Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Audie’s Restaurant—A Unique Dining Experience

Where to Eat This Week reminds me of a wonderfully spontaneous day my fella' and I had a few years ago.  We woke up to a normal Saturday morning, sipping coffee on the patio. We had no plans, nothing special on the agenda. I can't quite recall whose idea it was or even how it began, but suddenly the two of us were in the car, driving north to Mackinaw. How ridiculous! How wonderful! How adventurous!

A few short hours later, we arrived at the lovely city perched atop the Lower Peninsula - starving. I'm always hungry, and the bag of trail mix I wisely grabbed before running out the door was certainly not cutting it. After a couple of turns, we found ourselves at Audie's. The atmosphere was perfectly befitting a Mackinaw City excursion, and while I don't remember exactly what I ate, I do always remember Audie's being a great part of a great day. 
(HF, Shannon)

Take it away, Robin!

With so many great dining options available, a restaurant needs something special to stand out. It’s the variety that Audie’s offers that makes them so unique, and, in my opinion, one of the premier dining destinations in Northern Michigan. Just for the record, I don’t own the restaurant. I am not their manager. I am not their chef. I’m the baker at Audie’s, and I began working with the Jaggi family (it’s pronounced Yāgē ) when I was eighteen—way back in October, 1976.

Go ahead; take a moment to do the math. I’ve certainly been around long enough to have formed some pretty fair opinions about how Audie’s stacks up in the face of so much competition. I believe the Jaggi family has created something special in the Straits area. When they asked if I’d like to write this piece on their behalf, I jumped at the chance. It’s not often one has an opportunity to spill the beans about their employer!

From a historic perspective, we’ve been serving great food from our location (Exit 339 on I-75 North, Mackinaw City) since the “Mighty Mac” was built. Chef Edgar Jaggi and his wife, Audrey, purchased the business in 1972 and the family has continued to enhance the menu and enrich our community ever since. Edgar, a traditional old-world chef, trained in the classical style synonymous with the finest European hotels. His high expectations and artistry have set the standard at Audie’s—a legacy which continues to this day.

The Audie’s success story didn’t happen overnight; it involved years of careful management while raising the five Jaggi children in a cramped two bedroom apartment in the back of the restaurant. Kids have always been a part of the landscape around the restaurant. First, there was Jaggi’s own brood and all their friends and then a generation of employees’ children for whom the warmth of Audie’s “behind the scenes” became as familiar as home. Many of these youngsters went on to make Audie’s their very first “real” job and often returned to work each summer right through their college years.

My tenure at this restaurant is not exceptional; two of the waitresses have worked here for over forty years. In fact, most of the crew has worked here at least a decade or more. So it’s really no surprise that lots of kids that began stopping with their parents for a meal and to greet the familiar faces in our dining room years ago, are now bringing their grandchildren to visit. Is it any wonder that for so many people, Audie’s is family?

Today, Edgar and Audrey’s son, Nicklaus, carries on those traditions. “Home schooled” in the craft at his father’s side as a youth, Nick later studied business at Northwood University and then went on to the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York to hone his epicurean skills. After this intense certification, he “paid his dues” working in Switzerland—his father’s homeland—for a year, then returned to spend many more years managing our kitchen.

As his parents began to anticipate their retirement, Nick purchased the restaurant and his labors began in earnest. I believe his strong work ethic and rock-solid business foundation have been key to Nick’s achievements. In the “back of the house,” Nick sets a brisk pace. He leads by example. And, like his father, he often mentors youth seeking a vocation in the hospitality industry. Today, the restaurant continues to evolve—blossom—under his stewardship.

Admiring the landscaping in front of the restaurant won’t reveal the distinctive atmosphere beyond the façade—come on in! Audie’s actually hosts four dining options under one roof. Our “Family Room” is a perennial favorite for the casual diner and families vacationing in the Straits area. Feel free to take a stroll around the generous dining room and experience the museum-quality photography and historic artifacts that chronicle the construction of the iconic Mackinac Bridge. The Family Room has a time-tested, expansive menu. We also have a beautiful, fresh salad bar that pairs nicely with Chef Dwayne’s homemade soups. His New England clam chowder, with its subtle hint of rubbed sage and real cream, is my personal favorite. Hmm…or maybe I prefer the chicken rice made with our house-recipe Armenian Rice Pilaf. No matter which soup you choose, you’re going to be back for more!

Don’t forget to stop in for breakfast. Our giant cinnamon rolls are served with a bit of butter on the side. Just like everything from our bakery, they’re made from scratch. Hey, we’re talking yeast and warm water and that INCREDIBLE smell... ahh! (Take it from me, never trust a skinny baker!)

Our Chippewa Room opens @ 5 PM and offers fine dining in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. I love the tasteful Native American décor, and you will too. The menu features Elk, Whitefish, Walleye, hand-cut steaks and in-season favorites including morel mushrooms—all prepared to order and certain to please. Nick’s fiancée, Katie Kosorski, is our certified Sommelier and our wine list received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. She’ll be happy to recommend a wonderful wine or hand-crafted cocktail to create the perfect pairing for your meal. Be sure to save room for a generous portion of our amazing New York-style cheesecake or Bananas Foster prepared tableside!

My husband and I often refer to Audie’s “Welcome Lounge” as Northern Michigan’s best kept secret. It’s a warm, cozy room in a casual lodge style and features Chef Nick’s trophy mounts. Here you’ll find local wildlife on display including whitetail deer, otter, beaver, ermine, bobcat, mink and more. You also find plenty of locals enjoying a cold draft beer, cocktail or a glass of wine with friends and having a bite to eat—a full menu is available. This is also what Nick calls his “living room,” and you’re sure to bump into him after a busy night of catering.

Just beyond the lounge, you’ll find our banquet room. It’s a convenient venue for your wedding reception, sportsman’s dinner or class reunion. We also host wine tastings, dinner theaters and many special events for the community.

The Audie’s crew caters year ‘round—everything from small family get-togethers to 2,500 boy scouts at a rendezvous. On a busy night, you might see an Audie’s van at Lighthouse Pointe in St. Ignace catering an outdoor wedding, an Audie’s van at Mackinaw City’s Headlands catering a beach-front wedding and our Banquet Room rockin’ with a local class reunion or a group touring the Straits area.

I’ve enjoyed sharing just a few of the things I love best about Audie’s, but don’t take my word for it—stop by soon to discover your own perfectly “unique dining experience”!

Robin Westfall
Audie’s Restaurant - We’re Open Year ‘Round!
314 N Nicolet Street, Mackinaw City, MI 49701

No comments: