A of the front of Rabbit Run Inn

Midwest Foodie Destinations, Chicago Magazine, June, 2012

05.31.2012

MIDWEST FOODIE TRAVEL

Our dining critics pick their favorite foodie cities

HARBOR COUNTRY

Michigan’s Harbor Country—the 15-mile stretch of charming small towns from the state line north to Sawyer—is known for its white sand beaches and excellent antiquing. But lately the hottest game in town is food and drink. A recently opened industrial-chic distillery and tasting room in Three Oaks (see “Hot Hood,” below) joins farm-to-table bistros and nifty markets along the Red Arrow Highway. Take this tree-lined, sun-dappled route for a drive that runs parallel to Lake Michigan. Stop often and take the side roads—straight to the water.

The beach in New Buffalo, complete with antique lighthouse

Harbor Country
Drive time from Chicago:
2 hours

The resort village of Harbert, 12 miles past the Michigan-Indiana border, is only a two-hour drive from Chicago, so hold off on a full breakfast until you reach Luisa’s Cafe (13698 Red Arrow Hwy., 269-469-9037; entrées from $7.95). The light-filled spot is nestled in the first floor of a house on the shoulder of Red Arrow Highway, about a mile from the beach. In honor of Harbert’s pioneering Scandinavian settlers, order the Swedish pancakes. Every buttery, lingonberry-syrup-drenched, crêpey bite will be a happy one. The 80-year-old Harbert Swedish Bakery, which shares the property, is where you’re likely to wait when Luisa’s is slammed during the summer months. Buy an elephant ear ($2.25), baked twice instead of deep-fried. The sugar-crusted pastry, flat and two palms wide, practically shatters on contact.

The region’s Scandinavian roots are also reflected in the clean-lined antiques in its first-rate design and decor shops, and this stretch of the highway is home to some real gems. Instead of taking a postpancake nap, check out Marco Polo (13565 Red Arrow Hwy.; 269-469-6272), which stocks a refined selection of primitive, midcentury, and new furnishings, and Sojourn (12908 Red Arrow Hwy.; 269-426-4247), a year-old source for cheery vintage-modern objects.

After antiquing, pull back onto the highway for a jaunt northward to Sawyer, a sparsely populated yet sprawling town with a critical mass of eateries, breweries, and bars. Your lunch at Soe Cafe (12868 Red Arrow Hwy., 269-426-4878; entrées from $9), a stylish American bistro, should include the fish and chips (delicately battered fillets served with hand-cut fries); if dinner is your plan, make a reservation.

Then take advantage of Sawyer’s proximity to Warren Dunes State Park (12032 Red Arrow Hwy.; 269-426-4013) with a brisk hike through wooded trails to a three-mile stretch of public beaches tucked below tree-covered sand hills the size of cliffs.

If you take Sawyer Road east, you’ll encounter Infusco Coffee Roasters (5852 Sawyer Rd.; 269-213-5282), a new microroaster of single-origin coffees. A café is in the works, but you can call ahead for a schedule of tastings.

Across an adjacent gravel lot, Sawyer Home & Garden Center (5865 Sawyer Rd.; 269-426-8810), in addition to stocking the usual gardening provisions, maintains a kind of mini Whole Foods, offering organic milk and eggs, snacks, and locally farmed produce.

Enjoy your afternoon beer at the nearby Greenbush Brewing Company (5885 Sawyer Rd.; 269-405-1076), built in a former mechanic’s shop. Drafts from the brewery and pub can be found in Chicago at Girl & the Goat and the Map Room, but drink them here at the source. A flight of six 6-ounce pours is $12 and can help you decide which beer to take away in a growler (from $16). We picked Greenbush’s Dunegräs, a hoppy IPA that doubles as a beach joke. The brewery’s next-door neighbor, Fitzgerald’s (5875 Sawyer Rd., 269-426-3489; entrées from $14), serves a delightful croque monsieur and other bistro-inspired fare. The kitchen stays open late on weekend nights, when locals drop in for dancing or live jazz over the tavern’s signature martinis.

Travel down the coastline, waving at Union Pier and Lakeside as you pass, until you reach the harbor town of New Buffalo. Pick up freshly butchered and smoked bacon, charcuterie, and sausage at Local (424 E. Buffalo St.; 269-231-5138), a meat market and grocery run by the husband-and-wife team Pat and Ellie Mullins. New Buffalo is also home to Redamak’s (616 E. Buffalo St., 269-469-4522; items from $5), a local institution known for its menu of build-your-own-burger options that top out with a triple-patty monster.

