Hummingbird Lounge: Appalachia cooking Meets New American Cuisine on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

         Raised in Southern Appalachia in Stagg Creek, a slip of a town tucked in a corner of North Carolina hills and hollows near the Tennessee state line, Shane Graybeal describes the region as “food heaven” and the beginning of his fascination with food.

         “Both my grandparents had farms,” says Graybeal, who after graduating from culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina worked in France, Italy, Washington D.C. and spent seven years in Chicago working at such well known restaurants as  Bin 36 and Sable Kitchen & Bar. Along the way he was inducted into Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest, largest and most prestigious food and wine society.

         But he missed small town living and being close to the farms where he sourced his foods.

          “I’ve been a fan of Southwest Michigan for many years,” says Graybeal who now is executive chef at the recently opened Hummingbird Lounge in New Buffalo. “When I was living and working in Chicago, I  sourced a lot from Southwest Michigan.”

         Among the local food producers they use are the Mick Klug Farm in St. Joseph and Kaminski Farms Meats in Three Oaks.

         Another plus for Graybeal was being back in a small town.

         “Though compared to Stagg’s Creek, which has a population of about 300, New Buffalo seems like a big city,” Graybeal adds with a laugh.

         Graybeal describes his food as a “cheffy take on American classics, comfortable food all dressed up.” I loved the description but was surprised to learn that “cheffy” is an actual word meaning relating to or characteristic of a chef.

         His take on food matches the overall philosophy of Hummingbird’s owner and operator Ben Smock who wanted to create a cocktail bar and restaurant that was comfortable and “served food you want to eat.” The lounge opened in April and is located in what had been a grand home built in 1901 that once housed a creperie in  New Buffalo.

         Smock has an extensive background in the food industry starting when he worked at his grandfather’s bowling alley in Davison, Michigan where he grew up. He graduated from Michigan State University’s hospitality program, worked at McCormick Place, Levy Restaurant group and the Ravinia Music Festival and started his own consulting business where he provided food service planning and events. He’s also opened a number of venues.

         The menu changes frequently, depending on what’s in season. Graybeal was excited because the first peaches were hitting the market along with blueberries and raspberries.

         “I’m thinking fruit cobblers,” he says.

         He also brings a bit of Appalachia to the menu.

         “Food is very important there,” he says, making one want to jump in a car and head south to see what he’s talking about. “And I think in the right context—pickling, charcuterie, foraging–it comes across very well.”

Earlier in the season, he took ramps, cut them into a tiny matchstick size and flash fried the garlicky wild greens to add to an asparagus dish. We’re guessing that the round super thin pickled with cherry Kool-Aid hails from the mountains as well—and they’re delicious.

Graybeal also made ramp vinegar which he now uses in some of his dishes. Now with fresh Michigan peaches available, he makes a jam to pair with pork, but kicks it up a notch with the addition of jalapeno peppers.

But, he notes, the food is a side note to the cocktails and what’s on the menu are more like a tapas bar—nibbles that are share,able. The Lounge’s cocktail team takes what Graybeal is preparing in the kitchen and concocts drinks to accent his flavors.

The cocktails—which also change frequently—have in the past included a Smoked Pineapple Margarita, a tequila based drink with seasoned and smoked pineapple and salted foam, The HRG Manhattan using Traverse City Whisky Company blend along with sweet Vermouth, Angostura bitters and a fancy cherry and A Real Dandy Old Fashioned with rum, demerara syrup, bitters and expressed orange. For those who don’t drink, there are spirit-free cocktails. There’s also a small wine list offering by the glass or bottle and local brews.

         Why did they name the place Hummingbird? Smock says they chose it because hummingbirds drink all day and it just fit because they are open throughout the season. For warm weather dining, there’s a large back porch and garden area. The garage has been redone and is now an inviting event space. The interior of the restaurant itself is very cozy with a curated antiquated feel to go with the history of the home including a fireplace flanked by columns, its mantel topped with a large mirror and coach lanterns, cozy rooms, polished wood floors, and the deep gray walls are accented with lots of white woodwork. The bar is sleek—less Victorian and more urban trendy which makes for a nice contrast.

