Sunday, November 27, 2011

Minervas Restaurant and Bar

Minervas Restaurant and Bar inside of the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City.

The Park Place Hotel in downtown Traverse City holds quite a few gems.

It is one of the oldest buildings in TC, certainly one of the most recognizable (as it towers over downtown from its perch on the corner of Park and State streets), it has an amazing venue space "under the dome" or at the top of the Park, its lobby is beautiful, its rooms well appointed and its food and drink selections are perfect!

The bar at Minervas is always hoppin' at happy hour!

Minervas is situated quite prominently at the base of the Park Place. It consists of a lively bar and semi-formal dining areas. Dinner here after a stroll through downtown's shops fits nicely alongside of its long storied reputation as a place to take the prom date.

Minervas' pricing is quite nice as well. The bar serves a full menu, however their features are made up of some excellent forms of "bar food" fare with a Park Place touch of panache. Some great examples of the bar's limited menu include Whitefish Pate (7.99), a selection of some of the most amazing artisan pizzas in town (all less than $15), an amazing French Dip (8.99) and so on.

Kicking up the class factor a notch, Minervas' finer dining atmosphere surrounds the bar.

As I just mentioned, the bar will gladly serve you from either its limited menu or the wider Minervas' menu.

Highlights from that wider selection include Coconut Shrimp (9.99), Seafood Mac and Cheese (one of my favorites for sure! 17.99), Wild Mushroom Ravioli (17.99), Brandied Pecan Walleye (18.99), Creamy Seafood Jambalaya (16.99), Steak Michael (24.99) and so on. To read this menu is to produce a lot of salivation! Minervas is a well ensconced institution here in Traverse City and the people of Minervas work very hard to maintain their favored status! I have yet to be disappointed with a meal at this joint.

A neighborhood bar with some laid back class is wht you'll find tucked neatly within the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City.

The atmosphere of Minervas differs, depending upon the time of day that you choose to wander through the Park Place's lobby.

It works hard to give off a friendly, neighborhood feel, most of the time it's able to pull that off. As mentioned, there is an aire of elegance that accompanies a meal within the restaurant. That aire is purposely sloughed off at the bar. It remains an upper-class establishment for sure, but does not hinder your experience with stuffy or unapproachable and judgemental waitstaff or patrons. 

Whether dining inside or out on the patio, Minervas offers a grand atmosphere and great people watching in downtown Traverse City, MI.

This restaurant is a frequent stop-off for Lisa and myself. We enjoy the food, the atmosphere, the location (this joint is great if you're on your way to the State or to the Opera House!) and the people that inhabit it.

Happy hour runs from 4-6 and then again from 9-11. In the warmer months, their outside seating on the Park Place's patio is a true people watching extravaganza!

If you're there to sample the libations, DO NOT miss the Minervas' house brew. It is brewed especially for them by the Michigan Brewing Company. It's a delightful amber ale that refreshes quite nicely, finishes with a crisp, happy bite and goes well with anything on their menu. The martinis at this joint are also some of the best in town! Try the Bling-Bling or the Maui Sunrise. Holy yum!

If you venture here, enjoy it, savor it, take your time. This is what TC life is all about. Great food, good friends, amazing brews and mixes and a bit of that laid back lifestyle allowance we all need and deserve every now and then.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mission Table

Mission Table, on the Old Mission Peninsula just outside of Traverse City, MI, is the ideal mix of class and local fare.

There are some food experiences that travel beyond a simple meal with varied flavors.  These experiences bring you into a world of outstanding cuisine combined with a completely engrossing atmosphere.  THIS is fine dining.  THIS is excellent food and drink, made even more so by the company.  This is Mission Table.

A relaxed, elegant atmosphere awaits you at one of Traverse City's finest food destinations.

My lovely Lisa and I recently celebrated her birthday at Mission Table.  Present were her parents and a few of our closest friends.

I had heard little about this restaurant.  It yet remains somewhat of a mystery to the average Traverse Citian.  It is a bit removed from TC, but not too far as to be completely inaccessible, it is adjacent to Jolly Pumpkin afterall.

For those of you not yet familiar with Jolly Pumpkin or its location, both that restaurant (a fun place, but be careful with the beer) and Mission Table occupy the old Bower's Harbor Inn and The Bowery mansion about 15-20 minutes from TC on Old Mission Peninsula.

A "limited menu" is certainly anything but at Mission Table in Traverse City.

As just mentioned, at Jolly Pumpkin (as you can see in my review, linked above) I caution people on the beer selection.  It is certainly an acquired taste.  And, as is to be expected, Mission Table does share a bar with Jolly Pumpkin.  So, again, perhaps you should taste your selection before ordering a full pint.

However, the lovely, crisp beer, 129 I believe was its name......perhaps 159......something along those lines, is completely perfect.  A slight buttery first hit to the palette with a refreshing, slightly spicing afterward.  This is instantly one of my favorite beers.

Mission Table's offerings will instantly win you over.

The bar is the only thing shared by the two restaurants.  The atmosphere of Mission Table is wholly different from Jolly Pumpkin.  There is a relaxed class to the place, a sophisticated aire that does not seem forced or put on, but natural and comfortable.  There are no stuffed shirts, fake waitstaff or pretentious ideals here.  There is no show.  This restaurant is fine dining simply for the fact that it is all those things AND it allows the "fine" aspect to come through by way of its exquisite cuisine.

Many Traverse City restaurants attempt, and fail, to pull off what seems to come so effortlessly to the kitchen and staff at Mission Table.

Pictured above is the birthday girl's meal; grilled loin of lamb, French lentils, mustard sauce and seasonal vegetables.  Above that picture, you'll find my meal; filet mignon with roasted fingerling potatoes, seasonal vegetables in a red wine reduction.  Both plates were simply perfect, in every way.

If you're looking for a restaurant that offers a true escape, Mission Table is the place for you!

Our meals began with a pork belly dish and a scallop dish as well.  These were, as expected, delicious.

As it was her birthday, we brought along a cake, made by Katie, the pastry queen at Centre Street Cafe, a friend to Lisa and a couple of others gathered at the table.

Even birthdays are better at Mission Table!
What is it about a restaurant that can bring friends together and offer a simply superb experience?  There truly is something completely special about a place that can bring so many elements into line to make for such a perfect evening.  On its surface, a restaurant full of happy consumers, tinkling glasses, wonderful waiters and waitresses and packed dining rooms seems like such a simple thing.  This misconception has doomed many an establishment.  It is most certainly NOT an easy thing to bring perfection into the dining realm.  Mission Table, with its outstanding LOCAL fare, its unique and charming waitstaff and its all encompassing atmosphere of relaxed sophistication and elegance has certainly discovered that ever elusive equation which amounts to an amazing evening, one that patrons will seek to recreate time and time again.

In short, we loved it!  Mission Table's focus on local, sustainable foods sourced from local farmers at the height of their varied seasons is something that captures my loyalty instantly.  The magic that they work with these local meats and veggies holds that loyalty quite well!  I will heartily recommend this establishment to anyone and everyone.

Wishes certainly come true at Mission Table in Traverse City!

For anyone seeking a truly perfect evening amongst friends and loved ones, look no further than Mission Table, a place where your every food wish will certainly be granted!  (Like that?  She's blowing out her candle and I worked that "wish" thing in to the closing!  Brilliant!  Or, at least it would be if I hadn't written all of this....hmmm....note for the future I suppose.  Don't point out your segways, got it.)

Oh, and watch out for those ghosts!

One more thing:  The joint's supposedly haunted by the widow of the man who owned the mansion.  Hung herself in the elevator shaft, it seems.  The waitstaff would be happy to fill you in  on the tale, all you need do is ask! (I went for a small ghost hunt there and, just as in the Congress Hotel in Chicago, I found zero ghosts, sigh, oh well).

(All photos by Lisa Kelly and Brooks Vanderbush)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Village Cheese Shanty (Cheese Shack)

Nestled within Leland's historic Fishtown is a shack you can't afford to miss!

Award winning Leelanau County wines, over 60 imported and domestic cheeses, a grand selection of local brews, packed lunches for island hikes and fishing trips and more.  Yes, ladies and gents, you have entered the world of Fishtown's own Village Cheese Shanty!

Nautical decor and local food; a day out in Leland, MI does not get any better than this!

Fishtown is a historic fishing village located in the small town of Leland, MI on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Its shanties house some of the most eccentric, wonderful shops and foodie finds.  It oozes history and makes one feel as though they've stumbled off of the Mitten and landed on some northern New England coast in the midst of fishing lore.  The fresh air, the sound of the waves, the historic boats, the sweet little shacks and the ferry heading to Manitou, ferrying campers and hikers, all combine to make for a deliciously surreal experience. 

