Michigan-made foods are perfected in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Local chefs are serving up everything from entrées to desserts that contain a slice of Michigan. The names of these products are synonymous with The Mitten: Vernors ginger ale, Spatz bread, Koegel meats, Traverse City cherries, and more.
Thanks to area restaurateurs, those names, and the histories that go along with them, are being kept alive in regional menu items.
There is nothing like a Koegel’s hot dog, until you top it with a secret Greek Coney sauce and then it becomes the stuff from which legends are made.
Koegel Meats has been supplying Michiganders since the mid-1930s when Albert Koegel opened the plant in Flint. The company is still headquartered in Flint near Bishop Airport and offers 35 meat products across Michigan, in addition to having a small presence in Toledo.
This local Coney dog came to be in 1963 when Harry Stumpos, Martin Glysz, Don Herman, and Al LaFromboise opened their first Mr. Hot Dog in Bay City. Expanding over the years around the area, the Coney dog is available only at the original location. The restaurant is still in the family, operated by Glysz’s sons, Brian and Mark.
“They started with Farmer Pete’s hot dogs,” remembers Brian Glysz. “When that went out of business, they switched to Koegel’s. Harry came up with the secret Greek family recipe. We still use the recipe we started with.”
Along the way, the restaurant has become Koegel’s largest single unit restaurant, selling more than 300,000 hot dogs a year, at a cost of $1.75 each.
Mr. Hot Dog, 811 N Euclid Ave, Bay City; 989-684-1881, www.facebook.com/pages/Mr-Hot-Dog
This combination of ginger ale and ice cream is called a Boston Cooler; however, it did not originate in Boston. The float actually got its start in Detroit using local Vernors Ginger Ale and vanilla ice cream. The soda was created by James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist in 1866. The float was created by a soda fountain owner, Fred Sanders of Sanders chocolate, in Detroit.
The Boston Cooler celebrated its first year at Dawn of a New Day Coffee House and Café last May 18, which was also the 12th anniversary of the opening of the restaurant.
The idea for the floats got off the ground last summer, when the management wanted to add desserts to the food menu.
“We started with root beer floats,” says Lindsay Morrell, operating manager. “It was something I always took to school for my birthday. I wanted to incorporate it into the shop’s birthday [celebration].”
A little research on Morrell’s part uncovered the Boston Cooler and the Vernors connection.
“People ask what it is, and I tell them it’s a Vernors float,” says Morrell. “They are really good.”
Try it for $2.50 plus tax.
Dawn of a New Day Coffee House and Café, 210 S Washington Ave, Saginaw; 989-401-0269, www.facebook.com/doandcoffee
MOCHA ALMOND FUDGE CHEESECAKE
You don’t mess with an award-winning cheesecake, says Kevin Kennedy, owner of Max and Emily’s Classic Cheesecakes. That award-winner would be the mocha almond fudge cheesecake.
The famous Mackinac Island fudge began with father and son sailmakers, Henry and Jerome Murdick. The duo was commissioned to make canvas awnings for the Grand Hotel. Using his mother’s recipes, Jerome began making fudge in the front of the sail shop to generate more business. The secret to making the fudge was using a marble table; the secret to selling the fudge was giving those passing by a chance to see how it is made.
The cheesecake recipe begins with a mocha-flavored cream cheese and sour cream batter with marbled chocolate fudge inside. Once that is in the pan, more chocolate is drizzled on it before being topped with roasted almond pieces. The treat is then dolloped with whipping cream from Bareman’s Dairy, located in Bay City and Holland.
A 5-ounce, 3-inch-diameter cheesecake sells for $3.50.
Max and Emily’s Classic Cheesecakes, 1013 N Francher St, Mt Pleasant; 989-773-1786, www.maxandemilyscheesecakes.com
CRUNCHY FRENCH TOAST
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal was created in 1898 when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was trying to make a healthful breakfast food for hospital patients. He came up with flaked corn, and the cereal was born. The company’s headquarters is now located in Battle Creek.
Denise Walker has a long history with the Kellogg Company. Not only did she have a family member working at Kellogg’s, but she did a report on the founder when she was in school.