Chef Graybeal’ s Pork and Peaches

Rub pork belly with salt, sugar, and vanilla powder. Place in pot. Cover and marinate overnight. The next day cover with lard and cook on low heat for three to four hours. Cool and then crisp up in a hot pan until golden brown and tender.

Peach Jam

Cook together for two hours, them finish with a squeeze of lime juice. Puree in blend until smooth and cool.

To serve—crisp the pork belly, put two ounces of jam on a warmed plate, top with the pork belly, slice a peach and toss with aged sherry vinegar, basil, parsley and mint and a little olive oil. Place on top of the pork.

Beef Skewers with Whipped Feta

For the Beef Skewers:

Grind the brisket, combine with the other ingredients and whip with the paddle attachment. Form into balls and then into long rolls, place each roll on a skewer.  Grill for six minutes on both sides.

For the Whipped Feta:

Combine in the mixer, whip using the the whip attachment until light and fluffy-like similar to icing.

Just for fun, I thought I’d include a recipe for Kook-Aid brined veggies.

Trish Yearwood’s Fruit Drink Pickles

Drain the brine from the pickles into a bowl. Add the fruit drink packet and sugar into the brine and stir until dissolved. Pour the brine back to the jar, discarding any that’s leftover. Refrigerate at least 2 days and up to 1 month.     

Golden Raspberries: The Perfect End to Autumn

Amber colored with a touch of light pink, golden raspberries are a rare find compared to their red and black equivalents. But they’re worth the search.

“They taste like raspberries dipped in honey,” says Cindy Grewett who raises golden raspberries at Kitty Hill Organics, her 14-acre farm in Dowagiac, Michigan, a small town located close to the Indiana-Michigan border.

“Or candied raspberries,” adds her assistant Ashley Morris.

Golden raspberries at Kitty Hill Organics in Dowagiac, Michigan. Photo Jane Simon Ammeson.

“Have you ever tasted one?” Ron Goldy, Senior Extension Educator at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center, Michigan State University, asks me when I call to get more details about golden raspberries and who else might be growing them in Southwest Michigan.

I tell him I have—Grewett sells them at the St. Joseph Farmers Market held on Saturdays on the bluff overlooking the pier and where the St. joseph River flows into Lake Michigan. People also stop by at the farm where she and her husband live in a 150-year-old farmhouse but it’s best to call ahead to make sure she hasn’t sold out.

Golden Raspberry Custard with Chocolate Sauce. Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson.

“They’re sweeter than red raspberries,” I say.

Cindy Grewett adds golden raspberries to a glass of Tabor Hill Sparkling Wine. Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson.

“But they still taste like raspberries,” Goldy says and he’s right.

I’ve never thought of red raspberries as anything but sweet and tasty. Yet compared to goldens they’re tough stuff with a taste that’s stronger and with just a little more bite.

They may be milder and sweeter but goldens are also more fragile than their black and red counterparts and
thus transporting them is a trickier and more expensive proposition as they’re more likely to bruise and crush.

Kitty Hill Organics. Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson.

“That’s one reason why people don’t grow them,” says Grewett.

“We know what we know– we all get used to eating things we know and are familiar with like red raspberries,” says Goldy, offering another reason why they aren’t as popular as reds.

There’s truth to that. How many of us have bought kohlrabi lately?

“I don’t know of anyone else growing them in the area,” he adds.

All this makes them more of niche market type of fruit, found more often at farmers’ markets than in stores.
There are other distinctions as well, Grewett explains.

Unlike red and black raspberries that have two growing seasons and often are referred to as everbearing, goldens fruit just once in late August and into September.

When looking for goldens, remember they’re also called by the rather bland name of yellow raspberries and the much more exciting champagne raspberries.

More golden raspberries. Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson.

