I am back! Sorry there were no posts for a while. Things got busy at work and then I was away for a long weekend in Traverse City, MI. It is time to report back on the trip.
In case you are not familiar with Michigan in general and Traverse City in particular, here is where we went:
As you can see, it is pretty far north on the lower peninsular. However, if you zoom out on the map and see what other places are located on the same latitude, you will notice Bordeaux, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Istria, Oregon. Do you recognize any of the names? What do they all have in common? They all are famous for really good wines!
I know that wine is the last thing that comes to mind when someone says northern Michigan but trust me, they make some good wine here. Of course latitude alone is not enough. After all, that same parallel goes through Mongolia and last time I checked, they do not make wine there. What makes wine making possible around Traverse City, is its microclimate that is influenced by the great Lake Michigan. The lake protects narrow peninsulars that are almost surrounded by water, creating a climate that is almost perfect for some types of wine.
There are two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, also known as appellations) right next to Traverse City: Old Mission Peninsular and Leelanau Peninsula. Being recognized as an AVA allows local wine makers to label there wines with the area it was made, just like Bordeaux, Veneto, etc. These AVAs produce wines that are winning gold and silver medals at international competitions.
Now that you know where we went, you can probably also guess why – wine, food and tranquility before the summer season starts and hotel rooms go for $500 a night. We left on Friday and in about two hours were driving down Front Street, the city’s main thoroughfare.
As you can see, almost everything is blooming now and the city looks and smells like an orchard. We stayed at the Hotel Indigo, that is a new hotel in what used to be the area full of abandoned warehouses but now boasts a decent hotel, a brewery, several restaurants and many more are on their way.
After a stroll around the city, a couple of glasses of wine and some window shopping, it was time for dinner. We chose the Poppycocks for that evening, since we have been there before and knew it never disappoints. It has been serving great meals in Traverse City since 1989 and has a very imaginative, seasonal and tasty menu. We started with some cocktails (they make a great Aviation), followed by parmesan dusted pita chips with homemade salsa, hummus and melted Jarlsberg cheese.
For the main course Joe had their Parmesan crusted whitefish with roasted lemon caper aioli, roasted garlic mashed red skin potatoes and sautéed vegetables., while I went for that night’s special: Rainbow trout wrapped around parsnip puree, served with ricotta sage gnocchi, morels, ramp pesto romanesco and a slow cooked duck egg. Everything was delicious! If I had to find something that could be improved, I would prefer more morels and would not serve the egg smeared across the plate but rather leave it whole and allow guests break it with their fork. Served as is, it gets cold rather quickly on the plate.
Another stroll down the street and the river that runs along it, and we were ready for some Modern Family on TV. We may or may not have had more wine in the process 🙂
Saturday morning was a bit rainy but it did not dampen our spirits, since it was still quite warm and we were looking forward to our drive along the Old Mission peninsular, where Two Lads – our favourite Traverse City winery, is located. Not only they make great wine but the winery itself is stunning and the views are amazing. However, I am getting ahead of myself. First things first – coffee!
Whenever you are in Traverse City, there is no better place to start your day than Morsels. It is a quaint and charming bakery located on the river. They serve Intelligentsia coffee (arguably the best coffee in North America), freshly baked pastries and a small but creative breakfast menu. I had a warm bagel with locally smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickled onion, tomatoes and capers, while Joe had a breakfast biscuit with sausage, scrambled egg, sharp cheddar, basil pesto, avocado and hot sauce. Given that my brain was not functioning before the coffee, there are no pictures of breakfast food.
Since it was a bit early to go to the winery, we drove to the tip of the Old Mission peninsular, enjoying the views of the lake on both sides, as well as orchards in blossom.
At the tip of the peninsular, there is a lighthouse and a very nice beach that is very pleasant in summer but was completely deserted, except for seagulls.
By the time we got to the winery, the weather was improving and we enjoyed the views of the lake, while trying some sparkling wines (their sparkling rose is particularly good), Rieslings (most of them NOT sweet and lovely) and a pinot grigio.
Another pleasant drive took us back to the city, where we left the car and went for a walk to find some light lunch and be back to the hotel for my to watch the Eurovision finals. If you do not know what Eurovision is, you can read about it here. Do not judge me too harshly 🙂
That evening we had dinner reservation at the amazing Cook’s House. It is a tiny restaurant (10 tables) owned by Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee, who worked at several Michelin stared kitchens before settling in Traverse City and opening this gem.
The restaurant itself is unassuming, one may even say simple. No table cloths, no uniforms or ties. But their food shines even more in these simple surroundings.
The menu changes all of the time. Last weekend they offered two soups, 4 salads, 4 appetizers and 5 main courses (two fish and three meat). They also offer 5 and 7 course tasting menus with or without wine pairings. While I really wanted to try their tasting menu, I knew I just couldn’t eat that much after 2 days in Traverse City. With that in mind, here is how our dinner went:
We both had Aperol spritz that tasted as good as it did in Rome a couple of months earlier
Next came the amuse-bouche of black pepper beignets and pork rillette.
Salad of warm pickled mushrooms, Asian seasoned pig ears and lentils
Followed by Michigan cheeses, honey comb and preserves
Joe had hay smoked white fish with wintered carrots, radish, pea shoots and sesame seeds
While I went for Mangalitsa pork loin with shiitake mushrooms, polenta, cream and some red veined sorrel on top.
We washed everything down with a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. I cannot begin telling you how great that meal was. The quality of food, pacing, service, taste… I can honestly tell you that was one of the best meals I had anywhere in the world. That little restaurant produces dishes that can stand up to anything they put on your table in Paris, Rome or Chicago. If you can, do yourself a favour and go there.
What also impressed me was that they serve Mangalitsa pork. If you are not familiar with it, it is a Hungarian heritage breed of pigs that have sheep-like coat and fatty, marbled meat famed for its flavour. There are very few farmers raising them, so if you see Mangalista on the menu, I highly recommend it!
When we asked for the bill, they also brought out another tiny treat, compliments of the chef: fennel popcorn with sweet pumpkin brittle and short bread cookies.
Happy and tired, we took a long stroll, spent the night in Traverse City and returned home on Sunday. What a great trip and only a couple of hours away from home!
Do you have any of these hidden gems cities near to where you live? Share your secrets in the comments section.