Sunday, June 24, 2012


In the midst of downtown Traverse City rests Zakey, an oft overlooked culinary paradise.

So, today, while wandering through my lovely downtown Traverse City, I was stopped by a poor, unfortunate soul. What exactly do I mean by that? I mean that a very nice lady pulled up next to me and asked "Where would the nearest Subway be?"

Reluctantly, I obliged. But, not before I pointed out that one of the very best sandwiches in town could be had at a certain restaurant that many folks tend to overlook, as it is surrounded by some of Traverse City's most well known eateries (Subway is most definitely NOT one of these well known eateries, FYI). After describing the intense awesome-ness that is the fare at this particular joint, the nice lady smiled sheepishly and stated that she wasn't quite that adventurous.

Inside, I cried a little.

Surrounded by Traverse City's finest dining, many folks make the mistake of passing by the joint with the Middle Eastern music.

What was this far too exotic locale? Traverse City's own little piece of the Middle East, Zakey!

The poor Subway bound lass was missing out on some of my favorite downtown food.

Upon entering Zakey, one is transported. This does not feel like a Traverse City restaurant. The small TVs feature a strangely engrossing MTV like channel (from back when MTV actually played music). The music seems to be popular Middle Eastern in genre and serves to add to the authenticity of this joint. Personally, I love it. The music, combined with the whir of the ceiling fans (reminiscent of an open air market) and the slightly campy decor all come together to bring you an outstanding and truly Middle Eastern dining experience.

In short, yeah, a little corny, the music's not for everyone and if you're in there on Saturday's, you'll probably get some belly dancer action. I love it.

The decor is distinctly not Traverse City at Zakey, but in a good way!

Earlier, I mentioned something about a sandwich. Remember that? Yeah. Well, it's time to talk about that sandwich, and a bunch of other outstanding menu selections! Because, when you get right down to it, it's not the music or the decor that makes this place. It's the food.

The belly dancing isn't just on the walls here. On most Saturdays, live belly dancing is included with the meal!

Let's explore the menu, shall we?

We'll begin at appetizers. There's the familiar - Fried Chicago Cheese, Calamari, and Hummus.

There's the not-so-familiar - Mazza Plate, Stuffed Grape Leaves, and Spinach Pie.

And there's the pure awesomesauce! - Baba Ganouge, Tat Belay and Kibbeh.

These appetizers are all priced swell. Prices range from $4-$7.

If you're not sure which to pick, go with the Kibbeh! It's bulgar, cinnamon, onion, lamb and pine nuts served baked, with cucumber yogurt salad. Yum! All for only $6!

Moving onto the salads, these guys range from $6-$8 and are all Middle Eastern themed. My favorite is the Falafel salad. It comes with three falafel balls served on lettuce topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and tahini sauce. A grand bit of veg for only $8.

By the way, the prices here? Yeah, they're some of the very best in downtown Traverse City! The amazing quality of the food at Zakey could easily command a higher price tag, especially given this restaurant's center-of-downtown location.

Anyway, sandwiches! These creations range from $6-$7 and are, in my opinion, the highlight of the menu!

That favorite sandwich of mine that I spoke of earlier is the Shawarma. One can choose lamb or chicken (go with lamb) served in the house spices, with garlic and fresh lemon juice, broiled, topped with fresh onion, parsley, sumac and tahini sauce as well as Arabic salad. My mouth is currently watering. Wow, I love this thing!

If that isn't your bag, baby, no worries, Zakey has plenty of sandwich selections, all with a Middle Easter flare, of course.

Chef Nabiel Musleh serves up some favorites from his homeland at Zakey in Traverse City.

Now we're into the Entrees. These bad boys range in price from $9-$16 and come with pita bread and your choice of two sides listed on the menu.

Highlights of the entree menu include Roasted Lamb (marinated in olive oil, garlic and fresh lemon juice) for $13 and the Palek Paneer (Indian cuisine - spinach, onion, garbanzo beans cooked together with exotic spices, topped with cheese and served with rice and naan bread) for $14. Again, if neither sound grand, no worries, there are other selections!

