Mouthwatering Michigan Desserts to Sink Your Teeth Into
Michigan is known for many things, award-winning Motown music, history-making General Motors and the Ford Motor Co. assembly line in Motor City, but we’re also home to some fantastic sweets, too. After all, weren’t we all taught that life is short, so eat dessert first? Here are some delectable desserts, perfect for any season. Some are odes to the “only in Michigan” recipes, and others are enjoyed no matter the zip code. Some pack 1,000 calories and some are gluten-free.
1. Astoria Pastry Shop – Detroit’s Greektown Neighborhood
If you’ve never been to this Greektown bakery, you’re in for a treat and plenty of ‘em. The bakery is like a colorful Willy Wonka Wonderland for your taste buds. Every sugary dessert you could imagine – tortes, cakes, pastries, macarons, brownies, shortcakes, cookies, cheesecakes, eclairs and as many as 100 options available daily. Try one of the Teftis family classics, the baklava, or bring on the brain freeze with Detroit-made Stroh’s ice cream. This bakery is the perfect stop along with a Sunday afternoon Tigers game with the family, or a late-night treat after some gambling at Greektown Casino. Regardless of the occasion, Astoria Pastry Shop is sure to make any day or night sweeter (they’re open til midnight and 1 a.m. on weekends). Detroit Metro Times has named Astoria the Best Bakery of 2015, and it’s also a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence winner.
We feel bad for any person who has had an ice cream sundae without Sanders hot fudge. Can you even call it that? We think not. Sanders has been in the chocolate business since 1875, when Fred Sanders opened his first shoppe in downtown Detroit. Today, the signature fudge bumpy cake also has a place in many Michiganders’ hearts, and stomachs. The family business has over 57 locations in the Great Lakes region, and is unrivaled in terms of rich, decadent, thick hot fudge goodness.
Ypsilanti’s Depot Town is home to a car museum, an Elvis Festival and also this gem of a restaurant. While they’ve been voted for having one of the best burgers by GQ Magazine and The Oprah Winfrey Show, they also feature an iconic Southern classic post-supper treat. Sidetrack Bar & Grill’s massive-sized strawberry shortcake is large enough for the table to share. Served on a biscuit, the flaky texture pairs perfect with fresh strawberries and creamy vanilla ice cream. It’s intimidating to say the least, but tag-team this mammoth dessert with the rest of your table and you’ll be victorious in leaving no crumb left behind. They also offer up a homemade cherry bread pudding with warm caramel sauce. Delicious!
4. Browndog Barlor – Northville & Farmington
First off, with a name like that, how could we say no? This family-friendly restaurant features a full menu, but really ups their ice cream game with – wait for it…boozy milkshakes. That’s right. Spiked ice cream for those of age! Rotating flavors include chocolate martini, rum chata raisin, old fashion, jacked up carrot cake, boozy egg nog, Irish girl scout and Bermuda mule. Other non-spiked flavors for the kiddies include salty dog, bourbon pecan, grasshopper, Madagascar vanilla, cookie monster, and beater lickin’ good. They also have creative custom-order cakes which would take any birthday party and turn it up a few notches.
Many might shy away from this list at the fear of one too many cheats on their diet, but have no fear – Cheat Treats Café is here to help. The bakery specializes in high-protein desserts. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the chefs here work their magic and include freshly-baked better-for-you goodies each day. Menu items include oreo protein cheesecake, edible cookie dough, cinnamon toast protein donuts, funfetti protein cheesecake, protein cinnamon rolls and cookies. There are also vegan and non-dairy options so absolutely no one can feel guilty about these sweets.
The little German Christmas town is known for its world-famous chicken, but holy cow if they can’t also perfect the colossal doughnut. In the basement of Zehnder’s, you’ll find the motherload of freshly-baked breads, cakes, truffles, cinnamon rolls, berry tarts, strudels, fudge, and doughnuts of epic sized proportions. It’s a grab-and-go setup, which means take one or two for the road. A customer favorite is the Butterhorn, a German dessert of sweet dough wrapped around almond paste and walnuts, topped with frosting and more nuts.
The salty vs. sweet snack food is not often looked upon as a dessert option, but the brains behind the kernels, Chad Jordan certainly know popcorn can be a lot of things. With flavors like dark molasses caramel and toasted coconut dark chocolate drizzled coconut caramel, it sure sounds like dessert time to us. Located in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood -- a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-approved eating spot, the quaint main street is a vibrant hub of locally-owned businesses. Plus, there are free samples. You can’t go wrong.
This bakery is built upon a never-ending love for old-fashioned family recipes, and revisits the ‘good ole days’ with its vintage décor, classic pastel mixers and retro bubblegum pink aprons. USA Today named Sweetie-Licious one of the ‘20 Most Legendary Pie Shops in America.’ The menu of pies was carefully handpicked from recipes from earlier generations, and each one comes with a story. History never tasted so good, thanks to Mr. Brickley’s Lemon Praline Chess Pie, Mrs. Pricco’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Faye’s Sweet Potato Pie and Shaye’s Cherry Key Lime Pie.
