When I lived in Houghton in the 80s, there was a seasonal restaurant just south of town called the Onigaming Supper Club. It was open from May to October and a complete throwback to what we now call "Mid Century Modern".
From their website I learned that the Onigaming Yacht Club was established in 1894. The name Onigaming was given to the club by Francis Jacker, brother of the Rev. Edward Jacker, who was a missionary colleague of Bishop Frederick Baraga. The name was derived from thje Chippewa word “onigam” which means portage. And since Houghton is on Portage Lake, it is well named. In 1896 the yacht club purchased a large parcel of land adjacent to Portage Lake and built a clubhouse with a long porch facing the lake, a pier, tennis courts, and a bathing beach. In 1924 a fire of unknown origin destroyed the Onigaming clubhouse, but it was immediately rebuilt, and in June of 1925 a gala dance was held to inaugurate the new building. The club flourished for many more years, but the Depression, World War II, and the postwar economic decline and closing of the area’s copper mines took their toll. By 1960, the Onigaming Yacht Club was nearly at an end. In 1962 the disbanded club’s property was divided and sold, and the clubhouse became the Onigaming Supper Club and went on to become one of the area’s finest restaurants. By the 1980s, it was definitely in it's waning days, but we loved to visit there and hoped to get a table on the screen porch and enjoy the Lake Superior Trout served on a plank.
I can remember the first time I went there. It was a couple weeks into my freshman year when a cute "older man" (he was probably 25) that looked like Tom Selleck asked my roommate Jill to find a friend to go out on a double date to the Onigaming. I can't remember what the handsome young man's real name was, but he was a resident assistant in our dorm and so we dubbed him "Magnum R.A." and his nickname is all I remember now. Magnum invited a friend of his who was an grad student from India and I was to be his date. I wasn't really interested, but figured a dinner out was better than the dorm food, so I went along to be a good sport. I'm not sure what I ordered; my guess it wasn't the Lake Superior Trout as I wasn't into fish when I was eighteen, but I do remember my first course, which was the Onigaming Spinach and Bacon Salad. I wasn't sure about getting a spinach salad, but the waitress said it was the house salad, and Magnum had spent the summer in Houghton after his honorable discharge from the Army, and he had dined at the Onigaming before and vouched for it, so I went along. I had never had a wilted spinach salad before, but it was fantastic! Sweet and sour dressing, with sizzling bacon and hard boiled eggs. I loved that salad!
While that particular date didn't really work out from a dating point of view, I found myself at the Onigaming many times throughout my college career at Michigan Tech. There were two "fine dining" establishments back then....and both were seasonal...the Summer Place in Chassell and the Onigaming Supper Club. I can remember dining at both many times...my sorority sister Jeanine turned 21 on Easter Sunday so we went to brunch at the Summer Place and her dad ordered us a bottle of champagne delivered to our table as a surprise! My friends Jim and Jeannie had their wedding reception there. During the winter, the Onigaming hosted a musical put on by MTU. That was the first time I ever saw "South Pacific". When I graduated from MTU with my bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, it was there that we had our post commencement dinner. My parents never visited MTU when I was a student; the only time they ever ventured that far north was to drop me off for college when I was a freshman, or to attend commencement ceremonies. They came back up one more time, when I got my masters, but that was it. My mom was eager to try the spinach salad, as I had told her about it.
I'm not sure when the Onigaming closed, or why it came to mind to me the other day, but it did. I started googling and I found this recipe for the spinach salad posted by the grand daughter of the managers there. I had to give it a try for old time's sake; it is SO GOOD! I modified it a bit to use bacon grease and make it more tangy....but it is wonderful.
Onigaming Spinach and Bacon Salad
4 slices bacon
4 cups spinach leaves
4 hard cooked egg, sliced (for perfect hard boiled eggs, here is a recipe)
2 T. sugar
1/2 c, cider vinegar
3 T. bacon grease
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. ground pepper
Fry bacon until crisp, drain on paper towel. Crumble Reserve fat. In a jar, mix sugar, vinegar, warm bacon grease, salt and pepper. Shake until well mixed. On 4 plates, arrange 1 cup spinach leaves, and top with 1/4 bacon crumbles and egg slices. Drizzle with warm dressing.