There is also a kid's menu offering a few kid friendly items for children 12 and under, all for $3.

Oh! And don't forget dessert! The Baklava is outstanding here! $5 for three pieces!

Located in the midst of downtown Traverse City, Zakey's tables offer some grand people watching!

Zakey encourages you to let staff know if you're allergic to anything before ordering. I would follow that advice. As far as "exotic dining" goes, this place is near the top for most folks here in TC. This isn't Applebees folks, this is real food, prepared by a REAL chef whose intent is to give you a little taste of his homeland. For me, that's everything! Allowing someone to take me on a culinary expedition is one of the great joys of my life. I am lucky enough to not be allergic to anything. For those of your that aren't that lucky, let these folks know before your excursion begins!

If you have the choice, skip the generic crap, hit up Zakey!

Now, granted, Traverse City is about as far removed from the Middle East as one can possibly be. The flavors and combinations that you will find within Zakey's kitchen are quite foreign to the average casual diner. And that is why you must go! Life is about experience. If you do not allow your senses to be tantalized on a daily basis (multiple times daily, actually), then you are not living life! A trip to Zakey in downtown Traverse City will not only give you such a tantalization, it'll also allow you to dip your toe into some true Middle Eastern culture.

Whether your shopping, wandering, beaching or movie going, Zakey is a stop that you need to make! Oh, and if you do make that stop, be sure to bring mints! One's breath is not always rosy upon paying the bill and checking out.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Art's Tavern

This is the ultimate "local's" dining experience on the Leelanau Peninsula!

Let me tell you about my favorite area here in Northern Michigan. When I'm in the mood to escape the hustle and bustle of Traverse City in the summer, I hit the Empire area. What do I love most about the Empire area? Well, it's got nature (the most beautiful place in America!) and I love to get outside! It's got some amazing beaches, in fact, these beaches are some of the most pristine and breathtaking in the world! It's got perfect little towns with hundreds of activity choices.

And it's got Glen Arbor! What do they have? Art's Tavern!

Whether eating inside or el fresco, Art's Tavern is the place to be!

What is this Art's Tavern, you ask? Well, ask any local and they will regale you with a tale of Art or his tavern. This place, located in the middle of Glen Arbor's picturesque downtown on idyllic M-22. Art's Tavern has been around for over 75 years. To say that Art's is a Northern Michigan mainstay is an understatement. Art's has a loyal legion of followers from both the local and visiting populations. This joint is a must visit, their t-shirts a must buy. You have not experienced Northern Michigan, let alone Glen Arbor, unless you have experienced Art's Tavern!

The decor is extremely unique at Art's, complete with a pool table that rises from the floor.

Let's get this out of the way: A common complaint with Art's is that the decently priced sandwiches do not include any sides (fries, onion rings, etc.). After one orders a sandwich, fries and a drink, there is the possibility of spending around $12 or $14 on the one plate. While that is a bit more expensive than most comparable establishments, you will certainly find that the price is well worth the product! Not only have you just noshed and supped on one of the best pub menus in the area, you've just experienced Art's Tavern, and that will give you some amazing props with the true Northern Michigan crew! Congrats!

Art's Tavern does libations well!

Now that you know the catch that many local establishments have when tourist season comes to town, let's get to the food, yo!

As you can see from picture above, Art's Tavern is home to many a wonderful brew and other libation. These choices pair well with the extensive menu of pub favorites.

The varied menu at Art's Tavern has something for everyone.

First up on that menu are the appetizers. One can spend $3-$12 on a starter, depending on your choice. Some highlights from this section include Super Clams (big and tender, battered and fried, served with cocktail sauce), Whitefish dip (savory mix of Whitefish, cream cheese, capers and spices blended together to create a unique Northern Michigan favorite, served with warm flat bread crackers), a chilled shrimp cocktail and deep fried mushrooms. Much more is available on this section, all equally as tasty!

