SALT OF THE EARTH
Fennville's "Rustic American Eatery and Bakery."

by Jim Lytle

Roman soldiers, we are told, received an allowance of salt as part of their pay for performing their soldering duties. Ordinary table salt was much more valuable back in the days of the Romans, hence the present day phrases "worth one's salt, true to one's salt" and "salt of the earth."

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, "Salt of the Earth" is now used to describe a person of great kindness, reliability or honesty. Over the past two years, however, Salt of the Earth has acquired a brand new meaning here in Fennville. It’s the name of Fennville’s newest restaurant, or, as it bills itself – Fennville’s Rustic American Eatery and Bakery.


Kyle Smith at the stove.

So, just what kind of experience can you expect in an American Eatery and Bakery?  For the answer to this question, I went inside for a tour and interviewed many of the key staff members.

My first stop was the kitchen where Matt Pietsch was preparing a side dish of potato gratin. As Executive Chef, it all starts with Matt. A West Michigan native, Matt originally attended Michigan Tech and studied engineering for two years. Halfway through the engineering program Matt had what some would describe as an epiphany. “It just came to me” said Matt “I wanted to cook.”  Matt then went to culinary school in Grand Rapids after which he worked as a pastry chef for six years before evolving into the key position he now holds at Salt of the Earth. Matt is credited with coming up with the name Salt of the Earth.

 
Key staffers at Salt of hte Earth: L to R: Kyle Smith, Kitchen Manager; Andrew Briggs, General Manager; Rob Nicol, Bookkeeper; Matt Pietsch, Chef; Mark Schrock, Owner/Proprietor

I asked Mark Schrock, proprietor and owner, who he saw as the market for the kind of food served at Salt of the Earth. "We want to be here for everyone.” Mark responded. “Our market is everyone. We’re a destination. Besides the local folks, there are people who come from Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Chicago to have dinner here.”

 

Reinforcing their appeal to a wide segment of the restaurant-going public, their menu spans everything from a grilled cheese sandwich to entrees centered around seafood, steak or chicken. They also offer a variety of hand tossed wood fired pizza. Andrew Briggs, general manager adds, "We keep prices as low as possible while maintaining 'honest food,' which to us is food made from scratch with fresh and local ingredients.  By dining here you are supporting both Salt of the Earth as an employer but also all of the farmers and producers in our community.  It's a wonderful thing."


The Chef prepares a side dish.

How about the bakery part you’re asking. Salt offers six different kinds of fresh baked bread crafted by two specialty bakers. Lisa Permesang took me through the list: Seedy Salt, Organic 7 Grain, House White, Country Sourdough, Ciabatta and Potaro Chive. Again, there’s something for everyone.

During the summer you can enjoy live music every Tuesday evening starting at 8:00 pm, dovetailing with Fennville's 'Tuesdays in the Park' concert schedule. After Labor Day, music moves to Sunday evenings. Many of the performing groups are nationally recognized.

My interviews with the staff left me feeling I was talking to people who were committed and who loved their work. That’s a sure fire formula for a delightful culinary experience for anyone who stops by. With a total of 26 employees, Salt is the 2nd largest employer on Main Street. (Main Street Market is 1st with 32.).

Salt is open for dinner at 5 pm seven days a week. Their website is: www.saltoftheearthfennville.com