Just Down the Road
If you take M-37 south through Buckley to Mesick, going down Sherman Hill, a ridge of low green peaks comes into view. Carved by the flow of the Manistee River, the Antioch hills are capped by the highest point in Northern Lower Michigan, Briar Hill. At 1,706 feet above sea level, it looms over the curves of the Manistee River Valley. To the south, more hills climb high enough to host a ski resort. To the west, a wide plain stretches over to the dunes on the edge of the Big Lake. The beautiful rolling hills of the Marilla Plain, a high and windy prairie, stay above the river as it wends its way to the port city that bears its Ojibwe name, Manistee.
Nestled among these hills are treasures worthy of a drive-around day, or even a weekend, to really enjoy them. Plenty of lakes to swim in and rivers to play on beckon and the Manistee National Forest offers miles of trails to hike and explore. And, some of the best beaches in the state are along this part of Lake Michigan.
Take M-115 north and turn left on 13 Road. There really is a watch-for-bear sign as you get close to the village.
On the far north end of the Marilla Plain is small town of Bear Lake, lining the shores of a large round body of water. After the Civil War, several families came through the deep woods, by the one and only foot trail, to homestead the area. As there was no easy way to take lumber from their sawmills to Manistee to the cargo ships, the township’s leaders established the Bear Lake Tram Railway, a small wooden railroad to carry lumber west to Pierport.
Just north of the village of Bear Lake, in a quaint building on the corner at Norconk Road, is Wee Bee Jammin’, a Michigan-only gift store and home to a family business that has grown from the basement of a stay-at-home mom into a busy retail store full of jams and honey. Founder Simone Scarpace made such delicious products from her grandmother’s recipes that friends begged her to sell jars of the magical elixirs. Starting at farmers’ markets, Simone shepherded the growth of a business that now provides jam to restaurants and inns throughout the region. They source all their fruit, some of it organic, from local growers, and even wild-pick some of the berries.
Sarah Scarpace Iseringhausen, daughter of Simone, tends many hives of bees and helps make and hand-label the hundreds of jars that go out to other retailers. Sarah runs the store, and shoos the huge orange tabby cat when he tries to sneak in the door. Other members of the family help out making the jams—some of which have names like Toe Jam, Ugly Agnes and Flower Power. When the store is closed during the winter months, the full line of jams and gifts is available online.
The parking lot at Grille 44, on the corner of Pleasanton Highway and 13 Road, is packed even on weeknights, and ladies lunch and play Mah Jongg all afternoon. The nachos are known far and wide as the best ones around. Outdoor seating is available, to enjoy the sun dancing off the waters of Bear Lake.
Wee Bee Jammin’ 8925 Norconk Rd., Bear Lake
Monday–Saturday 10 AM–6 PM • Sunday NOON–4 PM
231-510-9500 • WeeBeeJammin.com
Grille 44 12951 Pleasanton Hwy., Bear Lake
231-864-4000 • Daily 11 AM–11 PM
Take 13 Road back east and turn right, or south, on Healy Lake Road. Pass the Northern Michigan Dragway.
Once a haven for Finnish immigrants, this spunky little town has many attractions that still bring people to visit. Stop in at the roadside stand for Grosnickle Farms, along Healy Lake Road just north of Kaleva. Famous for their strawberries, they also have a wide variety of vegetables for sale all through the growing season.
In Kaleva proper, Kaleva Meats has developed a reputation for outstanding meats at excellent prices. No visit to this quaint village would be complete without stopping by the John Makinen Bottle House, home of the Kaleva Historical Society and on the National Historic Register. In the late 1930s, Makinen owned the local pop bottling factory and used over 60,000 cast-off bottles to artfully build a home. One room of what is now a museum is dedicated to fishing tackle and lures that were manufactured by William Makinen in Kaleva for many years.
Kaleva also boasts an art walk with sculpture from local artists and a gallery where artists can sell their work and teach classes.
Grosnickle Farms 9918 Healy Lake Rd., Kaleva
Daily 8 AM–5 PM • Sunday 10 AM–4 PM
231-362-3796 • GrosnickleFarms.com
Kaleva Meats 14468 Wuoksi Ave., Kaleva • Daily 8 AM–8 PM
231-362-2106 • KalevaMeats.com
The Bottle House 14551 Wuoksi Ave., Kaleva
NOON–4 PM from Memorial Day to Labor Day
Take the Coates Highway west to Highway 31, turn right to 8 Mile Road, then left into the village.
Uniquely situated on Portage Lake, with direct access to Lake Michigan, the village of Onekama has been a vacation haven since Victorian days. Steamships used to bring boatfulls of people from Chicago, some of whom stayed and built this little sawmill town into a resort, embracing the ways of summer people with boating, swimming and ice cream stands.
Straddling the isthmus of Portage Lake and Lake Michigan, the 125-year-old Portage Point Resort is undergoing renovation and renewal, bringing it into the 21st century. Weddings and family reunions with on-site catering are part of the plans. Cabins, dollhouses and condominiums are available to rent by the night or the week. A marina is capable of hosting even large boats, and the shabby chic of the grounds conjures up ghosts of the Victorian past. You can play in the water of Portage Lake in the morning, and then spend the afternoon on the beach along Lake Michigan.
Known far and wide for delicious breakfast and baked goods, the home cooking and friendly staff at the village café M-22 Grille have won awards for both food and service. Chicken and waffles, corned beef hash and the omelet of the month featuring fresh produce are part of the extensive menu of both breakfast and lunch served all day, everyday. Park your bike out front and enjoy waking up with delicious coffee in this sleepy little summer town.
There is a special hum in the dining room of a restaurant running at full tilt: the clink of glasses, the pleasant murmur of happy people enjoying delicious food, the wafting aromas as servers bustle by with trays laden with hot dishes or scrumptious desserts. The minute I walked into The Glenwood, I knew this restaurant would become a favorite.
The atmosphere of The Glenwood is convivial, charming and just elegant enough to make you feel like you are out for a special evening. The white-cloth-covered tables fill the large living room of the converted inn, and the porch overlooking the lake is used as much of the year as possible.
The Glenwood began in 1994, when Donna Ervin and Chris Short met while working in a Benzie area kitchen. They realized their dream for their own place by scouring the region for a building that would suit, and they found an empty 1920s resort that deserved a new life. He runs the kitchen and she runs the front of the house, and prepares the desserts. The dining room is always busy, with generations of customers who come back time and again. At the front door of the establishment sits an enormous sculpture of a fish, named “Rock Bass.” It is well worth a visit to the restaurant’s website to learn the sweet story behind the mascot. The dressings, sauces and even baked goods from this establishment became so popular as to merit their own line of prepared foods that are sold at the restaurant and a retail store along River Street in Manistee.
Portage Point Resort 8567 Portage Point Dr., Onekama
231-889-7500 • PortagePointResort.com
M-22 Grille 5159 Main St., Onekama • Daily 7 AM–2 PM
231-889-7133 • M-22Grill.com
The Glenwood 4604 Main St., Onekama
Dinner daily at 5 PM • Reservations required
231-889-3734 • GlenwoodRestaurant.com
Take either M-22 or M-37 south to Manistee.
The “Port City” of Manistee and all of the Manistee River Valley was Ojibwe and then Ottawa land until the Jesuits and then lumbermen came to the area in the 1830s. The sawmills that sprang up sent millions of board feet of white pine to Chicago and the rest of the world. The little city burned to the ground in the Great Michigan Fire on October 8, 1871, the same day as the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin. The steady supply of logs coming down from northern settlements assured the quick rebuilding of the town, which went on to thrive until well into the 20th century.
The city is undergoing a renaissance now and could easily occupy one whole day of a staycation. The refurbishment of the Vogue Theatre did bring in the expected revitalization of the downtown area. The charm of old Victorian buildings along the river is both yesteryear and modern, as restaurants, coffee shops, a new bakery and soon a new brewery are all part of the excitement. There is even a food truck that spends a great deal of time in Manistee!
The bright red Taco ’Bout It Truck, serving authentic made-from-scratch Mexican food with local flavor, can be found at a number of events and establishments around Northern Michigan. Started nearly a year ago by husband and wife Tavo and Tarrah Hernandez after many years of cooking at a church camp, the truck has become very busy. They use a local butcher for their meat, and buy seasonal produce from farms in the area. They are transitioning to more eco-friendly serveware. The schedule for the truck is now set for the entire summer.
