Northern Michigan Restaurants: They’ve already created one of America’s most noted foodie locales, but the North’s restaurateurs and chefs cannot resist the temptation to forever dial it up. Read on for eight fresh venues ready to please your palate even more.
Bella Fortuna North
104 W. Main Street, Lake Leelanau 231.994.2400
At Bella Fortuna North, al fresco diners sip vino nobile di Montepulciano and eat bright forkfuls of vine-ripened Leelanau County tomatoes. Inside, a custom Mugnini wood-fired oven caramelizes spit-roasted local chickens, and natural light pours over dark mahogany surfaces. The spirit of Tuscany has arrived in Northern Michigan. Owners Jane Fortune and Bob Hesse renovated this Lake Leelanau landmark to marry their twin loves of Tuscany and Northern Michigan by creating an authentic Tuscan farm-to-table trattoria. Chef Paul Carlson spent the winter deep in research, working and eating at kitchens in and around Hesse’s and Fortune’s home in Firenze to bring Bella Fortuna North patrons delicacies like arancini, crispy risotto globes stuffed with fresh mozzarella, ribollita, the classic Tuscan bread soup, and Bistecca Fiorentini, an enormous ribeye rubbed with sea salt, rosemary and dried porcini mushrooms. Pastas like pappardelle with wild boar ragu are made in house, as are seasonal schiacciatas, which are thin pizzas from the wood oven. The wine list is all Tuscany, running the spectrum from simple sangioveses to prestigious brunellos and super Tuscan cabernet blends. Bella Fortuna North’s bar has the North’s best collection of amaros (Italian bitter liqueurs), as well as housemade bitters and tonic water and barrel-aged negronis. Join us this month as we eat our way around the North’s new restaurant scene.
149 East Harbor Highway, Maple City 231.228.2560
The North’s first Old World gastro pub delivers hearty love from the British Isles with sautéed whelks, crispy haggis, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and ale-battered fish and chips. Hoist a pint.
118 Cass Street, Traverse City 231.946.8207
Guillaume Hazaël-Massieux of La Bécasse makes his downtown debut with this hip, convivial bistro concept. Find tantalizing terrines and artful bistro staples like blanquette de veau.
202 East State Street, Traverse City 231.929.0900
Pork devoté nirvana! Chef Chris Hoffman renders heritage hogs into housemade charcuterie or porchetta three ways, complemented by seasonal local produce. Breakfast, lunch or dinner.
120 South Park Street, Traverse City 231.421.5912
Pan-Italian favorites from classic piccatta to seared snapper with artichokes and olives or housemade salsicce with pappardelle and fresh marinara. Hit the lounge for local brews or a glass of sangiovese.
12719 Bay Shore Drive, Traverse City 231.922.2114
Savor waterfront vistas and cuisine like house-smoked pork shoulder, and Carlson’s whitefish with citrus gremolata. Creative cocktails and nicely priced wine list.
The Thirsty Goat
220 Lake Street, Boyne City 231.268.4628
Creative pub grub, multitudinous Michigan beers and stomping live music have re-energized the former 220 Lake Street into Boyne City’s hottest new casual dining hangout.
American Spoon Café
413 East Lake Street, Petoskey 231.347.7004
The Spoon dynasty launches its first fine dining restaurant with former Tapawingo chef Chris Dettmer and an artful farm-to-table menu featuring Gallagher Farms bavette steak with caper nasturtium remoulade or seared walleye with maitakis and leeks. Arty cocktail menu and groovy wines by the glass.
Paul Carlson: Executive Chef, Bella Fortuna North, Lake Leelanau
Oakland County native Paul Carlson worked his way around the Detroit restaurant scene before moving Up North to start the cafe at Black Star Farms where he fell in love with traditional wood oven cooking. He eventually met Bob Hesse and Jane Fortune who conscripted him to launch Bella Fortuna, the new Tuscan trattoria in Lake Leelanau. We caught up with Paul to talk essential Tuscan cuisine and the perfect late summer food.
What is the essence of Tuscan cooking?
Start with good ingredients and try not to screw them up. Seriously, I spent the winter reading cookbooks and eating in Tuscany, and their food is very much ingredient-driven and labor-intensive. There is certainly technique to making the pastas and ragus, but the essence is to showcase the flavors of seasonal produce.
Your simple perfect summer food from the farm or garden?
Local Green Zebra tomatoes sliced, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with good Tuscan olive oil. This doesn’t require anything more than a single knife, but it really is the perfect summer food. I like the Tuscan oils because of their high phenols and bright acidity, which enhances the flavor of the tomato.