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The Manitou

Ross Boissoneau - August 1st, 2011
You never know when you’re going to run into a surprise.
Like in the middle of the woods between Empire and Frankfort on M-22.
Travel that stretch on a summer evening and you’ll come upon the Manitou
While the outside of the restaurant may look small, it’s spread out more
than you might think, with the result that the restaurant feels intimate,
not tiny. In fact, with the four cozy dining rooms and the patio, they can
seat around 100 diners at a time.
But what is it that keeps those seats filled? The Manitou offers a
complete menu of seafood, steaks and other favorites, including chicken,
duck and ribs, but owners Doug and Lisa MacHugh say their restaurant is
best know for its freshwater fish.
“The fresh walleye is a no-brainer special,” said Doug. “We have great
fish – people really like the way we prepare it.”

For that, Doug gives credit to Lisa. She’s been on the line cooking at the
restaurant since 1985, while he’s a front-of-the-house guy. Together they
oversee the operation, which may serve as many as 250 people on a busy
And if you’ve driven by in the summer, you’ve seen the result of those
busy nights. The cars overwhelm the little parking lot, lining both sides
of M-22.
While it may seem as if it’s far from the madding crowd, Doug said they’ve
been successful from the start.
When we started, people thought we were crazy,” he admitted. “But we’re
near Crystal Lake, Platte Lake, Crystal Downs.”
The result has been a restaurant with a loyal customer following, aided
and abetted by those driving along M-22 between destinations.
“We call it northwoods fine dining,” Doug said. “It’s comfortable and
In both its menu and its atmosphere, the Manitou reflects Northern
Michigan. Chargrilled meats, fish from the great lakes (the perch is
always popular), and an extensive wine list keep the customers happy.
“We put a lot of effort into the wine,” said Lisa. “Most everything is
Doug concurred. “We have a full bar, but sell a lot of wine. It’s our
number one beverage.”

In the off season, the two travel south, and of course, they eat out a
lot. That helps them determine what new things they may try as offerings
at the Manitou. For example, they were in the Florida Keys, and had a
conch chowder they loved. So they brought it north, but substituted clams
for conch. They’re also experimenting with raw oysters.
“We do a lot based on what we like,” he continued. “We have a core menu
that never changes, but we’ll have a special that does real well, and see
how that goes.”
If it shows continued popularity, it may make it onto the menu fulltime.
Or it may just become a long-standing special, with the result that people
come in on the night they know it will be offered.
Another longtime favorite is Lisa’s blueberry-raspberry pie, a
happenstance creation from her family. When she found a cache of berries
in the freezer at a relative’s home, rather than toss them aside she mixed
and matched and made a pie. The reception it got made her hang onto the
Now, it’s a staple of the dessert menu.
“The crust is hand-rolled and it’s made from scratch,” she said, taking a
break from her duties in the kitchen while prepping for the evening’s
rush. For those with a sweet tooth, the Manitou also offers a frozen
peanut butter pie and key lime pie. “The key lime is real popular in the
summertime,” she said.
The prices are not inexpensive – entrees start at $17.95 – but the
friendly service, northwoods ambience, and the savory flavors make it well
worth the while.

The Manitou is located on M-22 at the southern end of Sleeping Bear
National Lakeshore, about three miles north of Crystal Lake. For
reservations (recommended, especially on the weekend) or more information,
call 882-4761. Online, go to
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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