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Places We Like: Farmer's Home Tavern in Hemlock, MI

By Matthew Rudy

The upper half of Michigan's Lower Penninsula is known for some of the best destination golf in North America -- Arcadia Bluffs, Bay Harbor and Treetops are just a few. The middle part of the state doesn't get the same attention, but one little roadside tavern should. 

Established in 1860 as a rest stop for mid-Michigan cattle herders, Farmers Home Tavern now specializes in giant cheeseburgers, coney dogs and fried fish instead of nickel bunkhouse rooms and a community bathtub. It occupies a ramshackle clapboard building on what constitutes tiny Hemlock, Michigan's main drag, M-46, which bisects the corn and sugar beet fields in the middle of the state like a ruler from Saginaw to just north of Grand Rapids. 


The tavern is most famous for its cheeseburgers, 3/4-pound monsters made from local beef that have won the regional Saginaw News' "Best of" award for more than a decade running, but the two-for-$5.25 coney dogs are equally worthy. The decor -- and the beer specials -- will remind you of 1984, but in a good way. Enjoy a $2 Miller Lite and the Tigers game on TV as you sit in a chair that looks like it came out of a church basement. It's cash only, but you can order more food than a single person could eat for $10. 

There's even room to park a combine in the back. 

After you fuel up, it's an easy hour drive west to one of the state's best kept secrets, the 36-hole Tullymore Resort in Stanwood. The original St. Ives 18 is a Golf Digest five-star course, and when Tullymore came along in 2002 it was named Golf Digest's Best New Upscale Course. Rates range from $100 to $125, but ladies get a 40 percent discount and juniors are half off.  

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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Space Shuttles and Amish Delicacies in Washington, D.C.

By Matthew Rudy

Big Air
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. is still the standard by which all class field trips are judged. Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers' Flyer, Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1and NASA's Apollo 11 command module from the first trip to the moon are all in the same 160,000-square-foot building near the Capitol. 

Many visitors to the original museum figure out too late -- once they've already made it downtown --that many of the most impressive exhibits in the collection are shown at the vast Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Annex at Dulles International airport in suburban Dulles, Va. The annex would be worth a trip to the nation's capital all by itself. 

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The two giant hangars have the elbow room to show off a priceless collection of American air and space iron. There's the low-tech B-29 bomber "Enola Gay," which dropped the atomic bombs that ended World War II, and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the first "stealth" reconnaissance aircraft (shown above). You can also see the space shuttle Discovery, which completed 39 missions between 1984 and 2011. Admission is free, which is $100 less than decent tickets to a Nationals baseball game for a family of four. 

Golden Oldies
It's fashionable -- and healthy -- to eat clean foods that haven't been adulterated with additives or chemicals. One way to do it is to chow down with people that don't believe in electricity. At the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer's Market in Annapolis, Md., 25 miles east of D.C. on the Chesapeake Bay, you can go straight to the source and pick up meat, eggs, vegetables and baked goods produced the way they were in carriage days, by Amish farmers. 

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Or, you can move up the food chain and sit down for lunch at the Dutch Market Restaurant's counter. Open Thursday to Saturday only, it offers the original incarnation of American comfort food circa 1850: turkey, bacon, gravy, hand-mashed potatoes, homemade bread and fresh-baked pie. Don't ask for a decaf cappuccino afterward. You'll get black coffee in a thick porcelain cup, and you'll like it. The Amish don't take credit cards, but they do have a website.      

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Travel

Places We Like: Pepperfire Hot Chicken in Nashville

By Matthew Rudy

Buffalo has its wings, but Nashville is a little more equal opportunity when it comes to chicken. The Music City's signature dish is "hot chicken," a catch-all category that includes the bird in all of its guises -- breasts, wings, drumsticks, strips, tenders -- marinated in buttermilk and doused in various amounts of cayenne pepper before being deep fried. 

Like New York City pizza, everybody has an opinion about which establishment is the best (or hottest). Prince's Hot Chicken Shack is the grandaddy of the bunch, and visiting is like entering an archeological dig that's in the middle of excavation. It's set in a grimy strip mall in a decidedly less-fashionable part of North Nashville. Take your cue from the dining room full of people tearing up over molten breasts and wings that are stacked like firewood over pickles and white bread on picnic-style styrofoam plates. They're the ones who ordered "medium" heat. 

As good as the chicken is at Prince's, it takes a special commitment to soldier the wait, crummy service and paleozoic chairs. To get a more modern (and equally delicious) experience, head toward downtown for Pepperfire. The decor is no great shakes here, either -- you order at a makeshift front window in what appears to be an abandoned cinder-block fast-food restaurant. Pick your cut of chicken and heat level (mild to XXtra hot), order a couple of sides and leave your cell number with the cashier. The chicken is prepared to order, and you get a text when it's ready. Which is good, because if you touch your phone with your fingers after you eat, you could scar your corneas forever.

At both Prince's and Pepperfire, medium was still as hot as anybody from the Northeast should ever order. The extra-hot chicken comes out an angry, devil-face red and is served with a stern warning from the counter staff. Slices of plain-jane white bread seem like a wasted accessory until you realize that spicy chicken is best eaten with a handle. Some foods are hot for the sake of hotness, and all you can taste is the heat. Prepared well, hot chicken starts with the heat and morphs into the juiciest fried chicken you've ever had. At least in medium guise. I wasn't brave enough to bite into the XXtra hot without a pair of goggles and nowhere else to be the rest of the afternoon. 

If you're intrigued (and brave), the annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival hits Nashville July 4. Bring an iron stomach and a pail of milk and conduct a taste comparison among the seven vendors -- including both Prince's and Pepperfire.

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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Legendary pizza and original burgers in Hartford

By Matthew Rudy

New Haven Style
The unofficial motto of the Unofficial Guide is "local delicacies and hangouts," or, the places you shouldn't miss when you make your first visit. You might feel a pang of Instagram regret if you miss a visit to world Pez headquarters (in Orange, CT), but if you come to Connecticut and don't go to the ancestral home of thin-crust brick-oven pizza in America, you've made a serious tactical error. 

New Haven is 30 miles southwest of the TPC of River Highlands. You've heard of it as the home of Yale University, but you should visit for the places you can actually get into. When GQ food writer Alan Richman picked his 25 best pizzas in America, two pizzerias on the same block of Wooster street in New Haven -- population 125,000 -- made the list, and a handful of others in town are worthy contenders. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally's Apizza have been serving pies since 1925 and 1938, respectively, and simple combinations that end up on the battered trays at your table are essentially identical to what you would have eaten during the Great Depression --  homemade dough blistered in the original brick ovens at 600 degrees and topped with your choice of fresh mozzarella, chicken, peppers, pepperoni, sausage and even clams. Come during standard meal hours and you'll wait more than an hour for a table, and the service alternates between brisk and brusque. But fight it out and you'll be rewarded with one of those rare unique food experiences that live up to the hype. Pepe's has an outpost closer to the tournament, in West Hartford, but if you're going to make the commitment, do it right. 

The Throwback Burger
New Haven is to comfort food what Athens is to architecture. Ten minutes from the dueling pizzeria legends is Louis' Lunch, the nondescript little shack where hamburgers were invented in 1900. The original proprietor's great grandson still runs the place, and cooks your burgers pinched vertically on the same unique cast iron clamshell grill Louis Lassen used during the Teddy Roosevelt Administration. Get fancy with your order and they'll boot you out, so don't. Ask for the cheese works and take your medium rare cheeseburger with tomato and onion and sit in one of the ancient booths where turn-of-the-last-century Yalies carved their impeccably spelled graffiti. Louis' might fit 30 people, so if the line is daunting you can stall across the street at Bar, where they serve a mean mashed potato and bacon white pizza. You'll only make fun of it once, before you try it.    


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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Cholesterol and the King in Memphis

By Matthew Rudy

Memphis Smoke
Combine the words "barbecue" and "Memphis" in the same sentence within earshot of anybody from Tennessee and the Rendezvous will be the reflex response--and for good reason. They've been serving pork ribs with Charlie Vergos' secret dry rub in the same downtown alley since 1948. It's an institution, and worth the pilgrimage. 

But part of that reflex response might be a little protective and self serving. Because as good as the Rendezvous is, it isn't the best rib joint in Memphis. The Cozy Corner is, and the tiny storefront on the corner of North Parkway and Manassas might be able to cram 30 people inside at a time. If the Memphians told you about it, they wouldn't be able to get in. And in a place where the most famous joints take advantage of Memphis' FedEx superhub status to ship ribs and sauce around the world, the Corner wears its locals-only status like a badge of honor.

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The wet ribs pay the bills, but some of the more "exotic" choices on the menu are equally good. The Corner is almost as famous for its whole barbecued Cornish hen, and the tastes-far-better-than-it-sounds barbecued spaghetti. Hours are 11 am to 9 pm Tuesday through Saturday, but the ribs and hens sell out quickly.  

Down in the Jungle Room
Even kitsch becomes historic when it ages long enough. And so it is for Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion--his Memphis home base from 1957 until his death in 1977. Sure, the commercial stuff across the street is over-the-top (an actual Heartbreak Hotel? Really?), but in the mansion they've done a terrific job preserving many of the rooms as they were when Presley lived there. You can't go upstairs and see Elvis' bedroom--or the bathroom where he lost his life while on the throne--but a tour for the ethereally garish Jungle Room is a worthy substitute. It's where Presley recorded his last two albums, and the King must have been taking drugs to be able to concentrate amongst the green shag carpeting, tiger prints and crazypants faux-Polynesian furniture. 

A trip around the garage reveals that what Elvis lacked in taste he made up for in presence. His favorite car, a baroque black-on-red 1973 Stutz Blackhawk, glitters like it did when he took his last drive in it the night before he died. They don't make googly-eyed, hand-made, Italian-built, Pontiac-powered touring coupes with 18-carat gold plated trim like they used to. And that's probably a good thing.    

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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Oktoberfest in May in Columbus, Ohio

By Matthew Rudy

Columbus loves its college and professional sports--Ohio State University, the NHL's Blue Jackets and this week's Memorial (hosted by native Jack Nicklaus) are all automatic conversation starters in Ohio's capital 12 months a year. 

It loves comfort food almost as much, and if you go, you should, too. Just south of downtown (and 20 miles from the golf in Muirfield Village) is the historic neighborhood of German Village, where you can enjoy the best of Munich in the American Midwest. Schmidt's Sausage Haus has been in business since 1886, and the sausages on the $12 Old World combo platter are made with Fred Schmidt's original recipe from the Grover Cleveland administration. The headliner is the hickory smoked pork and beef Bahama Mama, but you won't lose if you order the bratwurst or knockwurst. 

Schmidt's serves drafts from the local Elevator Brewery, but for a more quintessential 50's Midwestern tavern experience, go around the corner to the Old Mohawk for your nightcap. Opened (legally) the day after Prohibition ended in 1933, the Mohawk is a townie favorite without all the waves of fans in scarlet-and-gray officially-licensed gear. The horseshoe-shaped bar is original, but the turtles in the soup on the menu are trucked in these days unlike the 30's, when the original proprietor raised them in the basement. 

If your golf travels keep you north of the city, near Muirfield, you can get a little taste of Oktober--and childhood--at the G&R Tavern in Waldo. The place isn't much, just standard-issue storefront, but the bologna sandwiches are unlike anything you've ever tasted. 

The inch-thick patties are fried on the grill, topped with melted cheese, raw onions and pickles and served on a hamburger bun. It'll cost you more in gas money to get up there than the sandwich itself--and you'll never go back to Oscar Mayer again. 
    

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Travel

Places We Like: Vinsetta Garage in Detroit

By Matthew Rudy

Ruin-porn rubbernecking is a popular visitor's sport in Detroit, and there's plenty of burned out neighborhoods and abandoned factories to go around. But to get a more accurate composite view, take the time to visit some of the interesting new places growing in and around the Motor City. 

One of the most popular, Vinsetta Garage, trades on Detroit's long and noble tradesman legacy. Situated on Woodward Avenue, just outside the city limits in Berkley, it was the longest-running auto repair shop east of the Mississippi when its owner retired in 2010. A consortium of Metro Detroiters bought the building and converted it to a restaurant, preserving virtually all of the industrial deco charm (but less of the grease).  

The same doors that allowed entry to Ford Model T's, Duesenberg Model J's and split window Corvettes let you in for modernized retro-American food -- deep-fried cheese curds, burgers and build-your-own pizza. If you want one with American cheese, Michigan maple bacon and a fried egg (sunny side up), you can have it. 

From its curbside location, Vinsetta will still preside over the largest hot-rod gathering of its kind in the world -- the annual Woodward Dream Cruise -- in August, when more than 30,000 hot rods, muscle cars and good old-fashioned jalopies ease their way from Pontiac to Detroit on the first paved road in America. You'll just be able to drink a beer, eat a pizza and plug in your hybrid while you watch.  

If you're interested in swinging some clubs in the same historical tradition (and in the same neighborhood), the Donald Ross-designed Rackham Golf Course is two miles down Woodward, in Huntington Woods. The circa-1923 layout isn't in the same league as Ross' fancier neighbors Oakland Hills G.C. or Detroit G.C., but anybody can play it, and it's $18 for 18 holes. It was boxer Joe Louis' home course in the 1940s. 
 
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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Old and new burgers in Fort Worth

By Matthew Rudy

Make Mine a Double
Old doesn't always equate to good when you're trying to figure out where to eat in a new city, but it's a good place to start. Kincaid's Grocery Market has been serving burgers in Fort Worth since 1945--plenty long enough to get replaced by whatever the 1970s equivalent of a trendy hipster gastro pub would have been. 

