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Suomi Home Bakery & Restaurant (Houghton, MI)

After three days of hanging out in the Keweenah Peninsula, it was time for us to start heading home, with a stop to visit with Carol’s family in the Lower Peninsula. As we worked our way back toward the Mackinac Bridge, we decided to stop for breakfast in Houghton and check out one of our favorites from a previous visit, Suomi Home Bakery & Restaurant. Located on Huron St just a block away from Portage Lake (which separates Houghton from the sister town of Hancock), Suomi. My previous review of Randall Bakery discussed the mixed Cornish and Finnish culinary heritage of the Upper Peninsula’s copper country, and Suomi Home (for those not fluent in Finnish, ‘Suomi’ is the Finnish word for Finland) is nod to the area’s Finnish-American Heritage, and is a well-known favorite for both Finnish-style breakfasts and Finnish-style pasties. On this visit, we were hoping to score a bit of both, stopping in for breakfast while grabbing some pasties to eat as a picnic on our way south.

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Off Shore Fish & Chips (Calumet, MI)

After a nice day of hiking in Eagle and Copper Harbors, and taking a dip in Eagle Harbor (which, while substantially warmer than the dip I took off Isle Royale, was still a bit nippish), we decided to stop by Calumet for dinner. Calumet, being one of the bigger towns this side of Houghton, actually has a few restaurant options, including Carmelita’s (Mexican, famous for their thimbleberry margarita), Michigan House (brewpub), and two pizza places (Jim’s and Calumet Pizza Work). But we wanted to try a place recommended by more than a few people: Off Shore Fish & Chips.

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Miners Cafe (Laurium, MI)

During our stay on the Keweenah Peninsula, we stayed in the historic Victorian Hall bed and breakfast. Laurium is an interesting little town, it’s a small village next to the larger town of Calumet, and back during the copper mining hey days Laurium held a lot of the Victorian homes of the various owners, professionals, and other well-to-do folks associated with industry in the area. It’s also the home of George Gipp (as in “win one for the Gipper”). While the town definitely isn’t as affluent as it used to be, it’s still a pleasant, quiet town to stay in while in the area. Laurium doesn’t have a lot of restaurants (most of those are over in Calumet), but it does have a Mexican place (the Matador), a pasty shop (Toni’s), and a diner (Miner’s). For breakfast before our day hiking in the Keweenah, we decided to drop in and check out Miner’s Cafe.

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Harbor Haus (Copper Harbor, MI)

It’s been more than 20 years since our last visit to Copper Harbor. On that visit, we had a very pleasant dinner at the Harbor Haus. It was memorable for a few reasons: the view was very nice (on that visit, the September sunsets happen right around dinner time), having some very pleasant German food, and, somewhat comically, an annoyed couple at the next table who were upset that their table didn’t actually face the sunset (the restaurant faces the harbor to the east). I’m not sure what the couple really wanted, it’s not like they are going to jack up and turn the restaurant around…. But in any case, on this trip, we thought it would be nice to revisit the Harbor Haus, have some nice German food, and chuckle about our previous visit.

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Randall Bakery (Wakefield, MI)

Way back in the early days of Offbeat Eats, I discussed the issue of “Pasties” at length. While originating in Cornwall (which still has an extremely active Pasty culinary scene), during the late 19th century, the rapid decline in the Cornish mining industry resulted in Cornwall’s major historical export over much of the last century was… Cornish people, who settled in all sorts of pockets of around the world, with major settlement waves primarily in those regions with mining interests: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Minnesota’s Iron Range, Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal mining, and even notable pockets in Mexico, Australia, and Spain. And they brought their culinary traditions with them, adapting them to local ingredients, traditions, and conditions. In the case of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the pasty was particularly embraced by the locals, especially with the mining crowds, and got quickly adapted. In particular, the other major expatriate group in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula mining community, the Finnish, adapted it to their own tastes based upon the Karelian Pasty. Tthis is where much of the substitution of carrot for the more Cornish-traditional turnip or rutabaga (a.k.a. ‘swede’) came from, along with some different preferences for crusts. The result is still quite popular; indeed, I remember driving US-2 between The Bridge and Wisconsin, and encountering over 4 dozen places selling pasties along the shore. And there are almost as many varieties: I’ve had flaky crust and firm crust pasties; pasties ranging from ‘moist’ to ‘dry’, spicing between mild and “black pepper bomb”, and everything ranging from traditional Cornish ingredients (hanger steak, rutabaga, potato, onion), to Finnish (either substituting carrot for rutabaga, or omitting it), or even “new” pasties with interesting ing . And the crimp? It ranges from the Cornish side crimp, to a Finnish- or Devon-like top crimp, to even the baseball like “tuck-under”, resulting in a more spherical-like pasty. With that in mind, it was important during our crossing of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to make sure we stopped at least a few times, and try out a local pasty. In this case, our first stop was in the Western UP, in the quiet town of Wakefield, for pasties from Randall Bakery.

