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Published: Friday, 12/28/2001

Tamarack Cache Deli: In-store caf a handy place to stop

Cabela's describes itself, none too modestly, as the “world's foremost outfitter” of “hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear,” and adds that the newest of seven stores, up U.S. 23, is “Michigan's Most Popular Tourist Attraction!”

Having prowled its vast lots at what I had expected to be rather slow times, looking for a spot to park the car, I've concluded that the latter claim may be true.

Inside the store, all on one floor except for a mezzanine, there are, besides the goods on sale, staggering displays of wildlife. These include a 65,000-gallon tank holding Michigan game fish and a rocky crag on which appropriate wildlife, from a mountain lion to big-horn sheep, stand about in lifelike poses. It's enough to make the sportswoman's heart beat faster as it enthralls her children.

What, you may be asking, has all this to do with dining out? An attractive deli, the Tamarack Cache, 31 steps up on the mezzanine (there's an elevator), is among the attractions drawing grown-up tourists and their children. There, as you munch on, say, a smoked caribou sandwich, you can contemplate the bustling scene below.

The Tamarack Cache and I might have co-existed for years, each unnoticed, had not a woodsy acquaintance told me of lunching there. Then an advertisement was brought to my attention, a low-profile line of which invited us to dine in the 150-seat deli.

The ad almost suggested a sit-down meal restaurant - no white tablecloth, but table service - but deli is the operative word. Two cafeteria lines is how the Tamarack operates. One line is for sandwich orders, the other for the one-plate daily special. As each line moves along at a leisurely pace, the serving staff, behind high, sneeze-proof glass cases, takes orders and assembles what's asked.

As in every deli, thin-shaved meat, a slab of cheese, and a slice of sweet bermuda onion, piled high between fat slices of rye bread and slathered with hot horseradish-mustard, is central to what the typical customer wants and the house happily provides. The meat can be smoked elk, bison, turkey, or ostrich as well as caribou. But if you don't feel adventurous, there's always an impressive high-rise ham and cheese on marbled rye.

If a sandwich seems a trifle too informal for a traditional lunch or dinner, there is a special that changes daily, according to a week-long routine: lasagna with garlic toast on Monday; Tuesday, beef stroganoff on noodles, and so forth. I can vouch for Wednesday's tasty soft-shell tacos, stuffed with some (but not too much) potatoes, ground meat, and vegetable. If I were a daily customer I'd soon tire of it. But as an alternative to a sandwich, the specials are well-prepared, balanced entrees, generous enough at noon, though somewhat modest for a hearty eater's evening meal. No alcoholic beverages are served.

Thinking of calories, especially this holiday season, I bypassed the relatively long list of conventional desserts, but with regret. At the other end of a meal, salad choices have a segment of their own on the menu.

The prices are extremely reasonable. Subtract what you would normally calculate for a tip that isn't called for or looked for here. I doubt that many will think of the Tamarack Cache deli as worth a visit on its own, but if you're late heading up north or returning home, it's one of the better roadside choices for lunch or supper.

More than once I've been misled by the assurance that “you can't miss it,” but you really can't miss Cabela's and its deli. From Toledo take U.S. 23 to exit 17, and head west to the second light, Cabela Boulevard East, where another right turn will bring you into the parking lot.

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