Good Eats in the Great Lakes State
Michigan’s regions are filled with local treats and ethnic specialties.
If you know where to go, it’s easy to eat your way across Michigan. Food lovers rejoice: There’s more to summer in the Great Lakes State than water.
Dutch Coffee Klatch, Holland
Tulips and windmills have long defined the Dutch enclave of Holland. Before long it might be coffee.
Professional baristas — and those who would be — travel from as far away as Europe to Holland’s Midwest Barista School (jpscoffee.com) to learn the fine art of making coffee. Located inside JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar, the school teaches café professionals the subtleties of brewing coffee, cappuccino and skinny lattes with a double shot of caramel.
But in 2009, the Midwest Barista School began inviting mere amateurs, folks who simply wanted to brew café-quality coffee drinks at home. The four-hour, one-on-one classes pair coffee lovers with coffee masters, and they’ve proven popular. Barista trainers take students from grinding the beans to frothing the milk, and they also offer advice on purchasing good coffee and equipment.
If coffee alone isn’t tempting enough, there are the city’s bakeries. Dutch pastries and breads commonly fill bakery shelves, and DeBoer Bakkerij (deboerbakery.com) is a popular location. Store shelves display Dutch crust bread, almond banket and Dutch cookies, including delicate, buttery krakelingen or speculaas — cinnamon and nutmeg, windmill-shaped cookies — perfect for dunking in coffee.
Cherry Jubilee, Traverse City
The pinky finger of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula has long grown cherries. Nourished on three sides by Lake Michigan, the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City is prime cherry country.
Visit any Traverse City restaurant and you are likely to find the hometown fruit. Breakfast menus include cherry pancakes and muffins. Green salads are sprinkled with candied pecans and tart dried cherries. Cafes pour chocolate-cherry-flavored coffee. And dinner menus include cherry reduction sauce on roast chicken, or cherry barbecue sauce on pork.
Chief among Traverse City’s cherry emporiums is Cherry Republic (cherryrepublic.com). Like the town’s bakeries, Cherry Republic sells cherry breads, scones and chocolate-cherry cookies. Adventurous foodies tout the shop’s more unusual treats: tangy, sweet cherry barbecue sauce, chutney and salsa; cherry juice concentrate; cherry crème honey; thick white chocolate-cherry peanut butter; blazing cherry hot sauce; and cherry gumballs. The staff reminds customers how healthy cherries are, which is all the more reason to indulge.
Microbrewery Mecca, Grand Rapids
Michigan loves its breweries, especially Grand Rapids, which has four microbreweries in a city of 200,000.
The B.O.B. (thebob.com) fills a four-story redbrick former grocery warehouse downtown with two restaurants, three bars, a nightclub, a comedy club and a brewery, which crafts its own beer on site. Traditional porters and lagers share menu space with more unusual combinations like Mango Chipotle and Papaya Peach Ginger Ales, making it one of the most interesting microbreweries in town.
But Founders Brewing (foundersbrewing.com) is widely considered Grand Rapids’ best. A beautifully renovated former downtown truck terminal houses Founders, known for brewing big, bold beers — Red’s Rye Pale Ale, KBS Stout aged in oak bourbon barrels and the pungent Double Trouble Imperial IPA.
Be sure to check out Founders’ specialty board when you arrive. The brewers are known to make free use of chocolate, coffee, fruit, vegetables and a variety of spices in their beers.
North of the Bridge, St. Ignace
“With or without?”
The question always on the lips of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wait staff refers to rutabagas, and the dish you might (or might not) add them to is the pasty (pronounced “past-ee”).
If the U.P. had an official food, it would be the pasty. The flaky pocket of dough resembles a turnover and was brought over by Cornish immigrant miners in the 1800s. Filled with beef, potatoes, onions, carrots and (perhaps) rutabagas, pasties were the perfect take-along lunch. Pasties remain a U.P. staple, with chicken and vegetarian options available alongside traditional beef.
In St. Ignace, travelers have feasted on homemade pasties at Bessie’s (bessiesoriginalhomemadepasties.com) for more than 50 years. The restaurant’s namesake, Bessie Phelps, got her start in the pre-Mackinac-bridge days selling hot dogs and sandwiches to travelers waiting to catch the ferry south.