Visiting the original location of Camp Bowie Blvd. is like signing up to be an extra in the original Back to the Future movie--the one where busboy Goldie Wilson decides he eventually wants to be mayor. They still make the half-pound burgers the way they did in the Roosevelt administration--hand-made prime Angus beef, ground that morning on the premises, with fresh tomatoes and pickles and a slice of American cheese. Order the Cowtown-Style cheeseburger fully loaded with grilled onions and jalapeƱos, add an order of fried okra and cool it down at the end with a strawberry shake. There's a reason Elvis Presley was always trying to recapture his youth. 

Choices, Choices
Nostalgia is wonderful, but so is seeing the future. The Rodeo Goat hangs it hat (non-ironically, since this is Texas) on modern interpretations the folks at Kincaid's would consider beef heresy. The Caca Oaxaca is a patty made out of beef and chorizo, covered in avocado, pico de gallo, queso fresco and tabasco mayo. It's capped with a fried egg and served on a house-made bun. You're going to want to pair it with cheese fries and one of the 60 beers available at what they call the "Icehouse/Patio Bar." 


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Travel

Places We Like: Matt's Big Breakfast in Phoenix

By Matthew Rudy

For many golf visitors, Phoenix is just the place where the plane lands before you drive up to Scottsdale. I'm not here to tell you Scottsdale isn't worthwhile -- Grayhawk's 36 holes and brand new patio gastro pub are fine building blocks for any weekend. Just carve out some time to spend in Phoenix proper, especially when it's time to eat. 

Matt's Big Breakfast used to be the best morning place in Phoenix that you couldn't get into. The original 25-seat joint dealt clever interpretations of standard omelets and more prosaic dishes like the Chop and Chick (pork chop and eggs) to folks who waited for more than an hour. In 2012, the restaurant moved a few doors away on the same downtown street and doubled in size. The menu is still the same, and our wait was less than 10 minutes on a weekday. You won't realize how few places cook with real live butter anymore until you try the hash browns, and then you'll be convinced everybody else is making a terrible mistake. 

Hours are 6:30 to 2:30 every day, and you can either order breakfast anytime or make a lunch foray with a BLT, reuben or (butter fried) Niman Ranch cheeseburger and kettle chips. Meter parking is plentiful and cheap right out front, so you have no excuse. 

If the terrible traffic on the 101 down from Scottsdale pinches you for time, you can peel off and visit the new Big Breakfast outpost in Terminal 4 -- Southwest Airlines' base of operations. The menu is the same as the original, with the obligatory airport price inflation. It's a civilized way to get ready for the flight back to the real world.  


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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Fancy Mexican and Crafted Cocktails in Dallas

By Matthew Rudy

See and Be Seen
On one of my very first Golf Digest trips to Dallas, we finished a long day of shooting with Top 50 Teacher Randy Smith at Royal Oaks Country Club and were starting to think about dinner. Randy invited us to join him at Javier's, a Mexican place owned by a Royal Oaks member. 

We sat down in what can only be described as a luxury conquistador's grotto, with big, comfortable chairs, vintage photographs and giant mounted grizzly bear. A tuxedo-clad waiter immediately brought some hand-made chips and a collection of small bowls filled with salsas and dips. One of the people at our table gouged a scoop out of one of the bowls, stuffed the chip in his mouth and proclaimed it to be the best dip he ever ate. "What is it?" he asked. "Butter," said the waiter. 

It was just the start of the evening's arterial indignities. Javier's signature dish is the spectacular filete cantinflas--a beef tenderloin filet stuffed with cheese and more seasoned butter and topped with a brown chile sauce. Assuming you've been successfully defibbed, you can retire to the adjacent cigar bar and watch seemingly all of Dallas' helmet-haired 30-something ladies try to angle themselves over to where Tony Romo and Random Cowboy No. 2 are standing.  

Precise Pours
Dallas has no shortage of cheap and reliable places to drink a $2 Bud Light draft and watch a game on a fleet of big screens. But sometimes you want to wear something over that t-shirt and get a drink made on purpose, by an adult. Bar Smyth fancies itself as the modern iteration of a private 1920s speakeasy. You need a reservation (and some guidance on how to find the unmarked entrance) to get in the door, and the retro-chic space only fits 50 people. Nobody will hand you a leather-bound cocktail menu, and you won't elbow up to the bar to place your order. Each table has its own dedicated bartender, and you put yourself in his or her hands. Get quizzed on your preferences and wait for a meticulously crafted cocktail to come back. Even New York City doesn't have as many interpretations of Manhattan. It's all an experiment. Go with it.   

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