by Martha Bishop
Dining out in the 90's can be quite traumatic, as chain restaurants worm their way into every little town. They cleverly disguise themselves as real places with family names, they're crammed with knick-knacks, frilly curtains, and brass carriage lamps - all engineered by some Marketing Suit, back at corporate HQ. Martha is our most trusted guide in these matters. She comes from a catering family, and is a legendary kitchen wizard herself - so you can't pull the wool over her eyes. Here are her picks of some notable Michigan dinner-spots, all run by real human beings... -RS
Legs Inn - Cross Village.
616-526-2281 (near Mackinac Bridge).
Amazing fieldstone building with lots of cool stuff inside. Surreal, old animal-shaped drift-root-wood on display, varnished. Very much a bar, but wonderful Polish food. They have a sampler platter so you can try all the authentic stuff. Sit outside in big back yard in summer. Yard overlooks cliffs down to Lk. Mich. A great hang-out, day or night. Smoked whitefish is the fine local treat and it's ready to go.
Patti's Towne House - Grayling.
Great place to stop on the way home from up north. Kind of place you'd go with Gramma and Grampa. Good drinks. Lounge atmosphere. Nice dinners with plenty of extras. A-Frame building. Prime Rib. Bloody Marys with all kinds of vegetables in 'em. Waitresses wear Kat suits...they're nice and know what theyre doing.
Old-Timey Soda Fountain - Grayling.
Not many of these left. This old downtown hangout is a good one.
Celtic Inn - Lowell.
Dark and small. Nice owner, cook and waitress. Lots of potato things and a bar. Live ethnic music, cooking classes and a newsletter.
Helmutt's Coffee - Nashville.
517-852-2130. Little cafe. Real good German/Austrian food. No booze.
Arie's Cafe & Pub - Plainwell.
616-685-9495. Delicious. Huge variety of desserts and beer and wine. Pub across the street. (Ugly art on walls.) You have to go to the back and look at the pies thru the old-time kitchen window display.
Candy Shop - Niles.
On the downtown street. Wonderful, old-fashioned candy shop experience (old counters, everything original). Quiet and nice.
Bauhaus on Barton - New Buffalo.
616-469-6419. 50's Bed-&-Breakfast. Pricey but very cool. Fully furnished with blonde and boomerang stuff. Amazing to see (visitors OK) in such a little neighborhood on way to Chicago.
Malia's Restaurant - Main St., Marshall.
Very good nouvelle Italian, cozy and delicious. No alcohol.
Hungry Hippo - Battle Creek.
616-969-9600. Will be a cafe summer '95. Great art-if you ever see better restaurant art, let us know! Hippos everywhere. My Mom's place, but it's the best food in Michigan, don't you doubt it. Only catering for now, though. If you need any catering within an hour or so of Battle Creek, this is the only place to call. Jan makes everything from scratch. Whatever you like. No pre-made junk. Pick anything of hers and if you've had it as good for even twice as much, I'd be surprised. Like a way-top-ranked restaurant, but half the price. Lots of 45's to hear. Lots of unpredictable excitement, too.
Greencrest - Battle Creek.
No food, but a most gorgeous B&B. For a castle, it's a bargain. But it is muy $$. Beautiful garden, nice cat. Good breakfast of fine cookin'.
Mike's (and the Sun) - Main, Williamston.
A little diner-hut with great meatloaf and mashed potatoes and all the ice cream stuff. Then you go to the Sun Theatre and catch a first-run on their huge screen for $2 with a 30¢ pop and 20¢ popcorn. If they ever go under, maybe we can buy it and fix the marquee lights and sell pie and coffee, too. But the Mom and Pop there draw crowds of neighbors and kids with varsity jackets, so I hope it never happens.
Traveller's Club - Okemos.
Small. With ice-cream fountain. Always an authentic international meal of the week or a regional sampler platter and every month they go to a new place in the world to give you what the people there really eat. Beer, wine. Busy, but not crowded. Nice people. Casual service and setting. Excellent breakfast! (One of the only good breakfasts in this area.) Kinda pricey. Bad pies.
Lamai Thai - Grand R., Lansing.
517-374-6390. Totally the best Thai food ever. Lots of fresh basil, cilantro, parsley. I really like the fresh eggrolls, coconut soup and stickyballs for dessert. Don¼t depend on the menu. Lamai (who cooks and waitresses) will help you decide what to get. Often she doesn't have what you want, but something new and special. Old building, hilarious decor. Dinner is 2 hours minimum. No alcohol, but you can bring it if you keep it hidden and low except for your glass.
Korea House - Trowbridge, E. Lansing.
517-332-6608. Small and busy in a minimall. Nothing to look at, but really good food. Excellent be bim bop in a stone bowl. Lots of really good condiments, and sushi, too. Pop in cans. No booze. Very cheap.
Medina's - Stockbridge.
Cheap Mexican. Take-out only. Lots of Mexican pops and big, good burritos. Best of all, the tamales are delicious. It's a little ethnic grocery store.
Drake's - Ann Arbor
...Is gone. The mint green and black '20s decor is no more. The old widower got too sick to run it, & his family just didn't understand what they had... Those tiny little, little booths. Millions of big glass jars full of chocolates and candies. Punk rock teen waitresses in their Laura Engels blue smocks and skirts (they'd protest about 'em every now and then, with the old owners oblivious...bet they wish they could still wear those smocks now!), skateboard kids everywhere, grilled cheese, malts, real limeade, oreos, cakes, cans of soup, junk everywhere, tiny round blackboards and colored chalk items. The mysterious Martian Room upstairs. Rest in peace...ha, ha, ha...impossible in Ann Arbor: The space is going to be a chain bagel store next.
BBQ - on the streets and parking lots of Detroit.
New Detroiter - for meatloaf and side dishes
Carl's Chop House - near Tigers and Freeway.
Fine lounge steak house. Old waitresses and bartenders. Fully authentic American. Hugest, thickest, finest everything. Do not be fooled by fancy, new or chain places! Prices exactly right for what you get. Everyone must be content here. Your drinks must be perfect. (Tip: Prime Rib with Manhattan.)