Marquette's unusual test kitchen

A 1930s supper-club-turned-tap-room has been transformed into a unique foodie’s delight, a kitchen that offers locally sourced foods as well as space for visiting chefs.

Northwoods Test Kitchen is self-described as a “small scale deli and shared-use kitchen, dedicated to utilizing and respecting local food.”

It’s the dining option at the Barrel + Beam, a tap room that opened six years ago in the renovated log home of a once-popular supper club in Marquette Township. 

Featuring more than just a great menu, the kitchen operates a waste reduction initiative to create more market opportunity for Upper Peninsula farms and specialty producers. Northwoods runs a dedicated composting program and event venue infrastructure designed to reduce waste from large community gatherings and events.

How it started: The farmhouse ales that are a specialty at Barrel + Beam are great beers for pairing with food, says Alex Palzewicz, who heads the Northwoods kitchen. “We wanted to offer that food pairing experience in our taproom. Additionally, we are a bit off the beaten path in Marquette — a destination, if you will,” she says. “Offering food allows our patrons a full experience so they can stay for a while and enjoy our space, a renovated log cabin and former supper club.”

 Palzewicz says she has a passion for food and local agriculture and the space has allowed her to support local farms and do what she loves — cook. “It feels great to bring food back into this space, the old Northwoods, where so many chefs have fed the community” in years past, she says.

What helped make it happen: The Northwoods Test Kitchen was awarded a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development grant for the project — $21,900 toward the total price tag of $31,400. The 240-square-foot room was converted into a small scale, all-electric commercial kitchen complete with a commercial dishwasher. “The community kitchen aspect is really important,” Palzewicz says. “We love supporting our local community and these relationships also allow us to learn from others. Additionally we can now host our favorite chefs from around the region and have a simple kitchen, dishes and dishwasher to offer them.”

Because the kitchen is so small, the owners had to get creative and make the best use of the hallway.

The commercial kitchen space is intended to be used by public and private partners and to serve as a rural model for food waste reduction in Marquette County. The dishwasher is especially important in the waste-reduction goals — no more paper and plastic plates and utensils required. 

In addition to grant dollars, the biggest support came from "friends and patrons rooting for us and expressing the need for food in our taproom,” Palzewicz says.  Networking helped, too. As a member of the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange and former U.P. Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference for almost four years, Palzewicz had knowledge of local food and grants through those organizations. 

There was some lucky timing, too. “One blessing is we had considered putting the kitchen in back in 2019 but our first grant application we submitted that year wasn’t awarded,” Palzewicz says. “The pandemic that came in 2020 would have been a really difficult time to renovate or open the kitchen. When we heard the good news about the grant back in February (2022), it felt like the right time."

What makes the menu special: Vegan and vegetarian options are abundant at Northwoods Test Kitchen. “Food access is really important to me, so I’m glad folks feel like they have choices when they look at the menu,” Palzewicz says. “Also, where I source my ingredients is one of the most important things in what we do. For me, I want to be able to shake the hand of the person who raised, grew or foraged that food. I try to purchase as locally as I can either from the farm, from the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market or at local groceries in town that carry U.P. and Northern Wisconsin products.”

The Northwoods Test Kitchen is staffed by Alex Palzewicz and Aidan Anderson.

That mission ties right into what has been done with the beers, sourcing Michigan ingredients. “It’s been fun to pair food to the great farmhouse ales and other brews the guys are making and we even have worked some of the brewery products into our menu,” Palzewicz says. “We make our crackers out of spent grain, beer and locally milled flour grown in the Upper Peninsula. “

New menus are printed almost daily. 

How’s it going? Business has been brisk, and the Northwoods Test Kitchen can already boast some regulars for lunch and dinner. Community events have proven popular too, with the kitchen’s first five-course “beer dinner” attracting more than 40 guests. 

What’s next: A future goal is to start sharing the kitchen more and bringing in other chefs to showcase their skills, perhaps with classes, pop-ups and community events. “I can’t wait to start grilling outside”  this summer, Palzewicz says.

What are people saying: “As a planner in the region, I often speak to communities about the importance of fostering a strong sense of place and creating quality places as they plan for the future,” says Ryan Soucy, AICP Senior Community & Economic Development planner for Central U.P. Planning and Development. “It means developing public spaces that are attractive, welcoming, and authentic that draw on the history and culture of the area. 

“The Northwoods Test Kitchen at Barrel + Beam has become a shining example of such a space which adds to the overall allure of the Marquette area by showcasing the culinary uniqueness and homegrown goodness the UP has to offer.”

Barrel +Beam and Northwoods Test Kitchen are located at 260 Northwoods Road, Marquette Township.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years.
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