Saugatuck, MI is one of those quaint little Western Michigan towns that caters to a seasonal clientele that explore the various art studios, shops and dine in their restaurants. We had spent some time in Saugatuck about 10 years ago, but didn't really spend a LOT of time there. On our recent trip up to the Holland/Grand Haven/Saugatuck area, we decided to spend a good portion of our day in Saugatuck and we started our day with a breakfast at Monroe's Cafe-Grill.
Saugatuck is smack-dab in an area which is known as the "Arts Coast of Michigan". There are a number of art galleries, studios and museums in the region. Because of this, in part, there is a large gay and lesbian influence in the area. If that kind of thing makes you flip out, Saugatuck isn't your kind of place. But Cindy and I are extremely comfortable within a gay population. I'm an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church and I officiated at the life union of our gay neighbors a year ago, so being around gays doesn't bother us at all, unless they're being completely flaming or flamboyant about their gayness. With that said, Monroe's Cafe-Grill is named after an icon in the gay community - Marilyn Monroe.
The cafe has been open for over 20 years and is owned by partners Heather Barton and Katie Casie. The two were working in the corporate world in the Fort Lauderdale and they took a trip to Saugatuck for a vacation in 1988. They instantly fell in love with the place and started to think of ways to permanently relocate to that area of Western Michigan.
Katie and Heather had both dreamed of owning their own business at some point in life. They figured out that because Heather loved to cook, they'd like to open a restaurant. They cashed out their 401K's and moved back to the Saugatuck area. They bought a building in Saugatuck on Culver Street (see map) and opened their little restaurant soon thereafter. Kate is the one who runs the front part of the restaurant, while Heather is the one who works in the kitchen. In season, the two work at the restaurant about 16 hours a day as they're open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily throughout the summer.
In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner items on their menu, Monroe's Cafe-Grill also offers an extensive vegetarian and gluten-free menu. It has been recognized as one of the top vegetarian restaurants in Western Michigan.
We got into Monroe's around 10 a.m. the day we were there. The brightly decorated and well-lit dining room pays homage to Marilyn Monroe with a number of pictures and prints of the actress all over the place. There is a huge art deco painting of Monroe on the east wall (see picture above) and several different drawings of other Hollywood icons on the walls. There's a number of tables and booths throughout the cozy dining room including a "community table" that allows a number of people to eat together even though they may have come in alone.
There's also a sidewalk dining area that looks out over across a small park to Kalamazoo Lake along Saugatuck's and sister city Douglas' shoreline. There are only a couple three tables and they were full with diners when we got there. Besides, Culver is one of the main thoroughfares in and out of Saugatuck and there's a stop sign at the corner next to Monroe's. We wondered how the noise would be if we were trying to eat outside. We took a booth by a big window up front and looked over the menus.
Monroe's doesn't have a menu listed on line, so I can't really remember a number of their signature items. Most of the food is geared toward breakfast/brunch, but they have burgers, sandwiches and, as I said before, a large vegetarian menu. The one thing that I do remember about the menu was a breakfast entree that was French toast with a custard rum topping. I was thinking of going more along the lines of an omelet, but when I saw the French toast topped with a custard rum sauce, I had to try that. Cindy was less adventurous - she went with something called the B.S. 1 - an egg over easy with a side of bacon and toast. For funsies, I got a side of bacon with my French toast, as well.
Now, I have to say the custard rum French toast was rather interesting. There were four slices of a thick homemade bread covered with a creamy custard rum sauce and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I couldn't really taste the rum in with the custard, but it was a pleasant enough taste to go along with the French toast. I usually used maple syrup on my French toast, but you really didn't need to do that with the combination.
Cindy made short work of her egg and bacon, and I offered her some of my French toast as the bread was thick and the sauce was sort of rich. I knew I would have trouble eating the whole thing. She said, "Well, that's different. I don't know if I like it or not." She, too, is used to having maple syrup on French toast and the custard rum sauce didn't have that sugary pizazz to the taste. Me, I liked it - I mean, I wouldn't crawl back to Monroe's for another plate of it. But it was something good and different to experience.
The service was good at Monroe's Cafe-Grill. Our waitress was friendly, quick and efficient. The place began to fill up after we got in there and we didn't see a drop off in service after the place got full. Monroe's emphasizes that their place is kid and family friendly, but we didn't see any children in the place when we were there. Still, Monroe's was clean, had good food and good service in a fun atmosphere. It was comfortable and inviting. It's a good place to get breakfast in Saugatuck and I'm sure their lunches and dinner items are prepared with the same touch.