The 122-year-old T.J. Ramsdell building, an historic gem in the heart of downtown Manistee, has been restored to its former glory with a cherry on top: a streetlevel
pub that is serving up craft beers, flatbread pizzas, and more.
TJ’s Pub is named after its original builder, Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell.
Housed in a Victorian-era building that dominates the heart of downtown, the pub is part of a 10-room inn and event facility. A complete restoration of the building was begun in 2000; the pub seats 50 and features the original brick flooring, as well as a working fireplace.
In 2000, Jerry Pitcher of Grand Rapids purchased the building, which originally cost $30,000-40,000 to build and was falling into disrepair. He had both the inn and its basement space, accessed by steps down from the sidewalk level, restored to their former grandeur. After a short stint as an upscale women’s boutique, the downstairs was converted to a tavern.
Dannette “Dannee” Hoffman took over as general manager of both the inn and pub more than two years ago. She immediately revised the menu to be farm-to-table and rebranded the pub from its sports bar profile.
“I don’t think [the former staff] really knew their customers,” she said.
Hoffman said that her rationale for upgrading the menu, bar and ambience was that if people were staying at the meticulously restored inn, then “they [would] want the good Scotch, good wine, fresh food. They’re not just looking for a burger.”
Now Hoffman sees the property as key to Manistee’s revitalization, along with such other landmarks as the 1930’s Art Deco Vogue Theatre, currently undergoing its own restoration.
Hoffman says the emphasis is on freshness. “The appetizers are really popular,” she said, “particularly the homemade meatballs.”
Soups include Porter’s Prime, a prime rib soup with roasted red and green peppers, onions, and artichoke hearts.
There are seven sandwiches, featuring a variety of meats and toppings, served on everything from pita bread to ciabatta, wheat to rye.
The restaurant’s six salad selections can all be served on a wrap. So whether your favorite includes hot meat and cheese or cool and crunchy greens, you’re in luck.
Not only are there no burgers on the menu, there aren’t any fries either.
“We don’t have a fryer or a grill,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman expects the menu will continue to expand, and by spring will feature several entrées, including a number of pastas.
The Tuscana, a turkey and cheese sandwich, features a tomato and house-made basil pesto and is served on a crusty ciabatta roll. Beef enthusiasts may opt for the Americana, sliced prime rib with sautéed onions, peppers and cheddar with au jus. Hoffman said those two sandwiches are the most popular items on the menu.
But when pressed for the best, Hoffman turns to the back page of the menu and points to the pizza.
“The vegetables are all fresh and it’s served on a crispy flatbread,” she said.
Moreover, patrons have their choice of four cheese toppings, including goat cheese and a non-dairy rice cheese. Sauces include traditional marinara, alfredo, BBQ, and basil or tomato pesto. Throw in your standard array of meats, and a host of those fresh veggies, and the sky’s the limit. And if you’re really daring, you can add pumpkin seeds.
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TJ’s Pub also features a regularly rotating cast of microbrews, another of Hoffman’s improvements.
“We have six taps, all Michigan beers,” she said. “We rotate brands constantly. I’m always searching for obscure breweries to expose people to. It’s always exciting to see what’s on tap.”
TJ’s also serves a variety of desserts, made by local pastry chef Connie Watson.
While the pub is the regular gathering place, Hoffman says the large lobby upstairs also plays host to a variety of events, from showers to rehearsal dinners to birthday parties.
The salads start at $8, and there’s no charge for converting them to wraps. Soups are $3 for a cup; $4 for a bowl. Most of the sandwiches are $8, though that prime rib Americana is a buck more, and appetizers likewise start at $8. Pizzas go from $5 for a small cheese pizza; the large pesto, with zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes and pumpkin seeds is $20.
TJ’s Pub is located at 399 River Street in downtown Manistee. Online, go to TjsPub.com or check out their Facebook page. For more information, call (231) 398-9174.