Speaking of that bubbly drink, Maria Neville, owner of Body Logic in downtown St. Joseph suggested adding golden raspberries to a freshly poured glass of champagne, prosecco, or other sparkling wine. It’s about easy as can be except for getting the cork out of the bottle and but the look and taste is both elegant and spectacular. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, Grewett suggests adding goldens to seltzer water or lemonade.

“That is if you have any left,” she says, noting that they’re so tasty as is, they’re often consumed straight out of the box.

Grewett also likes goldens, a naturally muted strain of red raspberries, because of their health benefits.
“They’re full of vitamins B and C,” she says, adding that they also contain folic acid, iron, copper, and ellagic acid, a phenolic compound thought to prevent cancer. And despite their delicate looks, goldens are a powerhouse of dietary fiber accounting for approximately 20% of its weight.

Photo by Jane Simon Ammeson

Eating healthy and raising pesticide-free produce is one reason Grewett left a job as a hostess at Tosi’s Restaurant in Stevensville, Michigan one requiring her to dress in heels and formal wear and become a full-time farmer. She already was growing organic fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs for friends and family as well as for herself but wanted to make it easily available for others as well.

Now, when you stop by the farm, she’s typically wearing old jeans or shorts, t-shirts, thick gloves, and knee-high rubber boots good for mucking around in the dirt and mud.

“When people bring their children here and they see carrots or here and they see carrots or fresh beets growing out of the ground or raspberries on the vine they get so excited,” she says. “I like that they can pick and eat a tomato still warm from the sun and not have to worry about chemicals. It’s a great way to show kids—and adults—the connection to what we grow and what we eat.”

Cindy Grewett’ s Golden Raspberry Custard with Chocolate Sauce

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons corn starch

1/3 cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Golden raspberries

Chocolate sauce

Place milk, butter and vanilla extract in a saucepan and cook at medium heat until mixture is simmering being sure to stir frequently so mixture doesn’t burn.

Remove mixture from heat before it comes to a boil. Mix cornstarch, sugar, salt, and egg yolks in a saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Return milk and butter mixture to the stove and slowly add cornstarch mixture (if you add too quickly egg yolks will cook), whisking constantly until custard thickens enough to coat the bottom of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Let cool. Top with golden raspberries and then drizzle chocolate sauce over the custard. Serve.

Red & Golden Raspberry White Chocolate Napoleon. Photo courtesy of Driscoll’s Berries.

Red and Golden Raspberry White Chocolate Napoleon

Recipe courtesy of Driscoll’s Berries

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 ounces chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips (about 2/3 cup)

4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese

1/2 cup part-skim or reduced fat ricotta cheese

1 1/3 cup each red and golden raspberries

3 sheets filo dough (14 x 18 inches each)

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside a second baking sheet and parchment paper of the same size.

Place one sheet of filo on work surface.

Brush with one-third butter and sprinkle with half sugar. Cover with the second sheet of filo, brush with one-third butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Lay third sheet of filo on top and brush with remaining butter. Trim filo edges evenly and cut stack into 18 rectangles, about 2-1/2 x 4-inches each.

Arrange rectangles in a single layer on parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with second piece of parchment and second baking sheet. (Bake in two batches if pieces don’t fit in one pan.) Bake 15 to 17 minutes until filo is golden brown, lifting top baking sheet to check. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Heat white chocolate in a glass or ceramic bowl in microwave 60 seconds, or just until chocolate is softened. Stir until melted. Stir in cream cheese and mix until smooth. Stir in ricotta and mix well. Mixture can be prepared up to four hours ahead, covered and refrigerated.

To assemble the layers, spread a thin layer (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) white chocolate and cheese mixture on each of the six filo pieces. Top with about 12 raspberries. Spread a layer of filling on six more filo pieces, place white chocolate side down over raspberries. Repeat filling and raspberries on each napoleon. Reserve 1 1/2 teaspoons white chocolate mixture and set aside.

