A Fresh Catch and What It Really Means to Eat Local Food

Here in Northern Michigan, we have the option – and the luxury – of buying and consuming a cornucopia of raw and processed food products procured right here in the Great Lakes State.

the-riverside-inn_1For four seasons each year, we have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and locally raised meat, dairy, and eggs. In the winter, we have the benefit of accessing locally derived food from our indoors farmers markets and enjoying shelf-stable processed items like honey, maple syrup, pastas, sauces, and canned goods.

Michigan produces more than 300 agricultural commodities, making it the second most agriculturally diverse state after California. Agriculture, food production, and farming activities contribute $101.2 billion annually to the state’s economy, and employ a significant number of our state’s workforce.

The good news is, our state’s position as a top agricultural region in the US is relatively stable thanks to the lake effect factor granted to us, specifically here on the shores of Lake Michigan. Longer growing seasons, humid summers, and abundant rainfall mean indulging in local fare and cuisine is easy, most of the time.

However, like any industry, the food industry is subject to variability. Mostly this is due to an extreme dependence on climate and enormous sensitivity to weather, environmental factors, the nuances of mechanical engineering, and labor availability. Sometimes this means catastrophe for our local food systems, and sometimes it just means inconvenience.

The Riverside Inn prides itself on sourcing local, seasonal, and sustainably derived food to create a menu that has been well loved for over twenty years. When we opened our doors in 1997 and featured a local, seasonal, and organic farm to table menu, the concept wasn’t widely known yet, but it has been the hallmark of our restaurant from that first season. We made a choice, and a commitment to create our food and beverage menus from 25% local products, and as a result our relationship with our local food purveyors is just as important as our relationship with our diners.

For our restaurant, this means our chefs and our staff have to be open and responsive when our food purveyors experience changes or fluctuations in their capacity, output, or offerings. For our patrons, this means occasionally we will have changes to our menu.

Every so often, it is our signature Carlson’s Whitefish entree that is not available when diners come to The Riverside Inn. As a longstanding favorite choice, we know that our guests make a special trip to The Riverside Inn for this favorite dish, and it’s not only an inconvenience to them, but also a missed experience.

carlson's signOur Carlson’s Whitefish comes from Carlson’s Fishery, located just down the street from The Riverside in Leland’s historic Fishtown. Since 1904, Carlson’s Fishery has been at the helm of the Great Lakes fishing industry and has been supplying generations of Northern Michigan families with fresh caught fish at their retail storefront. Simple and classic, Carlson’s has stuck to their business model for the past 114 years. Still housed in their original pint-sized fish shanty, they supply families and cooks with a fresh assortment of fish at the shanty, and also supply wholesale markets with their product.

According to owner Nels Carlson, there are only a few operations that supply whitefish throughout the state of Michigan. Obtaining it can be very difficult and at times impossible.

Carlson’s Fishery focuses on their market’s retail sales and is not a large-scale commercial wholesaler. Due to their limited processing space and the fact that they do not use fillet machines, they are limited in the quantity of fish they can process.

Carlson states “If we are able to obtain a quantity of fish that allows us to process carlson's fishsome for wholesale then we offer it to our wholesale customers. But our main focus is to have product in our retail market.” He also adds “If we were to change our business model and focus on the large-scale commercial processing it would change the standards and quality of the product that our customers have come to appreciate.”

Small, local, and of the highest standard is what we appreciate about Carlson’s Fishery, and tasty, fresh, and delicious is what our diners appreciate about our whitefish entree. When given the choice between sustaining our relationship with Carlson’s Fishery and occasionally having to adjust our menu to reflect wholesale IMG_9825availability; or ordering from a large-scale, likely out of state wholesaler in order to ensure the availability of whitefish for our patrons, we choose our friends at Carlson’s and their locally caught whitefish.

If we happen to not be serving whitefish on a particular evening, we invite you to try our Sea Bass or Diver’s Scallops entree for a taste of buttery, flaky, and fresh seafood, or opt to try our special for the evening. If you have your heart set on whitefish, we always encourage you to call ahead the day before to make a dinner reservation and check to see if we have your favorite.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you in the heart of Leelanau County as we enter our 21st season. We can’t wait to see you this summer!

The Riverside Inn, 302 River St, Leland, MI 49654 

Sarah Peschel wrote this article on behalf of the Riverside Inn in Leland. Learn more about the Riverside at www.theriverside-inn.com