Her association with the company was revived when she went to work at Duece’s Char House. She and the former owner came up with an idea of dipping French toast in egg, rolling it in crushed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and deep frying it. When she purchased the restaurant six years ago, she kept it on the menu.
This mouthwatering delight is then topped with strawberries and bananas and served with a side of bacon, sausage, or ham for $7.99. You can find deep-fried ice cream there, which is also rolled in corn flakes. Check it out for $5.50.
Duece’s Char House, 432 N Tuscola Rd, Bay City; 989-893-5881, www.duecescharhouse.com
BLUE MOON SHAKE
Everyone knows who introduced Blue Moon ice cream—their favorite ice cream parlor. It is believed to have been invented somewhere in Michigan in the 1950s.
Scott Pirie, owner of the Great Lakes Ice Cream Company, has his own version of the history. Pirie says the sweet treat was invented by staff at Mooney’s Ice Cream in Saginaw, when they tried to interest the public in a citrus flavor ice cream. Turning it blue made it an instant sensation.
“Ever since, it has been one of the top flavors in Michigan,” says Pirie, adding that the blue hue has delighted people in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well.
“[For the shake] we use our homemade Blue Moon ice cream and our homemade Blue Moon syrup,” the owner explains. “Then we add milk, blend that up into one of our shakes, and add sprinkles and whipped cream on top. It’s one of our best-selling shakes, after chocolate.”
For those stopping by, Pirie is more than happy to give them a sample.
“It’s a light, fruity flavor,” he says.
Once customers are ready to take the plunge, a 20-ounce glass can be had for $5.49.
Great Lakes Ice Cream Company, 901 E Ashman St, Midland; 989-698-0173, www.greatlakesicecreamcompany.com
POTATO CHEESE PUFFS
Staff at Bavarian Inn takes pride in being one of the largest consumers of Michigan agricultural products, says Mandy Borsenik, marketing manager.
That includes Michigan potatoes, which are used to make their crowd-favorite potato cheese puffs, served in the Michigan on Main Bar and Grill.
“Michigan Russet potatoes from Styma Potato Farms in the town of Posen are mashed and mixed with cheese, onion, and parsley,” says Borsenik. “They are formed into a puff and lightly fried to golden perfection.”
Posen, a village in Presque Isle County, is the home to the famous Posen Potato Festival, which combines a celebration of the potato and authentic Polish traditions.
The idea for the puffs came from matriarch Dorothy Zehdner’s mother as a way to use unserved mashed potatoes. Dorothy then tweaked here and there to come up with this recipe. The potatoes have been on the menu for the past 57 years.
Sold as an appetizer, an order runs $6.
Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth, 713 S Main St, Frankenmuth; 888-288-2742, www.bavarianinn.com
PINCONNING CHEESE PIZZA
The history of Pinconning cheese—a mild-to-very-sharp Colby—goes back to Dan Horn, a Wisconsin cheesemaker who moved to Pinconning in 1915. The idea was to utilize milk from all the dairy farms in the area. What makes the cheese special is the formulation and aging process Horn developed. Horn’s daughter Inez became a Wilson, and this led to the opening of Wilson’s Cheese Shoppe at 130 North Mable Street in Pinconning and the beginning of the renowned Cheese Town Festival.
Pinconning cheese is the star in this pizza, a relatively new offering from Erik and Kristin Szyperski at their PJ’s Pizzeria. This five-cheese pizza features mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan, along with a three-cheese blend—thanks to a collaboration between Erik Szyperski and Ryan Kleinhans, manager of Wilson’s.
“The mild holds it together, and gives it that cheese pull, while the medium sharp and the sharp give it flavor,” says Szyperski.
“It was a little bit of trial and error,” adds Kleinhans. “I originally sent over a couple of different blends. [Szyperski] played around with it. He was nice enough to bring over some of the experiments. It was a win-win for me.”
Pick up the Pinconning Special for $17 for a 14-inch and $19.50 for a 19-inch.
The cheese is also available as a topping on any other pizza or cheese breads, a cheese appetizer, and on the shelves of Wilson’s.
PJ’s Pizzeria, 510 W Fifth St, Pinconning; 989-879-5433, www.pjspizzeria.com
SMOKED WHITEFISH SPREAD
Fish for breakfast? “Why not?” says Chef Steve Lyle from Café Zinc.