9. Four Roses Café – Plainwell
This casual fine dining restaurant is relatively known for its desserts thanks to MLive's foodie John Gonzalez. Fan favorites include the amaretto coconut cream pie and the sticky toffee pudding also comes highly-requested. They also feature peanut butter pie, black top cheesecake, carrot cake and cheesecake with raspberry sauce. Sources say they have had over 20 desserts on their menu, and we’d like to believe in that sweet dream.
Northern Michigan & Upper Peninsula
10. Grand Traverse Pie Company – Traverse City & Statewide
For a town that has an entire week-long festival dedicated to a fruit, Traverse City knows how to celebrate their most popular crop: the cherry. Grand Traverse Pie Company makes over six dozen flavors of pie; their number one seller being the classic cherry pie. Making business a more personal matter, Grand Traverse Pie Company is all about connecting those close-knit communities with a passionate love for pie and spreading positivity. Committed to using Michigan products and suppliers whenever possible, Grand Traverse Pie Company loves our mitten state, and every strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, peach and apple in it. The business began with one pie shop and six employees, and now has 16 across Michigan and Indiana, holding true to their belief that pie connects people. Their old mission cherry flavor was featured in Oprah Magazine’s “O List.” Their top-selling pie is the Grand Traverse Cherry Crumb, made with Michigan Montmorency cherries.
11. Legs Inn – Cross Village
This Polish restaurant was featured on Under the Radar Michigan, and is known for its traditional dishes including the polish kielbasa and pierogi. But you’d be amiss if you didn’t save room for dessert. In this case, Legs Inn’s carrot cake. They display the daily made-from-scratch treats in the restaurant in a glass case, practically inducing drool from onlookers. The “World’s second most delicious carrot cake” is a colossal layered slice, with carrots, walnuts and pineapple, topped with cream cheese and roasted almond icing. If this is the runner-up, we’d love to try the world’s MOST delicious carrot cake. Also, weather-permitting, Legs Inn has one of the best outdoor patio dining views of Lake Michigan, just past the iconic Michigan Tunnel of Trees, north of Petoskey. The garden setting, paired with the delicious food, serves up an aesthetically pleasing and appetizing meal. The Michigan Historical Commission described it as “one of Michigan’s most unusual architectural marvels.” Admire the wooden sculptures all the while munching on some dessert. Other favorites include the old-fashioned Polish berry szarlotka – crumble cake with apples, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.
Chances are, if you’ve been to Mackinac Island, Mackinac City, or any other Pure Michigan “Up North” destination, you’ve had fudge. A big part of that fudge movement in Michigan is thanks to Murdick’s, which has been around since 1887. The iconic marble table is what gives the fudge its unique texture, and the family recipe using all-natural ingredients is what gives the fudge it's creamy taste. Today, there are 23 Mackinac Island fudge flavors including white chocolate candy cane, butter pecan, chocolate, double chocolate caramel sea salt, peanut butter, pumpkin spice, turtle, and more. There’s something about horse-drawn carriages, main streets with no stop lights, mom & pop shops and Mackinac Island fudge that just exudes a Pure Michigan mood.
Donckers started as a candy store and has grown into an expansive sweet shop. They offer unique treats like Blueberry Crunch Bar, Spicy Sea Salt Caramels, pumpkin fudge come fall and numerous caramel apples like the candy coated and caramel drenched honey crisp apples.
14. Midtown Bakery – Negaunee
Located in historic downtown Negaunee, Midtown is home of the "almost World Famous Cheesecake" with over 300 rotating cheesecake flavors, including variations of pumpin come fall! The shop offers various other homemade baked goods like cakes, tortes, pies, bars and cookies. They have been awarded the Mining Journals Readers Choice Award for Best Desserts 7 years in a row.
Roy’s opened in 2001 and was in such high demand they had to open a newer, larger shop. They serves up cronuts, tarts, muffins, cookies, cakes and more. In addition, it offers traditional pasties: a blend of beef, pork and root vegetables in a small flaky golden crust.
Other Notable Michigan Desserts
16. The Pączki
Though these are hard to find except for on Fat Tuesday, they’re one of those desserts especially loved in the Great Lakes State, even though they’re a Polish pastry. The deep fried doughnut is filled with crème, and can pack 1,000 calories. Michigan is proud of the Pączki and many bakeries and stores sell out of them pre-Lent. In Hamtramck, there’s even a Pączki Day parade. Pure Michigan equals Pure Pączki.
17. The Boston Cooler
Root beer floats are tasty and all, but this is Michigan, so let’s talk about Vernors. It’s the drink that can help settle a stomach as well as be an everyday refreshing beverage of choice. Some even hail it the world’s best ginger ale, as well as one of the first sodas around – since 1866, served by James Vernor in his Detroit pharmacy. The Boston Cooler is very much a Michigan-made recipe, with Vernors mixed with ice cream. Not a float, but rather, a milkshake. Happy tummies all around.
About the Author: Sarah Spohn is a writer with The Awesome Mitten. She’s a proud Michigander and Capital-City born & bred. She enjoys art, cupcakes and all things Beatlemania. It’s not out of the ordinary for her to take a weekend trip to Grand Rapids, Detroit or Mackinac on a record store tour or cupcake crawl.