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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 Island...so 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: http://www.lehtosfamouspasties.com/

      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 http://motherskitchen.blogspot.com/20...

                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 http://www.societystjohn.com/jampot.jp

                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. http://www.atthelodge.com/dining.php. 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.http://www.eagleriverinn.com/2/eagle/.... 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.http://www.harborhaus.com/

                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?

                  1. I had some WONDERFUL fried whitefish at Brown's in Paradise, MI last summer (Paradise is between Tahquamenon and Whitefish Point). When I ordered it, the gal said, "you're going to love it, the fish just came out of the bay this morning."

                    did I say it was wonderful?

                    1. sorry, just remembered, if you're in the eastern section of the forest, you'll be near Brimley. We got some smoked whitefish dip at this place:
                      It was great. They also have whole smoked fish and fried fish. I wished we had tried some of that as well since the dip was so good.

                      oh, and if you see something on a menu somewhere called cudighi, it's a sausage that I've only seen in the UP. I liked it.

                      1. Been some years for me, so I might be out dated:

                        Pilgrim river steakhouse (pilgim river inlet off US-41 just outside houghton) we used to make that our regular 19th hole for Ribs. Spare ribs and Baby back, not trying to be any body eolses style just solid BBQ

                        The Summer Place (US-41 south of Houghton): used to be a supper Club with regular seating hours. THey used to do a real nice prime rib buffet on Weekends, but that was the last century.

                        Is the Library bar any good since they burnt down? Pre-fire they had the best sandwiches and soup in town (swiss onion Au-gratin mmmmm)

                        Downtowner Bar (US-41 at the Bridge, DT burger and a Bloddy Mary Saturday morning to shake off the DT's from the night before) great post snowmobiling medicine

                        Mexican Pizza and Fishbowl and the Ambassador (hurricane my fav) Down Town on block shy of the DT

                        B and B Bar Pickled egg and a Quart of Beer (yes they used to sell us the Q just like the party store, glass optional)

                        Soumi Bakery for the Finnish Big Pancakes

                        Fitzgeralds --eagle river --keewenaw on the shore of Superior, Bloddy marys that looked serve like a salad and decent food, great sun sets

                        JamPot thimble Berry JAm, from the monks in the Keewenaw. Thimble berries only grow wild in that area. not to be had anywhere else.

                        1. well, we leave this Friday and this post is most helpful. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Will report back in a few weeks.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: g rote

                            Did you ever report back, g rote?

                            I am surprised that no one mentioned the Clyde's Drive-In chain. I have had good meals at their locations in Sault Ste Marie, St. Ignace and Manistique. I am not sue if they have other locations.

                            The Big C burger is enormous, sloppy and great. They also have good onion rings and a great perch sandwich.

                            If you visit the one in the Soo, you have a great view of the Sugar Island ferry and the freighters passing by a few hundred yards away on the St Mary's River. But get your food off the tray and in the car right away, the gulls are very aggresive and will steal items off the tray.

                          2. In Ontonogan try Emily's Cafe,great food and wonderful pies.I did not try their Pasties but they are known for them.
                            I believe in Ironwood there is a Bar/Restraunt called DJ's or PJ's,something like that,but wonderful food.
                            The Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor has fantastic Whitefish cooked on cedar shakes

                            1. There are almost no ethnic places up here, as most of the population is of the Finnish decent.The only place I can think of is a recently opened cajun restaurant in downtown Marquette called Lagniappes. A bit pricey, but over the top food and drinks. Very accomodating waitstaff also. You will not be disappointed! Also, the Portside is excellent. The pizza and breadsticks are to die for! In downtown Ishpeming (about 10 miles west of Marquette) Bucks restaurant does a killer breakfast and burgers.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Lindseyup67

                                It's been some time since I was at NMU, but some of the best Asian food I have ever had was at the Rice Paddy, this little house in the shadow of the Superior Dome that had been converted to a two-table restaurant. It was run by a woman named Kim, who would make fried wontons on the spot on in the wok on the back stove; you could see the kitchen from the order counter. I still sigh in overheated contentment at the thought of the Chicken with Wild and Spicy Plum sauce.

                              2. I was just in Marquette, MI this past week, and had some really good barbecue at the Union Grill. They had a real wood smoker and a woodpile right in the parking lot. They use maple wood for smoking.

                                I had a beef brisket sandwich with a side of potato chips, and my daughter had the barbecued chicken sandwich with tortilla chips and a very tasty homemade salsa. Both sandwiches were really good - smoky and just a little crispy on the edges (at least the brisket was - I think they finish it on a grill). The only thing that kept it from possibly being _great_ barbecue was that it came drenched in sauce - a good sauce, but I would have really rather had the meat come without the sauce, to be added at the table. I'll know better next time and order it that way.

                                We also had some really tasty cornbread. There was a variety or pies, cakes, and cheesecakes for dessert, and beer and a really large (for a BBQ place, at least) selection of wines - looked like you could buy these for carry-out, but I might be mistaken. They also served Jilbert Dairy ice cream (soft-serve).

                                In addition to barbecue, they had other sandwiches, salads, and burgers. Very casual atmosphere, and inexpensive - $6-$8 for sandwiches including one side, and $10-$20 for platters/ribs/meals.which come with two sides and cornbread.

                                My daughter is looking at going to college at Northern Michigan University in Marquette - this restaurant is definitely a checkmark in the "pro" column in my book. I don't think I'd drive the seven hours from the Twin Cities just for this restaurant, but if she's going to college there....

                                Union Grill
                                1651 S Front St, Marquette, MI 49855

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: greghoffman

                                  If you go to Harbor Haus when the ferry from Isle Royale is returning, the waitresses line up and do Rockette kicks. It's adorable, although I'm sure they feel silly doing so.

                                  Don't miss out on the Jampot, which is run by a group of Orthodox monks in Eagle Harbor. The monks built an amazing skete (their version of a monastary) on the shores of Lake Superior. Try the wild thimbleberry and wild blueberry jam. They sell cookies and cakes, and they do mail order.


                                2. The Log Cabin Restaurant just east of Escanaba, on Rt. 2, I think, is great. Local ingredients, some game dishes, good wine list.

                                  1. If your vehicle is up to 20 miles on lumber roads, you might want to check out Crisp Point (15 miles west of Whitefish point). It's like Whitefish point except you're likely to be the only person there if it's a weekday. There might be 2-12 others there if it's a weekend.