Monday, 1 July 2013

Madness on Highway 93

"Our next stop is Mad Michael's and believe me, he really is mad ... but in a good way." Those were the words of Sandra, our hostess and guide for the media day tour of the Huronia Food Trail, as she started to shepherd us onto the bus again. I was certainly intrigued by that statement and curious to see exactly how mad Mad Michael might be.

In the very centre of the village of Wyebridge, on the river's edge, sits a converted general store and post office, now clad in the brightest yellow siding you can imagine, trimmed with white and blue. The potted flowers out front are hot pink. Several very yellow signs proclaim Mad Michael very loudly. Even if you don't stop in, you've certainly seen it. You cannot miss Mad Michael's, which I'm sure is the whole idea, and there's nothing crazy about that!

Normally closed on Mondays, Mad Michael and Mrs. Mad Michael (as she called herself) made a special exception and opened up briefly just for us. The picture snapping began immediately, but it was really difficult to know which way to point your camera - there were so many fascinating things to look at. What began as a twig furniture business, lead to a restaurant completely decorated in all types of very cool rustic tables, chairs, benches and stands, some with interesting additions like old style snow shoes. Our eyes struggled to take in the glorious mish mash of antiques, hand crafts, preserves, decorative glassware and baked goods.

Soon all eyes and cameras (and hands!) were on the home made butter tarts waiting for us. Apparently they had been entered in the recent Midland Butter Tart Festival. Another welcome sight on this hottest of days, was a table covered in large wine glasses filled with cold lemonade and unsweetened iced tea.

I love trivia and I enjoyed Mrs. Mad Michael's little bits of information passed out here and there. A pluot is a hybrid between a plum and an apricot and the Mad couple makes and sells a jam made from it. They also sell pickled watermelon rind because Michael just knew there had to be a way to use the rinds rather than throwing them away. He hates wasting anything. Carrot marmalade? It seems it was very popular during the citrus deprived depression era and was made a lot in the 1930s. The Mads make that too.

But don't think for a moment that you've seen it all if you've seen the restaurant. Oh no, there's plenty more! Step outside onto a lovely sunken patio furnished with more of Mad Michael's handiwork. Next to it, might be the maddest thing I did hear about Michael. His wife said he looked at 2 rows of mature cedar trees one day and announced that he was going to build a tree house in there and that tree house was going to contain a smoker. And so there it is - a narrow screened in kitchen with a custom made meat smoker with rotating shelves that can hold 100 lbs. each.

You might think this is madness too, but you will certainly appreciate his efforts - Michael makes all his own condiments. No Heinz  here. From ketchup, relish and barbecue sauce to sauerkraut and rubs, it is all made in house.

A walk around the property takes you along a river side nature trail, where you duck under branches and pass an upside down tree that will reportedly be a medusa carving one day. There is a raised herb garden next to a huge tepee where evening bonfires are often held. You will see a collection of antique vehicles.  Next door is a house that had a previous life as an Orange Lodge and later town hall, and today still has 3 jail cells in the basement. When you arrive back at the tree house, you'll find that Michael also has a custom built adobe oven behind it. "What do you use that for?" someone asked. I think it's a bit of a novelty item, but Michael says you can bake a full sized pizza in in in 45 seconds! "Most of the time we're too late." he added. I wondered how hot this oven gets, so I asked Michael on the way out. 750 degrees. Wow!

We only had a short time at Mad Michael's, but it felt like a day's adventure. This quirky little spot on the convergence of Highway 93 and the Wye River is certainly worth a longer look. I can hardly imagine what I could learn, taste and see if I could spend an hour or two here. If Mad Michael is mad because he gets wild ideas and acts upon most of them, I would say that more businesses could use a little of this kind of madness.

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