From Our Community: Hidden Gems in Pure Michigan

Photo Credit - Chris AraceLast week, we asked our Facebook fans and Twitter followers to name their favorite hidden gems in Michigan – whether it was a store, a restaurant or just a favorite place. The response was overwhelming and we collected some our favorite gems from around the state. Check out the list below and thanks to everybody that submitted a suggestion!

“The Wooden Spoon restaurant in Spring Arbor, MI!” – Jennifer Wisdom

“The Mitten Bar in Ludington” – Javier Ruiz

Cornwell’s Turkeyville between Battle Creek and Marshall.” – Andria Aylor

Mike’s Village Restaurant in Dimondale…I can smell the homemade bread now!” – Patty Moshkosky

The Music House in Traverse City = Outstanding!” – Jenny Anspach Bruyette

Charleviox has many hidden treasures whether its a private beach or an awesome whitneys oyster bar, they have a little of everything! :)” – Brooke Miller

Elk Rapids – the town, the library, the marina, the beach/park. But don’t everyone go rushing there now.. my special spot!” – Martha Scherf-Pompa

“All of the many beautiful waterfalls…” – Leigh Powell

Pentwater, Silver Lake, any of the state park campgrounds along Lake Michigan are beautiful. I love Michigan!” – Jackie Murray

“Looking at all the rocks at rainbow lodge on Lake Superior.” – Mark Richman

“Mr. C in St. Ignace! Best burgers in Yooper country:)” – Janine Scüb Shuey

The Outback Lodge in Stanwood, MI. Awesome bed and breakfast with amazing owners and the BEST stuffed French toast I have ever had!” – Becky Jordan Rottenbucher

Lumberman’s Monument scenic outlook, near Oscoda” – Sue DeCelle

@PureMichigan hidden Gem is Harbor Country. drove past for 25 yrs on 94 Couldn’t believe what i missed. Decided to move here and LOVE it!” – @lakelifenb

@PureMichigan My favorite hidden gem is Pentwater. Greatest beaches in the whole world.” – @BobCNatra

Lost Valley! (In Montague)- @KassyFinefaceLost

The intelligence and creativity of #Yoopers is an underappreciated hidden gem of Michigan – @EBooksUP

Salad Love in Pure Michigan

A sweet-savory salad of pear slices, bleu cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette at Lulu's

George Hendrix, contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, might not look like your typical salad eater, but he can’t get enough at two of chef Mike Peterson’s restaurants—Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids.

Put me in a line up, ask a dozen strangers to pick out the salad eater, and I’m everyone’s last choice. I’ve got the body for bratwurst, but I have a taste for micro greens. On my most recent visit to northwest Michigan, I particularly enjoyed salads at Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids. Both restaurants are the creations of chef Mike Peterson.

More on the salads in a minute. First, a bit about Mike.

Lulu's has a sleek minimalist design, and is a must-visit for foodies in Bellaire.

His is a fairly typical story in this exceptional-food realm radiating outward from Traverse City to encompass the resort towns along and near Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bays, the Leelanau Peninsula and the dozens of inland lakes. The story is: local boy or girl with a talent for food leaves to get a world-class culinary education; completes apprenticeships in one or more foodie heavens; gets homesick for blue water, golden beaches, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, a mellow lifestyle; and comes home. In Mike’s case, the education came at the Culinary Institute of America and the apprenticeships took place in Paris and New York kitchens.

In 1993, Mike and a few partners opened Spencer Creek in Alden. Now closed, that restaurant served as the dress rehearsal for Lulu’s. Since 2001, the downtown Bellaire bistro, with a sleek minimalist design and decor, has been among the region’s must-go dinner destinations. The chef’s latest project is Siren Hall in downtown Elk Rapids, a few blocks from the Victorian-Era home where he and his wife, Rebecca, are raising their four kids.

Siren Hall has an emphasis on oysters and other seafood with a name that honors the mythical sirens of the deep.

Siren Hall is even more Spartan, with concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches. The look is the creation of Rebecca, another northwest Michigan native, who earned her design chops in New York City.

Now the food.

At Lulu’s, I enjoyed a sweet-savory salad of pear slices, blue cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette. I chased my healthy repast with a cup—well, more like a soup bowl—of Lulu’s chocolate cherry cake ice cream. “Some of my cooks love making ice cream,” Mike explained.

I finished the evening down the street with an Americano at Moka, the coffee shop, bakery and restaurant owned by Mike’s brother Bill.

The concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches create the atmosphere at Siren Hall.

My special-of-the-day salad at Siren Hall consisted of warm haricot verts (or as they’re known outside of France, baby green beans) dressed with truffle oil vinaigrette, blue cheese and bacon curls. Marcona almonds provide an amazingly tasty crunch.

The salads are straightforward enough that, even if I have to go looking for the almonds (if you go searching, try Costco) and truffle oil, I think I can re-create them while waiting for the bratwursts to grill, right?

George Hendrix, freelance writer and former Travel Editor of Midwest Living, also contributes to Michigan Travel Ideas. From snowmobile adventures to the centennial of the Model T, he has written about Michigan for nearly 25 years.