DINING & DESTINATIONS: Autumn’s — A good family restaurant

Menu item prices take people back to a simpler time

No matter how old I get I still remember Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.

I can still see myself as a child running through the front door straight into to the kitchen, following the aroma of some darn good cooking.

Usually we had fried chicken and the Colonel had nothing on Grandma. She made the best-fried chicken in the world.

We would all sit around the table as the food would be passed to each other. There were bowls of mashed potatoes, sides of brown gravy, biscuits and corn to go with her tasty chicken. Everyone would be enjoying the good conservation with the occasional laughter to grandfather’s stories.

Sunday dinner was like a mini-holiday.

I often don’t find a good dining spot to take me back to those fond memories. Only a few restaurants have and they are real gems I must share with the readers. Or the readers share them with me, as it is in this case with Autumn’s by the Lake.

Located 12 miles east of Big Rapids at 10630 Dwight St., near beautiful Chippewa Lake, you will find the family owned and operated dining establishment.

I don’t know how many times I have driven by the restaurant on my way to Barryton without noticing the quaint dining spot. I must have had my mind focused on other things because it’s very easy to find.

I got request a from the ladies at the Mecosta County Senior Center, people I have talked with in Canadian Lakes and even my own compadres at the Pioneer have asked me, when are you going to try Autumn’s?

Thank the good Lord for persistent people, because this place is a must-stop destination on any given day, including Sunday.

Autumn’s by the Lake was founded in 2008 by Autumn Vallette and is operated by David and Christina Vallette. They bring a passion of providing home-cooked meals at an affordable price to their customers.

Right when you enter the establishment you’re treated like family. The family atmosphere, the recipes and the portion sizes will have anyone who remembers grandma’s house for dinner in nostalgic heaven.

Even Autumn’s regular customers will ask you to join them at the table, as it was the case with me on Tuesday evening.

The dining room will remind you of a family setting. With a few large tables like my gram’s I was wondering if I was in another person’s home. The seating is limited, but Autumn’s is known for their carry-out.

As I sat down, Dave greeted me with a smile, handed me a menu and took my drink order.

Going over the menu I noticed breakfast was served anytime of the day except on Friday and Saturday, because of the larger dinner crowds, I suppose.

The menu features new and classic American food choices, including steaks, burgers and pizza.

Dave does the cooking in house, and none of his meals are pre-frozen, processed foods. The food is prepared fresh and in the summer much of it is locally sourced.

“I want people to have a fresh product,” Dave said. “Everything is homemade from the soups, chili’s and gravies. We buy local and the meat is sourced from various vendors in Mecosta County.”

Dave’s idea is to provide a good meal to the hardworking family who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend.

“You will never leave hungry from Autumn’s,” he said.

Dave is right.

I started with an appetizer of hand dipped onion rings for $7.29. When I ordered the dish, I was warned there were a lot of them. It didn’t matter to me. If they are hand made I want them. You don’t find many restaurants making their own batter dipped rings anymore, and when I do I am ordering them.

My server, Melissa, recommended one of Autumn’s most popular diner items, the broasted chicken. It is served with a choice of potato and salad. I got the mashed potatoes with gravy and a side salad with French and bleu cheese dressing for $8.49.

The onion rings arrived on a large platter there must have been more than a dozen large rings on that plate that were fried to the perfect golden brown. Eating a freshly made onion ring is it own delicious experience. The crispness of the batter adds to the taste of the fresh onion that comes in each bite. All I can say is they are the best I have had in a long time.

I was now looking forward to my supper, the chicken.

Broasted chicken is made using special equipment that combines deep-fat frying and pressure cooking. Foods are first marinated and then covered with a special coating before being cooked. The deep-fat frying produces a crispy coating on the chicken, while the high pressure holds in the moisture and juices without allowing the fat to penetrate, and Dave does it right.

Dave serves you a half of chicken — breast, wing, thigh and leg — with a heaping of hand-mashed potatoes, topped with his own dark gravy that is almost better than gram’s.

The chicken was golden. The hot, crunchy, shatteringly crisp skin was a precursor to what was inside. Biting down into the chicken I was rewarded with super juicy, moist meat — no dry, tastelessness here — that only was complimented by each bite of my potatoes. I cannot believe I have lived in Mecosta County for more than a year to find such wonderful food a short distance away from home. This is the reason I eat out. To enjoy someone else’s take on the classics I grew up it with.

Locally owned Autumn’s does food right at a price you should only dream about. I’m not kidding folks, the portion size is well worth the drive. You will not get a better meal for the price they offer. For less than $20, I left with enough food from my dinner to feed me another two meals.

Their hours are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. In the winter the hours will change, and Dave suggests calling ahead at (231) 867-2500.

“We want to be here if we know you are coming,” Dave said.