It’s June in the Copper Country of Michigan. The grass is growing like something out of Jumanji —there’s a pop of what seems like every color on the spectrum dotting the landscape —a wayside trailer that would have been comparable to a rusty shipping container among a graveyard of dead trees a few weeks ago is now being swallowed whole by the surrounding forest and shrubbery. No doubt, Mother Nature just broke the knob off the control for growing season. To witness the transformation of the Upper Peninsula into a jungle-like haven for all things chirpy, buzz-y, and busy is an incredible sight. Which is why this place, and more specifically the Keweenaw Peninsula, are so near and dear to my heart. But we’re here to talk about food.
If you’ve been to the Keweenaw, you know it’s a place rather far off the “beaten path” —that the nearest city is, in fact, Chicago [eight hours], and not Detroit [10 hours]. For anyone that’s traveled here AND been vegan, they know the pickings would be trending upwards even if it was considered “slim”. That, although having it’s a fair share of top-notch and memorable restaurants, eateries, pubs, and wall dives, accomplishing the mission of discovering a tasty plant-based meal can pose a significant challenge. That’s why we wanted to create a resource that includes a breakdown of our best recommendations and insight on all-things vegan in the Keweenaw and Houghton/Hancock areas. Like the Keweenaw itself, there’s a bounty of gems to unearth when one need only look a small bit beneath the surface.
Since it’s inception, Krunch has been the most vegan-friendly joints in town. Because yes, despite it being 2019, I don’t think this part of the world is quite ready for a fully-veganized concept. Regardless, Krunch rolls out tasty treats at an efficient pace and at a price that won’t have you second-guessing the addition of a blueberry gelato shake. The menu is easy to grasp, provides a healthy bit of variety, and is well-executed behind the scenes. My personal favorites are the Cashew burger with regs fries and a shake of whatever you’re fancing during that moment in time -doesn’t matter, they’re all vegan, which is a huge bonus! Although this forces one to contemplate a shake every drive-by. Other things that would be worth ordering twice are the Curry Bowl, Teriyaki Bowl, the BBQ Portobello sammie, or the buffalo cauliflower bites. I feel like they used to have a vegan ranch at one point and have since swapped it out for straight buff sauce. If given the choice, I’d say just mix up a lil’ of both and toss it in. My only complaint? The hippie in me thinks they use too much plastic. But then again, by being the leading vegan option provider in town, Krunch is already miles ahead of the competition when it comes to making sure Leonardo DiCaprio and the bees stay happy. Don’t forget to tip!
Like most places in modern America, there’s always a ton of options when it comes to pizza -and everyone has their favorites. As you start to head down the plant-based rabbit hole, finding a GOOD pizza in the land of literal Packer cheeseheads can be a steep challenge. Enter Studio Pizza, the tiny one-counter operation that situated inside the Orpheum theatre in downtown Hancock. For you locals, it’s the place that’s straight across from what used to be coined as the mythical urban hangout spot known as “The Wall” -aka the meet-up point to smoke butts for kids who once-upon-time-went to that school. When ordering Studio, it’s recommended to call ahead for delivery as they offer rather limited seating. Other than the potential poltergeist haunting, Studio is one of the places that are pros at slinging out a consistently delicious, first-rate ZAA. They have vegan cheese, unique topping choices, and gluten-free options --but we do recommend playing a “skip-out-on-gluten-free-card” because the Chicago-style crust is one of those things worth letting your hair down for. The menu offered is actually quite extensive given the size of the locale, so if you’re feeling a calzone or a thin crust, give it a healthy go. Our specific recommendations would be either the Veggie Supreme with light cheese and double veggie [for those lax Thursdays when you need a belly high-five to keep the momentum going] or the slightly more intense, spicier “El Diablo” speciality pizza, with light vegan cheese and added mushrooms [For those friskier weekends as you head out on the KBC Brewing deck]. There may be some complaints from others about the steep price, but you simply can’t ignore the time-tested logic of “you get what you pay for” or in other words…if one wants quality, one must pay. Be sure to save a few side dollars for Studio, you won’t be disappointed.
The Den and “Woodfired Grill” is one of the newer additions to the area -having recently launched in 2018 by the same owner as Krunch. Like it’s little sister down the road, The Den offers a wide variety for both vegans and non-vegans alike. Where Krunchs’ strengths lie in its ability to provide a swift burst of hangry-relief, The Den’s qualities shine more on creating a rustic-ly cozy and sleek atmosphere where you can get anything from a quick pint of local dark brown and a Tapas-style treat to a continuous train of high-end cocktails complete with apps and a fine-dining entree. Although most of their fancier features are aimed at the carnivorous population it’s fairly simple for a humble herbivore to find some belt-stretching goodness for their very own. It may set your pocketbook back a bit more than your average U.P dine-out, but again, it’s another highlight to the notion that quality is worth paying for. We recommend the Beet Burger, with a close second being the “Impossible” Meatball sub without cheese and adding mushrooms / extra sauce! If booze is your jam, we really enjoyed both the “Dark-n-Stormy”, a rum-based ginger lime spritz, or the “Siren’s Call”, a euphoria-inducing infusion of gin and fresh lemon juice. A classy joint for classy folks that’s worth a visit.
