You may wonder why a British-Dutch Amsterdammer has spent several weeks of her life in Michigan City, Indiana. Its neighbour, Chicago, gets all the tourists for obvious reasons, but few non-American visitors make their way east along the shores of Lake Michigan to Michigan City and Long Beach. And yet, after spending an afternoon swimming, sunbathing and relaxing by the lake on near-deserted, sun-drenched sands, it’s hard to understand why. Ok, I’ll admit – I’m biased. Mr Foodie grew up in Michigan City, and I first visited his extended family there for part 3 of our ludicrously elaborate international wedding. I’ve been back twice since, and each time I discover more and more to love about the place. Yes, you have to avoid the chains of Chili’s, Applebee’s and Olive Garden. And the over-enthusiastic air conditioning which Americans seem to love. But there are plenty of independent restaurants, diners, bars and food stores to keep you interested in between water sports on Lake Michigan. Here are six of my favourite Michigan City food finds…
Jamaican restaurant in Indiana: Cool Runnings
Anyone who grew up in the ’90s will undoubtedly get “Jamaica, we have a bobsled team!” stuck in their heads as soon as they enter Cool Runnings – a Jamaican joint named (in case it wasn’t obvious yet) after the 1993 film of the same name. Their signature jerk chicken is fantastic, with extra sauce on the side for those who like it super-spicy. All the mains come with rice and beans, plus another side of your choice – think green beans, mac ’n cheese and other soul food. If you’re taking it easy, order a Red Stripe beer to take down the heat. Or if you’re not working the next day, try the Wray & Ting – an insanely strong cocktail made with overproof Jamaican rum. Two’s your max!
For more information, visit Cool Runnings’ Facebook page: facebook.com/CoolRunningsIN
Brunch at the beach: Dune Billies
Just along the railway line from Cool Runnings is beach café Dune Billies – a perfect spot for brunch before you hit the lake. Admittedly, it’s not on the lakefront exactly, but if you wander over the dunes it won’t take you long to get there. Think eggs Benedict, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy – all the American classics as well as some healthier options for those trying for that beach body. Take the kids, take your dog, or just take yourself and a good book – all are welcome.
For more information, visit Dune Billies’ website: dunebilliesbeachcafe.com
Michigan City’s all-American diner: Station 801
For those who like their breakfast greasier, there’s Station 801 in downtown Michigan City – a railroad-themed diner that feels like a time warp. And indeed, it probably hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1985. There are eggs any which way, stacks of pancakes, hash browns, grits and bottomless mugs of weak American coffee. But I’m not complaining – some hangovers just need the Station 801 treatment is all I’m saying…
For more information, visit Station 801’s website: station801.com
Mexican in Michigan City: Mucho Mas
There’s not a city in America where you can’t seem to find good Mexican food – or Cali-Mex food, as Mucho Mas says it serves. And this place does some of the best tacos in Michigan City. Three tacos will set you back a little over $10, and they come one of four ways (you can mix and match): Mexi-style with corn tortillas, Cali-style with flour tortillas, veggie-style for a vegetarian version, or surf-style for the pescatarians. I loved the chorizo tacos with salsa verde, but was also a big fan of the fish tacos with achiote sauce. I’d happily go back and try them all.
For more information, visit Mucho Mas’s Facebook page: facebook.com/MuchoMC
Best beef jerky from Michigan City outlet mall
Beef jerky is a guilty pleasure of mine – especially when I’m road tripping through the States, in need of a car snack. So when I was making my annual clothes-shopping trip to Michigan City’s outlet mall and saw a beef jerky store, it called to me. And good grief, this place is carnivore’s paradise! A very friendly man, who I assume is the shop’s owner, Kevin, gave us a quick tour of the setup: essentially there are half a dozen “stations” dotted around the store, at which you can taste all the jerky varieties on that particular rack. If you walk around the shop in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll work your way up in terms of spice levels as you go along. We tried an unholy number of free samples before we finally settled on our two favourites: the classic Cajun beef jerky and the Korean BBQ smoked pork. Plus, we couldn’t resist going home without a bottle of buffalo-ranch sauce… because vacay!
For more information, visit the Beef Jerky Outlet’s website: beefjerkyoutlet.com/michigan-city
Brewpub in New Buffalo, Michigan: Ghost Isle Brewery
Ghost Isle Brewery isn’t technically in Michigan City – it’s not even in Indiana, for that matter. In fact, it’s in New Buffalo, Michigan. But since it’s literally just over the Indiana-Michigan border, you can drive there in less than 20 minutes. And Ghost Isle’s own-brewed beers are certainly worth the trip. Try the flight of five beers before picking your favourite, and soak up the booze with some of the brewpub’s stellar wraps, burgers and sandwiches. I liked the harissa-marinated pork pita with tzatziki and pickled red onion for its nod to North African flavours. On the beer front, my favourite was the MI Time – a smooth golden ale that slips down way too easily. Which can be dangerous when (the clue’s in the title) you suddenly find yourself in Michigan time instead of Indiana time: you’ll arrive an hour later than you thought, but you’ll get back before you left. Now try figuring that out after a few pints…
For more information, visit Ghost Isle Brewery’s website: ghostislebrewery.com