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Jan 29, 2008 06:55 AM

Must-Eat Joints in Michigan's U.P.

We're doing a road trip across the UP this summer, hitting all the main geographic/geological points of interest on the way...Porcupines, Lake of the Clouds, Pictured Rocks, Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point, Keewenaw Peninsula, Hiawatha National Forest, Grand Sable Dunes, Mackinac I'm wondering what are the can't miss indigenous eateries that you recommend. I'm sure we'll have pasties and fish fries more than once, so where are the best ones. Any killer burger joints? Ethnic Yooper joints (Italian, Ukranian, Czech, Polish, etc)? Pizza parlors?

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  1. If you go through Marquette, a stop at Jilbert's Dairy is a must. Their ice cream is fabulous!

    Jilbert's Dairy
    200 Meeske Ave, Marquette, MI 49855

    4 Replies
    1. re: AnneInMpls

      Pasties (pronounced PAH-stees) are perhaps the indigenous food most closely associated with the UP. They're basically pastries with meat, potatoes, vegetables in them and they're a tradition that was brought by Cornish coal miners.

      Like most indigenous foods, the best ones usually come out of the most unassuming places. My family's favorite come from Lehto's, which is a tiny place along U.S. 2 a few miles west of St. Ignace. And I just discovered, they have a Web site:

      Other than that, don't expect much, although I haven't been to cities like St. Sault Marie or Houghton for several years.

      1. re: rweater

        Jean Kay's on Marquette's north side is a favored local pastie place. Note that these usually contain turnips or rutabagas--personally love 'em, but they're not to everybody's taste. You could buy pasties in Marquette, take them up to Presque Isle park, commune with the herd of albino deer, and be in Yooper Heaven!

        1. re: rweater

          Also--the UP is probably a place where you can buy better food than order it in a restaurant. If you have access to cooking something yourself, sample some local whitefish--often you can buy this at small local fish companies where the fish had been swimming in the lake until that very morning.

          1. re: rweater

            Agreed--smoked fish on a toothpick, accompanied by a cold beer, may be the best thing you can get. Good spot: Gustafson's on U.S. 2 about 30 miles west of the bridge. For fresh fish straight out of the lake, try Thill's Fish House on the dock in Marquette harbor.

      2. There's a lot of bad food in the U.P., and to me that is part of its charm--it's like taking a trip back in time to 1950s America. However, I would not miss Antlers in Sault Ste. Marie (not great food, but the overall experience is tops). The Vierling in Marquette is good (get some homemade root beer to go), and the New York Deli/The Italian Place, though not indigenous, is quite good. Look around Ishpeming and Negaunee for cudighi, an Italian sausage unique to the U.P. One place is Paisano's on the shore of Teal Lake in Negaunee--very pleasant spot. In the copper country, there's a breakfast place in Houghton called the Suomi Cafe, I think, that has Finnish pancakes. Farther up the Keweenaw, do not miss the Jampot, a little store run by monks from a nearby monastery who make incredible jams, like the monks in Belgium brew beer for a living. It's on M-26, not U.S. 41. Thimbleberry jam is worth the money. They also have cookies and baked goods for the road. In Copper Harbor, Harbor Haus has arguably the best German food in the state. Can also try this website, run by some lifelong Michiganders;

        2 Replies
        1. re: Jim M

          I was coming in to mention Harbor Haus. I go up to Isle Royale / Copper Harbor to vacation every few years, and dinner at the Harbor Haus is always a highlight.

          1. re: Jim M

            Awesome website! Thanks, Jim M. We're thinking of meandering around the state for our summer vacation this year--no itinerary, just turn where the road looks interesting, and will probably end up (or start) in the UP.

            Last time we were at Tahquamenon, we ate at the brewpub in the state park. Our experience was very good--we liked the beer and especially the whitefish. However my sister in law ate there more recently and said it wasn't that good.

          2. Vierling's Brewery in Marquette is awesome. Last time I was there, I had a crab stuffed whitefish that was excellent, and a spinach lentil soup that I later found the recipe for online, and I've made numerous times since. I wouldn't go back to Marquette without stopping at Vierling's!