Spread remaining white chocolate mixture on last six pieces of filo. Place white chocolate side down over berries. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and secure a raspberry on top each napoleon with a dab of the reserved white chocolate mixture. Serve within 30 minutes.

Abra Berens of Granor Farms in Southwest Michigan Nominated for a James Beard Award.

              For all those who have been opining that Southwest Michigan is indeed become a food-centric destination thanks to our great farmers and the crops they grow in fields and orchards, multiple wineries, breweries, distilleries, chefs and food producers, the biggest proof came last week when Abra Berens, chef in residence for Granor Farm in Three Oaks was nominated for the Best Chef award in the Great Lakes Region by the James Beard Foundation. This coveted honor came about for multifold reasons including her best selling cookbook Ruffage: A Practical Guide of Vegetables (Chronicle Books 2019: $35). The book make veggies easily accessible and tasty. Containing 300 recipes based upon 29 vegetables, the cookbook was on numerous top ten cookbooks for 2019. Then there is also Granor’s Farmhouse Dinners, often featuring celebrity chefs, she prepares. These dinners, based on what’s grown on the farm as well as locally sourced foods, attract people locally but also from Chicago, Detroit and even Indianapolis. For the last two years, each dinner has sold out and has had a waiting list.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” says Abra when I called to congratulate her. “I think the term was gob smacked when I found out. A long time ago I figured it was not my wheelhouse because my food is not fancy food.”

It turns out that Abra heard about the honor from a friend who lives in Pennsylvania and saw the press release from the James Beard Foundation and immediately pulled it up on her phone. It was hard to read but there it was.

Abra Berens’s Vinegar Braised Onions with Seared Whitefish and Arugula

She grew up cooking and has worked in restaurants since she was 16 including Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor and then at Ballymaloe Cookery School and Farm, a 100-acre organic farm in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. In ways Ballymaloe was similar to Granor in that what they grew on the farm was served at its restaurant and guest house.

“It was an education for me—that connection with what a farm is growing and the meals you eat,” she says.

Abra Berens’s Roasted Parsnips w/Fresh Goat Cheese, Pecans and Pickled Apricots

Next stop was Neal’s Yard Dairy, a serious cheese shop where staff people like her worked with some 40 cheesemakers, in selecting, maturing and selling farmhouse cheese made in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  From there, she headed to Chicago where became the executive chef at Stock Café at Local Foods, Vie and the Floriole Cafe & Bakery. As if that wasn’t hectic enough, Abra also co-founded Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. That meant a round trip commute of 700 milers on a regular basis for six years

It was worth it, says Abra about those six years, because she wanted to do dinners based on what she grew.

It worked well in Chicago and definitely does in Three Oaks as well.

              Granor Farm is expanding too.

              “We’re adding new space to the kitchen and we’re working to grow vegetables year round by building indoor growing space,” she says. “We’re putting in refrigeration to add dairy such as artisan cheeses from Windshadow Farm in Hartford, Evergreen Lane Cheese and Creamery in Fennville and Capriole Goat Cheese in Greenville, Indiana.”

              They’re also growing heritage varieties of wheat, rye and corn. Their Bloody Butcher corn, a variety grown by Daniel Boone’s brother Squire almost 250 years ago, is used by Molino Tortilleria in Sawyer to make their corn tortillas.  Abra also plans on making and selling bread from these heirloom grains using a wood burning oven.

Tortillas from Molino Tortilleria

              All in all, though she didn’t ever expect it, Abra definitely deserves the James Beard nod. It’s a first for Southwest Michigan and shows all the great things—foodwise—to come.

The following recipes are reprinted from Ruffage by Abra Berens with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019.