Next are the salads. Expect to spend about $8-$10 on this section, unless you want coleslaw, that's only about $3. Art's Tavern features the usual suspects when it comes to salads with one savory exception: the crancherry salad (assorted mixed greens with a touch of red cabbage, dried cranberries, dried cherries, feta cheese, tossed with their homemade black cherry vinaigrette).

And the bar has something for everyone too!

Next, the menu offers up Art's Sandwiches. A couple of highlights here include the Whitefish burger (minced Whitefish blended with savory spices, hand pressed and grilled, served on a wheat bun with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce), the Great Lakes Perch (deep fried perch on a fresh baked roll served with tartar sauce and lemon) and the Rachel (thinly sliced oven roasted turkey, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, served on grilled sunflower rye). One can expect to spend anywhere from $5-$10 on a sandwich.

An Art's Tavern favorite is up next, the burgers! Burgers range from $8-$12. Highlights include a double decker Art's burger, a bleu burger and an Art's surf and turf (made with burger and smelt). Love it!

The outside bar makes for a convenient outdoors dining experience.

Dinner entrees include seafood and "from the broiler" sections, with my favorites being the crusty Whitefish (Whitefish dusted with parmesan and corn flakes, sauteed to a golden brown) and the petite ribeye. Entrees run from $13-$20.

Art's Tavern also offers a grand selection of pizzas and south of the border fare. These range from $11-$17.

Don't forget to grab an iconic Art's Tavern t-shirt!

Hungry for more? Want some Art's in the AM? Well! Luckily for you, Art's does breakfast as well! Don;t miss their ribeye and eggs, good god that's delish! There're also a huge selection of omelets and waffles/pancakes/French toast options. In my humble opinion, Art's is at its best during breakfast, but that's just me, I'm a breakfast kinda guy! And no worries, side orders are plentiful as well. The wide selection of breakfasts range from $6-$10.

Last, but certainly not least, are Art's desserts! They serve up Moomer's Ice Cream, the best ice cream in America (really, there was a vote!). This place is the place to be on a hot summer's day. Nothing helps you recover from that better than a Boston Cooler! Desserts range from $6-$7 each.

I love this place!

Why? Because, for me, Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor rounds out a trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes or the shops of Glen Arbor or the many hidden beaches of the Leelanau Peninsula so well! It maintains that "escape" atmosphere for a bit longer. It allows you to relax in a booth, sip on some great local brews and lose yourself in conversation with friends and strangers alike. It helps that exhausted-from-the-sun feeling sink in at a comfortable pace. And when you leave, you leave happy.

The next time you're in Glen Arbor, hit up Art's Tavern! You won't be sorry!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

That'sa Pizza!

The Westside location of That'sa Pizza is just around the corner from me. I'm a lucky guy!

The summer has arrived in Traverse City. The Great Wakes Festival is in full swing, the weather is lovely, the beaches are bustling and sunburns abound. While Traverse City is home to some amazing places to nosh, many folks need that ever elusive easy solution to dining that so many towns lack. Thankfully for those folk, Traverse City has three amazing options for the sun exhausted boater, the beached out towel jockey, the shopped-til-they-dropped downtown divas and all the rest! And they deliver beer.

Yeah. You heard me. They deliver beer.

What is this perfect beach house dining solution? Traverse City's That'sa Pizza!

Not just a take-out joint! That'sa Pizza is chock full of atmosphere, great for dining in!

Yeah, the possibilities for delivery are endless here. There is nothing more satisfying at the end of long hard day of play here in Northern Michigan than returning to that perfect house, hotel, motel, cabin, condo or campsite and being able to kick back and let someone else worry about lunch or dinner......or breakfast, for the college kids.

BUT! Let's not discount the dining in options! Do you love some old school Pacman? Well! Are you in luck! That'sa Pizza has it! Do you love a local brew? Again, lucky you! That'sa Pizza has some!

And, do you love a genuinely awesome pizza? Oh, do I have a place for you! That'sa Pizza. What? What place did you think I was going to say?

That'sa Pizza not only has some grand nosh options, they have an equally inviting atmosphere. At their various locations about town you'll find comfy seats, a lovely bar and amazing staff. These joints are great for a wee little date or a family outing.

