From now until the white stuff starts falling from the sky, we take advantage of every nice day we get and hit the road. Today is perfect; blue sky, sunny, t-shirt temperature, let’s go! There’s still a lot of country surrounding the big city of Detroit; Kris points the Jeep north toward Imlay City, on the way we’ll stop to check out a unique collection of balloon-tire bicycles, classic cars, toys and lots and lots of old stuff located on the grounds of a quaint make-believe town called Chestnut Hollow. The father and son duo, Jerry and Jerry, have been collecting for over 40 years; when a building could hold no more, they simply built another one. Each unique and old-fashioned looking, they are designated as blacksmith, pool hall, general store, etc. creating their own personal village. There are no official business hours, I get the phone number off their website and give them a call; they say they’ll be there most of the day, we’re welcome to stop by.
Driving down Bordman Rd we spot the Chestnut Hollow sign, up the driveway a little, we are warned: Beware Of….. the rest is missing, it appears a giant something has taken a bite of the sign, I like a good sense of humor, this is going to be fun. Gravel crunches under the tires, veering right, we spot our hosts, ask where to park and make our introductions. The younger of the Jerry’s will be our tour guide, his father is in the process of mowing a large expanse of land. Stepping inside the first building, we come face to face with a beautiful green, early 1940’s, Ford sedan delivery. To the right an antique Coke machine is for sale, around the corner from that is a 7-Up machine. Stuff is everywhere; old sleds hang from the ceiling, vintage strollers, car parts and signs fill up the space. A glass case is jam-packed with parts and accessories. Walking over to the building that houses the bicycle collection we pass the Pool Hall; antique stoves and weathered barrels take up residence on the porch, vintage signs are hung on many of the structures, rusty bike frames lay in piles.
When the door is unlocked, we enter classic bicycle heaven. Wall to wall balloon-tire bikes are laid out in rows, vintage posters and calendars are hung on walls, a traffic light hangs in the corner. Prominently mounted on a shelf above the other two-wheelers is a Bowden Spacelander in Outer Space Blue; they only made 544 of these fiberglass frame beauties, making them very collectible. One must be conscious of where one steps, it’s a tight squeeze between Roadmaster, Elgin, Monark, Murray and Columbia bikes, Jerry claims this the largest collection of balloon-tire bikes around, I don’t doubt it. The frames are sturdy looking, they sport features such as front and rear fenders, tanks, skirt guards and large (comfy-looking) seats. Many have springer front-end suspension, head badges are fancy, designs are highly detailed. Kris’s favorite thing is the headlights, some are Deco, others, space-age, all of them are super cool! While wandering I come across an antique cigarette machine; dark wood and mirrored it’s gorgeous, Jerry tells me it is still full of matches, sweet. An airplane hangs above us, a room to the side has hundreds of tires, bike seats and rims. Here and there we pass once cherished toys, cameras and long-forgotten games.
The next building seems to specialize in TV and movie memorabilia; autographed photos, a hat from Forbidden Planet, foreign posters and items used in films are proudly displayed. From room to room we admire collections of King Kong pieces, robots and other objects from Lost In Space, lunchboxes, Erector sets, aviation pieces, even a little bit of Abbott and Costello. Back outside the old Ford is sitting in the sun, looks ready for a ride, veteran gas pumps and some old milk cans take us back to another time. It’s impossible to see everything; from funky to fabulous, there’s just so much! We thank our hosts for allowing us to visit, then continue toward Imlay City.
Seems everybody’s talking about Mike and Matt Romine’s gastro pub called The Mulefoot. It doesn’t get more fresh and local than this; they raise the Mulefoot pigs used in the pork dishes themselves, produce comes from the family garden and nearby farmer’s fields, even the money raised to open the place came directly from community members, how awesome is that? Seems the twin brothers have shared a life-long interest in food, both growing and preparing it. After culinary school then working in some of the finest restaurants in the US and abroad, they returned to their hometown of Imlay City to open a place of their own. The former banquet hall has been transformed into a hip, stylish, yet comfortable space. Old barnwood, and animal skulls remind us we’re in the country, the art work is bold and colorful. The food menu changes frequently in keeping with the seasons, Michigan craft beers and spirits are featured along with about 50 wines.
It’s Sunday, everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious; Kris picks something sweet, I choose the savory. Our server is friendly and outgoing, he takes the time to explain the restaurant’s farm to table philosophy. I sip on a glass of luscious red wine recommended by the sommelier; now, as fancy as that sounds this is really a very chill, blue-jean friendly place. Our food is brought to the table, the kitchen was nice enough to split both dishes for us…..I love when they do that! I start with the MF Huevos Rancheros; house-made chorizo and beans in a yummy sauce topped with a chunk of bread and a fried egg, it’s sooo good! Make sure you get a little bit of everything on the fork at once for a perfect bite. The french toast, made with homemade bread, of course, is topped with strawberries and whole almonds. Fried in the perfect temperature butter it creates just the right crunch when you bite into it. The strawberries are fresh, not mushy, and lightly sweetened, the almonds nice and crisp. We had a chance to talk with Mike before leaving, his knowledge of food is incredible. From making vinegar from apples to sauerkraut and homemade walnut liquor, his enthusiasm for all things food is contagious! I’d advise making a reservation, word is getting out……
We get on old Van Dyke and begin going south, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down this stretch of road since I was born; surprisingly, things haven’t changed that much. In Almont we see an open farm market, Blake’s, and pull into the lot. A large bin in front holds the biggest ears of corn I have ever seen, bushel baskets are filled with ripe, red apples in several varieties, mums and mini pumpkins are piled on a table reminding us Autumn is right around the corner. Following the aroma of donuts being fried, we are drawn inside. The building is fully stocked with fresh peaches, plums, tomatoes, jars of jam and honey; it’s very cute inside. In the distance, hot donuts are calling our names……At the bakery counter we watch as the donut machine is being filled with batter, the batter is then dropped into the hot oil, it travels down the short river of fat where it is then flipped, cooking the other side. Finally the hot bundle of goodness lands in a wire bowl where it will cool. It’s a simple and effective process that leaves one longing for one of life’s tastiest treats: cider mill donuts. Kris and I eat one each, if it hadn’t been for brunch beforehand, there’s no telling how many we may have eaten. The batter has a hint of vanilla, the outside is slightly crunchy, the inside still warm, in other words, perfect! Can’t ask for a better ending to the day.