As far as I know, Cafe Rosetta has undergone a number of significant changes since my time here as an undergrad at MTU. I’d like to say they changed owners at one point. And the menu concept. They even upgraded their space by moving to a larger operation one door over. Now -if you’ve been versed in anything written by Anthony Bourdain or dramatized by Gordon Ramsey, you know that all of the things are often the pitfalls of doom for restaurants. Rosetta has not only withstood these obstacles but consistently been able to produce a ton of tasty features, for all kinds of eaters to jump on. For those of on the plant-based train, we’d highly recommend any of the soups du jour's they might be serving that is accompanied with the familiar and bliss-including “V” symbol. In the words of a wise master, “they got mad soup game yo.” And you can never go wrong with an oat milk latte or cold-brew for the road. Watch out though, the cold-brews they serve pack a bomb of a caffeine roundhouse kick. It’ll make you wish you snuck in a to-go for the vegan burrito bowl and whatever dessert nibbles they’d been pushing on special under that same recognizable “V”.
Although Keweenaw Coffee Works isn’t necessarily a provider of vegan foods, they do offer a number of locally roasted, artisan coffees out of a gorgeous space in downtown Calumet —definitely worth the trip up North. Friendly service, very modern, “hipster” cafe vibes and, I may be biased, but the coffee is second to none, even when compared to more high-end options like Intelligensia and the more locally-based roaster Velodrome, which operates out of Marquette. The perfect sport for posting up, getting productive, and cranking through some projects on the laptop while sipping a pour over of KCW’s finest “Borealis” or “Yooper Blend” selections. Be sure to snag a bag of whole beans on the way out. Heads up, they might also have some vegan snacks in the house!
Milly’s is a newer establishment to the area, having recently been launched in the same location as it’s previous successor, Jim’s Pizza —albeit with a few “extreme-home” makeovers. Specializing in “Detroit-style” pizza, Milly’s offers an ever-changing selection of entrees at a price that’s certainly fair deal considering the area and level of quality. Although they do not offer vegan cheeses, they do have gluten-free options, a surprising variety of fresh salads, and a wide selection of unique, often locally-sourced items, that rarely make it onto a menu in the Upper Peninsula. For vegans, the ability to order a cheeseless-zaa with roasted garlic, shiitakes, artichokes, pickled jalapeno, Calabrian chili oil, and honey is something that just wasn’t on par with reality a year ago. Side note: they offer pizza by the slice, another innovation that’s first of its kind for Hancock.
One of the few locations dedicated to solely Mexican and Southwestern-inspired cuisine. Now, it’s probably not AS authentic as that street-side food truck tacos being slung by the locals you may have had in Austin, TX or New Mexico, but it’s pretty freakin’ good all things considered. The menu is “Chipotle-like” where you customize a meal by first selecting a pre-build of tacos, a burrito, bowl, or a salad. They also have some other fan favorites like Posole, a Mexican-spiced stew, that’s heaped high in a crunchy, tortilla boat. Naturally, the spices are a bit dialed back to accompany the local clientele’s Finnish and Euro-based tastebuds, but we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Don’t be afraid to go hot on the salsas!
OTHER JOINTS WORTH CHECKING OUT
A staple in the town of Hancock since the roarin’ 20’s, Gino’s is a local gastropub/dining hall that serves local tap beers and a variety of reputable foodstuffs. They are best known for their bolognese spaghetti sauce and pizzas, which means there isn’t a ton of vegan options, but they do from time to time offer some tasty plant-based nibbles. Plus one can never go wrong ordering a fat pint of local KBC with with waffle fries….and a plate of “regs”.
The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is actually a place we have not been to in about a decade. Located about a half mile from Copper Harbor, a small town at the tip of the Peninsula, this golf course / rustic cabin get-away / fine-dining experience has been recently re-booted by new ownership. Most importantly, we’ve heard there are a few plant-based creations in the works that we’ll be sure to check out in the near future.
Rustic, home cooked, locally-inspired Italian. Every once in a while the cure to a rough week is a big pile of pasta marinara with a shoe-sized wedge of bread to sop of the extra sauce with, ya feel me? We also recommend the bruschetta or “Stephanie’s” pasta primavera. The added beauty about coming to Gem’s is free birthday dinners and, since the food isn’t pre-packaged crap, the kitchen can most often accommodate a special request or two. Plus they have a low-key, high-end whiskey collection for when you need a little something extra celebratory.
Now I’ve heard that for being like a million miles from the nearest ocean, the fish-based sushi at Sky is pretty dang good -which is usually evidence to suggest that the vegan sushi options are right on par. Which they are. An added bonus being that the choices are somewhat more varied than your average avocado, carrot, and cucumber rolls. Pro Tip: Order out or make a reservation since the space they have is quite small and intimate.
Seated about a stone’s throw from the edge of Lake Superior, the “Fitz” offers killer beers, a great liquor selection, and a few plant-based options that most certainly take a backseat to Fitzgerald’s claim-to-fame speciality smoked meats and BBQ. A perfect option to bring your carnivore friends whilst still enjoying a hearty meal and a top shelf bev. Did we mention it’s right next to the biggest lake in the world, providing one of the best views known to humankind? You’ll want to make a special trip for this place regardless of your friend’s and families’ sacrificial ways.