By Kathy Buzzelli
On the banks of the Leland River just a block from downtown, the Riverside Inn is within walking distance for many locals and resorters alike in Leland — the place to go for martinis on the deck after tennis or an adult night out following a family day at the beach. For Anne and Jay Frazer of Nashville, Tenn., it’s where to head for a nice meal and good glass of wine or Sunday brunch with their two young children.
“It’s special for us because you walk in and it feels like home,” said Anne, who has been spending summers in Leland her whole life, of the Riverside Inn. “You go back and see the same people. It’s like an old friend.”
The feeling is mutual for proprietors Kate Vilter and husband Tom Sawyer. Since they bought the inn in 1997 and turned it into the casual fine dining destination it is today, they’ve come to know many of their guests.
“Even though we are a tourist town, the bulk of my clients are the people who are here as summer residents,” said Vilter, a lifelong Leland summer resident herself. “On any given night, I probably know on a first-name basis 60 percent of my clients, and there are nights when I know almost everyone.”
The attraction is equal parts atmosphere and food. Beef tenderloin, Northern Michigan whitefish and seafood top dinner favorites. House-cured meats and local and imported cheeses go with that drink after golf. Scottsdale, Ariz. resident and self-described Leland summer “lifer” Tom Reahard can vouch for that.
At their home on Lake Leelanau every summer, he and his family ride Jet Skis and go boating. They golf and play tennis. At night, it’s board games. “But when it’s just me and the missus,” he shared, “it’s the Riverside.” Although, he added, “Sometimes we go there thinking it’s just going to be the two of us and we end up with a table for 12.”
In Onekema, The Glenwood is the quintessential summer inn.
It feels like a big, old-fashioned cottage. There’s an expansive screen porch overlooking Portage Lake. Lace curtains flutter in the breeze. Wood floors creak. Old photos adorn the walls. And there’s no air conditioning, but that doesn’t keep anyone away.
“We had the hottest summer on record last year and they just kept piling in the door,” said proprietor Donna Ervin, who with Chris Short opened the inn 19 years ago. “People love sitting on the porch.”
The Glenwood is the kind of place people make a night of; often, they’re celebrating — birthdays, anniversaries or simply, just being together.
They do it with a casual fine dining menu built largely around fresh seafood flown in daily. Almond-breaded shrimp is the most popular entrée, with blue cheese filet mignon a close second. The restaurant utilizes local foods, including whitefish.
A civilized respite after a day of boating, kayaking, fishing, golf or swimming, The Glenwood is well-known to regular summer visitors and increasingly, to some not-so-regulars. Last year, the inn played host to Michigan Speaker of the House John Boehner and auto racer Danica Patrick.
But it’s the people who come back year after year, generation after generation, who stand out most.
“We have people, when they’re coming north for the summer, who stop and have dinner at the restaurant before they even unload their car,” Ervin said. “Then they go stay at their cottage. They’re very loyal.”
Dinner at Andy’s
In the beachfront community of Port Sanilac, Van Camp House is a culinary oasis for visitors who come by land or boat.
In 2004, firefighter-turned-chef Andy Fabian and his wife, Pam, bought a home with lovingly maintained gardens and turned it into a restaurant. They literally live above the store, with the kitchen and indoor dining area seating up to around 60 on the main level.
The menu changes daily. Local farmers supply organic produce. “Chicken Bob” brings eggs and chickens all summer. A butcher in Minden City supplies some beef and pork. There isn’t a freezer in the house. “I actually print my menu every night at 4:30 p.m., a half-hour before we’re ready to go,” Fabian said.
Then the guests wander in, filling the dining room and outdoor decks. Maybe they’ve walked the three-quarters of a mile from the marina, or come after a day at the beach or a trip to the historical museum. Some have dinner before they take in a show at The Barn Theatre.
Many are seasonal regulars. “We just had a couple here — they go to Florida six months and come here for six months,” Fabian said. “This is their first stop when they go to their cottage and the last stop when they leave.”
There may be only one compliment that’s greater.
“A lot of people say it’s like dining at Andy’s house.”
Writer Kathy Buzzelli lives in Traverse City.