The most exciting part of the Southwest Michigan food tour was the last part. We had been planning a meal at Fennville's Journeyman Cafe on the Saturday evening of our trip, so I was thrilled to learn that there was an organic orchard just a few miles from the Journeyman where I could pick apples in the afternoon. At home, our closest organic apple orchard is in Flushing, MI, just south of Flint - the fabulous Al-Mar Orchard. Note to self: need to stock up on Al-Mar's JK Scrumpy hard cider.
Evergreen Lane (Organic) Farm and Orchard, Fennville, MI
It may have been the best afternoon of the entire year when I pulled into Evergreen Lane Orchard. You know the kind of day I'm talking about? Where the sun is hazy, soft and warm but the air is cool and smells like dry grass? The nice intern at the farm was cleaning garlic when I came in and, since they don't take credit cards, helped me figure out how many apples I should put in the bushel basket for the solitary $20 bill in my wallet. She showed me out to the long rows of apple trees, pointing out the different kinds: Empire, Golden Delicious, Ida Red, and Jonathan.
Then she went back to her work and I was completely alone with hundreds of apple trees. The sky was bright blue with kind of hush all around. Being in the midst so many trees and that kind of quiet was an amazing feeling. It was about a 5 minute walk down to the end, each row grassy in the middle and fruit hanging heavily, yellow on one side and red on the other. It was like being 10 years old again and playing in an apple room.
Later, as she was weighing my freshly picked apples, the nice young intern said something about how they were about to start making goat cheese now that they had just finished building their new dairy. Indeed, a dozen goats were eating hay in the barnyard and Tom the farmer/owner was carrying some tools over to the dairy building. Tom's wife will be starting to make Evergreen Lane Creamery cheese starting in October, and it will be available there at the dairy.
If you're in the area, I would highly recommend stopping by Evergreen Lane. They'll have goat cheese by then! Also, the apples were delicious and almost all completely perfect. I've got some applesauce on the bubble right now. And am planning a pie with the rest. A combination of apples makes the best pie. Same is true for cider. I notice that they have an opening for an intern next summer - helping to handle large animals and equipment and to make cheese.
Just a couple of miles down picturesque roads from Evergreen Lane is the Fenn Valley Vineyards and Winery. What a madhouse! When I pulled into the parking lot it was packed with more than a hundred cars. And the Grape Train Express was just pulling into the barn, back from the last vineyard tour of the day. Apparently, you take the tractor ride out to the vineyard and drink wine made from the grapes you see along the way. That sounds fun! People were sure in a good mood back at the tasting room as they grabbed cases and bottles of wine and lined up to pay. And drive away.
As I was getting my 5 tastes of wine at their tasting bar, the lady pouring the wine told me in a confidential tone that Fenn Valley's claim to fame is that they have the largest tasting room in the world. Apparently the entire property, all 230 acres, is zoned as a tasting room. Aha! That's why all those people were having such a high time on the Grape Train tour.
Fenn Valley has dozens of different kinds of wine - from light and fruity whites - like Pinot Grigio, Traminette, and an award winning Riesling - to reds like Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Merlot - and some specialty wines like a late harvest Vignoles, ice wine, port, and a few fruit wines. Most are estate grown. And Fenn Valley, located in the Fennville American Viticultural Area, is the only winery in that appellation.
I'm not sure if I found any new favorite wines, but my palate was getting pretty fuzzy by the end of the day. I did buy a couple of bottles to bring home, and I'm looking forward to opening them. It was a lovely place to visit - I think signing up for the tour would be a great idea. I loved seeing the grapes, almost ready to harvest, hanging in big ripe clusters just like in pictures.
I do not know why we didn't get the house-made charcuterie plate. I could tell it was a serious oversight when I saw the couple next to us tucking in to a delicious-looking pate. It may have been because I was already a little bit juiced from the wine tasting and was on to the refreshingly grown-up Cucumber-Rose martini (which tasted like a stroll through a rose garden after a cool rain). Or perhaps we didn't get it because we had already stuffed ourselves on the incredible just-out-of-the-oven bread they bring to your table. Challah, sourdough, and an olive bread were all delicious.
Three of us all had very different but equally fantastic meals. Journeyman changes menus weekly and say they source local and organic ingredients. From what I saw on our plates, I can believe it. Here's what their website says:
Welcome to food you can feel good about. Our ingredients are local, organic or chemical free, and sustainably managed whenever possible. Our plates are graced with the finest local ingredients, so you get to support your neighbor while having something delicious to eat. We know that a strong sense of community, responsible stewardship of the earth, and care and passion in the kitchen are all qualities you can taste. Join us for a new ethic in cooking. Live off the land.
My dinner: a silky, pureed Roasted Cauliflower Soup, a totally delicious and satisfying Goat Cheese Gnocchi with roasted shallots and leeks (with some kind of parmesan foam), and for dessert Poire Belle Helene (poached pears over vanilla ice cream with a decadent chocolate sauce on top). It was all wonderful.
B. had the all-pork dinner - a roasted tenderloin and some pork belly so unctuous that he thought it was a terrine. I.'s dessert of vanilla panna cotta in the middle of a sea of red, yellow, and amber raspberries was stunning. One thing I didn't see on the menu but I did see coming out of the kitchen was a thick steak on a bed of homemade french fries with a big coin of composed butter on top. Mmm.
So the food was great, but the space also was warm and inviting - wood floor, brick walls, modern-ish chairs, nice art, brick pizza oven. Next door is a place called Rye that they say is their sister establishment that "incorporates Journeyman’s dedication to sourcing the highest quality American made artisan foods, but with an eye toward tradition, simplicity, and economy." Rye has live music often too.
The only thing that I could not quite figure out was how these 2 places are located in a town as small as Fennville - across the street from a former International Organization of Oddfellows Federation hall and a boarded up old-time opera house, now turned into an Ace Hardware store. And also, why they are not in Ann Arbor so I could eat there much more often. At least we'll know to save room for the charcuterie next time.