To get to Crane’s Pie Pantry, you must find your way to Fennville, Michigan, a tiny town that’s more or less between the more touristy destinations of South Haven and Saugatuck. You’ll drive through an abundance of fruit farms, u-picks, and tiny wineries on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.
To reach the host stand is another journey—through a proud but dusty museum of sorts, a narrow hallway that’s packed with antique appliances. If there’s a wait, which isn’t uncommon in the summer, restless kids can crank old washing machines, visit the pioneer potty chairs in the bathroom, or gaze up at vintage model airplanes. The restaurant at the farm, which is also a u-pick, winery, and cider mill, is peaceful and pleasant outside, overlooking orchards and fields, but a little bit frenetic inside, with nooks and crannies jammed with apple-themed antiques.
The Crane family has been farming the land since 1916. In 1972, in need of extra income after expanding the farm, they embraced agritourism, opening their 150-year-old barn to diners and decorating it with artifacts from everyday life a century or two ago, in the tradition of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn.
I am always happy to see a sandwich with a colorful toothpick, chips, and a pickle, but that’s just the opening act. Their apple orchards are all over the menu, from the homegrown cider (hard or not) to the apple butter to the apple cider vinegar dressing to the apple cider doughnuts, which make a perfectly acceptable appetizer. But the real star is the apple pie, served with or without a slice of cheddar. The other pies are worth trying, too: rhubarb, cherry, blueberry, peach. I like the cherry pie and the cherry crisp, but you don’t have to pick just one. Crane’s offers a pie flight that almost seems too big-city for its locale, with four varieties of pie—all reliably crisp-crusted—on a bread board.
Crane’s is like a museum in its exit strategy, too: You must leave through the combination bakery and gift shop, where you can pick up a frozen pie or crisp to take home, or bread, dumplings, or doughnuts, all for remarkable small-town prices. (Chicagoans used to paying four bucks for a single artisan doughnut can score a half dozen for the same amount.) It reminds you that “bakery” is a food group in the Midwest. And it’s the perfect prelude to a lazy summer afternoon on the lake, warmed by the same gentle breezes that nurtured the fruit in your belly. You only have to drive ten or fifteen minutes west to find a beach, like Pier Cove Park in Fennville or Oval Beach, a little further north in Saugatuck.
Photo courtesy of Crane’s Pie Pantry