.  While I was very pleased with the overall taste and quality of the food, the taste was a result of heavy saucing with some exquisite sauces.  A fine dining experience should be consistent and the sum of the food's flavor should not be held within its sauces.  I have been to some phenomenal fine dining eateries in my day and many have bowled me over completely.  The way in which they marry the food's natural flavors with the various spices and sauces presented were completely new and exciting to my pallet.  Myriad new and strange offerings graced their menus and their chefs wove their magic into every single bite.

I suppose that I felt a bit robbed, to tell you the truth.  I left Aerie pleased, but slightly disappointed.  When someone visits your restaurant in search of fine dining, your chef needs to be prepared to offer up a meal that is better and more enticing than can be found at the myriad exceptional restaurants surrounding him/her.  To me, Amical, Red Ginger, Stella,  Poppycock's and basically all of the areas other first-rate offerings stood out as places I would of rather ventured to.

While this may seem a bit harsh, I thoroughly expect to be wowed whenever I venture into a restaurant claiming to be "fine."  In this case, Aerie was fine, but only fine.  You really have to kick it up a notch for a guy whose favorite stop is Amical or whose significant other can cook like mine can!!  Next time Lisa and I seek out fine dining, I think that we'll make the tiny little jaunt back to the Cook's House (they were completely booked that night).

All restaurants mentioned will be reviewed eventually, I promise.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)