Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cuppa Joe

Building 50, which houses Cuppa Joe and many other businesses and residences, is the most well known building at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is an ancient and sprawling complex. It has an intensely industrial feel about it, as it should, it is the former Traverse City State Hospital after all. That's hospital for insane folks, not hospital for sick ones, FYI.

One of my very good friends became a very good friend byway of this place. Before renovations began in earnest on all of the many buildings making up this campus, it was a creepy, derelict old beast that dominated a picturesque chunk of land. Needless to say, it was fun to walk around in. Granted, that wasn't entirely encouraged, but folks did it anyway. This slightly illicit activity is how my friend and I came to be.

Nowadays, you'll find an actual, vibrant community within the many walls of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons you'll find multiple shops, activities, food marts and eateries. One could easily spend a leisurely afternoon and evening perusing the many offerings of this place, especially on a warm summer's night when the lawn in front of Building 50 is full of revelers or relaxers partaking in one of the many festivals or events that take place there. 

Yoga on one side, coffee on the other.

One of the many oft missed gems hidden within the vast expanse of this amazing complex is Cuppa Joe, a coffeed up destination beloved by locals and savvy visitors alike (like the ones who read this blog, for example).

Traverse City's Cuppa Joe is a much loved coffee destination. But don't forget the food!

But Cuppa Joe is much more than just a coffee joint, it's an entire dining solution!

What in the world does that mean? Basically, it means that it's a full service breakfast and lunch joint. Lovely!

A surprisingly modern motif greets Cuppa Joe patrons after entering the century (and more) old Building 50.

Now, these guys are definitely known for their delicious, refreshing coffee. It's "Earth and People Friendly", as they say. They always have a grand selection of coffees from around the world and coffee drinks that will certainly delight the senses. They also do a fantastic smoothie! My favorite is the Cherry Bomb, both because it is delicious and because it is the name of one of my favorite local sports teams! 

The Cherry Bomb consists of tart cherries and a splash of vanilla. Yum! They also have the Calypso, another of my favorites. This one is quite tropical! Banana, coconut and pineapple juice.

Speaking of frozen things, you have to try the frozen chai latte! The frozen drinks are all $4 or $4.50 and the smoothies are all $4.50 or $5. Nice!

Scenes from Building 50's  past decorate the walls at Cuppa Joe in Traverse City.

Breakfast brings a faithful crowd to Cuppa Joe. The various professionals that inhabit the surrounding offices and businesses of the Village, along with the residents of the luxury condos and apartments all gravitate to Cuppa Joe for their morning fast breaking ritual.

There's breakfast burritos and breakfast bagel sandwiches. The burritos go for $6.50 and the bagel sandwiches are a steal at $3.95!

I usually gravitate toward to San Luis or the Havana burrito.

The San Luis includes two fresh eggs, smoked andouille sausage, roasted poblano pepper, potatoes and cheddar cheese, while the Havan sports two fresh eggs, ham, black beans and cheddar cheese. Good stuff yo!

Cuppa Joe. In this case, it means "good food" too!

 Lunch is where the menu tends to open up. Be sure to check the various boards for daily specials.

The lunch menu consists of salads, a soup or two/three of the day, wraps and grilled paninis. Salads range in price from $6.50-$7.95. The soup is $3.75 for a bowl and $2.75 for a cup. The wraps range in price from $5.95-$6.50 and the paninis range from $5.95-$6.95. All of these prices rock, by the way.

Don't miss out on a wander around the Mercado after you dine at Cuppa Joe.

Highlights of the lunch menu include Ray's Salad (salami, ham, provolone cheese, feta cheese, onion, cucumber, red pepper, oven roasted beets, kalamata olives and mixed greens served with the homemade Greek dressing), the Baja Beef wrap (sliced roast beef, colby jack cheese, fresh homemade salsa, mixed greens and creamy ranch dressing), and the Quebec Blue panini (sliced roast beef, blue cheese crumbles, bacon and caramelized onions).

The hallways go on forever in Building 50, with a pleasant surprise around every corner.

For those of you that do not enjoy the taste of meat, no worries, Cuppa Joe has some tasty veggie selections as well, including the Vegout wrap (hummus, cream cheese, sweet onion, carrot, cucumber, sweet red pepper, sunflower seeds and mixed greens).

And don't miss out on a wander around the grounds. Some of the buildings have yet to be renovated. Great picture taking opportunities abound at Traverse City's old State Hospital.

