I think you will agree that every state has their favorite foods. Massachusetts has their clam chowder. Louisiana has gumbo while Texas and Missouri both claim the BBQ has their own. Michigan food is blessed with such variance in culture and resources that you can’t pin down any specific Michigan foods as being “the” iconic favorite. Here are a few of ours.
9. Wigleys Corned Beef Eastern Market in Detroit
Wigley’s corned beef has been a Detroit favorite since the 1920s. The original owner and founder, Job Wigley came to Detroit with a collection of family meat recipes that had been perfected by his father Frank Wigley back in the 1880s. The shop trims each brisket perfectly so there is no waste. The secret is to not add any additional seasonings. Just simmer in plain water then enjoy. Only available for retail sale at Detroit Eastern Market location.
8. Downey’s Original Potato Chips – Waterford
Since 1984 this little potato chip company Downey’s Potato Chips has been producing its famous kettle chips in Waterford. Unlike most kettle chips this unique chip is light and has a great flavor from its peanut oil blend. They use locally grown Michigan potatoes and are cooked and hand-seasoned daily. Hard to find. Look for them in gourmet groceries like Vince and Joe’s in Shelby Township.
7. Bacon Sausage – Walt’s Meats – Port Austin
Just about everyone loves bacon. How can you possibly make it better? Well, Rick at Walt’s Meats near Port Austin, Michigan stepped it up a notch. Taking lightly smoked bacon and combining it lean ground pork with his special blend of spices makes for a truly awesome breakfast experience. It’s great on the grill and barely flares up. Florida snowbirds order Walts bacon sausage just before they beat it back down I-75. Since Walt’s is a seasonal gourmet butcher shop, this is only available during the summer season. Fear not, Rick’s ability to frozen cryo pack means the taste of summer is available year-round.
6. J.L. Hudson’s Maurice Salad – Cherry Creek Golf Club – Shelby Township
Mention J.L. Hudson Department store and you may get some folks who were born after 1970 give you a strange look. The flagship store in Detroit closed in 1983 and was demolished with an implosion in 1998. Nevertheless, the tallest department store in the world did leave a legacy of great service and memories of eating in the 13th-floor dining room. The iconic store was renowned for its Maurice salad and Canadian cheese soup. The salad can be found all around the Detroit area. We found that one that says true to the original at Cherry Creek Golf Club in Shelby Township. There are dozens of variations but the classic salad recipe follows.
Maurice Salad Recipe
- 1 lb. ham, julienned
- One lb. cooked turkey breast, julienned
- 1 lb. Swiss cheese, julienned
- 1/2 cup slivered sweet gherkin pickles
- 1 hard-boiled egg, diced
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 8 – 12 pimiento-stuffed green olives for garnish
J.L. Hudson Maurice Dressing
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- One and a half teaspoons onion juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 cup mayonnaise, reduced-fat or regular
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Salt to taste
To prepare the dressing: In a small bowl combine vinegar, lemon juice, onion juice, sugar, Dijon and dry mustard; whisk well to dissolve the sugar. Whisk in the mayonnaise and parsley. Season with salt.
5. Whitefish Chowder – The Vierling – Marquette
Michigan is blessed with some of the tastiest freshwater fish in the world. Walleye Pike, Yellow perch, and Whitefish are always at the top of the order. You can find whitefish offered in just about every restaurant and pub in northern Michigan. However Marquette’s waterfront restaurant “The Vierling“ offers one of the better versions of a local Michigan food favorite. Their Whitefish Chowder is a local standby and online reviewers gauge it one of the best. So if you find yourself in Marquette stop in at the historic Verling near the harbor and order one of their home-brewed craft beers and a chowder. You won’t be disappointed.
Michigan Whitefish Chowder
- 1 1/2 pounds Michigan potatoes when in the season otherwise use Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
- One cup heavy cream or half and half
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- One medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 1 leek, tender parts thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- One cup Stock Vermouth
- 3 1/2 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
- 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
- Two chunks of smoked whitefish (Midsection and tail ). Remove all skin and bone and discard. Separate the fish into coarsely flaked bite-size pieces. About 3 cups.
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Hot sauce
In a medium saucepan, cover the potato chunks with water, boil until slightly tender then drain. Add the cream and milk. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Do not allow to rapidly boil.
Aside, in a large soup pot, melt the butter in the oil. Add the chopped onion, celery, leek and thyme and cook over moderate heat until softened about 4 minutes. Splash in the Vermouth and reduce for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and season with salt.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the cooked potatoes to a bowl. Transfer the remaining potatoes and all of the liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth. Add the potato chunks, the pureed potatoes, and the corn to the soup pot and simmer just until the corn is tender about 4 minutes. Stir in the whitefish. Add the dill and parsley and season with hot sauce. Let sit for a few minutes. Stir and serve.
