‘Excited’ and ‘ready’ are two words to describe how Michigan seasonal restaurants are feeling as they embark on the opening of the 2021 season. After an absolute roller coaster of a season last year, these restaurants have their fingers crossed that things will be a bit back to normal this year.
“We are getting super excited for our Spring opening,” said Beth Roethler, co-owner of The Cabbage Shed in Elberta. She and her husband Tony, and her parents Colleen and TJ Hudson have owned The Shed since 2015. They have a fun season planned, with live music and special events on the docket, as long as things continue to open up.
Across the board, our Michigan restaurant community is gearing up for what they hope will be a great summer. For these seasonal spots, they’ve got about six months to rock and roll, and they are ready to go. As of now, they’ll be operating at 50% capacity, but are hopeful that this will change in the next few months.
Michigan has many classic restaurants across the state that are only open during the warmer months, from fine dining establishments to well-loved waterfront spots. We recommend that you start planning your summer travels now, as many of these places are ultra busy, but always worth the effort.
There’s nothing quite like a Michigan summer, and saluting it with great food and fabulous drinks will only make it a bit better. Check out our list of seasonal restaurant openings below, and cheers to us all.
The Cabbage Shed
198 Frankfort Ave
Elberta, MI 49628
Opening date: April 15
Named one of the top ten waterfront restaurants in Michigan by our MLive team, The Cabbage Shed is a seasonal favorite. The rugged old barn that houses The Cabbage Shed was built in 1867, and it really did store cabbages for a while. The vegetables would float on down the Betsie River, and enter the basement of the building, to get ready to ship to market. Now, the building provides the backdrop to this funky and fun restaurant overlooking Betsie Lake in Elberta.
The Shed is planning on bringing back live music out on the patio during dinner hours. They’ll also have sharks out in the bay again this year, as The Shed always celebrates Shark Week with Sharkey the Sharkhead and special shark themed drinks, and fun for everyone. July 3 The Shed will host their first ever cabbage eating contest, featuring 5 local contestants known as the Benzie County Five.
Drinks here are top-notch, try the Betsie Bay Painkiller, or the house made margarita. The most popular dish at The Shed is quite a surprise, and utterly delicious. The famous Shed Borscht takes six hours to make, has a thick, rich beef broth with succulent cabbage floating in it, a deep flavor from the addition of smoked paprika, and a topping of cool sour cream. It’s not at all what you’d expect to be enjoying at a waterfront joint, but trust us, you want this soup in your life. Be sure to save room for the warm and gooey Skookie, a homemade chocolate chip cookie that comes doused in Moomer’s vanilla ice cream and Kahlua hot fudge sauce.
278 Dyckman Ave.
South Haven, Michigan 49090
Opening date: first week of May
One of our favorite stops on the search for Michigan’s Best Waterfront Restaurant, Captain Lou’s is a bustling, friendly little place, with an absolutely fantastic crew who will make your visit first class fun.
Order up an icy cold beer. They feature a nice selection of Michigan ones, or get one of their signature, frozen Rum Runners. Bloody Mary’s come out zippy and peppery, and garnished with locally-made Harrison Pickles, which are downright delicious. You can get perch five different ways here, and we whole-heartedly recommend that you get the Cajun batter. Beautifully flakey fish gets enrobed in a crunchy batter with just a kiss of heat. It’s all about the fish, and that fish is really good.
Please note that regular guests are referred to as Lousers, and we would be happy to be one of those any day of the week.
3505 Marina View Point
Muskegon, MI 49441
Opening date: May 13
Tucked down a little cul-de-sac just a block or two from the beach, Dockers Fish House is located in Harbor Town Marina, overlooking Muskegon Lake, right off of the Muskegon Channel. This is one big place, with about 500 seats total. Co-owner Jennifer Harris told us that over the winter they’ve remodeled the restaurant, and will be offering a full band line up Thursdays through Sundays.