I love the experience of this place. Yeah, it's in the newer part of Building 50, but you can still feel the disturbingly amazing history that surrounds you. If you check this place out, do yourself a favor and allow for some walking around time! The halls that can be followed beyond Cuppa Joe will bring you past some unique and perfect pieces of art, storefronts and food paradises. Like I said, this a community unto itself. Then, when you've traversed as far as you can traverse within the walls, take a step outside and peruse the grounds of this grand old institution. Not only are some of the buildings still in their history oozing state of decay (not for long, but some yet remain that way), but, if you take a wander down one of the many well travelled hiking trails that lay behind the main grounds, you'll experience nature and history all rolled into one! 

To walk where the "insane" have tread. To dine where the unknown occurred. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons has taken what was once a mythical and fearful place and turned it into one of the most amazing examples of urban renewalism I have ever seen!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush) 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dairy Lodge

Americana is on display everyday at Traverse City's The Dairy Lodge.

Ah July in Traverse City. Many folks make the trek "up state" during this time of year. Of course, a huge amount of non-Michiganders make their way to the Grand Traverse Region during July as well. Why? Because things seem to be just reaching perfect during this favorite summer month. The water has all but lost its icy bite from the past winter's chill. Temps are steady, maintaining a 75-100 degree span, rarely lower, only sometimes higher. Festivals are rolling through the region, people's vacation time is kicking in and summer sales are beginning to hit throughout Traverse City.

Yes, this truly is the perfect time to be in TC, take in an open air concert, spend a day beaching and wrap it all up with one of Traverse City's oldest summer mainstays, The Dairy Lodge.

Locals and travellers alike love this outdoors ice cream parlor.

The Dairy Lodge has long been a family tradition for locals and visitors alike. Centrally located (nestled on the edge of Slabtown), it is within walking distance of downtown and all of the major beaches. Children love the creative toppings for the small cones......which, truthfully, are not that small!

Grown-ups tend to gravitate toward the flurries or shakes. I certainly do. On my last visit to The Dairy Lodge I ordered a thin mint flurry (as in the Girl Scouts cookies). It was fun!

Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to peruse the many menus at The Dairy Lodge!

Now, as is to be expected, this TC tradition is a grand outing for a fun end to an awesome day. But, if you're looking for the absolute best ice cream in all of Traverse City, this place, and those like it, do not meet that description. However, The Dairy Lodge takes a pretty boring product (soft serve ice cream) and turns it into something slightly magical! How? Well, with their creative toppings, dips and mixes, of course!

But, as any mother that has never appeared on Maury will tell you, no dinner begins with ice cream. The Diary Lodge has a small, but fun, selection of "sandwiches", as you can see by the above photo (fyi, clicking on that photo, and any other photo in this blog, will enlarge the photo, thus making it readable! Genius!). The sandwiches, actually a small collection of outdoor American fare standbys, are priced perfectly. All come on a bun. There are a few hot dog versions and a sloppy joe. 

Like I said, MANY menus.

After you've noshed on whatever bunned creation you may be craving, it's time for the real decision making to begin. Again, as you can see by the two above pictures and the one below, The Dairy Lodge takes their everyday form of iced cream pretty seriously. As I've mentioned before in this blog, these guys work with one of my least favorite forms of dessert (soft serve) and they actually make it palatable, in MANY ways, as evidenced by their decorative window coverings......otherwise known as their menus.

Yeah, this is not an indecisive person's paradise!

Again, as I wrote before, my favorite thing to sample here would be their flurry creations. they always have some sort of special flurry that usually sounds and tastes pretty swell. For those of you that don't enjoy ice cream, there are plenty of frozen fruit whip and frozen yogurt options. Be sure to study these menus carefully, yo! They also do some grand banana split and strawberry shortcake action!

While few will disagree that soft serve ice cream is the worst sort of lie (ice cream-wise, that it is), The Dairy Lodge takes this mediocre product and jazzes it up quite nicely!

Most of The Dairy Lodge's patrons come by in the evening after the day has begun to wind down, dinner has been served (either at home or at another area restaurant, Sledder's folks LOVE coming here after dinner) and nothing sounds better than a little melty nostalgia.

When it comes right down to it, that's what The Dairy Lodge truly offers, a way to escape the rat race and enjoy a bit of the sweet life in a setting that your grandparents would easily recognize and relax within. This is America, tucked neatly into a sugary cone. This is how we've unwound as a nation during the warmer days of the year for almost a century. If you're into that sort of old time relaxation, the kind that allows you to sit back and watch the world go by, the The Dairy Lodge is the place for you!

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

National Cherry Festival

The Cherry Festival is one of the crown jewels of the Traverse City festival season.

There is a certain food here in Traverse City that out-ranks every other food. It is not the steak, nor is it the burger. It is not duck, asparagus, foie gras, pork or buffalo.

It is the Cherry. And it rules all things. Especially during the first part of July……every year.

That’s right folks! As it is Wednesday, July 11, 2012, we Traverse City-ites sit in the midst of the internationally known and renowned National Cherry Festival. It began last Saturday and it ends when the midway closes and the fireworks explode this Saturday (July 14).

The carnival is fun, but the real heart and soul of the Fest is through this archway!

It celebrates all things Cherry, of that there is no doubt. You can score some Cherry drinks (alcoholic and not), Cherry cotton candy, Cherry jelly/jam, Cherry butter, Cherry clothes, Cherry pie, Cherry burgers, Cherry EVERYTHING! You can even tuck into some actual Cherries, locally grown, straight from the farmer’s hands, while conversing with the Cherry Queen (a past queen happens to be a friend of mine)!

But, amidst all of this Cherry goodness, there is another, some would say, larger theme: Traverse City.

Traverse City's Cherry Festival is certainly full of carnie food!

While there is a midway with an increasingly fun set of rides (they added a tower drop to this year’s offerings) and an ever present grouping of typical carnie fare, there is also a grand showcase of Traverse City’s local cuisine.

After you visit the midway and spend a Benjamin on tickets, cross the road, walk underneath the huge Cherry Festival archway and enter a world that brings many folks’ memories and loves of Traverse City to life in one glorious setting.

This area is where the local flavor of Traverse City comes to life.

After walking through said archway, you find yourself bordering Traverse City’s Duncan L. Clinch Marina and the Open Space. Turn left and you will see two huge, open air stages. The first stage is known to locals as the “free music stage.” That stage showcases some amazing acts, many local, for free, hence the moniker. In front of this stage you’ll notice a plethora of seating/table choices. A closer inspection of the surrounding area will clue you into why there are so many tables.

It's true, the Cherry Festival is certainly full of cherries!

Surrounding the free music stage is an orgy of local food vending tents. Almost any taste and budget can be satiated at one of these tented kiosks. Local area restaurants bring down some of their favorite menu choices and offer them up to the hungry, walking masses that flow through the Festival gates. My favorite stop is at the Agave tent (a GREAT local Mexican restaurant that will be featured on this blog shortly) for some seriously satisfying nachos! No worries, though. If you’re not into nachos or Mexican fare, there are plenty of mouth-watering locales to choose from. This part of the Cherry Fest is always the hardest for me. I have no idea where to start when laid out before me are so many amazing restaurant names.

This guy's favorite fair food is in Gibbyville!

Now, from the archway, if you take a right, you’ll be walking toward Gibbyville! At first glance, Gibbyville seems to be an extension of the carnie’s food efforts. There are quite a few food trailers touting what, at first glance, appears to be typical carnie fare in loud colors and bright designs. Don’t be fooled! This is NOT typical carnival food! This is a local family that is serious about kicking up their carnival based creations a few notches.

Does Gibby’s follow around travelling carnivals? Yup. Do they know a lot of carnies? Yup. Do they serve the same thing that the carnies do? NO!!

And this is my Cherry Festival tradition.

As far as carnival fare goes, my obsessions are simple. I need an elephant ear and a turkey leg. No one does these wonderful creations better than Gibby’s! Do yourself a favor, put on your local’s cap, step into Gibbyville and order yourself some grub! You will not be disappointed!

Don't miss the Cherry Festival's local vendor tents!

Again, from the archway, you venture straight this time. You’ll notice, at the back of the free music stage area, a long line of tents. Housed within these tents are some outstanding local craft foods dealers. Take a walk down the line and see if you don’t stop and sample some goodness.

Naturally Nutty knows their stuff!

Especially at the Naturally Nutty tent. Oh my goodness, do these guys know how to work magic with their spreads!

The Cherry Fest's beer tent is one of the best I've ever been in.

