Lake Superior whitefish. Beef on weck. Poutine. Cheese curds. You’ll find these regional favorites and more on the menu at seasonal shoreline spots, laidback lakeside destinations and white tablecloth waterfront restaurants throughout the Great Lakes. Here’s a sampling of our must-go places to eat like a local.
Iron Bay Restaurant & Drinkery
Look across Lakeshore Boulevard in Marquette, MI, to the bay beyond. This eatery is based in an 1872-built foundry, with its original brickwork and flooring and old-time photos that tell the story of this once booming industrial town. It is the place for fresh Lake Superior whitefish. The mild-flavored fish with its big meaty flakes is featured in appetizers like whitefish tater tots with a remoulade dipping sauce and entrees such as fried whitefish and black-pepper chips. “Our prep cooks cart fish down the block daily from Thill’s & Sons Fish House to create fan favorites like whitefish chowder and whitefish tacos,” says Andrew Hillary, executive chef and general manager. Most of the 32 beers on tap are Michigan-sourced. A covered patio offers outdoor dining with gorgeous views of one of the town’s original ore docks, the Marquette Yacht Club and Cinder Pond Marina beyond.
Where to Dock: Cinder Pond Marina
The open-air Miller-branded beer garden, part of a 1930s bathhouse building, offers spectacular views of the lake and Milwaukee skyline. A taste of Wisconsin is an appetizer of hand-breaded, deep-fried cheese curdspaired with house-made ranch dressing. Cheese curds are bite-sized pieces of curdled milk. “Our cheese curds have an amazing story,” says Luke Román, interim marketing and communications manager for the Milwaukee County Parks, which operates the restaurant with proceeds plowed back into the local community. “We utilize Clock Shadow Creamery located in historic Walkers Point. Some of the milk is also from the cows at the Milwaukee County Zoo.” Milwaukee’s German heritage shows on the menu, too. The Munich burger features a beef patty, topped with grilled bratwurst, beer-braised onions, red cabbage, muenster cheese, and Leinenkugel’s mustard sauce on a pretzel bun. Take a post-prandial stroll on the paved Oak Leaf Trail along the lake and back to the South Shore Park boat launch and South Shore Yacht Club.
Where to Dock: McKinley Marina
Seafood is the draw at this Harbor Springs, MI, dining spot whether you eat on the outdoor lakefront deck or inside, especially in the 12-seat, hull-shaped captain’s table illuminated by sailcloth light shades. “We are the only restaurant in town right on the water,” says Cristen Smith, general manager. “Whitefish and walleye are regional favorites.” Firm, flaky textured walleye is mild-tasting and ready to take on a variety of flavors. Stafford’s serves its flash-fried walleye with a tomato caper butter sauce. The chef also pairs it with a Great Lakes oak- planked serving of whitefish, with veggie sides such as duchess potatoes, julienne carrots, squash and grilled asparagus. The restaurant sits at the head of the municipal marina, where there are more than 40 slips for transient boaters available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Where to Dock: Stafford’s Pier Marina
Combine a silver- and china-set table next to floor-to- ceiling windows overlooking the Straits of Mackinac with classic American cuisine, and it’s a recipe for fine Great Lakes dining. The menu at this hugely popular Mackinac Island restaurant, located at the Hotel Iroquois in Michigan, features fresh local and regional ingredients, says Suze Oostendorp. “Our whitefish is sourced from Lake Superior, our produce comes from Presque Isle farms, proteins from a Detroit family butcher, and Detroit City Rye features in our signature Old Fashion Rye.” For lunch, try the Mackinac whitefish sandwich on homemade cheese-dill bread, or the smoked whitefish cakes with mustard vinaigrette as a pre-dinner appetizer. Call the hotel for reservations in advance to tie up at its private dock to dine. carriagehousemackinac.com
Where to Dock: Mackinac Island State Harbor
The sign outside of this Port Clinton, OH-based eatery says it all: Lake Erie’s Finest Perch & Walleye. Every room in the restaurant offers a lake view, plus a large outside patio dining area is scenic, especially at sunset. “We offer a fast-casual dining experience and specialize in fresh lake fish,” says Edmond Hoty, owner. “You can get yellow perch or walleye as a sandwich over a bed of waffle fries, or as a dinner with your choice of homemade onion rings, waffle fries, or fresh breaded mushrooms, with a side of coleslaw, roll and house-made tartar sauce. We have a breading pit where we bread to order in front of you while you’re waiting in line.” The Port Clinton Yacht Club, with limited guest dockage, is 1.7 miles to the east, with the Portage River Marina a mile and a half farther east. facebook.com/jollyrogerseafoodhouse
Where to Dock: Portage River Marina
From the lakefront patio at this family-owned, Hamburg, NY, restaurant (opened in 1949), the views stretch to the Buffalo skyline, Peace Bridge and Canada beyond. Three special sandwiches are best sellers. the Hoak’s Famous Fish Sandwich (featured at Friday night fish fry), the Original Buffalo Chicken with house-made buffalo sauce and a side of blue cheese, and, as Aileen Hoak-Lange (who owns the restaurant with brother Kevin) calls it, “Beef on Weck. It’s thin sliced and au jus dipped prime rib served on a Kimmelweck roll.” Kimmelweck rolls — hard, crusty and topped with caraway seeds and coarse salt — are a New York State signature. Sandwiches come with a choice of sides, including Hoak-Lange’s great-great grandma’s potato salad. It’s still the same recipe and only a few people have been able to detect the secret ingredient, she says. Dock at the 1,100-slip Buffalo Harbor State Park marina and drive 6.3 miles south on Route 5 to Hoak’s.
Where to Dock: Buffalo Harbor State Park Marina
Black North Inn Bar & Restaurant
In business for over 150 years and known for its breathtaking backyard lake view, visitors set their GPS to Point Breeze in Kent, NY, to dine here in the summer. “The menu offers local favorites like a beer batter fish fry served with coleslaw or applesauce, and Ritz Cracker breaded deep fried lake perch with basil pesto,” says Kristin Rowell, the owner. “Our beef on Kimmelweck, French dip, and hand-pressed burgers are also specialties.” While here, walk some 30 yards north to the replica Oak Orchard River Lighthouse to find a museum and gift shop. Climb the lighthouse keeper’s ladder to the third floor for a birds-eye view of the lake. A half-mile south on the Oak Orchard River, and a quarter-mile from Lake Ontario, Ernst’s Lake Breeze Marina offers 80 slips. Several charter fishing operations are based here for those who want to catch their dinner.
Where to Dock: Ernst’s Lake Breeze Marina
The early April opening of this nearly 80-year-strong, family-owned lakefront landmark is an annual rite of passage. It signals warm weather and eating outside on warm picnic tables is on the way for Oswego, NY. Seafood, fried chicken and burgers are mainstay entrees. Two appetizers offer something different: New York salt potatoes and poutine. The former is bite-sized white potatoes boiled in such briny water that the spuds emerge with a white crunchy coating. “Poutine is a Canadian delicacy, made of French fries topped with cheese curds and covered in brown gravy. We’ll often add some of our house-made Texas Hot Sauce, too,” explains Douglas Appleman, general manager. When the lake is calm, Appleman says many boaters drop anchor in the bay and wade in. Wright’s Landing Marina, three miles to the southwest, provides more than 200 slips, including for transient boaters.
Where to Dock: Wright’s Landing Marina
Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!