If you come with a group of friends that love seafood, you must get The Feast. It can easily feed four, so the $75 price really isn’t too bad. This is what dockside eating is all about, fun, communal and tasty. A huge platter comes covered with mussels, crayfish, snow crab claws, shrimp, seasonal vegetables, and tiny baby potatoes, all of it doused in a flavorful butter sauce.
This is an incredibly popular spot, for boaters and land lubbers alike, and while this year might again be a bit different, we are betting that Dockers will be bumping at whatever capacity they can. They were one of our top picks for Michigan’s Best Waterfront Restaurant. “We are really looking forward to hopefully getting back to normal,” Harris said.
Village Cheese Shanty
199 W. River St.
Opening date: April 16
One of our top picks for Michigan’s Best Sub, the Village Cheese Shanty is a legendary place located in Fishtown in Leland. This charming area has been under a watery assault over the last few years, and the shanty was actually lifted up off of its foundation and raised back in 2020 in order to save the structure.
The bread here is what it’s all about, a delicious, house-made pretzel roll created by owner David Kareck. It’s chewy, with a bit of caramelized flavor, and it perfectly holds all the fresh ingredients. The substance of the roll creates a sandwich that can hold up for a few hours, which makes it perfect to grab for a trip to the beach or to enjoy on the ferry ride over to the Manitou islands. Homemade herb mayo is great, as is the olive spread on the “Bear.” “We’ve had people drive 8 hours just to come here,” employee Kendra Shimeck told us. Plan ahead; it’s cash only at the Shanty.
1525 Fleming Road
Lewiston, MI 49756
Opening date: April 12
The Lewiston Lodge was built in the mid-1920′s originally as the Gassell Lodge, today it is a 14-room, four-season resort on East Twin Lake in Lewiston. In the mid-60′s, it was renamed the Lewiston Lodge. Over the years, the Lodge has underwent lots of changes, but still retains the gorgeous lake views and delicious food.
Don’t miss the homemade soups, especially the creamy potato, and throw caution to the wind and chow down on the warm rolls served with walnut honey butter. Shrimp, any of the fish, giant grinders, pizzas, it’s all here. Boat slips are free to diners, no reservations for these. Just pull up and enjoy. You can reserve a room, and why not? When you can wake up to views like this, its all worth it.
1101 N State St
St Ignace, MI 49781
Opening date: April 22
One of our all time favorite spots for incredible, fresh fish tacos, as well as plenty of authentic Mexican dishes, Jose’s Cantina is a Michigan gem. Located in St. Ignace, they are only open during the summer season. Chef Robert Gallo has brought some seriously delicious cuisine right to the U.P..
Those fish tacos are legendary, featuring whitefish that was caught fresh right outside the door, which gets a light batter, and then fried and topped with a crunchy claw and a bright pico de gallo. Pretty perfect. If ceviche is on the menu, please do order it. Insanely flavorful, beautiful, and crazy delicious, this fresh fish dish is one of a kind. You’ll also find plenty of traditional tacos, enchiladas, nachos, and more. Handmade margaritas make the view overlooking Mackinac Island even more beautiful.
More info: Facebook
Chamberlin’s Ole Forest Inn
N9450 Manistique Lakes Road
Curtis, MI 49820
Opening date: May 5
A lovely little spot located high on a bluff over Big Manistique Lake in the U.P., Chamberlin’s Ole Forest Inn offers both dining and lodging in a beautiful setting. Bud and Kelly Chamberlin run this special spot, that was on our search for Michigan’s Best Waterfront Restaurant.
It’s a super friendly, open, family oriented atmosphere here at the Inn. You can dine outside on the expansive porch, in the gazebo, or inside the historical home. We recommend the planked whitefish which comes with tasty duchess potatoes, and the fresh fried calamari strips served with a salty and bright caper sauce. Don’t miss the warm bread that comes with homemade butters, both raspberry and honey. Bloody Mary’s are a tradition here, and the perfect way to wake up on the lake.
Chamberlin’s told us via a Facebook message that “We will be hosting live music outside and planning for many fun events,” as they reopen in 2021 on May 5.
