Thursday, May 28, 2009

El Cozumel Mexican Grill

I like Mexican food, sometimes. I'm not much for strongly spiced food of any ethnicity but if the spices are subtle I can appreciate just about any ethnic flavors. So I went to El Cozumel with an open mind and hoped the food wouldn't be too spicy. D likes his food hot and spicy so he was hoping for just the opposite.

I wasn't disappointed :-)

El Cozumel is located at Hilltop Rd. and Lakeshore Drive in St. Joseph, overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan. It's a brightly painted building that harkens back to 1892. You can read the story of this former residence and it's inhabitants here.

The weather was mild and even though there were threatening rain clouds overhead we took the gamble and ate outside on the patio. It has an outstanding view of the lake!

I ordered a chicken taco and 2 chicken enchiladas. D ordered the Tbone Steak Rancheros. Here's what we got.

We were also served a complimentary basket of nacho chips and salsa (mild). I enjoyed all my food. It was all mild and very flavorful. I would definitely order it again and I can't wait to go back. D wasn't so happy with his steak. He ordered it medium rare but it was served raw. I don't think I've ever seen D turn away a steak because it was under-done before. It was really really rare. He didn't care for the ranchero sauce either. He said it was "bland, pastey, tomato sauce". He will certainly not order that menu item again. However, he will return to the restaurant and try something different.

I'm going to hold off on recommending El Cozumel at this point. While I was satisfied with my meal, D was not. The view of Lake Michigan was wonderful and that alone is enough to bring us back, for drinks if for nothing else. If the weather is unpleasant we may actually get to see the inside of this former mansion. I'll keep ya posted!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sophia's House of Pancakes

I love going out to breakfast. In fact, it's my favorite meal of the day to eat out. There's just something about having that first meal of the day cooked for me that sets a mellow tone for the rest of the day. That's probably because weekends are when I tend to go out for breakfast and I like my weekends mellow when I can get them that way.

Sophia's House of Pancakes is rather unassuming sitting as it does in a largely abandoned strip mall parking lot in Benton Harbor. It once was a Big Boy restaurant, the evidence is there in the rest rooms. But as soon as you enter and are greeted by not one but two gentlemen in suits/sport coats you know you're at an establishment that has a higher standard.

Finding Sophia's was like finding a treasure chest and looking over the menu was like looking through a treasure chest. So many goodies... which to choose first?

When D and I read on the menu that the omelets were made with 5 eggs and came with a side of 2 pancakes plus hash browns we immediately decided to share an order. Who could eat that much? (OK, Jo can ;-) We settled on a ham and cheese omelet and had a delicious cup of coffee while we waited. I have to say, the wait staff are as friendly as they come and very attentive.

The food arrived in short order and just look at this!

It tastes even better than it looks! The omelet was light and fluffy. The hash browns were very tasty and crispy-tender. The pancakes, well, let's just say there's a reason Sophia's is The house of pancakes. Absolutely delicious!

We've returned for this same dish at this restaurant several times and have brought the kids along too. We're always delighted with our meals no matter what's ordered. We'll be back again and again, that's for sure.

I heartily recommend Sophia's for breakfast. Don't miss it on your trip to Benton Harbor!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Karma Vista Vineyards

The first southwest Michigan winery we chose to visit was Karma Vista Vineyard in Coloma. Why did we choose this one? Corny as it sounds, the names of the wines are what intrigued us. Names like "Starry, Starry, White", "Pink Side of the Moon", and "Stone Temple Pinot" sounded just charming!

Coloma is just 16 miles from St. Joseph which amounted to a 20 minute drive for us. We were there in no time. It's in the heart of Michigan's "fruit belt" where apples, grapes, peaches, and other tasty fruits grow in abundance and glory.

As I recall, I've only visited one winery before and that was the Beringer Vineyard in the Napa Valley of California. I guess my expectations for Karma Vista were a bit high given that Beringer's was my source of reference. Not that I was expecting anything on that scale mind you, but I was expecting an actual tour of the vineyards and the wine making process. That didn't happen at Karma Vista. Visiting Karma Vista amounts to visiting a sales office for their wine. A nice office, for sure, but no "tours" to be had. I was disappointed with that but it was my only disappointment of the day.

Karma Vista's "tasting room" is located on a hill with a small parking lot off to the side.

When you enter the facility, you find a bistro-type area to the right,

and the sales and tasting area to the left.

We went right first where we found a door to the balcony that looks over the vineyards and orchards. This is the panorama view we took in.

Harvest time isn't until the fall but we saw people at work in vineyards already.

After taking in the view, we went back inside to browse and taste.

Stepping up to the bar, we were offered a taste of up to 6 wines of our choosing starting with the drier wines and moving on to the sweetest dessert wines. I chose, "Starry, Starry, White", "Watusi Red", "Pink Side of the Moon", "Ryno Red", "Cherri Amour", and "Raz M'Tazz" (probably not in that order ;-) . I'm a big fan of sweet wines and fruit wines so these were really delightful. I liked them all but my favorites, and the ones we brought home with us, were "Starry, Starry, White", "Watusi Red", and Raz M'Tazz (made with a pound of raspberries in every bottle!).

