One of thethings I miss most in today's world is the kind of homey, unpretentiousrestaurants like the ones we enjoyed in the Saugatuck area during the 40s and50s. I still look back with pleasure on the whole welcoming atmosphere ofhonest decor, pride of ownership and goodcooking.
One of thebest remembered was the Edgewater Inn, located in a large frame structureconnected to Charley's BoatLivery. Looming foursquare at the base of Mason Street, it didn't look like muchuntil you got up the steps to the top floor, where the main feature, as Irecall it, was a wide, screened-in porch. Diners sat at tables almostoverhanging the river with an ever-changing view of busy boat traffic againstthe peaceful backdrop of the forested opposite shore.
It was run byLouise Heistand, Charley's wife. The meals servedthere were justly famous in the area, and there was often a line of peoplewaiting to get in. I have never been a devoted fish eater, but from their menuI always chose whatever Lake Michigan fish wasbeing offered. The cooks always had the pick of the fishing fleet catch beforeit was rushed off to the Palmer House and other Chicago establishments, and they kneweverything there was to know about cooking it. Your serving arrivedgolden brown, crusty and fragrant, breaking open to delicate, white flakiness.There were hot breads, potatoes and veggies, but the memory that can still makemy mouth water is that of a beautiful succulent entree, the equal of whichcan't be found today.
I don't know how many summers theEdgewater Inn was in operation, but I recall how distressed we were when, onour arrival one season, we learned it had closed. Fortunately, then wediscovered Wave Crest, run by Ethel Marcotte, Louise Hiestand's sister, in an attractive converted dwelling,quite far south on the Douglas lakeshore. No unique specialties still tickle mytaste buds, except for the hot breads and desserts ,but 1 always looked forward to what I knew would be a delicious meal when weplanned to go there.
My mother,Jean Gage, felt the same. I remember one day at the Oval, in the 50s I think,when she and I, like most beach goersthat afternoon, were sunning, but not daring to swim. The breeze was not overlystrong and the waves were lackadaisical, but both were coming unmistakably fromthe north which translates to cold water in Lake Michigan.Nevertheless, when I decided to give it a try, Mother announced that if I couldtake it, she could and would. As soon asI put my foot in, I knew that it was too cold for her. It must have been about65 degrees, if not lower, but I managed to swim to the ropes and back.Emerging, I decided to call her bluff, and ran across the sand yelling,"If you go into that water, I'll take you to Wave Crest fordinner!" Many sun-worshippers within earshot sat up to see if awhite-haired senior citizen would really take the dare, and of course, she did,to much general applause. The Wave Crest incentive had sufficed to get her totake an unprecedented icy plunge. We enjoyed the anticipated wonderful dinnerthat evening.
Another eatingplace we came to appreciate -- another "Crest," as a matter of fact-- was Pine Crest, just outside of town, on the road to Holland. Years before wehad watched it being built, a motel on a bare hillside, and we scoffed at itsbeing named Pine Crest when the vegetation consisted of some scrub wild grape,with not a single pine anywhere. The owners, however, had planned well,and by the time our family had discovered that there was a restaurant as partof the motel property, all buildings in the group were almost totally concealedby the thickly grown evergreens that surrounded them. thepaneled dining room in the main building was especially cozy in bad weather.The honey-colored walls reflected warm amber lighting. The menu consisted ofcertain popular standbys which could always be prepared and served. My favoritewas a ham steak, with baked potato, salad and (I think) dessert. It cost, inthose less inflated days, a grand total of $1.25. No wonder we looked on PineCrest as a nice place to go for a simple but tasty dinner in pleasantsurroundings.
An enterprise with an interestingand unusual background was Simmons of Saugatuck, a double storefront on Butler Street notfar from the post office. Half of the building was devoted to a high-type giftand souvenir shop and half to a plain, clean non-fussy tea room atmosphereserving any kind of meal, any time of day. Mr. Simmons had withdrawn from hiscareer in the business world and had pulled up stakes in Chicago, following anillness said to have been brought on by the stress of the big city rat race. heand his wife, Dorothy bought a comfortable house in Saugatuck, transferredtheir daughters from an expensive private school in the city to the localschool, and opened their business in the center of town.
