Nothing Plain About Plainwell

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Every Michigan town has something to offer, especially in the summertime. Plainwell, 20 minutes north of Kalamazoo, is a charming little town of 3,800 with lots of choices for a weekend visit.

Start planning your visit by checking out two websites, Craigslist or VRBO, to book a cottage on Pine Lake, which is actually four lakes connected by small navigable channels. With 11 miles of shoreline, it is one of many terrific lakes that make Michigan such a great summer escape.

Our friends booked the nine-bedroom Ivy Lodge for a big weekend celebration. The wooden frame house had a lovely sand beach, two docks and a wide, second-story porch for outside dining. For a special event, the large property allowed the whole family plus friends to stay for a lake weekend. If you need less space, there are many other rentals available.

While you can cook in your lakefront cottage, I don’t know why you would, because there are several restaurants nearby. The Old Mill Brew Pub and Grill on Bridge Street was once the site of the largest buckwheat mill in the United States, and now it houses a charming restaurant. They make their own craft beer, and you can enjoy the suds inside or on the outside patio. We chose the Crazy Beaver Cream Ale and the Island City IPA for our beverages.

My husband had The Big Pig: Pulled pork, grilled ham and crispy bacon topped with grilled andouille sausage — all on a kaiser roll. I settled for the more sedate olive burger — a patty topped with a mix of green olives and mayo — along with an order of onion rings for the table. I really wanted to sample the Old Mill “Jim Dandy” Rootbeer Float, but I couldn’t find any room.

Another dining choice was the Four Roses Café, for a local farm-to-table menu. The café is owned and operated by Plainwell locals, Tom and Jan Rose. Be sure you come hungry. We sampled the filet mignon with two sauces (a red wine mushroom and Béarnaise) and the Great Lakes Whitefish Grenoble, our own best local fish with a diced tomato, lemon and caper treatment.

Push yourself to sample their pies. We ordered the Black Bottom Pie and the Amaretto Coconut Cream Pie and had no regrets except for our bulging stomachs.

Of course, Plainwell is the self-proclaimed ice cream capital of the state. They do offer two terrific family-owned ice cream parlors, the Plainwell Ice Cream Co. and Dean’s Ice Cream.

Plainwell Ice Cream makes 65 flavors, and you can buy its products around Michigan. Be prepared to wait, because the secret is out about how good their ice cream is.  The business has been in the Gaylord family since 1978, and family members still work at the store. Blueberry Marble was my favorite flavor, followed closely by French Silk — a summer dream in a cone.

Dean’s Ice Cream is another long-standing community icon, opening its doors in 1945. With three locations in the area, you can order any of their 34 flavors. My husband couldn’t pass up a hot fudge sundae. Dean’s is also a tasty lunch stop for a burger or a bacon and grilled cheese, with fries, of course.

Returning to the deck at the rental cottage, we watched the sunset and enjoyed a cool breeze off of the water. Nothing beats a Michigan summer, and there is nothing plain about Plainwell, either.