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Food and Wine                                  March/April 2010                                        Food and Wine

The Station Restaurant and Bar, Iron River, Michigan by Susan Omdahl

                                 

Great food.  Great service.  Great environment.  Add to that a talented, well-trained chef, pure and fresh food, a beautifully-restored historic building, a well-stocked bar, live music, smoke-free air and intelligent conversation, and you’re getting closer to describing The Station Restaurant and Bar in Iron River.  Owned and operated by Jo Werner and Steve Shepich, The Station, which opened in 2005, is their second successful and unique dining establishment in the area.

                    

On the grounds next to The Station is their first creation:  The Depot.  This restaurant is housed in a pair of train cars that once carried commuters on the Long Island Railroad into New York City.  One of the cars houses the kitchen, while the dining car has been restored to recreate a l930’s atmosphere.  Jo and Steve have beautifully renovated the train car with black walnut hardwood floors, handcrafted cherry wall paneling and pressed-tin ceilings.  The elegant surroundings accompany the gourmet food served here since it’s opening in l997.  The operating hours of The Depot had been reduced for the winter season, but starting in May, 2010, Steve’s son plans to have the festive train cars open full time for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Jo Werner, the gourmet chef and creative genius behind the renovation of the Iron River train station building, said that when she first came to town and drove past the dilapidated building, she knew it had great potential.

I love old buildings, she said, “so I bought the train station for my 40th birthday!”  When she was shown the interior, however, she was shocked.  Hundreds of pigeons lived in the attic, some of the wood flooring and windows had been destroyed and the space was being used to store large machinery.  As a true artist, however, Jo recognized the original plaster walls, passenger waiting bench, freight doors, ticket window, huge safe, and porcelain fixtures in the bathrooms.

She called a special architect to draw up plans, and after the mess was cleared and floor and windows were replaced, she was delighted to hear how sound the l914 building was—even after sitting vacant for 50 years!

After actually having a dream that showed Jo the finished fully-restored station building, she met and married Steve, then started The Depot.  The Station plans sat on hold for 14 years until they could make the dream come true.  While cooking at The Depot, Jo and Steve would refinish woodwork, sand floors, paint walls, frame original lithographs and furnish the lounge portion of the station building to help move towards the opening date.  On July 1, 2005, they were finally able to open their doors to customers and cry “All Aboard!”

Jo, whose mother was a home economics teacher, has been interested and involved in the food industry since as a child she sold her homemade cookies on the sidewalk in front of her home.  “My skills have improved since then”, Jo laughed.

In addition to her college degree, Jo’s chef training included studying foods at Ohio State, working at a national park in Texas preparing Mexican food, and finding her way to the Kodiak Islands in Alaska, where she worked in a crab-processing factory.

Jo will only cook with fresh foods in their natural state, using no preservatives, flavor enhancers or MSG.  Her specialties are the certified Angus beef they feature, seafood, fish and her homemade soups, which she starts daily from scratch.  One of the house favorite soups is the roasted red pepper and creamy coconut, but I also love the creamy tomato with parmesan and basil.

Eight appetizers are offered and include tavern-battered jumbo onion rings, chipotle chicken rolls, jumbo shrimp shooters, cod bites and cheese quesadillas.  Known for the 12” thin crust pizzas, the basic 4-cheese blend ($5.50) can be doctored with a variety of fourteen toppings to customize your order.

Their certified Angus one-third pound burgers are served fresh and never frozen.  The Basic Angus ($4.49) keeps company with a deluxe version ($5.49) and a deluxe double ($8.99).  The specialty burgers offer combinations of bacon, cheeses, sauces, mushrooms, sauerkraut, jalapenos and guacamole, and are priced at $7.99.

Jo’s love of fish is evidenced by the variety on the seafood menu.  Three types of salmon---oven roasted Thai Chili, Ginger Teriyaki, or Mediterranean, with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts all crusted with fresh herbs are listed.  Two kinds of tilapia, both oven roasted and a Mexican, with crushed tortilla chips, cilantro, lime zest and sweet red peppers are offered.  A tavern-battered cod and a potato-crusted cod complete the menu.  All these entrees are between $10 and  $12.

Seven interesting dinner salads are offered including a Tuscan Italian (with Balsamic chicken and pepperoni), Oriental chicken salad, a Cobb salad, grilled chicken, a chicken Caesar, a steak salad, and a Southwestern Chipotle chicken salad.  These entrees range from $8 to $12.

The sandwich menu offers five varied paninis, plus the more usual BLT, club and a chicken with bacon and Swiss.

