Michigan's Best Breakfast Joint: Guest judge delivers his 'Bringing Home the Bacon' awards
Jake May | MLive.com
MLive statewide entertainment reporter
When Mike Jensen of Saranac first contacted me I thought: "This guy is too good to pass up!"
We met for breakfast in Lake Odessa and instantly I knew he would make a perfect companion -- after all, he had 30-plus years of experience as a cook and kitchen coordinator for county jails and the Ionia Correctional Facility.
His first job after graduating from Michigan State University was working as a chef at a Howard Johnson's. He knows what it's like in a busy kitchen.
He became my honorary "coach," someone I could trust to give me some honest feedback.
To his credit, he took the job seriously; he asked a lot of questions and participated in every aspect of our search for Michigan's Best Breakfast Joint. He only missed out on my trip to the Traverse City area.
After the week-long trip, Mike sent me a list of highlights, which he called:
THE BRINGING HOME THE BACON AWARDS
By Mike Jensen
While the week was all about the food, there were also a number of intangibles along the way that deserve some love, so here is 10 of them, in no particular order.
1. The “don’t judge a book by its cover” award goes to the Grass Lake Diner. Plain and unassuming outside. Anything BUT inside. Check it out for yourself.
2. The “eating well and feeling like a swell” award for the most elegant surroundings. No contest.. nice job Food Dance!
3. The “putting my heart into what I do award” goes to the whole family at Mussel Beach headed up by “Ma” Jacquie Larner. I was impressed with the passion that ALL the owner operators we met during the week brought to their restaurants, but doubt you’ll find any w/ a bigger heart than Jacquie. And you have to respect a lady who will spend $100 for a case of bacon because “that’s the quality my customers deserve”.
4. The “love my local breakfast joint” dedicated fan base award (based on crowd enthusiasm the day we visited the restaurant, coupled w/ the number of customers who stopped by our testing table to make a pitch for ranking their home court #1). This one was simply too close, so I called it a tie. Anna’s House and Full City CafÃ© clearly have the most passionate customers. Anyone for a tug-of-war on neutral territory to settle it?
5. The “jokes with your yolks” award for best sense of humor on the part of an owner/operator goes to Jim Koli at the Northside Grill in Ann Arbor who regaled us with wise cracks all thru breakfast. Clearly tuned into his customers and takes delight in ribbing them. See our video tutorial on cooking the perfect egg from Northside Grill.
6. The “tell me what it will take to win this competition” award goes to the manager at Toast in Ferndale who wasn’t getting in the frame just right for our video exit interview, so she accepted Gonzo’s offer to sit on his lap in order to get the right camera angle. Dedication to duty!! (Watch the video here.)
7. The “prison humor moment” on the tour was generated by Julie and Amy , the co-owners at Tootsies in Muskegon, who took it well when this 36 year veteran of prisons and jails flashed a knowing smile when they offered to take us on a tour of the kitchen and show us their “equipment.” My apologies ladies, I’ll clean up my act.
8. The largest 55+ “ WE would fix this mess in Washington” breakfast coffee club table was at the Wooden Spoon in Jackson/Spring Arbor where the table sat 8 and common sense was as prevalent as the eggs and toast. Let’s get THESE folks on the ballot next time.
9. The “give your server some love” award for the best service we received during the week (and a shout out to ALL our hosts and wait staff who took SUCH good care of us this past week) goes to Courtney at Hudson Cafe in Detroit, who was exceptionally well versed on the menu, gave us very attentive service and believes in the possibility of a Detroit renaissance (for which the owners at Hudson should be recognized as well, for THEIR commitment to Detroit). A close second in this category was Darlene Huggins at The Original House of Pancakes in Grosse Pointe Woods who was a kindred spirit w/ Gonzo re the love of good BBQ.
10. And last, but not least, the “You’ve GOT to be kidding” award, goes to Gonzo who said to me after our SIXTH breakfast stop on the Ann Arbor / Detroit day, said to me “There’s this GREAT ice cream place not far from here that was part of last year’s ice cream search. We should really stop and sample some.” Sadly they were closed for renovation. Not to be easily dissuaded, Gonzo knocked on the door. The young lady who answered the door said that the owner was tied up w/ the building inspector, so we moved on. But you have to love a guy who would even CONSIDER having ice cream after 6 breakfast stops and maybe even share a little for the guy who was willing to act as his accomplice in doing so.
So....in the words of an old TV show from the 60s (showing my age here) -- THAT was the week that was.
You did a great job, and we had a lot of fun.