Northern Michigan Restaurants: Edible aphrodisiacs, creative cocktails and swanky ambience at these date night destinations, from Traverse City to Petoskey, will set the mood for you and your sweetheart.
The Rowe Inn
Deep winter romance begins with an early evening drive past snow-laden cedars and ends at The Rowe Inn, an oasis for gastronomes and lovers tucked on a bend of Highway 48 barely east of Ellsworth. The menu and cellar are testaments to proprietor Wes Westhoven’s lifelong Francophilia. Richly rendered currant and cassis demi-glace is drizzled over rack of lamb and roasted vegetables; Magret duck breast with port cinnamon sauce is complemented by a trove of Bordeaux and Rhône wines to rival any selection in the Midwest. With its polished pine paneling and countryside vistas, the Rowe is reminiscent of a cozy French country inn but wholly Northern Michigan in its unpretentious service and casual pace. Read on as we track cupid to a few of the North’s prime date night dining destinations. (See below for an interview with the executive chef!) 6303 East Jordan Road, Ellsworth, 231.588.7351
Nothing says love like the incendiary tickle of wasabi on a Red Dragon Roll, a cold bottle of craft sake and a small plate medley of barbeque steam buns, seaweed martini salad and Szechuan calamari at Fusion, Frankfort’s hip East Asian eatery. 300 West Main Street, Frankfort 231.352.4114
Hot-blooded hopheads unite at this Northern brew HQ where two can sip through flights of the brewery’s latest liquid muses and munch on pretzels with housemade mustards, serious sandwiches like the Voodoo Lady or inventive pizzas. 121 North Bridge Street, Bellaire 231.533.6622
The Cooks’ House
Make eyes at your beloved gastro-geek while superstar culinarians Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee sew l’esprit d’amour with edible art like beet risotto with shaved bitter chocolate or translucent walleye with arugula and chorizo vinaigrette. 115 Wellington Street, Traverse City 231.946.8700
Sexy and urbane, the siren song at this Elk Rapids harbor of haute cuisine comes in the form of the Fruits de Mer Tower: a many-tiered aphrodisiac of briny fresh clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp and a proprietary seafood salad. Order a bottle or two of Champagne and let the evening take care of itself. 151 River St, Elk Rapids 231.264.6062
This swank showpiece restaurant in the Odawa Casino boasts a cutting edge international menu populated with escargot voulavent, Asian pulled pork sliders, salmon saltimbocca and a ridiculously fine grilled ribeye with cheddar and fennel potato gratin, truffle oil and cabernet sauce. Start or end with martinis in the luxe lounge. 1760 Lears Road, Petoskey 231.344.4420
Meet Scott Lyons, Executive Chef of The Rowe Inn, Ellsworth
Happily serving a life sentence as the current culinary force behind the Rowe Inn, East Jordan native Scott Lyons began as a dishwasher and prep cook at the age of 15 and now, nearly 20 years later, can shape terrine and sling demi-glace with the best of them. We catch Scott in his kitchen to talk about the romance of roasted duck and get a most excellent tip for making French-chef-quality stock.
We’ve got a table for two at The Rowe, it’s cold out and love is in the air; what should we order?
Definitely duck. I like the classic preparation of roasted duck breast and a confit of leg and thigh. There’s great contrast of texture and flavor between the two that can be tied together with a port demi-glace or fruit sauce. Rich, sweet, salty—what’s not to love?
You mentioned good stock is the key ingredient for French cooking, any tips for DIY demi-glace?
It’s very important to roast your veal or beef bones before making the stock. Roasting helps extract the marrow and gelatin, which give the stock it base flavor and texture. Dry roast the bones for an hour and a half at 375 degrees, brush them with tomato paste and roast for another 20 to 30 minutes before putting them in the stock pot.