Michigan Must-Eats: 8 Spots to Stop and Nosh on Your Summer Road Trip
Chef Eli Sussman’s favorite place to explore summer? The coast of his home state—a nosher’s paradise.
Michigan is the perfect state for a road trip. It has beautiful sand dunes, tree tunnels, freshwater lakes, and lookout points at every turn of the wheel—not to mention a multitude of scenic roads hugging the 3,224-mile shoreline. Given the state’s storied automotive history, I think there’s no better way to see it than by car. So when my friends asked me to join them on the annual 1,000-mile road rally they’ve dubbed “The Mille Mitten” (a tour that snakes along the top of Michigan’s outline with over 30 people in 15 cars), I couldn’t resist. On the road, we found fish shacks, vibrant farmers markets, and, if you ask me, the best sandwiches in America.
Here are my favorite stops along the way, all of them reminders of why my home state is the most magical place to be in the summer.
1. Supino Pizzeria
Our road crew fueled up with takeout from this farmers market–driven pizzeria in Detroit’s historic food hall, Eastern Market. Chef Dave Mancini makes some of the best pies in the state. One of my favorites is the Supino, covered in roasted garlic, black olives, chile oil, ricotta, and mozzarella. He also does a great vegan farinata, which is a chickpea crêpe served with capers and eggplant. supinopizzeria.com
2. Gustafson's Smoked Fish Inc.
There is perhaps no worse food for a road trip than a trunk full of pungent smoked fish. But if you’re in the Upper Peninsula (aka the UP), you really need to stop at this 40-year-old shop in a red farmhouse in Brevort and pick some up. I stuffed my cooler with smoked trout (a savory addition to a lunchtime panzanella) and whitefish (which I whipped with chopped McClure’s pickles and spread on sourdough toast for dinner) and hit the road with no regrets. gustafsonssmokedfishinc.com
3. Lehto's Pasties
This UP institution in St. Ignace has been cranking out fresh pasties since 1947. Pronounced “pas-tee” (not “pay-stee”), these are essentially the forerunners of the modern Hot Pockets. They’re filled with beef, chicken, and vegetables—a snack-size potpie. Once popular as a portable meal for British tin miners in the 1800s, they’ve become a must-have roadside treat in the UP. lehtospasties.com
4. Gurney's Harbor Bottle Shop
There are only three sandwiches on the menu at this little liquor store in Harbor Springs. And while you could build your own, I recommend you put yourself in the hands of the pros. The Therman, chicken salad with salami, is my personal favorite, but many opt for the Train Wreck, piled with ham, turkey, salami, roast beef, and cheese. The third sandwich option is all vegetables. (Note: Gurney’s has a strict no-tomatoes policy—they make the bread soggy.) Go wild with the condiments: Locals love Gurney’s Deli Sauce, a mélange of horseradish, mayonnaise, garlic, and spices. gurneysbottleshop.com
5. Sara Hardy Farmers Market
After I was tasked with cooking dinner for 32 road ralliers, I sped ahead of the pack with my buddy PB and ransacked the Traverse City farmers market just as it was closing during a torrential downpour. The farmers were very happy to unload all of their produce, and I walked away with a few pounds of heirloom zucchini, squash, and the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted, with the perfect balance of sweetness and acid. The tomatoes were from nearby Birch Point Farm, which is owned by Michelle Ferrarese, a local horticultural instructor. They didn’t need anything else—not even salt or olive oil. We just bit straight into them, letting the juices drip down our chins. Who says chips and trail mix are the only car snacks? csafarms.org/birchpointfarm.asp
6. 9 Bean Rows
Head to Suttons Bay, just north of Traverse City, and you’ll find this cafe, bakery, and farm all rolled into one, which offers the best bang-for-your-buck breakfast: a buttery croissant sandwich stuffed with local, free-range eggs and raclette made in Leelanau County, Michigan. (And it’s only $5.) If you want to eat your breakfast on the go, grab a more road trip–friendly baguette with cold ham and butter. In my opinion, this take on a jambon-beurre is the world’s greatest breakfast sandwich—and it reaffirms my belief that simplicity (and fantastic bread) is the key to sandwich transcendence. Grab some sweet, tangy tomatoes; crisp, bitterly delicious mizuna; and earthy pea shoots from the farm stand to throw together an easy Michigan summer salad once you reach your lake house destination. 9beanrows.com
7. Carlson's Fishery
This indomitable fish shack in Leland (aka Fishtown) perfectly encapsulates summer in Michigan. It’s been open for more than a century, and when I was there, I desperately wanted to buy all of the incredible smoked fish, but I didn’t have a cooler that day and was headed right to the beach. So I picked up some small bags of housemade beef and turkey jerky and gobbled them up in the car during the next leg of the drive. Both jerkies were some of the finest I’ve ever had. (But next time I won’t forget the cooler.) carlsonsfish.com
8. Village Cheese Shanty
Open for over 25 years, this tiny takeout-only sandwich shop is the perfect place to stop and load up on sandwiches before a big hike or fishing charter out on Lake Michigan. It’s just steps away from Carlson’s. The Lake Street (chicken breast, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, herby mayo, and guacamole on pretzel bread) was a great sandwich to eat on the beach after I swam in the crystal-clear calm of the lake. Later, as I drove southeast back to Detroit, completing the final leg of the 1,000-mile trip, I regretted not snagging a Log Jam (roast beef, feta, red onion, lettuce, tomato, three-pepper relish, and guacamole) for the road. But I didn’t mind too much. I’ll make it a point to return—just another sandwich, another great stop, another local icon to look forward to next summer in Michigan. villagecheeseshanty.com