The Flavor of Michigan

From plucking ripe cherries right from the tree to indulging in culinary delights, Michigan is truly a locavore’s paradise. Here are just a few of the many places to sip, savor and celebrate what “the mitten” has to offer.

Mackinac Island

Foodie Fact: The largest lake whitefish on record weighed a whopping 42.67 pounds and was caught in Lake Superior in 1918.

SIP: Mackinac Island is well-known for its historic French lilacs that were planted during the Colonial era. Instead of just enjoying their smell, Mission Point Resort found a way to capture their essence for use in seasonal mixed drinks, such as the Madame La Framboise, made with Hendricks gin, Champagne, chambord, house-made lilac syrup and lemon. After all, when life gives you lilacs, make something alcoholic with them. 

The same goes for other flowers, herbs and edible plants in the resort’s new Cocktail Garden. As blooming cycles come and go, the cocktail list changes in tune with Mother Nature’s calendar. Among the variety of herbs and flora selected for this season’s garden are lavender, rose-scented geraniums, nasturtiums, lemon verbena, golden lemon thyme and a variety of mints. 

How to Make Lilac Simple Syrup
Take a bouquet of lilacs — about two handfuls with the stems taken off — and boil those in water. Once that process is completed, take one part lilac water and one part sugar, then boil until it thickens into a simple syrup. 

SAVOR: Whitefish is to Mackinac Island what perch is to Lake Erie. Many restaurants source the fish from local Native American fisheries for use in their signature dishes, whether it’s caviar and smoked whitefish dip at Mission Point Resort, the whitefish cakes at the Hotel Iroquois (877-794-1078, or a blackened fish sandwich at Cawthorne’s Village Inn, in the legendary Grand Hotel (800-334-7263
SELECT: You can’t go to Mackinac Island without sampling its famous fudge. If you time your visit during Fudge Festival (Aug. 21-23), you could win a vacation by stopping at one of the designated shops to buy a package of fudge that just might contain the golden ticket.

STAY: Mission Point Resort is in the midst of a three-year master plan that includes an expansion of the spa and pool complex to go along with already upgraded guest rooms. Prices start at $189 per night in high season. 906-847-3000,


Foodie Fact: “National Eat Outside Day” takes place Aug. 31. 

SAVOR: The capital area of Michigan was a farm-to-table region long before the term became trendy. That’s one of the reasons Nina Santucci and her husband, Anthony Maiale, decided to put down roots in Lansing after culinary careers that took them all over the United States.

“We were looking to open our business, and Michigan kept coming up,” says Santucci, who launched the first farm-to-table food truck in Michigan, known as The Purple Carrot. “There are so many things being grown here. Any time of the year, we can be 100 percent local, from meat, fish, dairy, flowers, vinegars and beers.”

In 2013, the couple opened Red Haven, a stationary restaurant named after the peach variety developed in 1940 by Michigan State University professor Stanley Johnson. There’s no better place to learn the history of Michigan than through one’s stomach, whether it’s the Red Haven Peach soda or smelt sourced from the Native American fisheries.

“It’s one of the places I like to take people,” says Lori Lanspeary of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I have discovered new things that I might not have ever tried, like smelt in a taco. There was a tail in my taco, but honest to gosh, it was delicious.” 517-679-6309,

SIP: When it opened in May, American Fifth Spirits became Lansing’s first legally run distillery. Owners Rick Wyble and Mike Bird have been producing Hue Vodka and Capital Gin, and Fat Five White Whiskey will be available soon. They source as many ingredients as they can from Michigan farmers, including tons of corn and wheat grown in nearby Williamston. Luckily, grains are plentiful in mid-Michigan, known as the Cereal Capital of the World. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg founded his breakfast-food empire less than an hour away in Battle Creek in the early 20th century. 517-999-2631,

SELECT: Michigan is the leading producer of cultivated blueberries. More than 87 million pounds are picked each summer. Pick your own at Lechleitner Blueberry Farm in Leslie, Michigan. The season runs from June to September. 517-676-4220

CELEBRATE: The third annual Capital Area Restaurant Week takes place July 12-19. Three-course prix fixe dinner menus will be offered at the area’s finest restaurants.

STAY: Located 7 miles south of Lansing, The English Inn has seven rooms on a 16-acre estate that once belonged to an auto baron. The inn’s award-winning restaurant has been called one of the nation’s top 100 most-romantic by OpenTable. Prices start at $115, including breakfast. 517-663-2500,


Foodie fact: Domino’s Pizza was founded in Ypsilanti in 1960 near the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

SAVOR: Ypsilanti, home to Eastern Michigan University, is only 6 miles from the other college town of Ann Arbor, but it has its own distinctive personality. Like its neighbor, it has a great food scene. 

