I was eight when I first opened the creaky screen door to Drier’s Meat Market and discovered its sawdust-strewn floor and racks of sausages and hams hanging above the display cases.
The Three Oaks, Michigan, butcher shop, which started out as a wagon repair shop, remains largely unchanged from my initial visit decades ago with the exception of Carolyn behind the counter. As the granddaughter of original owner Ed Drier Sr., she reaches for the ring of liverwurst and, with a sharp knife, quickly slices it in half as she chats with me.
There’s still sawdust on the floor. The scent of smoked meats permeates the air. And I feel like a kid again.
But if Drier’s is still a portal to the past, the small Southwest Michigan village of Three Oaks has seen an influx of serious foodies, artists and entrepreneurs who have created an urban vibe downtown set against its farmlands and orchards.
Using the village’s rich agricultural bounty, Colleen Froehlich turns harvests into sauces, soups, baked goods and more at Froehlich’s, her cafe and food emporium. Today she’s making Neapolitan marshmallows and lavender cornmeal cookies. I order a latte and a slice of spinach feta quiche and pick up packets of Herbs de Three Oaks — her blend of thyme, chili flakes, garlic and lavender that she “puts on everything.”
Later, I make my way over to Journeyman Distillery located in a sprawling brick building that was once home to the Featherbone Factory. Transformed by owner Bill Welter, it now houses huge copper stills of organic liquors such as whiskey, gin, vodka and rum. Welter spent several years in Scotland where he developed a passion for whiskey before opening Journeyman and the adjoining Staymaker restaurant, which focuses on farm-to-table fare.
I sip on an Old-Fashioned made with his organic Last Feather Rye Whiskey and munch on bourbon barrel maple nuts while I think about how much Three Oaks has changed since that first visit of mine.
While some stores have closed, other businesses remain and new ones pop up. I can see Vickers Theatre, a 1939 movie house that still shows films.
It’s a reminder that the past isn’t lost on the village or me.
The Souvenir: Bring a cooler with you to Drier’s Meat Market to take home New York Herkimer cheese ($11.50 per pound). The deliciously creamy aged cheddar is a great match with the shop’s house-made bologna and hams.
Embrace Fall: During Sept. 25’s Apple Cider Century more than 5,000 cyclists — both easy riders and serious competitors — will bike Three Oak’s scenic back roads and other Southwest Michigan small towns. applecidercentury.com
When You Go: threeoaksvillage.org