When he was growing up, Bob Sosnowski lived on a farm, and he would watch with fascination the red-tailed hawks soar and wheel overhead. His favorite bird of prey now spreads its wings across the window of a new restaurant, Redtail 412
, at 412 Water Street, downtown Allegan. Bob and Julie Sosnowski are the proud owners of the new establishment, open since January, eager to welcome guests for lunch and dinner — or to just sip a cocktail or cold brew.
The bird on the window might as well have been a phoenix, as the restaurant arose from the ashes of another business, gone up in flames in 2015.
“When the family business, Allegan Metal Finishing Company, burned down in 2015, we decided not to reopen. I suddenly found myself with time on my hands,” Sosnowski says.
Already the owner of the red brick building, built in 1884, which also houses a hair salon, an antique store, and four apartments, Sosnowski started thinking. He and his wife Julie enjoyed dining out, but they did not enjoy always having to drive at least a half hour out of town for a quality meal. The coffee shop that had taken up the center space of the building had moved down the block, and that space now beckoned.
Sosnowski had an unlikely idea: a restaurant. He had experience in metal finishing, not in the food industry. Was this madness? Perhaps not, if he hired the right chef, the right bartender, the right staff, and if he sourced most of his food from local producers.
He began with the space.
“It was the tin ceiling that first caught my eye. It’s the focal point,” Sosnowski says. “I’d say 90 percent of the original ceiling was intact. We patched a few rusty holes and then repainted it all silver.”
The high patterned tin ceiling does draw the eye, as do the sleek lights, exposed red brick walls, black tables, and booths. The custom-made, light ash bar in the side room gleams. Historic Allegan photography decorates the walls. The kitchen, tucked in back, is open to public view. The overall look is clean, spare, classic. Almost all of the renovation work, Sosnowski says, was completed by local contractors. Keeping both food and labor locally sourced whenever possible is crucial to the Allegan native.
Ambiance in a good restaurant is important, but nothing replaces good food and good drink. When the door to Redtail 412 opened, diners were greeted with the tantalizing smells of steaks, chops, ribs, fish, and chicken. Occasionally, something more exotic such as octopus might make it onto the diner’s plate, too. The chef creating those dishes was Sosnowski’s arguably most important hire, although he may deny it — Sosnowski firmly states that all of his staff members are vitally important contributors to Redtail 412’s success.
Chef Kevin McLaughlin grew up in Muskegon and grew up in a restaurant.
“I was a kid working in my dad’s restaurant, and my first job was making the toast,” he says. “I learned how to cook one-step-up at a time. And when I grew up — Dad told me to stay out of the food business.”
McLaughlin listened to his father. For a while. For eight years, he worked as a firefighter, but those were not the flames that drew him. He wanted to get back into the kitchen. After being involved with a few “mom and pop food start-ups” in the Grand Rapids area, he found his way to Redtail 412.
Lamb at the Redtail 412 in Allegan
The Chef’s passion is to cook hearty food but still add the artistic touch. Fresh and local are his guidelines. Conversations are underway with local farmers, and he can hardly contain his excitement at a deal with an Allegan heirloom tomato grower. He is counting the days to the opening of the Allegan Farmers Market when he can trot out the door from the kitchen down the street to pick up fresh vegetables. Everything, he says, is made in-house, down to the chips and condiments. Imagine that homemade ketchup when the summer’s first ripe tomatoes roll in.
“We have a basic lunch and dinner menu, but every week there are a few dishes we switch up,” McLaughlin says. “People want meat, and burgers and ribs with our homemade barbecue sauce are our most popular item. And the cornbread. That’s our most asked-for item. People just keep asking for more.”
Other dinner entrees include fish and chips ($18 for Lake Superior whitefish fillets with hand-cut fries and coleslaw); fried chicken ($18 for Amish chicken breasts, garlic-buttermilk mashed potatoes, charred escarole with sweet onion soubise sauce, and sriracha foam); New York Strip ($36 for 12-ounce certified Angus grilled steak on glazed Cipollini onions, with fingerling potatoes and Shishito peppers, served with aged cheddar béchamel sauce), seared fish ($26 for cast iron seared seasonal fish, carrot and ginger purée, glazed farm carrots, Brussel sprouts with chive oil sauce); Redtail burger ($12 for local certified Angus beef, honey and brown sugar infused bacon jam, black garlic aioli, Dijon, Bibb lettuce, tomato, homemade pickles, melted aged cheddar, on a brioche bun). The menu also offers starter plates of steamed mussels, pork belly, mushroom risotto, arancini, and salad, along with sides, a kids’ menu, and mouth-watering desserts. A lunch menu offers sandwiches, burgers, wraps, and salads.
In-house creations happen in the bar, too, under the skilled hands of bar manager Erik Droste. He mixes craft cocktails, adding freshly-squeezed fruit juices, and bitters and syrups from his own recipes. Droste has roots in the East Coast, having spent time in New Orleans, and he brings those influences to the Redtail 412 bar, but then adds what he finds locally.
“Just as in the kitchen, I want to keep whatever I can local,” Droste says. Hand-crafted cocktails are infused with blackberry, grapefruit, Asian pear, mango, Macintosh apple, and other tantalizing fruits. A rotating tap has local craft beers, including Allegan-brewed Millgrove beers, popular bottled craft beers, sours and ciders, and a wine and spirits list.
Retail 412 employs about 20 full-time positions. Hours are lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Happy hour is Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations required for 6 people or more. Visit redtail412.com
to view specials.
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC. She also hosts the weekly radio show about books and writers, Between the Lines, at WMUK 102.1 FM.
Photos courtesy Redtail 412.