Category Archives: Food and Drink

Leigh’s Garden Winery: A “Fruitful” Endeavor in the U.P.’s “Banana Belt”

A Taste of Bay de Noc Red, a sweet-wine produced by Leigh's Garden Winery at the Escanaba, MI winery.

A Taste of Bay de Noc Red, a sweet-wine produced by Leigh’s Garden Winery at the Escanaba, MI winery.

Who would have thought that Delta County could be a great place to produce international award-winning wines? Leigh Schmidt did. Well, at least he had a hunch that the area could be. In 2009, he opened Leigh’s Garden Winery in downtown Escanaba and each year has proven more fruitful than the last.

Leigh learned a bit about wine-making as a home-winemaker several years before retirement and planted his first cold climate grape vines in his backyard at his Escanaba home. Wanting to find vines that would survive in a climate like the U.P., he stumbled across the Minnesota Grape Grower Association and after several years of learning about the cold climate grapes being hybridized by the University of Minnesota, he planted a small vineyard in south Bark River on property leased in 2006.

After three years of caring and pruning and growing the grapes, his colleagues at the Minnesota Grape Growers Association pressured him to get started with the wine-making. By this time he was retired and could spend time in this “hobby”, not expecting half of what it has become today. Encouraged by community support and a fool-hardy stupidity, he invested in an historic building downtown which featured a bar as part of the tasting room and an empty cellar which became the winery production location. He established contact with two growers who were also growing Univ. of Minnesota hybrids and would supply him with quality grapes. He decided to take a leap of faith and made the move forward, not knowing the reception the winery would get, nor if it would endure through the very tight years of 2008 and beyond.

As word about the locally-made wines spread by word of mouth and some very limited advertisement, Leigh grew from 400 gallons the first year to 1,100 gallons in 2014. Leigh’s Garden Winery is now able to provide wine on a yearly basis to our local customers and the many tourists they see annually.They have also become a sort of information center about Escanaba’s downtown area, which he refers to as Old Escanaba. “We do our best to not only serve customers a taste of wine, but also project the friendly side of Escanaba.” says Leigh.

Leigh's Garden Winery offers Award Winning Wines in their Escanaba, MI Tasting Room.

Leigh’s Garden Winery offers Award Winning Wines in their Escanaba, MI Tasting Room.

In 2014, Leigh entered 5 of his wines in an international competition at the Cold Climate Grape Competition held in Minneapolis, MN and brought home 5 medals; three bronze, one silver and one gold.

Leigh and his staff offer approximately 15 varieties at the start of their season, which is April annually. They carry wines that are sweet, semi-sweet, and dry in both red and white varieties, trying to provide for the variety in taste of customers. They also feature some associated products and souvenirs, but let’s face it, people go to the winery for wine. When visiting the winery guests (21 years of age & older) receive two complimentary tastes of wine, or they can purchase a Leigh’s Garden Winery souvenir glass with 6 tastes. They offer this because they think customers should be able to taste a wine before they purchase it. Leigh is always quick to remind customers that his wines are made in very limited quantities and sell out in short periods of time, or over the course of the year.

Their home at 904 Ludington Street has been upgraded with some minor changes during winter months making the setting more appealing, relaxing and enjoyable to customers. The building they are housed in went up in 1881 and has some features related to the era. The bar, was added to the building in 1972, when Marlys Thone purchased it from King’s Bar once located a bit further up Ludington Street.

Customers enjoying a taste of wine at Leigh's Garden Winery

Customers enjoying a taste of wine at Leigh’s Garden Winery.

Leigh’s favorite part of what he does is the people that come through the door, locals and tourists. “They come in not knowing what to expect or having a preconceived notion of small mid-west wineries, and we just knock that out of their heads with our wines, our service and our friendliness. But you can find this all through downtown, friendly owners who work their shops, attend to and appreciate their customers, engage you in conversation, and are involved in their community. I know this sounds like an advertisement, but it is such a great place to do business, that once someone finds us, they come back.”

When Leigh isn’t busy serving customers his wines, he keeps busy tending the wines in the cellar or the vines in the vineyard, picking the grapes in season, and spending time with family and friends. Leigh has lived in Escanaba for over 40 years after moving here from Cleveland, Ohio and marrying “a local girl” as he says. Connie Bichler and Leigh met at NMU, and her first job as an elementary teacher for the Escanaba Area Schools brought them back to her hometown, Escanaba. He took a job with the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD. They raised two children, Emily and Soren in Escanaba and retired together about 11 years ago. Leigh says his connection to the Escanaba area grew stronger with each year as he learned to appreciate the people, the slower pace of life that was so different than a large city and the joy of nature here.

