Nick Behling spends an entire weekend exploring the U.P. at the beginning of fall, from Presque Isle, ending at the Fall Beer Festival (Marquette) sampling some of the fall flavors from New Holland Brewing Co.
From the sombreros hanging on the wall to the “equipales” around the tables to the “muñecas” on display, so much of the décor inside Maya Mexican Grill & Bar is authentic, imported from the land of our neighbors to the south.
Then there’s the live mariachi music on Saturday nights and the delicious sugar- and salt-rimmed margaritas at the bar. And, of course, the extensive menu of genuine Mexican dishes such as Huachinango, Tampiquena and heaping Parrilladas is very tasty, or, shall we say, muy sabroso.
If you’ve never been to Mexico, step inside Andy Rosario’s restaurant in Rogers Plaza Town Center for the next best thing. Maya Mexican Grill is anything but watered down.
“In every sip of your drink you feel the tequila,” said Michael Martinez, bartender in the flourishing restaurant along 28th Street SW in Wyoming. “We always try to do our best to make it with a little bit extra. We always try to take care of our tables the greatest.”
Just five years old, Maya Mexican Grill recently made the Top 10 of Michigan’s Best Mexican Restaurant Search. That’s especially interesting since Rosario, the owner, is a native of the Dominican Republic – and a cancer survivor.
When Rosario came to the United States as a boy, he lived with an uncle who owned a grocery store and as he got older Andy ran the store after school. That background led him to start one of the area’s first food trucks about a decade ago, when the trend was just making its way into West Michigan.
It was while running “El Loco Hungry” that Rosario honed his business mentality and whet his appetite for serving the public and interacting with customers. Soon, he was poised to open a full-service restaurant with a liquor license.
Rosario opted for a menu and ambiance rooted in his wife’s Mexican heritage, yet several unique dishes such as the Pina Maya – a hollowed-out half pineapple filled with steak, chicken, chorizo or shrimp – are infused with Dominican influences.
Maya Mexican Grill opened in 2014. Then, just a few months later, at age 36, Rosario was diagnosed with cancer. Nasal carcinoma, Stage 4. There was a tumor touching his carotid artery.
Against long odds, eight weeks of treatment in Ann Arbor proved successful and shrunk the mass. Rosario survived. Maya Mexican Grill began to thrive.
“Instead of sitting at home focused on his health, he was focused on Maya,” said Elizabeth Rosario, Andy’s wife and a local attorney. “I think that kind of helped him. That was part of his recovery.
“He’s always had this positivity to him. He’s my hero. I’m just super proud of him.”
Now 40, the soft-spoken Rosario looks back on his cancer as if it were a fever: “Take some Tylenol and move on,” he says. He poured himself into his restaurant, ensuring his kitchen has the freshest, choicest ingredients for dishes that Michigan’s Best raved about including fried red snapper (Huachinango), steak (Tampiquena) and an overflowing “molcajete,” or stone bowl, of grilled meats and vegetables featuring jalapeño peppers the size of bananas (Parrilladas) – not to mention a variety of classic fajitas and tacos.
Rosario has adorned the walls with sombreros from Guadalajara and imported traditional Mexican chairs called “equipales.” On one trip to the Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá, he found a heavy statue that was a pain to get through customs but makes a perfect mascot for the restaurant.
And, ironically, Maya Mexican Grill features artwork depicting an ancient calendar with a Mayan god bearing the burden of time on his back, kneeling under the weight of it. For Rosario, now cancer free, time is a gift, one he’s happy to share with guests.
“We’re still standing after all the struggle,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”
And it’s worth celebrating.
“I want people to come and enjoy with family and friends and have a good time. That’s really what it’s all about.”
The best part of our job is showcasing all the wonderful destinations in our state. Sure, we get to eat and drink along the way, but it’s such a joy to meet the wonderful people behind the scenes who make it all happen.
Today we debut our latest “Michigan’s Best Day” video, which focuses on the Grand Traverse Bay region along U.S. 31 between Charlevoix and Elk Rapids.
On this episode we get a tour of some pretty unique homes, meet the owners of a popular art gallery and sample some incredible meat pies. And we get to go on a tour of one of the state’s most popular breweries.
We hope you enjoy it, as well as other destinations as part of our series.
We want to thank our MLive video team — Kyle Mattson, Lori Chapman, Jeremy Marble and Blake Neil — for all their hard work in producing this video.
This episode of Michigan’s Best Day is brought to you by the Michigan Retailers Association, which encourages Michiganders to support their communities by shopping at nearby retailers.
Here is our Michigan’s Best Day video!
Mushroom House Tours | www.mushroomhousetours.com/about-us
211 Bridge St., Charlevoix, MI 49720, 231-445-0770
*Meet at Elements Gallery
*Tours offered daily, and year round.
