Thursday, September 13, 2012

[Up North] Northern Exposure: Off to the UP!

Our Up North series highlights good eats to seek out on your weekend roadtrips as you head Up North – that ambiguous, nebulous region in Michigan where everyone has, or has a friend that has, a cottage on a lake somewhere.

As a follow-up to last week’s post on the Lower Peninsula portion of our roadtrip, this will focus on the Upper Peninsula portion. While the UP portion of the trip was more about taking in the scenery, we did find some solid food spots along the way. 
After crossing the Mackinac Bridge, we made our first pitstop at Clyde’s Drive-In just off the highway in St. Ignace. Clyde’s is your typical old school drive-in with burgers, fries and malts. While I’m sure most everything on the menu comes out of a freezer, their burger patties are made to order, as evidenced by the huge tray of ground beef sitting next to the griddle. Clyde’s specialty is their ¾ LB “Big C” burger and while I was fairly hungry, I couldn’t bring myself to try to tackle that Paul Bunyan-sized beast. 

Pro-tip on where to eat – don’t eat it in your car, take it to go and head to the Mackinac Bridge Bridgeview Park just down the street for a great view of the bridge. 

From there, we headed north to Tahquamenon Falls. In Paradise, the town nearest the Tahquamenon Falls State Park area, we had planned on stopping at Brown Fisheries for our smoked whitefish fix.

Defeated, we headed back to the campsite to drown our sorrows in a smorgasbord of Pure Michigan snacks we had loaded up on back in Petoskey. 

The next day, we hiked from our campground at the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls (~5 miles). The hike was a bit tougher than expected, but the fact that we knew there was beer waiting for us at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery at the Upper Falls made it a little easier. 

The next day, we made our way westward to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to stake out a campsite. (sidenote on camping in the park: there are three campgrounds within the Pictured Rocks National park area and they are first-come, first-serve, which is to say, it’s basically prison rules. You drive around looking for an open spot and if you see one and can get a piece of property down on it, it’s yours. There is no campground host to make sure things go smoothly. The lady driving around in front of me was driving too slowly around the spots, so I channeled my inner Andretti and swooped around her and ended up snagging one of the last spots available. The spots fill up quickly in the morning so get there early.) 

On our first day in the park, we drove around and hit the sites that are easily accessible by car via short hikes (<1 mile) – Miner’s Falls, Miner’s Castle, Munising Falls, Wagner Falls. 

We had some time left to kill before our sunset cruise along the Rocks, so we rolled through Munising to check it out. Right along the water, we saw a couple of fisheries on the docks and decided to pop into Vanlandschoot & Sons. Vanlandschoot’s looked like exactly the type of place you want to buy your fish from – literally right on the water where their boat is docked. The storefront consists of a small counter inside the building where it looks like they do all of the processing. Cheap too. We finally had our smoked fish and it was excellent. In addition to the smoked whitefish & salmon, they had fresh fish (whitefish, salmon, walleye) as well. Definitely worth the stop, if only for the free smells of the fish docks. 

We had a dinner date with Johnny Dogs – which is like a hot dog stand on HGH. Menu items include things like the North Carolina dog (House smoked pulled pork, Orange Pop BBQ sauce, coleslaw) and the Bob Marley Dog (House smoked Jerk chicken, sweet pepper pineapple salsa, banana peppers), and some non-dog items like a Cuban sandwich and whitefish wasabi tacos. The most stressful decisions I make are at times like these. I decided to go with the Lake Superior Whitefish sandwich (blackened Cajun style), while Mrs. T went with the Homewrecker dog - deep fried dog, chili, cheese, and bacon. 

My whitefish sandwich was basically a po’ boy, it came out on an light French roll that is probably the best po’ boy bread I’ve come across outside of New Orleans, I wonder where they get their bread from.

Mrs. T couldn’t handle all of her dog so I had to throwdown on that as well. It tastes like it looks, which may be in the eye of the beholder. 

The weather on our trip was perfect all week – sunny and not too hot. It figures that the only two hours where it was cloudy all week would be the exact two hours we were on our sunset cruise of Pictured Rocks. Insert McKayla is not impressed face here

The next day we did the 10-mile Chapel Loop hike. We were on the fence about doing the relatively long hike, but decided to do it due to my hissy fit about the lack of sun on the cruise the night before. Needless to say, we were glad we did the hike. 

If you ever make it to Pictured Rocks, you owe it to yourself to do the Chapel Loop. It is a ~10-mile loop trail that goes by Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach then climbs to the top of the Rocks where you hike along the top of the rocks and have some really stunning views. Eating our sandwiches on top of the Rocks at one of the lookout points was one of the more enjoyable meals on the trip. 

After the hike, we started making the long haul back into the Lower Peninsula, but not without making one last stop for pasties at Lehto’s just a few miles outside of St. Ignace. 

For the uninitiated, a pasty is basically a huge northern version of an empanada – a thick flaky pastry-like crust, filled with chopped beef, potatoes, onions and rutabaga (and according to my grandparents, it has to have rutabaga to be legit). I am far from a pasty expert but Lehto’s is supposed to be among the best and after having mine and half of Mrs. T’s, I can’t disagree. 

We didn’t get to everywhere we wanted to, there was Brown Fisheries in Paradise and the West Bay Diner in Grand Marais. There’s always next summer.

Clyde's Drive-In
3 US Highway 2 W
St. Ignace, MI

Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub
Tahquamenon Falls State Park - Upper Falls area

Commercial Street (head down Munising Ave west out of town and look for the signs on the east side of the road)

Johnny Dogs
106 Lynn Street
Munising, MI 

US Highway 2 W, ~6 miles west of St. Ignace

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