Built in 1947 by the Rowe family, is one of those hidden treasures of Northern Michigan - slightly out-of-the-way in Ellsworth, perhaps, but once you discover it, you won’t soon forget it.
Despite local rumors that The Rowe began its life as something else entirely, its restaurant foundations remain strong, says Chef Tom Webb.
“There has been a long-standing myth that The Rowe is an old cottage,” Webb says, “but it has always been a restaurant, and the name comes from the Rowes. Wes Westhoven bought the building in 1972, and brought the idea of ‘farm to table’ to Northern Michigan at that time. So The Rowe has been a constantly running restaurant since 1947, with two owners.”
FARM TO TABLE
Modeled after a quaint French country inn, The Rowe continues that farm-to-table approach today, most often focusing their menus on the latest in-season ingredients, with many of those locally-produced.
A recent peek at The Rowe’s current menu offers such delicious offerings as a Smoked Salmon Tartine with Fromage Blanc, Cucumber, and Dill; a Romaine Chiffonade Salad; a Grilled Aged Ribeye Steak with Marsala-Braised Crimini Mushrooms; and a Bouillabaisse rich with Sea Bass, Shrimp, Scallops, and Mussels.
Of note, the Rowe also boasts a legendary wine cellar with access to some of the world’s finest wines.
Special events also help The Rowe stand out among the other restaurants in the region, with one of the most popular being their upcoming Retro Dinner, billed as “a return to the music and food of the ‘40s and ‘50s.”
“Last year we had a sous-chef who was in a band that plays only ‘40s and ‘50s music,” Webb says. “He brought in a CD of the band, which is the type of music we play frequently in the dining room. I was enthusiastically on board (with the retro dinner idea), as it was the food and music of my parents, who also owned a restaurant.”
Last year’s retro dinner was such a big hit, Webb confirms, that several diners had already asked for The Rowe to bring it back this year.
SUPPER CLUB FUN
For the dinner itself, The Rowe’s staff went online and researched through various libraries and other sources, downloading actual menus from the ‘40s and ‘50s and carefully picking items from the past to create for their own retro menu.
“Fine dining restaurants from that era leaned heavily on classic French cuisine, with regional influences and foodstuffs also playing a role in their offerings,” Webb says. “The menu for our dinner will feature many of those classics, like Oysters Rockefeller and Tournedos Rossini (a French steak dish), but with a slightly modern twist and an emphasis on quality of ingredients and precise technique.”
Additional seasoning will be provided for the menu in the form of the music, which this year will be a live band called Unfourgettable.
“Restaurants in the ‘50s were known as ‘supper clubs,’ and always offered live music to accompany the food,” Webb says.
“And as one diner commented last year, the only difference between a ‘supper club’ of that era and the experience at The Rowe during our event was the enjoyable absence of a cloud of blue cigarette smoke,” he laughs. “We will have a lot of fun.”
The Rowe Inn’s retro dinner - “An Encore 40s and 50s Review” - will take place on Wednesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. Other upcoming events include their Morel Dinner and ongoing Sunday Brunches. For reservations and/or more info, contact The Rowe Inn at 6303 East Jordan Road in Ellsworth at 231-588-7351.