At 7 a.m. in Cheboygan, just as the day’s first ferry boat to Bois Blanc Island heads up the Cheboygan River, Libby Reeves unlocks the door to her darling downtown breakfast-and-pie place, Libby’s (414 N. Main St., Cheboygan, 231-627-4780). Quiches are queen here. In Libby Reeves’s deft hands, disparate ingredients like fresh rosemary, fried bacon, dried cherries, sautéed local sausages, blue cheese, lamb, tomatoes and Greek olives are mixed and matched in a lofty egg custard. Each savory masterpiece is anchored by a piecrust of your dreams, which Libby rolls by hand.
The secret’s in the butter, which is churned just down the road at family-owned Inverness Dairy (1631 Woiderski Rd., Cheboygan, 231-627-4655). A bare-bones storefront with fridges of creamery bounty, courtesy of the cows grazing and lazing in the pastures beyond. A pound of the butter, rich and clean tasting, comes in one luscious brick instead of four sticks. Pack some in the cooler for biscuits or to skim over hot corn on the cob.
The drive-in has become a rarefied part of the American road trip, but Cheboygan’s got a fabulous, freshly-kept one, Yeck Family Drive-In (1304 Mackinaw Ave. [U.S. 23], Cheboygan, 231-627-2232). Befitting a road stop only a few hundred feet from the beach, The Yeck has both fish burgers and block-lettered signs begging you to not feed the seagulls. The drive-in is known for its deep fried ham and cheese sandwich (looks like a calzone, tastes like a savory doughnut), and their list of shake flavors is unusual and marvelous: macadamia nut, mango, maple, mint, pistachio, pumpkin (that’s just the M’s and P’s). Sip while you cruise west on U.S. 23, the coastal corridor to Mackinaw City, showcasing wispy evergreen silhouettes on your left and the true blue of the Straits of Mackinac on your right.
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An irresistible hand-painted sign at Bell’s Fishery (229 S. Huron Ave., Mackinaw City, 231-436-7821), right next to the ferry docks, is your landmark for the cooler’s next friend, smoked fish. At this shore-side fixture since 1948, now owned by the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, fishermen in overalls and rubber boots hustle fresh catches into the fishery’s back door, while up front customers sample whitefish pâté (Bell’s puts pickle relish in theirs) and point to their pick of gorgeous, tawny fillets of maple-wood smoked trout, salmon or whitefish.
You can’t come this close to the 1770’s era Colonial Michlimackinac (102 W. Straits Ave., Mackinaw City) without wandering through its immaculately reconstructed buildings and authentic artifacts. Reward your living history lesson with a slice of pie at Darrow’s Family Restaurant (301 N. Louvingny, Mackinaw City, 231-436-5514). It started as a simple hot dog stand in 1957, and now, three generations later, serves full dinners, including four styles of whitefish and three times as many pies. Each one tempts from a round jeweler’s-type glass case in the front foyer, but the coconut cream pie, hands-down, wins the showcase showdown, with deep-dish filling and a triumph of meringue.
Heading down I-75 from the bridge, a glorious example of rustic hospitality in the tip of the mitt’s cabin country is Vivio’s Northwood Inn (4531 S. Straits Hwy. Indian River, 231-238-9471). Families love this place, but a few dozen cozy nooks make it great for a date—how about the table under the taxidermy bobcat suspended midair, chasing a woodcock. Share an antipasto salad, bottle of Chianti, and a pizza with an olive oil–soused crust. Blessed is the relationship where pizza toppings are agreed upon; here you can get shrimp and pineapple on your pizza if your hearts desire.
Emily Betz Tyra wants to know what delicacies you pull off the road and discover this summer. Join the Up North’s Roadside Food Attractions discussion at MyNorth.com’s online Community.