Michigan's Upper Peninsula

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2019/08/01 17:10:57 (permalink)

Michigan's Upper Peninsula

This summer my other half and I decided to spend our vacation touring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of summer trips there, but he'd never been, so we combined revisiting my favourite spots with going to a few I always wanted to but never was allowed, and also checking out foods and craft beer we haven't tried before.
First stop, just across the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace was The Original Lehto's Pasties. If you're in the UP, you have to have pasties, and if you're going to have pasties, you have to have Lehto's. They're located right on the side of Highway 2, with a dirt driveway and picnic tables under the trees for dining.



The original location only serves the traditional style with beef, potato, rutabaga, and onion, optional gravy on the side. Which was perfectly fine with me, because that is exactly what I wanted. They came wrapped in waxed paper, almost too hot to eat right away, so we enjoyed the breeze while they cooled.

First bite was heaven, and my childhood came rushing back to me! Perfectly done vegetables, tasty meat, and just a hint of sauce to keep it from being dry. The pastry was solid enough to hold onto, but also flaky enough to melt in your mouth. Adding a bit of gravy later on was also delicious, but completely unnecessary.

After finishing our pasties, we headed for our first home base of the trip, Escanaba. By the time we got there we were tired and hungry and didn't really care what we ate, so we landed at Mo's Pub primarily because they were open and still serving food. What a lucky choice! It's definitely a bar, with regulars, but they also don't make tourists feel unwelcome. We started with some fried cheese curds, and they were excellent! Perhaps left to fry a little too long as many of them were losing their cheese filling, but still very tasty.

I tried what I thought was a local craft beer called Mango Gold, which turned out to be from a brewing company less than five miles from my house in Grand Rapids, The Mitten. After that I had a beer whose name unfortunately escapes me that was brewed specifically for Mo's, which was also an excellent choice. Unfortunately, no pictures of either beer.

We got a Black and Bleu burger and a Bacon Cheddar Pulled Pork sandwich to share, along with a single order of fries. The burger was fantastic! Actual bleu cheese crumbles in addition to bleu cheese dressing, perfectly seasoned meat, and a bun that was either made fresh in house or from a local bakery, soft with just the right amount of chewiness. The pulled pork was decently smoked with a tangy sauce, thick bacon done just right, and perfectly melted cheese on an onion bun of the same quality as that of the burger.
The next day we went exploring, with no particular destination in mind other than a couple of towns whose names made us giggle. We ended up sharing a sandwich for lunch from Crispigna's Italian Market that I completely forgot to photograph. It was a four meat Italian sandwich on a tasty (but verging on stale) bun with incredible pickled peppers and onions. One sandwich was enough for two people to share for a light meal that didn't ruin our appetites for dinner.
Dinner that night was again in Escanaba, coincidentally at Crispigna's Italian Restaurant. Same family, but a sit-down place in town. We got there shortly after they opened, and by the time we left the place was packed. It had the feel of a small town diner, but the decorations of every Italian restaurant you've ever been to. Service was friendly and attentive, and the price was reasonable.

I started with a spinach salad with hot bacon dressing, which while nothing special certainly tasted good. Their bread came with herbed butter and was just the right combination of crust and tender, chewy inside. Served warm, they were happy to bring us another loaf at no extra charge when we finished the first one almost immediately.

For my entree, I chose the Filetto Gorgonzola, which is sauteed beef tenderloin with mushrooms and a Gorgonzola cream sauce. It was amazingly rich, but the portion size was perfectly on the edge of my not being able to eat any more but still being satisfied with what I had. For my side, I chose pasta with cheese sauce. The pasta was textbook al dente, and the cheese sauce looked grainy but had a very smooth mouth feel. I couldn't have been happier with my decision.
The next day found us on a road trip to Copper Harbor. We stopped in Marquette to visit the Maritime Museum, and also ended up with another fantastic arbitrary lunch choice. As it turns out, Jean Kay's Pasties & Subs was sporting a "Roadfood Recommended" sticker in their window!

