Pining for Perfection
Float or drive to iconic Hack-Ma-Tack Inn and take in the massive trees, rolling river and first-class cuisine.
By Patty LaNoue Stearns
CHEBOYGAN–As we drove the pine-scented, sun-dappled country roads from Indian River to Cheboygan, heading to the fabled Hack-Ma-Tack Inn, I was salivating. It’s a pilgrimage I try to make every year, and just thinking of the last meal I devoured there had me geeked.
We strolled the manicured grounds when we arrived, admiring the long concrete dock that spanned the Cheboygan River, then walked through the wooden screen door of this charming 113-year-old former hunting and fishing lodge. The cedar-and-tamarack log compound is rustic and cozy inside, replete with beamed ceilings, a couple of rowing skulls from Harvard and Old Town canoes mounted above, wood carvings from famed artist Morten Fadum, even a larger-than-life carved Indian near the Pow-Wow bar.
The Hack-Ma-Tack’s long history began in 1894 with Detroit businessman Watson Beebe, who used a Native American hunting and fishing guide to design the spot on the 38-mile Inland Waterway near the mouth of Mullett Lake, right where the daddy of all Michigan sturgeons was caught–193 pounds. Mike and Susan Redding bought the Hack-Ma-Tack in 1979, and son Rob, a Ferris State restaurant and hotel management graduate, is poised to take over someday. Every year he brings his friend Danny Sanchez up from Texas to be the bartender, and another pal, Scott Vieskie, who has a hotel management degree from Central Michigan University, does sommelier duty and is putting together a list of about 100 wines from Michigan and the world.
Dress here is casual, but the menu is sophisticated and satisfying, thanks to Chef Jim LeBlanc, who has polished it for more than a decade. Get a seat by the big windows, order a glass of wine, and start with smoked whitefish dip with toasted garlic crostini, escargot baked in herb butter, jumbo shrimp cocktail, crab cakes with a luscious garlic cream sauce, or the ever-fabulous French onion soup in a crock that I ordered with perfectly melted Gruyere over croutons and caramelized onions in a savory stock. Every slurp was amazing.
Salads are divine, too–we split the signature Hack-Ma-Tack salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, big chunks of hard-boiled egg, dried cherries, sliced red onion, shaved parmesan cheese and big-flavored creamy bleu cheese dressing. We also dug into the bread basket–warm housemade rolls and hard breadsticks come with a tasty spinach dip. Both the dip and the salad dressing arrived in plastic containers on the side, something that should be upgraded to glass.