Historically, the Lake Michigan shoreline town of Ludington has been more well-known for its beautiful natural amenities than a sophisticated food scene. Visitors come for the sprawling beaches, the scenic state park and its thriving fishing industry. It’s a summer destination to get away from a busy city life in Chicago, Detroit and other metropolitan areas.
But Laura and Howard Iles, owners of Table 14, are changing Ludington’s dining profile. The atmosphere at their southern-inspired restaurant is simple, yet upscale, with only 14 tables (thus the name), blues music for ambiance and a modestly sized bar. Its unique menu keeps people coming back.
“My husband has been in the restaurant business since he was 18 years old,” said Laura, who not only runs the front of the house at Table 14 but also works as a real estate agent.
“He is a chef, it’s his passion.”
Howard, the executive chef, attended culinary school in Charleston, South Carolina. The couple spent 15 years in the Charleston area while Howard worked several different culinary-focused jobs. When they moved back to the area to be closer to family, they realized how much they missed the southern cuisine of Charleston.
“When I came back, it was like I didn’t know what I had until it was gone,” Howard said. “(When I created the menu), I was pulling from what we were doing down there while also using local products from here.”
Table 14 officially opened in July 2016. Its menu, which changes seasonally, features southern specialties, like praline chicken or shrimp and grits, with a fresh, upscale twist.
“We use a lot of seafood like we did down south,” Laura said. “We don’t do much fried food, though, which I think is what people expect with southern cuisine.”
One of the chef’s favorite dishes is a Carolina Sweet Tea Duck. The duck is marinated for one to two nights in a sweet-savory pepper and sweet tea concoction before being pan-seared. Howard then takes more of the marinade, reduces it and uses it as a finishing sauce. The duck is served with a parmesan risotto and vegetables.
“When I came back, it was like I didn’t know what I had until it was gone. (When I created the menu), I was pulling from what we were doing down there while also using local products from here.”
— Howard Iles
Although the menu is inspired by the south (with sides like collard greens, stone ground grits and succotash), classic dishes like pan-seared sea scallops, filet mignon, and a Steakhouse Burger set the tone for the rest of the menu. Po’boys, which are made with your choice of fried oysters, shrimp or whitefish, seem much more upscale than they would in any other setting.
In the beginning, the Ileses wanted Table 14 to be “a wine place.” Laura said Ludington doesn’t have a lot of restaurants with big wine selections. But as Table 14 completes its second full summer season, the Ileses have shifted their focus to craft cocktails.
“I feel it’s necessary,” Howard said. “Craft cocktails are booming as much as beers, but no one around here is doing that.”
Table 14 offers a range of cocktails from classics like the Negroni to more creative options.
- 1 ounce gin
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
Stir ingredients over ice. Garnish with an orange peel.
“Our goal is to bring the area a taste of southern cuisine with as fresh of a product as I can get,” Howard said. The couple said much of their business currently comes from Ludington’s booming tourism, but they are hopeful that locals and summer-dwellers alike will continue to learn and grow with Table 14’s unique experience.
“Laura and Howard have done an amazing job with Table 14,” said Kathy Maclean, President/CEO of Ludington Chamber of Commerce. “Their décor and unique menu with southern comfort food options provide a dining experience unlike anything else in Ludington.”
Megan Westers is a freelance writer and editor based in mid-Michigan who enjoys writing about politics, lifestyle and travel.