10 Things I Ate About You: Marquette, Mich.

All that natural beauty makes for quite a bounty in Marquette, Mich. Find out where to score whitefish pulled from Lake Superior, caramels laced with local butter and more.

10 Things I Ate About You finds 10 enticing bites in smaller cities from coast to coast.

Brimming with natural beauty, Marquette, Mich., is a waterfront community perched on the banks of Lake Superior that attracts visitors year-round with its abundance of outdoor activities (skiing, snowmobiling, hiking and fishing, to name a few). All of that fresh air is bound to make you hungry, and locals (referred to as Yoopers), Wildcats (Northern Michigan University students) and tourists alike have increasingly diverse options for refueling in the Upper Peninsula’s largest city. Here’s where to get your fill of local flavors, from neighborhood stalwarts serving whitefish pulled straight from Lake Superior to downtown destinations dishing up everything from German sausages to Cajun risotto.

Tagliatelle at Piedmont at Landmark Inn

For a taste of rustic Italian pizza and pasta dishes peppered with local flair, head downtown to the historic Landmark Inn’s cozy Piedmont restaurant. When it comes to the hand-tossed, wood-fired pies, opt for the Cudighi. An Italian-style topping of homemade pork sausage that’s subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg lends this pie both its name and its distinctive punch of flavor. All of the hand-cut pastas are a sure bet, but don’t miss the tagliatelle. Inspired by the game lodges of Northern Italy and by the Upper Peninsula’s own hunting traditions, the pasta ribbons are sauced with a homey ragu of red wine-braised venison and finished with a zippy gremolata. Pro move: For a majestic view of Lake Superior, head to the sixth floor North Star Lounge, where most of the Piedmont menu, including the tagliatelle and pizzas, is served.

Café Scramble at Sweet Water Café

At this uber-local haunt, all of the food is always natural and made from scratch with lots of love. This dedication shines through in dishes like the Café Scramble. If you want to start your day off on a wholesome yet wholly delicious note, order this unexpected twist on a tofu breakfast dish that’s been a menu mainstay for 22 years. Broccoli, tomato, onion and locally sourced, lightly spiced breakfast sausage are steamed together with the tofu in a mix of tamari and garlic butter to create a healthy-yet-satisfying bite. Even the side of toast is far from standard, as all the bread options are freshly baked (cinnamon-raisin and three-seed are personal favorites). A splurgeworthy extra is the maple cream — spreadable, whipped pure Michigan maple syrup — to slather on top (it’s also excellent stirred into Hot Winter Grain Cereal or coffee). If you have breakfast here on a Tuesday, don’t miss the fluffy hazelnut pancakes made with whole roasted hazelnuts.

Steak and Rutabaga Pasty at Jean Kay's Pasties

If the Upper Peninsula were to be defined by one dish, it would have to be the pasty. Brought over by Cornish miners in the 1840s, these sturdy, portable meat pies were perfect for sustaining grueling workdays. Today they remain a cherished local food tradition, and the best of the bunch can be had at Jean Kay’s Pasties. Grandma Jean Kay’s recipe relies on a mix of cubed flank steak, potatoes and diced onions for the filling, while the secret to the exceptionally tender and flaky crimped crust lies in using butter, not lard. Order like a local and get it with “rutabaggies” — not only does rutabaga impart a sweet-savory flavor, but it also absorbs more of the beef fat, yielding an incredibly moist pasty. The hand-held pies are too-hot-to-handle straight out of the oven, but if you can’t wait for your pasty to cool there’s no shame in eating it with a knife and fork. Owner Brian Harsch likes to eat his with a squirt of ketchup (Heinz only, please), but if you’re craving a little heat, splash on their proprietary jalapeno-lime-spiked Kickin’ Pasty Sauce.

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels at Donckers

This beloved old-timey sweets shop, replete with wooden booths, a soda fountain and a sweeping candy counter, is a local institution that’s still going strong after 120 years in business. With so many delectable homemade goodies on offer, it may be hard to make up your mind, but rest assured that sampling is highly encouraged. The perennially popular fudge, still made according to the original owners’ recipe, makes for an excellent edible souvenir — try Penuche, a robust maple chocolate walnut fudge. Or snap up modern-day favorites like hand-cut Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, made with local Jilbert’s Dairy butter to impart a glossy sheen and Guittard dark chocolate for a snappy coating. If your tastes skew more savory than sweet, head upstairs for creative sandwiches and award-winning smoked-Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese — even President Obama’s a fan. Local tip: Look for seasonal sweets like pumpkin fudge and caramel-dipped Michigan apples in the fall and blueberry-inspired creations come summer.

