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)