            2 Replies
            1. re: littlesable46

              Marquette updates from my long midweek there:

              1) Had a whitefish picatta at the Vierling, and they really nailed it. Simple, fresh fish there is tops. The brewery is also going great guns (probably to the displeasure of the place next door that must get the steamed-mash smell on their deck). The house-made root beer is great for drivers/nondrinkers. : )

              2) The Italian Place is now open only Friday and Saturday nights. : (d

              3) Big new bakery, the Huron Mountain Bakery, on the southern edge of town on U.S. 41. Didn't have a chance to try it, but it's a place to get a cappuccino fix.

              1. re: littlesable46

                I loved the Vierling. I remember that if you got the beer sampler and drank the stout and the peach one right after the other, you curiously ended up tasting buttered popcorn. Wierd, and yet a wonderful sense memory.

              2. I lived in Houghton for 7 years (undergrad and grad school at MTU) and still go there every other year or so to visit. Here are some good places to eat in Houghton and beyond:

                Suomi Bakery (someone else called it Suomi Cafe in another post, but it is called the Suomi Bakery). It's on Huron St. They do have lots of Finnish specialties like Pannukakku, which is like a baked custard and comes with a thimbleberry sauce. Thimbleberries are like raspberries, and they are a Keeweenaw specialty. They also make the best pasty in the world - better than any of the tourist traps on US 2 just over the bridge. By the way, pasty rhymes with "nasty", it is not pronounced "PAH-sty" as was suggested in another post. If you pronounce it that way, I can guarantee the locals will think you are troll (Yooper slang for a downstater - i.e. someone that lives "under the bridge") trying to fake a Yooper accent. By the way, don't call it a "paste" y, because that's something Gypsy Rose Lee wore in her act. I like pasties with gravy or mustard, but most locals like them with ketchup on them.

                B&B Bar - it's on M26 as you are slightly west of downtown toward the Copper Country mall. This is a local dive bar, but they have the very best Yooper bar snack around - the pickled egg. For more about pickled eggs and a recipe, check out my blog

                Great hamburgers can be found at the Downtowner Bar on US41, which is called Shelden Ave in downtown Houghton, near the lift bridge. If you are there in the summer, sit on the deck and watch the bridge go up and down. Definitely the best burgers in the Keeweenaw there.

                I also love the submarine sandwiches and the "fishbowl" cocktails at the Ambassador, which is slightly up the street from the Downtowner. The fishbowl drinks are served in brandy snifters - my favorite is the "Quaalude". Be careful - they sneak up on you!
                There's a relatively new microbrewery right on Shelden called KBC or Keeweenaw Brewing Company. They don't have food, just beer and peanuts in the shell, but it is really good beer.

                Beyond Houghton
                As you go further up the Keeweenaw, definitely stop at Jampot, as mentioned in the other post and get some thimbleberry jam and any of the monks baked goods. They are heavenly. It's in Eagle Harbor

                I also love the Keeweenaw Mtn. Lodge - it is a great place to have a meal or a cocktail. The food is reminiscient of an old time supper club - planked whitefish, steaks, etc. Also, great viewing atop the Keeweenaw Mountain.

                In Calumet, I really like this coffee shop the Conglomerate Cafe on 5th Street. It is housed in an old bank. Great sweets!

                No tour of the Copper Country would be complete without a stop at the Gay Bar. No, it's not what you are thinking - the Gay Bar is in Gay, Michigan, which is on the east side of the Keeweenaw. When I was a college student in the 80s, you could regularly see the guy that played Jethro Bodine on the Beverly Hillbillies or Ted Nugent there, as they both used to hunt nearby. Now that Tedly's moved to Texas, I'm not sure he visits anymore.

                As you get toward Copper Harbor, I like Fitzgerald's in Eagle Harbor. You can dine overlooking Lake Superior. Also good is the Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor for German food, or whitefish. It's right on Lake Superior as well, and the waitstaff will run out on the deck and welcome the boat returning from Isle Royale.

                Hope this helps!


                1 Reply
                1. re: momskitchen

                  Slim's Cafe in Mohawk. Everything's made from scratch and absolutely wonderful.

                2. Jim M,
                  1950s America is a great way to describe dining in the UP! It's one of the few places that still has true "family restaurants." Will check out Gustafson's.

                  This is a shot in the dark, but any recommendations for the Naubinway area (Mackinac County, along Lake Michigan)? I know there is a pizza place in Naubinway, but that's the only thing I remember. Any place that would be a nice drive for dinner? Newberry?