Leigh Schmidt, The Wine Maker in the Vineyard

Leigh Schmidt, The Wine Maker in the Vineyard

To learn more about Leigh’s Garden Winery, stop into the tasting room and chat with Leigh yourself. If you aren’t able to do get to the winery in-person, head over to their Facebook page where updates about winery happenings are posted on the regular.

– Written by Escanaba resident Carrie Bartel.

Dobber’s Pasties

A pasty from Dobbers in Escanaba

A pasty from Dobbers in Escanaba

Mix together hard work and tradition, some spices, rutabagas and some other local fresh ingredients; bake them in a delicious crust and you’ve got a Dobber’s Pasty. Originally called the “Red Onion Pasty Shop” and located in Negaunee, MI in the 1960’s, Dobber’s Pasties has been serving up their version of the staple of Upper Peninsula culture and cuisine for generations.

Brad Mantela, owner since 2008, and the third generation of his family to serve the Yooper delicacy, has brought the business into today’s competitive age. He introduced their website, revamped their facility to become USDA compliant as well as modernized the production process with new equipment. As one of the only USDA certified pasty production facilities in the Upper Peninsula, Dobber’s is able to ship their pasties to all 50 states and make products for wholesale and fundraising activities. The USDA certification was a very important step for Brad and his staff, it required them to change the layout, material, and equipment and have a federal USDA inspector in the facility every day they are in production. The hardworking employees at Dobber’s produce 10,000 pasties a week.

dobbers pastys escanaba michigan Folding crusts for post 2Brad knows that Dobber’s is truly something special, after all he and his wife Josie elected to carry on the family tradition in 2008 after the passing of his mother, Bonnie. She and his father Doug, who was nicknamed Dobber as a child, brought the pasty shop to Escanaba in 1975. That iconic name was added in 1989. “[In] our particular business, pasties, we are a destination for people. People are always telling us how they always stop in on their vacation. How they found us on the internet and sought us out. How someone told them they must have a Dobber’s Pasty. I should charge people to take their picture in front of our sign. You can’t believe how many people do that and take pictures of themselves or people in their group eating pasties.”

According to their customers, Dobber’s serves the BEST pasties in the Upper Peninsula (or anywhere outside of their own mother’s kitchen). They make pasties for both of their locations, Iron Mountain and Escanaba, in the Escanaba kitchen. They peel fresh local potatoes, chop and blend beef from whole muscle fresh meat, and hand peel 300 pounds of rutabagas a week. Along with the traditional beef pasty, they offer five other varieties; veggie, chicken, breakfast, ham & cheese, and pizza. While all are popular and delicious, the beef pasty remains the most popular and sought after. Want to learn more about what it takes to make a pasty? They also offer pasty making tours to visitors and community groups. In Brad’s words, “You get a little tour, history, and you get to make, bake, and eat your very own pasty.”

dobbers pastys escanaba michigan pasty closeup 2Brad sincerely values the communities his business has grown in, both in Escanaba and Iron Mountain. “When you need help, you can call just about anyone else in business and they will do amazing things to help. We know how special it is to be part of this unique business community, and I love the support from across the U.P.”

For Brad, his business and his life are really one in the same and he thoroughly enjoys it. “In fact, even though I am far from it, I had an employee ask me how I could ever retire. She could never see me not having my days filled with something business related. I have to agree.” Managing the day to day operations at Dobber’s keeps Brad busy, but he finds time to enjoy the typical U.P. activities; hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, off-roading with his wife and two children, Gabe and Victoria. Somehow he manages to find time to be very active in the community as a member of the Escanaba Rotary Club, a board member for the Gladstone Planning Commission, a precinct delegate for the Delta County Republicans, as well as an active member at St. Anne Catholic Church.

Brad looks forward to carrying on his family’s tradition for pasty making for many years to come. So, on your next trip through Escanaba or Iron Mountain, take a moment to stop in to Dobber’s and bring home a bit of Upper Peninsula history to your family. Head over to www.dobberspasties.com and send a pasty (or a dozen) to your out-of-town friends and family, we’re certain they will enjoy the Yooper sentiment.

