Northern Michigan has a lot to offer. Not only is it beautiful, with unbelievable scenic drives and gorgeous lake views, the food scene is also pretty spectacular. With a baby in tow, we didn’t hit up the type or amount of restaurants that we usually would, but we definitely ate well. And that’s the thing about this part of the country—the local produce is outstanding, the fish is fresh, the ice cream is creamy and the prices are super affordable, so you don’t really need to do any fine dining to have a great gastronomical experience.
Here’s a rundown of my food highlights (and a lowlight):
Moomers Farm Creamery (7263 N. Long Lake Rd., Traverse City, MI 49685)
Tucked away on the kind of road you’d see in a John Cougar Mellencamp video, sits Moomers Farm Creamery. The family-owned dairy farm/ice cream parlor serves up some of the creamiest scoops I’ve ever experienced. The flavor selection is pretty small (maybe 8 flavors), but that doesn’t make choosing easy. Eventually, and with sufficient hand wringing, I bypassed flavors like Amaretto Cherry, Banana Peanut Butter, and Cupcake in favor of Sweet Tart, smooth vanilla ice cream loaded with sweet and tart cherries, for the base of my tin roof sundae. Smothered in chocolate sauce and salty Spanish peanuts, it made for 10 minutes of heaven—okay, 5.
Village Cheese Shanty (199 River Street Leland, MI 49654)
We stayed in Leland, Michigan, a cute and tiny town with a dockside collection of shanties called Historic Fishtown. One of these little shacks is the Village Cheese Shanty, a great little deli that sells local beer and wine, gourmet foods, cheese curds, and big, delicious sandwiches for only $5.75. Pretzel bread, fresh baked and slightly salty, is their thing. My favorite was the Fishtown, their signature veggie sandwich dressed up with tapenade, dill Havarti, and guacamole.
The Cove (111 River Street Leland, MI 49654)
Also in Leland’s Fishtown is The Cove, home of the Chubby Mary. This drink brings together two of my favorite things: bloody marys and smoked fish. Sounds weird and gimmiky, and it is. But, I don’t care what you say—I still love it. The drink itself is expertly made with the right amount of bite, and they give you a plate of fried crackers with which to enjoy the chub. If I could do it again, I would…over and over again.
Grand Traverse Pie Company (525 West Front Street Traverse City, Michigan 49684)
Michigan had a terrible cherry season this year, but thankfully there were enough to make this luscious Cherry Crumb pie from the Grand Traverse Pie Company. We tried a few different flavors from their lengthy pie case, including Cherry Peach and Summer Berry. Both were delicious, but the Cherry Crumb is kind of ridiculous with its tart cherries balanced by crunchy, sugary crumb topping and a moist, buttery crust. And, oh my god, they have an online shop.
Carlson’s of Fishtown (205 W. River St, Leland)
Another Fishtown gem is Carlson’s. The fish here is as fresh as can be. You can even watch them haul it in from the dock, which is about 10-feet away from this little shanty. We went crazy for the smoked trout, and the fresh whitefish was also topnotch. They even sell long ropes of smoky beef jerky and whitefish pate, a regional favorite.
Cherry Republic Headquarters (6026 Lake St., Glen Arbor, MI 49636)
My in-laws live next to a Cherry Republic, so we were no strangers to the charms of their cherry jelly. The Headquarters, however, is something to be seen. The compound houses 3 cherry-centric buildings: a winery with free cherry wine and soda tastings; a shop with jellies, confections, salsas and any other food you can possibly sneak a cherry into (you can sample everything); and a cafe. In the cafe, they scoop 14 different cherry-flavored ice creams, ice cream sandwiches, smoothies, and floats made with draft cherry soda. Its awesome.
Zehnder’s Z Chef’s Cafe (1365 S. Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI 48734)
Sadly, my last entry is not so sweet. We’d read a lot of good things about Zehnder’s, which is famous for their fried chicken dinners. It was on the way, and very close to the world’s biggest Christmas store, so we figured it’d be a good road trip find. It wasn’t. Zehnder’s is not good. The batter on the fried chicken was bland and the much-celebrated buttered noodles tasted like they might actually be margarine noodles. The rolls, which had a distinct onion flavor, were the high point of the meal. Thank goodness we only ate from the cafeteria since the same meal in their restaurant runs about $20. We did, however, enjoy the mixed berry crumb bar we got from their bakery. Supposedly, they make a nice sticky bun, too, but they were all out when we got there.