We entered through the side door and were immediately greeted by the smell of freshly-made goodness. The owner's daughter was at the register, and recommended the traditional pasty. It sounded good to me, so I got one with a small side of gravy. And of course a Vernor's, because it's the best ginger ale on the planet and I'll gladly fight anyone who says differently.

Did I remember to take a picture of the inside of the pasty? No, I did not. But it was very similar to the one from Lehto's, except without that hint of sauce. Since it was dry, I needed the gravy, which was very good. The pastry was good, but not thick enough to hold together when picked up, so I ended up making a sort of bread bowl out of it and pouring in the gravy. It was good and the price was definitely reasonable, but Lehto's still wins best pasty in my book.

What Jean Kay's has to offer is a thing I've never seen or heard of before. The daughter described it as "spicy ketchup", probably because she's used to tourists who don't get it. But when I bought a bottle from the owner, he assured me it's best on pasties, but can be used with a wide variety of other foods. I couldn't get enough of it, and my mouth is watering now just writing about it. It's thinner than ketchup, and infinitely tastier. I can't really describe it other than the perfect marriage between hot pepper sauce and red gravy, with a little something thrown in that sends it over the top. I'm already thinking I should have bought two bottles.

A little further up the Keweenaw Peninsula, so far off the beaten path you become convinced you've made a wrong turn and/or your GPS is possessed sits the Poorrock Abbey. The monks make the BEST jams and jellies I've ever had the great good fortune to put in my mouth! It had been years since I was there, so I may have bought more than I can possibly eat in a year, but they'll keep. I knew I was getting cherry butter, but they also had grape butter which I've never tried. And dandelion jelly is like summer in a jar, so I had to have some. You can't go wrong with black cherries, and I got one of the last few jars of Red Thimbleberry jam they had. If you've never had thimbleberry jam, you're definitely missing out.

Late afternoon, after taking a more scenic route from Poorrock, we finally arrived in Copper Harbor. While you can't drive out to the very tip of the point, you can get pretty close, and you're as far north as you can go in Michigan. It's a gorgeous place in summer, and if you're the type who enjoys snow I'm told it's even more fantastic in winter. I'll trust that's true without finding out for myself.

Our dinner spot was Harbor Haus. We actually arrived almost an hour before their dinner service started, so we sat out on their deck enjoying the view until they were ready for us. They are located right on Lake Superior, and have a dock so patrons can arrive by boat or by land to eat. The ambience is what you'd expect from a mid-range restaurant in a tourist town. They have a separate bar and dining area (although the bar also has tables), and there is no food service on the deck, only drinks. It was gorgeous! The only problem was with the owners. The husband and wife greeted us at the door, and it was clear they expected us to not be able to pay (we were windblown and wearing comfortable clothes since we'd been on the road for several hours instead of having dressed for dinner). When we declined drinks while we waited, they came back with that same snooty attitude. When we were seated for dinner, we were placed in the very back of the dining room, as far away from other patrons as possible. Our waitress, however, was fantastic! She was fun, and clearly did not subscribe to her bosses' superior attitude. We even discussed how we'd love to go get a drink together, but we had a 4+ hour drive and she was working three jobs for the summer while living in a tent.
The food, though. The food was amazing.

We started with bread (again, the perfect combination of crust and tender inside) with quality olive oil and a very tasty spice blend for dipping. We also had whitefish corn chowder, which when it arrived I thought was a very small portion, especially after I took the first bite. It was heavenly. Verging in too much salt, but delightful. Creamy, rich, and with far more whitefish than corn. It was so rich that by the time I was done with the bowl, I couldn't have eaten any more if I'd had to. I accompanied the soup with a Pickaxe Blonde Ale from the Keweenaw Brewing Company, which I'll definitely drink again.

