Michigan Flavors

From the Motor City to the Upper Peninsula’s mining towns, Michigan offers an edible legacy of innovative flavors.

Valentine Distilling Company
Traverse City native and dirty martini enthusiast Rifino Valentine left Wall Street for a copper still in 2007 and set out to make vodka the Mitten could be proud of.  Four years later he garnered awards for hooch distilled from Michigan-grown grains.

Home base: Ferndale (Metro Detroit)

Where to find it: bars and restaurants throughout Michigan, the United States and Western Europe 

Best way to enjoy: Valentine’s signature libation, the Detroit Dirty, uses a splash of pickle juice from locally made McClure’s spicy pickles. Tour the original production facility Thursday through Saturday, between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Length: 20–30 minutes, free. 


The fizzy potions were first created in 1907 by Russian immigrant baking bros Ben and Perry Feigenson, who sought to transform their frosting flavors like grape, strawberry and fruit punch into carbonated sodas.

Home base: Detroit

Where to find it: restaurants and retailers

Tasty tidbit: Faygo bottles more than 50 flavors, but for diehards it’s all about the Rock N’ Rye, inspired by the saloon staple of bourbon, rock candy and bitters. In Metro Detroit, Vinsetta Garage serves a house-made version of liquid nitrogen churned Faygo Rock N’ Rye ice cream dusted with Pop Rocks.


Detroit Coney Dogs
American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island have served sloppy dogs side by side since, according to Detroit lore, founders feuded and split the business in 1917.

Home base: Detroit

Tasty tidbit: Devotees divide into camps favoring Lafayette’s more acidic, cumin-centric chili or American’s milder version. Both parties agree on the dog in a steamed white bun, slathered with chili, diced onions and lots of yellow mustard.


Detroit Pizza
Buddy’s, a kitschy bar and onetime speakeasy in Hamtramck, created the original Detroit pizza in 1946. The square pizza is built backward with a tangy San Marzano tomato sauce covering a thick layer of cheese and toppings on a thick Sicilian-style crust. 

Home base: Detroit

Where to find it: 11 locations around Metro Detroit

Tasty tidbit: A well-seasoned square pan made of heavy steel is key to Detroit pizza’s crust: airy and crunchy with perfectly browned edges.


Sanders Chocolate and Ice Cream 
Credited as the inventor of the ice cream soda, Fred Sanders opened his Detroit confectionary store in 1875. 

Home base: Clinton Township (Metro Detroit)

Where to find it: eight locations in Metro Detroit and two on Mackinac Island

Best way to enjoy: Native Detroiters agree Sanders produces the best chocolate and traditional desserts, like their hot fudge cream puff. Creamy vanilla ice cream fills a fluffy cream puff doused in milk chocolate hot fudge. 


What began as Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig’s artisan deli in 1982 is now Zingerman’s empire that includes a roadhouse restaurant, bakehouse, creamery, coffee roastery, candy-maker and working farm. 

Home base: Ann Arbor

Where to find it: specialty retailers throughout the Midwest

Tasty tidbit: The Zingerman’s experience extends beyond a delicious corned beef sandwich. Adults and kids can learn the art of baking or cheese-making or journey to Tuscany or Morocco on an international food tour.


Love’s Custard Pie
Alan and Donnie Love started selling pies in 2008 from the side door of their Dairy Queen. Motown was quick to crave Love’s 6- and 9-inch soulful Southern standards like sweet potato, vinegar and their signature, super-sweet Chess pies.  

Home base: Detroit’s Eastern Market Shed #2

Tasty tidbit: The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern garnered the family national acclaim when he professed his love for Love’s.


Vernors Ginger Ale
Detroit pharmacist James Vernor concocted a medicinal tonic of vanilla, ginger and spices, put it in an oak cask then went off to fight in the Civil War. Returning in 1866, he found a delicious elixir that launched Michigan’s most iconic beverage. 

Home base: Detroit

Where to find it: restaurants and retailers throughout Michigan

Best way to enjoy: A Boston Cooler named for Detroit’s Boston Boulevard, where it was reputedly invented, is a slurry of Vernors and vanilla ice cream. It’s best enjoyed with a classic burger from Mercury Burger and Bar in Corktown. 


Cherry Republic
Entrepreneur Bob Sutherland started Cherry Republic in 1989, selling T-shirts out of his car. He later branched out to spread his love of Michigan’s favorite tree fruit. Cherry Republic makes over 175 cherry-based delectables like jam, chocolate, wine and sausage.

Home base: Glen Arbor

Where to find it: Glen Arbor, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Ann Arbor and Frankenmuth


These hearty meat-filled hand pies (pronounced PASS-tees) arrived with 19th-century Cornishmen who came to work in the copper and ore mines. The pasty stuck around to become the UP’s signature food.

Home base: Upper Peninsula

Where to find it: restaurants and roadside pasty shops across the Upper Peninsula such as Lehto’s in St. Ignace and Hiawatha Pasties in Naubinway

Tasty tidbit: The UP’s best purveyors make their pies with a flaky crust and agree on the traditional filling of beef, pork, carrot, onion and rutabaga. Pasty purists debate the merits of ketchup versus gravy as an ideal accoutrement.


Germack Pistachio Company
Immigrants from Syria, the Germack brothers brought exotic nuts and seeds to Detroit’s Eastern Market in 1924. Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, these items were novel treats for Americans. Today, the third generation has expanded the business into a coffee roaster, espresso bar, retail shop and a vital QVC presence. 

Home base: Detroit’s Eastern Market

Where to find it: Metro Detroit grocers and specialty food stores

Tasty tidbit: The brothers are believed to be the nut distributors who first 
dyed pistachios red. Why? It created a uniform shell color, hiding any natural scarring.


McClure’s Pickles
Reviving a generations-old family recipe, McClure brothers Joe and Bob left careers in physiology and acting in 2006 to craft a more perfect pickle. Hand-packed at their Detroit plant, McClure’s pickles can be found in fridges from L.A. to London.

Home base: Detroit

Tasty tidbit: While food writers in GQ and The New York Times have extolled the briny virtues of McClure’s pickles straight up, some of their tastiest iterations can be found seasonally at Detroit’s jazz club Cliff Bell’s, where the crisp, salty pickles are battered, deep-fried and served with chilled ranch dip.


Better Made Potato Chips
Since the owners first started getting their potatoes in burlap sacks in 1930, this company has used Michigan-grown spuds (when in season). Staying true to the company name, the recipe is simple: only the best potatoes, cottonseed oil and spices.

Home base: Detroit

Where to find it: snack food retailers statewide


American Spoon
A partnership between farmer-forager Justin Rashid and New York chef Larry Forgione, American Spoon began as a way to preserve northern Michigan’s harvests. Since 1932, they have a line of products including preserves, compotes, fruit butter, sauces and condiments. 

Where to find it: Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Charlevoix, Traverse City and Saugatuck

Best way to enjoy: Spoon Fruits are delectably textural chunks of northern Michigan heirloom apples, apricots or tart cherries sweetened with fruit juice. If there are any left after the midnight raid, dollop over waffles.