Just returned from our annual summer vacation to the Leelanau Peninsula, which is adjacent to Traverse City. We were able to return to a few old favorite restaurants, check out some newer ones, and -- because we were able to do our own cooking this year -- find some nice sources for good ingredients. We were sans famille this time, so the restaurants below (except for Foothills) are a bit more adult-oriented and shaded towards the higher price range of places in the area.
The best meal was at The Cook's House, an apparent labor of love for chef and co-owner Eric Patterson and his partner, Traverse City native Jennifer Blakeslee. He runs a tiny, open kitchen that sits behind (and heats up) the six tables in the restaurant. The equally modestly-sized menu emphasizes locally grown food with a modern sensibility but no goofy combinations or high-tech preparations. The salad of smoked rabbit and warm vegetables was delicate and yummy, as was the gnocchi with spring onions and pesto. The duck with turnip and lentils was very moist and tasty, and the braised pork belly was succulent and flavorful. The service was smooth and professional but friendly. The place is BYOB. Appetizers, salads, and soups were in the $9-12 range, entrees $20-30, not inexpensive but definitely worth the prices. Because of the small size of the place, best to make reservations even during the week.
Red Ginger has been around for about a year, and we have gone twice. Between the fact that it is a popular, hip, local watering hole and that it features the potentially risky "Pan-Asian" type of menu, we approached with some trepidation, but our fears proved unfounded. The menu was actually rather thoughtful and even intelligently innovative, and all the dishes were done quite nicely. There was a good selection of sushi and maki rolls, regular-menu items, and daily specials. It was only a little too loud, and the service suffered from obsequiousness rather than inattention.
Phil's on Front is another, newish place in the downtown area. It was far larger, noisier, and with a more bar-like and casual atmosphere, but it turned out some very serviceable American food. Our meal included a nicely deconstructed wedge salad, prime rib with a Vidalia onion sauce, and locally-caught Walleye in a pecan crust with a creamy beurre blanc. The desserts choices were particularly good, including a sampler of the gourmet chocolates they sell from the front of the restaurant.
We returned to some long-time favorites on the Leelanau peninsula, including an always-killer breakfast at the Foothills Cafe (sort of a Patty's Up North without the sisterly squabbling) in Burdickville; dinner at the always-reliable Italian bistro Funistrada, also in Burdickville; and North, a relaxing, modern-American dinner place with a broad menu (and good winelist) in a lovely setting, halfway between Leland and Glen Arbor. We made the mistake of having dinner at the Riverside Inn in Leland one night, a place that though picturesque seems to have fallen into a time warp (the bad kind) and largely seems to serve long-time regulars who like the things the way they were in the past.
On the uncooked food front, we went to Max Bauer's (407 South Union, TC) for an old-fashioned German-style butcher shop experience reminiscent of Paulina Market and Gepperth's back home. In addition to serious steak, pork, and poultry, they had a very good selection of lamb and veal, two meats that can be tough to find up here. They also had a good selection of their own homemade sausages. For fish, we found a surprisingly good selection of fresh and smoked choices at Burritt's (509 W. Front, TC). Finally, Oryana's Natural Foods Market (260 E 10th St, TC) is a Whole Foods-like store with excellent organic produce and a variety of healthy prepared foods. In summer, there are also farmstands and farmers markets all over the place, with fruits, veggies, and herbs from the many local, family-run farms.
The Cook's House
439 E. Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49686, (231)946-8700http://www.thecookshouse.typepad.com/
Red Ginger Restaurant
237 E Front St, Traverse City, MI 49684, (231) 944-1733www.eatatginger.com
Phil's on Front
236 E Front St, Traverse City, MI 49686, (231) 929-1710
7097 S Dunns Farm Rd, Maple City, MI 49664, (231) 334-3495
4566 MacFarlane, Burdickville, 231-334-3900
North, A Centennial Inn
149 E. Harbor Highway / M-22, Maple City. 231-228-5060