Three years of early mornings behind the stove shaping loaves has made Chef Mike Riley of The Daily Bakehouse a happy, if tired, man. He and his wife, Loyda, met in the restaurant business in Miami. They wanted a more sane life for their two daughters and had an opportunity to move north when family offered to invest in a business with them. They remodeled an old house and put in a professional kitchen. Loyda runs the store while Mike bakes. They put out several kinds of bread and focaccia each day, with the Farmer’s White and the Whole Wheat developing quite a reputation around town. Homey sweets like brownies and oatmeal raisin cookies, as well as lemon bars that will make them famous, are all made with love and no preservatives.
Started in 2000, the Port City Organics retail health food grocery store serves the area’s need for natural products and alternative health options. The store specializes in organic food and quality supplements. Trained staff answer questions about alternative health issues. During the summer months the store features organic produce from Little Red Organics farm. Open seven days a week, travelers can stop in for a craft beer and some snacks for the road.
No foodie’s visit to Manistee is complete without stopping into The Ideal Kitchen, a truly ideal store for anything kitchen-related. Bakeware, cookware, aprons, tea towels, cutting boards and specialty foods fill the shelves. The helpful staff can help with wedding registries or assist you in finding the perfect gift. They have a large selection of knives and offer a knife sharpening service.
Iron Works Café, an innovative fresh food restaurant, is part of a larger movement toward food security in the Manistee region. An offshoot of the community garden growing behind the grand old Ironworks building on East River Street, a combination of educational outreach and progressive business practices has led to a café that helps feed the hungry and employ the disadvantaged. All employees are paid a fair wage, so there is no tipping of the servers. Members of the community can “pay it forward” by purchasing meals for those less fortunate. A local businessman and philanthropist, Jeff Seng, contributed the space in the Ironworks building so the enterprise pays only the utilities to keep the space running. The reviews of the café’s food are glowing, and the result of thousands of volunteer hours is a successful and forward-thinking endeavor. The full business plan is available on their website.
The old building that houses Bluefish Kitchen and Bar—both the restaurant and the event space upstairs—was once a cigar factory. The many iterations of businesses since housed therein have all benefitted from the high pressed-tin ceilings and the exposed brick for atmosphere, but it is the light that comes in from the huge windows along the river side of the place that really makes it a space to enjoy.
On my most recent visit my mother joined me for a dinner out. We shared the crispy braised pork belly appetizer, which is served over the best creamy polenta around. I would have had this as a meal, if offered. Mom ordered the German pork chop dinner, which came out with cider-braised sauerkraut and fingerling potatoes. I ordered the wild-caught Canadian salmon served on a bed of parmesan risotto with asparagus. Both entrees were superbly cooked and delicious, but the heirloom pork chop was truly outstanding in both flavor and texture. I would drive all the way to Manistee just to have that dinner again!
The restaurant is owned by Chuck and Connie Frieberg, and Connie serves as the executive chef. They also own Blue Cow and Raven Brewing in Big Rapids. They have been committed to both local and organic food for many years and this is reflected on all of their menus. Manager Derek Cameron worked here as a server years ago, when this was a different restaurant. He told me that part of the secret of their kitchen is the quality ingredients they source. “Whitefish from Lake Superior, produce from Miller’s or the Amish auction in Big Rapids, and antibiotic-free meats from local farmers all make the food fresh and sustainable,” says Cameron.
Taco ’Bout It Truck Locations and hours on Facebook
The Daily Bakehouse 76 Division St., Manistee
Most days 8:30 AM–3 PM • 231-299-1401
Port City Organics 328 1st St., Manistee
Monday–Friday 9 AM–6 PM • Sunday 10 AM–3 PM
231-398-3060 • PortCityOrganics.com
The Ideal Kitchen 421 River St., Manistee
Monday–Saturday 10 AM–6 PM • Sunday NOON–4 PM
231-398-9895 • TheIdealKitchen.com
Iron Works Café 254 River St., Manistee • Daily 8 AM–3 PM
231-887-4401 • ManisteeKitchen.org/cafe
Bluefish Kitchen and Bar 312 River St., Manistee
Sunday–Thursday 11 AM–9 PM • Friday and Saturday 11 AM–10 PM
231-887-4188 • BluefishKitchenBar.com
The best part of a day spent on the west coast of Michigan is sundown on a beach. Manistee has done a fantastic job of making its lakefront friendly and beautiful. Find a spot on the sand or walk out the pier and enjoy the feeling of serenity that comes when that bright yellow orb slips into the deep blue water at the end of the day. The light lingers long after the day fades away.