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)