From deep-dish pizza to buckeyes, the Midwest’s rich array of comfort foods can keep a group well fed from morning to night. Sampling these foods often doubles as a history lesson about your destination’s microcultures. By incorporating local food on your tour, there’s a deeper dimension to what’s hitting the palate. These Midwest food tours pack in local flavor and satisfy groups after a full day of exploring.

Known for its pasties, Keweenaw in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula developed the Keweenaw Pasty Trail. These Cornish-style hand pies stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables were created in the 1840s as a quick, delicious lunch for copper miners and lumberjacks. Jesse Wiederhold, Visit Keweenaw’s public relations/events coordinator, says his favorites pasty establishments include Suomi Home Bakery & Restaurant, Mohawk Superette, and Amy J’s. While hand pies are a casual food often served in tiny cafes or as a to-go option, Suomi has enough space for a large group to sample these hearty pasties together.

Tenderloin Tuesday at Rosie’s Place,
Credit: Rosie’s Place

Not sure where to start on a Midwest food tour? Working with an established trail means groups can do less planning and more eating. Indiana’s Tenderloin Lovers Trail was created by the Indiana Foodways Alliance as a love letter to the breaded, fried pork tenderloin sandwich. There are 74 stops on the trail, including Yoho General Store in Solsberry, which pairs pecan-pie slices with the iconic sandwich, and Rosie’s Place, an inviting cafe with a menu that changes daily and with the seasons.

A fish boil in Wisconsin’s Door County is a tradition dating to the arrival of Scandinavian settlers in the late 1800s. Fresh whitefish caught in Lake Michigan is boiled with salt, potatoes, corn, and onions in a metal kettle over an open fire and served with a slice of cherry pie, an ode to the region’s most famous fruit. Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim and Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil in Fish Creek can comfortably seat large groups and even give a peek at the cooking process outdoors.

Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil,
Credit: Mike Tittel

Chicago has no shortage of fine dining and ethnic cuisine spots, but it is also home to two classic foods: the all-beef hot dog—topped with relish, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and diced tomatoes in a poppy seed bun—and deep-dish pizza. On a private three-hour tour just for your group, Chicago Food & City Tours’ Iconic Foods of Chicago tour allows travelers to taste these delicious foods. If time is limited, book a table at Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s, two Chicago institutions for deep-dish pizza; or pull up to Superdawg or any Portillo’s location, where eating outside is part of the experience, for hot dogs on the go.

Midwest food tours aren’t complete without dessert. Heavy on the sugar, along with butter, flour, and cream, Indiana’s Sugar Cream Pie can be found in Indianapolis and in small towns throughout the Hoosier State. My Sugar Pie in Zionsville is a cute-as-a-button bakery and cafe offering cooking classes every Saturday and, of course, its Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie. In the next state over, the Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail, linking nearly 40 new and vintage candy stores, celebrates this gooey peanut-butter-and-chocolate wonder.

Badge of Honor

Michelin-starred restaurants may be a dime a dozen in Europe and on the American coasts, but only one Midwestern state has the honor: Illinois. Chicago boasts 23 Michelin-star restaurants, including four newcomers last year (Claudia, Esme, Galit, and Kasama) and Alinea, one of only 14 in the United States to achieve three-star status. Standards for earning anywhere from one to three Michelin stars from the French-based company (and its anonymous inspectors) include using quality, fresh ingredients and the chef’s personal touch.

Written by Kristine Hansen

Main image: Tenderloin Sandwich at Four Day Ray Brewing in Indiana; Credit: Hamilton County Tourism