Pizza at the Tip of the Mitten

When I talk about Northern Michigan, people often think I mean the Upper Peninsula. I don’t. I mean the tip of the mitten.

If you’ve ever had a person from Michigan tell you where they were from, you know what I mean. They hold up their right hand and point with their left to the place on the map of Michigan they just made out of their own skin. When I do that to show you where my mom’s family is from, I point right up near the tip of my middle finger.

Wolverine, Michigan, is not on most tourist maps, although the area does get some traffic from outdoorsmen (and outdoorswomen, to avoid any charges that I might be suggesting that women might be afraid of bugs and mud) enjoying the lakes, rivers, and woods. But this is not the land of fudge shops and crafty wooden plaques for your kitchen. For the most part, it’s just a place where people live.

But in the next town up the highway, Indian River, there’s a place not to be missed, even if you’re only passing through. Vivio’s is one of those locally famous spots that gets packed to the rafters on summer weekends, and for good reason. It’s a sprawling lodge-style restaurant (it’s technically called Vivio’s Northwoods Inn, to give you a flavor of it), and the walls are covered in taxidermy.

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So there are foxes and deer and turkeys and badgers and all kinds of critters watching you eat your dinner. But you’ll barely notice, because you’re tucking into some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Yes, really.

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That right there is the Heidi’s Special (which, according to the menu, is actually called the Heidi’s Favorite. Who knew?). I have no idea who Heidi was, but she was one lucky girl to get this named after her. The toppings are extra cheese, bacon, and tomatoes. So simple, but so delicious. The ingredients are all fresh and tasty and cooked perfectly, but mostly it’s the crust—flavorful and chewy with just enough char on it to let you know it was baked up in a superhot oven just for you. All of the toppings are worth a go, depending on your tastes. We’ve had good luck with a basic sausage, green pepper, and onion, and even with more exotic fare like the Mediterranean and the Hawaiian.

Now look. This stuff is not gourmet. They didn’t make the sausage in-house. You probably don’t want to mess around too much with the rest of the menu. You could crack a tooth on their breadsticks. You came for the pizza. Stay focused, man. Keep your head in the game.

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(c) Rose Podulka

Beyond the pizza–and honestly, you don’t need more than that–what keeps my family coming back is the service. We roll in there with a crew of about two dozen, and we’re disorganized and loud, and we always get the order mixed up, and there’s always some weirdo who wants an ice cream drink, and we got too much pizza again so they have to box it all up for us, but they are unflappingly, down-home-ily nice to us. Inevitably, someone winds up getting a hug from the waitress.

It’s that kind of place. The kind of place that’s worth a detour before you blow right past on your way to Mackinac Island or even the Upper Peninsula. I barely know where that is. My hand doesn’t go that far.

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