5 Northern Michigan Restaurants Serving Comfort Food to Fend Off the March Chill

We combat winter’s final act with some of the best cold weather comfort food in Northern Michigan.


At Wren the Butcher, a shiny stainless steel grinder extrudes local pork, farm fresh herbs and aromatics into fat green links of chorizo verde. Broken shards of whole potato are lifted from a flash fry in hot oil and painted with sausage gravy and tender cheese curds in a decadent, rustic poutine. Uniformed in a butcher’s apron and landing plates in front of hungry patrons seated at the wrap-around counter is local culinary wunderkind Adam McMarlin. The former Cooks’ House sous chef and proprietor of The Bay Leaf struck out on his own last summer in the State Street Marketplace to harness his love for whole animal butchery into an honest, dynamic counter service eatery built on seasonal sausages, charcuterie and handmade pastas. The menu—rustic and beer-friendly to complement the adjacent Monkey Fist Brewery—fluctuates almost daily, featuring slow-cooked brisket sandwiches with remoulade and red onion, or hearty potato leek soup with smoked duck breast and grilled brioche.

YELLOW DOG CAFE | ONEKAMA | 231.508.5008

Buttery scones, sourdough baguette sandwiches and airy quiches built from locally sourced ingredients.

GAIJIN | TRAVERSE CITY | 231.421.5466

Umami-rich ramen with housemade noodles, soft-boiled egg and seared slices of pork belly in fragrant dashi.


Hearty Australian-style meat pies served with a side of this Charlevoix farm’s artisan catsup.


This cozy Harbor Springs hangout slings wood-oven pizzas, spanakopita and poached eggs with quinoa, kale-roasted root vegetables, and lemon tahini sauce.

Foodie File: Chef/Owner Adam McMarlin of Wren the Butcher

After graduating from Western Michigan University, Adam McMarlin’s chef apprenticeship found him honing French technique in San Diego before moving to Traverse City with his new wife to launch The Bay Leaf in 2010. His brief tenure there and a three-year stint as sous chef at The Cooks’ House paved the way for Adam to strike out on his own with Wren the Butcher. Between bites of housemade sausage, we sit down to talk inspiration and cooking to counter the March chill.

[Try Adam’s recipe for chorizo risotto!]

How has your cooking evolved since moving to Traverse City?
One thing that I taught myself once I got here was utilizing local proteins and practicing whole animal butchery. Trying to build a menu around a whole animal has become important to me. I’ve also had to learn to embrace root vegetables.

Tell us the inspiration behind Wren the Butcher?
We’re looking at this as a stepping stone to build our reputation in the community by making honest, rustic food. This casual setting gives us a lot of space to be creative and have a small menu entirely made in house.

What defines great comfort food?
For me it’s all about heavy starches: pastas and potatoes … leeks, celery root. Those deep earthy flavors are so satisfying in the winter. Poutine has been popular. Our bratwursts will get seasoned with nutmeg and lemon this time of year.

It’s mud season, what should we try cooking at home?
Make the small investment of getting yourself a pasta roller. Making fresh pasta may seem intimidating but it’s very simple and makes such a huge difference in the quality of your dishes. Practice up so you’re ready when ramps, fiddleheads and morels start coming up.

Traverse food and drinks editor Tim Tebeau writes from Petoskey. [email protected] // Dave Weidner is a freelance photographer based in Traverse City. [email protected]

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