Northern Michigan Restaurants: Traverse Magazine’s Best Eats of 2012

In our annual ode to irresistible Northern Michigan food and the people who lovingly make it, Traverse food and wine editor Tim Tebeau and four other Northern Michigan restaurant devotees divulge 42 eats—from elegant to everyday—that fire their foodie fever dreams.

Meet the Foodies (their picks follow!)

Benjamin Marentette

As city clerk, this native son of Kingsley curates the clerical landscape of TC’s City Hall by vocation and follows his foodie desires by avocation. Insatiably active as an avid runner, skier and sailor, Benjamin Marentette’s kinetic lifestyle balances his love of food. An avid amateur chef, he’s currently experimenting with creative vegetarian cuisine. For this assignment, he dug into the Traverse City food scene and points north to come up with his top foodie finds.

Rose Hollander

Rose Hollander began her foodie journey at the elbow of her dad, who owned an East German restaurant in a Bronx neighborhood that served up such classics as wiener schnitzel, veal chops and roast game. She expanded her taste realm while living in San Francisco and Hong Kong and eventually landed in Suttons Bay in 1989, where she set about re-creating the global flavors she missed. Rose handed us her food finds list just two days before jetting off to Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland for a 12-week master class.

Neil Ahrens

Artist, devoted foodie and all-around Renaissance man, Neil Ahrens makes his home in Harbor Springs, where he happily stares at the blue horizon of Lake Michigan and lets it find its way into his art. After a Navy stint piloting an ammunition ship across the Atlantic, Neil originally landed in Traverse City in the 80s and worked in restaurants as a hash slinger, prep chef and bartender. Neil now prowls the eateries of the North seeking new favorites, but especially loves the artful cooking of his wife and Crooked Tree Arts Center director, Liz Ahrens.

Tim Tebeau

Food and wine editor at Traverse, Tim earned his foodie chops growing up amid the adventurous cooking of his mom, Suzanne Acharya, who is now co-owner of the Charlevoix gourmet foods and wine emporium Esperance. His writing skills come courtesy of a master’s degree in poetry from the University of Michigan.

Mystery Foodie

For reasons we cannot disclose, our mystery foodie must remain a mystery. He has authorized us to say only that he lives in the general Frankfort-Elberta metroplex and favors a microbrew over a wine.

Spinach Feta Omelet

Twisted Olive, 319 Bay Street, Petoskey, 231.487.1230

A relative newcomer that has dominated the Petoskey breakfast scene, Twisted Olive infuses the vibrant flavors of Mediterranean cooking into every dish, like the Spinach Feta Omelet: fluffy egg with the named afore mentioned fresh ingredients, crusty toast with a mini-ladle of fresh jam aside fragrant truffle roasted potatoes. Simplicity, heaven!—N.A.

Fried Perch

The Crow’s Nest, 4601 North State Road, Harbor Springs, 231.526.6011

The delicious and ubiquitous perch finds a higher calling in the hands of chef Bob Vala at The Crow’s Nest, north of Harbor Springs. Fillets are lightly dusted and fried in clarified butter, which draws out the natural sweetness of the fish. Our foodie Neil, a lifelong perch lover, can’t name a better preparation outside those he caught and fried himself every childhood summer at Higgins Lake.—N.A.

Eggs Over Easy

Brutus Camp Deli, 4086 U.S. 31, Brutus, 231.529.2222

It’s well worth the trek to Brutus for breakfast served as only men in camo aprons can. Fresh farm eggs, Plath’s thick-cut bacon, crispy redskin home fries and homemade rye toast slathered in local raspberry preserves.—N.A.

Steak Tartare

Chandler’s, 215 Howard Street, PETOSKEY, 231.347.2981

Petoskey’s hip gastro hangout soundly nails this beloved French classic. Finely chopped filet mignon, raw egg, capers, red onion and brioche points. It’s naughty food and you’ll coo with every bite.—N.A.

The Grappa Cart

Villa Ristorante, 887 Spring Street, PETOSKEY, 231.347.1440

Every good meal should end with a proper digestive, and Villa Ristorante is the best source in the North, possibly the entire Midwest, for the white hot grape-based Italian elixir that sends you to bed smiling. There is a separate grappa list, and scores of these beautiful blown-glass bottles make up a glittering shrine in the middle of the restaurant. Personal favorites are the nebbiolo, and moscato-based from Piemonte. Designated driver recommended.—T.T.

