If the Vierling Restaurant in downtown Marquette had a slogan, I imagine it would be this: Beer brewed a few steps from your table, and fish caught a few steps down the street.
Even if the latter part isn’t necessarily true, the corner of Front and Main is a few hundred feet off the shore. Visitors ordering the Lake Superior whitefish — an obligatory Vierling entrée — learn that it is caught, cleaned and processed a stone’s throw away in Lower Harbor’s Phil’s Fish Market.
Oh and the beer? It’s brewed just below the dining room in the basement of the historical building. The brewers use barrels from Budapest, Hungary, as well as two Soviet-era boilers repurposed for beer brewing.
You can’t get much more local (or awesome) than that.
Upon entering the cozy, dimly lit dining area, my boyfriend and I are immediately greeted by owner Terry Doyle, and offered a seat near the restaurant’s large windows offering sights of Lake Superior. Terry stops by our table (and that of the others in the dining room) to chat briefly throughout the night, embodying the sentiment that is often said about the Vierling — cozy, welcoming and a part of his own home.
The brewery at the Vierling is one of Michigan’s oldest, established in 1995, it’s something of a grandfather in the Michigan micro-brew scene. With age comes a bit of wisdom, so the beer menu is a clean and simple. It covers all the usual taste bases while still surprising tastebuds with a few of the local favorites — namely, the blueberry wheat ale, known for the handful of blueberries waiting at the bottom of every glass.
We go adventurous, and rather than the light-bodied Blueberry Wheat, we venture to try something with a little more ‘oomph’, going for the popular Red Ale and the Amarillo Ale. The Amarillo Ale — a mild-bodied IPA — caught our attention with its mild-yet-flavorful (caramel, anyone?) hoppiness, which is light enough to drink with dinner and still have another after.
When it comes to meal time, the whitefish is the Vierling’s pride and joy. With their smoked whitefish appetizer, their whitefish chowder or scampi, or picante and Cajun-style filets, the Doyle’s have created a hotspot for Lake-Superior-sourced whitefish. While sampling both of the whitefish appetizers — the smoked whitefish and whitefish bites — it only took us a few tastes to understand why people travel from as far as Europe to the Upper Great Lakes. The smoked whitefish itself was phenomenal — not too salty like much of the smoked fish I’ve had, yet with the smoky flavor you hope for — and comes served alongside a sliced granny smith, dill, lemon and caper cream cheese spread, crackers and dill toast. Full and impressed, we moved on to entrées.
We sample both the scampi and picante styles of the whitefish, but it’s not just whitefish at the Vierling, and their menu is diverse for its simplicity. That being the case, we also tried the ribs, served in a tangy barbecue sauce that wasn’t quite like any barbecue sauce I’d ever had, just a bit sweeter than normal and lots of life. The shrimp scampi was rich and delicious, with a mild flavor of white-wine despite the tendency of garlic to overpower things. We also noted the artisan pizzas and Panini’s on the menu — convincing enough for us to decide that we’d return for lunch in the very near future.
Practically stuffed from the two appetizers and the handful of entrées we were able to sample, we hesitantly agreed to try a few of the desserts, though a bit uncertain as to whether we could finish them or not. As always, dessert was probably the best decision of the night.
Namely the triple-chocolate, housemade cheesecake, which is difficult for me to describe without using the word divine. I intentionally saved a sliver of it so I could eat it with dinner the next day.
While the food is rave-worthy, what makes the Vierling truly return-worthy is the ambiance, complete with a deep-red brick exterior, century-old oak bar, stained glass accents (some of which were sourced from the original Vierling as well as abandoned buildings in downtown Negaunee), ornate details reminiscent of the building’s turn-of-the-century roots and a generally cozy atmosphere. Think 1800s saloon meets your grandma’s living room. The history of the place is reason enough to take a visit, as maps of early Marquette adorn the walls alongside framed oil paintings that appeared in the original Vierling Saloon in the 1880s, when it was owned by German immigrant Martin Vierling.
Whether you come for a history lesson, a good brew, a view of the lake or a memorable entree, the Vierling delivers.
For more info click HERE or to set up reservations call: 906-228-3533
Words by Amanda Monthei