Monday, December 31, 2012

Thai Cafe

Folks are requesting hidden gems. Well, they don't get much more hidden than Traverse City's Thai Cafe!
What is it about Asian fare that is so absolutely necessary in this world? That question has plagued locals and travellers alike for centuries. Without reason and without cause, a sudden, overwhelming urge to sup on the delicacies of the Far East will firmly implant itself within your skull and, until you satiate that urge, the torture is almost unbearable!
Here in Traverse City, we're lucky enough to have quite a few options for such urgings. This, however, can be a nasty crutch. When one craves a bit of China, Japan, Thailand or more, one wants the absolute best that can be had. And, again, while TC has its share of fine joints that fall into these categories, there is but one establishment that has grasped the concept of unerringly amazing Asian food. Perhaps not surprisingly it is located in Traverse City's Campus Plaza, next to Northwestern Michigan College. I speak, of course, of Thai Cafe.

The decor is.....very simple. You are very aware that you have just stepped into a restaurant with a college nearby. No worries, though! The food is all the decor you'll need here!
As I just mentioned, Thai Cafe is tucked discreetly into the Campus Plaza, between two chain restaurants. Their sign is small, their entrance slightly hidden. Their space here appears to be almost an after thought. If you're driving past, it is extremely easy to miss this place.
That's right. Thai Cafe has every mark of a bit of hidden foodie treasure.

Traverse City's Thai Cafe is easily the best Far East food joint in town!
Now, throughout my time here in Traverse City, I have made a routine of hitting these guys up every couple of weeks. They have never disappointed. Their food is always perfect, no matter what I order. In fact, once I finish this blog, I'm off to Thai Cafe!
So, as I am very much looking forward to the trip, let's get this blog over with!
The food: As one will likely expect, Thai Cafe's menu is quite large. As such, I'll list a few of my favorites and some price ranges from each section. But, believe me, no matter what you choose, you will instantly fall in love.
The menu begins with Appetizers. These range in price from $2-$6. You cannot go wrong with the shrimp tampura ($6) or the crab meat ragoon ( $4)!
From there, the menu continues on into the Salads section. These range in price from $7-$12. For $9, you can snag the Yum Squid. Whoa is it fun!
Soups come next. These range in price from $2-$9. While they have some excellent soups, I have yet to try anything other than the egg drop ($2). SOOOOOO good!
Noodle dishes are up next. They range in price from $7-$14. The Talay will give you shrimp, scallops and squid ($9 or $14 depending on portion size).
Fried rice dishes are always popular here. These range in price from $7-$14 as well. Coconut red curry. Need I say more?

What Thai Cafe lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for in dining awesome.
Up next is my favorite section of the menu: Coconut Curries Dishes. Now, Thai Cafe is known for their curries, some can be quite hot, so watch out for that! This section ranges in price from $7-$16. I will usually match up the duck or talay with  the Gang Ped (red curry with peppers, onions, pineapple, bamboo and tomato).
Stir fried dishes makes the next appearance. This has a price rang of $7-$15. Try out the Pad Bai Gai Plow (stir fried peppers, onions, basil and mushrooms.
Fish dishes comes next. These have no range. Three dishes are all $14 each. The Pla Chu Chee is my favorite (white fish with ginger, onion, basil and coconut red curry).
Lastly comes the Chinese dishes. These range from $7-$12 and include some of China's most well known dishes (at least at American joints).
A dessert of sweet rice and mango is usually available as well for $4.

Buddha would approve of Traverse City's Thai Cafe.
Obviously, the decor isn't breathtaking and the location isn't the most beautiful view. When you enter here, you certainly feel the closeness of the college campus. But, once you tuck into your order, none of that will matter. Your taste buds will be in Thailand and, as we all know, when the buds are happy, so shall be we!
(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rounds Restaurant

The perfect place to fuel up on fantastic fare.
You've seen this place in the movies. The quintessential neighborhood grill. This is the place that deals are made, good conversations are had, amazing stories told and hangovers are cured. Indeed, if you venture into this joint on a Saturday morning, you will hear some crazy stories from last night and you will see some folks who are certainly suffering the effects of a night well lived out on the town.
This is Rounds Restaurant in Traverse City, and its breakfast fare has been curing what ails Traverse City residents for decades.

