My partner in reporting brought a grocery list along to a recent assignment in the Upper Peninsula. Turns out, he was very familiar with Rigoni’s Bakery in Ironwood, Michigan, enough to know the specific breads and cookies beneath the counter. We were there to meet Norman Korpi, a reality television pioneer, who has moved back to his hometown and is making pasties and pizzas alongside other members of his family by day, and at night creating a series of paintings of chocolate bunnies in his new home a few blocks away.
We found Korpi in the kitchen with a pan of freshly packed pasties, which he popped into a large retro oven, setting a timer that he slid into his pocket. Around the same time, a crate of potatoes was rolled in on a cart, and now I know their fate: they will be chopped into small, uniform cubes, tucked away with ground beef and onions.
We ordered pasties for lunch, and between Q&As, I poked at that buttery, flaky crust, eyes wide at such an even distribution of warm, northern comfort. We had been there just 30 minutes when a stranger-turned-friend slid a cream-filled donut in front of me, insisting I had to try it. He was right.
Rigoni's is a classic stop, seemingly popular among locals, and those en route to Ironwood and beyond. It's a single room with windows facing Suffolk Street. Robert and Paula Rigoni opened it in 1972. It's decorated with Italian touches: images of red sauce-based foods, newspaper clippings, framed guidelines for feeding 100 people: 20 pounds of hamburger, 5 cakes, 100 ribs, 50 cantaloupes. There are shelves of baked goods in a U shape near the cash register.
At a nearby table, I heard a woman explaining the secret to a good marriage.
"Two TVs," she said without even cracking a smile.
I bought a bag o’ donuts and six frozen pasties to go, including the breakfast version with sausage, egg, onion, cheese and potatoes. Note: There is always someone out there who thinks a person cooing about pasties means to be cooing about pastries. To that person, I say that a pasty is a handful of meat, potatoes and vegetables packed into crust to create something even better than the sum of its parts. We really get into them in this part of the universe.
My family enjoyed the breakfast pasties for dinner on a weeknight, just a quick zip in the oven, and it was just as perfectly flaky, balanced and flavorful as eating it in-house. Dear friends. Did I mention they ship?
110 S. Suffolk Street, Ironwood, Michigan