The Island Grill Clubhouse
8709 Dixie Hwy
Ira Township, MI 48023
Opening date: May 14
The Island Grill Clubhouse might have one of the most beautiful restaurant views in the whole state, overlooking the channel that leads out to Anchor Bay. When you arrive, park in the lot up front, and wait for someone to swing by in one of their extended golf carts to give you a lift to the restaurant. Once there, grab a seat (we highly recommend sitting up top), kick back, and get yourself on “island time.”
This funky, brightly colored little spot, located in the Mayea Marina on Anchor Bay, feels like an old-school island joint, with much of the decorations coming straight from the Florida Keys. Sit back, and watch the parade of boats cruise on by, while you enjoy an icy cold bucket of beer, or one of their original recipe Rum Runners, which you can enjoy frozen or on the rocks. Those bad boys slip down far too easily on a hot day. You’ve been warned.
Fish is a speciality here, so we recommend trying some. The Perch Reuben, a yummy little concoction of fresh fried perch fillets, nestled on a brioche bun with crunchy coleslaw, melted Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing was delicious. Be sure to order a slice Key Lime Pie, it’s made by our friends at the nearby M-29 Diner, which we named Michigan’s Best Diner in 2019, so you know it’s great.
Iva’s Chicken Dinners
201 Chestnut St
Sterling, MI 48659
Opening date: March 4
Iva’s Chicken Dinners in Sterling has been around since 1938. They fry all of their very traditional chicken in cast iron skillets, using a unique fry/steam method. It’s simple, classic, old fashioned chicken, with great notes of pepper, and a solid chicken-y taste. Not too salty, it’s chicken the way your grandma used to make it. Real mashed potatoes, chicken gravy (with a biscuit floater!), sweet and sour cole slaw, stuffing and homemade biscuits round out your meal. This is an all you can eat spot, served up family style, so order up until your heart is content. Be sure to save room for some of the homemade pies here, absolutely delicious.
Iva’s is open now, with limited hours Thursday through Sunday. Come Memorial Day they’ll be open 7 days a week through Labor Day.
6425 N Lake Shore Drive
Harbor Springs, MI, 49740
Opening day: June 16
Legs Inn is located at the end of the famous Tunnel of Trees drive on M-119, on the shores of Lake Michigan, near Cross Village and is one of the most distinctive, and iconic, dining experiences in all of Michigan.
Gaze upon the upturned stove legs along the roofline, those are the inspiration for the name. Enter the stone and wood structure and be amazed right from the get-go, as you absorb the crazy ambiance of this special spot. There is also a big outdoor seating area, which is the perfect spot to catch the sun setting over Lake Michigan.
It’s all about Polish specialities at Legs Inn, and you really can’t go wrong with The Taste of Poland. You get a little bit of everything on your plate, with kielbasa, golabki, pierogis and some stand-out cabbage. The kielbasa is smoked, meaty, and filling. We loved the golabki here, it comes coated with a bright tomato sauce. That cabbage is laced with bits of bacon, which makes everything better. The whitefish is locally caught and prepared in a variety of ways, and potato pancakes are standout. Be sure to end your night at Legs with the Polish dessert Szarlotka, an apple filled crumb cake that is baked fresh every day, and comes topped with a mountain of whipped cream. It is yummy comfort food, dotted with big chunks of bright apple.
There is a lot of history within these walls. You can sense the pride that the Smolak family has in both the building and the business they have created here. It is truly a pure Michigan experience.
8131 Beebe Road
Cheboygan, MI 49721
Opening day: tentatively April 28
Our pick for Michigan’s Most Iconic Restaurant, the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn is a bit off the beaten path, located in a wondrous spot along the banks of the clear Cheboygan River, right at the mouth of Mullet Lake. Built in 1894 out of giant tamarack logs (Hack-Ma-Tack is the Native American word for tamarack), the inn will charm you the moment you arrive.