It wasa bold move, and one which might have resulted in even greater stress, butsince it was successful andpersonally rewarding, it seemed to have no downside. Wegot to see their success firsthand. One blizzardyMarch in the 40s, a year or so after transplanting themselves, they invited ourfamily to stay with them so that we could check out any damage the heavy snowsmight have caused to our hilltop cottage. Reluctant to impose, we at firstdeclined this generous offer, but they assured us that the house was largeenough, and that as all meals were prepared at the restaurant, our presencewould cause no extra work. The good cooking for which Simmons of Saugatuck wasalready known became truly memorable after a day of tramping over familiartrails made strange and mysterious by leafless trees and uneven white drifts.The restaurant was warm and cheerful and the roast pork with trimmings not onlypicture perfect and fragrant, but unforgettably delicious. Instead of bread wewere given hot buttered toast, which I have always remembered as a delightfulcomplement to a great meal.
Dinnerthere was more of an occasion than dinner in most other local restaurants. Inthe evening, as least many times when I was present, there was even a livecombo playing the wonderful music of those days for dancing. No particularchef' specialties stand out in my mind at this distance in time, but what doesremain clear is the sense of high level of enjoyment, both in the ambiance andat the beautifully set table.
I can'tleave the subject of the good food I used to appreciate in and around Saugatuckin that long ago time without mentioning the Lloyd J. HarrissPies, which brightened many a day and tempted many to abandon diets. A usefullittle snack and sandwich shop stood conveniently just where the two laneasphalt left Douglas to become Park Street on the west bank of the KalamazooRiver. These people provided a much-needed pie baking service. After, having droppedoff our factory-fresh, frozen pie in the morning, we picked up a gorgeousfreshly baked blueberry, cherry, or apple pie on our way home from a day at theOval. We could savor the fragrance all the way up to the cottage and anticipatethe tasty dessert we would have at dinner that evening.
Arethere any eating places and gastronomical pleasures today which will be able toengender this kind of nostalgia 40 or 50 years from now? I hope so.
-- Helen Gage DeSoto
Fire claimed several of the restaurants thatHelen DeSoto writes about. When her mother becameelderly Margo (Marcotte) Busies ran Wave Crestresort, then bought the Old Rail Grill in town. It went through several ownersand burned in 1982. The Pine Crest on the Blue Star Highway likewise had severalowners. It was known as Jocko's for dearly a decade in the 70s and 80s, thereas Blocko's for several years before it burned as TheWhite Dog inn in the spring of 1998. The original building that was Tara burned in 1975, but was later replaced by a similarstructure, most recently known as The Avalon. Simmons was later Taft'sAntiques, the building still stands.
generous offer, butthey assured us that the house was large enough, and that as all meals wereprepared at the restaurant, our presence would cause no extra work. The goodcooking for which Simmons of Saugatuck was already known became truly memorableafter a day of tramping over familiar trails made strange and mysterious byleafless trees and uneven white drifts. The restaurant was warm and cheerfuland the roast pork with trimmings not only picture perfect and fragrant, butunforgettably delicious. Instead of bread we were given hot buttered toast,which I have always remembered as a delightful complement to a great meal.
What has to berecorded as our favorite restaurant however, was theOld Rail Inn. Conveniently located on the corner of Water and Mary Streets, itdrew its name from the Lincolnesque rustic fencewhich surrounded it. The entrance led first to a large, bright room, wherecustomers were hospitably greeted by Dr. Cook, one of the owners. During thewarm summer weather, the most popular dining area was the spacious screened-inporch, which personified the relaxing atmosphere of bygone days. No tablematched another, but each represented some cheerful long-gone kitchen orhistoric family dining room.. "My grandmother hada table just like this one!" was a comment often heard from first-timeclients, and everyone admired the three or four Tiffany style kerosenechandeliers which hung from the rafters to cast colorful illumination as theevenings drew in.
As wefrequented the Old Rail over several summers, in small or large groups, I onlyremember enjoying various excellent dinners, but I could not now select orpraise one above another. The other half of the partnership, who ran thekitchen, always offered a choice of two or three entrees, written on a schoolslate. Even an appetizer, dessert and beverage were included with your dinnerorder. The Old Rail's unusual specialty, which we always eagerly looked forwardto, was a bottomless basket of "Hush Puppies," a deep-fried cornbreadtreat, universally appreciated. I wish I could have some now.
And then therewas Tara. Located in Douglas on a riseoverlooking Lake Kalamazooand many Saugatuck landmarks, Tara provided agracious dining room which embodied understated, unobtrusive elegance. Dinerswere well dressed, because going to Tara madeyou feel like