By WILL KRISS and ELI BECHT
When you think of pizza, what are some of the first places that come to mind? If you are from Mt. Pleasant, Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Jet’s are probably the first. But not all of the best pizza is found in chains. Some of the best pizza comes from the small, family-owned, lesser-known, hole-in-the-wall places. No matter which direction you travel in Michigan, there is at least one in every town.
Being absolute pizza connoisseurs, and aspiring journalists, the two of us decided to combine these two interests into checking out some of the more obscure pizza places along North 127, for our travelers headed that way. Our stops were in Clare, Harrison and Higgins Lake, and each town provides a unique style and flavor of the classic dish. Our review of these three locations follows.
Buccilli’s Pizza – Clare
Buccilli’s is one of the most well-known family-owned pizza chains in the mid-Michigan area, with locations in Clare, Farwell and Houghton Lake. Despite the Northern locations, the Buccilli family (and their pizza) originates from Detroit in the 1950s. Using a family recipe, the Buccilli family opened locations in Madison Heights, Hazel Park and Clawson, although under different pizzeria names. After a long period of operating in these areas, Butsy Buccilli relocated to Harrison, where he opened Buccilli’s Pizza in Farwell. It was a very original-looking diner both inside and out.
The pizza we ordered at the Clare location was the Supreme, which has, according to the menu, “a six topping smorgasbord of pepperoni, onion, green peppers, mushrooms, beef & ham, then covered in [their] blend of cheeses.” It was a very “classic” start to our day. The pizza has a traditional taste, with a nice, tangy tomato sauce underneath the plethora of cheese. It provided a nice hint of flavor to the garden-fresh taste of the vegetables and the freshly cooked quality taste of the meat.
Eli felt, however, that the crust left a lot to be desired. The crust tasted a bit plain, he said, and could of had more flavor. Also, we were unaware that if you order a pizza for pick-up, you aren’t technically supposed to eat it inside the restaurant, according to one of the waitresses. That caused a bit of confusion, but was no big deal.
Monte’s Family Restaurant – Harrison
Our journey next brought us further north into Harrison. Along the way, we spotted several other pizza places that neither of us had even heard of. The map instructed us to stay on the main road of Harrison, but it kept us on that route for so long, we wondered if we had missed it. Just as we asked this, however, Monte’s loomed out of the distance to our left.On the outside, it appeared to be a small family-owned restaurant, but on the inside, it looked like a fancy Italian place. The walls were painted a deep red, and the lights were slightly dimmed. The people inside were very friendly and welcoming, and were interested in the fact that we were journalists from MMCC. They even brought us water while we ate our pizza, which was a nice touch of friendly service, and which Buccilli’s didn’t offer.
As far as the pizza goes, again, we ate a Supreme pizza. Although Buccilli’s was good, Monte’s took everything about the Supreme pizza and turned it up a notch. The crust was soft on the inside, but had that crunch on the outside, like a loaf of bread from a bakery. The ingredients tasted even more garden fresh than the last one, and the meat was incredibly flavorful. We also noticed that there was not much sauce on this pizza, which was unusual, but was not a problem in the least bit.
We highly recommend that anyone traveling through Harrison stop at Monte’s for lunch.
Country Corner Party Store Pizza and More – Higgins Lake
Up in the farther reaches of northern Michigan, past Houghton Lake, lies a small village and getaway location known as Higgins Lake. A beautiful spot for vacationers in the summer, this place has sort of a historic charm about it that remains almost untouched by modern day standards. Only a few businesses exist around the area, and they tend to lie far away from each other.
Just around the corner from the South Beach of Higgins Lake, you will find a little hole-in-the-wall place called Country Corner. Standing in front of it, you can clearly see the lake down the hill. Further away from this building lie several abandoned buildings, a bank, an ice cream shop, and hundreds of vacation homes.
Eli asked, “Will, how did you even find this place?”
That’s an interesting story. My friend had an uncle who owned a cabin up here, and I used to come up in the summer to ride jet skis and party away from civilization. The Country Corner lies three miles from where I used to spend my weekends.
Upon entering Country Corner, you see a small, yet varied selection of snacks, drinks, camping supplies and cigarettes (one of the few places to get them in the area), as well as Mike Rasdale, the very friendly owner of the establishment for the last 17 years. According to Mike, who had the place built all those years ago, it is a good resort area, with excellent business in the summertime, and the ability to take it easy in the winter.
He explains that winter provides an income of about half of what the summer does, but says it is still enough to make a living. He claims that there was no particular reason for opening a pizza shop, he just “kind of went with what we had going.” There’s nothing close to the area besides Houghton Lake, and Country Corner is one of only a few pizza places in the area.
I have had Country Corner pizza a few times before, and it has always been delicious. Even the non-pizza items, such as the chili cheese fries, were excellent.We decided to venture off from the Supreme Pizza path and try a new type that neither of us had ever had before: the Taco Pizza. A very interesting pizza — with taco sauce and salsa instead of tomato sauce, diced tomato, shredded cheese and lettuce, ground beef and black olives — it was a pizza that we had never really seen before, but were eager for something different. We had it narrowed down between that and the Breakfast Pizza.
The crust was crispy, but not overly so, with a perfect balance between the softness of the crust and the crispiness of the base. It called for a Frostop root beer and a fork, as it was a bit messy to eat, but the taste was absolutely excellent. It couldn’t have been a better finish to the day, and makes for a perfect meal when out in the Higgins Lake area.
Clearly, the best pizza is not always found in a national pizza chain kitchen. Some of the best pizzas are in places that you might never have expected. There’s plenty out there to select from. We never would have even thought to look for or stop at Monte’s. Our instructor recommended this place when she found out what our project was about. Neither of us had heard of it.
So don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Recommendations from satisfied customers are often your best guide, as well as your own preference for type of pizza.
If you have a favorite pizza place, let us hear about it. Send your comments and recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps we can share them. We know there are plenty of locations in Mt. Pleasant, so tell us about some of your favorite pizza adventures.
AT A GLANCE
1541 N. McEwan St., Clare
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
3897 N. Clare Ave., Harrison
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Country Corner Party Store
1853 W. Higgins Lake Dr., Roscommon
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.