“Parsnips are perfect for roasting because they are naturally a bit drier than carrots or sweet potatoes,” she writes at the beginning of this recipe. “I like to roast them pretty hard so that their little chips burn, foiling the natural sweetness of the root. As with all oven roasted things, allow enough space between the pieces on the baking sheet; A convection oven will help develop that crispy exoskeleton on the veggie comma and cook until the roots are tender when pierced with a knife. “

Roasted Parsnips w/Fresh Goat Cheese, Pecans and Pickled Apricots

“Pickling dried fruit heightens its flavor by introducing a serious tang and a touch of salt,” she writes explaining the reasoning behind pickling. “It breathes new life into a pretty standard pantry staple. It works with all dried fruit though Apple chips get weird and soggy. You can also pickle fresh fruit, though this was sometimes soften the flesh to mush so be gentle with the heat. I love this with basil, which is increasingly available from year-round growers. If you can find good looking basil, either drizzle with basil oil or use parsley or mixture of parsley, tarragon, and or mint. “

10 parsnips or about 2 pounds, ends cut off, peeled and cut into obliques1/4 Cup olive oil, plus more for cooking the parsnips

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar

1 half cup dried apricots cut into 1/4 inch strips

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

1 cup pecans, toasted

6 leaves basil, torn

Heat the oven to 400° F. Toss the parsnips with a big glug (about two tablespoons) of olive oil, 2 pinches of salt, and 2 grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until the parsnips are tender and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Heat the vinegar, salt and brown sugar to boiling. Pour this over the apricots and let them sit for 10 minutes. These will keep for weeks so feel free to scale up and have some on hand.

Drain the apricots reserving the liquid for dressing or making a spritzer with soda water. Remove the parsnips from the oven, toss with the ¼ cup olive oil and let it absorb for a couple of minutes.

Place on a serving platter, dot with the goat cheese, scattered the pecans and apricots over them, garnish with torn pieces of basil and serve.

Variations

w/currants, walnuts, blue cheese + burnt honey

10 parsnips (about 2 pounds)

1/2 cup honey

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup currents

1/2 cup walnuts

4 ounces blue cheese

One sprig rosemary, stripped and minced

After roasting the parsnips, removed them in the oven and turn on the broiler. Combined the honey and water to thin. Drizzle the roasted parsnips with the honey mixture and slide under the broiler to char like a toasted marshmallow. Removed from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the currents pickled (same as for the apricots, if you like), walnuts, blue cheese and rosemary.

w/other roots, garlic mayo + sage

5 parsnips (1 pound)

5 carrots (1 pound)

1 celery root (1/2 pound)

2 sweet potatoes (1 pound)

5 sunchokes (1/2 pound)

½ cup garlic mayo

3 sprigs sage, cut into thin slices or fried in oil until golden and crispy

Roast the roots drizzle with the garlic mayo and garnish with the sage.

Garlic Mayo

For the mayo, combine two crushed cloves of garlic, the juice and a half cup of mayonnaise. 

Vinegar Braised Onions with Seared Whitefish and Arugula

8 shallots or cippolini

Neutral oil salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar

1- 6-ounce filet of white fish per person

4 ounces arugula

1/4 cup olive oil

Heat the oven to 325°F.

Clean the shallots. Cut them in half from top to bottom.

Heat a glug (about two tablespoons) of neutral oil in a medium of improved frying pan until just above smoking.

Sear the onions, cut side down until well charred. Flipping season with a hefty sprinkle of salt and pepper. Char the other, grounded side as best as you can. As long as there is a good char on the cut side, you’ll be good.

Remove from the heat and pour the vinegar over the onions, getting it into the petals of the onion. Be aware it will spit as the vinegar hits the hot pan and will probably make you cough. Cover with foil or parchment paper and place in the oven. Bake until the onions are tender, about 25 minutes. In a large frying pan heat a glug (about two tablespoons) of neutral oil until smoking hot. Blot the whitefish skin dry, sprinkle with salt and sear, skin side down, about 5 minutes.

When the skin releases from the pan, place the whole pan in the already hot oven to cook through, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, dress the arugula with olive oil in a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Serve the fish, skin side up, top with arugula and onions, spooning the onion liquid over the whole thing period.