We met up with Edith Pair, who owns Mushroom House Tours to learn more about Earl Young, a self-taught builder who began his work in 1919 and continued building for 50 years. The tours can be self-guided, but for only $18 a person you go on a 50-minute tour in a GEM car – a 6-seater electric vehicle where a guide tells you more about these truly unique homes.
More about Earl Young:
- He was an insurance and real estate agent by trade.
- He built 26 residential and 4 commercial properties – most are still standing.
- Each house is unique and made with local materials, like stones from Lake Michigan.
- They are designed to fit into their surrounding landscape.
230 Bridge St, Charlevoix, MI 49720, 231-437-3900
John Parsons established Harwood Farms in 1898 on Harwood Lake near Charlevoix. Originally it was a sawmill and thrashing company with milling services where son George Parsons was the first to tap a maple tree and make syrup he called “liquid gold.” The farm has been a family business for five generations, which today is owned by sisters Katie and Amber Parsons.
We met up with Amber at the Harwood Gold Cafe, which is located downtown in the former Murdick’s Fudge location where diners can sample a large number of maple syrup varieties, as well as those delicious meat pies.
It was a great stop for snacks after our Mushroom House tour before we hit the road.
Other tidbits about Harwood Farms:
- By the 1930s dairy was the farm’s business, but making maple syrup was their “passion”
- Syrup became a family business in the 2000s, selling online, at farmers’ markets and local restaurants
- Harwood Gold Store and Café opened in downtown Charlevoix in 2016
- Maple syrup infusions are popular – with flavors like Michigan Lavender, Ghost Pepper and Pumpkin Spice
- Maple trees are tapped in the spring when temperatures rise to just above freezing
- Sap from collection tanks is automatically pumped underground to holding tanks at the farm, sap is run through reverse osmosis, concentrated sap is boiled into syrup
World’s Largest Cherry Pie
We made a quick stop only two miles south of Charlevoix (on U.S. 31) to check out the World’s Largest Cherry Pie. In 1976, Charlevoix’s Dave Phillips “rallied local businesses to bake the World’s Largest Cherry Pie as part of the town’s annual cherry festival, “according to RoadsideAmerica.com. “The feat involved construction of a giant pan and an equally massive oven. Local farmers supplied the edible ingredients. The resulting cherry pie…was a world record. For a bit, until 1987.”
According to a plaque on site: The pie crust measured from 14 feet, 4 inches in diameter, 3 feet deep and weighing 7 tons. The fillings:
- 4,950 pounds of Michigan cherries
- 2,850 pounds of water
- 260 pounds of butter
- 90 pounds of tapioca
- 3,850 pounds of cherry juice
- 540 pounds of sugar
- 120 pounds of lemon juice
- 90 pounds of salt
BIER ART GALLERY | biergallery.com
3500 US-31, Charlevoix, MI 49720, 231-547-2288
Open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily; also by appointment
*6 miles south of Charlevoix
Ray and Tami Bier have conceived a gallery that features more than 100 national and regional artists that sell everything from jewelry, pottery, sculpture and more. Located not too far from Charlevoix and inside a turn of the century schoolhouse – the Hilton Schoolhouse — it’s a great stop for those looking to buy some great art or just be inspired.
Bier’s Inwood Brewery, 17959 Ferry Rd, Charlevoix, MI 49720
Located within walking distance of Bier Art Gallery is Bier’s Inwood Brewery. The head brewer is Tyler Bier, their son.
BARNES COUNTY PARK
When you travel along U.S. 31 any beach is a great stop to hunt for stones, including the prestigious Petoskey stones.
Barnes County Park hosts county Petoskey Stone festival to kick off summer. michiganrvandcampgrounds.org/event/petoskey-stone-festival
Things to know about Petoskey Stones, which are fossilized prehistoric coral only found in the Great Lakes:
- Find a rocky beach
- Find a beach that isn’t crowded, or go first thing in the morning to beat other rock hunters
- Look along the waterline, they’re much easier to spot when they’re wet
- Spring is the best time to find them – winter waves and ice bring new stones to the shore
- Tips for polishing:
- Dampen the stone and file with coarse sandpaper if you want to make it more rounded
- Sand with finer sandpaper to remove any cracks or blemishes
- Put some car rubbing compound on a damp, soft cloth and rub in short, circular strokes
- Charlevoix stones are similar and slightly more rare, the coral colonies are closer together, giving it a honeycomb appearance
After the beach, we stop at King Orchards for pie!
KING ORCHARDS | www.kingorchards.com
986 U.S. 31 S, Kewadin, MI 49648, 231-264-0715
4620 N M-88, Central Lake, MI 49622
*Both markets offer u-pick and we pick fruit, bakery items, and other farm goodies.