The Station has the best Mexican food around and on “Taco Tuesday”, they feature beef, chicken or bean soft and hard tacos, plus a huge wet burrito, all at incredibly low prices.  Occasionally Jo will feature her pulled pork sandwich, the pork being smoked for 24 hours, then simmered for 24 hours.  I couldn’t believe the full flavor of this barbecued meat came from north of the Mason-Dixon Line!  A new Monday special will be Jo’s homemade mac and cheese, made with real butter, cheddar cheese and whole milk.  To this sensation you can add chicken, steak, shrimp or lobster!

Every Friday night The Station features their live house band for your listening entertainment, and from time to time local artists will pull out a harmonica or step up to a microphone to join in.

Celebrating special events and occasions is a natural at The Station.  Jo and Steve have hosted several wine-tasting dinners, and around St. Patrick’s Day each year, they feature a different brewery for a beer-tasting gala, where they serve special hors d oeuvres and have live music.

Several years ago, Leinenkugel’s Brewery used this event as a test market for their new, unnamed beer.  The crowd loved it and the beer is now marketed as “Sunset Wheat”. 

My husband hosted a special birthday dinner for me at The Station a year ago, and it was a memorable event.  I planned the menu with Jo—offering our guests both stuffed tenderloin and my favorite creamy fettucini Alfredo with huge shrimp.  They served a special dry pink champagne and my favorite carrot cake for dessert.  If only all birthdays could be so festive!

In addition to leasing The Station for private parties (class reunions, wedding and funeral receptions, baby showers), Jo is also available to cater meals at other locations.

Complimenting Jo’s culinary skills is Steve’s ability at the bar.  He is a master of social work (MSW) and a former Stambaugh Hilltopper and Michigan State Representative.  With these credentials, no wonder he is such a great bartender.

The Station bar offers 26 domestic beers and 13 imports.  Currently on tap are four beers from Houghton, Michigan’s Keewenaw Brewing Company.  They have the most diverse offerings of liquor in Iron County, including 2 kinds of single malt scotch, 7 tequilas, 5 kinds of rum, 13 vodkas, plus several brandies, whiskeys and cordials.  During football season, they offer a Bloody Mary Bar filled with all the seasonings, sauces and garnish to build a great do-it-yourself drink.

So come on into The Station to enjoy a festive meal, get great take-out food, sit at the bar for your favorite drink and enlightened conversation, or relax in the special lounge seating, listen to music and wait for the next train to leave town!                     

           Early photo of the depot from the Alan Loftis Collection  

      History of the Iron River Depot

Exploration for iron ore in the Iron River area was begun in 1880.  The first iron mine, the Iron River Mine was opened soon after.  The name of this mine was changed to the Riverton Mine sometime later.  The mine's owner persuaded the Chicago and Northwestern to extend its line from Stager to Iron River, a distance of about 15 miles.  The village was platted on the west bank of the Iron River and was the first settlement platted on the west side of Iron County.

The C&NW line to Iron River was completed in the fall of 1882.  Although the original village grew rapidly, the Panic of 1893 stiffled further growth for some time. 

 From 1889 to 1900, no ore was mined on the entire west side of the county, including near Iron River.  During this period, residents turned to logging for employment.  Small logging railroads penetrated parts of western Iron Coutny, allowing for harvesting of hardwood stands after the pine was removed.

The turn of the century saw the areas greatest period of growth, with a steady increase of pig iron using the soft, phosphoric ores found around Iron River.  New mines were developed at a rapid pace after ore was discovered outside of the Iron River valley at the James Mine in 1905.  This area later became Mineral Hills.  From 1905 to 1912, the number of mines increased from six to 16.  The Village installed a sewer system in 1905 and electric light facilities in 1908.  The 1910 census showed a population of 7,816 on the west side of Iron County.

Iron River encompassed the Beta and Nanaimo mines.

The cluster of towns around Iron Mountain (Caspian, Stambaugh, Gaastra and Mineral Hills) were united by public transportation in 1913 when a street railway franchise was granted to the Iron River and Crystal Falls Street Railway Company.  The 4 and 1/2 mile long line operated until 1921.

Iron River was incorporated as a city in 1926.  The Great Depression forced the closing of most mines and although some reopened at the beginning of World War II, the mining industry never again regained its earlier high level of production. 

In 2000, Iron River, Stambaugh and Mineral Hills merged to form the new City of Iron River. 

Information researched from an article from the Iron County Historical Society, written by Marcia Bernh
 

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