Legit Wood-Fired Grilling at The Homestead in Glen Arbor

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The plaza at The Homestead is the place to be for ribs, jerked chicken, cold beer, local wine and incredible made-in-Michigan memories. Add this Glen Arbor restaurant experience to your Northern Michigan vacation or staycation.

The smoky scent of pork ribs cooking over well-seasoned oak circulates through the plaza at The Homestead in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Two beloved local musicians, Pat Niemisto and Chris Skellinger, are strumming an old Guy Clark country tune, while adults mingle over icy craft beer and children call out “Tag, you’re it” as they run through a tunnel built just for kids to play in.

It’s hard to know where this story begins. Does it begin with the authentic Argentinian-style grill and its cool backstory? Or how about this charming plaza and the way it was designed to bring people together around smoke, meat and libations? Or the incredible ribs? Which brings us to where this story really should begin: With Orlee, the skilled and gregarious grill master who chats and laughs easily with everyone in the plaza.

“I am a people person you know,” he says with a deep laugh. “Ya, ya, I love talking to people.” Orlee has worked at The Homestead for four years, sharing the spicy recipes of Jamaica, his homeland, with the resort’s head chef, John Piombo. Orlee adjusts the grill down a notch, bringing the ribs closer to the smoking wood. “I cook Caribbean style, like I learned from my mom, using spices like onion, garlic, scallion, thyme, garlic ginger, scotch bonnet, red pepper flakes. I came here and I learned more, a lot more. I have wider knowledge now,” he says. Then adds: “And this fancy grill to work on.”

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Yep, that grill. Bob Kuras, President of The Homestead (and the guy who is always trying to make this resort even better than ever) read about a similar one and he knew immediately it would be the perfect touch for the outdoor space at The Homestead’s Whisker’s Bar and Grill. So, Bob did some research and found the grill was made by a company called Grillworks, located in Atwood, just up the Lake Michigan coast from The Homestead. How great is that?

Grillworks has its own cool story. It was founded by Charles Eisendrath who fell in love with Argentinian style grilling when he was stationed in the country as a correspondent for Time magazine. When he came back to the states, Charles built what he believed to be the perfect grill and eventually started marketing it. Twenty years later, his son, Ben Eisendrath, took over the company that now produces what is considered America’s finest artisanal grill.

Last fall, The Homestead’s shiny new stainless steel Grillworks grill was unpacked and set up to the joy of both Orlee and head chef John Piombo. It was as much a tool as a toy for both men who are thoroughly invested in preparing food and serving people. That grill was built and the people haven’t stopped coming—grandparents, parents, kids, couples, friends.

Friday evening, Orlee grills up a jerk chicken special served with grilled potatoes wrapped in foil to look like swans. Saturday’s grilled special is the pork ribs, and Orlee has just brought over two slabs of them to my dining partner and me.  As we dive in, I can’t help taking in the lively outdoor scene. Folks gather around the open bar talking, laughing, sipping local craft brews and wine. There’s a group playing corn hole on a nearby grassy area. The kids have moved from the tunnel to playing on a couple of hammocks. John Piombo surveys the crowd from a balcony above the plaza. I can tell he is pleased, and I wonder if it reminds him of a town square in his native Italy.

Before we know it, we have polished off every bit of our respective, exquisitely moist and spiced ribs. “This is perfection,” we say to Orlee, who beams. End of story.

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