Blending Flavors

Yummy specialty pizzas and wine tastings add spice to a foodie’s west Michigan travels
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Pangea’s Pizza offers a tasty mix of specialty creations, all with a distinctive blend of flavors and extra touches. // Photo courtesy of Pangea’s Pizza

West Michigan rates as a paradise for foodies, especially for those with a taste for wine and pizza. Traveling food-lovers are in luck, as both family-owned pizza shops offering specialty pies and dozens of vineyards dot the coastline, from the southwest corner of the state all the way up to the tip of the mitt.

  • In downtown Traverse City, one local favorite is Pangea’s Pizza. “It’s definitely become a pretty good spot for visitors and locals alike, particularly in the summer,” says owner Chris Mohrhardt.

The restaurant is known for its specialty pizzas including the loaded potato pizza, which comes with cheese, thinly sliced potatoes, scallions, bacon, and white truffle oil. Other specialty pies include the BLT, BBQ chicken, chicken Alfredo, and Caribbean jerk.

“We bring a unique blend of flavors and take those extra steps,”  Mohrhardt adds.  “You can taste it in our food. Instead of bringing cheese in bags into the kitchen, we shred the cheese fresh, on-site, from blocks. We make the sauce fresh, we make the dough fresh. It gives people that flavor profile they want from a pizza, and we do it consistently well.”

Pangea’s has room for more than 130 patrons on the roof deck and bar, which offers views of downtown, the marina, and portions of Grand Traverse Bay.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards is known for its history, wines named after family dogs, and views of Grand Traverse Bay. // Photo courtesy of Bowers Harbor Vineyards
  • Bowers Harbor Vineyards, about 10 miles north of downtown Traverse City, is Old Mission Peninsula’s second-oldest winery.

“We’re pretty well known for our dog wines,” says tasting room manager Bethany Poineau. “Those wines are named after the owners’ previous dogs.”

The winery’s 2021 Cooper White is named after the family’s beloved Bernese mountain dog, while the Brix Sparkling Wine is bubbly and friendly, just like the family’s former dog, Brix, who greeted customers in the tasting room.

“It’s a family-owned vineyard, so the family lives on-site,” Poineau says.  “The son planted a lot of the vines on the property himself, with his parents. There’s a lot of family history here. It used to be a horse farm and a working farm.”

Bowers Harbor Vineyards, which produces between 22,000 and 28,000 cases of wine annually, gives visitors a feel for the agriculture aspect of the business, in addition to views of Grand Traverse Bay. The estate totals 50 acres and the varietals grown include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Chuck Wagon makes its own sauce and loves to pile on the toppings. // Photo courtesy of The Chuck Wagon
  • In Ludington, the Chuck Wagon is another family pizza business known for its excessive toppings. It makes its own sauce and dough, and grates its own sausage. Everything is homemade. The restaurant’s most popular item is its meat pizza with pepperoni, ham, sausage, bacon, and burger.
  • Three miles away you’ll find Love Wines, which uses local fruit and grapes grown on-site at the lakeside winery and tasting room. Its offerings include Muscat, Merlot, Marquette, and dessert wines including Classic White, Michigan Marquette, and Driftwood.

Love Wines’ Toes in the Sand, a strawberry-peach lemonade-style wine, is its signature blend and is affectionately known as “Ludington Lemonade.”

  • When in southwest Michigan’s Union Pier, check out the Round Barn Tasting Room and Union Pier Social.

“What’s really great about the Round Barn, and what I love, is we have something for everyone — from your really sweet wines to drier options,” says Meagan Veldman, social media and public relations representative for Moersch Hospitality Group. “There’s something that appeals to everyone. You can find a new favorite every time.”

Black Walnut Cream, a dessert cream wine, is a favorite, along with the canned sangrias and craft brews.

Union Pier Social offers great food, a family atmosphere, and live music. The restaurant has a large menu that includes 12-inch Italian-style pizzas with a variety of sauce bases. Pizza options include the Margherita; The Jerk, with chicken and BBQ sauce; chicken bacon ranch; and cheesy peasy, with a blend of mozzarella and provolone cheeses.

  • Up north in Mackinaw City, fun picks are Mama Mia’s (home to a free Mackinaw Bridge museum) for pizza and Nicholas Black River Vineyard & Winery for wine.

Mama Mia’s gives guests a build-your-own-pizza option in addition to its menu of specialty pizzas, which includes the deluxe — two meats of your choice, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and green olives. A Philly pizza with roast beef, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese sauce, as well as the cheeseburger and sweet tango pizzas, round out the choices.

Nicholas Black River Vineyard & Winery, located within walking distance of Mama Mia’s, offers a variety of wines and free samples. Its selections include the Mighty Mac, which is a semi-sweet, smooth, and fruity red wine with hints of Greek spices, and the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Riesling, a new semi-sweet white wine with tropical fruits and a crispy finish.

What a delightful way for foodies to taste their way around west Michigan!

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