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Windigo Store (Isle Royal National Park, MI)

Often, a dining experience is contextual. If I think over some of my most enjoyable meals, while the food items themselves were the vast majority of the experience, the other factors of location, history, or shared experience contribute substantially to the experience. That’s what makes comfort food work. It’s what makes historical dining trips to places like Louis Lunch work. And it’s what makes quirky places like Kex (inside a converted biscuit factory), Gite de la Caverne Dufour (dining at 8000′ on the side of the highest mountain in the Indian Ocean), Quinta do Bomfim (picnicking among the port wine grapes) truly enjoyable. And occasionally, it elevates what otherwise would be unremarkable fare to the next level. In this case, I’m talking about the Windigo Store.

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Atwater Detroit Tap House (Detroit, MI)

Halfway through our walk through Detroit, after Mexican Town, Cork Town, Downtown, and the River Front, we came to the halfway point of our walk in Detroit’s Rivertown neighborhood. Also known as the “Rivertown-Warehouse District”, for much of its history that part of Detroit was an industrial area situated between Downtown and the “Gold Coast” neighborhood of residences overlooking the Detroit River, with the Warehouse district anchored by the giant Parke-Davis pharmaceutical building (now “River Place”). Since the nadir of Detroit in the 1980s, that whole section of riverfront has seen a lot of development in fits and starts, including Rivard Plaza (now greatly expanded from recovered brownfields as William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor), Chene Park (now the home of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater on the banks of the river), and, starting in the late 1990s, a surprisingly vibrant neighborhood of restaurants, clubs, breweries, and warehouses converted to lofts and condos. One of the earlier pioneers opening in this part of town was Atwater Brewing’s Detroit Tap House, and it continues to be a good destination when I’m in the city.

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El Rancho (Detroit, MI)

For this year’s “Death March” tradition of hiking approximately 20 miles through various urban areas, we chose Detroit. To start off the March, I decided we were going to rendezvous for breakfast in Detroit’s Mexican Town. Located on Bagley and Vernor Highway in western Detroit (just west of Corktown), Mexican Town has a tortilla factory, several bakeries, colorful murals, and a good dozen Mexican restaurants, and the area is one of Detroit’s ethnic neighborhoods that’s been able to maintain a solid cultural identity. Previously, I’ve had a few breakfasts at Taqueria Lupitas from 2011, but for this visit, I wanted to start a bit further west to see more of Mexican town, and also start on the early side. That lead us to El Rancho, which opens at 8am (most of the other Mexican places that offer breakfast open at 9am or 10am).

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Roast (Detroit, MI)

When we travel around with our friends for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike, part of the tradition is going out for a big, lavish dinner the night before. In Detroit’s downtown, there are several great places to choose from for this (the automotive- and tech-industry “power dinner” is still a thing here), but I had long wanted to try Roast. I’ve always enjoyed Chef Michael Symon’s Cleveland-area ventures (Lola, Lolita, B-Spot, Mabel’s…), but I’ve wanted to visit Roast since it opened in 2008. At the time, downtown was just a little bit rougher, but starting to a pretty good resurgence, and Roast was a cornerstone of the renovated Book-Cadillac Hotel (now the “Westin Book-Cadillac”). While a bit cumbersome for our large group of 15 (why is it that most places now need contracts for large reservations? Are that many people flaking out in this modern era?), I managed to get a nice reservation of their private State Room for our gathering.

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Momo Cha (Detroit, MI)

With my yearly trips to Detroit, it’s been interesting to see that the Detroit dining scene is anything but stagnant; every trip seems to have a fresh set of new dining and drinking options opening up (and the occasional closures as well). Two relatively recently-opened venues (from different owners) have been trying variations on the “food court” model: Fort Street Galley and Detroit Shipping Company in which they construct a shared dining area with a lot of smaller kitchens and a cocktail bar, trying to appeal to the younger professional crowd while making some opportunities for new restaurateurs. In the former case, a converted Federal Reserve Bank hosts 4 restaurants. It’s been a bit shaky: in my three visits to Fort Street Galley, I’ve seen complete turnover of the food businesses, and the beer bar converted to a craft cocktail bar, but it does seem to continue to offer good food and drink. In the latter case, it’s been a bit more successful: the Detroit Shipping Company set up shop on Peterboro street, which in pre-Interstate Detroit was the center of the city’s Chinatown (there are a few subtle references to Chinatown remaining architecturally, and one restaurant, the Peterboro, is new but also recognizes the heritage). Detroit Shipping Company is named such because the venue is created from shipping containers, stacked up to make two multi-level dining areas, one inside, and one outside. “Shipping containers” sounds pretty industrial, but the overall ambiance is actually quite nice, and the dining areas nicely appointed. In the indoor food dining area, the periphery is surrounded by four dining counters (and one more upstairs); on my visit Brujo (a taco joint), Bangkok 96 (Thai), Coop Caribbean (Caribbean Fusion), -320 degrees (Coffee and pastries), and Momo Cha. While members of my party partook of all of these, I primarily focused on Momo Cha.

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