Mike is an author of tales, tastes, and fun in northern Michigan. When he is not messing around on the Great Lakes, he is writing about them
There is nothing like the familiar foods of home. If you have spent any time in Michigan, you will find many posts for our love of Pasties, Faygo RedPop, BetterMade potato chips, and Vernor's ginger ale. But, that is only the beginning. Michigan has unique and tasty varieties of comfort food dishes originating from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the Ohio and Indiana border. In addition, we hit upon some of the top delicacies that those from the Great Lakes State loves to enjoy.
Win Schuler’s Bar Scheeze
This spicy cheese spread can be found on most holiday tables and tailgate fests during the Michigan college football season. Michigan cooks pride themselves on making homemade versions. Schuler’s Restaurant and Pub in Marshall, Michigan, produced this horseradish-cheese spread until 1984. Now Win Schuler's Bar Cheese is a national brand and available in many stores in the Midwest. Serve with hard rye crunchy garlic crackers. It is a perfect happy hour addition to a festive table. Our favorite recipe for this savory delight is below.
Famous Bar Scheeze Spread Recipe
- 15 oz. pasteurized process cheese spread, 1 jar
- 1/3 cup prepared horseradish, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon bacon drippings
Making Your Own Bar Scheeze
- Mix cheese spread, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, drippings and garlic powder in a mixing bowl until smooth.
- Refrigerate overnight. Use within 10 days.
Michigan Tart Cherry Pie
The Traverse City area is one of the largest growers of sweet and tart cherries in the world. Blessed with the ideal location and weather-moderating factor of the Great Lakes, this area has millions of cherry trees and is a key producer of table fruits and vineyards. While the State of Michigan does not have an official food, the tart cherry pie has been picked in reader’s choice polls year after year. In 2021 the President of the United States stopped by northern Michigan for a slice.
Michigan Pinconning Cheese
If you are traveling mid-Michigan on I-75 near Bay City, take a stop and visit Williams Cheese Company in Pinconning. This family-run cheese producer was started in a barn in 1945. This uniquely Michigan sharp, semi-hard version of Colby cheese was produced and developed in 1915. By the Second World War, Williams Cheese was the primary producer. Its hardness and flavor sharpen with age, and Michigan cooks use it as a replacement for cheddar.
If you have never had smoked fish from the Great Lakes, you are in for a treat. This stable of the great lakes is known for its delicate and flavorful meat. We see many surprised looks from novices as they have their first taste of this delectable light-tasting fish. Smoked Whitefish is available throughout Michigan, but this freshwater delicacy is more common the further north you go. The smoking process yields an ever so slightly salty taste accompanied by the gentle aroma and flavor imparted by hickory or oak smoke.
Hint: When buying smoked fish, make sure it is less than a few days after smoking. Look for a light coppery color. Too dark of color means it was smoked too hot and tends to be dry.
Famous Trenary Toast from Michigan's UP
Trenary Toast is a Michigan Upper Peninsula bakery tradition loved by thousands from Manitoba to Toledo. Trenary was at its peak a logging and mining town. Now there is a mill, a small grocery store, a gas station, a couple of bars, and churches. Yet the bakery is still going.
Trenary Toast is a hard, crunchy, twice-baked bread covered in cinnamon. It travels and stores well because cinnamon acts as a natural preservative. The owner of the Trenary bakery said it best, “You sit down, you collect your thoughts, you introspect, have your morning coffee or afternoon tea and have your toast, or you have people around you, and you have dunks together.”
Trenary Toast is available across the Great Lakes region, typically at high-end and independent groceries.
This rutabaga and meat pie was brought to the copper mining area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Cornish immigrants in the 1800’s We have embraced it as our own ever since. The traditional Yooper way to enjoy this buttery crust creation is with two hands. If you’re a student at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, you can expect to see the Pasty in your freshmen dorm.
Pasties are a great cool-weather treat. Check out How to Make Michigan Pasties.
*Yooper; those living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Reader Poll - Upper Peninsula Culture
The Four Michigan Style Coney Islands
There is no other uniquely Michigan food that will spark arguments than Michiganders' love of Coney dogs. Brought to Michigan by Greek immigrants who passed through New York in the early 1900s, the Michigan-style Coney dog consists of a grilled natural casing hot dog sitting on a steamed bun that has been smothered in meat sauce and topped with mustard and onions. The variations of this concoction are endless. However, there are four basic Coney Island styles found in the Great Lake State.
The Four Michigan Coney Island Styles
Detroit Style – If you have stumbled into Lafayette or American Coney Island in Detroit after a Red Wings game, you will savor a hotdog with a chili meat sauce that is slightly spicy. Typically eaten with a fork because it literally melts away from the sauce before your eyes. Delicious.
Flint Style – North of Detroit, the “Buick City” Coney has a dry meat topping made with finely ground beef heart. Purists will also demand that the only hot dog used is the Kogel natural casing, and the onions are sautéed in beef tallow.
Jackson Style – West of Detroit, Coney aficionados get serious. Here the Coney topping is a very thick sauce of ground beef and heart with a secret blend of spices. Folklore states that Todoroff’s Coney was the first Coney restaurant in Michigan. Located in the train station, the family served their famous Coney until World War II. After the war, the family reopened a new restaurant nearby.
Kalamazoo Style – It is different in Kzoo. Coney Island Kalamazoo claims to be the longest continuously running Coney Island in Michigan. Established downtown in 1915, the restaurant uses skinless grilled Kogel hotdogs with secret spicy meat topping with hints of the exotically expensive Saffron and Turmeric. This is the only style Coney that you do not need a fork to eat and enjoy. However, we found it hard to eat just one.
The US Senate Michigan White Navy Bean Soup
Michigan's navy bean soup has been a menu item for over one hundred years in the U.S. Senate dining room. The Senate bean soup is made with white navy beans, ham hocks, celery, garlic, and parsley. The original recipe included mashed potatoes.
The story goes that Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho and Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota both requested the hardy soup be placed on the menu in the early 1900s.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Mike Hardy
Mike Hardy (author) from Caseville, Michigan on March 24, 2018: