I have a confession to make: I have lived in Michigan for about 25 years and, until last weekend, I had never made the trek across the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula.
I had heard friends and co-workers sing praises about the people, weather and natural landmarks up north so much, that I decided it was finally time to see what all the fuss was about. Let me tell you, my eyes were opened.
A friend and I carved a four-day weekend out of our schedules and made our way up to Empire, Glen Arbor, Cheboygan and Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula before heading up to Sault Ste. Marie in the U.P.
Every day was an adventure as we explored villages and towns; stood on 450-foot dunes; dipped our feet into Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior (with water temperatures ranging between 42-46 degrees Fahrenheit); marveled at the bright autumn colors and sampled culinary delights.
Before I continue, I must applaud the efforts of local restaurants to operate in an ongoing pandemic. The restaurants we visited during our trip had moderate to heavy customer volumes while staff dealt with shortages of employees and even food. A couple eateries closed in the middle of the day and/or early in the evening to conserve resources.
Still, the waitstaff and cooks worked hard to provide the best food possible; looking back, we had a hard time ranking our dining experiences because each one of them went above and beyond our expectations.
On the second to last day of the trip, we stopped for a meal at the Lockview Restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie. The eatery is well-named, as it is located directly across the street from the Soo Locks themselves.
The manager of the motel we were staying at recommended the Lockview Restaurant on the basis of its fish dishes. But apart from a whitefish appetizer, we decided to go a slightly different route.
My friend ordered a Caesar salad, poutine, and White Cap Spread, which combined smoked whitefish, cream cheese, lemon juice and horseradish, served with crackers. I chose the U.P. pasty, since no U.P. experience would be complete without this traditional dish.
My friend’s food came out first and she generously invited me to eat as much as I liked. The White Cap Spread was very creamy and light and didn’t have much of a fishy flavor, which I was thankful for. I had a few crackers’ worth of the spread before leaving the rest for my friend.
I had heard of poutine and had seen it offered at a couple locations in Midland, but had never tried it. For those unfamiliar with poutine, it is a dish of French-Canadian origin that consists of French fries topped with cheese curds topped with gravy. One could say it’s a cousin of chili cheese fries.
Lockview Restaurant’s rendition, which came out steaming from the kitchen, had a stack of French fries covered with strands of shredded white cheddar so long that they resembled noodles, then topped with a warm, thick, dark brown gravy. I had to exhort quite a bit of self-control to avoid taking the lion’s share of that dish.
The fries perfectly balanced a crisp outside and fluffy inside, the cheese was creamy and the gravy provided the right amount of salt and spice to bring it all together. All in all, it was the perfect comfort food.
The pasty came out in short order and my mouth immediately started to water. A golden log of pie pastry took up nearly half of the plate, while a cup of gravy and a small dish of cole slaw occupied the other half.
I cut into the pasty and was greeted with a medley of ground beef and pork, potatoes, rutabaga and carrots. The crust was fluffy, warm and soft while the pasty’s contents melded together and were so moist and well-seasoned that the gravy wasn’t really necessary. However, that didn’t stop me from putting a dollop of gravy onto every forkful.
When my friend tried a few bites of the pasty, she declined the offer of gravy and instead put ketchup on her portion – sacrilege in my opinion, but I won’t hold it against her. In the end, she helped me finish off the pasty, as it was just a little too much for one person to eat and I was unwilling to let a single bite go to waste.
Midland has a lot to offer in terms of unique foods and I look forward to continuing to explore what local restaurants have to offer, but sometimes it’s good to get a slightly different perspective. I look forward to the possibility of returning to the U.P. and exploring a little more, because it is a great place to get away from it all and get a nice bite to eat. Cheers!
Editor's note: Out to Lunch with Tori will appear each Thursday in the Midland Daily News. Victoria (Tori) Ritter can be reached at email@example.com