In the midst of all this wonder rests the Village Cheese Shanty.

Plenty of wine options abound for the avid picnic basket filler within us all.

The Shanty offers a wide array of goods, including wines from such fabled Leelanau vinters as Blackstar Farms, L. Mawby, Gills' Pier and beyond.

The beer selection is wonderful.  From Arcadia Ales to Bell's, Short's to varied other local lovelies, the lover of the hop is certain to be pleased by this selection.  Some are sold by the bottle, nice and cold.  Is it legal to take your single brew and sit at one of the dockside picnic tables and enjoy?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Just do it, blame it on Nike.

Even the chips are local at the Village Cheese Shanty is Leland, MI.

Despite the grand selection of local wonders: chips, cherry products, hot sauces...................

Life is nothing without dessert!

.........homemade desserts..........

A myriad of tasting experiences rests within this little case at the Village Cheese Shanty.

.........massive amounts of varied cheeses..............

For those of you that love a local brew, the Village Cheese Shanty in Leland, MI is the place to be!

........and, again, the beer, there is but one reason that locals and travellers alike flock to this tiny shanty on the dock:  The sandwiches.

The main attraction: sandwiches.

Completely homemade (including the bread, you MUST try the pretzel bread, best ever!), these sandwiches are of a wildly different form than any other sandwich that you have ever tasted.

Do not be afraid to ask the artists what you should try. 

When I asked the purveyor what form of meat and wheat I should partake in, she did not hesitate:

"Leelanau with turkey on pretzel bread."

I was in!  I ordered the selected sandy and was soon in crusty creation heaven!  My sandwich consisted of turkey (instead of roast beef), Leelanau peppercorn fromage blanc, onion, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and dijon mustard.  It was sublime!

El fresco doesn't get much better than it is in Leland, MI!

Now, I'll be the very first to admit that one's surroundings have a huge effect on whether or not one enjoys their meal.

My surroundings consisted of a crystal clear river, the smell and feel of the fresh, wide open out-of-doors (as my grandma once said), the sun, the amazing company and the surrounding Fishtown.  Would I of loved this sandwich as much were I eating it in Fulsom Prison?  Perhaps, who knows?  All I know now is that this was the perfect combination of ambiance and edible brilliance, a tour de force of awesome, if you will.  No restaurant in all the land, no matter how fine, could match what I was surrounded by at that moment.

Be sure to explore the other shacks of Fishtown!

Lastly, please notice that my can in the first sandwich pic is from Arcadia, not Pepsi.  I drank it at the river's edge, in full view and did not get ticketed.  That's proof enough of non-illegality for me!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sugarfoot Saloon

Out in the middle of nowhere is a culinary delight; Sugarfoot Saloon.

When I say that you need to leave the comfort of familiarity and venture out of the perceived boundaries of your new-found locale,THIS is what I'm talking about!  This little joint is a true slice of local, Northern Michigan dining.

A friendly, welcoming staff and decor inhabit this Cedar, MI restaurant.

Quite literally out in the middle of nowhere (technically Cedar, MI), Sugarfoot Saloon is a favorite of the local farmers, neighbors and TC peeps needing an escape from the downtown hustle and bustle.  Sugarfoot Saloon is a perfect example of how my mantra (LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL......oh yeah, and: OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE) comes into play to score a HUGE hit.

Sugarfoot Saloon lives up to its name with a fully stocked bar.

What do I mean by "LOCAL"?  That's obvious, I won't be answering that. 

What do I mean by "OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE"?  That statement simply means that if you find yourself in a city, town or place that you have never been, DO NOT stick to the well travelled path!  Venture to where the locals go and I assure you that you shall find an experience that is truly LOCAL.

Even if you have lived within a certain locale for many years, there still exists a comfort zone that you need to shuck off.  If you do, you WILL find something new and wonderful within the bland and familiar.

Family friendly and fantastic, Sugarfoot Saloon is a favorite hang-out in Cedar, MI.

Lisa and I have a CSA farm out in Cedar.  A CSA farm is a place where you buy a "share" and throughout the growing season you are able to pick up farm fresh produce, eggs and meat once per week.  It is divine!

On one of our excursions to our farm, we took a different route (yes, we got a little lost, but it was FUN!).  On this route, we passed by Sugarfoot Saloon.  At first it struck us as a place that may not be too welcoming to strangers.  Boy, were we ever mistaken in that assumption!

