Hummingbird Lounge: Appalachia cooking Meets New American Cuisine on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

         Raised in Southern Appalachia in Stagg Creek, a slip of a town tucked in a corner of North Carolina hills and hollows near the Tennessee state line, Shane Graybeal describes the region as “food heaven” and the beginning of his fascination with food.

         “Both my grandparents had farms,” says Graybeal, who after graduating from culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina worked in France, Italy, Washington D.C. and spent seven years in Chicago working at such well known restaurants as  Bin 36 and Sable Kitchen & Bar. Along the way he was inducted into Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest, largest and most prestigious food and wine society.

         But he missed small town living and being close to the farms where he sourced his foods.

          “I’ve been a fan of Southwest Michigan for many years,” says Graybeal who now is executive chef at the recently opened Hummingbird Lounge in New Buffalo. “When I was living and working in Chicago, I  sourced a lot from Southwest Michigan.”

         Among the local food producers they use are the Mick Klug Farm in St. Joseph and Kaminski Farms Meats in Three Oaks.

         Another plus for Graybeal was being back in a small town.

         “Though compared to Stagg’s Creek, which has a population of about 300, New Buffalo seems like a big city,” Graybeal adds with a laugh.

         Graybeal describes his food as a “cheffy take on American classics, comfortable food all dressed up.” I loved the description but was surprised to learn that “cheffy” is an actual word meaning relating to or characteristic of a chef.

         His take on food matches the overall philosophy of Hummingbird’s owner and operator Ben Smock who wanted to create a cocktail bar and restaurant that was comfortable and “served food you want to eat.” The lounge opened in April and is located in what had been a grand home built in 1901 that once housed a creperie in  New Buffalo.

         Smock has an extensive background in the food industry starting when he worked at his grandfather’s bowling alley in Davison, Michigan where he grew up. He graduated from Michigan State University’s hospitality program, worked at McCormick Place, Levy Restaurant group and the Ravinia Music Festival and started his own consulting business where he provided food service planning and events. He’s also opened a number of venues.

         The menu changes frequently, depending on what’s in season. Graybeal was excited because the first peaches were hitting the market along with blueberries and raspberries.

         “I’m thinking fruit cobblers,” he says.

         He also brings a bit of Appalachia to the menu.

         “Food is very important there,” he says, making one want to jump in a car and head south to see what he’s talking about. “And I think in the right context—pickling, charcuterie, foraging–it comes across very well.”

Earlier in the season, he took ramps, cut them into a tiny matchstick size and flash fried the garlicky wild greens to add to an asparagus dish. We’re guessing that the round super thin pickled with cherry Kool-Aid hails from the mountains as well—and they’re delicious.

Graybeal also made ramp vinegar which he now uses in some of his dishes. Now with fresh Michigan peaches available, he makes a jam to pair with pork, but kicks it up a notch with the addition of jalapeno peppers.

But, he notes, the food is a side note to the cocktails and what’s on the menu are more like a tapas bar—nibbles that are share,able. The Lounge’s cocktail team takes what Graybeal is preparing in the kitchen and concocts drinks to accent his flavors.

The cocktails—which also change frequently—have in the past included a Smoked Pineapple Margarita, a tequila based drink with seasoned and smoked pineapple and salted foam, The HRG Manhattan using Traverse City Whisky Company blend along with sweet Vermouth, Angostura bitters and a fancy cherry and A Real Dandy Old Fashioned with rum, demerara syrup, bitters and expressed orange. For those who don’t drink, there are spirit-free cocktails. There’s also a small wine list offering by the glass or bottle and local brews.

         Why did they name the place Hummingbird? Smock says they chose it because hummingbirds drink all day and it just fit because they are open throughout the season. For warm weather dining, there’s a large back porch and garden area. The garage has been redone and is now an inviting event space. The interior of the restaurant itself is very cozy with a curated antiquated feel to go with the history of the home including a fireplace flanked by columns, its mantel topped with a large mirror and coach lanterns, cozy rooms, polished wood floors, and the deep gray walls are accented with lots of white woodwork. The bar is sleek—less Victorian and more urban trendy which makes for a nice contrast.

Chef Graybeal’ s Pork and Peaches

Rub pork belly with salt, sugar, and vanilla powder. Place in pot. Cover and marinate overnight. The next day cover with lard and cook on low heat for three to four hours. Cool and then crisp up in a hot pan until golden brown and tender.

Peach Jam

Cook together for two hours, them finish with a squeeze of lime juice. Puree in blend until smooth and cool.

To serve—crisp the pork belly, put two ounces of jam on a warmed plate, top with the pork belly, slice a peach and toss with aged sherry vinegar, basil, parsley and mint and a little olive oil. Place on top of the pork.

Beef Skewers with Whipped Feta

For the Beef Skewers:

Grind the brisket, combine with the other ingredients and whip with the paddle attachment. Form into balls and then into long rolls, place each roll on a skewer.  Grill for six minutes on both sides.

For the Whipped Feta:

Combine in the mixer, whip using the the whip attachment until light and fluffy-like similar to icing.

Just for fun, I thought I’d include a recipe for Kook-Aid brined veggies.

Trish Yearwood’s Fruit Drink Pickles

Drain the brine from the pickles into a bowl. Add the fruit drink packet and sugar into the brine and stir until dissolved. Pour the brine back to the jar, discarding any that’s leftover. Refrigerate at least 2 days and up to 1 month.     

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