For my entree, I had a hard time deciding between whitefish and trout. When I narrowed it down to trout, I had a hard time deciding between the griddle seared and the marinated and wood fire grilled. I settled on the marinated, wood fire grilled, and I don't have any regrets. The fish was done perfectly so it flaked with my fork and the marinade was delicious but didn't overwhelm the taste of the fish. Every entree comes with the vegetable of the day and a choice of salad and side. I went with a Caesar salad (no picture) and the wild mushroom risotto. Sadly, the risotto was inedibly salty. But when we mentioned that to our waitress she immediately told the chef, who tasted it, agreed, and threw the entire batch in the dumpster. We declined a replacement since it would take too long to make another batch.
I just realized how long this is and will start a second post.
post edited by felix4067 - 2019/08/01 17:12:03

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    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 17:21:11 (permalink)
    Great start to your report.
    I've been curious about going to the upper reaches of the continental U.S. for a while.
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 18:17:06 (permalink)
    New day, new adventure! We were sticking close to home since we'd done a ton of driving the last few days, so we had dinner across the street from our hotel at the Family Inn. Nothing but good, satisfying, perfectly cooked, flavourful homestyle breakfast here, and exactly what we wanted.

    The coffee was bottomless, the American fries were tender with crisp edges, the sausage was probably commercially made but done to perfection, the eggs were fluffy, and the toast was done exactly how I like it. There's something to be said for a basic breakfast platter.
    From there, we decided to try more beer, so we headed to the Upper Hand Brewery

    Our first flight, which I forgot about photographing until we'd already finished one and started another, was (left to right) Yooper Ale, Rescue Annie, New Sun, and Laughing Fish Ale. I was a big fan of the Yooper Ale, but the rest were fine but not spectacular. The New Sun had an odor that made me think it was skunked, but it didn't have the corresponding taste.

    Second flight (left to right): Escanaba Black, UPA, Yooper Ale, Light Lager. It turns out one pour of the Yooper Ale was all I really wanted, but it still wasn't bad. The UPA was surprisingly less hoppy than I was expecting, and the light was so nondescript I could have been drinking any given light beer. The black was tasty, but the short pour was plenty.

    That ended our stay in Escanaba, along with the western half of the Upper Peninsula. Next stop: Sault Ste. Marie!
    We stopped at Kitch-iti-Kipi on the way there (a must see beautiful place), and by the time we were nearing the hotel we were done with driving. A friend had recommended we eat at Pickles Bar & Grill in Brimley, so we took a short detour and went. Again, one of those places you think you've gone completely wrong while driving, but eventually the road ended in their parking lot. They are located right on the waterfront of Waiska Bay, and also have a boat dock so patrons can arrive for dinner that way. They have interior seating, but we opted for the upper level of three on the back deck overlooking the water.

    With a name like Pickles, we of course were obligated to start with deep fried pickles. They offered both chips and spears, but our waitress told us they'd run out of chips and weren't making any more since they were gearing up for dinner service so we got the spears.

    The batter was very light and crunchy, and had dried dill added for flavour. A couple of the spears were a bit too thick so the juice squirted out and burned, but for the most part were good. A single order was a good size to share between two people without being too much pickle.

    I ordered the fried whitefish basket, which came with fries and coleslaw. It was fine, but I can't understand why you would deep fry whitefish when it already tastes so good. It was left without much flavour other than the breading, which was very crisp. The fries were acceptable, and the coleslaw was meh. In retrospect, I should have avoided the fish and gone with a burger, which my friend said were excellent. Live and learn!
    Our first runout from Sault Ste. Marie was down to St. Ignace, which other than going to Lehto's we'd skipped entirely since we had a long drive. I finally got to go to the Mystery Spot, which I'd been wanting to do since I was a small child. It was delightfully cheesy and my childhood dream was finally fulfilled.

