Spontaneity didn't always work for the best. I wonder if I might have had better food if I stuck with tried-and-true classics...but I guess tomorrow's old favorites stem from today's random excursions. If I could do it all over again I'd get more broiled whitefish.
Tues, Sept. 20.
-Uccello's, Grand Rapids. This sports bar was selected for its convenient location, and although the offerings were mostly regular bar-type items and Italian food, walleye was also on the menu, and was a pleasant surprise. I think it was sauteed. It had a nice flavor and texture, splitting the difference between deep-frying and healthy (boring) broiling. I also liked the garlic mashed potatoes.
Weds., Sept. 21.
-The Curragh, Holland, Michigan. The Irish BLT was decent, and the fries were pretty good, but the revelation here was the Guinness Cheese Soup. This outstanding soup included potatoes, onions and sausage amidst the cheddar.
-Phil Smidt's, Hammond, Indiana. This was a midwestern classic. I got the "boned and buttered" perch, the large version, and it was excellent. I didn't expect too much from the relishes but the kidney bean-based item with green stuff (celery, perhaps) was very interesting. The gooseberry pie was unlike anything I've had before (less sweet than expected.)
Thursday, Sept. 22.
-Exchequer, Chicago. They had an old article in which Roger Ebert praised the pizza so I figured I'd check it out. I got the deep dish - the smallest (10") which was huge - with pepperoni and mushrooms. I quite enjoyed the stuff on the pizza but it didn't remain attached to the crust very easily. Pizzas take 30 minutes. One of the best caesar salads I've had.
-Smith Bros. Fish Shanty, Port Washington, Wisconsin. I had the very good planked whitefish. Unlike other planked items I've encountered, this had a white cheese-type sauce.
Friday, Sept. 23.
-The store connected to Smith Bros. I got smoked chubs and lake trout. The chubs were amazing - great smoke flavor but with an almost buttery overtone. The trout was good - softer than the usual smoked fish.
-Charcoal Grill & Rotisserie, Grafton. I didn't know this was a chain. I can't quite tell what their specialty is. I figured the brisket with fries would be a safe bet. Both were ordinary. The strongest item was the tangy barbecue sauce.
-Mickey Lu's, Marinette. I enjoyed the highly-touted burger, as well as the bratwurst, but the best item was the cube steak (I don't think I've ever ordered one of these before.) It was the perfect showcase for the charcoal grilling. The chocolate shake was very good. There are no fries here.
-Jozwiak's, Menominee, Michigan. This bar, packed with colorful memorabilia, brags about its Wabash burger, so I got one. While I enjoyed the gloppy add-ons the meat itself was average. Good bratwurst, though.
Sat., Sept. 24.
-Schloegel's, Menominee. Pork cutlet was pretty good, although the brown sauce was a little gloppy. Iced tea was murky. I probably should have gone with the Swedish pancakes intead.
-Bessies Homemade Pasties, St. Ignace. I got one beef, one chicken, both good but the beef was better.
-The Galley, St. Ignace. The fried perch sandwich was decent.
Sunday, Sept. 25.
-I returned to the Galley, with mixed results. The whitefish dip was great, but the bluegill was a disappointment. This was only the 2nd time I've seen bluegill on a menu, and the offering at a sports bar in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, was excellent. But at the Galley the filets ranged from boring to stale.
-Audie's, Mackinaw City. I enjoyed the smoked pork chops. Too bad I didn't know about the adjoining Chippewa Room, although that might have been too upscale for my purposes.
Monday, Sept. 26.
-Anna's Country Buffet, Mackinaw City. A must-miss! I knew this was targeted at tourists so I didn't expect culinary brilliance, but it was quite a disappointment (and I'm more favorably inclined to buffets, on average, than other Chowhounders are.) There was an o.k. salad bar, but the only main-course items were baked chicken, fish, and a salisbury steak-type thing (lunch time, maybe there's more at dinner.) The chicken had an o.k. sauce but was otherwise undistinguished. I didn't try the fish. The other undetermined meat item wasn't terrible but I could get the same thing for 99 cents in the supermarket.
-Lester's, Alanson. The pulled pork sandwich was tasty but not that different from the Lloyd's plastic tubs. Fries were very good.
-Bridgeview Diner, Mackinaw City. Fried whitefish and fries were pretty good at this 24-hour joint.
Tuesday, Sept. 27.
-Stafford's Weathervane, Charlevoix. I had avoided the heavily advertised Stafford places in the hope of finding something more quaint, but after some mediocre spontaneous choices I figured this would be low risk. The walleye was great - it was topped with mushrooms, smoked whitefish and some other stuff. Also superb was the Great Lakes chowder, a white soup with various fishes.
-Fazoli's, Traverse City. I was strangely curious about this chain, and was in the mood for something quick and cheap. The chicken parmesan was disappointing, although I appreciated the staff's friendliness.
Wednesday, Sept. 28.
-Freshwater Lodge, Traverse City. I must slightly downgrade this former favorite. I started with the smoked fish sampler, which generally includes two items. The waitress said it was just whitefish. The fish was very good - it may or may not have included a second choice, as one of the pieces was more pinkish and looked like salmon. The perch sandwich was o.k. but undistinguished.
-Cherry Hut, Beulah. I got a cherry burger, which didn't taste very cherryish - it was like a slightly better turkey burger. The pie was amazing.
Thursday, Sept. 29.
-House Of Flavors, Ludington. I found the turkey dinner shockingly good on a 2004 visit, but it was a little drier this time around.
-La Senorita, Mt. Pleasant. I enjoyed the combo enchiladas at this old standby (chicken, beef, seafood.) I can't exactly describe why I like the chips and salsa here so much but I know they don't stay on the table very long.
Friday, Sept. 30.
-Gramma's Kitchen, Mecosta. I found this great old-school joint by accident, and loved the fried chicken and the fries, and it was the best iced tea I've had in quite some time. Apparently they are known for omelettes here. I hope to return.
-Beltline Bar, Grand Rapids. I got the chicken fajitas at this sports bar. I liked the chips and salsa, and the accompaniments to the fajitas were good, but the chicken itself was bland and greasy.
-Fire Mountain, Grand Rapids. This inexpensive, family-populated buffet was clearly not fine dining, but I liked it. The fried chicken was a standout. The boneless ribs were pretty good and I also liked the sausage. And I was glad to find sweet tea in this part of the world.