Some great pulls occupy Sugarfoot Saloon's bar, including two brews of their very own.

To begin with, do not let this "out in the middle of nowhere" place scare you; its staff and patrons are some of the most welcoming folk you will ever meet.  And they make their own beer Heaven, I was in heaven.  Not only did I adore the modern saloon decor, but, when the first, crisp drop of Liquid Sunshine passed over my tongue, I was completely sold on the necessity of this place within the larger Grand Traverse area dining scene.

They, of course, have a full selection of other beers, a few locals and a few old standbys, as well as a full bar and knowledgeable bar staff.  No worries if craft brews are not for you.  But......if craft brews are not for you.....perhaps this blog isn't either.  LOCAL!!

Liquid Sunshine at Sugarfoot Saloon. It tastes as good as it sounds!

Sugarfoot's cuisine is equally pleasing.  Billed as a great place to grab some Mexican cuisine, it is also quite popular for its American fare.  Their broasted chicken is apparently to die for.  They have everything from a 4 piece to a 96 piece (with call ahead for the 96er).  I'd take this place over that nasty ol' Colonel any day!

The jalapeno poppers are a very fun, spicy way to start your experience here.  Their homemade salsas are also smokin'!

Sugarfoot has a wide selection for both Mexican and American food, as you will see from their menu on their site (which I linked to above).  I went with the HUGE sirloin tip wet burrito.  It was the absolute perfect match for my glass of sunshine.

Along with some grand sips come the superb bites!

While this place is about a 20-30 minute drive from downtown TC, it is totally worth it.  The drive is scenic, to say the least.  You are surrounded by farms (even a hop farm!), the countryside and some truly amazing people. 

Lisa and I will be venturing back for sure!  I am craving more Liquid Sunshine and another helping of something Mexican.

Moral: Do not be limited in your adventures by fear of the unknown.  A comfort zone is, oftentimes, a hindrance.  I point to cruise ships as a perfect example of this.  "We went to Jamaica, Cozumel and Key West!"  "Did you leave the tour group and hit up some place local?"  "No."  "Then, my friend, you did NOT go to Jamaica, Cozumel and Key West."

But Brooks, you say, in some places, venturing out to find something local can be dangerous! 

Don't whine to me about that!  I've done third world local, straight street-food, because that's where the locals went.  When I sat down, began speaking their language, eating their food, ordering their beer and appeared as at ease as they were, the tension completely melted away.

On the other hand, if you get into a tight spot, that's also a learning experience and a great story for later (if you survive) so.....good luck and you're welcome.

That's the third world.  This is Northern Michigan.  Quit with the whining and hit up Sugarfoot.  It will be a highlight of your journey, I guarantee!!

OH!  And try the apple dessert (if they have it), it will BLOW YOUR MIND!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Monday, September 5, 2011


Soaring 17 floors, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's tower dominates an otherwise unremarkable skyline.

Shall we discuss fine dining?  Why yes, yes we shall.

Aerie sits perched atop the only "skyscraper" in the TC area (actually just a little past the gas station paradise of Acme).  More commonly known as the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (an amazing place to stay, by the way, truly top notch!), the tower of this resort is the home of one of Traverse City's most amazing dinnertime views.

The decor delights the senses almost as much as the view!

The vista from any table in the joint is simply amazing.  You will literally be sipping your Cristal whilst overlooking all of the beauty that the Grand Traverse Region has to offer.  The panorama alone is certainly worth one of TC's highest price tags.

Is the view from Aerie in Acme, MI worth the rather subpar food and sky high price? Possibly.....

Now, let me tell you what I envision when I think of "fine dining."

Fine dining, to little ol' me, is all about new and exciting experiences.  As you can see from the pics, the ambiance offered at Aerie is quite lovely.  However, the experience of fine dining is about MUCH more than the patron's surrounding environment, to be sure. 

Aerie is truly an amazingly beautiful restaurant with loads of potential.

Inherent in the phrase "fine dining" is an exceptional encounter with food. 

During a recent trip to the top of the Resort, my lovely Lisa and I had a wonderful time.  But, that time was had more as a result of the company than as a result of the offered fare. 

Lisa and I are fans of the complete set of food-stuffs.  We had heard from a trusted chef friend that the bread, supposedly homemade, was quite tasty.  Well, while surrounding tables were piled high with bread and the accompanying oils, our waitress never produced a single grain.  We thought perhaps the bread only appears with a salad purchase, but that would seem a bit too "Big Boy" for such an establishment.  So we let it alone, a bit too amused by the situation to actually inquire about what was up.

