Cute, food-savvy downtown Fenton is worth a day trip
At the end of the year when, as a restaurant reporter and food writer, I'm asked about some of my favorite meals in 2018, I will immediately remember the flaky, spinach croissant stuffed with a ridiculous amount of soft feta cheese that I had at a bakery an hour north of downtown Detroit in the historic and totally adorable town of Fenton.
Crust: A Baking Company is so much more than baked goods. Not only is it fueling downtown Fenton with a full coffee bar (and a full booze bar), Crust, at 104 W. Caroline, offers a large menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus desserts, pizza, grab-and-go items and breads.
This bakery and restaurant is one of the many culinary surprises found in Fenton's city square, which is just north of Holly and south of Flint. It's an old town, settled in 1834 and named after William Fenton, who won the right to name it in a poker game. This is according to a plaque near a sculpture of men playing cards, one of many interesting and attractive pieces of public art displayed around the walkable downtown area.
Crust supplies the baked goods for a few of downtown Fenton's restaurants, including its sister businesses the Laundry (125 W. Shiawassee) and El Topo (113 Mill). The latter is a casual joint with a Latin American-influenced menu and just a few seats.
Around 5 p.m. people with zero interest in tacos or guacamole start to arrive at El Topo. It's no secret around Fenton that the Pringles vending machine in the back of this cafe is actually the hidden door to a speakeasy-style craft cocktail lounge. That's right, after 5 p.m., push the "original Pringles" button on the vending machine, a door behind it opens, and a host pops her head out to ask, "How many?"
The other side of that glowing Pringles machine is a sophisticated, dimly lit craft cocktail lounge called Relief & Resource Co. Besides a drink menu the size of a small young adult novel, this 2-year-old spot has a full kitchen, serving build-your-own meat and cheese boards, mousse pate deviled eggs, duck rillettes, tuna poke, lobster mac, salads and more.
Relief & Resource Co. — which also runs an outdoor Tiki bar in the back of El Topo — is celebrating its two year anniversary next month with Whisk(e)yfest (the spelling is a nod to the spellings of Scotch whisky versus Irish or American whiskey) on Aug. 25. The rain-or-shine event includes a chance to sample from 70 selections. Visit reliefandresource.com for more details.
Because this is Michigan, naturally Fenton has a brewery. An efficient way to experience the fruits of Fenton Winery & Brewery, 1370 N Long Lake, is with their four-beverage sampler. It's the best way to try as much as you can of their selection of eight microbrews and more than a dozen wines, plus limited offerings and daily specials like sangria.
There's also a full, beer-friendly menu here, plus a beer garden and space for private events.
Other notable restaurants in downtown Fenton include the Laundry, a popular breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant. Like its sister businesses, a sign at the entrance states that people of "all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all genders" are welcome and safe.
Like Relief & Resources, there is a lot for whiskey lovers to enjoy here. Beyond classic and inventive cocktails, the Laundry offers whiskey flights. The 1-ounce samples are served with a small amount of light beer to cleanse the palate.
The Laundry really shines at lunch, though, with a vast sandwich selection that would make any bread-aholic salivate.
With both meat and vegetarian options galore, the long menu makes for a great read because of the off-the-wall names. One ham and turkey sandwich is named Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Fenton. Other chuckle-worthy names are Chicks Dig Scrawny Pale Guys, I Don't Need No Cell Phone and the Kenny Witzgall, a roast beef sandwich named for a local comedian.
The Laundry gets a lot of its ingredients from a fertilizer-, chemical- and pesticide-free garden behind the restaurant. The plants are nourished with spent grain from the nearby Lynchpin brewery, coffee grounds and vegetable scraps.
Near a bridge stretching over the trickling Shiawassee River, the Fenton Fire Hall at 201 S. Leroy is a bar and restaurant with rooftop patio that was formerly the city's fire station. It's a Union Joint, meaning it's in the same restaurant family is Clarkston Union, Vinsetta Garage, Union Woodshop and others.
These spots are just the tip of the iceberg of Downtown Fenton's winsome food scene. Beyond restaurants and bars, downtown Fenton also a handful of vintage shops, picturesque parks and nearby water recreation.
Many of Fenton's restaurants will be showcased at the annual Taste in Fenton, 4-8 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Fenton Community and Cultural Center at 150 S. Leroy. Visit business.fentonchamber.com for details.