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)