One of our favorite ways of exploring a new (to us) destination is by finding new, unique and local places to eat...and our recent trip to Ludington, Michigan gave us a couple of great ways to learn more about the town and its culture.
We find where we'd like to have a meal or spend a bit of time by reading travel sites, articles, checking out Yelp, asking locals and, one of our favorite ways of exploring, by just following our noses!
We arrived in Ludington cold, not really knowing much about life in Ludington that didn't revolve around the busy summertime tourist season. Many places close for the winter, making checking out some of the well-loved summer favorites impossible.
We soon found, however, that there were plenty of places where we would find a warm welcome during a cold January.
Here, then, is where I celebrated my recent birthday weekend!
The warm pub-like atmosphere and cold, craft beer made for a perfect dinner after a cold day of exploring the beach at Ludington.
Jamesport opened in 2000 and continues to keep its pledge of "helping Michigan's economy, one beer at a time!" by creating about a dozen and a half (at last count) craft beers that include traditional- and German-style beers for its James Street restaurant.
Jamesport Brewing Company is in six-storefront complex in downtown Ludington, with the first part of the complex built in 1890 and subsequent parts of the complex built in 1892 and 1905, giving the restaurant a vintage vibe of a long-established eatery in the center of town.
Our friendly server offered to bring me a couple of samples when I asked about the beers so that I could taste the brews before ordering. He took the time to find out the type of beer that I liked and we found a winner in the pub's Altbier, traditional German-style amber, although I also enjoyed the sample of Koelsch, a lighter golden brew that he brought me to try.
We opted for a couple of hot pretzels with, what else, bar cheese dip before heading straight to the entrees for dinner.
It was a cold night, so comfort food it was for us!
Tim had a heaping helping of classic Michigan Lake Perch with fries, while I ordered the Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese. Both left us debating about a making return trip during this short stay in the city, but we stuck to our plan of eating at a different place each day and putting Jamesport on our list for a return trip during the summer season.
Summer diners can enjoy dining on a covered outdoor patio, and weekend often brings live music to Jamemsport.
Both Tim and I are big fans of barbecue and decided to try one of Ludington's newer eateries for dinner on my birthday.
The Q Smokehouse opened in September of 2015 offering a variety of barbequed and smoked proteins and Southern-style sides in a casual diner or for take-out.
David Diephouse earned degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management at Grand Rapids Community College and worked in restaurants for 15 years before opting for a change of careers and landing in Ludington to work as an electrician!
He met his soon-to-be wife in town when he worked as an in-house electrician for the Harbor Terrance Condos for a couple of years.
His wife, who has an engineering degree from Michigan Tech and a master's in accounting from Grand Valley State University, knew about Diephouse's deep-held desire to have his own restaurant and encouraged him to follow his dream in Ludington.
Diephouse spent time developing his concept of a barbecue place offering a "meat and three" or "meat and two" (an idea common in Southern states where diners choose among daily smoked meat selections and two or three sides) as he searched for a site.
He eventually selected a spot on James Street just down the road from Jamesport Brewery and built a brand new building for his new eatery.
Local folks we talked with seemed excited about the food, even as they questioned the timing of the restaurant's opening in the off-season.
I think it may be the best idea as it should allow Diephouse to get to really know his customers and tweak his menus as he works toward gaining a tavern license before the busy summer season hits.
We love the emphasis on local sources for product and homemade menu items at The Q Smokehouse, where customers can check the list of local farms, grocery stores and bakeries listed on blackboards hung over the counter where they order food.
Diephouse also used cherry wood and other local fruit wood to produce the unique smoky flavor of his cooked meats. We're big fans of Memphis-style dry rubbed meat and really appreciated Diephouse's approach to offering the meats dry rubbed and smoked so that the flavor of the meat stands out.
Want a saucier entree? You can choose one of the homemade barbecue sauces at the restaurant's self-serve sauce station. We both enjoyed the mustard-and-vinegar based Carolina Sauce and I was a real fan of The Q Sauce, a house-made tomato-based sweet sauce with a little extra spice for heat.
The chicken looked pretty amazing, but we opted for the more traditional chopped pork and beef brisket (which it looks like Tim got the last of that night, judging from the diners who followed us and had to order something else!).
We both enjoyed our entrees, but I'm making a note to myself to try the chicken next time..."brined, rubbed with the Q's own Simon and Garfunkel rub" according to the menu, it sounds as good as it looked!
I got collard greens and pasta shells with cheese as sides and fresh cucumber pickles, while Tim had baked beans, collard greens and a pickled garlic condiment. Servings were tasty and plentiful, although given our taste for the mixture of hot and spicy foods, I always say that it's a good thing we love each other!
Choose from Michigan favorites like bottles of Faygo or craft pop on draft from Traverse City. Tim went for a classic orange pop, while I opted for a spicy ginger ale, which was, as advertised!
We decided it was my birthday and that we should try the house-made Key Lime Pie for dessert. Key Lime is one of my favorites, and Diephouse's version didn't let me down as he is also a trained pastry chef.
The restaurant seats about three dozen, although summer plans call for seating in patios in front of the place and behind it.
Diephouse also wants to support the local community. In lieu of tips, he asks diners to toss a bit of change into a bucket at the order counter, where he collected $392 during the January we visited for the local Habitat for Humanity group.
The Q Smokehouse offered the perfect spicy and sweet coda for our day, and we hope to return soon!
© Dominique King 2016 All rights reserved