Lamb & Summer Sausages

Toski Sands Market, 2292 M-119, PETOSKEY, 231.347.1571

There is an essential pleasure found in artisan sausage, and Toski Sands delivers some links we love. The summer sausage is perfectly seasoned and best in the company of aged cheese and beer, while the lamb sausage goes great on the grill or in hearty pasta dishes.—N.A.

Pâté Maison

Cafe Santé, 1 Water Street, Boyne City, 231.582.8800

This classic French country pork and pistachio terrine is bacon-wrapped and served alongside pickled onions, cornichons, whole grain mustard and buttered crostini. A tasty overture to any meal of the day, especially with a Champagne cocktail at breakfast, a Belgian draft at lunch or a glass of Côtes du Rhône at dinner. Beret optional.—T.T.

Smoked Pork Loin Spread

Plath’s Meats, 2200 East Mitchell Road, Petoskey, 231.348.8100

Our foodie dubs this the undisputed emperor of ham salads and a perfect picnic accessory at any time of the year. Smoky, salty bits of pork loin are whipped with mayo and beg for a slice of crispy baguette.—N.A.

Fried Chicken Dinner

The Dam Site Inn, 6705 Woodland Road, Pellston, 231.539.8851

The classic fried chicken feast at its absolute finest. Half vintage resort dining hall, half retro swanky mod lounge, the Dam Site Inn feeds her hungry patrons family-style platters of crispy fried chicken and heaping bowls of buttery mashed potatoes, housemade egg noodles and green peas. Sip a shaved ice martini at the white leather bar before tucking in.—B.M.

Smoked Whitefish Spread

John Cross Fisheries, 209 Belvedere Avenue, Charlevoix, 231.547.2532

A long-standing addiction for locals and tourists alike, John Cross’s freshly smoked Lake Michigan whitefish is blended with celery, fresh dill, cream cheese and spices. It freezes perfectly so you can plan your fixes.—B.M.

Turkey Sandwich

Gurney’s, 215 East Main Street, Harbor Springs, 231.526.5472

The hungry travel miles for these sandwiches. Our foodie recommends fresh and copiously stacked turkey topped with lettuce, tomato, pepper rings, cucumbers, Swiss cheese and the cultish signature deli sauce on thick-cut wheat bread.—B.M.

Custard-Filled Long John

Johan’s Pastry Shop, 565 West Mitchell Street, Petoskey, 231.347.3815

There are few guilty food pleasures greater than a good donut. This longstanding Petoskey bakery delivers the custard Long John like no one else can. Thick eggy custard nested in airy dough with a crisp exterior slathered in chocolate.—N.A.

Victorian Breakfast

Cupola Room, 340 State Street # 1, Harbor Springs, 231.526.8932

You’ll have to plan ahead to get a table at this breakfast Mecca of Victorian refinement. The menu changes daily and is delivered verbally. You might get lemon pancakes or eggs Benedict with heavenly hollandaise and eat it surrounded by copious lace in the company of Harbor’s cognoscenti. Every detail of the meal from the housemade sausage to the secret coffee is the very best and priced accordingly. Go on, you deserve it.—N.A.

Drunken Noodle

Thai Orchid, 433 East Mitchell, Petoskey, 231.487.9900

A Bangkok street food staple served up right here in the North. Wide rice noodles are stir-fried with egg, bean sprouts, peppers, broccoli and Thai basil in a sweet-salty-spicy soy-based sauce. One of the few dishes that can lure me away from the absurdly delicious Curry Duck. Begin or end with Thai Orchid’s cooling cucumber salad.—T.T.

Parmesan Olive Herb Bread

Pleasanton Bakery, 811 Cottage View Drive, Traverse City, 231.941.1964

This crunchy signature wood-fired loaf from Pleasanton is laced with rosemary, Parmigiano and green olives. Warm in your oven and serve with Fustini’s basil-infused olive oil as an enticing prelude to dinner parties or alongside hearty soups like Ribollita.—B.M.

Sea Bass

Red Ginger, 237 East Front Street, Traverse City, 231.944.1733

Red Ginger serves up sustainably harvested miso-glazed sea bass over Thai jasmine rice with a sauce built on sake, mirin and soy plus fresh cucumber and Asian-style pickled vegetables. Texturally divine and exploding with umami.—B.M.

Falafel Sandwich

The Pita Pit Stop, Downtown Traverse City, 231.590.1369

These transient sandwich-slingers have built a loyal cult-following with their spot-on falafel. Seasoned balls of chickpea flour are flash-fired and rolled in a pillowy pita stuffed with homemade turnip pickles and a spicy secret sauce.—B.M.