Bar seating, table seating, booth seating. It's up to you at Rounds.
Stepping into Rounds is akin to stepping into the Quality Cafe (that joint in every movie cafe scene ever, need proof? Look here.). One big difference separates a movie facade from Rounds, however. These guys know good food!

The raspberry French toast. Yeah, I want that.
You won't find gourmet here. In fact, the fare will be incredibly familiar. What you will find at Rounds is a menu chock full of comfortable favorites certain to please your pleading gullet.
Now, before we dive into the menu, I must confess that my opinion of Rounds is shaped by a body craving carbs after a lovely night of tipping pints. This is my go-to place of recovery in Traverse City and it has never disappointed me!

Like I've said throughout this blog, Rounds helps one recover from a well earned night out, like these folks are doing here.
Now, onto the menu!
Rounds is a breakfast and lunch establishment. Be that as it may, they are most well known for their extensive (and awesome) breakfast menu.
They start right out with a "Hot From the Grill" section featuring some incredibly satisfying battered delights. Prices in this section range from $4-$6 and the helpings are HUGE. The homemade raspberry French toast is a sure cure for any amount of fun had the night before! And it's only $5.79.
Moving on down the menu, we hit "Omelets". Prices here range from $7-$10. One of my favorites from this section is Dave's Red Velvet Hash Omelet. This is grilled cornbeef, potatoes, onions, red velvet seasoning and Swiss cheese, all for only $8.59. Yum.
Next up is the "Breakfast Served All Day" section, wherein you'll find my favorite choice at Rounds, the steak and eggs. Prices here range from $7-$10.
After that you'll find a selection of egg choices and also a nice bit of breakfast sides.

Comfortable and necessary. That's Rounds in Traverse City.
Moving into the lunch sections, you'll find sandwiches, burgers, fish, chicken, etc. ranging from $5-$9.
Rounds also has a nice selection of salads, soups and sides for you lunching needs, ranging from $2-$8. Try their taco salad! It's fun!

Truly the typical diner, Rounds in Traverse City has carved out a unique niche amongst their more specialized neighbors.
And, of course, you can't go to this sort of diner without the obligatory piece of pie, or some other dessert. Rounds does dessert right. Unless you've just filled up on the raspberry French toast, I'm sure you'll be craving something a bit sweet. The desserts range in price from $2-$4. My favorite is always a nice cup of coffee and a slice of the pie of the day. But, what can I say? I'm old fashioned like that.

This is the place to go for something filling and fantastic!
If you seek a place wherein the chef is, on a daily basis, toying with the menu, serving up outstanding creations, Rounds is not for you. But, if you seek good food and good folks, then Rounds in Traverse City is for you. Whether you're recovering from a hard played night out, filling up for a day on the town or fueling up for that long drive ahead of you, Rounds won't disappoint!
(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush) 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Joe's Friendly Tavern

Whether it's Christmas or the Fourth of July, Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire is the perfect place to nosh.

Today, we venture out to the heart of "America's Most Beautiful" locale: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Most visitors to the Grand Traverse region will make this tiny trek at some point during their stay, as they should. This part of Northern Michigan is not to be missed. Equally as do-not-miss is the little beach town nestled within the park's various scenic attractions: Empire. This is the sort of place where you can snag an ice cream cone after a wander downtown from the Lake Michigan shoreline, cross the street, rent a stand up paddle board and head back out onto the water. 

Yeah. Summer, winter, fall, spring; it makes no difference. You need to check out Empire.

Comfortable, familiar and good. Friendly's in Empire is a grand place to kick back.

Whilst checking out Empire and its severely majestic surroundings, I'm sure that you'll get a bit hungry and perhaps a little thirsty. Well, as always, I have the perfect solution for you! Let's chat a bit about Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire, shall we?

