Of course, our trip to Harbor Country wouldn’t be complete without visiting our share of the local restaurants. After our arrival Friday evening, we visited the Bentwood Tavern at the Marina Grand Resort in New Buffalo. Touted by the Tribune as “the area’s newest restaurant and arguably, its best,” Bentwood is a waterfront eatery featuring fresh seafood, locally grown ingredients and sophisticated decor. We started with a tasty but predictable salad of greens, goat cheese and dried cherries. I had the fish and chips (fresh, flaky cod served with tangy and perfectly dressed coleslaw) and Aaron enjoyed roasted Amish chicken with a spicy sweet and sour sauce.
Bentwood Tavern, New Buffalo MI.
The next morning, we ventured down Red Arrow Highway to Harbert Swedish Bakery/Luisa’s Café for breakfast. After chatting with the owner of the bakery, I learned that the business has been one of Harbert’s best known exports since the early 1900’s. Luisa’s, owned by the same family who currently run the bakery, serves breakfast and lunch items like Swedish pancakes, organic salads, and sandwiches made with just baked bread.
Harbert Swedish Bakery, Harbert MI.
Swedish Baked Goods, Harbert Swedish Bakery.
For lunch, I had a crab cake salad, which Aaron pined for. The cakes were perfect; large pieces of lump crab with minimal filling served with a spicy aioli. Aaron stuck to a simple omelet with goat cheese, spinach and mushrooms.
Crab Cake Salad, Luisa’s Cafe.
Omelet, Luisa’s Cafe.
After lunch, we explored Warren Dunes State Park (or to be more accurate, I climbed half-way up a dune and then watched Aaron leap like a man-deer all the way down). Once we had our fill of sand and sun, we took off on Harbor Country’s wine trail. Round Barn Winery’s wine was forgettable, but we were enamored with its DiVine Vodka. Apparently, its only one of four vodkas in the world produced with grapes.
We were also very impressed with Hickory Creek Winery, tucked away among beautiful rolling hills and bright green farmland. One of the co-owners, Gottfried, was extremely gracious and his hospitality added to our tasting experience. Hickory Creek’s show stopper is certainly their slightly creamy and toasty 2005 Chardonnay. The flavors of honeydew, melon and Gala apple marry together and are balanced by a hint of lime.
At the recommendation of our innkeeper, we stayed on the wine trail for dinner and drove to Tabor Hill Winery. Tabor Hill is the only winery on the trail that also doubles as a restaurant-not necessarily a good thing. While the ambiance was beautiful, the food was a bit heavy-handed and extremely overpriced. Our starter, yet another crab cake, was hardly as delicate or as flavorful as Luisa’s. It was also accompanied by a bizarre orange juice, cherry juice, herb and wine reduction sauce which completely marred the simplicity of the crab.
Tabor Hill Vineyards.
Crab Cake with Wine Reduction Sauce, Tabor Hill Winery.
Filet Mignon wrapped in apple-smoked bacon was perfectly cooked, but sloppily presented. An extremely under-seasoned and underwhelming Alder Wood Smoked Hawaiian Swordfish was somewhat saved by its accompanying salsa of grapefruit and zesty ginger. Thankfully, we did enjoy Tabor Hill’s 2006 Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc, a lush, soft, fruit-driven and elegant wine.
Ridgefield Farm Filet Mignon, Tabor Hill Winery.
Alder Wood Smoked Hawaiian Sword Fish, Tabor Hill Winery.
The next day, our final Michigan feast took place at Blue Plate Café, also located on a stretch of the Red Arrow Highway. Blue Plate is a funky little place that’s open for breakfast and lunch. Most of the customers seemed to know each other, and thus the atmosphere was friendly and laid-back. Complimentary samples of chocolate chip banana bread started things out on the right foot. Our lunch selections of a salad plate with so-so tuna salad and phenomenal chicken salad, and scrambled eggs wrapped in tortillas with Verde sauce were fresh, light, and satisfying for our journey home.
Blue Plate Cafe, Harbor Country MI.
Salad Plate, Blue Plate Cafe.
Scrambled Eggs in Tortilla with Verde Sauce, Blue Plate Cafe.
We plan on returning to Harbor Country again next summer, and I’m already planning our restaurant itinerary. We’ll definitely stop at Cafe Gulistan, a Turkish restaurant known not only for the food but for its owner’s battle for his citizenship, and Bistro on the Boulevard, a quaint French bistro located in picturesque Saint Joseph. As always, recommendations are appreciated!