Slightly put off, but still in lovely moods, we ordered a couple tasty appetizers.  My pork belly, complete with black beans and rice, was superb.  Lisa's Octopus was outstanding.  I sipped on a Short's brew and we made some EXTREMELY intelligent conversation, if I do say so myself!

For the main course we went with the seafood paella and the sea bass, both fantastic.  Dessert saw some rather unimpressive square creations, supposedly "cake," but rather tasteless and bland.

Caution can be thrown to the wind if you love a good local brew, Aerie has a pretty decent selection.

My final opinion of this establishment is this:  wonderful restaurant, but could/should be so much more.  While I was very pleased with the overall taste and quality of the food, the taste was a result of heavy saucing with some exquisite sauces.  A fine dining experience should be consistent and the sum of the food's flavor should not be held within its sauces.  I have been to some phenomenal fine dining eateries in my day and many have bowled me over completely.  The way in which they marry the food's natural flavors with the various spices and sauces presented were completely new and exciting to my pallet.  Myriad new and strange offerings graced their menus and their chefs wove their magic into every single bite.

I suppose that I felt a bit robbed, to tell you the truth.  I left Aerie pleased, but slightly disappointed.  When someone visits your restaurant in search of fine dining, your chef needs to be prepared to offer up a meal that is better and more enticing than can be found at the myriad exceptional restaurants surrounding him/her.  To me, Amical, Red Ginger, Stella,  Poppycock's and basically all of the areas other first-rate offerings stood out as places I would of rather ventured to.

While this may seem a bit harsh, I thoroughly expect to be wowed whenever I venture into a restaurant claiming to be "fine."  In this case, Aerie was fine, but only fine.  You really have to kick it up a notch for a guy whose favorite stop is Amical or whose significant other can cook like mine can!!  Next time Lisa and I seek out fine dining, I think that we'll make the tiny little jaunt back to the Cook's House (they were completely booked that night).

All restaurants mentioned will be reviewed eventually, I promise.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jolly Pumpkin

The unique decor and wonderful lodge like atmosphere make Traverse City's Jolly Pumpkin a grand place to dine!

Ah Jolly Pumpkin, how I love thee.

This restaurant, a short drive out Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, is beautifully appointed.  The fond memories of Bower's Harbor Inn and the Bowery (the restaurants that once inhabited this old mansion) still echo within these walls.  Instead of the high end Bower's Harbor Inn, there is now Mission Table, which is, in my opinion, looking to be world's better.  I have yet to experience this bit of elegance, but when I do I will pass along my little opinion.  For now, we will discuss The Bowery's replacement.

Booths, high-tops and tables all come together in an effort to allow you to enjoy Jolly Pumpkin's fare.

Set-up within a beautiful old home, the Jolly Pumpkin occupies the back half of the mansion.  The decor within this joint is spot on.  I love the atmosphere, from the huge wooden front door, to the bar and the seating areas.  There does not appear to be a bad table at this restaurant, each has its own unique place and reason.  Love it.

North Peak brews mix with Jolly Pumpkins sour Belgium style creations. Many take some getting used to.

The food here is always fun as well.  From crab tator-tots and truffled French fries on the appetizer menu to the summer vegetable plate and the constantly changing fresh fish plate on the entree menu, I have yet to find a loser. 

Jolly Pumpkin is popular for artisan pizzas as well.  My favorite is the wild mushroom pizza, but, if that doesn't float your boat, there are six others to choose from.  You can grab a steak off of the wood fired grill, dive into a Bison sloppy joe or delight in the ever wonderful salmon sandwich.  Don't forget to ask about their specials as well.  They oftentimes get quite creative with the specials menu.

The food, and people that serve it, are both excellent here at Traverse City's Jolly Pumpkin on Old Mission Peninsula!

Now, this place promotes itself as a brewery.  It is, in fact, part of a family of restaurants including Blue Tractor and North Peak.  Both wonderful establishments with great beer that you will soon be able to read about.  But, when at Jolly Pumpkin, be cautious of the beer.

During my first excursion there I was quite excited to taste the juice of their various taps.  I chose Bam Biere, a beer heralded as a "top 25 beers in America" pick from Men's Journal.  I eagerly brought the cup to my lips for my first taste of this man-loved beer and was instantly hit with a very unique flavor.

