Take a local culinary journey by visiting a Michigan farm or farmers market and dining where fresh ingredients drive the menu.

By Gary Thompson
Detroit's Eastern Market

To fully appreciate Michigan's fall flavors, go to their sources-farmyards and vineyards-and their destinations-farmers markets and restaurants. Many working farms welcome visitors and offer their harvest for sale, while chefs create dishes with the bounty.

Tour a Farm

Harbor Springs' Pond Hill Farm is one of hundreds of Michigan's working farms welcoming visitors this harvest season.

Families even love the parking lot here, with its views of piglet races and the Squash Rocket-a slingshot that launches veggies to grazing pigs, sheep and goats. Pond Hill exemplifies farms that offer hayrides, animal encounters, meals and more.

Hatched 20 years ago as a roadside egg and produce stand, Pond Hill Farm has grown into a full-scale agritourism destination under the stewardship of second-generation farmers Jimmy and Marci Spencer.

Tours end at the Garden Cafe, a restaurant, microbrewery and wine bar housed in an old barn. Chef Scott Schornak turns farm meat and produce into green tomato salsa, roasted butternut squash soup and pulled-pork sandwiches with cherry wine barbecue sauce. On the deck, guests enjoy charcuterie and farm-brewed hard cider.

Wine-lovers pair the fare with a Riesling or Pinot Gris from Pond Hill's Harbor Springs Vineyards and Winery. Craft beer fans order a pint or sampler flight from Tunnel Vision Brewery, which uses northern Michigan hops and grains to flavor its beers.

Other farms open their gates (and flavors) to visitors for family-friendly experiences. At Grandpa Tiny's Farm in Frankenmuth, you can gather eggs, pick pumpkins and make your way through a corn maze. At Dinges' Fall Harvest farm in Three Oaks, pick Concord and Niagara grapes, plus pumpkins.

Bushels of squash and hand-picked carrots add to the mix of flavors at Pond Hill Farm north of Harbor Springs.

Shop Farmers Markets

Can't make it to a farm? Let the farm come to you at markets around the state, most on Fridays and Saturdays.

Detroit's Eastern Market, open since 1891, is the nation's oldest and largest public market and covers several city blocks. Hundreds of vendors sell treats like handmade custard pies, Michigan apples and fresh Italian sausage.

The Flint Farmers' Market, year-round and indoors, is celebrating 109 years, with more than 50 vendors selling produce, meat, bread, cheese, wine, art and ethnic groceries downtown.

Grand Rapids hosts two popular markets. The Fulton Street Farmers Market, started in 1922, draws 11,000 people per week to Midtown. The newer Grand Rapids Downtown Market has vendors such as wood-oven bakery Field and Fire, on-site restaurants like Slows Bar-B-Q, a greenhouse and culinary kitchens.

In Holland, truckloads of plants, produce, meats and cheeses keep vendors busy Wednesdays and Saturdays while street performers entertain.

Small farms and growers in the UP sell their meat, produce, eggs, honey and maple syrup on Saturdays at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market.

Detroit's Eastern Market hosts the state's oldest and largest public market, with up to 45,000 visitors each week.

Farm-To-Table Adventure

For a multistop food tour, head to the lakefront vacation town of Saugatuck in southwestern Michigan's fruit belt. Hungry Village Tours offers a six-hour Delicious Drive. Groups travel by a mini bus to sample fruit and honey and meet geese and cattle; plus they see a cheesemaker craft organic goat's milk tommes. The group tastes European-style white wines at Fenn Valley Vineyards and has lunch at Fennville's Salt of the Earth.

Salt of the Earth, Fennville

Sample State-to-Plate Fare

At the other end of the farm-to-table journey, these restaurants stand out for their use of in-state ingredients.

Small-town sources power big-city dining at Mabel Gray in metro Detroit's Hazel Park. James Rigato (from Bravo TV's Top Chef) uses fish from Indian Brook Trout Farm in Jackson, meats from C. Roy's in Yale and aromatic black trumpet mushrooms from a secret oak grove.

North of Detroit, co-founders Mike and Matt Romine stick to hyper-local fare at The Mulefoot Gastropub in Imlay City. Eponymous Mulefoot hogs raised in town flavor dishes on the menu, such as roasted shiitake mushrooms, bone marrow and local trout.

Grand Traverse Bay expands flavor options. Martha's Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay sits close to the bay and nearby farms, fruit orchards and wineries, giving owner-chef Martha Ryan access to Lake Michigan whitefish, eggs for omelets or cave-aged raclette for fondue. At The Cooks' House in Traverse City, the same waters supply lake trout (caught that day) to roast in brown butter.

In western Michigan, Grand Rapids' chic Cherry Street shops surround Grove, which serves baby greens from Vertical Paradise Farm. Grove also rolls lamb from S and S Lamb into handmade cannelloni.

South of Grand Rapids in Kalamazoo, Food Dance plates the Chicken Dance, a Carlson Farms chicken breast with applewood bacon and caramelized onions. An on-site market sells local meats and cheeses, scratch-made soups, and salads to go.

At Ann Arbor's Grange Kitchen and Bar, chef Brandon Johns crafts spiced squash soup with grilled shrimp (from a Michigan farm) and local duck breast with rye berries, pears and black garlic emulsion.

Southwest of Ann Arbor, diners at Evans Street Station in Tecumseh watch chef Kelly Johnson and team work in the open kitchen of a former firehouse. They slice Michigan pears for a beet-and-pear salad, saute wild mushrooms with lemon thyme for a house-made fettuccine, and encrust Great Lakes whitefish with herbs.

In the Upper Peninsula, The Marq in Marquette lists its daily dishes (and their origins) on colorful chalkboards. A salad of organic vegetables from Second Spring Farm gets a boost from miso and preserved orange, while craft cocktails like Last Christmas blend rye whiskey with house-made local pine syrup and a candied spruce sprig.

Find from-scratch cooking, including stock, sauces, pasta and dessert, at four of Michigan's fine restaurants: (clockwise from top left) Martha's Leelanau Table, Suttons Bay; Mabel Gray, Hazel Park; Evans Street Station, Tecumseh; and The Cooks' House, Traverse City.
Advertisement