A special thanks to Nick Ponton for providing this guest blog post on the great restaurants Michigan has to offer. This is the first part of a two part series.
I love “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network, but there’s a couple of problems. Most of the restaurants are out of reach of the common person. Not everyone, but anything picked Alexandra Guarnaschelli or Aaron Sanchez. I’d like to take one of them to a dive bar somewhere here in Michigan and watch them squirm. The other annoying thing is most of the restaurants are in New York which makes sense because the Food Network Headquarters is in NYC, but the Mitten State has a number of incredible food finds if you know where to look. I always thought the show would be a little more interesting if they added some food bloggers from around the country….and there’s enough to choose from.
So, just in the interest of sparking discussions, here’s my list of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Michigan Edition.
Totally Fried - French Fries at Dagwood’s Tavern and Grill in Lansing. I’m totally a fry snob and only happy when I get fresh cut fries. Dagwood’s does that. The fries are easily the best fries in Lansing and until we found Penn Station in Kalamazoo, no one had even come close. The fries are fresh cut, skin on, and actually fried right. Instead of being soggy from a single fry, they’re golden brown and crispy as if they took a second dip.
Bar-B-Que – Pulled Pork at Slow’s Bar-B-Q in Detroit. Since moving to Michigan, I have complained frequently about the lack of BBQ places. I’ve found a couple and they’ve been ok, but there’s just not many that knock my socks off. There is one, however, and that place sits in the shadow of old Tiger Stadium. The pulled pork at Slow’s Bar-B-Q is southern style BBQ at its best. J and I stopped in after a day at the auto show and at 3:00 P.M., had to wait twenty minutes. The pulled pork is served Carolina style with a vinegar sauce, but they have all their sauces on the table. I added the spicy sauce to the Carolina sauce which made for an interesting combination. The meat is really tender and has great burnt ends. This is the BBQ we were looking for in Michigan. It makes me wish we lived closer to Detroit.
With Bacon - BLT at Tony’s I-75 Restaurant in Birch Run. A pound of bacon. Literally a pound of bacon on a BLT. I didn’t think it was possible. I had been told about it. I saw it on the Travel Channel, but never assumed it could really happen. The BLT at Tony’s isn’t so much a BLT. It’s all B. True, there is a slice of lettuce, a couple slices of tomatoes, and a little mayo on the delicious Italian bread, but you can’t even find it. The bacon was crispy and cooked perfectly. I ended up breaking down the sandwich and eating the pieces. I couldn’t even get all the way through the bacon and J put me on a “Bacon Detox” after this little trip. It was worth it.
Sugar Rush – Doughnuts at Sweetwater’s Donut Mill in Kalamazoo. I never thought I could crave a doughnut. A friend of a relative was telling us about his family stopping at a doughnut shop in Battle Creek on their way to U of M football games. A few weeks later, I picked up a box of doughnuts at the Kalamazoo Township location just to see what all the fuss was about. These doughnuts were amazing. They do more than typical jelly filled or glazed. The flavor combinations and toppings are what make these doughnuts unique.
Pizza – Square Pizza at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit. Being from Chicago, I’m kind of a pizza snob. We found good pizza, but only one great one. Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit is in a pretty scary area, but it’s totally worth the trip. I took my family there before a baseball game at Comerica Park and even though they were very nervous when we got there, everyone agreed the pizza was fantastic. Buddy’s sort of does a Chicago-style pizza. The crust is very buttery and the toppings are put on upside down, but they have their own twist with a square pizza instead of a round one. Buddy’s is the only pizza we’ve had in Michigan that I can say I crave and now we live so far away, I don’t know when I’ll get to have it again.
Obsessions – Quad Burger at Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger in Ann Arbor. Hamburgers are an obsession of mine and I get so angry that so few people take the time to do them right. You’d never treat a T-Bone the way most people treat burgers. One of my first weekends in Michigan, I was working in Ann Arbor and I found Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger. They do burgers right. Sure, there’s the show you get from the cook yelling at you, but the burgers are fresh ground and flattened out on the griddle. I never wanted to admit it, but I ordered two burgers that day. They were greasy and delicious. If there weren’t so many great restaurants in A2, I would have eaten every meal there.
