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Rating Plates in BenziePrint

Food & Farming | September 8, 2010 | By Karly Wentzloff

The Betsie Bay Inn’s “green plate” includes local whitefish with bacon, asparagus, and purple potatoes. The Cabbage Shed and The Coho Café are also competing in the Benzie-area contest.

I am not a meat and potatoes girl, but the chefs participating in the Green Plate challenge—a local food entre contest among four Frankfort-Elberta restaurants—are starting to change that. To date, I have tried a “green plate” at three of the four and I am impressed by what they are cooking up.

The Coho Café was the first stop on my culinary adventure. The experience started off a little shaky, because when I asked the waitress for the green plate she looked at me, processed my request and said, “Oh, the whitefish.”

My response was, “Sure, if that is the green plate.”

She then gave me a choice of sides, including rice, which I am sure would have made the plate less than 90 percent locally sourced, one of the contest’s basic rules. Anyway, I made the sensible choice of roasted potatoes, and it was a great one! The fish was pan seared, drizzled with a burre blanc that was laid over a handful of potatoes, and topped with steamed broccolini. It was standard whitefish done well, and I seriously considered licking the buttery goodness off my plate at the end of my meal! Overall, it was a great lakeside meal.

Next I visited the king of rustic beachside charm—the Cabbage Shed. You cannot fake character like the Shed’s; it only comes with years of love and patronage. The night I visited, the green plate was a brisket smothered in dill cheese, green pepper, and onion and served on a hoagie loaf with a side of roasted potatoes. They ended up taking it off of the menu because the brisket came out so tough, but I give them an A for effort.

After all, the Shed folks were cooking with what was available, and that doesn’t always turn out perfectly the first time. That is part of the challenge—sourcing locally and being adaptable. They made my wait worth it when I came back later that week: rib eye steak smothered in grilled scallions, garlic smashed potatoes and green beans, with dill cheese baked onto them. Amazing! Best steak and potatoes I’ve had in years—an all-American classic with Northwestern Michigan charm.

The Betsie Bay Inn was my next stop. A Victorian-style charmer, The Betsie Bay Inn offered the most ambitious green plate menu. It was printed on a menu insert and included an appetizer and entrée. The appetizer was a trio of bruschetta; one with heirloom tomatoes, onion and Fustini’s balsamic vinegar and garlic oil; the second was a yogurt and radish; and the final was unexpected combination—cherry compote with crumbled bacon. The sweet, smoky flavors melded together to create a flavor that was worth savoring!

The entrée was a generous plank of whitefish with asparagus spears crossing over it. It was almost as if the asparagus guarded the baked whitefish, which was the prize of the plate, topped with dill cheese and bacon. The plate was finished with roasted purple potatoes and a beautiful edible orchid. It was a lot of food, and beautifully done. The Betsie Bay Inn is bringing some classy, fine dining to this challenge.

As for Tali Bistro, I stopped in only to find they do not have a green plate on the menu. I tried again two weeks later, thinking they have had plenty of time to bring it back, but I struck out again. I plan to try one more time, but three strikes and you’re out.

The challenge of consistently bringing in local foods for a green plate might be proving too much to bear for that Frankfort eatery, but I applaud their intentions, if not their effort.

In the mean time, it is inspiring to watch Benzie County showcase its local food economy. I recommend calling ahead to any of these eateries if you are hungry for a green plate special. When testing these uncharted waters there are bound to be rough seas.

The current standings for the Green Plate are out: The Cabbage Shed is in the lead, with almost 100 points, which raises this question: should it be based on total points or average rating? The only way to know which restaurant is up to the challenge is to try them yourself, so get out there…and don’t forget to rate the plate!

Karly Wentzloff interned this summer at the Michigan Land Use Institute; she currently lives in Benzie County. Reach her at karly@mlui.org