The Upper Peninsula's Superior State of Mind
Emporia, Kansas—The most out-of-place coffee shop in the United States, so far as I know, is in Cairo, Illinois. I'm a little less certain about the greasy-spoon equivalent, but so far I'd cast my vote for The U.P.Er's Diner in Emporia, a short walk from the red sandstone home of William Allen White*, and approximately 900 miles southwest of its target audience.
Since we left Michigan's Upper Peninsula (or "U.P."), more or less everyone we've met who's so much as heard of the U.P. has had a story about the place, or at least a shared reaction: "Oh man, you went all the way up there?"; or "That place is insane!"; or "Da U.P, eh!" Even in Duluth, which shares the same iron ore heritage and Superior lakefront, the U.P was spoken of in excited tones, as if it were some sort of bizarro sub-culture totally disconnected from the rest of the Northland. Which it kind of is.
The U.P.Er, founded by a transplant from Iron Mountain, is an odd fit for Emporia. There's not an especially large community of Yooper ex-pats in the Flint Hills,** and I can imagine a sizable number of pedestrians have no idea what the giant, green, vaguely sea-monster-shaped landmass on the sign outside is even supposed to be. In its own way, though, it's the quintesential Yooper creation, because it carries with it this outsized sense of place, as if the peninsula and its cuisine were something that all Kansans should just be instinctively familiar with: Thai, Tex-Mex, Tapas, Yooper. You know, Yooper. From da U.P.! The whole place is a shrine to Yooper culture, with maps and old black-and-white photos and pictures of fish covering the walls; I wouldn't go so far as to say Yoopers should have their own state, but the state of mind is undeniable.