“The whitefish [spread] is a simple cream cheese whitefish-style spread,” says Lyle. “It has some onions and chopped parsley.”
When it comes to keeping it fresh, Lyle and crew turn to Superior Foods in Grand Rapids. The company has been supplying fresh fish to Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois for 70 years. The whitefish, along with trout, walleye, yellow perch, white perch, white bass, and lake smelt, come from Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan.
Listed as the Smoked Fish Plate on the café’s menu, this mix of fish includes smoked salmon, gravlax (a Nordic dish of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill), smoked whitefish spread, cream cheese, red onions, chives, capers, diced tomato, and chopped egg, and is served with toast for $14.
Café Zinc, 111 W Main St, Midland; 989-837-6030, www.thehhotel.com/dining/cafe-zinc
For the past three years, George Shier has been making pasties just the way the miners who emigrated from Cornwall, England, to the Upper Peninsula in the 1800s did—fluffy dough filled with rutabaga, beef, carrots, onions, and potatoes.
When it comes to the history of the pasty, Shier, owner of Shier Artisan Foods, knows just as much about the history as he does making this comfort food.
“It was one of the food items [the English] brought when they got over here,” he says. “Miners would take them down into the mines and reheat them on a shovel, or over a coal lamp, for their lunch. It’s a whole meal in itself. The pastry was used to keep it all together.”
Traditionally, there’s a crimp on the outer edge of the pasty. The miners would hold the pasty by the crimp, because mines were typically filled with arsenic, which got on the miners’ hands. It was used as a safety measure.
Just like the miners, George Shier and his wife Kristen’s pasties are all handmade, from the flaky crust, to grinding the beef, to cutting the vegetables.
Get a fresh one with gravy on Mondays and Wednesdays for $7.95, or frozen for $6.95.
Shier’s Artisan Foods, 2218 N Saginaw Rd, Midland; 989-832-3354, www.facebook.com/ShiersArtisanFoods
PRALINE BLT ON SPATZ BREAD
The Curve Bar & Grill owner Aaron Gaertner calls it “meat candy,” this slice of smoked thick-cut bacon topped with a sugar mixture, pecans, and a few secret ingredients, then baked for 30 minutes. Up until early this summer, it was only served as an appetizer.
The triple-decker BLT is made with 1/3 pound of praline bacon on toasted Saginaw-made Spatz bread, and covered in homemade garlic mayonnaise, lettuce, and heirloom tomato, which are grown in Gaertner’s father’s (Tony Gaertner) Auburn garden.
The story of Spatz bread began in 1871 when the Spatz brothers arrived in Frankenmuth from Germany, relocated to Saginaw, and then set up shop at 1120 State Street, making it one of the oldest businesses still operating at its original location. Now, 150 years later, bread is still baked from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily using the original recipe.
Check out this mouthful for $8, or add tater tots—in various flavors, depending on the season—for $9.50. Gaertner suggests having beer or bourbon with the sandwich.
The Curve Bar & Grill, 618 S Henry St, Bay City; 989-894-0344; www.facebook.com/CurveBarandGrill
MICHIGAN CHERRY SALAD
Traverse City has been the home of Michigan cherries since 1852 when Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian minister, planted cherry trees on the Old Mission Peninsula. Many others realized how great the climate was for growing cherry trees, and then the city earned the distinction of being the Cherry Capital of the World.
Staff members at Z Chef’s Café were looking for a signature dish that exemplified Michigan, recalls John Zehnder, executive chef. They hit on the idea of combining baby spring salad mix tossed with Traverse City dried cherries, sunflower seeds, shredded Parmesan cheese, and their own honey mustard dressing—and came up with the Michigan cherry salad.
“We support local everything,” says Zehnder. “Caesar salad is wonderful and everybody wants it, but Michigan cherry salad became our signature. People love it.”
The salad is served with or without grilled chicken and its signature dressing, St. Julian’s Italian red wine vinegar dressing with Dijon mustard and local honey.
The salad runs $5.50 for regular, $7.50 for a large, and with chicken, $2.25 extra.
Z Chef’s Café, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, 730 S Main St, Frankenmuth; 844-802-8323, www.zehnders.com
Photos By: Doug Julian