On a recent UP scouting trip, Trevor Meers, Midwest Living’s executive editor, discovers there’s more than whitefish and pasties on the menu. Here’s a sampling of his experiences along Highway 28 between Munising and Marquette:
Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (Munising) A cool local sandwich shop, coffee shop and vendor of local art. I was here in 2004, but didn’t make it back on this trip. However, another group of people went there the day before I arrived and seemed to universally love it.
Brownstone Inn (Au Train) This is a lovely little stone cottage of a restaurant built in the 1940s. By the 1980s, it had closed and fallen into disrepair when Jeff Van Bremen and Deb Molitor came back from California, bought it, fixed it up and reopened it.
The interior is UP cozy: a full bar dominates the dining room, which features a stone fireplace. Deb and husband Jeff are real lovers of food and wine, so when they opened the Inn, they wanted to bring fine dining to the UP. “We’re still trying to teach people to drink wine,” she says. “People here see wine as a commitment.”
Sweet Water Café (Marquette) College towns beget some good food, and this is one example. It focuses on local and organic foods, but it’s not just for vegetarians. Great coffee and the best orange juice I’ve ever had. People were actually telling others to order it after they tried it. It tasted incredibly fresh, and had a frothy quality almost like milk for a cappuccino. Odd description, but trust me, it was great.
Vierling Restaurant (Marquette) A chophouse and brewery in an old brick building. The downtown location is outstanding with huge windows that look out on Lake Superior. The menu sticks to pretty straightforward chicken/beef/fish entrees, but they mix in a few others like ravioli and stir fry. It’s a welcome change from the usual suspects found on UP menus: whitefish, a pasty or a burger.
Upfront & Company (Marquette) This eatery in the basement of a brick building downtown had the most ambitious menu I’ve seen in the UP. Lots of variations on chicken (including chicken rubbed with ginger)/beef/fish (including coconut shrimp and Cajun salmon)/whitefish, plus they offer wood-fired pizzas, calzones, etc. Bands play many evenings and weekends. Good food, but slow service the night I was there.
Jean Kay’s Pasties & Subs (Marquette) When I asked about where to get the best pasties in town, a local outdoor guide steered me to this no-frills, deli-style location across the street from the University of Northern Michigan’s “Da Yooper Dome.” Owner Brian Harsch says they sell far more veggie pasties in winter because the students at UNM like them, but tourists want the straight-up meat-and-rutabaga classic.
Jasper Ridge Brewery (Ishpeming) I discovered a new ethnic sandwich, cudighi. It’s a hamburger-like concoction of spicy sausage served with pizza sauce and mozzarella on a hamburger bun. It’s of Italian descent and local to the Marquette/Munising area. The restaurant manager said local restaurants are judged on the quality of their cudighis. My vote: His were outstanding, save room for seconds, even thirds.
Trevor Meers, executive editor of Midwest Living magazine, is an avid outdoorsman with a special passion for Lake Superior and the UP. His adventures on Superior have included snorkeling on shipwrecks, kayaking, fishing for lake trout, snowshoeing the shoreline, picnicking with woodland caribou and driving the Superior Circle Tour. He considers Escanaba in Da Moonlight a work of pure genius.