MANISTEE’S BLUEFISH KITCHEN & BAR
Chuck and Connie Freiberg didn’t steal the name of their Manistee restaurant from Dr. Seuss.
No, the classic “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” wasn’t the inspiration for the Bluefish Kitchen & Bar. It was the couple’s Big Rapids eatery, The Blue Cow.
The difference is that the Blue Cow is geared toward beef, while the Bluefish is geared toward – that’s right – fish.
Not just any, or every fish, either. You won’t find sea bass or grouper, swordfish or red snapper. Connie Frieberg, who is both the co-owner and executive chef, says The Bluefish doesn’t serve any saltwater fish.
“All our fish is freshwater. Only fresh, not frozen. If it’s not available, it’s off the menu,” she said.
To make sure there’s as much available as possible, the restaurant receives deliveries of fresh fish Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays.
While fish is the mainstay of the restaurant, there are plenty of other tasty treats on the menu. Starters/lunch favorites include the fish and pig sandwich (pan seared perch and crispy pork belly with lemon aioli), honey goat flatbread with apple chutney, even escargot. House specialties such as firehouse ribeye (perhaps the best thing on the menu, according to Freiberg) and champagne chicken complement the trout from nearby Harietta Hills fish farm, grilled Great Lakes salmon, Lake Superior whitefish and lemon-scented perch.
One other thing you won’t find besides saltwater fish is deep-fried fish. Or deep-fried anything else, for that matter.
“The restaurant does not have a deep fryer,” said Freiberg proudly. “We make sure the inherent flavor of the food is prevalent.”
The restaurant is the indirect result of the mayoral exchange program between Big Rapids and Manistee. When Manistee officials got a taste of Freiberg’s food in Big Rapids in 2012, they were so impressed they approached her about creating a similar restaurant in their home city.
“I catered the luncheon, and the downtown development director from Manistee said he thought we would be a good fit for a landmark Manistee building,” said Freiberg.
So the couple came up to check it out, but while they saw potential, they also saw that a ton of work needed to be done. “The building was in rough shape,” said Freiberg.
As she explains, you understand that was a huge understatement. Multiple leaks had damaged the floor. The building was home to bats, birds and bees. “Everything needed to be painted and deep-cleaned,” said Freiberg.
But they weren’t dissuaded - “Chuck had the vision” – and on May 21 this year they closed on the purchase. But that left precious little time to be open for the summer season. So their contractor and crew worked non-stop, 12-hour days six days a week, and the Bluefish opened July 3.
Freiberg says the first few days were a trial by fire. There were lines out the door, and they had to turn people away. They ran out of food, and some of the early reviews weren’t kind.
But they persevered, and the result is a dining experience that combines a Northern Michigan feel with an urban industrial setting, with a view of the Manistee River from both the dining room and patio.
The whole Northern Michigan thing is new to Connie Freiberg. The couple was living in Texas prior to the move back to Chuck’s home state. “I went to culinary school in Houston, and had a successful catering business there,” she said.
But Chuck wanted to be near his aging parents, so they took a trip north to check it out. Connie said they came in January, as she hoped the wintry weather, with temperatures 30 degrees colder on the average than in Houston, might dissuade Chuck.
But the call of family trumped all, and the couple moved to the Big Rapids area, where they established both the Blue Cow and a private dining club at Canadian Lakes. “We opened the same restaurant in Big Rapids that I would have in Houston,” said Freiberg.
And then came the fateful visit from Manistee. “They said there were a lot of downtown dining dollars bleeding away,” said Freiberg.
The Freibergs hope that will no longer be the case. In addition to the dining room, there is a private banquet room upstairs. They serve numerous Michigan-made craft brews and have an extensive wine collection, as well as the de rigueur specialty cocktails.
The restaurant is open seven days a week at 11 a.m., till 10 most nights. Sunday it features a brunch menu, including four types of Eggs Benedict.
Bluefish Kitchen & Bar is located at 312 River Street in downtown Manistee; call 887- 4188. Online, go to BluefishKitchenBar.com or visit it on Facebook or Foursquare.
DON’T MISS: Lake Superior Whitefish, served blackened or seared with a chipotle corn risotto, lemon compound butter and seasonal vegetable.
PRICES: Lunch/Starters from $7, Entrees from $12