Salt of the Earth holds on to its rustic roots
The small farming community of Fennville was not known for fine cuisine until the Journeyman Café opened in late 2003. Dan and I made the hour-long trek from Grand Rapids on several occasions to enjoy the cutting-edge American food served in a relaxed, minimalist atmosphere. We were crushed when the Journeyman closed in 2008. I was cautiously optimistic when Salt of the Earth opened in the former Journeyman space. Could Fennville pull off another restaurant worthy of a road trip?
Salt of the Earth, a self-described “Rustic American Eatery & Bakery,” is open seven days a week and ambitiously offers café fare, brunch, lunch and dinner. The two times Dan and I visited, we waited at the bar for about half an hour and enjoyed a glass of wine. The restaurant accepts reservations for parties of six or more. If you have fewer than six in your party, expect to wait on weekends during the busy summer months.
The dinner menu consists of sharing plates, salads, sandwiches, pasta, wood-fired pizzas and entrees. Salt of the Earth also offers a “Fresh Board” with seasonal specials that showcase local growers and producers. While the pizzas look absolutely delicious, there’s a lot of good pizza in the world, so we focused our efforts on the rest of the menu.
For shared plates, we tried the brick oven spinach & cheese gratin ($8). I love spinach, but I was reluctant to order the gratin because it calls to mind that green-flecked white goop that is commonly found on bar and restaurant menus. Nevertheless, we ordered the gratin upon the recommendation of our server. It was outstanding! The dish included fresh wilted spinach, a restrained amount of béchamel sauce seasoned with a hint of nutmeg and was finished off with some parmesan cheese. We also tried the pan seared walleye ($9.50), which was good, but not remarkable.
We both ordered the farmer’s greens, which were served to the table family-style. The salad was a generous serving of fresh greens and fixings with a tasty balsamic parmesan dressing. The salad was served with a selection of house-made artisan breads. My personal favorite is the “Seedy Salty.” On our second visit, I tried the raw tomato soup from the Fresh Board. It was bright and very tangy from the addition of vinegar, but maybe a little too much.
The seafood entrees include bone-in roasted salmon ($19.75) and a whole oven roasted trout ($23). Dan tried the roasted trout, which he found to be simply, but expertly prepared with arugula, lemon, chive and salsa verde. We also liked the bone-in chicken special, which was marinated in buttermilk and fried, and then served over a slice of moist cornbread ($16.75). The entrees also include plenty of meaty dishes, including the braised pork shoulder ($19), char grilled ribeye ($24) and grilled hanger steak served with oven roasted shallot, brown butter and potato puree ($19).
The entrees are served with a choice of a side. You also can order them a la carte ($4.75). You don’t expect for the side to be the highlight of the meal, but it was. For both dinners, Dan and I shared a side of the brussel sprouts. Forget everything you’ve ever thought about a brussel sprout because these are not your typical sprouts. The cooking method, which appears to involve high heat and lots of balsamic vinegar and oil, creates some truly magical sprouts! Next time, I’m getting my own order.
For dessert, we shared the Wood Fire Toasted S’more ($5). This s’more on steroids includes a home-made marshmallow, graham cracker crumbs, milk chocolate pudding and salted caramel. I usually don’t go for the super sweet desserts, but I have to admit it was good. The dessert menu also includes the S.W. Michigan Milkshake ($5) and a seasonal fruit crisp ($6).
As an added bonus, Salt of the Earth presents free live music on Friday and Sunday nights. The music starts at 9 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Sunday. We were fortunate to have a table close to the stage for a Friday night performance of folk duo Red Tail Ring. You can check the calendar on the restaurant website to see who is playing. The small stage is on the bar side of the restaurant. The music can be heard throughout the restaurant, but if you want to see the band, ask for a table on the bar side.
The verdict? Salt of the Earth offers fresh, affordable, crowd-pleasing American fare. It’s worthy of a road trip, especially on a Friday or Sunday night when you can enjoy the live entertainment.Salt of the Earth ( Rating: out of 5 )
Where: East Main Street, Fennville
Hours: 7 a.m. to close everyday; brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends; lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays; dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Ambiance: Rustic American Bistro
How much will it cost you: Dinner entrees and pizzas run from $13.00 to $19.50; most of the lunch and brunch entrees are in the $8.00 to $12.00 range.
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Only for parties of six or more
Wireless Internet: Yes
Contact: (269) 561-SALT