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).
Our MLive video series “Michigan’s Best Day In” shows you how to eat and drink your way across some of Michigan’s coolest towns. Our newest video features the beautiful city of Ludington, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. A year-round destination, the city really shines during the summer, when the powder sand beaches are busy, the lake sparkles in the sun, and downtown is bustling.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Pure Ludington, for supporting this project.
Michigan’s Best Day in Ludington
Start your day in Ludington off right, by fueling up with a big breakfast. We headed to Brenda’s Harbor Cafe, a favorite of both locals and tourists, with traditional offerings all served up in a nautical-themed space.
The Eggs Benedict is one of the most popular breakfasts, and features toasted English muffins topped with savory, shaved ham and poached eggs blanketed with creamy, lemony hollandaise sauce.
We also enjoyed the thin and delicate Swedish pancakes that come topped with butter and a bright lingonberry jam.
The diner also serves lunch, and is open until 2 p.m. daily. Owners Brenda and Mark Cole bought the business in 2008.
Brenda’s Harbor Cafe | 316 S. James St., Ludington, Michigan 49431
Probably the number-one reason why you need to visit Ludington? It has some of the best beaches in the state, if not the country.
Nestled on the shores of gorgeous Lake Michigan, the city has plenty of powder sand beaches to choose from, with over 28 miles of shoreline to explore.
Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan, and once you visit, you’ll understand why. With 5,300 acres of dunes, trails, beaches, forests and marshes to enjoy, the park is one of Michigan’s best. Lake Michigan beckons on one side, and Hamlin Lake on the other. The park has over 360 modern campsites to rent at three different locations: Pines, Cedar and Beechwood campgrounds.
You can take a short, 1.5 mile hike to check out Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is open for tours from May to October.
Kayak or canoe, hike or bike, swim or lounge. Ludington State Park has it all.
Ludington State Park | 8800 W. M-116, Ludington MI, 49431
Other beaches in the area:
Sterns Park Beach | North Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431
Summit Park Beach | 5528 S. Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, MI 49431
One of the coolest things to do in the area is to visit the Amber Elk Ranch. Located just minutes from downtown, it’s one of the coolest things to do anywhere.
Owner Bob Northrup took his passion for elk up to a whole different level when he opened up the ranch. He has 130 acres where he raises elk for breeding stock, antlers, meat and community education.
When you arrive, head over to the cabin to purchase tickets for the wagon ride. Then hop on in, and get ready for an up close and personal elk experience. The tractor chugs you out onto the ranch, with one of the ranch hands hopping out every so often to unlock and then lock the various gates you’ll travel through. Your driver will share all sorts of interesting elk facts as you head out to the large “pens” where the elk reside, separated by age and gender.
Once in the pens, there are buckets of grain to feed the elk. And this is where it gets really good. You don’t just throw some grain out on the ground, you hold your hand out flat and low from the wagon and the elk come and EAT RIGHT OUT OF YOUR HAND. It is incredible to have a giant (and some of the bull elks are huge) animal that close. I screamed in both fear and delight as the first elk came up and kind of swallowed my hand with its rough tongue licking up all the grain. The elk also like it when you scratch their heads, right between the antlers, and they’ll gaze up at you with big brown eyes. Gently touch the velvet on their sensitive antlers. It’s pretty much the softest thing you’ll ever feel.
The female elk are a little more aggressive with the food, so be sure to keep the buckets in the center of the wagon, and keep your hand flat when feeding them. The baby elk are shy, and usually won’t come up to the wagon, but they are adorable at a distance.
The trip typically takes about an hour. Afterward, you can check out all the antlers piled up around the ranch, and visit the small petting zoo on the property.
Amber Elk Ranch | 2688 W Conrad Road, Ludington, Michigan 49431
- Adults: $12.00
- Children ages 2 to 12: $8.00
- Seniors: $10
- Children under age 2: Free.
- Group rates available. Please inquire.
When you are this close to all this water, you really better try some fresh fish. In Ludington, you can head on out on one of the many charter boats that provide incredible fishing experiences on Lake Michigan, and catch your meal yourself.
Ludington is considered the number-one salmon fishing port in Michigan, with record-class catches of salmon and trout. There are over 45 professional fishing charter captains in the area to choose from.
Not into fishing? No big deal, you can enjoy some fresh fish at a variety of restaurants around town.
For something unique and completely delicious, head to Bortell’s Fisheries, just south of downtown. The Bortell family has been serving up their fresh, fried and smoked fish for over 120 years. They still use the original recipes and techniques that have been passed down through six generations. The fish here is ultra-fresh, and if fried, gets a nice thin, crispy coating. This is a no-frills place. You place your order, and then grab and go. There are picnic tables outside where you can eat. Cash only.
Bortell’s Fisheries | 5510 S Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431
Prefer to a sit down place? Here are a few other spots with great fish.