After the Sleeping Bear Dunes adventures are through, Friendly's is read to serve up some satisfying fare!

Joe's Friendly Tavern, known locally as "Friendly's", is the ideal meal destination for the famished nature lover. Why is that, you ask? Well! Let me tell you!

A full bar will take away any aches or pains from a day spent conquering nature.

Hiking, beaching and all other manner of adventuring take a lot out of a person! Friendly's is here to help you put that "a lot" back. How do they do it? Well, they start with some fun appetizers. These range in price from $7 to $12. I tend to gravitate toward either the chicken livers (breaded, deep fried crispy, served with onions and Granny Smith apples - don't knock it til you try it!) or the Vietnamese eggrolls (handmade locally!). 

From there, the menu launches into their salad selection. You'll find prices ranging from $6 to $13. My favorite leafy choice is the Quinoa salad (fresh romaine hearts topped with dried cherries, pecans and quinoa, served with a pear Gorgonzola vinaigrette).

Private booths or wide open tables, you choose at Friendly's in Empire.

For me, the best part of this menu is the burger section. I'm always a sucker for a lovely slab of ground meat on a bun, and these guys know their stuff. Some of the best burgers of my life have come from Friendly's. Now, is this opinion shaped a bit because each time I have dined here it has been after some strenuous and fun outdoors adventure? Perhaps. But, these burgers are delicious nonetheless!

Burgers here range in price from $7 to $14. The Texan comes topped with Friendly's homemade chili, a local favorite. The Bleu Cheese Burger is out of this world. The County Fair Burger is topped with chili cheese fries. The Rodeo Joe is flooded with outstanding BBQ sauce and the Surf and Turf is perfect. There is no doubt in my mind, you can not go wrong when choosing from this menu! (Please only hold me to that promise if you take your burgers medium rare or less)

Local beer, like this North Peak Diabolical, is always a hot selling point for me!

Along with the burgers comes an assortment of other menu sections. Those include the sandwiches, ranging in price from $8 to $13 (try the Dagwood!), the dinners, ranging in price from $15 to $16 (you can't go wrong with the Campfire Whitefish), the Mexican section, with prices ranging from $12 to $14 (go for Joe's Wet Burrito) and an excellent selection of breakfast options for fueling up before starting a long, adventurous day. Breakfast options are vast and range fro $4 to $8.

And, do not neglect the bar! This is a "tavern" after all. Nothing brings a hard earned day of fun to a close better than a local brew! These guys are particularly proud of their root beer, FYI.

The food at Friendly's in Empire is tasty and filling, perfect for the on-the-go adventurer!

Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire is, without a doubt, vacation food. This is the stuff that would find its way into our stomachs when dad was driving. It's tasty, it's hearty and it's a perfect complement to a day spent conquering nature!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

North Peak Brewing Company

An upscale, trendy bar atmosphere greets diners at Traverse City's North Peak Brewing Company.

Every town has its mainstay. A place that is consistently good, both in food and service. A place that is always a good choice when your brain is failing at the "where should we eat" question. For Traverse City, that place is North Peak.

While the menu at North Peak is filled with amazing selection, many gravitate toward their hearth baked pizzas. Yum!

North Peak is part of a local grouping of restaurants here in the Grand Traverse Region that includes Blue Tractor, Jolly Pumpkin, etc. It's an upscale pub, a fun place to take the family and a grand place for a date! While this Traverse City mainstay has many mainstays of its own (like a pint of house brewed Northern Light, a hearth baked pizza, a perfect burger or an outstanding cup of white cheddar ale soup), I am constantly drawn to one of two bits of sensory savors on the menu: the Cajun crawfish salad or the hangar steak. Both of these dishes have always been spot on for me, hitting me right in the middle of my favored flavor zone. Just thinking about them sends my senses whirling! They are both quite delicious!

A burger and a pint. Never a better lunch combination!

But, those two dishes are not the only ones on the menu. Let's dig into that, shall we?

