Salt of the Earth
New Year’s Eve was going to be short at the World Headquarters of SW Michigan Dining. J worked her normal shift that has her getting up at 1:30 AM and I had get up to go to work at 5:30 AM on New Year’s Day. Chances are, neither of us were going to see midnight and it turns out, neither of us did.
Even though we weren’t going to party like it was 2010. we still wanted to go for a good meal. Last year’s New Year’s was pretty similar and we had a so-so experience at Erbelli’s in Portage. We really wanted something memorable this year…and boy did we ever.
The restaurant we chose was Salt of the Earth in Fennville. J called on Monday to get reservations and by the time she did that, all that was left were a few early slots. That was fine because we didn’t want to be there when they started the live music.
Salt of the Earth: Rustic American Eatery & Bakery is in downtown Fennville on Main Street which is also M-89. The surprising thing about the restaurant is that if you’re not looking for it, it’s very easy to drive right by. In fact, J’s done just that many times. She’s passed through town on M-89 several times and has never noticed the place. I spotted in and started looking for a parking spot. When I told J we just passed it, she said, “Where?”
The building is an older street front building with only a few parallel parking spots out front. We were able to find more spots on the street around the corner. Since it was a nice night, walking half a block wasn’t a big deal.
The entrance is a little confusing. At least it was to me. There are two doors (although I’m not sure if both are operational) and neither looked like the right entrance to the restaurant. One leads directly into the dining room. The other leads into the bakery. We went in the bakery door and there didn’t look to be a hostess station. There really isn’t and that’s what threw us. The order counter for the bakery is also where the hostess works.
The bakery side is pretty wide open with only a couple tables. There are a couple cases of baked goods which did distract us while the hostess was looking up our reservation.
There are two dining rooms in the remaining space. Salt of the Earth has the appearance that it used to be two separate buildings that have now been connected with a doorway. The side that doesn’t have the bakery has the bar. We were seated at a two top on the bakery side dining room that is separated with a partial wall.
The atmosphere at Salt of the Earth is not something you would expect in a small town like Fennville. It has a real rustic feel to it distressed brick walls, and carved wood art on the walls. It doesn’t feel like Fennville, but once you step inside, nothing really does.
Since it was a special evening, we both started with drinks while we looked over the menu. J ordered the house made sangria which was served in a wine glass. I ordered a bottle of Sundog from the New Holland Brewing Company.
Since it was New Year’s, I was expecting the pace of the meal to be pretty relaxed and it was. Our drinks were delivered by the bartender then we were brought a bread board by yet another server. The bread, like most things, it made in house. It was warm and very soft. I’m fairly certain it was their Seedy Salt bread which is a sourdough with poppy, flax, sesame, onion, and fennel seeds and grey sea salt. It’s served with a small cup of a soft whipped butter and two bowls of fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt. We didn’t know if the salt and pepper were supposed to be used on the bread of it was just served that way to be used with the meals. As you would expect in a fancier restaurant, there were no salt and pepper shakers on the table.
After we finished off the bread and enjoyed part of our drinks, our waitress came over to take our entree orders. J started with the Farmer’s Green’s salad. She said it was one of the freshest tasting salads she’s ever had which is amazing considering it’s winter. How much better is this salad going to taste in the summer? The salad is fresh greens with shaved onion, cucumber, pecorino romano, and these huge house made croutons. The dressing is a Balsamic Parmesan. Like I already mentioned, J was a big fan and it kicked the meal off to a good start.
J was really drawn to the pasta section of the menu and had a hard time picking just one thing. When it came time to make the choice, she went with the Three Cheese Cavatappi. Dumbing it down, it’s a fancy macaroni and cheese. Not dumbing it down, it’s a Michigan Cheddar, Romano, and Provolone cheeses with fresh herbs and breadcrumbs. She opted to add house bacon which is nothing like bacon you buy at the mega mart. It’s much thicker and has so much more flavor. J usually only eats crispy bacon, but she never complained about this thicker, chewier bacon because it had so much flavor. She loved the pasta. The three cheeses worked seamlessly together and the portion size was about perfect. She thought she would take some home for lunch the next day, but it was too good. I had a few bites, but that’s about it. She called the best meal she’s in Michigan….not one of the best. The best.
Even though it was a special night, I didn’t stray too far from my game. I ordered the SotE Signature Grass Fed Beef Burger. The meat had that juicy, fresh flavor that you only get from grass fed cows. To me, that’s a treat. Forget Kobe Beef. Forget Angus Beef. By far, the grass fed beef has the best flavor. I can’t always afford it, but I always look forward to those special times when I get to splurge.
The burger came with a very thick slice of tomato, lettuce, and aged Michigan white cheddar already on the burger. A pile of pickled onions was served on the side as was house made ketchup, mayo, and mustard. The bread was a house made egg bun and my only complaint about the entire meal was that there seemed to be more bread than meat. The burger patty was pretty tall, but there was a lot of dead space around the edges where all I bit into was bread. It’s just a minor complaint because even with that little setback, the burger was fantastic.
For an extra three bucks, I could have added the house bacon and mushrooms or grilled onions to my burger , but I declined so I could instead order fries. These fries are hand cut and fried to a dark golden brown. They were then topped with sea salt and served up on their own platter. The plate was actually pretty large, so the extra three bucks didn’t really bother me. There were enough there that I could share with J and she was as grateful for that as I was for her sharing her pasta. Once again, she called them the best fries she’s had in Southwest Michigan.
After a couple more drinks, we decided to order dessert. Originally, we ordered the Chocolate Cake and a scoop of gelato, but the waitress came back to say they were out of chocolate cake. There was a special that night for a Dark Chocolate Torte so we went with that instead. The torte was a chocolate ganache with butterscotch, and a buttermilk brown sugar gelato. Since we got gelato with the torte, we killed the order for a scoop of gelato, but it was brought anyway. Didn’t really bother us because that was actually my favorite part. The torte was delicious, but the scoop of Palazzolo’s Tahitian vanilla gelato was fantastically delicious. That may be worth a separate trip to Fennville.
Our bill was much more than we usually spend on dinner, but there was a lot of extra that we normally don’t do…like multiple drinks and dessert. Before tip, the check was $65 and since we tied up a table for an hour and a half..well, I hope I tipped well enough.
Salt of the Earth plays like a Chicago restaurant. It’s really not what you would expect in a small town in Michigan. The food is carefully prepared with local, fresh ingredients. While a lot of the items on the menu sound pretty ordinary, you palate will beg to differ.
This is one trip you need to make. Whether your in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, or Denver, Colorado, Salt of the Earth is worth the drive.