When Bessie’s Restaurant opened in 1958, her fans followed and her menu expanded to include smoked fish and pasties.
Bessie’s beef pasties follow the traditional pattern, filled with beef and vegetables, the dough thick and flaky. Unlike a pot pie, pasties aren’t filled with gravy, but you can order them that way. Or you can eat them the way the locals do — smothered in ketchup.
Arab-American Feast, Dearborn
A basket of piping hot pita bread and the sounds of traditional Middle Eastern music greet visitors to Al-Ameer
(alameerrestaurant.com). The authentic Lebanese restaurant sits in the heart of Detroit’s auto country — the classic Henry Ford Museum is in this neighborhood — and in the heart of a vibrant Arab-American community.
Restaurants serving up kebabs, schwarmas and creamy plates of hommous are no rarity in Dearborn. But the best of Dearborn’s Middle Eastern restaurants is Al-Ameer. Order a sampling of Al-Ameer’s appetizers with a maza plate, filled with hommous, baba ghanouge, tabbouli and fattoush. Favorite entrées include savory schwarmas (wraps of marinated, roasted meat and fresh vegetables) and ghallaba (roasted meat served over rice). Wash it down with a glass of juice, including mango, papaya, carrot or spinach.
Polish Treat, Bay City
The small town of Bay City, set on eastern Michigan’s Lake Huron coast, has had a large Polish population for decades. Their favorite place to eat? Krzysiak’s House (krzysiaks.com).
Since 1979, Krzysiak’s House has dished up Polish specialties so popular that the restaurant has expanded five times. The hand-painted murals inside Krzysiak’s House were created by local artists, one depicting the Krzysiak family, another recounting the restaurant’s numerous construction projects, and still others depicting scenes from owner Don Krzysiak’s trip to the motherland, Poland.
But it’s the food that draws some 900 customers per day to this Bay City restaurant. Favorites include: golabki, a savory mixture of pork, veal and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and topped with a tomato sauce; potato pancakes topped with applesauce or sour cream; and pierogi (ravioli-like pockets stuffed with cheese, potato or sauerkraut). Polish beers Warka and Zywiec round out the meal.
Summer in Michigan is all about eating, drinking and outdoor entertainment.
Michigan takes its culinary fun to a new level at food festivals across the state. Check out these summertime celebrations.
Morel Mushroom Festival
Boyne City, May 13–16. morelfest.com. 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Boyne City’s annual morel festival. Celebrate Michigan’s favorite fungus with cooking classes, morel hunts and lots of taste testing.
World Expo of Beer
Frankenmuth, May 21–22. frankenmuthfestivals.com. The premise at this annual festival is simple: Sample from among 250 beers from 50 breweries and five continents. You’ll find lots of food and live music, too.
National Strawberry Festival
Belleville, June 18–20. nationalstrawberryfest.com. In mid-June, the town of Belleville celebrates the season with strawberry pie, strawberry jam, strawberry scones, strawberry eating contests … well, you get the idea.
Great Lakes Wine Festival
Brooklyn, June 26–27. mispeedway.com. 2010 marks the launch of the new Great Lakes Wine Festival at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, a celebration that includes wines from every corner of the state.
National Cherry Festival
Traverse City, July 3–10. visit.cherryfestival.org. Taste local wines and attend cherry-themed food events at this northern Michigan festival. Other popular events include art fairs, parades, children’s games and live music.
Michigan Brewer’s Festival
Ypsilanti, July 23–24. michiganbrewersguild.org. More than 100 Michigan-brewed beers are featured at this annual festival in southeastern Michigan. Besides tasting beers, visitors can get information about brewing their own.
Pig Gig Ribfest
Saginaw, August 5–8. piggig.com. Rib masters arrive at this Saginaw competition each August to show off their skills and vie for first-place honors.
National Blueberry Festival
South Haven, August 12–15. blueberryfestival.com. Fresh blueberries and blueberry pancakes are always available at this western Michigan festival, but visitors can also dine on barbecued chicken and enjoy a Wisconsin-style fish boil.