North Peak offers a completely satisfying lunch and dinner menu. Both menus mirror each other in quite a few ways. A lot of the same dishes are shared by each menu, the only real difference between those dishes on each menu is the price. Example: The hangar steak ordered at lunch time will set you back $14. On the dinner menu, that steak is $18. Rather sneaky, I do admit, but both prices are well within the "acceptable" zone for this, the most scrumptious dish on the menu. 

The large bar at North Peak is perfect for game watching or socializing. 

On both menus, you'll find a delightful mix of choices. 

On the lunch menu, you'll come across an appetizer section with prices ranging from $5.95-$10.95. My ideal lunch time appetizer is always the corn dusted calamari ($8.95). That same section on the dinner menu maintains the same price and selection. For dinner, I'd snag the beer steamed mussels for $10. This "appetizer" is big enough to be a meal by itself!

Next up would be North Peak's ever popular hearth baked pizzas. The lunch menu has these ranging in price from $8.50-$10.95. These are usually the perfect size for two to share. At lunch time, I always gravitate toward the wild mushroom pizza. This thing consists of wild mushrooms, garlic-herb olive oil, mozzarella, fontina cheese and cracked black pepper, all for only $8.50. Nice! On the dinner menu, these things range from $10-$12. My pizza of choice at dinner time is BBQ Boar pizza for $12. Wild boar, nice!

After that comes the soup and salad menu. $4.95 will get you a bowl of soup. I'd go with the white cheddar ale, it never disappoints! The salads range in price from $4.95 to $13.95 during lunch. I'm not a huge fan of snagging a salad to go along with my meal, but, when I'm checking out a North Peak salad for lunch, I always choose the Cajun crawfish salad. This thing is spectacular! It has spicy crawfish tails over mixed greens with tomatoes, pepperjack cheese, bell peppers, red onions and chipotle ranch dressing, all for $9.95. If you love seafood, you'll love this thing! Dinner menu choices range from $5-$17. At dinner, I still snag the crawfish salad. Yeah, that good!

Next come the sandwiches. For lunch, they range from $8.50 to $10. If you're seeking something tasty for lunch, try the wasabi salmon sandwich. It's $10 and you'll dig it! At dinner, these sandwiches range from $10-$11. The herbed Monte Cristo is a grand way to spend a dinner time!

Lunches signature dishes are always fun. They range from $10 to $14. I'm always up for the honey porter hangar steak, a porter marinated hanger steak served with smoked Gouda mashed redskins, curried haystack onions and seasonal vegetables for $13.95. At dinner, prices range from $15-$27, with a few additional dinner menu choices. I still love that steak, but the Parmesan white fish for $18 is always a tempting deviation.

The dessert section, a favorite of mine, rounds out this always pleasing menu. Prices range from $3 to $6. And, while we're on this subject, let me make sure that you understand this: do not miss the black and tan brownie! It's a homemade chocolate brownie with New York-style cheesecake baked on top, served with vanilla malt ice cream, chocolate ice cream and hot fudge for just $5.95! Wowza!

A wide open kitchen allows you to watch your meal take shape.

This joint also has a full kids menu, complete with smiley face fries and some grand fruit and veggie options. Speaking of kids, they eat free on Sundays, all day long. Yeah, you heard me, kids eat free!

In addition to some of the most satisfying food in Traverse City, this place also brews up some tasty beers! Their taps are filled with their homemade concoctions. I always snag a Northern Light. Lately, I've also been a fan of their Diabolical IPA. Very fun! The Siren Amber Ale is also a supremely yummy brew. Pints run from $4 to $5. Grab a 22 ouncer for around $6. If you take a seat in this Traverse City restaurant, you should NOT miss their beer!

Traverse City's North Peak is the place where locals and visitors alike will congregate for some good food, good convo and good peeps! North Peak is the perfect locale to meet up after work for a brew, gather around the bar for the big game, slip into a booth with that special someone or just snag a beer and a hangar steak with your buds. Lady's night, men's night, date night, it doesn't matter; North Peak fits right into any set of plans. That's why folks love it!

