Picture your Thanksgiving here: the Belvedere’s dining room
DESTINATION Saugatuck, Michigan
DISTANCE FROM CHICAGO 145 miles; 2.5 hours by car
Food, family, football: That’s the triptych that defines the Norman Rockwell version of Thanksgiving. Traditions vary, but we tend to reach for the familiar props when the holidays roll around. Except when we don’t.
Glynn and Ta
Enter off-season Saugatuck, an under-the-radar refuge for people in the mood to forge new traditions. The Michigan harbor community is well known as a summer hot spot of bustling beaches and galleries. But come fall, the place empties out. Fun in the sun cedes to a stark, bracing, and near-desolate beauty. Way off the main drag, in an elegant 98-year-old mansion at the end of a road on the northern edge of town, a former Bucktown couple has created a sumptuous version of Thanksgiving that caters to people who find themselves reinventing the holiday.
Reinvention is a specialty for the proprietors of the Belvedere Inn & Restaurant, Shaun Glynn, a native of Galway, Ireland, and his partner, Pete Ta, who was born in Saigon. The two met at Big Chicks, an Uptown bar, in the late 1990s, when Ta was making a comfortable living as an IT expert in the Loop, and Glynn, who trained as a chef at City and Guilds of London Institute, was opening Sopraffina Marketcaffès throughout Chicago. Romance ensued, followed by big dreams. In 2003, the two walked away from their careers and the Bucktown loft where they’d made a home together. They borrowed more money than they care to divulge, moved into Saugatuck’s then-fading Belvedere Inn (public records list its sale price at over $1 million), and set about transforming it.
The result is a gorgeous merger of Old World elegance and modern luxe, the rare B & B that emphasizes opulence without fussiness. Instead of working in the faux Victorian style that defines so many countryside inns, Ta and Glynn went sleek and dignified. They don’t make you chat over apple crumble after you check in. You don’t have to worry about knocking over cute porcelain tchotchkes as you putter about your room.
This year marks the eighth Thanksgiving that Ta and Glynn have hosted at the mansion. They welcome a mix of new and repeat visitors. Some, like the vegetarian Marla Weed and her husband, Tad, from Ypsilanti, switched their celebration plans because their parents and siblings had moved away. (“Who wants to make a turkey for just one person?” Marla asks.) Others, like the former St. Charles resident Carolyn Diffenderfer, simply wanted a celebration that didn’t entail more prep time than actual holiday.
Glynn—who grew up without Thanksgiving—now spends weeks preparing for it with Ta. The cranberry sauce marinates through football season in a compote of ginger and lemon peel. Roasted root vegetables come from a local farmers’ market. He and Ta preside over turkeys stuffed with andouille corn-bread dressing, hams crusted with cloves and brown sugar, platters of homemade breads, seasonal greens, and a sideboard laden with desserts both traditional (Dutch apple pie) and not (caramel-coated pumpkin flan).
Hours after the main meal is over, leftovers materialize. Some traditions, Glynn notes, are tamperproof. Thanksgiving without leftover-turkey sandwiches? Don’t even think about it.
STAY: Rates at the Belvedere Inn & Restaurant (3656 63rd St., Saugatuck; 877-858-5777, thebelvedereinn.com) during Thanksgiving week range from $195 to $295 per night, with a two-night minimum. Breakfast, Thanksgiving dinner, and leftovers are included. >> For a water view, try the Belvedere’s sister property, the Bentley Waterfront Suites (326 Water St., Saugatuck; 877-858-5777, bentleysuites.com): $450 per double-occupancy room for a two-night stay starting on November 24th; includes Thanksgiving dinner at the Belvedere, leftovers, and breakfast.
PLAY: On November 26th at 5 p.m., half a million lights will illuminate the banks of the Kalamazoo River (and Santa will be on hand to take requests) during a free annual event in Wicks Park on Water Street. Carolers will lead an all-town sing-along from the park’s gazebo. On the 26th and 27th, you can take a scenic carriage ride through downtown Saugatuck and nearby Douglas. For information on both events, call 269-857-1626 or e-mail email@example.com.
Photography: Chris Lake