Wurstplatte at Steinhaus

The young guns behind Steinhaus drew inspiration from German beer halls and their European travels to dream up creative riffs on traditional mains (think jagerschnitzel served with cabbage braised in raspberry framboise and duck fat) and an array of housemade sausages. For the best sampling, order the Wurstplatte to share. This hearty platter features all-pork bratwurst; cheesewurst stuffed with Butterkäse (a tangy, semi-soft German cheese); a smoked beef-pork variation of kielbasa kicked up with mustard power and garlic; and smoky andouille amped up with a trio of peppers. The sausages are served over sauerkraut and come with the cult-favorite soft pretzel, caramelized onions, homemade maple mustard and a  Dijon so spicy that it’s capable of clearing out sinuses. Bonus round: Head to Steinhaus Market, a deli counter-meets-diner that sells sausages (including pizzawurst, a nod to the location’s former life as a Pizza Hut) and European cheeses, and offers breakfast all day. There’s also a French Fry Bar (try the hangover-busting Breakfast Fries).

Whitefish Bites at The Vierling

The Vierling, one of Michigan’s oldest brewpubs and arguably Marquette’s most-charming restaurant, offers a taste of fine dining without pretension. You can’t go wrong with any of the menu items involving whitefish (be it smoked, broiled or folded into a hearty chowder), but don’t miss the beer-centric Whitefish Bites. Tender pieces of fresh-off-the-lake whitefish are dipped in homemade beer batter, then deep-fried until golden and crisp to create these comforting eats. They pair perfectly with the Blueberry Wheat, a full-bodied, more-savory-than-sweet beer that’s brewed on-site with blueberry extract and served with real blueberries in the glass. Pro tip: Ask for table number five, by the window, for some of the best views in town of Lake Superior and Lower Harbor.

Reclamation IPA
Reclamation IPA at Ore Dock Brewing Company

Located in a historic building just blocks from Lake Superior, Ore Dock Brewing Company is named after the city’s landmark ore dock (a beacon of Marquette’s mining heritage) in Lower Harbor. But it’s more than a namesake — Lake Superior’s crystal-clear water is the star ingredient in all of Ore Dock’s craft beers. Stop in at the brewery’s Tap Room to sample for yourself, starting with the flagship IPA Reclamation (named for the space’s reclaimed furniture and decor). This classic IPA balances European malts with a trio of Pacific Northwest hops and is dry-hopped twice for extra depth and intensity. The result is a balanced, caramel-y brew accented with pine, citrus and spice. In need of a nosh? Dial up delivery from The Rice Paddy, Vango’s pizza, Jean Kay’s or Donckers, or snack on freshly baked soft pretzels from Steinhaus, delivered daily and served with stone-ground mustard made with Ore Dock Porter.

Whitefish Burrito at Border Grill 

This fast-casual Mexican local chainlet serves up super-fresh, made-to-order burritos, tacos, quesadillas and salads. For a local twist on your burrito or tacos, opt for the delicate whitefish, which is caught daily from Lake Superior, seasoned with a proprietary rub and broiled until tender. No matter what you order, be sure to sauce it with the highly addictive Border Salsa and order extra for your chips. The creamy “orange stuff” gets its signature hue from fresh tomatoes and a mild kick from chile de arbol, and has rightfully developed a cult following.

Burger Night at The Marq

Tuesdays are burger night at downtown gastropub The Marq, where the highly sought-after patties typically sell out by 7:45 p.m. Dine early to get your hands on the grass-fed beef burgers smothered with Wisconsin white cheddar, house pickles and shallot aioli (pro move: add a fried egg), or the lamb burger crowned with goat cheddar, bread and butter pickles, spicy-sweet pepper ketchup and yogurt sauce. The topping-laden patties are stacked on freshly baked brioche buns from next door’s Marquette Baking Company and served with golden hand-cut fries and aioli. Any other night of the week, opt for the ramen — hand-rolled and hand-cut noodles swim in a tonkotsu-style chicken-pork broth topped with crispy pork belly, a farm-fresh poached egg, shaved leeks and a chili-oil drizzle. Insider tip: Wednesday’s happy hour (7 p.m. to closing) offers $2 off signature craft cocktails like the five-spice-laced Marq Mule.

Seafood Risotto at Lagniappe

With an entrance tucked away in a back alley, this authentic Cajun and Creole eatery is literally a hidden gem. The definition of “lagniappe” — “a little something extra” — extends to the restaurant’s gracious hospitality and extensive menu. One must-try dish is the luxurious, velvety seafood risotto brimming with Gulf shrimp, crawfish and crabmeat simmered in a white wine-and-Parmesan broth (a vegetarian version is also available). Other standouts that conjure up the flavors of the Big Easy are the spicy jambalaya and the peel-and-eat barbecue Gulf shrimp. The shrimp are broiled New Orleans style in a heady sauce of garlic, black-pepper and butter and served with French bread for mopping. If you have a few too many hurricanes at the restaurant’s Voodoo Bar, come back for weekend brunch and order Lagniappe’s take on Yakamein, an authentic Creole hangover soup. This soul-restoring dish is made with pork-beef stock, house-smoked beef brisket, collard greens, fresh ramen noodles, a poached egg and a generous drizzle of Sriracha.

Photos courtesy of Piedmont, Jean Kay’s Pasties, Steinhaus, Ore Dock Brewing Company and The Marq

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