Traverse City Restaurants: Spotlight on The Bay Leaf and other Northern Michigan restaurants that work with homegrown pork.

Bay Leaf
120 S. Park Street, Traverse City, 231.421.5912 Polished brown-black maple floors and deep sage walls play space to a delectable orbit of pork belly and persimmon salads and crispy duck confit over beluga lentils; this is the universe of The Bay Leaf and the center of gravity is 28-year-old chef Adam McMarlin, Traverse City’s hottest new culinary talent. Bay Leaf harnesses contemporary American bistro fever in the all the right ways. A creative but unpretentious menu showcases local ingredients, heritage hogs, housemade charcuterie and classic French technique. You’ll find rustic comfort food like braised pork cheeks with crispy duck-fat-poached potatoes and tomato saffron jam and be able to wash it down with a great glass of red from the Rhône Valley. Bay Leaf has an extensive modern wine program with over 40 offerings by the glass and casual diners can go gastro-pub style in the bar area, enjoying a wine flight and a couple of appetizers for less than 30 bucks.

Join us this month as we explore how the great American pork revival has inspired the kitchens of Northern Michigan.

La Becasse
9009 South Dunns Farm Road, Burdickville, 231.334.3944 Cassoulet for Two: Take your lover and your appetite to the back roads of Burdickville for the official dish of Gascony. Duck, Toulouse sausage and, yes, lots of rich pork are slow-cooked with white beans, tomato and herbs.

Trattoria Stella
1200 West Eleventh Street, Traverse City, 231.929.8989 Pig’s Foot: Slow cooked, focaccia dusted, fried and served up with hot peppers, lemon and thyme, it doesn’t  really get any better.

Lulu’s Bistro
213 North Bridge Street, Bellaire, 231.533.5252 Smoked Pork Sliders: Lulu’s provides midday ecstasy in the form of smoked, hand-pulled pork butt served on a crusty roll with barbecue caramelized onions and truffle oil slaw.

215 ½ Howard Street, Petoskey, 231.347.2981 Bangers and Mash: Chef Tommy Kaszubowski  reinvents this old school English pub favorite with housemade pork sausage, creamy mashed potatoes and spicy mustard. Have two pints and take the rest of the day off.

Northern Michigan Foodie File
Adam McMarlin
Executive Chef, The Bay Leaf, Traverse City With humble beginnings as a self-described produce rat  at Vince & Joe’s on Detroit’s east side, Adam McMarlin felt the pull of the kitchen through his college years and got a hands-on education at San Diego’s Farmhouse Café before returning to Michigan and opening Traverse City’s Bay Leaf with Dan Kelly and Denny Fitzpatrick last fall. We catch Adam in his kitchen to eat pork and talk simple food.

This is my first eating pork cheeks; what makes them so good? The cheek or jowl is a very tough muscle because it’s used constantly but it is flavorful for that very reason. I slowly braise it in beer with star anise, fennel seeds, cardamom, coriander and cinnamon stick and then sear it before serving.

Since this month is all about the pigs, what should our readers know? If you’re going t get serious about pork, the quality of the pig is most important. Locally raised heritage breeds like Berkshire or Mangalitsa are highly marbled and therefore better. I encourage everyone to order or cook with the more flavorful cuts like shoulder, belly and rib chops.

Note: We're sorry to report (because it was delicious) the Bay Leaf is no longer open.

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