(All photos by Lisa Kelly and Brooks Vanderbush)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Latte-DAH Cafe

As soon as you pull up to Traverse City's Latte-DAH, you know that you're in for a unique experience!

(Unfortunately, it appears as though this lovely joint and its lobster bisque have ceased to exist. In its place has risen a pastie joint. They're tasty! Try them out!)
Since I began this little blog venture, I've started receiving some very expected questions. The most popular of those questions being: "We need a hidden bit of awesome, Brooks. Suggestions?"

Take note, popular question askers, today's blog is all about a hidden bit of awesome.

The Lobster bisque is a definite do-not-miss! As are the desserts.

Not so long ago, my lovely Lisa returned home with a surprise: take out from Latte-DAH Cafe. Now, this cafe is almost literally right around the corner from where we live (give or take a block), yet we had never ventured through their front door. This non-venturing wasn't for lack of want, I assure you of that. Almost every day I drive past Latte-DAH and smack my forehead at my lack of time allowance for a quick stop in.

As usual, Lisa saved my culinary life yet again by bringing Latte-DAH to me. What did she bring? She brought their signature soup, the Lobster bisque, a gyro and an exquisite peanut butter/chocolate cookie creation.

From that first spoonful of Lobster heaven, I was hooked. 

Traverse City's Latte-DAH is delightfully unique.

We'll start the food section out right. Please take note that I have written "Lobster bisque." If you miss this, you might as well jump into the river that flows lazily through Latte-DAH's backyard. I have not yet had the equal of this bit of lobstery goodness. And, being a seafood freak as I most certainly am (Lobster or Crab legs would be my deserted island choice), this statement of complete loving for the Lobster bisque is a well informed, researched and educated opinion. Yum. For real.

A perfect bit of seating allows you to lose yourself in your coffee and the view.

Onto the rest!

Folks wander into this establishment in search of some severely supreme breakfast and lunch options. And they find them!

For breakfast, there's some excellent coffee options, breakfast sandwiches and more. But, the highlight of the breakfast menu here is coming fresh out of the oven. In other words, muffins, cookies, brownies....pastries of all shapes and sizes, the sort of thing that is simply smashing with a kick ass cup of coffee. I just bit into one of their pistachio muffins and had to stop and stare for a moment.

"Maybe they have Jesus in the kitchen making these things," my mind wondered. "That's it. They've kidnapped Jesus to make these muffins."

Yeah, they're that amazing.

As is everything else in this joint.

Obviously, it's Christmas time here in Traverse City. Nothing says "Christmas" better than a Latte-DAH Christmas cookie!

Everyone loves a sandwich, yeah? So, let us discuss that for a moment.

Sandwiches at Latte-DAH range in price from $4.99 to $7.95. That range is smack-dab in the middle of the comfort zone of most folks' lunch budgets, which always helps.

If you need a nudge in a certain culinary direction, I'd suggest Wayne Hill Club. It's turkey, bacon, swiss, avocado, lettuce, tomato, pesto mayo and Italian herb dressing. Quite lovely, that!

Sandwiches can come in a wrap or on your choice of baguette, ciabatta or croissant.

After your Lobster bisque, be sure to grab a sweet!

Moving onto the gyro section, these range from $4.99 to $8.99. That culinary push should break toward the gyro supreme, for sure! It's stuffed with meat, sauce, lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, banana peppers and black olives. Wowza!

The river or an active Front Street. The view choice is yours at Latte-DAH.

If you're not into Lobster (Whaaaaaaaaat??) there are always other soups, including a soup of the day. There is also a grand salad selection, ranging in price from $6.95 to $7.25.

Lastly, they serve up some custom quiche as well, a 9 inch of individual portion. Choices include spinach, crustless spinach, crab (WHOA!!), bacon and cheddar, swiss and mushroom, ham and swiss, chicken and asparagus or "your special combination."

