In the pleasant little city of Muskegon, right off Michigan’s scenic U.S. Highway 31, a steadily developing food scene has been sneaking onto tourists’ maps for the past decade, and it all comes together every year during an event called Taste of Muskegon.
Restaurants from downtown, food trucks and even a few food joints on the outskirts of the city have appeared every summer for the past 16 years at the event, with more and more chefs joining each year. However, for the first time ever, due to lost time during COVID-19, the popular event will be held in September, giving attendees a chance to try all the best that Muskegon’s chefs have to offer in the flavorful months of fall.
Taste of Muskegon will be held in Hackley Park, at 350 W. Webster Ave., over the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25, featuring as many food vendors as the park can fit, including favorites like Bone Ends, Hamburger Mikey and Fatty Lumpkins. A few new distilleries in town also will be making an appearance like the Tequila Cantina, which will be offering cocktail flights, and Wonderland Distilling, as well as some familiar names like Burl & Sprig and 18th Amendment. Live music from The Rock Show and Simply Queen will provide the soundtrack for the event, and on top of all the great food and drinks offered, tasting flights and cooking competitions will fill the time between bites.
“For those who are adventurous foodies, there’s plenty of things to tantalize your taste buds,” said Lisa Kraus, marketing director for Taste of Muskegon. “We are able to really showcase some incredibly inventive food.”
Rusty Morningstar, head chef at Bone Ends, has won a total of six awards at Taste of Muskegon events since his first appearance in 2014, when he won Best Dish. “Winning just one award boosted our sales and got our name out to new customers, and that is true every single year,” said Morningstar.
The event has become something that chefs work toward for months in advance, customers and tourists clear their schedules to attend, and the people of Muskegon come together to celebrate their community. The best part about the event is that every vendor featured is a local business, and it often includes collaborative menu items with as many ingredients as possible sourced from farmers markets. The event creates an entirely local display of Muskegon’s best culinary expertise. The fall menus are expected to pull out all the stops with maple syrups, pumpkin spices and squashes of every shape and color.
“Every year at the Taste, I come up with new menu items and work for months to ‘wow’ my potential customers there,” said Morningstar. “This year we tried out four items — three of them were huge hits: brussels sprouts grilled cheese, Jamaican jerk tacos and PB&JJ burger, which already won Best Burger and New Dish in 2019.”
Each unique menu item offers something for the most daring foodies out there, as well as some of the best takes on classics from a variety of culinary styles.
“We’re seeing a lot of diversity in our food,” said Kraus. “We’ve recently had a couple soul food restaurants growing in popularity — the two that are really out there, they have more females, more minorities running restaurants.”
LaKisha Harris’ Soul Filled Eatery specializes in turkey knuckles, which is one of the favorite dishes among Muskegon locals.
With all different kinds of culinary backgrounds influencing food styles, Muskegon has become a place for newer chefs to get their start in the restaurant industry. Several startup locations offer rentable kitchens for people looking to experiment with culinary creations, keep a space available for their own businesses and even take the first steps in opening new restaurants.
The Western Market allows people to shop the chalets of unique foods like Rolling Stone’s fantastic woodfire pizza. Kitchen 242 is another “incubator for great ideas” as Kraus puts it, attracting newly graduated chefs from the Culinary Institute of Michigan right in Muskegon, and chefs from all over who are looking for an up-and-coming city to grow their businesses.
Although the event showcases a unique spread of all that the city has to offer for a weekend, Taste of Muskegon has become more of a movement for the community, celebrating foods of diverse culinary backgrounds and ideas all year round.
“It’s a little bit of a secret, but we’re willing to share it with the rest of Michigan,” Kraus said.
Activities to pair while in town
For an even more relaxing start to your weekend away, Rootdown Yoga will take you through classes for all levels of expertise on the deck of a World War II ship called the USS LST 393. With the sunrise above the water during early morning classes or the afternoon sun warming up the deck of the ship, Rootdown Yoga is an inviting experience for tourists. Single drop-ins cost $15 and the classes last between 60 and 75 minutes. What better way to start a day of eating than with a little relaxation and stretching?
Race to the Food Line
Ride United is a company that hosts bike races in Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana in support of all kinds of foundations and fundraisers. Bike for a cause on Saturday, Sept. 25 for six, 25, 50 or 100 miles if you’re feeling up for a real challenge. The six-mile ride follows the Lakeshore Recreational Trail, and the 100-mile ride goes all the way up to Oceana and back, with all races ending in complementary food tickets for the Taste of Muskegon event. The bikers will begin at Hackley Park and rejoin the festivities upon completion of their ride, all while helping the community.
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.