Here's the rub - these beers are not for the beginner. Me and my…..shall we say……very experienced (ha) palate adore these brews, but, when I've introduced less experienced friends or family, they do not share my pleasure.

A lot of their beers share a strange, sharp flavor/bite. Strange, that is, to the uninitiated.  I am not sure why, but it is quite vexing to some!  During my last trip, I sampled their Fuego Del Otono, it was amazing.  However, much to my dismay, I ordered their light beer and did not catch the name of it, because it was also amazing.  A crisp, buttery delight.  I will be going back for seconds of each for sure!

Even though many brews are an acquired taste, you are certain to find something that pleases behind the bar at Jolly Pumpkin.

The moral here is one that you should follow at every restaurant, be careful.  Jolly Pumpkin can be a truly amazing experience, just be sure to ask for a taste sample of the beer before you dive in to one of their liter bottles or tall drafts. I love them, but, again, not for beginners!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Centre Street Cafe

Traverse City's own urban lunch scene is tucked away near the intersection of Garfield and Centre Street, hence the name, Centre Street Cafe.

If you came here seeking well kept secrets of Traverse City dining, then this little section of the blog is for you.

Within certain circles, Centre Street Café is the epitome of today’s modern local urban cuisine. One wouldn’t know by looking at it, though.

From its non-descript location (not walking distance to downtown) on Centre Street (imagine that!) just off of Garfield Avenue, tucked behind Agave (a sweet Mexican joint) and next to a martial arts academy, this little café gives off the aire of a local greasy spoon favorite. My friends, it is most definitely MUCH more than that!

Within the unassuming walls (covered in local art for sale) rests one of Traverse City’s most amazing culinary experiences.

Frequented by the local business class, this café is often hoppin’. Once you grab the menu, tucked lovingly behind the napkin holder on your table, you’ll begin to understand why so many people leave the confines of downtown to venture out to this café.

As you begin to peruse the offerings you’ll notice combinations that you have never dreamed of before. One of my very best friends describes the Tom On The Town sandwich as “Thanksgiving dinner.” She adores it. From wasabi and apples on one sandwich, to shark on another, no matter what your taste buds are screaming for, you are certain to find a mix of flavors that will make them say “ahhhhhh.”

A great finish to an amazing meal, do not miss Centre Street Cafe's desserts!

Now, when many people hear of Centre Street Café’s various sandwich offerings (I believe that the menu holds a little over 500,000 different sandwiches {that’s only a slight exaggeration}), they tend to dismiss it as a great place for a sandwich, which it most certainly is, but it is so much more.

My first suggestion is to check the specials' boards once you have wandered in. Exotic meats, vegetables and spices often grace these boards. The owner, Pete, is a self taught chef whose creations are the stuff of legend.

Centre Street Cafe, in Traverse City, takes lunch to a whole new level, one reason why it is so incredibly popular with the locals!

Sit back and allow me to indulge you here.

On this particular day, the specials board listed the following scrumptiousness:

Ahi Enzio- Seared prosciutto wrapped Ahi tuna served with an Arugula and lentil salad with shaved fennel, crisp pancetta, red onion and green beans.

Good Lord.

Elk Macario- Fresh herb seasoned ground elk meat-balls with house made herb-tomato sugo and crumbled goat cheese over whole wheat gemelli pasta.

Sweet Virgin Mary and the orphans!

Smoked Duck Pizza- House made smoked pulled duck, cabernet poached pears, exotic mushrooms, fresh sage, gorgonzola, red onion and cilantro. Balsamic-fennel-onion reduction.

Dios mio. For real. All this and the most expensive thing is around $13. Heaven!

Small but stylish, Centre Street Cafe lets its food do the talking for it.

People, this is one of my favorite TC locations. Everytime I leave this cafe, I feel that I have truly experienced a genuine bit of culinary excellence. The atmosphere is real, the creating is done before your very eyes and the staff who work at this place are some of the most outstanding of any restaurant I have ever experienced.

If you are seeking culinary excellence on a fresh, local level while in Traverse City, search no farther than Centre Street Café.

My parting piece of advise to you is simple. If you take the time to seek out the exquisite fare at Centre Street Café, DO NOT CREATE YOUR OWN SANDWICH. While the ingredients are the freshest and the taste still defeats any other establishment, you will be missing an entire experience, the experience that makes Centre Street Café stand apart from the other restaurants of Traverse City: the unique combination of flavors that will soon have you hopelessly and completely addicted.  It should be a crime to have a "create your own" section on a menu in an eatery such as this.