To sweeten the pot, these guys also deliver and cater! Just call 922-8722 and set it up.

The kitchen is always jammin' at Latte-DAH.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, which I am certain that you are, you are well aware that I am a lover of the hidden bits of awesome present within every community. While Latte-DAH is technically on Front Street, it is a world away from the restaurants that every visitor to the region sees during their downtown visits.

Everything about this place is unique. From the food to the building, which seems to hang precariously in mid-air, a very Lemony Snicket vibe. This is one of those experiences that you will remember about your visit to Traverse City. It will be a conversation piece and an insider recommendation. 

If you're a local who has never tried Latte-DAH, then it will hook you. It is the proverbial neighborhood cafe, the perfect meeting spot, the ideal afternoon escape.

Latte-DAH is everything that a cafe should be; friendly, fun, quirky, fantastic. Needless to say, I love it here, and so will you!

(All photos by Lisa Kelly and Brooks Vanderbush) 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

TJ Charlie's Restaurant

TJ Charlie's awning remains one of Elk Rapids' iconic downtown features to this day.

The hometown. The first job. The epitome of Northern Michigan comfort food. That is all included in this one blog. Aren't you lucky?

The atmosphere is simple, the food is comforting and the view is downtown Elk Rapids.

Situated on Elk Rapids' main drag (that would be the "hometown" part, my hometown - where I grew up) is one of ER's most recognizable eateries - TJ Charlie's (that would be the "first job" part - my first job). If you're wandering around Northern Michigan's amazing terrain and you happen upon one of the North's most outstanding port towns...AND you're in the mood for some grand, simple Northern Michigan comfort food, then this is the place for you!

Whether it's breakfast or lunch, you're sure to see some loyal locals at TJ Charlie's tables.

Want to know what sort of folk venture through the doors at TJ Charlie's? The local folk! Hit this place up between 12:00 and 2:00 and you'll see the town doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, realtors, other varied business folk and their staff. Yeah, local ER people have given this joint their collective thumbs up for years, dating waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back to the days that I bussed tables as a starry eyed 16 year old kid, just dreaming about the day that I'd be that hotshot cook, flippin' cakes, stabbin' steaks and hittin' on the waitresses.

Alas, it was not to be, I ended up in Guatemala, loving every second of life. That love continues to this day, as my utterly amazing wife tortures me with The Voice as I try to write this blog. I say "torture" because we always discuss every little thing on this show, makes it hard to write.

But, despite that moving on aspect of my life, I find myself, every now and again, returning to the comfort of TJ Charlie's. Let us discuss why, shall we?

Walking into TJ Charlie's is walking into some true old school Elk Rapids.

We'll begin with the salads at this breakfast and lunch establishment. Salads range from $3.75 to $8.25. If you need a suggestion, try out the Ginger Salmon Salad, a 4oz filet of salmon seared in ginger infused olive oil, served on mixed greens with house made Asian vinaigrette.

Moving on to the sandwiches, these guys range in price from $5.25 to $6.95. I'd go with The Cuban, which is roast pork tenderloin, ham, swiss, sliced pickle, dijon mayo served on ciabatta roll, grilled panini style. Yum!

In the wraps section, you'll find prices ranging from $6.25 to $6.95. Try the California Turkey Wrap, it's turkey, roasted red pepper, avocado and lettuce with dijon cream cheese spread. Fun!

Again, old school Elk Rapids!

Burgers take up the mid section of this menu and the locals love them. Visitors too. The prices are just right, ranging from $4.75 to $6.25. I'd snag the Southwest Turkey Burger. This one is a grilled turkey patty topped with pepperjack, avocado and salsa, served on a warm pretzel bun. I adore pretzel buns. Damn.

Sliders can be had for $5.50, old favorites, like grilled cheese and Mediterranean Tuna, are available as well, along with some awesome side dishes. There are no alcoholic drinks served at TJ Charlie's, fyi.

Now, is TJ Charlie's the fanciest joint in town? The finest? The best food? The best atmosphere? No. What TJ Charlie's is to Elk Rapids is tradition, comfort, good eats and that old school downtown ER vibe that has disappeared from some of the establishments of the ER of today. Despite that half disappearance, the beaches remain perfect, the bridge to the library still provides the best vista for wandering and thinking it all over, the streets are still ideal for an afternoon run and TJ Charlie's still serves up some tasty fare, full of Elk Rapids pride and wholesome goodness.

If you find yourself in my ER, wander under the awning and grab a bite.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dockside Party Store

Northern Michigan has become a veritable art project, thanks the most colorful of all seasons - Fall.

The foliage is on fire here in Northern Michigan. That's right, it is that time of year where folks from all over the state, nation and world (literally, not joking here) pile into their cars and traverse the veritable oil painting that is the Grand Traverse Region. Fall has arrived, in other words, and people are taking to the road.

This showcase holds some of the very best Fall roadtrip food in all of Traverse City!

Now, when I take to the road with family and friends, not just any old lunch break will do. Despite my childhood roadtrip nostalgia being firmly and irrevocably attached to the Golden Arches, I am simply not a fan of the fast food option being the only go-to for roadtrippin' fare. But, I'm also not a fan of pulling myself out of some amazing location, discovered whilst simply following some random road, just to locate some eatery somewhere that will do. Oh no. It is for that reason that I choose to hit the road with some supremely amazing fare stowed safely within the big red cooler resting on the third row of seats. And, when it comes to the perfect fall roadtrip in Traverse City, the Dockside Party Store is one of the best accompaniments that I have yet found. 

My go-to, everytime, the BLT wrap.

For me, there's nothing like pulling up on some remote beach or following some obscure two-track into the Fall explosion that is the woods these days, parking, snagging one of Dockside's BLT wraps and just kicking back and enjoying the sounds and sights that nature has to offer. That first bacon filled bite, combined with the crisp Fall air, the sound of crunching leaves and the feel of utter stillness envelopes one completely. It is a supremely satisfying affair!

Don't neglect the dessert section of the homemade offerings' case.

Now, if you're not much for bacon, have no fear. These guys have something for everyone. Let's cover some of the highlights right now, shall we?

Jerky. One of the many reasons folks love Dockside. These guys cater too!

To begin with, this joint is a hunter's paradise. They offer some amazing homemade jerky. This stuff is beyond delicious and an awesome source of energy for that huge hike, drive or hunt you're about to embark upon.

They also serve up some yummy pizza slices.

But, the highlight of this place has always been the wraps and sandwiches available.

As I said a few times, the BLT wrap is simply divine, dah-ling. But, it's not the only thing these guys do right.

Mainstays at Dockside include the Cherry Chicken Wrap, the regular Chicken Wrap, the Chicken Cordon Bleu Wrap, the Turkey and Swiss Wrap, the Turkey and Cheddar Wrap, the Asian Chicken Wrap, the Veggie Roll-Up, the Greek Gyro Pita and some excellent sub and sandwich choices, including an outstanding egg salad offering. 

From local Traverse City wines - pictured here - to the more familiar offerings, Dockside has a grand selection of vino.

If you're plotting a Fall trip that includes a pit stop the likes of which I described earlier, a sort of Fall picnic, or maybe an overnight excursion to that most iconic of Fall dwellings - the cabin in the woods or on the lake - have no fear! Dockside offers an ample supply wines, both local and non, fine and just-fine.

The beer room, nicely chilled, filled to brusting with a grand selection of craft brews.

Along with the wine, Dockside also brings it quite well in the beer department, devoting an entire room (cooled quite well) to single bottles of brew.

And, as this is a "party store" after all, Dockside offers every accoutrement necessary for that wrap, sandwich or slice you've picked out, including some grand local chips, the usual plethora of party store fare and some delicious homemade dessert options.

From the familiar to the not so familiar, Dockside in Traverse City has the perfect side or drink for you!

Fall is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. And it is places like Dockside that make Fall so very epic for me. So many towns suffer from a lack of amazing prepared food. So many folks must hit the road with subpar offerings tucked into their gullets. Not here in Traverse City.

