Distinct Culinary Experiences

Fish PlateWhen you crave a meal beyond the norm, Michigan boasts a number of eateries to fit the bill. Feast on bold combinations, ready-to-eat grocery items from a popular deli, locally-grown produce-- as well as meat, poultry and fish from nearby forests and streams. Follow our guide to 10 standout restaurants housed in a number of eclectic former venues--from train depots to farmhouses--and you’re sure to enjoy these diverse culinary jewels.

Zingerman’s Deli, Ann Arbor
This college-town deli (which has now expanded into a mini-empire that includes several other restaurants and a local farm) has been the end point of many a foodie pilgrimage. College students, locals and travelers line up (sometimes literally around the block) for artisanal breads, rare cheeses, small-batch olive oils and famously huge sandwiches, like the Oswald’s Mile High, a stack of award-winning house-cured corned beef and mustard on double-baked Jewish rye.

Georgina’s, Traverse City
Chef-owner Anthony Craig’s Chinese and Nicaraguan heritage flavors what he calls an Asian and Latin taqueria. His cultural melding yields ideas like using fresh pineapple, red onion and lime juice to play off the richness of braised pork in tacos al pastor and the Korean kimchi, seaweed salad and Colombian-style salsa paired with seared ahi tuna. Latin entrees come with a side of stewed black beans.

Evans Street Station, Tecumseh
The exhibition kitchen at the heart of this 1910 firehouse turns out seasonal cuisine like seared foie gras with a buttermilk waffle and rhubarb compote or parslied lamb with artichokes and fiddlehead ferns. Chef Alan Merhar sources heirloom tomatoes, apples and goat cheese from local farms, orchards and creameries and showcases them in a five-course tasting menu with curated wine pairings.

The Mulefoot Gastropub, Imlay City
Identical twins Mike and Matt Romine (right) stick religiously to a local sourcing mission; most ingredients come from farms and forests within 20 miles of their kitchen. On their own farm in Lapeer County, 50 miles north of Detroit, the chefs raise the namesake Mulefoot hogs for charcuterie and harvest hay for hay-smoked pheasant and their signature hay ice cream (used in a Boston cooler, an adult shake made with Bourbon vanilla ice cream, ginger beer, and rum). A local fishery, Imlay City Fish Farm, provides the trout that becomes påté smoked in a Mason jar.

Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy, Detroit
Motor City hipsters and music memorabilia pack proprietor Larry Mongo’s weekends-only place. They come for live tunes and stiff craft cocktails poured into mismatched glasses. And the Italian dishes. Try the softball-size meatballs on top of linguine in a special meat sauce. Green beans and half a peach come on the side. His great-grandma’s Peking duck, marinated in star anise and other spices then roasted to crispy succulence, debuts once a month.

Schuler’s Restaurant and Pub, Marshall
Black-and-white photos trace a century of business under four generations of Schulers. The 25-cent blue plate special of 1909 gave way to today’s homemade breads, platters of slow-roasted prime rib and bowls of Swiss onion soup. Tradition continues in the Sunday supper surrounded by the Centennial Room’s wood-paneled walls and stone fireplace. The adjoining Winston’s Pub expansion and addition of a separate kitchen are signs of how the family keeps moving with the times.
Zehnder’s Restaurant, Frankenmuth
Loosen your belt and get comfortable at one of 1,500 seats in this tasty time warp. Amidst early-American decor, the Zehnder’s comfort food binge begins with chicken noodle soup and a relish spread. Then waitstaff in period costumes deliver platters of all-you-can-eat fried chicken and bowls of buttered noodles, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Steaks, fish and traditional German entrees round out the menu and ensure that none of the nearly 1 million annual patrons leave hungry.    

Cops and Doughnuts, Clare
When closure loomed for this bakery first opened in 1896, nine members of the local police force bought the place and relaunched it as Cops and Doughnuts. Patrons queue for mammoth cake doughnuts, crisp Felony Fritters (apple) and the Bacon Squealer: an oversize long John topped with bacon strips and maple frosting. The prices, which start at 69 cents for an old-fashioned cake doughnut, are a steal. The owners’ good humor shows in merchandise like T-shirts reading “D.W.I.—Doughnuts Were Involved.”

Sleder’s Family Tavern, Traverse City
Officially Michigan’s oldest restaurant (it opened in 1882), this is a pretty spry place. After all, it attracts guests willing to live up to the tavern’s motto: “Come as you are. Unless you’re not fun!” Most prove it by placing a good-luck smooch on Randolph the Moose, who hangs among the numerous hunting trophies. The menu touts brew-friendly pub items like locally ground burgers, fried cauliflower and baskets of crispy Canadian smelt. An extensive beer menu highlights in-state breweries. Nearby Right Brain Brewery bottles Night Hawk Owl and CEO Stout (chocolate, espresso and oatmeal).