Since Traverse City is my current beat, I am happy to report a few important finds from my last trip. Whether I should take credit for these is another matter entirely. The plain truth is that, without the inspiration and support of other LTH-ers, I might never have identified these gems.
A case in point is Ham Bonz, a little breakfast and lunch spot on the east side of town.
I credit GWiv with this find. His thread on the Thanksgiving BBQ for folks in need clued me in on the contours of a barbeque. Armed with a mental picture of a mobile BBQ set-up, I was able to do some reconnaissance on a previous TC visit.
This time, I hit the place at just the right time, and was rewarded with a dish that I have never seen on a menu: a pit-beef omelette. This was an interesting combination. The tender, wood-smoked beef was a fine anchor for the slightly runny eggs and light cheddar cheese. It worked. While I have had bbq pizza in Memphis and PIGMON and trixie-pea's burgoo, I can't recall any other dishes that are BBQ derivatives. (Could it be that BBQ is so delicious that it never survives to morph into other dishes?) Ham Bonz also smokes pork ribs and turkey. Two big kettles of soup were simmering last Saturday: a pea soup with ham and a white Northern bean soup with ham. Corned beef sandwiches and house-made hash were also on offer, but I couldn't make room for my entire omelette, so I can't report on the corned beef. Sweets were not neglected either.
A four-foot long loaf of local streusel-topped bread waited on the counter to be made into French toast. Those who want to try Ham Bonz should make a point to get there soon, though. The owner has run out of steam (or smoke) after 10 years, and is looking to sell.
Stella's is a very good Italian trattoria that the casual visitor to TC would never find, so I am happy to be able to post the information here. After years of summer trips to TC, I know the place well. However, even with a map from the website in hand, it took two cell-phone calls to the restaurant's very tolerant hostess to guide me there. Why? Stella is located in the basement of a restored Victorian-era hospital tucked in the woods on the west side of town. My daughter assured me that the frustration was worth it, and, as usual, she was correct.
Aside from the non-existent handicapped access, the setting is fortuitous, as the vaulted brick basement vaguely recalls a European wine cellar.
Soft lights and music, crisp linens, and informal yet responsive and professional service extended the good vibe. The initial wine pour was ambrosial, and the bread outstanding. These set the tone for an excellent meal all-around.
We sampled the arugula salad with pears, and the heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella. Aside from being a bit too cold, these were both excellent, though I had feared it was a bit too late to order tomatoes. Next we had an ambitious course billed as pumpkin ravioli. I use the term ambitious, because, while the execution was flawless, the dish deconstructed the pumpkin aspect, using pumpkin and pumpin-pie spices as the basis for a sauce that napped ricotta-filled ravioli. The dish was saved from being cloying by a nice dose of heat, and it reminded us of the Carribean pumpkin soup that is a favorite at the Lucky Platter in Evanston. Nevertheless, as my daughter put it, "Call me old-fashioned, but I like the classic version, with the pumpkin inside, and a sage butter sauce." (Don't you just love foodie kids?)
Entrees shone. Braised short ribs with rapini were downright exciting, with the peppery and bitter rapini a sharp counter to the rich, melting beef. Ultra-fresh sturgeon with tomatoes, fettucine and caper berries was perfectly balanced. What could have been bland and disappointing was enriched with olive oil and garlic and, most likely, a scratch fish base. Dessert could not be missed in a meal of such quality. I preferred the vanilla panna cotta with praline to the hazelnut-chocolate tart, which was too dense for my taste. The most telling thing about the evening is this: my daughter and I tried to talk about our Christmas Eve menu, but we couldn't. We were too drawn in by the meal at hand.
I am including The Wellington Inn in this write-up because it is a type of accomodation that is in short supply in Traverse City and the sort of place that my mother likes to stay. An elegantly restored B&B that was the neighbohood drug den for many years, it is located downtown near the lakefront on one of the charming streets lined with Vicotrian cottages and a few mansions. I have not stayed there, but they have a number of rooms in the main house and a suite of rooms in a coach house that has a kitchen, which could be nice for a special occasion. (The owner of the pastie restaurant recommended the Wellington.)
My third find of the weekend took place as I returned to Chicago on a wet grey day, gloomily anticipating an endless string of fast-food chains for the next 6 hours. I need not have been so pessimistic. I ought to have realized that by now, my divining skills honed by none other than Cathy2, I could find gold in them thar hills! Or at least breakfast.
Actually, looking back on it, it was indeed gold that I found at Mary's Cafe in Kingston, Michigan. I had been through this little town before, but always very late at night. As a solo traveller, I had been too cautious to investigate the tavern that looked to be hopping one Saturday. I had also been curious about Bogart's Motel. This little spot was straight out of "It Happened One Night" with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. You know the category: a homey spot with a few free-standing cottages that serve as individual rooms. (In a concession to modesty, Claudette the heiress and Clark the newspaperman divided the room they were forced to share with an improvised rope and blanket wall - what a lot of sexual tension for a movie of that era!) But I digress. Bogart's of the present day is no doubt bereft of handsome couples but is nostaligic as hell. Neat as a pin from the outside, with white clapboard cottages nestled in pine trees just off the main road, it looks as though Grandma Bogart herself would answer the door if you knocked on it. I have not stayed there, but I will on my next trip to TC, since I picked up their card at Mary's.
Bogart's is not the only bit of gold panned at Mary's. No sir. I was in for honest to goodness small-town America at its best. I half-expected the gubernatorial candidate to come walking in for some glad-handing and a folksy photo opp. At a central table for 14 patrons, a gathering of locals sat, smoking, drinking coffee, and doing the crosswords. Half of the men appeared to be retired and half had already put in most of a day's work by 10 AM. I learned that a bridge was out nearby and that the hay crop had not been good this year. I also learned who in town had been in church on the previous Sunday and who had quit drinkin' and taken up with a much younger woman. (I am not making this up, though I like to think that I could have.)
One selection on Mary's menu stopped me dead in my tracks. This was the "Hungry as a Bear" Breakfast. It consists of the following: "1 to 6 eggs, a pile o'meat ( 3 each of sausage, ham and bacon), homefries, and 4-6 slices of toast." The waitress swore that people order them all the time, and that those people are mostly hunters. I was skeptical, until I heard the guy behind me order one a few minutes later. I have to say that it was an impressive sight, but I dared not stare too hard, as I needed all my energy for eavesdropping. My steak and eggs was on the well-done side, but tasty and accompanied by potatoes that someone had peeled by hand that morning, rather than pulled out of the deep-freeze. I left Mary's feeling satisfied and wishing that I could come back for their weekly Friday fish-fry. Maybe I will.
1108 E 8th St
Traverse City, MI 49686
1200 W 11th St
Traverse City, MI 49684
230 Wellington St
Traverse City, MI 49686
Bogart's Shady Nook Motel
410 Main Street, Box 204
Kingsley, Michigan 49649
(Kingsley is 12 miles south of Traverse City)
Route 113/Main Street and Garfield Road
Monday- Saturday 6AM-9PM
Friday Fish Fry 5-8PM