We know you’re almost as crazy about Northern Michigan food as we are. Read on as Traverse‘s food and drink writer, Tim Tebeau, visits West End Tavern and sits down with Chef Andrew Viren to talk about inspiration, ingredients, and the best ways to prepare a Northern Michigan al fresco feast.

West End Tavern

12719 South West Bayshore Dr. | Traverse City | 231.943.2922

At West End Tavern, August evenings on the patio are soundtracked with gently lapping waves off West Bay, the rhythmic creak of moored sailboats and the rattle of cocktail shakers. A lakeside summer breeze circulates wood smoke laced with the heady scent of herb-rubbed birds caramelizing on a wood rotisserie. Neapolitan pizza crusts bubble in a firebrick oven. Tending the fires, Chef Andrew Viren and his crew kick out sharing plates of rustic tavern fare informed with bright Mediterranean flavors like wood-grilled chicken wings with creamy garlic sauce or charred broccoli with Fresno chilies and grilled lemon. Flintstone-style tomahawk steaks assume a mahogany sear over cherry wood coals; beside them on the grate are striated heirloom tomatoes that get quickly grilled for a late summer salad with watercress and charred lemon vinaigrette. Craft beers, house cocktails and a concise but dynamic selection of local and international wines flow from behind the bar.

First called to the food arts by a high school culinary class, Andrew Viren studied cooking at Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu campus, did a stint at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and then sailed for Cannes, where he spent the ensuing eight years catering the Cannes Film Festival and touring the Mediterranean as a private chef working in Dubrovnik, Bandol and Tel Aviv. Viren came North to be close to family this winter and signed on as executive chef at West End Tavern, a new venture of Apache Trout Grill owners Mike and Sheila Connors.

How did those years in Europe shape your perspective on cooking?

I was immediately taken with the way that Europeans shop. Meat comes from a butcher, seafood from a fishmonger, produce is pretty much exclusively seasonal and sold fresh at open air markets. Everything and everyone has a purpose and specialty. It taught me to respect and establish relationships with the people who grow our food, and that a great dish is always based on the integrity of its ingredients paired with the right technique.

So what ingredients and techniques can we expect to find at West End Tavern?

We’ve named it a tavern because we want it to be integral to the community and serve families approachable food without pretension. We’re burning local cherry wood in our grills, ovens and rotisserie, and wood smoke is really a central flavor in this food. My time cooking in the Mediterranean really taught me to love fresh bright flavors, so we’re incorporating a ton of fresh herbs, citrus and olive oil. We’re making sweet potatoes roasted with Satar seasoning and served with tahini dip, and our chicken wings are inspired by a dish I used to eat a lot in Tel Aviv: grilled and served with a garlicky yogurt sauce.

It’s August and we want to cook a simple al fresco feast. Go.

For me, August is zucchini, summer squash and really great tomatoes, all of which complement grilled chicken with lemon and garlic. Marinate chicken thighs overnight with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon and slivered garlic. When it’s time to cook, cut some fresh tomatoes in half and slice zucchini and summer squash, toss them with olive, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. When the chicken is about half done put the vegetables on the grill so they slightly char and soften. You can brush the vegetables with a little balsamic after they’re done cooking.



This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
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Photo(s) by Dave Weidner