Come along on a scrumptious romp across Northern Michigan. Here’s the hot dish you need to eat well and raise a glass to the good life. We’re talking fancy burgers, dreamy pies, picnic dips, grilled cheese and more. Let’s go!

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our magazine library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

The Bees’ Knees Grilled Cheese

Those who first glimpsed heaven via Velveeta and two slices of buttered Wonderbread bubbling atop Mom’s avocado-green stove, prepare to meet thy gods: Providence Organic Farm’s “Oh My” Grilled Cheese does exactly what it promises, tucking perky, tongue-tingling pickled red onions and Food For Thought’s habanero jelly in a sweet, soothing bed of sliced apples and creamy Farm Country cheese. Pond Hill Farm’s Parm-Crusted Grilled Cheese can be had at a base model of melted Swiss and Havarti inside parm-coated sourdough, but we suggest leveling up to luxury with a bright basil pesto and sunflower seed crunch.

Short Stacks

Red Velvet Pancakes | Red Spire | Traverse City
You won’t find a more supple red velvet texture making magic with a mildly tangy cream cheese topping than this red-hot pair.

Cinnamon Roll French Toast | Rise and Dine | Gaylord
These warm, freshly baked cinnamon rolls are sliced and drizzled with cream cheese frosting and caramel cinnamon syrup. 

Dutch Baked Pancake | Small Batch | Harbor Springs
Whisper-light crisped edges cradle a lofty, lusciously eggy center that, despite ample competition from a treasure trove of fruit jewels and pillowy cream, defies both gravity and all “pancake” expectations.

Beach Blanket Dips

Right now, we are craving sunshine and a picnic “dinner” with veggies, chips and irresistible things to dunk them in. For your immediate or future picnic pleasure, our editors share their favorites …

Smoked Onion Dip | J.bird Provisions | Charlevoix
Paper-thin onions, oh-so-slowly smoked in molasses and brown sugar, sing in sour cream-mayo silkiness best scooped up with Great Lakes Potato Chips or, bestest, schmeared atop burgers.

Salsa Verde | Osorio Tacos y Salsas | Traverse City
Spiked with fresh jalapeño, cilantro and onion, this tangy tomatillo sauce adores a salty, fritterlike tortilla chip (have you tried Fiesta Grand made in Ludington?). We also can’t stop drizzling the green stuff on everything: pork tacos, breakfast burritos…

Pimento Cheese Spread | J.bird Provisions | Charlevoix
Whatever shame ’80s-era bologna loaves brought upon pimentos, J.bird owner Jess Nagel has deftly—with creamy, cheesy and just-right-spicy, spreadable aplomb—redressed those grievances.

White Gold | Saltless Sea Creamery | Traverse City
If fondue and Bar Scheeze had a locally crafted baby, it would be named White Gold—a blend of cheese, garlic, wine and olive oil that’s impossible to stop eating. Best paired with tart apple slices or spread on a crusty baguette with a quick trip under the broiler.

Smoked Whitefish Whitecaps Spread | Mackinac Straits Fish Co. | St. Ignace
A traditional, no-frills touch makes this Straits-made dip sublime: It’s all about those handsome hunks of freshly caught and smoked whitefish.

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Curries We Crave

Tom Kha Kai | Thai Orchid | Petoskey
This awaken-the-senses soup with chicken, tomatoes and mushrooms is made rich and fragrant with coconut milk, chilies, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves and galangal root.

Navratan Korma | NJ’s Grocery | Lake Leelanau
NJ’s Navratan—translation: nine jewels—is as rich and, frankly, life-changing as a ninesome of beans, veggies, pineapple, raisins and cashews simmered in golden curried coconut milk should be.

Green Curry | Samsara | Traverse City
Samsara’s version is powerfully creamy, steeped in earthy green curry so rich in flavor it takes a playful romp on taste buds long after the bowl is empty.

Insider dish: At Hexenbelle in Traverse City caring hands in the kitchen are ready to warm you with rotating offerings of richness and spice (e.g. Butternut Tom Kha, Coconut Curry Fried Rice).

Road Trip Sweets

If you’re curious about what’s budding and blooming Up North, or if any cool rocks churned up on the beach after the last spring storm, there’re only one way to find out. Time to take a drive, and get yourself some sweet sustenance along the way …

Dark Chocolate Bars | Crow & Moss | Petoskey
Dark bars breaking even the most inventive molds, whether straight-shooting 70-percenters bearing otherworldly notes from a global terroir, or complex combos pairing darks with Bolivian rose salt, passion fruit and sesame seeds.

Ruby Red Sour Cherry Patches | Cherry Republic | Charlevoix, Glen Arbor & Traverse City
Tiny, mouth-puckering punches of cherry that you can’t stop, won’t stop eating.

Chocolate Haus Chips | Alpine Chocolat Haus | Boyne City, Gaylord & Sault Ste. Marie
Chocolate covered potato chips. Could life get any better?! We didn’t think so … and then we dipped them in peanut butter. Gasp.

Fancy Burgers

Basic cravings for a crispy-edged beef patty stacked with classic toppers on a squishy bun get turned up to 11 in the deft hands of an artful chef. Rockstar specimens: The Big Mick at POUR in Petoskey (pictured below). This spice-crusted Wagyu burger snuggles up with American cheese, iceberg lettuce, raw white onion, house pickles and a generous spoonful of smoky Thousand Island. The Notorious Butter Burger at Northland Gastropub inside Marquette’s Landmark Inn gets the CIA-touch with chef-pattied brisket and chuck, purple pickled onions, American cheese and bread-and-butter pickles on buttered and griddled brioche. And thank the Maillard reaction for the richly browned but still juicy smashburger at Birch & Maple in Frankfort.

Photo by Sarah Peschel


Planked Whitefish | Stafford’s Weathervane | Charlevoix
Our Lake Country specialty: Just-caught whitefish is nestled up to velveteen piped duchess potatoes and cooked on a well-seasoned oak plank, gently infusing its woodsy flavor.

Knot’s Famous Kone | Knot Just a Bar | Omena & Bay Harbor
A paper cone brimming with beer battered perch and expertly seasoned fries will have you questioning if you’ll ever hunger again. Luckily, you have the luxury of snacking leisurely as you soak in the bay views at either locale.

Great Lakes Walleye | Vintage Chophouse | Inn at Bay Harbor
A sweet and succulent walleye fillet is expertly pan sautéed then soused in a delicate beurre blanc with capers. Classic. Understated. Irresistible.

Bennies (with Jets)

Eggs Benedict | Sam’s Graces Café | Petoskey
Just your basic Benedict, done bewitchingly well. Wonderfully wobbly eggs; lean, locally sourced Plath’s smoked ham; a fluffy house-made English muffin and two luscious asparagus spears to swipe up every last drop of that triumphant hollandaise.

Braised Short-Rib Benedict | The Towne Plaza | Traverse City
Ye olde eggs Benedict—first served in Gilded Age N.Y.—gets many modern updates on the Plaza’s muscle-forward menu. Our fave: fall-apart-tender short-rib atop a crisp polenta wedge, poached eggs and bibb leaf, drizzled with a biting bit of horseradish cream.

Insider dish: Sunday brunchin’ is better with the Pork Belly Benedict, slathered in jalapeño jam and pork fat hollandaise, at 876 Baldwin.

Detroit-Style Pizza in The North

Charles and Reid in Traverse City keeps old-school traditionalists and the newly converted Detroit-stylers hitting up this alley hotspot for that lacy and deeply caramelized crust, plus a tsunami of rich sauce on top. Maple City’s Market 22 simply slays with a Detroit-style Reuben pizza with piquant sauerkraut, house-made corned beef and homemade Thousand Island. Upriver Pizza in Benzonia paints a fluffy focaccia canvas with the likes of homemade vodka sauce, caramelized onions and fresh meatballs. Meanwhile Traverse City’s family-owned Dino’s Pizza keeps slinging out irresistible D- style as it has since 1970—calling it simply “deep dish” on the menu. Be advised, this iconic Eighth Street pizzeria is open till 1 a.m. daily, providing more waking hours to heed their slogan-slash-siren song: “Let Dino’s Do It.”

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Dreamy Dry Rieslings

The golden rule (and golden goose) of Up North gatherings: to bring or to serve a bottle of dry riesling. The zippy acidity holds its own against almost every dish on the table—baked brie, roasted turkey, freshwater fish, pork tacos, sushi, curry. Chateau Grand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula crafts a steely dry sipper—the 2020 has hints of Granny Smith, white grapefruit, quince jam and honeycomb. Black Star Farms’ 2022 dry riesling is like sneaking a smooch at the farmers market with aromas of white peach and lemon balm. And Shady Lane Cellars’ 2020 bottling might become your steady summer romance after one sip, buzzing with notes of pineapple, ripe pear and ginger.

Just Like Babcia’s House

Polish Stuffed Cabbage | My Grandmother’s Table | Charlevoix
MGT nails the critical balance between Eastern Europe’s dominant culinary powers—beef, pork, cabbage—then tips the scales with green peppers, carrots, onions and an old-country tomato sauce made for slow rolls to simmer and stew.

Farmer’s Cheese Pierogi | Babcia’s Amazing Pierogi | Traverse City
Whole fat milk from Moomers Farm Creamery is the key ingredient in Babcia’s signature cheese filling, brightened with fresh chives and garlic. Fry these dumplings up in some butter and smacznego!

Famous Shed Borscht | Cabbage Shed | Elberta
A waterside fruit and vegetable warehouse from the late 1800s is home to sustaining brews and deeply nourishing borscht: slow-braised beef with red beets and green cabbage anointed with a delightful dab of smoked sour cream.

Insider dish: If you go once, you keep finding yourself on the winding country road to the land where polkas play every day. Kathleen and Tom Koch’s seasonal Polish Countryside Kitchen—a food truck in a charming alleyway in downtown Cedar—is the place to feed your soul with smoked kielbasa from their own farm-raised Mangalitsa pork, dilled mashed potatoes, creamy cucumber salad and other delicacies. Tom learned the old-world recipes growing up a few blocks from his Polish-immigrant grandparents in Hamtramck and visiting his babcia’s kitchen daily.

Irresistible Cinnamon Rolls

The adorable Tillie’s Tafel storefront in downtown Petoskey tempts passersby with a warm gourmet cinnamon roll slathered with cream cheese frosting (pictured below), using Matilda (Tillie) Dewes’ beloved family recipe that has been passed down for the past 100 years. The bakers at 9 Bean Rows in Suttons Bay transform their legendary laminated dough into a masterful cinnamon croissant—rolled up into a golden buttery bun and ribboned with icing. The mom-n-pop Café Noka in Topinabee makes plump cinnamon buns with buttery centers. Pinch yourself when having one split and griddled in the cozy cabin vibes with a view of Mullett Lake.

Insider dish: Available only on Wednesdays, Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Breadworks’ brioche cinnamon roll with spiced streusel topping and brown butter maple drizzle is a cult favorite.

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Life of Pie

Frozen Peanut Butter Pie | The Glenwood | Onekama
When this longtime dining destination reopens for the season in May, you must save room for dessert. We’re talking Oreo cookie crumb crust and hot fudge drizzle.

Cherry Pie | Cherry Hut | Beulah
The Kraker family started selling the fruits of their labor at a roadside pie stand in 1922. Fans now flock to the landmark restaurant, home to the pie-faced mascot Cherry Jerry, and a pie that hasn’t changed in 100-plus years because it’s perfect just as it is: A tender crust chock-full of plump sour cherries, barely sweetened and kissed with almond extract.

Peach & Berry Pies | Grand Traverse Pie Company | Traverse City
When you just can’t commit to one fruit flavor, opt for a bit of each with your peach. GT Pie serves up delicious blends pairing peach with strawberry, raspberry or blackberry. True confessions: The blackberry steals our hearts with its buttery crumb topping and mellow sweetness that lets the peach notes shine.

Insider dish: Psst, Grand Traverse Pie Co.’s Cherry Vernors Pie may only be available during summer, but this lattice-topped beaut is as pure Michigan as it gets.

Truly Madly Deeply Fried

Truffle Portobello Fries | Rare Bird Brewpub | Traverse City
Toothsome tempura-fried Portobello mushroom wedges get drizzled with truffle oil and dusted in pecorino cheese for the perfect savory crunch.

Gyro Eggrolls | FrankZ | Frankfort
Weenie wizardry aside at this summertime hot dog spot, FrankZ wows in the eggroll department, packing massive amounts of Mediterranean flavors into slender, snappy snacks.

Deep-Fried Oreos | Brady’s Bar | Traverse City
Scratching an itch crème brûlée never will: five humble Oreo cookies, submerged in bubbling oil until their innards ooze like hot marshmallow fluff, dressed for the dance with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar, and paired—if you’re wise—with a $1 PBR.

Boudin Balls | Lagniappe | Marquette
One second you’re in downtown Marquette. The next you’ve descended a staircase straight into New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps rouler with a cold cocktail and fried balls of spicy sausage and rice.

Insider dish: Once summer’s sweet Ailsa Craig onions arrive on the farm at Traverse City’s Farm Club, their luscious layers are tempura fried and soused with a chili maple glaze.

Brat Fest

Original, Popper & Jalapeño-Bleu | Gabe’s Country Smoked Meats | Maple City
A good old-fashioned German pork brat generously laced with black pepper and marjoram is definitely not your wurst bet, but don’t sleep on the spicy brats when they grace the case—there’s one stuffed with cream cheese, house bacon and jalapeño; another that pairs the heat of fresh jalapeño with rich bleu cheese.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Brats | Nowicki’s Sausage Shoppe | Alpena, Gaylord & Rogers City
When one family has been making sausage since 1917, they’re allowed to go off script: The mavens at Nowicki’s keep this white meat chicken brat juicy with Michigan white wine, cubes of smoked ham and Swiss oozing out of every bite.

Morel and Swiss Brats | Dublin General Store | Dublin
Fresh-made year-round, these spring kings are stuffed silly with the North’s most famous fungi, somehow made even more succulent when squeezed against nutty-buttery melty morsels of Swiss.

Insider dish: When asparagus starts sprouting this month, start stalking the meat counter at Oryana West, where the inventor of Empire’s famed Asparagus Fest Brats, Phil Deering, makes the OG recipe just during asparagus season.

A row of topped brats

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Finger-Lickin’ BBQ

Start with the Burnt End Mac & Cheese at The Whi-Ski Inn in Boyne Falls. Work your way through a weekend’s worth of smoked chicken/wings/ brisket/ribs/sausage/corned beef whilst storming the bar’s bourbon shelves. Hair might not sprout from your chest, but you will feel certain it could. Or elevate snack time with locally smoked salmon jerky: Primo’s BBQ inside Willow Market & Meats in Cadillac makes a salt-n-pepper version that’s mahogany-hued and peppercorn-crusted with a whisper of sweetness; or we love to pick up a few tender morsels at Burritt’s Fresh Markets in Traverse City—a gamechanger on a charcuterie board or a delight on a Caesar salad. Next time you’re in Honor, the good people at Jim’s Joint are ready to fix you a sammie heavy with succulent barely-sauced smoked pulled pork. Squeeze on the Benzie Burn—a homemade sauce with enough heat to hug you then let you go.

Ice Cream, Please! 

A Fruit-Filled Double Scoop | Buchan’s | Old Mission Peninsula & Traverse City
Choose your own local fruit adventure with ice cream crafted in small batches on the Buchan fam’s fifth-generation berry farm. Go Blueberry Hill and Lemonberry (with a luscious ribbon of blueberry sauce); or lemon poppy seed and strawberry (made with fresh strawberries and colored naturally with red beet juice); or double down on Lighthouse Cherry—old-fashioned vanilla ice cream with tart cherries mixed throughout.

Honey Lavender Ice Cream | Milk & Honey | Traverse City
Top with caramel sauce and roasted salted pecans.Then stay in that lavender haze.

Mackinac Fudge | Jones Homemade Ice Cream | Baldwin
Every gallon mother-daughter duo Joy Kolonich and Angela Johnson make honors their parlor’s 81 years, but perennial favorite Mackinac Fudge—velvety vanilla swirled, dotted and made divine with chewy fudge—is their crème de la ice cream.

Beer with Fruit Roots

If you give a gal a spring day, she’s going to need a beverage to wash it down with. How about a …

Tangelo Dream | Ludington Bay Brewing Co. | Ludington
Have this juicy, quenching pale ale queued up in the cooler for the first breezy porch weather of the season.

Kayak Attack | Big Buck Brewery | Gaylord
A never-ending wave of guava and grapefruit. Ride it.

Soft Parade Fruit Ale | Short’s Brewing Co. | Bellaire
Bushels of berries—straw, black, blue and rasp—plucked, pureed and gone swimming in a pool of toasted rye and malted barley: this, the North’s nectar.

Blood Orange Honey | Cheboygan Brewing Co. | Cheboygan
Dripping with honey and a kiss of citrus, this American-style wheat ale tastes like summer nights ’round the bonfire.

Spooky Kriek | Barrel + Beam | Marquette
Crafted with a blend of local malts, hops and Montmorency cherries, this orange-hued sour ale is a purely Michigan brew. Tart, wild and hauntingly good.

Insider Sip: Maybe you can’t capture summer in a bottle, but Master Brewer Lark Ludlow at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub in Paradise comes darn close. Every August, she sends the sun-baked sweetness of the Yoop’s freshest ankle-high forest fruit—the wee and wild blueberry—cascading on a river of bright Blueberry Wheat Ale from tap to glass, a marvel that enjoys almost as much fanfare as the pub’s backyard waterfalls.

First featured in the April 2023 issue of Traverse Northern Michigan magazine. Subscribe here. 

Photo by Sarah Peschel

Photo(s) by Sarah Peschel