Love wine? Of course you do. So you probably know that you are blessed to live in the heart of one of America’s up-and-coming wine regions. What you may not know, however, is that Food & Wine Magazine also listed a Downtown Petoskey institution as one of America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences. That place? The stoic Symons General Store.
Here is what Food & Wine Magazine has to say – “Chandler Symons has turned the basement of Symons General Store, founded by his father in a lake-country town, into one of Michigan’s best wine hangouts. By day, the space is a wine store. By night, it’s a dining room that holds the overflow crowds from Symons’s next-door restaurant, Chandler’s. Wines from his 5,000-bottle list are also available at the wine store.”
I have to be completely honest, I have never dined at Chandler’s or in the wine bar of Symons. In fact, I have only been into the basement of Symons, or in Chandler’s for that matter, on one other occasion, a night drinking alone in Petoskey. So I cannot review the food or atmosphere of the restaurant. I also historically have purchased wine elsewhere, so cannot speak to the store’s famed collection. “Why are you writing about Symons, then?” you ask. Because the main store of Symon’s is still one of my, and my daugther’s, favorite places to shop in Petoskey.
It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon, my stomach full from a visit to Uncle Frank’s Apple Town. I’ve just downloaded the new Ken Follett book to my Kindle and the rocking bench on the front porch beckons me to sit and read. I open the cupboard to pour myself a drink, but the shelves are bare. Instead of a glass, I reach for my keys.
“I’m heading to the store for a minute,” I call out to my kids, who are busy watching science videos on their Macbooks.
“Where are you going?” Riley asks without looking up.
“I have to run up to Symons to get some whiskey.” I hear no reply, so I put on my shoes and grab wallet.
When I get out to the car, I find Riley sitting shotgun. I laugh, unsure how she snuck around me. She flashes me a mischievous smile and I know what she is up to.
I am a whiskey drinker. I am also a staunch believer in flavoring the whiskeys of Michigan’s growing distillery industry. The best place in the Petoskey region to find new, Michigan-made alcoholic beverages? Symons. True, there are other stores in the region that sell the exact same products. But Symons invokes such a deep feeling of nineteenth century nostalgia, that the hootch simply tastes better once you get home, pull the bottle out of their beautiful little wine bags, and pour yourself a glass.
I enter Symons knowing exactly what I am looking for – Traverse City Whiskey Co.’s Cherry Bourbon. Before I grab a bottle, however, I peruse the shelves.
When I enter the store, I am greeted with ‘moonshine’ bottles of a Detroit-made vodka. I find a bourbon from Detroit, Grass Widow, that I consider purchasing before something else catches my eye. On top of the antique Coke machine are bottles of hard cider from a Suttons Bay cidery. I grab two bottles, but quickly put them back when I remember the Detroit vodka. Food & Wine Magazine should also list Symons among America’s 50 Most Amazing Martini Experiences. Their olive bar is a required visit for anyone with even a passing appreciation for martinis. Where else in Michigan can you find such a wide variety of olives, all displayed in giant glass jar?
Riley, meanwhile, makes a beeline for the candy counter. The majority of the store’s front counter is filled with jars of old-fashioned classics, and Riley is pouring scoops full into a bag as quickly as she can. “A half pound,” I call out. She flashes me a devilish grin. “I’m already past that.” I should be upset, but I can only laugh. “One pound. No more.” She agrees. For the next ten minutes she asks the girl behind the counter to weigh her bag. I know her mind. She is going to get exactly one pound, and then add an extra scoop for good measure. She’s definitely her mother’s child.
I am a touch jealous of Riley as I go back and forth between the whiskeys, ciders, and vodka & olives. I wish I could take large samples of everything home.
I finally decide on two bottles of the Sutton’s Bay Hard Cider. As I sit on the porch, gulping instead of sipping, I know I made the right choice.
Symons General Store is located in Downtown Petoskey, at Lake and Howard, in the city’s oldest brick building. They are open all week throughout the year. You can visit their website at symonsgeneralstore.com.