    We had lunch at Bentley's B-M-L Diner, another place we basically stumbled upon. I have an obsession with whitefish, so I had their whitefish sandwich, which came with house-made chips. Delightful! The fish was fried exactly right, and the condiments complemented rather than overwhelmed its taste. It was made as a variety of BLT, so it had a couple of strips of bacon, tomato, and lettuce. Simply mayonnaise to dress. Very nice choice for lunch! I also had ice cream (which I didn't photo because they gave it to me in a plastic cup rather than a bowl and you couldn't really see it). Two small scoops each of Michigan Pothole and Blueberry Waffle Cone. The food and ice cream were both very good, and the location was excellent. The service, however, was not up to par. Our waitress appeared to be barely old enough to hold a job, and she forgot our drink order as well as our request for refills. She was nice, just entirely too young and inexperienced to be waiting tables downtown in a tourist town.
    Another St. Ignace spot, and one I am very cross I forgot to photo, was Manley's Fish Market. It's clearly in someone's yard, and decorated to please the tourists with wagon wheels, saw blades, and other miscellaneous rustic things. The counter is in a shack stuffed with all manner of fishing gear and whatnot, all obviously used on a regular basis. The man waiting on us said he was the third generation of fishermen who smoked the fish they caught, and it certainly showed in the quality! We got smoked whitefish, and I couldn't have been happier about it. Gutted, beheaded, and smoked whole as they should be, each fish was the perfect amount of meat for one person for dinner. I don't know what wood they use for smoking, but it imparted a flavour that still makes my mouth water.

    The next day we decided to explore Sault Ste. Marie proper, again because we didn't feel like driving very far. We poked into a few places, visited a few beaches, went to some souvenir shops, and scouted for what we might want later. We ended up having lunch at Oh Crepe and Coffee because the name made us giggle.

    I got a smoked salmon crepe, which was to die for! Flaky crepe, what I assume to be local smoked salmon, and fresh spinach, spread with cream cheese and sprinkled liberally with fresh dill. I also got a bag of parmesan and ranch potato chips from a local-ish company, and an iced coffee. Altogether very good!
    I did not take a picture of the fudge I bought because I'm not going to tell you how much I got so you won't think I'm a horrible pig. But after lunch we stopped at Fudge du Locke and I spent a bit of money. It's not MY fault they were having a buy 3/get one free sale, or that fudge was $2 off a pound. It's the UP. You must buy fudge. It's the law.
    The next day was the last of our road trip days and completed our tourist-ing. We went to the Tahquamenon Falls, and while we were there had lunch at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery

    I indulged in a couple pints of Wolverine Wheat Ale, which was very tasty and perfectly cloudy as a good wheat beer should be.

    We started with their spicy cheese curds, which were very good. And while they came with ranch dressing (as everything in the midwest does), it was thicker than most and tasted like they may have made it themselves.

    My meal was the special, a Beer Burger. As best I can remember from the sign, it was 1/3 pound beef patty made with one of their beers, topped with beer cheese, spread with some kind of beer aioli. The fries were beer-battered, and the bun was nice and soft. It was a lot of food; far more than it appeared on the plate. I was stuffed.
    Our last day of vacation we mostly lazed around the room savoring the end of our time. But we did venture out for dinner and drinks eventually. Dinner was at the 1668 Winery and Lockside Brewery in Sault Ste. Marie. When we walked in, there was only one other table, but we figured it was early and they'd fill up. Service was slow, which is even more amazing since there was no one there. I tried a glass of black raspberry wine, and it was tasty but was more like drinking fruit juice than anything else. The menu listed recommended wine pairings for their entrees, but they did not have most of them in stock. Instead, they offered three beers and seven wines, and our waitress made a point of announcing they only serve their own because they're not a taproom.

    We started with some hummus and pita chips since they were out of smoked whitefish dip for some unknown reason. The pita chips were tasty, and the hummus was OK, but it had remarkably little flavour and had something added to it that made it green. For dinner I ordered (go figure) baked whitefish. The fish itself was good, and being baked let its natural flavour shine through, especially when enhanced with a bit of lemon juice. The potatoes were not only unexpected, but dry and flavourless, as if they'd opened a bag of Ore Ida and forgot to season them. The coleslaw was absolutely tasteless, but looked good. My consort ordered a Reuben panini, which arrived looking like a regular Reuben sandwich on thick swirled rye bread that had briefly been stuck in a panini press. With all the glitches, the small selection of beverages, and the slow service (it took almost 45 minutes for our food to arrive, and by then there was no one else in the place), we figured they must have just opened. Sadly, they've been open for four years.

