The foodie fun starts at Peppercorn (226 East Front St., 231-941-4146), where you can spend hours perusing cook’s gizmos and goodies. Wander around to find everything you need to properly stock your kitchen: terra cotta garlic bakers, jars of canned dilly beans and Vidalia onion relish, and doodads like honey dippers, pickle pickers, pinch bowls and mini whisks.
Gift options here are endless, too. Find an artsy martini glass for your mother-in-law; a newlywed-perfect picnic basket designed for romantic wine-and-cheese outings; dozens of cookbooks begging to be put to use. And don’t forget to nab a treat or two for your favorite barbecue king: Look for inventive meat rubs, grill baskets and man-sized pairs of tongs.
Cross over Front Street to newcomer Cucina (107 East Front St., 231-932-8787), where owner Tami Hiser has stocked her high-ceilinged shop with top-of-the-line appliances and captivating sample set-ups of countertops and cabinetry. Head to the back of the store for a full-scale kitchen where you can sample simmering soups, test-drive a knife or sign up your little ones for a kids-only cooking class. Everything here is delectable – even the beauty products. Think: apple quince lip balm and creamy soaps scented with verbena and lychee nut. Outfit your cook space with elegant tableware like burnished silver serving trays, ceramic olive boats, beachy dinner plates in white and muted blues and punchy kitchen utensils in sassy shades and patterns. Sure, you’ve seen fresh-faced powder-pink food processors and sunny mixers like these. But a polka dot toaster? Breakfast will never be boring again.
Now that you’ve got all the utensils fit for concocting a feast, put them to use with gourmet ingredients from Folgarelli’s Market & Wine Shop (424 West Front St., 231-941-7651). This old-world-style market is home to more than 2,000 labels of wine, an entire wall devoted to balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and fine meats and cheeses from all over the world. Find hydroponic Bibb lettuce and tiny oyster mushrooms in the produce section; wooden crates brimming with purple fingerling potatoes and nubs of fresh ginger; imported Italian butter and house-made meat lasagna in the fridge. Follow the heady aroma of fresh coffee to the coffee bean nook about halfway back in the shop or sample some vino at the wine-tasting bar. Head to the deli where the menu boasts more than 30 sandwiches. A good bet? The Chimp Boy Gravel Pants, with smoked turkey, blue cheese, dried tomatoes, Italian dressing and pesto, is as fun as its name suggests.
Last stop is Mary’s Kitchen Port (539 West Front St., 231-941-0525) for any enthralling utensils you still might desire and to taste treats like pink grapefruit marmalade, pomegranate vinegar, hot pepper peach preserves and decorative sugar crystals in colors like emerald green and cobalt blue – perfect for topping cookies made with Michigan-shaped copper cutters (Upper Peninsula included). Go ahead and dream over the diminutive chocolates in the case up front, in flavors like raspberry brandy and Grand Marnier, or give the ho-hum contents of your fridge a kick with smoked whitefish spread, morel and leek Jack cheese. The kitchen here churns out get-’em-now-or-they’re-gone delectables like lemon teacakes and ginger molasses cookies. Still hungry? Grab a squat glass container of apple juice from the cooler and an asparagus wrap, loaded with hummus, roasted asparagus, red peppers, Asiago cheese and romaine, then hit the road – with all your new tools, it’s time to whip up something extraordinary.
Emily Bingham is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in April 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.