“There are no chain restaurants here,” says Marissa Kurtzhals of the Yspilanti Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It feels more authentic, and there’s a strong community that rallies around entrepreneurs who want to start businesses here. We want them to thrive.”

Bee Roll, in particular, is considered by many to be Ypsi’s shining star. In 2008, Bee took a chance when she opened Beezy’s Cafe (734-485-9625, in the downtown core. In the midst of revitalization, this historic district has a farmers market, plus a growing number of specialty shops and restaurants. The popular diner, which serves “simple, honest food” for breakfast and lunch, recently started offering dinner on weekend nights. The menu has two daily soup options, salads and sandwiches, all made with local ingredients whenever possible. 

Around the corner, Bon Sera Café’s menu (734-3406335, is considered “comfort fusion.” “They put an international twist on American classics,” Kurtzhals says. “For example, they do shrimp and grits with Thai flavoring.” Recipes change depending on what’s available each week at the farmers market. 

SIP: Beer is a way of life in Michigan. Soak up some suds at the 18th Annual Summer Beer Festival, which takes place July 24-25 in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park. The festival will showcase more than 800 beers from 80 Michigan craft breweries, plus food vendors and live music. 

SELECT: Farmers, urban market gardens and other food vendors selling jams, grains and baked goods gather on Tuesdays and Saturdays at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 10th year. Tuesday, 3-7 p.m. at 16 S. Washington St.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 100 Rice St. in Depot Town.

STAY: Known locally as “Tara” because of its two-story veranda, The Queen’s Residence B&B is an architecturally unique bed and breakfast that also features a 1700s-era tavern on the ground floor. Purchased originally for Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Henry Ford gifted the historic tavern to Charles Newton, the second owner of the home. If you book at least three of the five guest rooms at the B&B, you can use the Wild Turkey Travelers Tavern for $75 more, but you have to bring in your own food and drink. Prices start at $124. 734-961-8435,

Traverse City

Foodie Fact: Traverse City, the cherry capital of the world, is home to the World’s Largest Cherry Pie Pan, which once held the World’s Largest Cherry Pie. It weighed more than 28,000 pounds and measured more than 17 feet in diameter.

SAVOR:  Celebrity chef Mario Batali, who spends summers in northern Michigan, considers The Cook’s House one of his nine favorite restaurants in the world. Chefs Jennifer Blakeslee and Eric Patterson select from area farms the finest local and sustainable ingredients with which they create inventive cuisine. If you want to get some insight into their creative process, sign up for one of their small-group cooking classes for $65 per person. On Saturday mornings from June to late July, they take guests for a walk through the farmers market, offering tips on what to do with the bounty they find. The restaurant itself is open for dinner only from Tuesday through Saturday. 231-946-8700,

SIP: Follow the Leelanau Wine Trail by bicycle, starting in Suttons Bay. Considered the Napa Valley of the Midwest, the Grand Traverse area is home to more than 25 wineries. Grand Traverse Bike Tours will help you plan your self-guided route, set you up with all the gear and greet you with a catered deli box when you’re ready for a bite to eat. 231-421-6815,

SELECT: Pleva Meats looks like your typical mom-and-pop butcher shop, but its products are highly coveted for their cherry-enhanced meats, sausages and hot dogs, even outside of northern Michigan. Its famous cherry burger is served in area restaurants, such as the nearby Cedar Tavern. “The meat is leaner and has less fat,” explains owner Tom Pleva. “But it still tastes like a hamburger. You don’t know there are cherries in the mixture, but there is extra nutrition and fiber.” Mario Batali is a fan, and so are people concerned about where their meat comes from. “There’s one cow in a batch of meat,” says Pleva. “It’s killed on Tuesday and we get it on Thursday.” The price is $5.99 a pound for hamburger meat or $6.99 for an eight-pack of ready-to-grill 1/3-pound patties. Sausages, brats and hot dogs are $6.59 per pound. 231-228-5000,

Cooking tip: Heat the meat at a lower temperature than regular ground beef. The natural sugars in the cherries cook faster, but you’ll also find there are fewer flare-ups and less shrinkage.

CELEBRATE:  The National Cherry Festival, which takes place July 4 to 11, draws more than a half million visitors every year. 231-947-4230,

STAY: Just 7 miles from Traverse City on the Old Mission Peninsula, the Grey Hare Inn Vineyard Bed & Breakfast sits among acres of vineyards. If you happen to plan a mid-week getaway in September and October, take advantage of the harvest and winemaking package. Not only can you harvest grapes, but owners Jay and Cindy Ruzak will send you home with a jug of juice and tips on how to make your own wine. While you’re at the property, though, you’ll have a gourmet breakfast with a local vintner, enjoy wine and cheese after each day’s harvest and drink a complimentary bottle of wine. The package price starts at $195 per person. 231-947-2214,