Growing up in a restaurant family in Traverse City, Michael Alexander’s affinity for the restauranter life began young. From helping his aunt and uncle at Pietro’s Italian Restaurant in Grand Rapids to his positions at Honey Creek Inn in Cannonsburg and Restaurant Partners Management in Grand Rapids, Alexander has garnered several skills over the years.
It was before these experiences, however, that the operating partner and executive chef of Saugatuck’s Butter & Whiskey Irish Pub followed his passion for cooking to California.
“I really fell in love with California cuisine and what it represents,” Alexander said. “It was taking what was fresh, local and seasonal and using it as best as you possibly can.”
These attributes are paramount at Butter & Whiskey, which opened in early June.
Originally, the concept of an Irish pub was nonexistent, but once seeing the space that is now Butter & Whiskey, it was clear that an Irish pub would perfectly fit the location.
“It was something I had experience in, Alexander said. “It was something that had history to my family, the style of food is something that I was comfortable with, and I felt that it was something Saugatuck needed.”
Ultimately, Alexander wanted to create a space authentic to what one would find in Ireland combined with the fresh, California-cuisine mentality.
“We knew we wanted to make everything pretty much in-house,” Alexander said. “We knew we wanted to use local products as much as possible.”
Alexander is also a fan of Irish whiskeys.
“It’s one of the more underserved whiskey markets,” he said. “I really want people to see all the different things you could do with Irish whiskey.”
This love of Irish whiskey has found its way to the hearts of Butter & Whiskey patrons; the most popular beverage is The Butter and Whiskey Old Fashion, made with Paddy’s Irish whiskey — but with a twist.
“We make our own butter here from a local cream,” Alexander said. “We take the butter and we brown it, and then we mix it with the whiskey and let it rest for a while.”
Next, the mixture is frozen, so the fat solidifies and then it is filtered several times. This technique is called “fat washing.”
“It makes that whiskey very buttery and silky rich,” Alexander said.
Pair this drink with a popular dish, like the Fish & Chips. Sourced sustainably, the cod is coated in a special blended batter and paired with chips (fries) and house-made tartar sauce. The Bangers & Mash is a classic Irish meal, and the Corned Beef & Cabbage, although not a traditional Irish dish, is made with a few extra tasty steps. Desserts are seasonal and new every week.
In late July, Butter & Whiskey introduced brunch, including a Bloody Mary bar.
“We knew at some point that we wanted to do an Irish breakfast, and the number of breakfast places in Saugatuck is very limited,” Alexander said.
Alexander says one of the most rewarding things about being executive chef and operating partner of a local restaurant is the ability to create every dish the way he wants to.
“The other side is the Saugatuck community has really welcomed us in,” Alexander said. “Not just the local patrons, but the other local businesses have welcomed us with open arms.”