A few weeks ago, my daughter Nia and I traveled to Benzie County, visiting the quaint villages of Arcadia, Frankfort, Elberta and Beulah lining Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake and staying at two great places, the historic Watervale Inn of Lower Herring Lake and Lake Michigan in Arcadia and Harbor Lights Resort in charming downtown Frankfort where we had views of the lighthouse and Lake Michigan.
The trip was arranged by my friend Sally Zarafonetis and accompanying us was journalist John Gonzales who was on the eve, after traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants in six days, of announcing Michigan’s Best Burger. The winner, interestingly enough, was Laura’s Little Burger Joint at 47141 M-51 in Decatur, southwest of Paw Paw. And though we didn’t eat burgers on this trip, we did taste some of the flavors of Northern Michigan including whitefish cooked in a variety of ways, lots of recipes calling for – natch – Michigan cherries and even emu (think beef).
There’s an eclectic assortment of restaurants here including L’chavim Delicatessen in Beulah where we tried traditional Jewish deli pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, freshly caught and smoked fish at Port City Smokehouse and Pan-Asian cuisine with an American flair at Fusion, both in Frankfort.
On M-22 as it traces its way around Crystal Lake, we stopped at The Manitou Restaurant, a “woodsy” restaurant with stuffed bears and deer heads mounted on the walls – and yes, there are black bears in this area. It’s always crowded even during the weekdays, so we were lucky to have called ahead for a reservation. Lisa McHugh, who has owned the place with her husband for 34 years, shared her recipe for whitefish pate (whitefish pate is very popular but Lisa’s was one of my favorites) and then the following night ate at Coho Café in downtown Frankfort. Nia had salmon both nights but I tried a different version of whitefish – this one pan-seared with a dill sauce. Sally had smoked trout fettuccine tossed in a lemon cream sauce with fresh vegetables and Michigan cherries (they do sneak whitefish and cherries into a lot of dishes up north) and John had the Emu Stroganoff which was sourced from Wallin Ranch in nearby Thompsonville. Emu, which looks like it’s related to ostrich, is considered a heart-healthy red meat and its dark and dense rather like beef and besides raising and selling emus for meat, the Wallins also make emu oil and soaps.
Of course I asked for recipes to share. Here are a few.
The Manitou Restaurant’s Whitefish Pate
1 ¼ pound smoked whitefish
1 pound cream cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon capers
Mix all ingredients in mixer until smooth. Top with capers. Serve with crackers or cut vegetables.
Coho’s Emu Stroganoff
4 sliced mushrooms
½ onion, chopped
2 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon salt
5 ounces emu, sliced (can substitute beef or venison)
¼ cup red wine
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
4 ounces noodles
Sauté mushrooms and onions in melted butter for two minutes. Add salt and sliced emu and sauté until browned. Remove emu and deglazed the pan with red wine, cooking until reduced. Then add heavy cream and sour cream, stir before returning meat to the pan. Return to a low simmer being sure not to bring to a boil.
In another pan, bring water to a boil and add noodles. Boil until tender.
Place noodles in a bowl and top with stroganoff. Serves one.
Fusion’s Easy Almond Shortbread Cookies
10 ounces butter
1 tablespoon cooking spray (for baking)
1 egg yolk
3 ounces plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
11 ounces all-purpose Flour
4 ounces corn starch
2 tablespoons coconut milk (or milk)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Cream butter with spray, sugar, egg yolk, salt and almond extract until fluffy. Add in coconut milk and mix well.
Fold in flour and corn starch. Mix until dough become soft and it does not stick on your hands.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into rounds or whatever shapes you wish using cookie cutters. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until cookies are lightly brown. Cool on rack.