The Recipes of Patrick Brys

Brys Estate, 3309 Blue Water Road, Traverse City, 231.223.9303

The son of an Old Mission family whose virtuosity plays out in the vineyard and the kitchen, Patrick Brys’s culinary creations can be found on the Brys Estate website. Our foodie praises Patrick’s Israeli Couscous with asparagus, peas and feta.—B.M.

Smoked Salmon Salad

The Cooks’ House, 115 Wellington Street, Traverse City, 231.946.8700

A rotating delectable from the Cooks’ House cache of elevated comfort foods, the Smoked Salmon Salad sports fresh local micro greens, cold-smoked salmon and a perfectly poached egg dressed in a bright housemade vinaigrette and garnished with sea salt.—B.M.

Hand-Cut French Fries

Slabtown Burgers, 826 West Front Street, Traverse City, 231.932.1760

Freshly cut potatoes fried to a deeply delicious shade of golden brown and served up hot in a checked paper boat. Add malt vinegar, salt or ketchup; this is your canvas.—B.M.

The Campfire Wrap

Centre Street Cafe, 1125 Centre Street, Traverse City, 231.946.5872

Eminently crave-able, Centre Street’s Campfire Wrap rolls together shaved turkey, turkey bacon, smoked gouda and apple butter into a cylinder of purest joy.—B.M.

Gyros

U&I Lounge, 214 East Front Street, Traverse City, 231.946.8932

I was once a self-described gyro slinger at the U&I and still regularly crave a hot grilled pita piled high with shaved lamb and beef and topped with feta, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki.—N.A.

Fishtown Sandwich

Village Cheese Shanty, 199 River Street, Leland, 231.256.9141

Of course they’ll have you at “pretzel bread,” and beyond that, just give in and trust that the seemingly odd combo of olive spread, veggies, dill Havarti and guacamole (yes, guacamole!) will hit your tongue and sing. Happy hiking food.—R.H.

Hard Cider

Tandem Cider, 2055 North Setterbo Road, Suttons Bay, 231.271.0050

All their hard ciders, seasonally selected, are awesome and are bright, refreshing alternatives to wine and beer. Tasting room pourers are friendly and inspire easy conversation among tourists and locals over a chilled glass of cider.—R.H.

Oeufs Africaine

Patisserie Amie, 237 Lake Avenue #200, Traverse City, 231.922.9645

Impossible to resist the craving for Oeufs Africaine: couscous topped with a spicy tomato-eggplant sauce, poached eggs and a bit of hummus, with toast points. Perfect as a morning-after breakfast or for lunch.—R.H.

Burrata

Trattoria Stella, 1200 West Eleventh Street, Traverse City, 231.929.8989

Addictive, and when not available people cry, or at least this foodie does. Homemade fresh mozzarella, shaped like a bun with a topknot, embracing a filling of more mozzarella and cream. Served with crostini and tomatoes, which are fresh, or roasted when not in season. Share with a friend.—R.H.

Apricot Croissant

9 Bean Rows, 439 East Front Street, Traverse City, 231.271.1175

Rose cycles through the croissant selection at 9 Bean Rows—chocolate, sweet cheese and almond—but the apricot pinwheel with its dab of pastry cream and poached apricot on top is the one she dreams about.—R.H.

Rabbit

Mission Table, 13512 Peninsula Drive, Traverse City (Old Mission Peninsula), 231.223.4222

A dining room with elegant clean lines, a menu with classic leanings and every dish a treat—a surprise in its spot-on combination of flavors. One night our foodie sat at the communal table and asked the chef to choose the meal. The rabbit, a meat she finds hard to cook, was so tender she still reminisces.—R.H.

Charcouterie Platter

Riverside Inn, 302 East River Street, Leland, 231.256.9971

Any of the terrines, pâtés, salamis and sausages at Riverside are delectable, but when they offer a sampler platter, go for it. A meal in itself or a great appetizer to share at the bar. The accompaniments of olives, cornichons, mustard and fruit provide an endless mix-and-match combination for your tongue.—R.H.

Pumpkin Donuts

Covered Wagon Market & Bakery, 8996 E. Duck Lake Road, Suttons Bay, 231.271.6658

These seasonal offerings are an autumnal perfection—cinnamon spicy and tender, crunching sugar on the outside. Our foodie loves traditions like this, where having something only once a year keeps it special.—R.H.