Or go to David’s Delicatessen & Coffee (30 N. Whittaker St.; 269-469-7177), a relaxed sandwich shop that ribs Redamak’s by claiming that its piled-high Reuben ($8.50) “made New Buffalo famouser.”

If you happen to be in New Buffalo on Saturday, June 16, head to the New Buffalo Railroad Museum (530 S. Whittaker St.; 269-469-5409) for a heaping homemade sundae at the museum’s first ice-cream social. Or take the DIY dessert route: Pull into Mike’s Blueberries (11160 Farina Rd.; 269-469-2509), a well-run pick-your-own operation, and fill a plastic bucket with berries that beg to be baked into pie, folded into whipped cream, or turned into milk shakes back at the beach cottage.

THE SOUVENIR

Bacon Jam
This powerfully addictive sweet-and-salty spread—a thick mix of ground apple-smoked bacon, onions, coffee, sugar, spices, and maple syrup—is made weekly at Local (424 E. Buffalo st., New Buffalo; 269-231-5138). slather it on a buttered baguette, inside a grilled cheese sandwich, over smoked fish, or, really, on anything you can chew ($12 for a 7 oz. jar).

HOT HOOD

Three Oaks

This inland hamlet (population: 1,750) is home to an artsy congregation of galleries, boutiques, and eateries.
1. JOURNEYMAN DISTILLERY
This new distillery for whiskey, gin, and vodka is housed in the white stone shell of an 1890s factory. Try one of its signature cocktails, such as the E. K. Warren ($9), a citrusy drink made with Journeyman’s organic rye whiskey and named for the factory’s founder. 109 Generations Dr.; 269-820-2050
2. ACORN THEATER
Summer headliners include former SNL cast member Nora Dunn, 1960s pop group the Buckinghams, and 1990s rockers the BoDeans. 107 Generations Dr.; 269-756-3879
3. FROEHLICH’S
Find freshly jarred organic dill pickle spears, summer tomato juice, and pots of jam, including a sweet-and-spicy recipe made with ginger and dark Michigan cherries. 26 N. Elm St.; 269-756-6002
4. FRENCH TWIST
The owner of this whitewashed boutique for women’s clothing travels to Europe to scout under-the-radar lines. Look for linen pieces by Parisian designer Manuelle Guibal and nautical cardigans by Malene Birger. 9 S. Elm St.; 269-756-3970
5. DRIER’S MEAT MARKET
This 137-year-old meat market makes its own hot dogs. You can also pick up a house-smoked bone for your pooch. 14 S. Elm St.; 269-756-3101
6. TRILOGY ANTIQUES & DESIGN
Art, antiques, and midcentury knickknacks fill this airy design shop. Say hi to proprietor Brandon Nelson, who also runs antiques store Ipso Facto down the street. 19 S. Elm St.; 269-756-3300

Where to Stay

Lines of borrowable beach cruiser bikes are parked outside New Buffalo’s Marina Grand Resort (600 W. Water St., 877-945-8600; doubles from $199), a six-year-old hotel with sleek boutique charm; amenities include a coffee shop on premises, indoor and outdoor pools, and complimentary chairs and towels for use at the beach, a 15-minute walk from the resort. Two blocks from there is The Harbor Grand (111 W. Water St., 269-469-7700; doubles from $199), a 54-room Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel. It offers a massage center and the Terrace Room, an Italian restaurant (entrées from $16) that uses Michigan-grown ingredients and makes its own pasta. In Sawyer, Rabbit Run Inn (6227 Elm Dr., 269-405-1050; rooms from $180) offers four cozy modern rooms in a recently constructed spread that still has the feel of a classic beachfront cottage. Each unit has a wet bar and refrigerator and overlooks a pond ringed by Adirondack chairs.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CLAYTON HAUCK

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Things to do...

For things to do and events near Rabbit Run Inn, visit Harbor Country's website

For current vineyard and winery/tasting event information, visit SW Michigan 'Wine Trail' website

For shopping experience near Rabbit Run Inn, visit Lighthouse Place in Michigan City twenty-five minutes away

For a monthly schedule of activities, visit the Blue Star Highway's website calendar