Scotty’s | 5910 W U.S. 10, Ludington, Michigan 49431
Old Hamlin | 122 W Ludington Ave., Ludington, Michigan 49431-2022
Stix Bar | 1963 N Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431-9383
Jamesport Brewing Company | 410 S James St., Ludington, Michigan 49431
The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum is chock full of history, artifacts, photos and some amazing interactive exhibits all focused on the region’s maritime history. It’s the perfect stop for a little education, and for a break from all the sun (or rain, if that’s the case).
Located right on the water in a former U.S. Coast Guard Station, overlooking the North Pier Light and the S.S. Badger car ferry, the museum has three floors to explore.
On the main floor, learn about the history of the area, with scale models of boats and nautical artifacts telling the stories of the steamers and ferries that have plied the waters through the years. There is a mini lighthouse to climb, and an exhibit on how the lighthouses of yore worked. Head upstairs for a super sweet interactive exhibit where you get to captain a ferry into Ludington port, complete with a welcoming whistle pull. More photos showing the history of Ludington are on the third floor.
Port of Ludington Maritime Museum | 217 S. Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431
10:00 am – 5:00 pm; Last ticket sales at 4:30 pm
Open Tuesday – Saturday, April 16th – May 25th
Closed Memorial Day
Open Sunday – Saturday, May 26th – September 1st
Open Tuesday – Saturday September 2nd – October 19th
Open Saturdays, October 26th, November 2nd and 9th
General Admission Cost
Children: $10.00 (6 – 17 years of age)
Under 5: Free
Visit both The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum and Historic White Pine Village with dual ticketing: Two Museums for one great price!
Child (6-17): $14.50
Under 5: Free
Downtown Ludington is full of shops to explore, from art galleries to surf shops. Gordy’s is a T-shirt and skate shop located right downtown, and is a great place to pick up some custom apparel to let the world know you visited Ludington.
The store has a heat press on site. Pick out your T-shirt or sweatshirt, then select from a variety of logos and designs on the wall. The helpful (and fast!) staff will then press your shirt right before your eyes. It’s a cool spot to create a unique memento of your trip.
Gordy’s | 104 W Ludington Ave., Ludington, Michigan 49431
A hot summer day in Ludington calls for an ice cream, and there is no better place to go than the very popular, very busy, and very delicious House of Flavors.
The Neal family has been making ice cream for almost 80 years in Ludington, and with their production facility next door, churn up almost 25 million gallons of ice cream every year. They are the largest producer of ice cream in Michigan.
At the restaurant, you can stroll on in and select from a rotating list of about 30 flavors every day. Have it stacked up in a homemade waffle cone, or get it whipped into a shake or a malt. If you are really hungry for ice cream, get one of their “Pig Dinners” that come in various sizes and are served in a trough. Finish one and you’ll get a collectable Pig Pin.
Don’t let the long line deter you. The scoopers here are fast, and it moves quickly. Plus, part of the fun is trying to decide what flavor to get.
House of Flavors is a summer tradition for many Ludington visitors, with families returning year after year to this fun, retro spot, for good old-fashioned fun.
House of Flavors | 402 W Ludington Ave., Ludington, MI 49431
We also would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fabulous rotisserie turkey they roast every single day at House of Flavors. Moist and succulent, the turkey gets served up as Thanksgiving dinner, and hot sandwiches drenched in homemade gravy and nuzzled up next to homemade mashed potatoes.
It’s fantastic, and somewhat unexpected. Pro tip: the hot turkey sandwich can be ordered for breakfast.
A great spot to stop for a drink is The Mitten Bar, located right downtown. The bar, opened by husband and wife team of Brian and Megan Josefowicz in 2011, features all (and only) Michigan-made goods. The couple wanted to create a community gathering place for both locals and tourists alike. It’s a super-friendly place, and the staff will make you feel welcome right away. Many nights, there is live music performed on the small stage in the back.
Craft beer, wine and spirits from Michigan are featured, along with 12 draft lines. The only pop available is Faygo, and it’s really all you need.
The Mitten Bar | 109 W Ludington Ave., Ludington, Michigan 49431
The best way to end the day is to head to the beach for the sunset. You won’t be the only one. It’s kind of the greatest show in town, every single night. There really isn’t a bad spot to watch from, and you can even head on out onto the pier.
We hope that you enjoy your Michigan’s Best Day in Ludington.
Want to know what’s happening behind the scenes? We are always posting videos, photos and more on our Social Media channels.
Here’s how to find us:
@mlivemibest on Twitter
@mlivemibest on Instagram
Also, be sure to follow our new MI Best Facebook Page, which you can check out here.
We use the hashtags #mibest. If you’ve tried a Michigan’s Best pick, let us know at #ItriedMiBest