Once you have tasted Centre Street Cafe's scrumptiousness, you will be one of the privileged few who can whisper sweet nothings to those around you about that amazing place on the outskirts of town. The whispers are growing. This place won’t be a “secret” for long.

Catering of all sorts and forms is available from the crew at Centre Street Cafe in Traverse City. No matter what you love, there will be an option for you!

Added bonus: They cater.  No matter what you envision at your event, Pete and his staff will concoct a creation that wows, take my word for it!  (And Levar Burton's too!)

(All photos by Lisa Kelly)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cousin Jenny's

A mainstay in downtown Traverse City, Cousin Jenny's is grand place for breakfast out!

Although Cousin Jenny's has been occupying the corner of Union and State Streets in downtown Traverse City for as long as I can remember, I have never made the choice to wander underneath its Union Jack.  That all changed a few days ago when Lisa and I were looking for a breakfast spot, doing our usual "Where do you want to go?"  "I don't know, where do you want to go?"  

Cousin Jenny's offers outdoors seating, perfect for people watching during Traverse City's Film Festival or Cherry Festival.

We made a split second decision as we passed under the stop light at Union and pulled up beside Cousin Jenny's. 

Now, my first experience with Cornish Pasties was a rather surprising one.  I had no idea what they were when a friend suggested we stop and grab some on a road trip through Michigan's Upper Peninsula (home to MANY a pastie joint!).  I expected a "pastry" experience, but instead was served beef and potatoes.  Now, we all know the "WHAT IN THE WORLD??" moment that takes place after your taste buds register something completely unexpected.  That was my first impression of this true working man's feast.

Inside Cousin Jenny's, the atmosphere is warm and inviting.

Pasties were brought about by a need for working men to have a hardy, transportable meal.  This was no frills, fuel the body dining for sure!  In fact "Cousin Jenny's" is the term given to wives of miners working in a location in England that escapes me at the moment.....Northern I think.  Not going to Bing it, this is not a history lesson.  Besides, the two wonderful owners of Traverse City's Cousin Jenny's will happily fill you in on the history of the term and the history of all other things having to do with their inviting establishment.

The food is real stuff of the earth type fare, perfect for a Sunday morning. Or any morning in Traverse City, MI!

For my breaking of fast meal, I chose the above pictured "Bacon."  

What was my impression?  I thoroughly enjoyed it!  The taste is quite rustic.  The breading comes through strongly, flaky and hot.  The middle tastes of exactly what it offers: Bacon, hash browns, eggs, cheddar cheese, red pepper, celery, onion and sour cream (served on the side). 

As mentioned before, this is true country food built from a working man's diet.  It fits in one hand and fuels you for a day at the beach, shopping downtown or running the Bayshore Marathon!  None of which miners were known for...

The pastie is what I like to call "raw eating."  Nothing about the food is ACTUALLY raw, mind you.  I use this term when the chef allows the food to speak for itself.  There is no fancy trim, there are no over the top seasonings, there is no attempt to fool the taste-buds or whisk you to heaven.  This is the stuff of peasants, the food of hard working men and women and you can taste the history with each bite.

Sweets and sides also populate Cousin Jenny's food cases.

While their main dish is decidedly frills free, their various other offerings do indeed delight the senses in a most splendid way.  Key Lime Pie Cheesecake (I am severely addicted to anything claiming the Key Lime as an ingredient) and blueberry muffins are NOT to be missed!

British or not, Traverse City's Cousin Jenny's is certain to please!

Overall, this place is certainly one of Traverse City's most unique experiences and, in my humble opinion, one of the very best breakfast or lunch joints around! The prices are also very reasonable, special pasties run about $4-$6. 

Stop by Traverse City's own British breakfast and lunch joint today!

In closing, I can guarantee that this experience is not for everyone.  If you like your food to have 15 levels of flavor, 7 consistencies and a multitude of ingredients, Cousin Jenny's is not right for you.  However, if you enjoy the "salt of the earth" sort of dining that comes from an experience based on a peasant's diet (something many chefs, including my preferred travelling foodie- Anthony Bourdain, will tell you results in the very best of creations), then Cousin Jenny's will certainly delight! 

This is Raw Eating with a bit of cheesy British flair.  Love it!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)