It used to be last call in Frankfort was usually at Dinghy’s.
The former rowdy nightspot had a much different atmosphere than it does now, said owner Steve Christian, who has owned the restaurant since 2000.
“There used to be a pool table, jukebox – there’d be fights over the music,” he said. “It used to be the last-call bar. It was a completely different atmosphere.
“Now it’s very family oriented.”
The nautical décor at Dinghy’s is prominent, from the record-setting brown trout caught in Betsie Bay displayed behind the bar, to paddles, a ship’s bell and other seafaring items. Car ferry signs hang from the ceiling, while old maritime maps and photos adorn the walls.
Even before you walk through the door you’ll notice the stained glass windows above the entrance.
“The three stained glass windows were excluded from the sale,” says Christian. “I said, ‘You can’t do that. I’ll buy them if you make additional ones for each side.’” Now Poseidon holds forth on one end and a mermaid adorns the other.
There used to be more finned creatures residing in the restaurant, but they weren’t quite appropriate to the setting, Christian said.
“When I bought it,” he said, “it had tuna, barracuda – all these saltwater fish.”
Opting for more of a freshwater feel, Christian removed them all except for a lone shark, a favorite of wide-eyed children.
Of course, there’s plenty of fish on the menu, from Atlantic cod sliders served on mini French rolls to coconut shrimp and deep-fried shrimp. A favorite is the pan fried fish dinner, either walleye or whitefish.
The deep-fried onion blossom is one of the restaurant’s calling cards. Another is the bombas: Dinghy’s jalapeño poppers, stuffed with Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, tucked into a wonton wrapper, deep-fried and sprinkled with spicy Cajun seasonings.
The pulled pork BBQ sandwich tops the sandwich menu, alongside a cherry chicken almond wrap, French dip and make-your-own burger.
Those with a larger appetite may go for the Betsie Bay Burrito or match meat and seafood by adding shrimp to steak.
Despite its name, the restaurant is probably best known for its smoked meats. As an example, Christian points to the turkey drumsticks.
“We couldn’t give away turkey legs until we started smoking them,” he said.
Now the smoked brisket, pulled pork, BBQ chicken and especially the ribs are what diners order, Christian said.
“I think the ribs are best, and by far the most popular,” he said. “They’re flavorful and tender. Touch the meat with your knife and it just falls off the bone.”
Kelly Sandman, the front of the house manager, said the pulled pork nachos and twice-baked potato soup are her top choices. The soup started as an occasional special, but grew so popular they added it to the menu permanently.
“People love it, and are upset when we don’t have it,” she said.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Like many established restaurants in resort towns, the summertime business produces lines out the door, where Christian said people will wait two hours for a table.
In the off-season Dinghy’s still holds its own, Christian said.
“We rely on strong support from locals,” he said. “It’s a favorite local place.”
Sandwiches start at $6.49; burgers at $5.49. Entrées start at $10.99; salads and appetizers at $4.49.
Dinghy’s is open 11am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and noon to 8pm Sunday. Dinghy’s is located at 415 Main Street in Frankfort. Call (231) 352-4702, visit dinghysrestaurant.com, or visit its Facebook page.