Shirley Tracey’s grandparents ran a restaurant by Mancelona’s railroad depot during the 1940’s; grandma fed GI’s right off the train. Shirley carries on the home-cooked oasis at Shirley’s Cafe. No doubt a legacy of Mancelona’s lumberjacks and ironworkers, and surely due to the fields of spuds all around it, this is unabashedly a meat-and-potatoes town, so Shirley does all the rib-sticking greats like pork loin with gravy and homemade stuffing, steak and eggs, and succulent pot roast sandwiches, all served anytime. But she’s also expanding palates with cranberry-walnut French toast, salmon and eggs with just-whisked hollandaise, shrimp Creole omelets, and flaxseed muffins made with molasses, honey and not a trace of white flour (get the recipe here!). Call up a tune on the jukebox—proceeds pay for the Mancelona High School marching band uniforms. Not one of the perky, retro-apron-clad waitresses will bat an eyelash if you’re seduced by the pies cooling next to the cash register. Even at breakfast. Shirley will cut you a slice to go and, if you ask, draw on a napkin the best back road into the nearby Jordan River Valley for a hike.

But there’s not time to hike today, because the dewy cool of morning is ideal cherry picking weather—both you and your fruit stay fresh. Hit Rennie Orchards (11221 Munro Rd., Williamsburg, 231-264-8387). Can’t travel as the crow flies (a whole chain of lakes lies between you and the orchards) but head down M-72 toward Traverse City, and turn right onto Elk Lake Road, then follow the signs to a stately white farmhouse—your host, farmer Sandy Rennie, was born right there in the front parlor. A weathered barn serves as the staging area for the U-pick. The Rennie family will suit you up with a bucket and suspenders, and let you loose in the orchard rows and on old-fashioned tree ladders to pluck 16 varieties of cherries, including the rare-to-find-fresh sour Montmorency for cobblers and pies. Weigh and pay, and be on your way.

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Fried chicken may be a Southern staple, but because it’s equally tempting hot or cold, it’s still the summer standard of movable feasts even this far North. Eastport Market IGA (5431 U.S. 31, Eastport, 231-599-2507) is a multitasking grocery, hardware store and filling station, but Russ and Donna Abbott have their fried chicken skills in the bag. Carry out a couple of juicy thighs with peppery, crisp skin. Picnic tables plus five miles of Lake Michigan beach to stroll and laze upon are up the road at Fisherman’s Island State Park (16480 Bells Bay Rd., Charlevoix, 231-547-6641).

Make it a Mexico-meets-Midwest supper at Mary Ann’s Take-Out (1530 Bridge St. [U.S. 31], Charlevoix, 231-237-9700) a boxy little burger-, fish sandwich– and coney-joint right across from the airport. For yourself, the Tijuana Dog—a Koegel’s frank swaddled in a flour tortilla with a spill of pickled jalapeno rings and cheddar then deep fried—and a nippy Vernors float. For your pooch riding shotgun? A couple of cold wieners wrapped in wax paper and a doggie bone sundae.

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’s online Community.

More Food Ideas to Drive For

More Links to Fun in Boyne City, Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Torch Lake and the Chain of Lakes Region!

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski