N3 pays a visit to R*Farm
By Ken DeLaat
“Thank you for the best steak I have ever eaten.”
“Your ribeye changed my life”
Since opening their doors at the downtown Bailey site of the landmark known for ¾ of a century as the Hilltop Bakery, Jodi and Phil Robeck have been on the receiving end of many such compliments. After operating their beef business out of their home since 2006 the couple learned of the availability of the new digs and, with family ties to the iconic M-37 building, they made the move this past spring to open the R*Farm store as a way to better serve the customer base they have developed over the years.
There is so much to like about this enterprise including the welcoming personalities of the Robecks. The shelves are stocked with Michigan made goods, local produce is available and, keeping the tradition alive, there are those famous Hilltop donuts made from scratch and sitting in a case just waiting to be boxed up and carted off.
Like so many who traveled north from the city over the years , the Hilltop was a stopover must for our family when I was growing up because what better way to begin a road trip up North than with a sack or two of donuts? It was also a sure way for my parents to keep us kids quiet for a spell, no easy task in a station wagon packed with 4 siblings hunkered in for a 3-4 hour drive and anticipating a long awaited week of cottage life.
But I digress.
As I said there are many reasons to like this store.
Particularly the meat.
While my Lifetime Spousal Companion Lil leans more toward a diet suited for herbivores, my palate runs in the direction of favoring a savory slice of meat, preferably pork or beef with a decided preference toward beef.
Unless of course it's bacon because...well…it’s bacon.
One year for Christmas I had three guys to buy presents for. Two in those ‘let’s draw names’ things and a Secret Santa obligation as well. Never one to enjoy these exercises in seasonal searches for difficult-to-buy-for giftees, I opted for an all-meat Christmas with steaks and jerky fulfilling my gifting commitments. It went over much better than the screwdriver sets and T-shirts received from others, albeit the need for refrigerating presents doesn’t always jibe well with Christmas parties.
I’ve always held a special place in my heart for meatatoriums. While living in GR I was on a first name basis with counterfolks at many of the west side markets and continue to visit them when in need of their wonderful sausage creations.
So yeah, meat is kind of important to me.
A while back our daughter Lesly suggested we try getting some items from R*Farm where she and D-I-L Abi had been scoring their main dish selections. I decided to give them a try, picking up a few steaks for a cookout. They were Delmonico cuts and my first bite absolutely delivered the message to my taste buds that good times were about to begin. Despite attempting to savor the experience to the fullest, and virtually ignoring the intrusion of any side dishes there was disappointment in just one area.
It was over too soon.
While visiting the store for this article and chatting with the Robecks I discovered the superior flavor of their beef involved a special recipe feed for their livestock, a custom formula developed with the help of MSU Beef Educator, Kevin Gould. This recipe is put together by Ceres Solutions in White Cloud.
Seriously good meat. From the ground version to the roasts and steaks these cuts of culinary distinction have solidified RFarm's place as the venue of choice going forward for the denizens of N3World Headquarters.
Also, the Robecks are big supporters of the local community and have allowed a couple of other stands to operate on site.
Our last time there we got sweet corn (and some wicked watermelon) from the Scholten Farm who were running a booth in front of the store and a stand next to the building had a guy pitching peaches we purchased. Another plus was the presence of Mata Taco that day, the mobile eatery that last summer dominated the voting when we ran our food truck poll.
R*Farm is simply the finest farm to table venue for beef we have encountered.
And we’re not alone.
The store is transitioning from a well kept secret to a destination stop for beef aficionados who can always be counted on to find the cream of the crop when it comes to their meat. It is the kind of place where first time customers become store regulars.
After years of being the stopover for donuts and baked goods the Bailey locale continues the tradition of serving folks their oven-fresh wares.
Except now there’s a whole lot more being offered inside their doors.
“Yeah, can you give me two plain, three chocolate, a couple of glazed…and I’m going to need to score some of those T Bones for the grill.”
R*Farm is open 5:30am to 6pm Monday through Friday and from 8am-5pm Saturdays.
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