Housemade Sausages

Hansen Foods, 91 West Fourth Street, Suttons Bay, 231.271.4280

It is a good day when the smoker is going in the back and you can smell the aroma as you near the store. Smoked or fresh, their sausages show the love. Rose’s favorite is the hot Italian—the right combination of red pepper flakes and fennel, as it should be.—R.H.

Cake Donuts

Friske Orchards, 10743 U.S. 31 North, Atwood, 231.599.2604

Seasonally reincarnated with pumpkin, apple, or cherry, the old school cake donuts at Friske’s are unrivaled. Get there early to fetch them warm, and witness the full textural revelation: hot crispy exterior, rich cakey center. Pair with coffee or hot cider.—T.T.

Brussels Sprouts and Carolina Burger

Mayfair, 515 Frankfort Avenue, Elberta, 231.352.9136

Foodies don’t always steer toward the cruciferous category, but the mystery foodie does at the Mayfair Tavern. The Carolina Burger, with its coleslaw and barbecue sauce, and a side of brussels sprouts—perfectly even texture all the way through, he asserts. Solid beer selection.—M.F.

Sweet Potato Fries & Michigan Beer

Thistle Pub and Grille, Crystal Mountain, M-115, Thompsonville

Our mystery foodie (and microbrew devotee) is enchanted by the all-Michigan beer selection here and loves to pair a brew with a plate of sweet potato fries. He especiall appreciates the three flavors of dips. The cozy Scottish hunt-club-esque vibe makes it all irresistible.—M.F.

Kobe Beef Burger

Galley Gourmet, 4181 Main Street, Bay Harbor, 231.439.2665

Neil calls this a steak masquerading as a broiled burger. A thick patty of marbled, magical and magnificently expensive Kobe beef is broiled to your preference and served on a challah roll. Go medium rare with bleu cheese and bacon.—N.A.

Peanut Butter Cup

Grand Traverse Pie Company, 525 West Front Street, Traverse City, 231.922.7437

Amid the siren song of sublimely overloaded pies lies Grand Traverse Pie Company’s little-known confectionary treasure, the Peanut Butter Cup: peanut butter wrapped in a cookie-crust cup topped with chocolate ganache. Yum!—B.M.

Rosemary Raclette

Leelanau Cheese Company, 10844 East Revold Road, Suttons Bay, 231.271.2600

Cheesemakers John and Anne Hoyt keep winning national awards for their cheese, and this new addition will likely add to the trophy shelf. The grassy greenness of the herb provides a fragrant complement to the nutty cheese. Sublime in gratins, especially potato.—R.H.

The Abbey Burger

7 Monks Taproom, 128 South Union Street, Traverse City, 231.421.8410

The caramelized onion and bacon marmalade might sound too precious, but trust our foodie, the flavor combo takes this burger to a place that defies its label and is anything but austere. Your choice, sharp cheddar or Gorgonzola. Rose prefers the latter.—R.H.

Red Dragon Roll

The Fusion, 300 Main Street, Frankfort, 231.352.4114

Fresh elemental flavor is the hallmark of sublime sushi, and our mystery foodie finds it in Fusion’s Red Dragon Roll. Outside: sushi rice marinated in mirin and sake. Inside: toasted blue nori seaweed, quality crab meat. On top: fresh ahi tuna. On the side: homemade sriracha, pickled ginger and wasabi. Pair with Moonstone, a coconut lemon grass sake.—M.F.

Fish Taco

The Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grill, 1058 Benzie Highway, Benzonia, 231.882.9631

The mystery foodie loves a fish taco. And he especially loves the one at Benzonia’s Roadhouse. Nuggets of lightly deep-fried piscatorial pleasure topped with peach salsa, embraced in a soft but also somehow crisp shell.—M.F.

Onassis Salad

The Dish Cafe, 108 South Union Street, Traverse City, 231.932.2233

Big, crisp, dark leafy lettuce, roasted red peppers, feta, olives, artichokes, red onion, hummus, tomatoes and a dressing that pulls it together perfectly. You’ll order it again and again.—R.H.

Get the March 2012 “Best Eats” issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and keep this article as your ultimate Up North dining guide!

Article Comments

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/hawk12/ hawk12

    Friske donuts as tops is a reach. You are giving kudos
    to a greasy gut bomb cake donut because it’s Friske’s.
    Glen’s market is better.