Shirley's Cafe in Mancelona

We found out about this local favorite from Antrim County deputy Jon Wheatley, and since our first Creole omelet, we never miss the chance to pull off U.S. 131 to this homey little Mancelona café—even if it’s just for a heavenly slice of buttermilk pie. As Shirley sees it, it’s her honor and opportunity in life to make people happy. So if it’s 6:30 in the morning and you’re hungry for a fried chicken dinner, then a chicken dinner you shall have.

Local breakfast favorites?

We have a breakfast sandwich on a homemade pretzel bun, with egg, patty sausage, bacon and pepper jack, and American fries loaded with cheddar on the side. You can’t eat like that every day, but every once in a while you can!

How do you make your pancakes so tender?

They’re my grandma’s recipe—just 8 ingredients. They’re perfect.

You love to invent sandwiches—any irresistible new ones this winter?

The applejack turkey sandwich. It’s house-roasted turkey with apple butter and honey mustard, grilled onions and sweet peppers and pepper jack on a homemade sourdough sub bun. The apple butter and mustard are beautiful together—I use a zesty horseradish-y mustard.

Some of your favorite cozy things to fix?

Chicken livers and gizzards, roast pork with homemade stuffing, pot roast with homemade gravy.

Where did you get your cooking philosophy?

Raising five kids. My kids buy me books about food all the time. I read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and the author says go to the grocery store and look for the healthiest loaf of bread. Read the ingredients. Would your grandmother recognize it as bread? Would she recognize it as food? I packed all my kids’ lunches every day. They were mortified when I made their sandwiches on homemade bread. Then the other kids wanted to trade and all of sudden it was a commodity!

And tell us about your amazing chicken dinners.

I get a minimally processed chicken, not pumped with hormones. We soak it in salt water. We do our own seasoning and fry the chicken for 14 minutes. It’s phenomenal—so nice and juicy.

You take good care of kids at the restaurant.

We have cafeteria trays with separate compartments and kids can pick their entrée and choose three sides. And they get a fancy fork—a cocktail fork.

I take it you have a regulars table.

Every day eight to a dozen guys come and sit at the front table. They’re so much fun. They have breakfast, lip off a little. They have soup cans on a string for their intercom to the kitchen or a tiny coffee can with a [ice fisherman’s] tip-up to let us know they need coffee.

Shirley’s Café is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 528 S. Williams (U.S. 131), Mancelona, 231-587-1210.

Article Comments

  • Karyn49

    Shirley ~ my mother-in-law Ann absolutely adores you and your restaurant. I want to thank you for your good wholesome food and the care and love you put into every bite. WE know mom is in good hands when she stops in for a bite ~ Especially the chicken…she LOVES the chicken.

    Thanks for being there
    Karyn and Mike Alley

  • Karyn49

    Shirley…just needed to say that your bread is THE BEST in the world. My kids wanted to know my secret for the best French toast in the world! Well there’s always a secret and YOUR bread is part of that! Keep cooking darlin!

  • Anonymous

    Cranberry walnut bread frenchtoast with pecan batter? What could be better for breakfast? Chicken salad on rosemary potato bread for lunch? Yum! Thumbs up for Shirley’s Cafe. Keep it up, Shirley. The wait staff are great, too.

  • Anonymous

    My names Dennis, I come in there once and a while when im tired and dont feel like cooking for myself lol. Shirleys has a awesome menu, friendly workers, and a clean environment. I love how the food always has that homemade taste. The bread is even awesome and im not usually a person to eat bread or toast. The pop selection is also very good. Nice to have a change from coke and pepsi most restaurants serve. Would recommend this place to anyone. If your in the area stop in and try the smothered chicken breast dinner, pot roast dinner, or cornbeef hash omelete. Three of my personal favorites 🙂

  • ironmike144

    past about 5 or 6 restaurants before we found shirleys, i’m glad we past them! awesome breakfasts, staff was VERY FRIENDLY! we were on our way up to see our son at school, there was 9 of us (with 2 little kids) even they ate all their breakfast!. We all took a group photo with Shirley. GREAT place with GREAT food

  • PamAndRocky

    Shirley’s is the place to eat when you are anywhere near Mancelona! All the food is home made, and her various home made breads are to die for! She also makes outstanding home made pies. My favorite is the raspberry. She is an excellent cook that takes great pride in making sure everything tastes superb. I love that she offers a variety of salads not just one salad. There is something on the menu for every type of person’s taste. The thing I love most is that she comes out from behind her stove and talks to her customers to make sure they are enjoying the food and carries on a conversation with them. Can you name one other place where the cook does that?!?!?! I feel her prices are very reasonable.