BY AMY SHERMAN | asherma2@mlive.com and JOHN GONZALEZ | gonzo@mlive.com

The search for Michigan’s Most Iconic Restaurant revealed classic dining spots, hidden gems, and longtime favorites all over the state. The journey took us from hip, urban settings to rural abodes, from the streets of Detroit to the shores of Superior, and we are happy to reveal our Top 12 picks.

These are the restaurants that have a history, whether they’ve been open for 25 years or 100. The spots that honor not just their own story, but very often the history of the building in which they reside. We visited a mansion built by a lumber baron and a Northern Michigan log inn that were both constructed in 1894, a cafe located in the basement of a building that was erected in the 1920’s, and a restaurant in a renovated church.

We were looking for those incredible spots across Michigan that have been open for years, and yet remain a favorite to this day. Places that have become destinations for generations of diners. The restaurants where you go to celebrate something important.  Spots that serve up delicious dishes that you can only get there, or places that are just beloved by the locals and regulars for always serving up quality, well-made food.

We’ve come up with quite a list of iconic restaurants. They range from white-tablecloth, put-your-fancy-clothes-on spots, to a deli where anything goes, so feel free to wear your flip flops and yoga pants. All of our spots feature incredible homemade food, with great attention to detail and the use of quality ingredients. 

We loved hearing the personal stories and histories associated with these restaurants, told to us by enthusiastic and passionate owners and staff. It’s these hard workers who really make these spots so special, and we thank them for creating such iconic restaurants for all of Michigan to enjoy.

#2-Legs Inn

6425 N Lake Shore Drive

Harbor Springs, MI, 49740

231-526-2281

Established 1921

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 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. 

 

Everywhere you turn, there is something else to see, from amazing, carved wooden sculptures, to antler chandeliers, to stunning and varied taxidermy, and even a Zoltar machine to get your fortune from. "It really takes multiple visits to appreciate all the things that he (Stanley Smolak, the builder) built," Mark Smolak said. There is also a big outdoor seating area, which is the perfect spot to catch the sun setting over Lake Michigan.

 

Zoltar will be able to accurately predict that you are about to indulge in some pretty incredible Polish food here at Legs. The Taste of Poland gets you all your staples in one spot, 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. All the whitefish is locally caught, and we were particularly taken with the Polanaise, a broiled filet that comes topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions, and liberally sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Babcia’s Potato Pancakes are crispy on the outside, filled with tender potato on the inside, and best with both the bright and fruity applesauce and the tangy sour cream.  

 

We have to give a special shout-out to the amazing whitefish dip they make in-house here. Fresh smoked fish gets lightly mixed into a creamy, not-too-smokey, and not-too-smooth dip.It’s one of the best we’ve ever had, and the perfect start to your meal. 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. Don't miss the over one hundred beers they have available here, as well as a big assortment of Polish wines, liquors and schnapps.

 

The Smolak family has been the proud owners of the Inn since they built it in 1921. Currently run by George and Kathy Smolak, and their two sons, Mark and Chris, they have three generations of family working here. There is a lot of history within these walls. You can sense the pride that the family has in both the building and the business they have created here.

“This place is dear to my heart. It was built by my blood, it’s recognized by families, and it is a most unique place. We’ve created a destination,” George Smolak said.

Comment