It’s springtime, and concomitant to the bursting of green throughout Northern Michigan’s outdoors is the sprouting of delicious food finds from the forest floor.  We’ve scoured Northern Michigan to find spring edibles at Northern Michigan restaurants, which utilize their proverbial backyards to source local, wild-grown food.  The following content first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

Nine Bean Rows — 303 Saint Joseph Street, Suttons Bay 231.271.1175

The kitchen at Nine Bean Rows is painted with a freshly picked spring inventory of crimson-flushed ramp stems, verduous fiddleheads and tawny morels that Chef Paul Carlson and his capable crew pickle, blanch and sauté in a tasty forest-to-fork transformation. Opened last summer in the renovated historic firehouse in downtown Suttons Bay, Nine Bean Rows is a slow-food collaboration between Carlson and Nick and Jen Welty of the eatery’s namesake farm and bakery operations. The kitchen takes its seasonal cues from Welty’s farm and a network of other small local growers, constantly changing to accommodate what’s ripe into deliberate, rustic preparations like ramp risotto, braised rabbit and morels over handmade pasta or lamb shank with vegetables (see image to left). Morning café and lunch offerings incorporate Jen Welty’s incomparable croissants and crusty wood-oven breads baked at Black Star Farms. An expansive patio invites patrons to savor an al fresco lamb burger or croque monsieur with Leelanau raclette.

Blue Fish Kitchen & Bar — 12 River Street, Manistee, 231.887.4188

Spring flora and fauna are served with gastro-pub flare at this hip Manistee fish joint. Look for spring salads with local hothouse greens, mushroom risottos and bright green spears of asparagus studding plates of pan-seared walleye.

Martha’s Leelanau Table — 413 Saint Joseph Street, Suttons Bay, 231.271.2344

Spring at Martha’s means bright green blanched asparagus landing in airy frittatas and omelets, fiddlehead ferns are flash-sautéed in olive oil, and morels give their earthy essence to a quick sauce of shallots, stock and cream.

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

TC’s local food gurus are happy to retire root vegetables in favor of pea shoots and baby leeks to accent fresh whitefish or sautéed morels over succulently stuffed local poultry.

Esperance — 18253 US31 North, Charlevoix, 231.237.9300

Kicking off the season with haute cuisine farmed and foraged a few miles from the kitchen door, Esperance offers delicious vernal vittles like morels stuffed with duck mousseline or morel, ramp and asparagus cassoulet.

Elixir Café & Restoratives — 517 South Union Street, Traverse City, 231.943.2210

Paleos, vegans and foodies of every sort are loving the creative spa cuisine served up at Elixir. Sip a manifold smoothie like the Supercharge with Goji, banana, berries, Chorella and coconut water or chow a bowl of rock shrimp with sweet potato noodles, cashews, mint and tamarind-lime.

May 2014 coverMore Northern Michigan Food

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski