Monday, February 20, 2012

Tuscan Bistro

Slightly nautical, but all-the-way Italian, the Tuscan Bistro in Traverse City, MI is a grand place to nosh, but is often missed by visitors to the region.

Every town has its little hideaways. You walk into the place and you expect to see Al Capone perusing the headlines in the corner while a few other "family men" mix and mingle with the locals. It's the kind of place where the folks who know about it tell their favorite friends, but no one else. It's their's. It's the hometown restaurant that the hometown has made its own and it deserves its loyal clientele and comfortable aire. No matter who you are or what you do, when you enter the door, you're welcomed with a smile, great food and good drink. It's what a truly great restaurant should be.

Traverse City is blessed enough to have a few such restaurants. One such place is the Tuscan Bistro.

A comfortable atmosphere is on the menu at this Traverse City eatery featuring Northern Italian fare.

Situated at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula, just outside of downtown Traverse City, MI, and housed within a nondescript building on the opposite side of the road as the Bay, many visitors to the Grand Traverse Region miss this fantastic eatery. It truly is their loss.

Some wonderful reds and whites occupy the bar at Tuscan Bistro.

I'm going to dive right in here. The Tuscan Bistro is the home to Traverse City's Raw Bar, served every Friday and Saturday starting at 5PM. It features fresh oysters, shrimp, clams, mussels and more. Freaking delightful!

Tuscan Bistro also features an Early Bird Dinner every day of the week from 4PM-6PM. This includes a glass of wine, salad, entree and dessert, all for $25 per person. Quite the deal, believe me!

Everyone loves Tuscan Bistro's dive-man pull station!

The everyday menu is an outstanding mix of Italian specialties. Highlights from each section include:

Carpaccio Di Manzo (from the antipasti menu)- A raw filet of beef with lemon, arugula, shaved Parmigiano reggiano cheese and evoo for $12.

Ahi tuna and baby spinach salad (from the insalata menu) for $11.

Flank steak (from the panini menu, served only during lunch hours)- A marinated flank steak with gorgonzola, Portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers, pressed in foccacia for $10.

Spaghetti fruti de mare (from the pasta menu)- Spaghetti tossed with shrimp, scallops, baby clams, mussels and squid in a light tomato broth. The half serving is $10, the full is $19.

Pesce Bianco Capponata (from the carne and pesce menu)- Sauteed Michigan Whitefish over sweet and sour eggplant relish with grilled asparagus for $19.

Wow, right? Each item on the menu is just as tasty as the next! And, with the most expensive item hitting only $20, you get a lovely surprise when the bill arrives to top it all off.

Behind this unassuming door is one of Traverse City's best kept secrets.

And, of course, as you can see from a few of the above pictures, Tuscan Bistro has a very nice bar scene as well, as any self respecting Italian joint would. From New Grist and Sam Adams in bottles (and many more of the usual suspects) to Stella Artois and Sierra Nevada on tap (and, again, more), beer folks are certain to find something that will please. For those of you that enjoy a bit more kick, the bar at Tuscan Bistro is quite deep! Perfect for an evening out with your favorite someone.

From the road, as you sail by on your way up the Leelanau Peninsula, it's easy to miss Tuscan Bistro. Don't. Miss it that is.

There certainly is a lot of variety in Traverse City's restaurants. From the mundane and boring to the truly exceptional, eating in Traverse City can be quite adventure! If you're in the mood for some truly outstanding fare, a comforting atmosphere and a pretty decent view to boot, then you, my friend, are in the mood for Tuscan Bistro, "An Italian Restaurant."

Yes, that's their tag line. Questions? Fuh-get about it.

(All Photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sleder's Family Tavern

A true Traverse City legend, Sleder's Family Tavern.

 Have you ever kissed a Moose? Well, in Traverse City you can!

That’s right, folks! Not only does this town celebrate Cherries and movies, one of its most enduring traditions is kissing a gigantic, stuffed Moose head to the sound of a clanging bell! Welcome to Sleder’s Family Tavern.

Traverse City's own neighborhood pub is a hit with locals and visitors alike.
At Sleder’s, you’ll find that ever elusive “home-town” bar atmosphere. It’s got all of the necessary ingredients, to be sure. It has been around forever (130+ years, to be exact); its décor is a perfect match for the local pub, all the way down to the ancient and massive cash register behind the bar, and its food is exactly what one would expect from a family tavern (in a good way, of course).

To kiss the Sleder's moose or to not kiss the Sleder's moose.....

As mentioned, the major tradition within this establishment is kissing a giant Moose head’s nose. Upon the completion of the kiss, the bartender will ring a massive bell, certain to rattle your senses for a moment or two. They even have “I kissed the moose” t-shirts. My advice……French kiss the Moose. Do I mean with tounge? No, I do not mean that. I mean trendy French kiss the Moose……and by that I mean kiss AT the Moose, much like trendy French ladies do….lean in, come close, make the kissing noise, but do NOT make contact with its nose. Trust me on this. Do not actually kiss the Moose. Or any of the other many stuffed creatures that line the walls at Sleder’s Family Tavern.

Nobody does "bar food" better than Sleder's Family Tavern in Traverse City.

Now that we’ve gotten the whole “do not kiss the Moose” thing out of the way, let’s move on to the fun stuff! I haven’t gotten to use this little word in a while….here we go….so excited…..


Nothing goes with good food better than good drinks! 

Being a “tavern,” Sleder’s obviously has a bar, a very nice bar! The mixed drinks at this joint are just as good as any other bar in Traverse City. And, again, as with any other joint in TC worth visiting, Sleder’s has a nice little selection of local brews. Right Brain Brewery, one of my favorite Traverse City breweries, always has a beer or two on tap, Founders showcases some wares here as well. Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, Schmoz and Samuel Adams round out an impressive little list of craft brewers, one that is dominated by Michigan’s most popular craft brewery, Bell's. In the summer months, it is a requirement of any self respecting bar, tavern or eatery that patrons must be seen to be drinking from a glass mug, complete with dark golden contents and a slice of orange, at least once during their stay within said establishment or they are to be thrown out.

I admit that I am lying a bit with that statement. Basically, do not miss Bell's Oberon. Simple as that.

Choose between Sleder's bar or their "formal" dining room that oozes history.

From the amazing local brews and the yummy mixed drinks, we move on to the food.

Are you a fan of tavern fare? Then you will be a fan of Sleder’s!

The Sleder’s menu consists of some old tavern favorites, as well as a few surprises.

A seasoned steak salad tops the salad menu, surrounded by seven other leafy selections. Three different burritos and a “Super Nachos” round out a Mexican section of the menu, followed up by a “Just For Kids” section, consisting of kiddie favorites like grilled cheese, a burger, shrimp basket, chicken fingers and so on. The kid menu includes a soft drink, French fries, entrée and an ice cream treat, all for $5.95! A good deal by any standard!

Gotta love Michigan beer!

Continuing on with our journey around the Sleder’s menu, we arrive at the sandwiches. A whitefish or lake perch sandwich tops my list of favorites, followed up by a Westside turkey, which consists of grilled turkey, swiss cheese and coleslaw or cottage cheese (as a side) on your choice of bread; a truly refreshing afternoon treat! 10 sandwich options make up this section of the menu, priced between $7.95-$9.50.

Yup, Michigan beer!

Moving on, Sleder’s claim to fame are its burgers. The Buffalo burger (made with fresh, local Buffalo meat) is incredibly popular. Buffalo meat is a flavor filled bit of carne. Order it medium or medium rare for the very best flavor experience! The bleu bacon burger and mushroom burger are also quite popular. Six burgers make up the burger selection, priced from $7.95-$11.95 for the half pound Buffalo burger (it’s worth it!).

The dinner selections would be where Sleder’s Family Tavern begins to stray away from usual tavern fare. A pacific cod dinner, smelt basket (my favorite at this joint), New York Strip, Slabtown ribs plate and a cherry barbequed chicken up the ante a bit at Sleder’s. These dinners and their counterparts on the menu are priced from $12.95-$18.95. On Fridays, you can snag the “all you can eat” fish and smelt combo for $13.95. It comes complete with fries and your choice of coleslaw or cottage cheese. I love that little dish.

Finally, the break away from ordinary pub munchies is made complete with Sleder’s starters menu. Offered on this menu are things like deep fried cauliflower, baked brie and a spicy buffalo shrimp basket.

Buy the "I kissed the Moose" shirt....just don't actually kiss the Moose.

This 130 year old establishment oozes history and charm. Yet, even with its storied past, strange traditions and classically Traverse City menu, many miss out on Sleder’s Family Tavern. Is the food here the best in Traverse City? No. Are the drinks the most amazing? No. But, what Sleder’s does offer is a true bit of local TC, open to all, with some great edibles, superb local brews (and a few non-local favorites) and a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds and experience a bit of old world Traverse City, all that within an absolutely perfect neighborhood (can you tell I’m a bit biased? Yup, I totally am. I live in Slabtown, the place that Sleder’s calls home, and it is, without a doubt, Disney perfect…….with a bit of sexy thrown in!).

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Near the corner of Randolph and Division in Traverse City is one of this town's best kept secrets!
Many folks spend their lives looking for that perfect spot. Someplace to go unwind, meet up with your very best friends or that special someone or just bask in the gloriousness that "solo" can bring, all while sipping on the very best chai you will ever have!

Those poor folks often step into their graves having never patronated such a place. Not this guy, nor the many other lucky people who have discovered Frenchies of Traverse City.

Here there be great chai!

Frenchies Famous, as it is known, is owned by Frenchie and his wife. He doesn't like using an apostrophe in "Frenchies" because he likes freaking out the word weirdos. Thus is the personality of the joint; slightly askew, but wonderfully so!

Frenchies of Traverse City is quintessentially French....but in Traverse City. Awesome.

For me and my lovely Lisa, there is simply nothing better than the short walk down to Frenchies, grabbing a spot outside along the sidewalk on Randolph Street, sipping on the aforementioned supremely amazing chai and watching the weekend roll by.

This board holds the magic at Frenchies.

Stepping into Frenchies is akin to stepping into old world Paris. The quarters are cramped, yet comfortable, the table next to you (if there is one) will hear everything that you say and vice-a-versa. The clutter is intense, but only serves to add to the unique charm and persona of the establishment. And Frenchie himself, well, he's completely approachable and gives off an aire of a rather hip guy who has found his niche in life and completely adores it.

A small indoor space and a few tables outside make up this small Traverse City restaurant.

Now, enough with atmosphere and emotion. Onto the important stuff!  The menu!

Be sure to check out the specials scrawled in colored chalk just to your right as you walk in. Something tantalizing is almost always sloughing off dust upon that board!

Frenchies main offerings start with a plethora of hot and cold drink options. As mentioned more than once, one can not go wrong with the golden heaven in a cup otherwise known as chai. Frenchie also whips up a mean caramel latte, mocha, cappuccino, hot coco and so on. These selections are also available iced, perfect for your Traverse City beach excursion!

Cold drinks include fresh squeezed OJ for the breakfast crowd, zap (a sparkling, caramel, iced espresso) and a good selection of Northwoods Sodas.

Drink prices range from $2.25-$4.50.

DO NOT MISS THE DAILY DESSERT SPECIALS. Sorry about yelling, but, for real; Don't.

The food at this little bit of TC is some of the best around! DO NOT come to Traverse City and neglect Frenchies food!

For those of you who, like myself and my fiance, enjoy a perfect breakfast out, Frenchies is the place for you! Frenchies is home to some of the most amazing omelets available anywhere and the freshly made crepe could quite possibly be much better than anything found on the streets or in the restaurants of France herself! Sound a bit too adventurous for your palate? Well, shame on you and try the breakfast sandwich, amazing.

For lunch and early dinner, Frenchies brings a whole new definition to the term "gourmet sandwich." Personally, I have never had a creation as divine as the Rapid River Farms Hanger Steak sandwich. It consists of a four or eight ounce hanger steak, grilled onions, cheese toast and pepper cream. Quite simply the perfect sandwich. My mouth is watering right now. The things I put myself through to write this blog. Goodness!

Other sandwiches include an outstanding pastrami, a delicious gyro, a vegetarian that is quite delightful and two chicken sandwiches that are certain to please, one consisting of black pepper chicken, daikon, carrot and cucumber. Yum. As a matter of fact, yum to the whole damn menu!!
The magic that happens in Frenchies Famous kitchen will blow your taste buds away. Guaranteed.

Frenchies location on Randolph is perfect for Traverse City summertime fun! Wandering to the beach? Hit up Frenchies! It's only a block from TC's most popular beaches. Scoping out the Cherry Festival? Forget the artery clogging carnie fare, stop by Frenchies! Most of you will be walking by Frenchies anyway! Heading down to the Open Space for a bit of Traverse City Film Festival action? Grab something to go from Frenchies! There are few other restaurants in Traverse City as perfectly formed to the TC lifestyle as this one is! And while you're at it, pop into Tilley's party store next door for a little immersion into the underground of Traverse City! Hint: it involves a lot of disc golf, yo!


(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)