DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP — The restored and revived Clifford Lake Inn has something old (floors, beams and ceilings), something new (furniture and kitchen), something borrowed (classic recipes with a twist) and something blue (the lake, of course).
The 134-year-old dining gem of Douglass Township is making its grand reopening today. My husband and I enjoyed a sneak peek Friday evening at the invitation of new owners Thomas and Mary Stuit of Grand Rapids.
The historic restaurant closed in November 2013, but fortunately found new owners in September 2014. The Stuits — both gregarious and down-to-earth with business smarts — have spent the past four decades helping build and grow a successful insurance agency in West Michigan and were looking for a unique project for their semi-retirement years.
Thankfully for the many Montcalm County residents who have formed an attachment to the Clifford Lake Inn over the decades, the Stuits worked faithfully to retain the old-world charm of the restaurant while adding some much needed improvements, including an all-new kitchen and cooking equipment. The Stuits want to use locally sourced food as much as possible and they want the Inn to serve as a venue for banquets, parties and weddings (the Inn is already booked for a wedding this coming Saturday), as well as a place for intimate dining and casual gatherings.
Upon entering the restaurant Friday evening, my husband and I were greeted by sunlight spilling into the lounge area from the nearby deck outside. A cozy and welcoming bar made good use of rustic wood beams, a familiar “Clifford Lake Hotel” sign hanging above.
The more formal dining area showcases all white tablecloths and dishes. The decorations throughout the restaurant are subtle compliments of lakeside life, including a “Clifford Lake Clipper” buoy and a cheerful red door propped open next to a screen door leading to the deck.
I tried two drinks from the summer cocktail list — a lemon basil gimlet (tanqueray gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and basil, simply shaken and poured for pure sweet and savory goodness) and the imaginatively named mermaid water (a summery rum cocktail the color of the sea with a candied lime garnish). Both beverages were outstanding.
The cocktail list also includes summer sangria, blackberry mint mojito, strawberry moscato lemonade, key lime pie martini and Clifford Lake sunset. The restaurant also offers a nice assortment of red and white wines and beers.
First course: Appetizers, which range in price from $6 to $10.
My husband ordered the salmon burger sliders, which come blackened with wasabi aioli and sesame pickled cucumbers on a toasted bun. He said he’d never experienced anything like them at a restaurant before — generous servings of fresh tasting salmon with a tiny kick from the sauce that nicely complimented the meat.
The Brunswick stew also caught my husband’s interest. The hearty beef stew was served piping hot and loaded with pulled pork, andouille sausage, cannelloni beans and lots of vegetables. A warm and delightful spice lingered in our mouth after each bite, making the stew the highlight of the dinner.
I’m an enthusiast of bruschetta and often order it at restaurants so, of course, I had to give the Clifford Lake Inn version a try. The fresh tomato drizzled with a classic balsamic reduction and sprinkled with shaved Romano cheese on grilled house-made bread did not disappoint.
Second course: Entrees, which range in price from $10 to $26.
My husband ordered the pretzel crusted walleye, which is pan seared with a dijonnaise sauce, served with vegetables and rice on the side. The walleye was moist and perfectly done, the flavor enhanced by the sauce and the crust.
I ordered the green goddess chopped salad, which features many of my favorite salad ingredients (cherry tomatoes, red onion, egg, bacon, bleu cheese and avocado) with grilled steak on top. The tasty, smoky bacon strips were a standout in the salad.
Third course: Dessert, which ranges in price from $5.50 to $7.95.
We were comfortably full by this point, so we split a vanilla bean creme brulee, which — as promised — was smooth and silky with that time-honored custard taste and caramelized sugar crust, served in a charming miniature Mason glass jar.
The Clifford Lake Inn has a long and colorful history dating back to 1881 in what was formerly known as the town of Richard’s Point, later to become Clifford Lake. The Inn has lived through a devastating fire, the Great Depression, horses and buggies and flashy cars, multiple presidents and world events, neglect and reinvention.
We here in Montcalm County are excited to see what Thomas and Mary Stuit bring to the next chapter of this beloved and timeless local treasure. Clifford Lake Inn, it’s good to have you back.
Summer hours at the Inn are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday (kitchen open until 9 p.m.), 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday (kitchen open until 10 p.m.) and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday (kitchen open until 8 p.m.).
Call the Inn at (989) 831-5151 for more information.