(Sawyer, MI) — Now that we’re mug club members, our trips to Greenbush Brewing get us to Sawyer quite regularly. Right next door is a small restaurant with the placard reading Fitzgerald’s out front. Throughout the winter, we’ve been past, thinking it was probably one of those Irish pub places and since Greenbush has such good grub, why would we pay much attention? Well, never judge a book, as they say. Recently, we noticed a sign announcing their new menu. One peek and we knew we’d have to visit soon...

He Fed:

Our first attempt at dining with Fitzgerald’s ended disastrously. We were mighty hungry on that fateful Wednesday. After snapping some photos of the building, I anxiously tugged at the front door...only it was locked. Evidently, during the off-season(?) they closed on hump day. Despite their website proclaiming a full 7 day work week, a chalkboard on the door begged to differ. We shrugged and went next door for some beer and pizza.

On this Thursday, we tried again. This time they are open. A handful of loud-talkers sit at the monstrous bar, so we opt to sit outside on the patio. Our hostess turns out to be our waitress too, and it’s her first week on the job! We promise to be gentle, taking a few minutes to acquaint ourselves with the menu. I begin with a New Holland Mad Hatter, not my favorite IPA but scratched the hop itch. I love the tall glass it’s poured in, and the larger 20 ounce beers are delivered in towering glass mugs; the one pint is enough for me tonight, though.

Just as we’re considering which appetizer to order, the sun sets and a chill creeps in. We confer, then gather our stuff and shamble inside where it’s warmer. Juliet is up for Pan-Roasted Calamari or Seared Haloumi. Since I know I’ll be getting tentacles for dinner, I agree to try the cheese. Three small bricks are served atop a small frisee salad. I also spy capers and a vinaigrette that turns out to be lime cilantro, though not as demonstrative as that served at Cravings. The cheese is salty, crispy and although garlic is on the ingredient list, I don’t detect it. I’m comforted and satisfied with the app, though $9 may be a buck or two too steep for the portion.

Also on the appetizer menu is Grilled Baby Octopus, but it’s available as an entree too. That’s up my alley! (In truth, I picked this dish almost a month ago. Rabbit is my second choice, but I overhear another server say it’s unavailable this evening. Whew!) When my dinner arrives, I’m struck by the sheer amount of octopus on the plate. Blackened tentacles and suckers piled high atop another batch of greens, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette, feta cheese, and olives. Yowza! My first bite encounters a firm yet not rubbery chunk of meat. There’s just a slight “sea” taste that is not unpleasant. I do prefer my octopi more tender (like Baker & Banker’s preparation) though the charred bits are delightfully crunchy. The cheese and olives add just the right Mediterranean touch. Again, $21 is probably a couple dollars overpriced, but I’m happy overall.

I’m craving coffee and they have Lavazza espresso, so I order a cuppa. And what goes better with hot joe than Sticky Toffee Pudding? Except, maybe Sticky Toffee Pudding with a scoop of Vanilla Bean ice cream? It’s the perfect capper to a solid meal. Our charming waitress asks for constructive criticism before she brings the bill. I point out she neglected to inform us of the specials. It didn’t matter in the long run, since I’d already decided what I was eating, but it would have been nice to know. She took the comment with grace, and I assured her we’d be back on a regular basis. After all, I need to find out if the rabbit is really as good as it sounds on paper.

She Fed:

Despite the sting of driving to Fitzgerald’s on a Wednesday only to find them closed (their website is obviously not kept up to date), we give them a second chance and head on down for dinner one weeknight. There’s only a handful of patrons inside and no one’s on the patio, so we we opt for al fresco dining. Unfortunately, it’s chillier than we realized so we head back inside after a few minutes.

Our server is cute as a button and explains she’s new. She asks us to please be patient with her as she’s still learning the menu and tells us she will do her best. Through the course of the evening she holds her own and takes great care of us, save for forgetting to tell us the evening’s specials. At the end of the meal, she asks us point blank for any feedback or suggestions we have for her improvement. I don’t think I’ve ever had a server take such an openly proactive approach and I just think she’s a gem.

I’m hankering for a buttery, oaky Chardonnay and order a glass of the J Lohr. I know big Chards have fallen out of favor, but every once in a while it’s what I crave. We decide to share an order of the Seared Haloumi as a starter. It’s lightly browned, served over mixed greens with capers and a tangy vinaigrette. The saltiness of haloumi is always a treat and this one’s no exception. The capers give it a nice piquant bite and my wine goes down way too easy with this dish.

For dinner, I’m torn between the Smoked Half Chicken or the Grilled or Poached Salmon. You don’t see many places offering poached salmon these days and this one’s served chilled with infused lentils (which are also offered as a vegetarian option on their own) or with the veggie and potato of the day. Chilled poached salmon always reminds me of Easter brunch with my grandparents in Phoenix. Every year I’d visit them for a week and we’d go to a fancy hotel for brunch after church on Easter. There was always leg of lamb carved to order and huge platters of chilled poached salmon, both of which I would eat entirely too much of.

I decide to make my choice based on what the veg and potato of the day is. When our server shares it’s roasted asparagus and cheesy mashed potatoes, I know I’ve got to go with the chicken. It’s a huge plate and I end up taking the dark meat home. (I see great leftovers ahead!) The chicken is smoked over cherrywood and while the white meat is slightly dry, daubing it in the creamy potatoes is absolutely divine. The mashed potatoes have large chunks of potato remaining, which is fine by me as I love lumpy mashers. They’re buttery and rich. Jeremy sneaks a few bites of them even. The asparagus are those big thick stalks, not the puny skinny ones a lot of places pass off. They’re ever so slightly charred from roasting and incredibly tasty. Such a comforting dinner!

Jeremy surprises me by ordering desert. I have no business eating another bite, but the Bourbon Cherry Gelato sounds so good I order a scoop. It’s gritty, full of cherry fiber, and lacking any trace of bourbon flavor. I stick with my liquid dessert—the Chard. Despite the lackluster gelato, I know we will be back to give the patio another try!

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