Phone: (906) 786-1880
Address: 827 N. Lincoln Rd. Escanaba, MI 49829
Website: www.dobberspasties.com

Main Street Pizza – Gladstone

main street pizza gladstone michigan3Main Street Pizza in Gladstone, Michigan is a great place to grab a quick lunch or dinner when you’re out and about in the Escanaba – Gladstone area.

Located in downtown Gladstone, about a mile from the Gladstone ski and tubing hill, Main Street makes a convenient spot for a meal.

If you want to take a break from snow tubing to warm up, or you’re traveling through the area and want a quick sit down meal (but feel like steering clear of the fast food joints) then this is a great option.

I stopped in to Main Street pizza with my son and a friend of his to break up a terrific day of snow tubing at the Gladstone hill. The staff was friendly and helpful and the small seating area had updated décor and was very clean.

We ordered our pizza, grabbed sodas from their soda fountain, and sat down to warm up from the cold.

main street pizza gladstone michigan7About fifteen minutes later a beautiful, piping hot pizza was brought out to us on a tray. They also had shakers of parmesan, red pepper flakes and oregano on the table, which was a bonus.

The pizza was great (not too greasy, great sauce), the kids were happy, and on our way out they even offered us a free gelato for dining in.

Main Street Pizza’s slogan is “Pizza, Subs and More” so yes, they have more than just pizza. They have a pretty full menu, with pizza, salads, sandwiches, appetizers and desserts.

Overall it was a great experience and we’ll definitely be back. I see this being our default lunch spot when snow tubing in Gladstone.

– Written by Jesse Land of Thingstodointheup.com on behalf of the Bays de Noc Visitor’s Bureau.

My Visit to the Nahma Inn

nahma inn nahma michigan8The Nahma Inn is a unique lodging and dining venue located about fifty minutes east of Escanaba, forty minutes from Fayette State Park and forty minutes from Kitch-iti-Kippi (“The Big Spring”).

Built in 1909 for employees of the Bay de Noquet Lumber Company, the Nahma Inn remains one of the most impressive and unique buildings in the area. It’s been restored with much of the original detail intact.

Today, the Nahma Inn boasts a bar area that serves great food, spirits and often hosts live music, as well as a separate dining room for more formal dining. The Inn also features fourteen guest rooms, with one of them said to be haunted by the spirit of “Miss Nell.”

nahma inn nahma michigan7My Experience at the Nahma Inn

I’ve been to the Nahma Inn twice and both experiences have been great. In fact, I’m looking forward to going back and spending the night. (Just not in “Nell’s room”.)

The first time I visited, my dad and I sat in the Arrow Lounge (the bar), ate an appetizer and sipped a couple Keweenaw Brewing Company beers. I had an awesomely messy burger and my dad had a whitefish sandwich, both were excellent. It was a warm, weekday summer night and I was surprised to see how busy the bar area was. A few patrons slipped out onto the deck to watch the sunset and an employee arranged speakers for the live music that would take place later on.

Charley McIntosh, the owner, stopped by to chat with us and then ended up giving us a tour of not only the Inn, but also the old general store next door. (The store was featured on the TV show American Pickers.) We were impressed with how friendly all the staff were, even by U.P. standards.

nahma inn nahma michigan13Since the food, service and overall atmosphere were so excellent, as we left my dad (an avid motorcycle rider) brainstormed how he could plan a bike trip around the area so he and his group of friends could end up staying at the Nahma Inn. And I was thinking about how it’d be the perfect place to get away with my wife for a weekend.

As we left, a man from nearby Iron Mountain stopped Charley to tell him how impressed he was with the place. He’d seen the the Inn on American Pickers, he said, but before that had never heard of it. He told Charley that he and his wife loved the place and were already planning their return trip.

I have a feeling that sort of thing happens a lot.

With its central location to both the Escanaba and Manistique area’s, as well as it’s historic charm and great service, it makes sense to pay a visit to this unique and well-preserved part of Upper Peninsula history on your next trip to the U.P.!

Address: 13747 Main Street Nahma, MI 49864

Phone:  (906) 644-2486

Website: http://www.nahmainn.com

Facebook: The Nahma Inn Facebook Page

Written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of the Bays de Noc Visitor’s Bureau.