Wake Up Call – Steak & Eggs at Golden Harvest in Lansing. I was never much of a breakfast person, but recently, I’ve been giving it more of a chance. One weekend when J’s parents were in town, we decided to try Golden Harvest for breakfast. We had no idea that it’s as popular as it is, but once we got inside, it’s pretty obvious why. I probably got the most boring thing that day when I ordered Steak & Eggs, but it was an amazing breakfast. The steak was cooked perfectly and like I’d expect if I went to a steakhouse. The eggs were delicious, and to my surprise, the home fries were fantastic. I almost never eat potatoes, but these were different. They had a great crust and were seasoned just right. We always said we needed to eat at Golden Harvest more, but we moved before we could.
Between Bread – #40 at Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor. This one is a no-brainer. Anyone from Michigan knows Zingerman’s makes the best bread. It doesn’t really matter what you put between that bread. You know it’s going to be delicious. On our trip to Zingerman’s, I ordered the #40 which is Siegel’s Smokey Number. The sandwich consists of smoked turkey breast, Arkansas peppered ham, Switzerland Swiss cheese, lettuce and sweet hot honeycup mustard on rye bread. What I remember most is the mustard. It has horseradish in it, so there was a real tangy flavor. The sandwich was piled real high so even though you may get sticker shock, you’re getting a sandwich that’s more than worth it.
With My Hands – Hard shell Tacos at Andy’s Mexican & American Deli in Holt. Oh, how I miss Andy’s. J loved the place for their guacamole, but to me, no one made better tacos. I really craved Andy’s and was sad when the place shut down for several months while Andy dealt with some private issues. Andy is a one man show and makes everything from scratch to-order. Whenever I asked for hard shell tacos, he would take his corn tortillas and stick them in the deep fryer. I loved that I could get warm, fresh hard shell tacos. Everything we got from this little deli inside a hardware store was incredibly fresh.
Filled with Envy – Triple D Burger at Joe’s Gizzard City in Potterville. I love deep-fried anything, but I was really curious about seeing what Guy Fieri cooked up at Joe’s Gizzard City in Potterville. We took a short road trip for lunch out to Joe’s after I saw the place on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. To my surprise, J actually ordered the Triple D Burger. Joe’s has always done a deep-fried burger, but in this instance, they deep fried the whole sandwich. The burger is cooked and prepared like a regular burger then it’s battered and deep fried….bun and all. The beer batter at Joe’s is delicious and it’s really interesting eating a burger that has seen that treatment. It’s a little greasy, but worth the adventure at least once.
Holiday – Paczki’s at Quality Dairy in Lansing – I couldn’t figure out why so many people said one thing they would miss about Lansing was Quality Dairy. I eventually figured it out. I stopped at QD quite a bit and when Paczki Day rolled around, it was the first place we went. The paczki at QD are more cake like than a “real” paczki, but that’s ok with me. I’ve had the real things from a bakery in Chicago and while they’re delicious, the packzi at QD seem to be what most of us associate with the Polish holiday.
Hometown Favorites – Houghton Hancock Burger at Leo’s Lodge in Lansing. This one’s a little tough for me since my real hometown is in Illinois, but for this purpose, I’ll call Lansing my hometown since it was the first place I lived in Michigan. There was only one place in Mid-Michigan that I went to more than once for a burger and that was Leo’s Lodge. The burger was a delicious 1/2 lb fresh patty. The Houghton Hancock Burger also came with smoked ham and cheddar cheese on a fresh bun. A perfect cheesey, salty, beefy combination.
Nick is the author of the SW Michigan Dining blog that highlights the best of the Kalamazoo area dining and entertainment scene.
(View Part II Here!)