Good things happen at Shirleys 3/30/09
The first thing you notice about Shirleys Café Family Restaurant in Mancelona is the vibrant energy of the place. The restaurant gleams spic and span; there are plenty of smiles on the faces of the staff; and there always seems to be a good crowd of customers, drawn by the generous portions of good food.
That positive energy positively radiates from owner Shirley Tracey, who established the restaurant on US 131 in Mancelona just a year and four months ago. Since then, word-of-mouth has made it one of the most popular stops in Antrim County.
But Shirleys Café didnt just happen overnight -- Tracey is carrying on a family tradition that dates back to 1956, when her grandparents, Bill and Laura, opened Averys restaurant. She spent 40 years waiting tables and raising five kids before taking the plunge.
Averys is closed now, but I grew up working there and I still use my Grandmas recipe for pancakes and my other Grandma Gildners recipe for cinnamon rolls, Tracey says.
The traditions of family and small town hospitality still ring true at Shirleys, where Traceys husband Sam and daughter Emily Joy are part of the team. What we do here today is basically mom cooking, she says. Its not fancy, but we try to be as creative and healthy as we can.
And thats not just lip service, because Tracey has a deep interest in nutrition that finds its outlet in menu items such as carrot wheat bread and flax seed muffins. She cites the book, In Defense of Food - An Eaters Manifesto, as an influence and keeps pace with the latest findings on healthful eating.
Often, that quest gets back to the kind of preservative-free, natural, fresh foods that are at the heart of home cooking. Everything is real here -- thats the goal, she says.
That means using wild Maine blueberries, local produce, fresh chicken, fresh sauerkraut, homemade breads, muffins and pies, and roasting their own corned beef, to name a few qualities. I love to cook and I may start with someone elses recipe and then tweak it, Tracey says. Every time I get a bowl of dough I love to try my hand at something new; but its always got to be something healthy that you can enjoy.
Prices are pocket-friendly as well, with breakfasts starting at $2.59, running to $7.59 for a creole shrimp omelette and $7.99 for a hearty three-egg omelette with corned beef hash, potatoes and pancakes. Lunch choices run $4.59 to $7.99, with choices including burgers, BLTs, wraps, reubens, and baskets of chicken strips, smelt, clams, shrimp and wings. For a healthy choice, check out their turkey wrap or black bean burger wrap.
Dinner specialties start at $8.99 and include a variety of steaks, chicken, fish, ham, pot roast and liver options. The pot roast is a restaurant specialty, with the meat slow-roasted on site. There are also South of the Border options with a wet burrito and taco salad, and a number of hearty salads with chicken or shrimp.
Nor is hospitality lacking, because with all those years of waitressing in the rearview, Tracey well understands the importance of a smile and prompt table service in keeping the customers happy. That attitude is reflected by the friendly staff and the spotless dining room.
If youre just hungry and want to eat, you can always microwave a can of soup and stay home, she notes. But if you want to feel special, you go out to a restaurant. Its our job to make you feel happy to be here in addition to having a good meal.
Shirleys Café Family Restaurant is located at 528 S. Williams Street (US 131), Mancelona. Hours 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Ph. 231-587-1210.
~By Robert Downes