Love cherries? We encourage you to make a stop at King Orchards for:
- U-pick strawberries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, apples and pumpkins
- Products include frozen cherries, dried cherries, cherry concentrate, jams, jelly, salsa and homemade pie
Brothers John and Jim King, along with their wives Betsy and Rose and their children, have been growing fruit in Northern Michigan for more than 30 years. A first-generation farming family, it is located on the northern edge of Michigan’s famed cherry growing region and atop glacier-formed ridges and rolling hills near Torch Lake and Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. They grow on more than 140 acres of Montmorency tart cherries, in addition to Balaton cherries, black sweet cherries, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and nectarines. The US 31 Market houses a bakery and is making fresh pies, cookies, muffins, jams and jellies daily throughout the harvest season for both markets.
The Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas to the west are a can’t miss wine-lover’s dream, but plenty of fun is fermenting on this side of the bay with new destinations for beer, cider, wine and cocktails. Let’s take a tour to see how the magic happens inside two Elk Rapids destinations right around the corner from each other.
First stop: Short’s Brewing Company’s production facility in Elk Rapids.
SHORT’S BREWING PRODUCTION FACILITY | Facebook
211 Industrial Park, Elk Rapids, MI 49629
The production facility features the Pull Barn, a location that offers Short’s beers on tap, retail and a food truck. It’s the perfect stop if you’re craving Short’s beers and you can’t make it to the main pub in Bellaire.
While you’re there, we encourage you take a tour to see the behind the scenes operation, including the canning and bottling lines.
Head Brewer Tony Hansen takes us on a tour of the production facility. The tours run each summer top of the hour on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 – 4:00 pm
- Joe Short started his business when he was only 22 years old
- He had experience at other breweries but decided he wanted to work for himself so he could experiment with specialty or creative beer ingredients and flavors that some might consider outrageous
- Renovated a 120-year-old hardware store and opened his pub in April 2004
- Opened Elk Rapids production facility in 2009
- Started a Hard Cider brand Starcut Ciders in 2015
- Pub was renovated in 2010 and expanded in 2014, added a biergarten, can now hold 460 people
- Beer is distributed to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and cider in Colorado
- Even though they’ve grown, they say they brew their beer the same way they always have, and take pride in their hands-on, “mom and pop” approach to their business
ETHANOLOGY DISTILLERY | Facebook
127 Ames St, Elk Rapids, MI 49629, 231-498-2800
Hours: 1-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 12 noon-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday-Wednesday.
After our stop at Short’s Brewing Company’s production facility, we made our way to the area’s first distillery. Owners Geri and Nick LeFebre are making small batches of spirits. Geri is the head distiller at Ethanology.
A few tidbits:
- They make vodka, gin, whisky and Mel – distilled local honey that is 80 proof
- They use a small 500L batch distillation system – they say it allows them to craft every product with “uncompromising attention to detail and quality”
- They want to stay small and don’t distribute
- None of their ingredients come from more than 33 miles from the distillery
- The name of the source farm is on each label
At Ethanology we tried two cocktails:
The Gemisus, made with Mel, raw honey and smokey goodness of an Old Fashioned.
Prince, made with their vodka, elder, lotus and lavendar and blue butterfly flower tea.
Both were fantastic!
Some tidbit about downtown Elk Rapids:
- Bordered by East Grand Traverse Bay and Elk Lake
- Unique boutiques, galleries and restaurants line River Street
- Elk Rapids Cinema is a restored Art Deco theater
- Elk Rapids Historical Society Museum – learn about the history of the region
- Walk of Art sculpture park – on the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay, up to 30 works of art in a natural, wooded setting
Our next stop……
PEARL’S NEW ORLEANS KITCHEN | Facebook
617 Ames St, Elk Rapids, MI 49629, 231-264-0530
Some tidbits from Pearl’s:
- Has been open for more than 20 years
- Authentic New Orleans-style Cajun and Creole food – Etouffee, Po’boys, Jambalaya, crawfish, catfish, oysters, fried green tomatoes, hot fudge sundae beignet
- They say New Orleans was the birthplace of the cocktail and Pearl’s embraces that tradition with a variety of unique cocktails – Margatini – tequila steeped in seasonal fruit, with fruit liqueur and sour mix, Sazerac, Hurricane, Cherry Margarita with Michigan cherry liqueur, house infused vodkas and bourbons
SUNFLOWER FIELD -MAPLE BAY NATURAL AREA
It only lasts a few weeks each summer, but you can’t pass up the opportunity to take a selfie in the golden sunflower fields.
Sunflowers planted on both sides of the highway by local farmers on leased land.
Thanks again to our hard working crew:
Also, we want to thank Lori Chapman, our editor for video, and Tanda Gmiter, our editor for content.
Learn more about Elk Rapids at: www.elkrapidschamber.org
Thanks again to our sponsor, the Michigan Retailers Association, www.retailers.com
Nick gets ready for Fall Beer Fest, September 7, by exploring Marquette inside (Black Rocks Brewery, Ore Dock Brewery, barrel & beam, and Vierling Restaurant) and out (the black rocks, Ore dock, paddle boarding).