    From there, we decided to cut our losses and try the brewery everyone recommended, Soo Brewing Company. They had a very small selection of beers, most of which were dark or IPA, so we ordered the only thing that wasn't. the Laker Gold is a blonde ale that was oddly hoppy and bitter. It was a neat place in a great location, and looked like somewhere I'd want to hang out, but the beer wouldn't bring me back.
    And so ended up adventure up across the Straits. We weren't expecting to be wowed, and for the most part we weren't, but the things that were good were over the top excellent. Overall it was not only a scenic win but a culinary win as well.
    post edited by felix4067 - 2019/08/01 18:49:01
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 18:24:07 (permalink)
    Since I got the pictures to work, this post is silly. So I'll throw in a couple of places we stopped on our way back home even though they're downstate instead of across the Bridge.

    First up, Short's Brewery Pub. I've enjoyed their beers for ages, but never had a chance to drive the 3+ hours from home to go there. We took a more scenic route home along the coast of Lake Michigan and stopped for lunch.

    I had a wonderful sandwich they call the Old Man Thunder. Braised beef shoulder, roasted peppers and onions, beer cheese sauce, and roasted garlic mayo. The beef was a little dry on the edges, but overall fantastic. Their house-made chips are very tasty as well. I accompanied it with the best amber ale I've had in my life, that they call Queen Bee.
    We also had an order of soft pretzels, which I forgot to photo. They're made with cast-off grains from the brewing process, and served with an excellent spicy mustard, beer cheese sauce, and peanut butter and jelly. Fabulous!

    Finally, we stopped at the Dublin General Store for jerky. They are known at least statewide for their jerky, if not further. They do beef, chicken, turkey, pork, venison, duck, rabbit, elk, moose, bear, pheasant, and almost any other animal you can think of. Different marinades, different flavours. I tend to stick with the original more often than not. This time I got the original duck, rabbit, venison, and pheasant, along with some maple elk. Best. Jerky. Ever.
    post edited by felix4067 - 2019/08/01 18:47:22
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 18:57:26 (permalink)
    Damn.. ...between the food and the beer my mouth won't stop watering!
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 23:08:54 (permalink)
    Just WOW WOW WOW!  FELIX!!!  Besides all of the glorious food, you are a master with the words!  What an excellent, fun trip report!  I'll never get to pretend I'm a Yooper but I just got to live it through your eyes and taste buds.  Thank you!
    PS:  Bravo!
    Double Cheeseburger
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 23:12:33 (permalink)
    Great report!
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/01 23:15:52 (permalink)
    Great report and pictures Felix.
    Did ChiBears15 show you how to do it? It's a service he offers.
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/02 09:09:31 (permalink)
    New day, new adventure! We were sticking close to home since we'd done a ton of driving the last few days, so we had dinner across the street from our hotel at the Family Inn. Nothing but good, satisfying, perfectly cooked, flavourful homestyle breakfast here, and exactly what we wanted.

    Did you have to pretend you didn't know what for?
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/02 12:31:01 (permalink)
    Great report - thank you for writing it! I love smoked whitefish, but out here in the Bay Area, I rarely see it. 
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    Re: Michigan's Upper Peninsula 2019/08/02 17:12:51 (permalink)
    Thank you! I've never managed to take enough pictures or take enough notes to write a report before, so this time I told the Guy I absolutely had to do it. Still missed a few, but the only thing I didn't include was the night we were tired and hungry and the first two places we tried either didn't actually serve food or were closed so we ended up at Hardee's. Which we then made better by going back to Mo's, where I finally met a friend I've known only online for almost 10 years.
    Now I want to travel more so I can write more! 
    Did you have to pretend you didn't know what for?

    I have no idea to what you might be referring. 
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