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)

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