With the better half or the family, That'sa Pizza is a great place to be in TC! (Nice rhyme!)

Let's talk a bit about the food, shall we?

During my college days (not so very long ago), I held a favorite pizza joint or two. When visiting friends at other colleges throughout Michigan, we would inevitably end up at some great local, neighborhood pizza joint tossing back a few brews and chowing down on some truly amazing slices. The art of pizza making has been severely bastardized by the likes of Pizza Hut, Little Ceasars, BC Pizza, etc. There is a stigma attached to pizza nowadays that says that anyone can do it, anyone does do it and everyone sucks. While this stigma is mostly true, there are some glaring examples of pizza perfection out there. Traverse City's answer to the perfect local pizza joint question is That'sa Pizza. Need proof? Then order some food!

Obviously, they have a grand selection of "build your own" type fare here, as any self respecting pizza joint worth its pepperoni would. They also have a wide selection of house creations. The prices for these range from $13.99 for 12 inch pizzas to $24 for some of the 16 inchers.

Highlights of that house creation menu include the Mellow Mushroom (no sauce, olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh button and portobella mushrooms and Parmesan cheese), the Idaho (no sauce, mashed potatoes, bacon and cheddar cheese) and the Hawaiian (always a favorite of mine). Many other selections grace that section of the menu if your taste is not akin to mine, no worries.

Other menu sections include grilled sandwiches ($6-$6.50, try the Sicilian, yum!), grilled wraps ($5.50-$6.25, try the chicken and black bean wrap, wowza!), salads ($3.25-$6.25, try the Eastside House Salad, oh my gawd!) and odds and ends (consisting of things like cheesy breadsticks, BBQ wings, etc.....the wings are awesome, by the way, 20 pieces for $15.50).

That'sa Pizza has a grand bar. Awesome.

As I said before, That'sa Pizza has some grand brew selections, always featuring a Sam Adams, a Bells and a Right Brain (my favorite local brewery, soon to make an appearance on this very blog!). They also have some great bottles and the usual suspects as well. Spirits and wine can be had here too. This really is the perfect all-around pizza joint, take my word for it!

The food at That'sa Pizza is as good as it looks!

While the brews and vinos are certainly tops on the drinks list for this guy, they are not the only game in town by any means! Folks, if you get the chance, do not miss out on That'sa Pizza's 100% real fruit smoothies! Talk about heaven in a glass! Yes, I really did just say that. I guess, technically I wrote it, but whatever. They're awesome.

Yup. Yum!

Lastly on the menu are the calzones. Basically, you choose three toppings, they throw it into that yummy crusted creation and you experience a food orgasm. It really is wonderful to slay one's hunger with such a convincing beast!

That'sa Pizza also has a take-n-bake option that rocks. Taking the boat over to the beach house? Snag a take-n-bake. Heading home after a long weekend? Grab a take-n-bake. See what I mean? So versatile!

Here sits a summer tradition: Bells' Oberon from the That'sa Pizza taps.

I know what you're thinking. Questions are seeping into your mind. Questions like: "Did the 'local only' guy just review a chain?" No. I did not. That'sa Pizza is uniquely, fiercely Traverse City. "Why is this guy reviewing a pizza joint?" Because I love good food and That'sa Pizza is good food! Plus, it is summer and easy, transportable food.....or food that comes to you in a summer drunken stupor or other state of "I shouldn't go anywhere", is tops on people's minds right now.

Yeah, there's an eclectic mix of eateries on this blog. Why? Because I'm an eclectic kinda guy! You might find me here for lunch, dropping $20 on a slice, a brew and a salad and meet up with me at The Cook's House for dinner, where I'll gladly drop $150. Amazing food knows no name, no boundaries, no shape, no incarnation. Any menu within any establishment has the potential to be outstanding. I have had supremely amazing nosh in a dirty Guatemalan parking lot, sitting atop a broken plastic stool, eating from a paper plate. Judge not, folks.

If you seek delicious vacation food, simply walk through the doors of That'sa Pizza!