When it comes to waterside dining in Michigan, there seems to be a formula that just about every restaurant with a dock and nice view of the sunset follows: Buy a bunch of frozen stuff and drown it in a deep fryer. The food may be mediocre, but that’s often forgiven if it’s on a plate next to the water with some tartar and a lemon wedge. Add a vaguely nautical cocktail into the mix and pump Jimmy Buffet out of the speakers, and no one seems to notice what they’re eating.
But, people — that ain’t right. Especially in a region with dozens of restaurants that dot our shores from the Detroit River to Lake St. Clair to the St. Clair River to Lake Erie. With this kind of access to tasty perch and other Great Lakes seafood, it doesn’t take much to do something interesting and tasty, and we searched out dockside spots that put in the extra effort.
Mike’s on the Water
24600 Jefferson Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-872-2630; mikesonthewater.com
On the surface, Mike’s seems like a standard-issue waterfront spot. It’s got all the rigging, netting, life preservers with the restaurant’s name stenciled across them, and a rooftop patio. The menu holds burgers, fish sandwiches, and so on. But there’s a general agreement among us seafaring types that Mike’s does it better. That’s the case for a variety of reasons. First, the ingredients are of a noticeably higher quality. There’s less frozen stuff, or maybe it’s not frozen for as long. Whatever the case, Mike’s serves Michigan whitefish caught in Lake Superior and perch pulled from Lake Erie. The filets come lightly blanketed in panko, or try the excellent smoked whitefish dip if you don’t want fried fish. The lobster rolls and lobster bisque are made with real lobster — $34 per pound, owner Mike LeFevre tells us — not imitation lobster meat (or hot dogs of the sea, as we like to call them). Overall, there’s evidence of a chef who put some real thought into the menu.
Mike’s could also be a better spot because LeFevre is kind of a crazy guy. The good kind of crazy — the “hey, I’m going to put a food truck on my roof, because if America put a man on the moon, then we can put food trucks on the roof” kind of crazy. We appreciate that sort of thinking.
Mike’s is one of dozens of restaurants along St. Clair Shores’ nautical mile, and is tucked behind an industrial area off Jefferson. To get there by sea, head toward southwest Lake St. Clair and dip into the labyrinth of inlets and marinas along St. Clair Shores. Look for the party on the bi-level deck.
Armando’s Pizza, Windsor
9150 Riverside Dr. E., Windsor; 519-944-3381; armandospizza.com/windsor-riverside.php
Armando’s is the best dockside spot near Detroit to break from the usual formula. There likely aren’t other kitchens on Lake St. Clair cooking pappardelle pasta dishes with lobster, scallops, shrimp, and a lemon cream sauce, or breaded saffron and parmesan risotto balls stuffed with fior de latte, and served with tomato sauce.
The restaurant, which is part of a small Windsor-based chain, specializes in pizza, and the spicy Sicilian with capicolla, salami, sausage, chilies, mozzarella, and tomato sauce is a solid pie that stands up to most across the river. We also ordered the mussels, which were fresh and served in a flavorful tomato-based sauce.
The menu isn’t without the usual lake fare, but Armando’s at least takes a different approach than its counterparts. The Frank Fish and Chips includes moist and buttery beer-battered whitefish that arrives in cigar-like form and speckled with herbs. These are excellent fish and chips, though we got ours served with steamed broccoli, which is a nice change from the usual pile of fries.
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