Just a 90-minute drive from Chicago, Michigan's Harbor Country is fast becoming a culinary destination. Located just over the Indiana border on Lake Michigan, the area has classic restaurants that have been around for decades and cool craft beer desinations, doughnut shops and more, which combine to make the area so much more than antique shopping and sandy beaches.
RECOMMENDED: Weekend getaways from Chicago
At 8am on a Saturday morning, the line at this adorable, tiny coffee and doughnut shop begins to trail out the door. If you aren't up bright and early, you might not even make it inside before it sells out. Hello Donuts (13057 Red Arrow Highway, Sawyer), which started as a Kickstarter project by two sisters, specializes in baked doughnuts. Because they're not fried, they're not the fatty treats you're used to—think of them more as glazed muffins made with local products such as Greenbush beer glazes. We were particularly smitten with the French Breakfast doughnut, made with raised dough, filled with a light Mascarpone cheese cream, rolled in cinnamon sugar and topped with a raspberry.
Don't be seduced by the fancy beach-side restaurants lining the harbor a few hundred yards down the street—David's (30 N Whittaker St, New Buffalo), with its no-frills interior and assorted wobbly high-tops, is the best place for lunch in New Buffalo. There are plenty of coffee and sandwich options scribbled on the chalkboard menu over the counter, but you can't miss out on the classic David's reuben. Served on crispy toasted rye bread, spread with creamy Thousand Island dressing and topped with mounds of pastrami and sauerkraut, this verstion will put you in sandwich heaven (and the housemade pickles aren't half bad, either).
Pleasant House Three Oaks
The new outpost of Bridgeport's Pleasant House Bakery is located in the small city center of Three Oaks (9 N Elm St). Featuring the restaurant group's first brewery, the bright and cheery space offers four rotating choices on tap, a handful of which are brewed using unique local ingredients. We were taken with the Le Chiffre, a golden strong ale brewed with botanicals left over from gin production at nearby Journeyman Distillery. The menu includes the same classic meat pies that you can find in Chicago, along with pickled eggs and other classic British pub bites. Daily specials include a charcuterie board filled with meaty snacks and other goodies.
Terrace Room at the Harbor Grand
The deck overlooking the water is prime dining real estate during the busy summer season, so you'll need reservations at this spot tucked into the bottom of the Harbor Grand hotel complex (111 W Water St, New Buffalo). The Italian menu's standout is the handmade pastas, from gnocchi and ravioli to pappardelle bolognese. Lighter options are available, too—we recommend the local trout served with farro and sauteed spinach. As a finishing touch, the bill arrives alongside Italian wedding cookies complete with rainbow sprinkles.
Beat the crowds and get to Journeyman (109 Generation Dr, Three Oaks) early to score a seat at the bar (you can sober up afterward with a leisurely stroll among the shops of Three Oaks). The knowledgeable staff with guide you through its collection of spirits and recommend a tasting flight based on your preferences. If cocktails are your poison, the Lavender Gimlet, made with lavender-infused Bilberry Black Hearts Gin, is sweet-and-sour gimlet perfection, and all of the barrel-aged cocktails—especially the Negroni—are not to be missed. Don't drink on an empty stomach, either. Pace yourself with chewy soft-baked pretzels and warm cheese spread, or the charcuterie plate with meats from Drier's down the street. Reservations can be made in advance online for tours of the distillery on Saturdays, and include a tasting at the end.
Greenbush Brewing Taproom
The taproom at this popular brewery (5885 Sawyer Rd, Sawyer) is filled to capacity during the summer months and spills out onto the patio outside. The beer menu rotates with the brewery's seasonal offerings, with 12 drafts available in both 6- and 16-ounce pours, or you can make your own mix-and-match flight. There's an extensive food menu as well, featuring everything from pulled-pork sandwiches and bacon-wrapped meatloaf to pizza, but if you want something small, don't miss the housemade pub cheese featuring Michigan cheddar and served with pretzels from the snack menu. You can also take plenty home with you to enjoy later—Greenbush's beers are available in growlers and bottles.
Drier's Meat Market
With floorboards covered in sawdust, this classic butcher shop (14 S Elm St) has been in Three Oaks for more than 100 years. The assortment of meats and cheeses change, but we've never tasted a meat here we didn't like—the house smoked bacon and the homemade sausages are especially stellar and the liverwurst (at Drier's, it's labeled "Liverbest") is creamy and delicious. Cheese tubs come in an assortment of flavors—head a block up the street for a giant thin rosemary flatbread from Froehlich's (26 N Elm St) and you've got yourself a picnic. Bring home a jar or two of its housemade mustard mixed with freshly ground horseradish, some of the best we've ever tasted, and slather it on everything.