Milkweed is a small bed and breakfast in the Hiawatha National Forest in the UP of Michigan. Totally remote, they will pick you up at the nearest convenience store or you can bravely follow them on a 45-minute trek on unpaved roads through the woods. Chef Iliana Regan, a Michelin-starred chef in Chicago, grew up on a farm and wanted to re-create that environment for small groups, in an off-the-grid culinary experience. She is joined in this effort by her wife Anna Regan, who provides the sommelier portion of the fine dining experience. Numerous friends and neighbors support the duo in providing a dreamy vacation during the summer months in a hunting lodge they purchased. Reservations are in advance through the website (www.milkweedinn.com), where you also reserve lodging that is either glamping tents, a small AirStream or 3 bedrooms in the main house. Your reservation starts Friday evening with dinner, then continues Sat. with snacks, breakfast, lunch and a huge tasting menu in the evening. It concludes with breakfast Sunday morning before you start the trek back through the woods. The weekend includes wines, liquor, beer and an assortment of non-alcoholic drinks as well as snacks whenever. You may be in the woods but this is not roughing it. They are on solar power supplemented by a generator so they encourage limited electrical use but some cell service is available, depending on your carrier. They have games, books hiking, fishing, archery, etc to entertain you when you’re not eating, drinking or socializing. They can accommodate 12 guests each weekend and we were lucky to have an amazing group of fun and diverse people who all share a common interest in food. Chef Regan does forage and/or grow some of what you eat and she can give you guidance on where and what to look for on your hikes. The couple have 4 dogs, two large and 2 small that are friendly and the bigger ones like to go on walks with guests. It is absolutely worth going if you can get a spot, so watch the website for cancellations or otherwise you may have to book a year or more in advance. Chef Regan is more introverted than her spouse but is quite happy to talk with you about the technique and equipment for what she is cooking. When she is not cooking or teaching she writes books. I present you with photos from our meals as well as some of the lodge. Hope if you get there you’ll let me know what you think!
Greens from the garden and wild flowers were tossed with a wild raspberry and shallot vinaigrette then topped with grated egg yolk. The wonderfully fresh greens were perfectly seasoned and lubricated for a lovely beginning.
Housemade sourdough bread came thickly sliced with some goat’s milk butter and a mixture of yellow and zuchini squashes with lots of seasonings. The mix was good to eat by itself and also you dip the lovely bread into. The bread was crusty and dense and didn’t need the butter at all.
Next was a roasted eggplant dip and cream that you could also eat with the bread. The eggplant was divine.
Slices of lamb that had cooked over an open fire were perfectly cooked with a deep lamb flavor. They were accented with a bit of ramp oil after being blackened on the edge. Slices of heaven here.
House-made pierogis were stuffed with potatoes and herbs. Chef’s mother made these for her growing up and she passed on the techniques. They were tender and well stuffed to create tremendous little packages of great flavor and textures.
Dessert was a profiterole with wild raspberry semifreddo. The buttery pastry was stuffed with a few fresh raspberries on top of the strongly flavored semifreddo. It was an excellent ending to a delicious meal.
There were scones and coffee for early risers but then breakfast was presented as a housemade tortilla topped with eggs, potatoes and salsa. The salsa was made by a local merchant and was nicely spicy. A kitchen helper was busy making the tortillas while we snacked on scones (sorry no picture). The tortillas had a good chew to their dough and were topped with moist eggs, soft potatoes and the salsa with a bit of a kick.
We started with a garden salad with a Caesar dressing accented by pickled onion slices. Parmesan from Wisconsin was added to the dandelion vinegar in the dressing (instead of lemons). It was totally fresh and lovely with a great chew to the greens and a kick from the onions.
Next we had watched the fresh pasta being made earlier and it was made with carrot tops that gave it a slightly green hue. Mixed with it were fire-roasted snap peas, wild mushrooms, herbs and flowers and an egg white sauce. A yummy combination with excellent pasta. A really good balance of flavors and seasonings to make it lick-the-bowl good.
Lunch finished with a wild blueberry and borage ice on nasturtium leaves. It was light and so good.
We started with a charcuterie tray and champagne. The tray had crackers, 3 kinds of French cheese, pickled turnips and beans, fish spread, and sausage. The last 2 were made by local merchants. All were tasty and fun snacks.
A nasturtium flower was filled with rhubarb and cherry paste. It was a one-biter so no inside photo but was a good start.
Nasturtium leaves were next with sweet Michigan cherries, both marinated and dried, coriander and dandelion vinegar and oil dressing. This looked simple but was filled with flavor and popping tastes. Yum.
Some lacy leaves were made with crispy borsch and topped with black trumpet mushrooms and dill. They were both crispy and chewy at the same time with a great onion/dill aftertaste. Another great one.
Tomato water was made into a light gazpacho with saki, spruce oil and flowers from the garden. A taste treat of true freshness and summer.
Blueberries were contributed to the dinner from the efforts of some of our fellow diners picking skills. They were mixed with woodruff oil, pine and sorrell. I love the intensity of these little berries and especially liked a little raspberry sneaking into the bowl.
Mushroom broth/tea was made with crimini, maitake, shitake and morrel (that I got written down, there could be others) mushrooms. It was amazing with a true depth of flavor.
A tart of wild blueberry jam, whitefish liver mousse and coppa was topped with wild raspberry powder. The ultra-thin pastry was perfect with this mix of flavors. The coppa was chewy and the raspberry mixed with the liver perfectly. An excellent bite.
Sourdough bread was presented with butter made from an 18-year-old culture and topped with wild strawberry powder. Beside it was a scoop of mousse tartare mixed with a pine flower, capers, egg yolk and shallots. The excellent bread was tasty with the butter and the strawberry a mild influence. The tartare was perfectly seasoned and flavorful. A wonderful offering.
Wild rice, served risotto style was topped with milkweed flowers and lemon balm. The great texture here was the nutty graininess of the rice. Terrific.
Whitefish from the local market was fried and served with a ramp buttermilk sauce and decorated with a squash blossom. The crisp of the coating was perfect for the delicate, moist fish. The great sauce added so much flavor to this mild fish. Yummy.
Venison (given to them by a neighbor) was mixed with shitake and oyster mushrooms. The grilled meat went well with the mushrooms and a blackberry sauce added so much to the mix. There was enough sauce that you could drink a bit with each bite and it made the venison into an amazing dish.
A tea with a wintergreen mix was a flavorful beverage that was a use for unpalatable herbs. Herbs that would be considered funky were somehow rendered into a lovely mix.
Woodruff ice cream was on top of crispy rice and topped with crystal lettuce. The ice cream was perfectly smooth and the rice added a fun crunch.
Lastly were canelé and candies of beet and carrot. The canelé had a perfect texture with a crisp outside and soft interior. We were able to watch them being made earlier in the day and they were better than I’d even hoped. A favorite dessert of mine and done expertly. The 2 candies were chewy and nice but hard to compete with canelé.
The first plate had a poached egg on sourdough bread with hollandaise sauce. Alongside was a delicious slice of country ham and a dish of pickled vegetables and flowers. The egg was still nicely runny and the ham was outstanding.
But if you know me, you know I was waiting for what came next a freshly made sourdough donut with bourbon glaze. Incredible. They were sweet with a moist interior and a really tasty glaze. I was lucky enough to score a bit of a second one, but I really wanted to eat the whole tray.