Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ironwood Dining Report

I'm a firm believer in eating local specialties. As long as they don't involve sheep's intestines or cobra hearts, that is. On our annual trip to Maine, I try to squeeze in at least a year's worth of lobster and locally made ice cream into a week's vacation. And so last week, as my wife and daughter and I traveled to the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I went scrounging for the local delicacy: Sloppy Joe on a Stick.

No, really, U.P. cuisine is all about pasties - basically, ground beef, potatoes, and sometimes other vegetables inside a pie crust pocket, which in turn is served in a little wax paper pocket, so you can throw it in your lunch bucket, if you happen to be a miner in the 1800s, or you can eat it while you're driving your pickup and talking on your cell phone, if you're a resident of Ironwood, Michigan.

My wife and I elected to eat our pasties at her grandmother's house, a technique I'd also recommend, as long as you call her in advance. [On a related note, if you do call her, she'll answer on an honest-to-God dial phone, which actually actually makes the following ringing noise: "Ring."] Our second night in Ironwood, we tried pasties from a different shop than we usually bought them, at which point, we became obsessed with comparing the variety of pasties available across town.

Because you will no doubt all be flocking to Ironwood, Michigan, immediately after you read this, I hereby present the Official 19 Minutes Guide to the Pasties of Ironwood, Michigan. None of them should completely frighten you off:

U.P. Pasty Express. If you're driving in from the west (which means you will have just reached the edge of the earth), the U.P. Pasty Express is the first pasty shop you will encounter on U.S. 2. It has a downtown outlet, too, improbably called "The Famous Pastry Kitchen," the extra 'r' apparently thrown in to confuse tourists. The Express outlet, which isn't any faster than the downtown outlet, is a storefront in a tiny strip mall. Like all the pasty shops we visited, the pasties are cheerfully baking away in a little oven behind the counter. The pasties here had the most distinctive crust of any that we had - a chewy bread crust seemingly from the sourdough family. The filling was less exciting - it would take a tough, Finnish miner to love the meat, potatoes and onions inside. Fortunately, there are a lot of descendants of tough, Finnish miners still left in the U.P., so the Pasty Express still has plenty of devotees. I am not one of them.

Joe's Pasty Shop. Joe's is the pasty shop you'd first encounter if you were driving in from the east (which means that you will have already been driving past the edge of the earth). Joe's has a drive-through window on U.S. 2, which is, tragically, closed on Sundays and Mondays. Fortunately, they, too, have a downtown outlet, and it's reportedly open seven days a week. Joe's traditional pasties - as opposed to the Cornish pasties, which also include rutabagas(!) - are consistently strong. They contain plenty of onions, too, which gives them a distinctive taste, but also makes them literally hard for me to stomach. The real highlight at Joe's is the concept of the breakfast pasty - which replaces the standard filling with eggs, ham, bacon, and cheese (and potatoes and a scattering of onions). My wife considered it a life-changing experience.

Rigoni's Bakery. Rigoni's was the wildcard on this trip to Ironwood. We had never even noticed it before, but it's across the street from a boat shop owned by relatives of my wife, and they pegged it as their favorite, so we gave it a try. It quickly became my favorite, as well. The beef was the highest quality of the three, and was a greater proportion of the filling than what we found in any of the other pasties. The crust was flaky and light, and the whole thing gave just the slightest hint that maybe we were eating something that doesn't quite qualify as health food. The only caveat is that they ran a little low on inventory towards the end of the day, so you'll probably want to make your Rigoni's run before 4:30 in the afternoon.

So there's your guide to the Pasty Shops of Ironwood, Michigan. Tune in next time as we try to locate the restaurants in Ironwood which offer cobra hearts.


suespez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suespez said...

There was a Pasty shop near a place i used to work at years ago. The running joke was that we were getting Pasties on our lunch break...

Um, then I needed to clarify that I meant the FOOD - not the nipple cover up. I always tended to mis pronounce it (past-y not paste-y)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mitch,
My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for blogs about Ironwood to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you soon!