4. Michigan Tech Beef Pasty – Michigan Technological University – Houghton
On a cold winter day, there is nothing better than a Pasty to chase out the cold. If you know anything about this meat pie staple of Michigan’s U.P. you know the argument about gravy vs. ketchup as the topping of choice. Michigan Technological University was first established as a mining college. The copper-rich ore of the Keweenaw Peninsula attracted workers from Europe that knew mining techniques. The Cornish from southern England brought the knowledge of mining and the Pasty to create this true Michigan food. Encased in a rich crust, miners could bring a fine supper to the depths of the copper country. MTU offers this historical miners meal the best. Here is the Dining Services recipe that feeds ten. Reduce accordingly.
Michigan Tech Dining Services Pasty Recipe
This recipe makes 10 pasties. Put about 12 oz filling in each crust.
3 1/2 flour
9 oz. shortening
10 oz. cold water
1Tbl + 1 tsp salt
3 1/2# potatoes, peeled
1 1/2# coarse ground pork
12 oz coarse ground beef
9 oz diced onions
8 oz diced carrots
7 oz diced rutabaga
Chop the carrots and onions. Dice the potatoes and rutabagas in a 3/8-inch dice. Mix all the filling ingredients together and set aside. Mix the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening, as for pie crust. Add the water and mix gently just until the dry particles are absorbed; do not over mix.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll 4-ounce balls of dough into circles about the size of a dinner plate. Put about 12 ounces of filling on one half. Dampen the edges, fold the crust over filling, and seal. Place on greased baking sheets (or use baking paper). Place in oven and bake for one hour. Serve with either catsup or gravy.
3. Senate Bean Soup – Capital Cafe – Washington DC
U.S. Senate Bean Soup or simply Senate bean soup is a soup made with Michigan navy beans, ham hocks, and onion. It is served in the Senate Dining Room of the United States Senate every day, in a Michigan food tradition that dates back to the early 20th century. The original version included celery, garlic, parsley, and mashed potatoes as well.
The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe
- 2 pounds dried Michigan Navy Beans
- four quarts hot water
- 1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- salt and pepper to taste
Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into a pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.
2. Kalamazoo Coney – Kalamazoo
A favorite Michigan food is the Coney Island Hot Dog is a hot dog in a bun topped with a savory meat sauce and sometimes other toppings. It is often offered as part of a menu of dishes of Greek origin and classic American ‘diner’ dishes and often at Coney Island restaurants. It is largely a phenomenon related to immigration from Greece and the Macedonian region to the United States in the early 20th century.
Coney Island Kalamazoo was founded in 1915 and is the longest continuously operated Coney Island in Michigan. Their coney island is made up of a topping made from their own recipe served on a Koegel’s Skinless Frankfurter.
Based a reader’s’ poll conducted by mlive.com in 2012, Coney Island Hot Dog, 266 E. Michigan Ave., and Dogs With Style, 410 S. Burdick St., took home the No. 1 and No. 2 honors, respectively.
1. Heritage Cheese Spread – Schuler’s Restaurant – Marshall
Win Schuler’s Restaurant is a foodie destination close to I-94 which crisscrosses Michigan. It’s worth the stop in Historic Marshall for a Sunday dinner of prime rib or a quick lunch in their pub. A traditional and iconic Michigan food favorite is their classic “Bar Scheeze”. It’s a tangy cheddar and horseradish spread with a hint of heat. The Win Schuler Bar Scheeze was sold to Vlasic Foods in 1984 but knock off recipes abound.
Win Schuler’s Bar Cheese
16 oz processed cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 package cream cheese, softened
1/2 jar of fresh Brede’s Prepared Horseradish ( from Detroit)
1/2 cup melted bacon grease (some also add a few bacon bits)
2 tablespoons onion juice
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
Place all ingredients in top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. The mixture will look coarse in texture. Mix with a mixer, food processor or blender until smooth. Serve with melba toast or favorite hearty crackers. Refrigerate or freeze.
Sights and Sounds of Detroit’s Eastern Market
Related Michigan Food Stories
- Michigan’s Favorite Pickle
- Kinde Michigan – Our Bean Town
- Michigan Ingredient Food – Veggie Chili
- Senate Bean Soup
- Conagra buys Pinnacle Foods and Vlasic Pickle