Foodie Road Trip #3: The Leelanau and Benzie Coast

It’s hard not to feel a little bit of love for the asphalt, M-22, that transports you north up Leelanau Peninsula. The gentle, scenic roller coaster of a road dips so close to the bay you can smell the water, then curls past sprawling vineyards and tidy orchards and finally spills into sweet historic downtowns where you can stretch your legs and fill your belly. Suttons Bay, for instance, where on the north end of town you’ll find a cozy farmhouse-turned-eatery called Martha’s Leelanau Table (413 N. ST. JOSEPH’S ST., SUTTONS BAY, 231-271-2344). Proprietress Martha Ryan has a breakfast named after M-22: an omelet with potatoes, onions and Leelanau cheese (made right down the road), which she folds toward the middle then, on top, lays a ribbon of sour cream and a curvy strip of apple-wood smoked bacon to emulate the famous highway.

Cut across the peninsula on M-204, then catch up with M-22 again as it winds south toward Empire until you spy the tiny chartreuse-green chocolate factory, Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates (12020 S. LEELANAU HWY. [M-22], EMPIRE, 231-326-3030). Mimi Wheeler ships boxes of her hand-dipped, high-cocoa bonbons and truffles laced with sea-salt caramel, thyme, mint, figs and whiskey, cardamom and lemon verbena to followers all over the country, but it’s worth popping into the roadside attraction proper to sample a treat she can’t send: wee and luscious fudgesicles on a lollipop stick.

Okay, Pilgrim. Next stop: Pilgrim, at a beachside canteen serving hungry M-22 travelers and a cottage community of families at Crystal Lake’s Congregational Summer Assembly. Nothing gourmet or groundbreaking at the Crystal View Cafe (2175 PILGRIM HWY. [M-22], PILGRIM, 231-352-8189) but there’s a pan of water for rinsing your sandy feet and shins before you come in the screen door for nachos with homemade chili, an old cottager’s recipe for egg salad, and a dewy Arnold Palmer. Instead of fries, Pilgrim’s spuds of choice are Potluck Pan Fries, potatoes thrown on the griddle with onions and served in a bowl with yellow nacho cheese and sour cream.

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If the sunny day calls for spice, seek out Melissa’s Comida Mexicana (832 MAIN ST., FRANKFORT, 231-670-1501) in the Frankfort community kitchen next to the city boat launch on Betsie Bay. Melissa Bradley uses her mom’s family recipes to prepare takeout lunches and dinners from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (starting June 29). Grandma Paula Cortez’s enchiladas are her crowning achievement—corn tortillas dipped in a racy ancho chile paste before baking, and sided with robust refried beans, cumin-laced rice, fresh-made chips and a smooth tomato salsa with cilantro. Here’s the drill: order, carry out to the Frankfort public beach and let it vanish in a puff. Nap, then swim, and play on the beach to taste.

The Cabbage Shed (198 FRANKFORT AVE., ELBERTA, 231-352-9843) long ago housed the Benzie County Fruit Exchange—it was in the 1930’s when the warehouse was stacked floor to ceiling with cabbage for shipment by rail—but of late has become the place to watch fishermen on the bay while sipping a cocktail. Dad-daughter team of Jim and Becky Clapp pour nine draft beers, ales and stouts, keep a sexy collection of scotch, and make their own sangria and margarita mixes. The $12 appetizer of perfectly pan-seared scallops with a lemon white wine beurre blanc is Elberta’s best kept secret. The Shed opens at 4 p.m. weekdays, earlier on weekends.

Cap off the day with a cone at Benzonia’s Hill Top Soda Shoppe (7117 SOUTH ST. BENZONIA, 231-882-5145). Chris and Victoria Mekas’s all-homemade ice cream and sorbet is instantly addictive, but know it’s churned with unadulterated, hormone-free milk from New Era, and sweetened with Michigan sugar-beet sugar, not corn syrup. They chop their own chocolate, sauté all the nuts to a crackle in salt and butter. The strawberry ice cream has that kind of full-bodied lusciousness that can only come from berries ripened down the road, the dazzling blueberry ice cream is made with Buchan’s berries from Old Mission, and a delicate, pear-and port-wine sorbet could be the intermezzo at a fine Parisian dinner.

Emily Betz Tyra wants to know what delicacies you pull off the road and discover this summer. Join the Up North’s Roadside Food Attractions discussion at MyNorth.com’s online Community.

More Food Ideas to Drive For

 Make it a Leelanau or Benzie County Vacation

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    You do realize that most of the sugar beets grown the U.S. are now genetically modified.

    Is sugar beet sugar an improvement over HFCS? Who really knows at this point. When studies show that rodents will not eat genetically modified crops unless they’re force-fed, you gotta wonder why.

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/michaeltraversemagazine-com/ Michael Thompson

    Cane and beet sugar are easily broken apart (digested) using a weak chemical reaction while HFCS is not so simple for the body. There’s more information here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-fructose_corn_syrup#Cane_and_beet_sugar

    But yes, beet sugar is very similar to cane sugar chemically and is easier to digest — just like cane sugar — than HFCS.

    The reason some rodents won’t eat genetically modified food, however, is still up for debate. :)