The current owners, the Redding Family, have been “taking care of the inn” since 1979. “We do not own the Inn. The people that come here own the Hack-Ma-Tack. We are the innkeepers, everyone else owns it. It’s not ours, it’s theirs,” Susan Redding explained.
We are thrilled that they have done such a fantastic job keeping this inn. Susan, her husband Michael, son Robert, daughter-in-law Julie, and granddaughters Audrey and Stella are on hand every day, ready to greet you.
Start off with one of the best whitefish dips anywhere in Michigan, it’s chunky and slightly smokey. Move on to the traditional menu, and enjoy things like a fresh wedge salad, slow roasted prime rib, and whitefish Almondine. Be sure to order up one of their signature Hummers. They make hundreds of these creamy little booze bombs every day, and it’s the perfect ending to your iconic dining experience.
Dam Site Inn
6705 Woodland Rd
Pellston, MI 49769
Opening date: April 2
Crisp and juicy fried chicken? Check. Homemade noodles? Check. Biscuits and honey? Buttered peas? A relish tray on a lazy susan? A hot wet towel after your “all you can eat” chicken dinner? Check, check, check, check. The Dam Site Inn is a damn fine place.
Unchanged in appearance since the East family opened it in 1953, the restaurant is a throwback to another era. The chicken is cooked in custom made shallow fryers, which allows it to remain incredibly moist while still being nice and crispy. It’s classic fried chicken, served in a classy place.
The Inn is typically open from Easter weekend through the third week of October. They offer dinner only, starting at 5pm, or 3pm on Sundays. This is a classic ‘up North’ spot, so even though it’s a white tablecloth restaurant, you can totally dress casual.
One of the beautiful things about the Dam Site Inn is that nothing changes. Not the decor, not the high-quality food, not the impeccable service. It’s this commitment to tradition that really makes this restaurant special.
111 W River St .
Leland, Michigan 49654
Opening date: Mother’s Day Weekend (May 7)
We named The Cove Michigan’s Best Waterfront Restaurant in 2019, and it really is a special spot. The setting of The Cove is truly stunning, and unique. Located right at the dam on the Leland River as it churns out to Lake Michigan in Fishtown, the multi level restaurant has the pleasant hum of the water as the backdrop to your meal. In recent years, water has been a bit of an issue, as levels went higher and higher. Fingers are crossed that the water will have receded a bit, and flooding won’t be a problem this summer.
The Wanroy family has owned The Cove for the last 33 years. Rick Wanroy, along with his sons, Chris and Sean, are dedicated to making everything they can, fresh and in-house. “We zigged, when everyone else was zagging. We committed ourselves to making everything,” Chris Wanroy said.
This means curing their own pickles, baking their own hamburger buns from hand rolled dough, baking fresh cherry pies every day, and even making their own ginger beer for their Moscow Mules.
This is a level of dedication and commitment not usually seen. Rick explained, as we toured the pretty tight kitchen, “What else can we do? We don’t have room to physically store a thousand hamburger buns if we bought them. We have to make them every day.”
Two things you must not miss at The Cove: the famous Chubby Mary and Grandpa’s Cherry Pie. Yes, the Chubby Mary is THAT one, the one with a whole smoked fish sticking out of the top. They have a local source for the chubs, and do sometimes run out. But if they have them, it’s a must have. And that cherry pie is flat out fan-freaking-tastic, with an incredibly flakey crust that comes dusted with crunchy sugar, and stuffed with local tart cherries. Served with a burnt sea salt caramel gelato, it’s swoon-worthy, and worth the trip here alone. They bake the pies fresh every day.
Look for the new Rick’s Cafe outside at The Cove this summer, it will feature a grilling station. This is a very busy spot in July and August, be prepared for a short wait if you visit, it will be worth it.
77 Brockway Ave.
Copper Harbor, MI 49918
Opening date: Mother’s Day Weekend (May 7)
Truly located in a gorgeous spot, Harbor Haus offers what might be the finest dining in all of the Upper Peninsula. All the way up to the tip of Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor, Harbor Haus offers white tablecloth dining overlooking stunning Lake Superior.
