In Michigan, every season has its ups and downs, even summer. For me, it’s not the heat that does it, but the fleeting feeling I get when it’s coming to an end. But soon enough I start to enjoy the cooler days and nights...and the first tumbling yellow leaves on the street. It’s fall!
This time of year I crave apple cider and a freshly baked doughnut (plain, no décor or sugars, just an old fashioned doughnut — and only one) I start hankering for Oktoberfest beers paired with salty-cumin roasted pumpkin seeds, or a glass of plush red wine by the fire with friends and my own concoction of sweet & hot sesame almonds. In the store, I’m re-energized by the new fall products as we begin to display items with warmer colors, leaves and pumpkins.
Across the state, the colors are changing and the unique tastes and sights of fall are on full display. This year, make a point to hit the Michigan farms and orchards, breweries and wineries sans tourists. We’ve finally got the place to ourselves again, just in time for the scenic fall drives. Here are a few of my favorite haunts.
Find apple cider or Michigan’s best hard cider in old fashioned growlers at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. John’s. It’s just north of Lansing near Mt. Pleasant. We’re not talking uppity or high class at this mill, it’s kitschy and fun. You can take the interstate, but I highly recommend M-21. It’s the best way to see the fall colors and you might be surprised by the quaint towns and main streets you pass through along the way.
The southwest corner of the state is chock full of fun places to visit and taste.
Roughly 50 minutes from Grand Rapids and just outside of Saugatuck is Fennville, a growing town that is becoming more foodie all the time. A popular fall spot for down-home cozy is Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant and Gary Crane's U-Pick Apple Orchard, where you can pick or purchase apples and afterward eat some homemade apple pie in the restaurant. Fenn Valley winery has been making strides in quality wines the last few years. Taste it yourself at their tasting room or try one of their winemaker dinners in November.
Go south another 40 minutes to tiny Baroda for a tour and tasting at the Round Barn Winery & Distillery. Its simple, fun wines and Divine vodka are crafted on-site.
From there, the sleepy little town of Stevensville isn’t far away. Here you will find one of the oldest and most respected restaurants in southeast Michigan, Tosi’s Restaurant, which comes highly recommended by people FROM Italy. With a long lineage and super Tuscan food, it gives a great end cap to your southwestern jaunt.
Ever been to Marshall, Mich.? For those of you who enjoy historical architecture, Marshall is really a spectacular drive-through. For those of you who enjoy beer, a few stops in the area can make for a relaxed afternoon out.
The Dark Horse Brewing Company is where to start. Here you’ll find some true brewers — they love what they do and they let you in on it. You’ll think you walked into a bar in the old west. Pub food and great brew, sounds like a fun Saturday lunch.
Your second stop should be downtown Battle Creek’s Arcadia Brewing Company. Another of West Michigan’s famous breweries, Arcadia has won some nice awards from the World Beer Championships and is worth a stop. It offers Saturday afternoon brewery tours, but if you are going at another time, call ahead and schedule a tour.
If you’re not done eating, let me tell you about a place I was introduced to as a young kid. Just about 10 miles northeast of Battle Creek, there’s a place called Cornwell’s Turkeyville USA. If you’re feeling like a turkey adventure (and when aren’t you?), put this place at the top of your list. Live turkeys greet you on this giant farm, but don’t think about the poor gobbler. Order the turkey dinner and have fun shopping the general store. As a kid it was my favorite treat with the grandparents.
I feel like I could go on for hours suggesting fun places to go up north, and I would highly recommend a further drive to the Traverse City area. I just got back from the new Two Lads winery and stopped along the way at many fun eating & sipping spots. Check out my blog for some additional tips.
For now I’ll suggest Shorts Brewing Company and Lulu’s Bistro in Bellaire. It’s a bit of a hike but worth the pilgrimage. Shorts makes a Bellaire Brown that is perfect for the fall. It should blend well with the colors on the back home or the drive to the bay.
For the cider and such, I’m partial to Robinettes Apple Haus and Gift Barn in Grand Rapids at East Beltline and 4 Mile Road. I feel like that is Grand Rapids’ answer to fall. Fresh apples, apple cider, fried apple things and wine. They must be doing it right, they’ve been around since 1911!
A new-found favorite for me is Wells Orchards, located on the Grand River near Standale. Wells is great for families with its corn maze ($2 per person) and U-pick pumpkins, but the thing I like best is that when I need hay bales and cornstalks, they have them! Wells is open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If it’s locally produced fall beer that you want, we are lucky to have Schmohz’s Brewing Company and pub at 2600 Patterson St., north of 28th Street, and my forever favorite, Founders Brewing Company downtown, which I love not only because I can walk there, but because no matter the season, there’s always something there to warm me.
Amy Ruis owns and operates Art of the Table, a specialty food, beverage, and tabletop retail store in the Wealthy Street Business District. She blogs at www.artofthetable.com/talk and you can reach her at [email protected] She last wrote for Rapid Growth about being a locavore.
The legendary Crane's Pie Pantry - Fennville
Hanna Kelly outside of Crane's Pie Pantry - Fennville
All Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
Brian Kelly is Rapid Growth's managing photographer. You can follow his photography adventures here on his blog.