Mother Nature has finally delivered a winter wonderland to northern Michigan, blanketing our small towns in white. While some may prefer the fast pace of snowmobiling or downhill skiing, others are looking for a more relaxed experience that pairs snowy fun with delicious fare. Winter is also a great time to experience a quieter side of area restaurants, with warm fireplaces, quaint dining rooms, menu specials, wine dinners, and more.
Tucked in the lower level of Stafford’s Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey, the Noggin Room is the place to meet up with friends for a dish of free popcorn, followed by a burger and a beer (and so much more). Live music and Trivia are hosted on select nights as well.
Roast & Toast in downtown Petoskey is so much more than a house-roast coffee shop, it is a great place to grab a breakfast wrap, soup flight (with over 100 housemade recipes in rotation), savory rice bowl, hearty sandwich or healthy salad, along with a variety of homemade baked goodies like scones and cookies. There’s even a menu with all the kids’ favorites! And of course, there is a plethora of warm beverages including many seasonal offerings to enjoy on-site or on the go.
The Petoskey Wine Region is comprised of 14 distinct locations, including Boyne Valley Vineyards on US-131 between Petoskey and Walloon Lake. This barn-style tasting room features a large indoor fireplace providing a warm backdrop for sipping vino and nibbling on charcuterie, pretzel bites, spicy feta cheese spread, and other appetizers—including a dessert plate. Outside, you’ll find two igloos available for reservation by wine club members or on a first-come, first-served basis for others (for 90 minutes maximum). Be on the lookout for the newest gathering spot on site, a heated converted grain silo that will hold 12 to 15 guests (replacing tepees previously erected). Before and/or after sips and snacks, visitors can borrow a pair of snowshoes and head out into the woodlands to explore the nature trails around the winery.
Head off the beaten path with a visit to another unique winery Burnt Marshmallow Brewstillery and Rudbeckia Winery in Petoskey, where the firepit and a variety of adult beverages are waiting to warm you up. In addition to craft beers, wines, and creative cocktails, you’ll find a variety of light food options like the unique “Amazing Grill Cheese and Chocolate” sandwich, “Kielbasa Sampler Cold Plate,” “Flight of 5 Salsas and Tortilla Chips” and “Sensational S’Mores” with 14 different flavor choices.
Those looking for an elevated private dining experience should check out The Varnish Room at Walloon Lake Inn. The new space was inspired by the classic wooden boats—like Chris Craft, HackerCraft, Century, and Riva—that have motored around this lake for generations, with polished mahogany and brass fixtures. Available for groups of four to 14, this space is open by reservation only.
Boyne City’s Café Sante exudes a classic European vibe with a menu full of French and Italian fare and an expansive beverage list (including the alluring and mystical spirit, absinthe). During the winter months—as locals know—for dine-in service, you can score an artisan woodfired pizza every Monday for just $5, and on Thursdays, it’s $10 Italian Pasta Dinners (with just $5 more to add a small Caesar salad or Tiramisu). A year-round program of note is the Food Pantry Fundraiser – on the first Thursday of every month, Café Sante donates 5$ of gross sales to area food pantries (and over the years, that amount has exceeded $200,000).
Just a few blocks away, Stigg’s Brewery offers an impressive list of beers crafted on-site along with a hearty and mouth-watering menu. For something fun, reserve one of their two Stigloos for $20 (for 1:50). On Fridays and Saturdays, the fire pits are also burning hot to keep everyone warm on even the chilliest Michigan winter day.
The highlight of Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls is the new year-round SkyBridge—at 1,200-foot-long and 118-foot-high, it is the longest timber-towered suspension bridge in the world. The SkyBridge Snowshoe Supper is a new way to experience this modern marvel. Take a ride on the famed Hemlock chairlift and then walk across the lighted bridge, followed by a hot toddy at Disciple’s Overlook and a guided snowshoe hike ending at Stein Eriksen’s for a prime rib and shrimp buffet. Available on Saturday nights through March 9 (with two events per night) for $130 per person (with a cash bar).
On the outskirts of Harbor Springs, Pond Hill Farms provides a true country experience with cross-country ski and snowshoe trails as well as a free sledding hill for kids of all ages. Inside the café, farm-brewed beer, wine, and cider along with woodfired pizza, soups, and sandwiches, are sure to satisfy. The Winter Music Series returns every Saturday evening in the outdoor heated tent.
The Highlands of Harbor Springs is again offering its three-course Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinners on select dates through the end of February. Starting with a sleigh ride to the North Peak, guests are greeted with a bonfire before settling inside for a candlelight dinner in an intimate cabin setting while live acoustic music fills the air. Reservations are required for this limited event with just six dates left for the 2024 season (January 27; February 3, 10, 17-18, 24).
A local favorite is the “All You Can Eat” (up to 1.5 pounds) of King Crab on Wednesday evenings at The New York Restaurant in Harbor Springs (for market price). Other popular offerings are the Friday Burger Night and Sunday three-course dinner. This quaint eatery delivers a fine dining experience, along with wine dinners and tastings and early dining specials (25% off entrees when seated by 5:30 pm).
Most people know Vernales in Harbor Springs for its sports bar or large dining room perfect for families, but there is also the cozy Wine Cellar with its fireplace and six-seat bar perfect for a romantic escape. Known as one of Michigan’s premier steakhouses, you’ll also find a selection of seafood, pasta, and other mouth-watering dishes and an impressive wine list.
The Winter Garden Café adjacent to the Main Lodge at Nub’s Nob in Harbor Springs is a popular gathering place for friends and families taking a break from the slopes. Featuring a central fire ring, outdoor heaters, in-ground heat, and picnic tables, it is perfect for a casual winter al fresco meal from the to-go window or a beverage from the pub.
Stretching along Little Traverse Bay, The Inn at Bay Harbor is home to The Vintage Chop House—a smart, upscale restaurant with water views and a warming fireplace. All winter, enjoy Wednesday evening “Prime Rib Night” and Thursday “Wine Night” with 20% off both bottles and glass pours. Looking for a place to take your sweetie? Check out Vintage’s Valentine’s Dinner on February 14th with a special menu. Coming up April 12-14, the award-winning Michigan winery Black Star Farms is hosting a special educational weekend complete with tasting sessions and a seven-course wine dinner (SOLD OUT).
The historic Chautauqua of Bay View, just north of downtown Petoskey, essentially closes down during the winter months—except for The Terrace Inn and its 1911 Restaurant, which is a hidden gem. Travel the quiet, tranquil streets up to this historic inn and enjoy a classic dinner like planked whitefish, m,bone-in pork chop, and wagyu sirloin, along with tasty desserts including crème brulee, English pudding, and Michigan apple tart.
Unique dining options and experiences change with the seasons in the Petoskey area so be sure to check out our Unique Dining page on our website, current area events, and follow us on Facebook for the latest.
About the Author: Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and the author of the best-selling books “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” and “Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes.” She loves traveling around the Great Lakes state, with Hemingway country being among her favorite destinations.