When you travel to Michigan, you’ll want to sample its abundant bounty. Michigan is second to California in its crop variety. Add that to Michigan’s production of sugar beets and the Great Lakes’ abundance of fish, and it all equals big flavor in the Great Lakes State.
If you’re planning to visit Michigan, be sure to check out these nine randomly listed local specialties.
Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of tart cherries. Early July is the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, so that’s the perfect time to try fresh cherries at their peak. To sample the freshest cherries, stop by one of the roadside fruit stands.
Grand Traverse Pie Company offers several versions of cherry pie in their cafe, which also serves lunch.
Cherry Republic offers cherry products that will allow you to enjoy cherries at home after a visit. Dried cherries make great additions to muffins and bread, while dried chocolate-covered cherries make for a tasty, sweet treat on their own. You can buy everything from jam and cherry-spiked barbecue sauce to ice cream and wine.
Pro Tip: Many roadside farm stands don’t accept credit cards. Be sure to carry cash in small bills.
The enticing smell of chocolate drifts through the air on Main Street, where you can enjoy watching the candy makers create their confections through big glass windows. While they didn’t invent fudge on Mackinac Island, they do claim to have perfected it. Tourists take home over 10,000 pounds of fudge daily during peak season. While the island has over a dozen fudge shops today, Murdick’s Fudge is the original shop opened in 1887. Murdick’s uses Michigan sugar produced from sugar beets.
You’ll want to sample some fudge from the various shops and find your favorite. Fudge comes in all flavors, and one of my favorites is the chocolate cherry fudge made with Michigan-grown cherries. They also make a cherry version without the chocolate.
Be aware that cars aren’t allowed on Mackinac Island, so you may find yourself walking a lot. Other transportation options include biking or horse-drawn carriages serving as taxis or tour rides. Most fudge shops are an easy walk from the docks. However, if you want to try fudge at Grand Hotel, it sits at the top of a big hill, so you may prefer to reach it by taxi, which on the island is a horse-drawn carriage.
Pro Tip: Getting to Mackinac Island requires a ferry or plane ride. On the ferry, sitting on the open-top deck involves a flight of steps but sitting on the lower deck is wheelchair accessible. Here’s our list of nine things to know before you travel to the island.
3. Detroit-Style Pizza
Share a slice of pizza at Buddy’s, the birthplace of Detroit-style pizza. In 1946, Gus Guerra took an auto steel pan and made a square pizza, creating the original Detroit-style pizza. What makes this pizza unique is the house-made crust. Detroit-style pizza is deep-dish with crisp edges. Buddy’s staff stretches the crust to make it light. The seasoned forged-steel square pans give you a crispy bite every time. On top of the crust are Wisconsin brick cheese and more ingredients of your choosing. Finally, the sauce tops the cheese. Food Network named Buddy’s one of the five best pizza places in the nation.
Pro Tip: Although the original location is on Conant Street in beautiful Detroit, Buddy’s has several lower Michigan locations, too.
Try fresh-caught Lake Superior whitefish from where the cold, deep waters produce firm flesh. Whitefish, Michigan’s major commercial catch, has a mild, delicate flavor with a flaky texture. While it turns out well in a wide variety of cooking methods, it stands up to smoking because the fish is firm with a delicate flavor.
I especially enjoy whitefish in Marquette, located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Iron Bay Restaurant. The restaurant sits right on Lake Superior’s waterfront with a sign outside that warns, “Our fresh whitefish traveled over 300 yards to get here.” They serve whitefish in several ways. Appetizer offerings include house-made smoked whitefish dip with sesame crackers and the whitefish chowder, where the whitefish is a classic, creamy-style chowder. As an entree, you’ll have a choice between beer-battered local whitefish served fish and chips-style or baked for a healthier preparation.
My favorite place for whitefish tacos is just over the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace at Jose’s Cantina, where the chef takes Lake Superior whitefish and puts a Mexican twist on them. The tacos are different as they’re lightly breaded, deep-fried, and topped with cabbage and a house sauce.
