When you avoid the highways, you avoid the chain restaurants. For us, this is reason enough to forever stick to the back roads. If I never walk in another Cracker Barrel again, it’ll be one time too many.
Finding quality restaurants is often priority #1 for me on any trip, and this one is no different. Towns can blend from one into the next as we drive by, but a meal is stationary, and for at least a couple hours each day, one or two businesses in one or two towns get my undivided attention. I want to find the ones that are worth it.
I’m pleased to say that every meal on this trip has either been homemade or bought at a local restaurant. Almost all have been good. A few have been exceptional. Thursday night was one of the latter. As I mentioned in the last post, we had spent the day doing outdoor activities in the rain, and we were ready for something cozy. The first town outside the park is Grand Marais, MI, and as we passed through, we headed for the only restaurant we’d heard about: the West Bay Diner.
The restaurant is an actual diner car, with an incredible story behind it, having been first used in rural Pennsylvania, then fought over in auctions for years, then left for dead in a field, and finally bought and rehabbed by the current owners. A photo album sits on the counter, and a page-long story of the restaurant’s genesis is available to those patrons who show the curiosity.
Of course the food is centerpiece. And the key here is the bread, all of which is baked on-premesis by Ellen, a co-owner. I ordered the game burger of the day, elk (oh my), which came on a fresh square-shaped onion roll, soft and chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside. Sarah had the turkey club, stacked between thick-cut pieces of handmade toast. As we sat there, we helped our eyes to the passing by of several other handmade delicacies, like fajitas and pizzas and triple-berry pie, the last piece of which we were obliged to snag for ourselves.
Before leaving, we did a bit of research on the must-eat restaurants we’d pass by on our route. Much of this came from Roadfood and Chowhound and friends’ recommendations, and they’ve been invaluable. This particular find came from The Hunts’ Guide to the UP, and if I can bring it any more attention, I’m happy to do so. Can’t say it strongly enough: if you hit the UP, put the West Bay Diner on your list.