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The Rowe Inn

Kristi Kates - August 30th, 2010
Bienvenue! A touch of Provence inspires The Rowe Inn
By Kristi Kates
You‘ll find some of Northern Michigan‘s most cherished dining traditions at The Rowe Inn in Ellsworth -- a restaurant that pioneered fine dining, ethnic foods and the “fresh is best“ ideals in the region.
“I grew up in my parent’s restaurant, starting as a dishwasher at the age of 10,“ The Rowe Inn‘s proprietor Albert “Wes“ Westhoven says. “My father was a gifted chef committed to the concept of ‘fresh and from scratch,‘ and I learned my cooking skills from him.“
‘Fresh and from scratch‘ is a tradition that continues at The Rowe Inn today; Westhoven and his crew, including Executive Chef Scott Lyons, have created a unique French country inn dining experience that‘s second to none in Northern Michigan, crafted from the remains of an old chicken-and-burger place in what Westhoven dubbed the “culinary wasteland“ that Northern Michigan was back in the 1970s.

“Obviously the culinary scene in Northern Michigan has changed dramatically since the ‘70s,“ Westhoven says, “and there are numerous fine dining options throughout the North today. But I believe that The Rowe Inn was, at least partially, responsible for this gastronomic revolution. I have been called the ‘Father of Fine Dining in the North,‘ - but as I approach my seventieth birthday, maybe it should be ‘The *Grand*father‘,“ he laughs.
In addition to his father‘s influence, Westhoven says he was additionally inspired by trips to Montreal and Quebec, also in the ‘70s; and that his affinity for the French technique of cooking arrived to him via his idol, chef Julia Child.
“I have since traveled to France many times, particularly to Provençe where the countryside is dotted with small family restaurants,“ Westhoven explain. “The cooking is simple - but simplicity is the hallmark of great cooking. Start with the best and freshest ingredients and don’t mess with them.“

Executive Chef Lyons follows Westhoven‘s gourmet philosophies; and injects a bit of his own moxie into the mix, as well, having set his sights on working at The Rowe Inn after attending a career seminar at East Jordan High School.
“I started at The Rowe Inn as a dishwasher when I was 15 years old,“ Lyons says, “so I grew up at The Rowe. The foods, the preparation techniques, the recipe book, were as familiar to me as video games are to some young men in high school.“
Westhoven and The Rowe Inn‘s staff even brought much of the food to Lyons‘ high school graduation party; and the restaurant itself calls Lyons “The Rowe Inn‘s best success story.“
“It‘s almost every young person‘s goal to ‘move up,‘ which means making more money,“ Lyons says. “In my trying to ‘make more money,‘ I started getting recognition from the other staff about how well I was doing. The more praise I got, the more I wanted to do better. The better I got, the more I liked it. So I went from dishwasher to salads to prep to line cook to sous chef to finally, my goal of executive chef. It‘s creative, it‘s fun, and in many ways I am my own boss. I help keep The Rowe Inn keep from becoming outdated and keep it current.“

Lyons‘ fresh approach to the restaurant fits right in with Westhoven‘s own modus operandi.
“We do adapt to food trends, and have initiated some trends locally as well,“ Westhoven says, “we were the first to do wine dinners, Madrigal dinners, Red Fox chicken dinners, and cigar
dinners. We even did a *Julie & Julia* dinner a month after seeing the movie.“
The atmosphere, much like that of Julia Child‘s own kitchen, is bustling and friendly, and the presentations are “not fussy,“ Westhoven says: “Protein, starch, and vegetable.“
“The menu changes depending on the season and availability of ingredients,“ Westhoven points ou; “usually weekly in season, sometimes even daily.“
For those who have visited Europe - or simply peruse guidebooks planning to do so someday soon - The Rowe Inn might just remind some of your typical French roadside cafe, which is, as Westhoven puts it, “a friend to man, unpretentious and welcoming - bienvenue!“

*The Rowe Inn is located at 6303 C48 in Ellsworth, MI, telephone 231-588-7351 or toll-free 866-432-5873. They may also be found online at The Rowe Inn is open seven nights a week all year, reservations requested.*

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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