My travels took me to Leland Michigan, the county that Jim lived in for a good portion of his life. There, not far from the shore of Lake Michigan is a place called Blue Bird tavern and bar. My wife and I made our way through town first stopping at the Leland book store. Unlike Grand Marais, the book store had a small section dedicated to local writers and half a shelf was filled with Jim’s books. While I have most of his fiction, the non-fiction and poetry can be hard to find. So, I bought Just Before Dark and The Shape of the Journey, a collection of poems including some posthumously released.
The three of us walked through town where my daughter threw a fit several times and had this strange fascination with throwing rocks into the lake. When a duck swam by minding its own business she screamed “DUCK!” and the animal dived under the water, passing by three boats, before resurfacing again at the end of the dock. It is no wonder you have to shoot one out of the air during hunting season otherwise you might never find the darn thing.
Eventually, we made our way to the Blue Bird only to find the front door was locked. I couldn’t find anything posted outside as to what was happening but a woman came around the back of the building to water plants and she explained things to us. “This time of year, the blue bird closes on Mondays. It’s a wonky time of year and they reduce their hours because of the lack of tourist.”
I was disappointed. I had seen photos of Jim playing pool inside and appearing to have a good time. According to some articles I had read this was a usual hangout when he was living at the house. Feeling defeated we left and decided to try and make up for the disappointment with a place across the street called The Cove. Parked outside was an old Buick pickup truck and a boat car, or floating car, or a car with a boat motor. I don’t know what it was called exactly but it was red and looked like something out of the 1950s. The Cove was dark inside with a deck overlooking the bay. The town was a series of old shanties that were in various states of disrepair, the wood, bone dry and never painted, cracked and aged with the seasons.
The special at the Cove was white fish. This surprised me but it also didn’t due to the fact that white fish has no flavor and you can make it taste like anything you want. After much debate and not wanting to spend the money on these options we were reading on the menu we finally decided to forget about the cost and enjoy the deck. I ordered the stuffed white fish and my wife had the fish and chips. Why on earth fish and chips is a $25 dish I will never understand. This is street food, poor people street food. Nothing changed about it. They aren’t stuffing the cheapest fish with foie gras or mixing the batter with unicorn semen. These items are defrosted, battered and dropped in a deep fryer. There is no reason that fish and chips should cost more that ten bucks. But we caved in and waited for our food. Thankfully we did not order drinks.
My meal, for all of its glory can with a salad, hand made roll, a side of mashed potatoes and a vegetable of the season. This season was corn, cooked with butter. I’m not sure who put this meal together or why it was priced the way that it was. The fish was the only labor-intensive item on the menu. The salad was chopped romaine lettuce and only romaine. The mashed potatoes were put on the plate with an ice cream scoop. Then there was the corn. Yes, it was good, yes it was perfect, but for $25 I would expect a little more that half an ear.
Out on the water the little red car drove up the dock and people rushed over to our side of the deck to see it. I already had to deal with the old couple that was turning around glaring at our daughter who was having a bad day and I have to say that she will likely have more of those in her future. The car turned around in the dock and drove back into the lake disappearing in the distance.
The stuffed whitefish, while it was good, the only thing that impressed me was the shrimp and scallops they used to stuff the fillet. The wrapped pieces had paprika dashed on top and the fatty oils balanced the salt sprinkled on top. These two pieces were good and I can not say anything to the contrary. I don’t know if these were anything that Jim might have had, hell I don’t know if the Cove was around when Jim lived in the area. All I know is that a man I know told me that he ran into Jim at the Blue Bird Tavern several times and I would learn more about that later.
We left Leland, bellies full and hoping that we could loosen our belts at the next stop light. That night I pulled out some of my books and found a passage in The Raw and the Cooked where Jim talked about Folgarelli’s and the sandwiches they made there. I mentioned it to my wife and she said it was a place she had wanted to go for years. That would be our next stop but for another day.
On the way home we stopped at Left Foot Charlie and bought some bottles of Cinnamon Girl cider to have out by a fire. One the way home it rained. Zoey took over an hour to fall asleep and we didn’t get to make the fire. It was that kind of day.