Continue straight and you’ll see that ever present favorite playground for adults, the Beer Tent. You’ll need to be 21 and you’ll need a festival pin to enter. The pin is $5 and is available from wandering Festival folk who will be parked at the front of the tent. You’ll then buy beer tokens, $3 a pop (I think, I can’t remember…..I had a good time, what?). Then, you’ll mosey on up to the bar and order a brew! They have the usual suspects along with a nice selection of craft brews as well. There is also a decent selection of liquor available at the tent.

What's not seen in this shot is that the patio of the beer tent is quite large with ample seating.

While most beer tents are thrown up haphazardly on the outskirts of some random celebration, this one actually has quite a bit of thought behind it! It’s perched right on the edge of the bay and features a lovely, large patio with ample seating overlooking the water and the surrounding festivities.

The Cherry Festival is TC's family event!

I know that there are a few locals who really don’t think too highly of the Cherry Festival. I am not one of them. I love observing the sea of humanity that descends upon our Northern Michigan town, I love how the Cherry Fest showcases Traverse City and I love how this festival is only the beginning.

And I love the food. Wow, do I love the food.

Gotta love Gibby's.

If you’re in Traverse City right now, get down to the Open Space and grab some tasty nosh! If not, keep your eye on the Cherry Festival’s site and come to the party next year. It’s an amazing place to be!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Boone Docks

Glen Arbor's original party deck is located riiiiiiight here, at Boone Docks!

As this blog rolls on, you'll notice a certain fondness for a certain tiny hamlet known as Glen Arbor. When I have an opportunity to venture forth on that ever covetted "day trip" we Northern Michiganders love so very much, I usually opt for a Leelanau Peninsula excursion, one that always includes Glen Arbor. Outside of Traverse City, Glen Arbor is easily my favorite place to be here in the Grand Traverse region!

Whether looking for a relaxed dining experience, a fun family outting or a party, you'll find it all at Glen Arbor's Boone Docks.

You'll recall, not so very long ago, I reviewed Art's Tavern, a Glen Arbor mainstay.

Another of my favorite Glen Arbor eating establishments is Boone Docks! This is the ultimate before/during/after beach party joint. Traditional, indoor dining, great for a laid back family meal, mixes excellently with some seriously fun deck party action.

This joint is the perfect dining experience for beach lovers!

Inside Boone Docks, you'll find three different indoor dining experiences. First, immediatley upon entering Boone Docks, you'll notice some supremely pleasant window seating along a narrow-ish corridor. This is where folks who are hoping for a quieter, more laid back experience hang out. The view is grand for people watching, you're looking out on M-22 and the sidewalks of downtown Glen Arbor.

Venture deeper into Boone Docks and you'll find a comfy lodge type atmosphere. A beautiful stone fireplace keeps the joint toasty in the winter and lookin' good in the summer, a wrap-around wood bar ensures that your glass is never dry and the amazing kitchen serves up some the area's most satisfying grub!

The epicenter of Boone Docks is its massive patio.

But, it's out on the patio where the action really is!

From the endless patio (one of the biggest around) to the massively awesome patio bar and the most excellent people watching and mingling opportunities, this patio is where Boone Docks really shines!

Grab a bench, grab a drink and grab a friend, because the fun goes on all night here!

Live music from some of Michigan's finest artists gets the patio rockin'.

From the grand selection of local brews to a mind boggling selection of mixed drink opportunities, the patio is always hoppin' here. Family friendly during the day, the patio offers some authentic beach town atmosphere for the vacationing masses or the fun seeking local.

A slightly less energetic pation section is available at Boone Docks' as well.

As the sun goes down, the place cranks up. How? With some outstanding local musicians, of course! Northern Michigan's finest music makers work their magic on the patio on an almost nightly basis during the summer months. This place really allows you to slip into that "vacation" state of mind!

Boone Docks' hosts a huge patio bar.

 Now, usually, I elaborate on the food of a restaurant somewhere in my blogs, yeah? Usually I highlight each section of the menu and price some of my favorites. But, alas, the menu for Boone Docks has very recently changed and they have no up-to-date least none that can be removed from the restaurant.

So, allow me to tell you this:  this joint has some delcious nosh! Do you fancy yourself a lovely steak? Some succulent seafood? Ribs from heaven? A burger in paradise? And all the accoutremonts? Then you need to hit Boone Docks on your next Glen Arbor excursion!

This is where the action is at during the summer; Glen Arobor's Boone Docks!

Do it! You'll soon discover that there's only one place that's better for sipping on a hurricane!

Key West. Mallory Square. Just in case you didn't know.

(All photos by Brooks Vanderbush)