When the leaves change and the weekends are dominated by the ultimate roadtrip, for me, there's no place better to begin this ultimate celebration of the season than at a place like Dockside!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Soul Hole

While the inside of Soul Hole adds to the southern charm of the fare offered, I'd suggest grabbing a seat along Union Street and watch Traverse City's Old Town pass you by.

(I am sad to say that Soul Hole closed its doors for the last time on Saturday, December 15, 2012. This closing came down to Michigan's awesome bureaucrats and their failure to realize that some small businesses simply can't wait months for a decision. Way to go guys! Way to go. I'm leaving this post up to sing the praises of one my favorite downtown spots. I will miss this amazing joint!)  

Every now and then, I get a hankerin' for some collard greens. To you Northern Michigander folks, that may sound strange, but, for real, these things are delicious!

Care to know what else is delicious at Traverse City's Soul Hole? Pretty much everything.

Eclectic Southern Cuisine. That's Soul Hole's motto. And they do it well!

Soul Hole's menu features some of Traverse City's best examples of Southern Cuisine. Whether you're seated indoors (where the massive dessert case tempts your every sense) or taking advantage of the outdoor seating, the atmosphere at Soul Hole is eclectic and amazing, made even more so by their food!

Grab a booth at Soul Hole in Traverse City and prepare yourself for some of the toughest decision making of your life.

And, speaking of their food, let's jump into some of the menu highlights, shall we?

I love this part of the blog!

Let's talk about the starters. The highlights here include hushpuppies ($6.95) and crab cakes ($9.95). As a whole, the starters range from $3.95-$9.95 and no matter what you're ordering, you can't go wrong!

Moving on to sandwiches, hear me when I say this: Do not miss the Po' Boys, especially the Oyster Po' Boy, good Lord it's amazing! And only $10.95! Another amazing "sandwich" is the Bayou Burger (1/2 pound of ground beef, crawfish, onion, creole spices and fried green tomatoes served with sweet potato fries and jalapeno catsup). This thing is...dare I say it?...the best burger in Traverse City! And, again, only $10.95! The Sandwich section has some other outstanding choices as well, with prices ranging from $6.95-$10.95.

The Entrees are where most folks find the one item that Soul Hole does to perfection: Chicken and Waffles. This dish consists of cornbread waffles topped with smoked country ham and buttermilk fried chicken breast, served with mashed yams, braised cabbage and bourbon spiked Michigan maple syrup. Wowza. It carries one of the highest prices on the menu, $18.95, but is completely worth it.

If chicken and waffles isn't your thing, how about shrimp and grits ($14.95)? Or Catfish tacos ($13.95)? Or house cured and smoked pork ribs ($24.95 Full or $14.95 Half)? Or Jambalaya ($9.95)? Oh yes, this menu has something for everyone!

Rounding out the menu is a perfect selection of sides (like collard greens, all sides $2.95), salads (like the blackened tuna salad for $10.95) and a daily selection of soups.

Finally, as I mentioned before, the desserts at this joint are phenomenal! Do not forget to check out the dessert case, usually full to bursting with cakes and pies. They also offer beignets with ice cream for $7.

The Oyster Po' Boy on the left, collard greens in the middle and the Bayou Burger on the right. Freaking tasty!

Soul Hole is a typical find within the lesser known Traverse City dining scene. It is different, eclectic, has carved out its own niche and owns that niche completely. It is small on space, but big on taste. This restaurant, like so many other foodie finds within the Traverse City region, is delicious to a fault. That fault? Well, once you've latched onto a favorite dish, it's incredibly hard to stray from it and sample the rest of the menu....believe me, I know. Damn you, Oyster Po' Boy, for being so very delicious!

Quick note: Very soon, Soul Hole will be revamping their interior to make way for a newly acquired liquor license. Currently, alcohol is not available, but that is about to change!

(All photos by Lisa Kelly and Brooks Vanderbush)