Saturday, November 7, 2015
Dark Star of the Dunes: Shines a Bright Light Along Dunes Highway
Dark Star of the Dunes, is located on Dunes Highway, aka, Route 12 in a small town known as the Town of Pines. Dark Star was originally The Pines' Lounge and was a mainstay in the small town set in the heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, perfectly placed just outside of Michigan City, Indiana. When new owner Sarah Mitchell took over as the new owner, she infused her personality and love of good food, good music and community to make Dark Star her own. Sarah teamed up with Chef Erik Tannehill to bring to life a gourmet, "chef inspired" menu. The food is spectacular and the prices will blow your mind.
The Town of Pines is so small that if you blink too long, then you might miss the place. In fact google maps identifies it as being just over 2 sq. miles. Dark Star of the Dunes, is very unassuming and looks like a classic small town bar. Step inside and you will discover a gastro-pub much like you would stumble upon in Roger's Park or driving down Lincoln Ave, Chicago. Along with a friendly staff you will find simple tables, deep red and black decor and yes, a community pool table. On Thursday evenings Dark Stars becomes a gathering place for local musicians wanting to jam and try out some new tunes. The open jam comes as no surprise as Sarah Mitchell is a well known vocalist in the area. Music is a central part of her life and her establishment. The jam is not just for locals tho, so for all you Chicago musicians wanting to play in a friendly environment come on over, but come hungry because the food is a bright spot. Sarah also provides awesome weekend events like the one coming up November 14th from 4p to 10p. BBQ, Bourbon and Bluegrass, with Peter Nye.
The Food: Chef Erik Tannehill is a very modest man who has one goal and that is to feed people by way of high quality cuisine. Erik has the makings of a top Chef and it is a surprise to me that he is not in an upscale, big city establishment, but I sense that Erik's bigger love next to sharing great food is living and working in the Michigan City region. (If you have never really come to MC and visited the are, then you will not understand the magnetism of this place) Tannehill really likes to experiment with unique flavors and ingredients. He does not shock his patrons with flavors that overwhelm, but rather adorn and add subtle nuances to his creations that alert your taste buds that something really special is happening. For example, today we stopped in for their weekend brunch, which is offered every Saturday and Sunday from 11a to 3p. We enjoyed a Caprese Frittata and the Buttermilk Chicken and Waffles. The egg dish was designed to look much like a Caprese pizza, complete with a slight drizzle of balsamic reduction that brought all of the flavors come together with a spectacular sensory-WOW! The "Brunch Potatoes" were done with absolute perfection. Again, Erik is masterful with flavor, quantity and even a little edgy. The Buttermilk Waffles and Chicken was an equal surprise. If you have become use to waffles that look more like Eggo's or frozen waffle variety, then you will be quite surprised to discover that these buttermilk waffles are 1) made with real buttermilk and 2) are cooked by Erik fresh on a waffle-iron! The hand-dipped chicken tenderloin is superbly done. Flavorful, moist, yet the breading is a crispy buttermilk recipe. Chef goes to the nth degree and doesn't just serve up some typical breakfast syrup, but like everything else, makes his own. It was buttery, not overly sweet, with a nice caramel edge. It brought out the great taste of not only the chicken, but enhanced the buttermilk richness of the waffles.
Our service was friendly, Sarah is a great host/owner and Erik came out from behind the confines of his kitchen long enough for us to say hello and thank him for fulfilling our gastro-quest for the day. Okay, so hold on to your hat - Two spectacular entrees, a Bloody Mary, freshly brewed coffee and a cup of chorizo/kale soup (did I mention Erik makes all of his soups from scratch?) with tip for $40!
In addition to their regular weekend brunch menu, they offer the regular menu with daily "chef inspired" specials to keep us on our toes. Hint: Make sure you order a calzone or two to take with you. They are not only delicious, but they are huge! Did I mention that Chef Erik really likes to satisfy his patrons?
Together Sarah Mitchell, Chef Erik Tannehill and staff are doing great things in the heart of the Town of Pines Indiana. They are truly shining a bright light along Dunes Highway. Steve and I give this place two forks up and a mighty, "Hell YES we'll be back!"
Town of Pines, Indiana