The gentleman pouring was friendly and funny. He's a natural at his game. We enjoyed his banter as much as the wine. The view was as wonderful to take in as the vintage. All in all it was a trip worth taking and we'll definitely be back in the fall for harvest time, if not before.

I'm told the southwest Michigan wineries excel in fruity-sweet wines. That being the case, I expect to be a happy lush by fall :-)

I recommend Karma Vista Vineyards to you. The wines are delish, the names are clever, and if you were coming of age in the 1960s or 70s you'll appreciate the memories they bring.

Karma Vista Vineyards & Winery
6991 Ryno Road
Coloma, Michigan 49038

269.468.WINE (9463)

Memorial Day Weekend, 2009

We had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend in St. Joseph, Michigan! Mother nature gave us lovely weather... sunny and highs in the low to mid 70s. I don't know that it's reasonable to expect 3 days in a row in late May to be any better than that. :-)

This was our first non-work weekend. Up until now, we've spent every weekend working on the condo. We managed to get the ceilings and every room on the main floor (5) painted, installed a new toilet in the 1/2 bath, replaced the garage door opener, had new countertops, sink and faucet installed, painted the master bedroom, got all new kitchen appliances installed, bought some new furniture and moved a houseful of our old furniture in, and did a LOT of cleaning. All that in just 10 weekends!

The last 3 months have been very intense. We were focused and didn't allow ourselves to get distracted by exploring the city and surrounding area. As a consequence, this weekend was our first chance to really relax and enjoy St. Joseph.

We arrived Friday evening and immediately went grocery shopping. Up until this point we'd been eating out every meal, mostly fast food :-( Now it was time to stock the refrigerator and cupboards. We shopped at Martin's and found everything we were looking for. It's a very nice grocery store :-)

Saturday morning we headed down to Mishawaka, IN to do a little shopping. I'd never been to Mishawaka before. It looked to be quite the shopping mecca. We picked up a new TV at Best Buy and headed back home.

Our daughter, L, and her boyfriend, Jo, arrived early afternoon. We took them on a driving tour around the city of St. Joe including the downtown area and Silver and Lion's Park beaches. We had a late lunch at Schu's on Lake Street and stopped at the Chocolate Cafe for dessert. Yum!

When we got back to the condo, L & Jo got out the bicycles and rode the bike trail into town. They enjoyed it but lost the trail near Silver Beach.

Our son, C, arrived early evening. We had our first home cooked meal at the condo, burgers on the grill (gotta have a bar b que on Memorial Weekend!), fresh fruit, a tossed salad, and birthday cake (cheese cake, actually) for dessert. It was my husband, D's, birthday.

The weather was warm and the pool was inviting. We headed on over to check it out. Nice pool! Heated too :-) The kids went swimming, D and I just stuck our toes in.

We ended the evening with a movie. We rented the video, "Yes Man" staring Jim Carey, and all of us sat around the new TV laughing out loud a good bit of the time.

Sunday morning D and I went to Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church. The kids were up by the time we got home and D and I cooked a pancake breakfast. The weather was still sunny but not as warm. L & Jo went on another bike ride and this time followed the trail to the end. They loved it.

We spent a lazy afternoon around the condo playing video games and watching the Indy 500 and the Red Wings/Hawks playoff game on TV. L and Jo went down to Lion's Park beach just to sit in the sun and read a while.

Dinner was pizza from Passero's. I'm not a huge pizza fan but I liked it. Everyone else loved it. They're all pizza fans ;-) C was kind of bored, not having a friend there, so he headed home after dinner. L and Jo swam in the pool again. D and I cleaned up the kitchen and then the 4 of us headed over to Tiscornia Beach to watch the sunset. The wind was blowing which made for very hearty waves. There were just enough clouds in the sky to make for an interesting sunset. L and Jo walked out to the lighthouses. D and I stayed on the beach taking lots of pictures, trying to capture Lake Michigan's mood.

We spent the evening playing Euchre with L and Jo. We won the first game, they won the second.

Monday morning we slept in then went to Sophia's House of pancakes for breakfast at lunchtime. I'm a big fan of breakfasts and Sophia's does breakfasts proud! It's the restaurant we've visited the most since becoming residents of St. Joe. D and I always share a ham and cheese omelet with pancakes... makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

After breakfast, we headed over to the Karma Vista Vineyard in Coloma. It was our first time to the vineyard and the city. We taste-sampled several varieties and bought several bottles to bring home. Delicious!

When we got back to the condo, we unpacked the many boxes of kitchen stuff (pots, pans, utensils) that were stacked in the living room then sent the boxes home with L and Jo who will be moving this week. They left about 3:30 pm. Then D unpacked our new kitchen table and chair set that had been sitting in the garage for a couple of months.

D and I went to dinner at Cozumel's on Lakeshore Drive. It was our fist time there. The view of the lake was magnificent! All too soon the weekend had come to an end. It was a wonderful weekend and we are looking forward to many more happily spent in St. Joseph. I'll be writing up separate reviews of the places we visited in the days to come.