Pro Tip: Jose’s Cantina is a seasonal restaurant, open April through October.
5. Coney Islands
What’s a Coney Island or Coney Dog? It’s an American classic hot dog topped with chili sauce and, often, onions and mustard. When Greek immigrants passed through Ellis Island, they brought saltsa kima with them, a tomato-based meat sauce used in Greek dishes like moussaka. That is the basis for the classic Coney Island topping. You’ll find this casual sandwich on the menu at Greek diners throughout Michigan. However, it’s a Detroit specialty, and you’ll want to take time to compare American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, which are next-door neighbors. Locals have a continuous debate about which is the best. Make a side-by-side comparison and pick your favorite.
Leelanau Peninsula And Old Mission Peninsula
The 45th parallel runs through northern Michigan, as it does the Bordeaux (France) and Piedmont (Italy) wine regions. The Grand Traverse region is a similar climate perfect for growing grapes and making wine.
In the Traverse City area between the two peninsulas, you’ll find more than 40 wineries. My favorite is Black Star Farms.
Black Star Farms is a 160-acre estate that includes a winery, distillery, inn, and farm-to-table cafe. In 1998, they began distilling and today produce over 45 wines and spirits. While their wines have won numerous awards, I particularly enjoy the 2016 Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling, which won Best in Show for white wine in the 2019 American Fine Wine Competition.
Pro Tip: Take your time and enjoy all the winery has to offer. Limit yourself to enjoying three wineries per day. Here are our other recommendations on Michigan’s lovely Leelanau Peninsula.
7. Fried Chicken Dinners
Two of the largest independently operated restaurants in the United States, Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn, while owned and run separately, serve nearly two million guests annually. Both restaurants serve family-style, all-you-can-eat chicken dinners. The Bavarian Inn serves dinners with a German bent -- think buttered noodles and stollen (a sweet yeasty bread with fruits and nuts) -- while Zehnder’s offers all-American flavors with cranberries and mashed potatoes.
While you’re in Frankenmuth, try some craft beer with some rich German-brewing traditions at Frankenmuth Brewery.
Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city, has an intense craft beer scene. Michigan ranks high in the nation for craft beer, and Grand Rapids is known as Beer City, U.S.A. Their Ale Trail features over 30 craft breweries in the greater Grand Rapids area, where many have restaurants serving dishes that feature their brews.
My favorite craft brewery in Grand Rapids is The Knickerbocker: New Holland Brewing Company.
The Knickerbocker: New Holland Brewing Company is a brewery, distillery, and eatery blended into a 40,000-square-foot venue. They source from local producers and celebrate nose-to-tail butchery. The Knickerbocker has a lot going on, farm-fresh dining using a wood-fired oven, live music, brewery tours, lawn games in the courtyard, and shopping.
Pro Tip: You don’t need to drive to enjoy the Ale Trail. Grand Rapids has several safe ways to experience the craft brew scene, including taxis, an award-winning bus system, and several beer tours.
As Cornish miners immigrated to the United States from England, they brought pasties with them. Many of these immigrants made their way to Michigan to work in the Upper Peninsula’s copper mines.
A pastie is a hand-held meat pie made from beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, and rutabaga wrapped in a homemade pie crust served with gravy or ketchup. Today you’ll find a variety of types, including chicken, vegetable, and dessert pasties.
One of the best places to try pasties is Muldoon’s Pasties and Gifts in Munising. Though close to two hours from St. Ignace, Muldoon’s Pasties are award-winning. Another favorite closer to the Mackinac Bridge is Lehto’s Pasties in St. Ignace. While these pasties taste good, they’re missing the traditional handle found on the crust’s edge.
Pro Tip: Many shops ship the pasties frozen, so you can enjoy one even when you can’t make it to Michigan.
Hungry for more? Here are our favorite farm-to-table restaurants in Michigan that you absolutely must visit!