The restaurant has a bit of a German theme to it, but also serves many other types of dishes, all made in house by the talented crew that works here. You can try a Jager Schnitzel with spaetzle and mushroom sauce, or a seared Lake Superior whitefish that is as fresh as can be. Desserts are a standout, as is the professional service at Harbor Haus.
Insider’s tip: there is one room you can rent on site. The Crow’s Nest Luxury Suite, features a whirlpool bath, cathedral ceiling, custom woodwork and a panoramic view of Lake Superior. Book it quick, as it is super popular.
Thrasher’s Bear Lake Tavern
360 Ruddiman Drive
Muskegon, MI 49445
Opening date: March 30
A charming waterfront spot that highlights Muskegon history, Thrasher’s Bear Lake Tavern is a bright spot lined with windows that overlook Bear Lake Channel that runs out to Muskegon Lake. In fact, you can pull your boat up right out front and dock it, and then either head inside to dine, or lounge outside on the patio or the ‘beach’ that owner Hoby Thrasher has build out front.
Drinks are cold and strong, and the margaritas here are some of the best, with fresh squeezed juice. Pair them up with the BLT’s famous Grandma Popcorn, a salty rich little treat that is perfect with a beverage. Hot popped corn gets tossed with crispy bacon, Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. You can get anything from salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups, but seafood is the real star here. Fried perch is popular, and they offer a variety of other fresh fish dishes, including halibut, grouper and walleye.
Churchill Pointe Inn
5700 Bennett Rd
Hubbard Lake, MI 49747
Opening date: June 17
Over two decades ago, Don and Sharon Geib were “looking for another life,” which they found at the Churchill Pointe Inn, which was built in 1926, and is located on crystal clear, 8,800-acre Hubbard Lake.
The couple, who are from Rochester, bought the inn and started over in the restaurant business. Needless to say, they figured it all out, and are currently killing it here, with help from their son, Andy, who is the talented chef here, and their charming daughter-in-law, Ashley, who runs the front of the house. “It’s fine dining on the lake,” Sharon Geib said. “So you can wear your shorts.”
It’s a big menu of traditional dishes, with a few twists thrown in. You can get broiled escargot, something you don’t really find very much anymore. Their version is exemplary, a super classic dish of tender snails lounging in a rich, garlicky butter that is just waiting for you to soak it up with the crispy toast that comes alongside. The bright and fresh Tuna Poke Stack is graced with creamy avocado, diced sashimi tuna slicked with soy and sesame, and topped with just a hint of crunch from crispy wontons. The stuffed portabella comes out overflowing with a rich crab cake filling, and then laced with a spicy Sriracha mayo.
Sit back on the deck in the sun, and soak up the greatness that is a Michigan summer at Churchill Pointe Inn.
Karl’s Cuisine, Winery & Brewery
447 W Portage Ave.
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
Opening date: aiming for May 1
One of our stops on our search for Michigan’s Best waterfront restaurant, Karl’s Cuisine sits right across the street from the locks, and has a great view of the ships passing through from the second story deck. Karl and Paula Nelson own and run the restaurant, with Karl as the head chef. They opened Karl’s Cuisine in 2006. The last few years have been a bit rough for the couple, from the pandemic, to aging out of the work the restaurant industry demands, to not being able to find the staff to help run the restaurant.
This season, they once again are struggling to find enough employees to provide the level of service that they expect. “We are changing the way we do our services and have downsized our menu drastically,” Paula Nelson said. Karl has been working as a chef for over 45 years now, and just can’t keep up the pace needed without looking at real, life long debilitating issues. This is a real concern for the couple, who are close to 60. “In order to protect the last good 10 years of a quality life, after 70′s it surely can go downhill quick physically, we have no choice but to sell,” Paula Nelson said. “It was a very difficult and sad decision but the right one for us personally. We are both so tired emotionally and physically.”
