The neighboring Saugatuck and Douglas communities have long had the reputation as an artists’ oasis, but they are also building a name for themselves in the culinary arena. This fall, pack the car for a weekend of art gazing and menu grazing.
While visiting Saugatuck, plan a visit to chef Chris Perkey’s new restaurants Taverna Rossa and Saugatuck Fish Camp.
Perkey is the owner of Osteria Rossa in Grand Rapids and the former owner of the now-defunct restaurants Iron and Firehouse Grill. He said he has always loved Saugatuck.
“I’ve wanted to do something in Saugatuck for years,” he said.
One thing he particularly enjoys about Saugatuck is its Chicago connections. “It’s got a big Chicago influence, a lot of Chicagoans are here,” he said. Perkey grew up in Chicago and got his start at a handful of restaurants in the Windy City, including Wolf Gang Puck’s Spago and Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia and Tuttaosto.
With Taverna Rossa, Perkey wanted to do something like Osteria Rossa, which is an Italian focused restaurant, but not an exact replica, so he broadened his menu to include a wider array of Mediterranean food. “It still has a lot of Osteria Rossa as far as the food, but we also have some Spanish, Greek and French influence in the food as well. I was very excited to do this.”
The restaurant has a fine-dining vibe in a modern rustic setting.
With Fish Camp, Perkey took inspiration from the Florida panhandle. “Fish camps are very popular around Sarasota up through Pensacola along the panhandle,” he said.
Three eateries you won’t want to miss
If you are looking for a bar that serves excellent food, look no further than Phil’s. This place is a beloved hot spot in Saugatuck and fills up quickly on weekends.
For food you can take to the beach, make a stop at Farmhouse Deli. This place takes salads and sandwiches to the next level and is stocked with sweet and salty treats you can easily enjoy while soaking up the sun.
If you enjoy bowling, Alley’s Diner is a must. This throwback diner has an eight-lane bowling alley. It’s a great spot to visit with the kids or a larger group. Enjoy dinner in the dining room and then head into the bowling area to try your hand at a strike.
As you’d expect, the restaurant’s menu revolves around seafood with fried oyster and shrimp baskets, calamari, shrimp and grits, grouper and salmon among its offerings. There also is a smoker, so if you’re a land lover, you’ll find smoked brisket, smoked pork shoulder, smoked chicken and more on the menu.
Fish Camp relies on its large outdoor space to create a lively atmosphere with a tiki bar and a stage for live music ensuring that fun will be had here. “It’s a fun Florida vibe,” Perkey said.
With two new restaurants vying for diners, Perkey said he is seeing each establishment develop its own crowd. Taverna Rossa tends to attract locals and those who make Saugatuck home for at least a portion of the year — many of them retirees, while Fish Camp is pulling in a lot of tourists looking to have a good time.
Perkey plans to keep Taverna Rossa open year-round, but he might close Fish Camp for a portion of the winter. “We will be open through December and then decide from there,” he said.
Perkey is not the first former Chicagoan to come to Saugatuck. In 2019, chef and former “Chopped” winner Melissa Corey opened Pennyroyal Café & Provisions along Bluestar Highway. The restaurant is situated on 2 acres surrounded by woods and offers a large outdoor dining space as well as indoor seating.
Pennyroyal is a farm-to-table favorite in Saugatuck and has quickly gained a reputation for its tasty dishes. The dinner menu is small and seasonal, but it still manages to offer everything from a grass-fed burger to walleye. It’s also open for breakfast and lunch, and it has a well-stocked pastry case for on-the-go snacks.
Corey is joined by pastry chef Bryan Kemp, who keeps the pastry case well-stocked, and Ryan Beck, farmer and garden designer, who ensures a vegetable-forward menu. Both men also formerly spent time in Chicago before coming to Saugatuck.
It’s hard to talk about Saugatuck dining without mentioning another local favorite, The Southerner. Opened in 2015 and located on the bank of the Kalamazoo River, The Southerner pays homage to Appalachia with its menu of southern staples like fried chicken and mac and cheese.
Chef Matthew Millar co-owns this location and serves as its head chef. The Southerner’s long wait times are a clear indication that this place is a favorite in the community. You’ll want to get there before you’re starving, to get your name on the waitlist.
Neighboring communities Saugatuck and Douglas offer visitors dozens of galleries to peruse during their visits. One of the best times to check out this plethora of galleries is during the annual Fall Gallery Stroll. Going on 40 years, the two-day event includes an opportunity to talk with the artists, watch live demos and enjoy live music — and, of course, to leave with a new piece of art to add to your home.
This year’s Fall Gallery Stroll takes place Oct. 9
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.