Have you always wanted to move to the U.P.? Own your very own restaurant, that comes with with a great reputation already built up? Karl’s Cuisine is available, and you can reach out to the Nelson’s if you are interested. “If you know of anyone who wants good U.P. living with a place that has the best dog gone view around, send them our way,” Paula Nelson said.
The Nelson’s are planning on opening on or around May 1, with the abbreviated menu, for both dine in and carry out. Karl’s Cuisine truly is the best place in the Soo to sit outside and watch the freighters cruise by, and to get to do it while dining on some seriously creative and delicious cuisine, how awesome is that?
Mike’s on the Water
24600 Jefferson Ave.
St Clair Shores, MI 48080
Opening date: April 7
A great spot for boaters on the Nautical Mile on Lake St. Clair in St. Clair Shores, Mikes on the Water offers great food, amazing drinks, and a lively patio.
Originally opened as a burger bar by owner Mike LeFevre, Mike’s is much more than that. It’s a big, open air spot, with plenty of space to spread out. You can arrive by boat, and directions on how to do that can be found on the website. Deck hands are available to help during busy times.
Cocktails are king here, so order up. During our visit, longtime employee, and all around fun gal, Peggy Hoover, introduced us to her signature drink. Peggy’s Punch, which is a lovely concoction of raspberry Stoli vodka, peach schnapps, Malibu coconut rum, pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine. We highly recommend the lobster roll, which comes stuffed with both claw and tail, a bit of crunchy chopped celery, and coated with just the right amount of mayo. You’ll also find burgers, peel-and-eat shrimp, fish tacos and even a fried bologna sandwich.
7221 Main St
Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Opening date: May 7
It’s always ‘yachts and yachts of fun’ at the Pink Pony, one of the most popular spots on Mackinac Island. Located at the Chippewa Hotel, and overlooking the beautiful harbor, the Pony is pretty much rocking every single day of the summer.
While it might be a hot spot for tourists, it is also where local residents and seasonal workers gather every day. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as hosting musicians most nights, the Pony seems to always be busy. Grab a cold draft beer, they feature many Michigan breweries here, or one of their famous Rum Runners, which we recommend you get with a floater.
Food includes classics like smoked whitefish dip, wings, soft pretzels, burgers and fish and chips. You will also find things like wild mushroom risotto, a Boursin stuffed chicken breast, and several unique pasta dishes.
The Pony has scheduled a full line up of entertainment for the season, so fingers crossed that this will be able to happen.
The Pink Pony shop will open on April 30, and you can get all the new gear for 2021 here.
880 Holland St
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Opening date: April 8
We first went to The Southerner on our search for Michigan’s Best Fried Chicken, and promptly named them some of the best in the state. The restaurant decided to close down this winter, but is reopening on April 8.
Chef Matt Millar’s family hails from Appalachia, and his restaurant, The Southerner uses food to tell his Nana’s story and what she valued about great fried chicken and food in general. The focus here is high quality, local ingredients, with a back to basics approach, but interpreted by a highly trained chef.
The chicken is marinated for 48 hours, and pressure fried. It’s nice and salty, very moist, with a great crust. The sides take equal importance here, with grits, mac and cheese, and greens all making an appearance. The biscuits are to die for. In addition to the traditional fried chicken, they offer Nashville Hot chicken, and it was the best we had. Order both kinds, and dream of the South.
More Michigan’s Best:
These are the best doughnuts in Michigan: a baker’s dozen of winners
These are the 10 best burgers in Michigan
The ultimate guide to Michigan’s Best Fish Fry 2021
Michigan’s Best Mexican Restaurants – Top 10 List
32 must-visit Italian Restaurants in Michigan
44 must-visit waterfront restaurants in Michigan
30 delicious chilis to spoon up all winter long
Ultimate UP road trip
All of Michigan’s Best in one spot
Follow our Michigan’s Best adventures on social media:
@mlivemibest on Twitter
@mlivemibest on Instagram
Facebook at MLiveMIBest.
Join in by using the hashtags #mibest