Any Given Thursday


Hopefully by now you’ve read “Especially in Michigan…” and are well aware that most of our vacation involved eating our way through the Grand Traverse region. While here I’ll be focusing primarily on Thursday’s adventures, I want to backtrack briefly to our first stop of Wednesday’s trip up the Leelanau Peninsula*.

*If you’re looking at a map of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it forms a “mitt” with two smaller “finger” peninsulas at the northwest end of the peninsula proper, separated by the Grand Traverse Bay. Traverse City actually sits at the base of the Old Mission peninsula, which is between the East (Antrim County) and West (Leelanau Peninsula) arms of the bay.

Before hitting the Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Leelanau State Park, we visited Tandem Ciders – a large barn off a road that seems to lead to nowhere, identified only by the tandem bike hanging over the entrance. Once inside, we were surrounded by the crisp scent of apples, the sight of brightly colored t-shirts, and the presence of shelves full of books on making wine and cider. It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere – during our visit we only saw two employees.

Our cider guide offered us tastings of each cider the house had to offer, each made with a different blend of Michigan-grown apples and possessing its own unique character. While most were light and tart on the tongue, the three offered blends brought out the sweetness of the apples and made a perfect start to the day. The beautiful thing about ciders as opposed to wines is that you can mix any number of cider varieties together to create different flavor experiences. We came home with a growler of the Golden Honey blend; I can’t wait to crack it open.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint one day of vacation as my favorite, but if I had to then Thursday would have to top the list. We started off with a game of mini-golf and a round of go-carts at Pirate’s Cove with Brian’s parents and brother, then Brian and I went our own way to explore The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The Village, a collection of shops, offices and residential spaces, is centered on The Mercato – a sprawling complex of architectural genius that previously served as an asylum before its conversion (Sweet Asylum, a shop in The Village, pays homage to the Mercato’s heritage in its very name). We passed by the boutiques full of beautiful, hand-crafted (and expensive) pieces, pausing here and there to window shop. Our main objective: to check off a few more foodie stops from our list.

Black Star Farms – We visited the actual farm, Leelanau Cheese creamery and winery on Wednesday morning and left without taking advantage of their tasting room. Fortunately, Black Star has a tasting room located right inside the Mercato, so we stopped in. We were the only two people in the place besides our delightful host, who treated us to eight different varieties of Black Star wine. We started with the ice wine, a semi-dry dessert wine that prepped us quite well for another pair of Rieslings (if you can’t tell, it’s our favorite kind of wine). We also tried a pear wine and a cherry wine (and brought home bottles of each), as well as a strong cherry dessert wine that is 17% ABV — as our host said, they make their vodka with cherries instead of potatoes. We also received souvenir wine glasses that are good for complimentary tasting at any of their tasting rooms on the peninsulas – so if you go, hit me up!

Pleasanton Bakery – Nothing is better for soaking up noon-time alcohol than bread, right? The bakery sits right across the lawn from the Mercato, just a step-in shop with a direct view of the enormous brick oven in the back. Every bread is fresh-baked that morning, and the oven is kept hot overnight for the highest quality baking. The featured breads are made without conventional yeast, and you can truly taste the difference. I brought home a loaf of their manna seed bread, and I only wish they were closer to me so I could have another!

Left Foot Charley – If it’s just after 1 pm and you’re feeling a little toasty, the best thing to do is visit another winery. The Village is well equipped to help you out with that. Left Foot Charley is feet away from the bakery, and as it came on high recommendation from the gentleman at Black Star we were compelled to check it out. It is Northern Michigan’s first urban winery, with grapes coming from nine different vineyards along the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas. That their award-winning wines are created in what used to be half of an old laundromat can give one a moment of pause, but that’s only until you try the wine.

LFC offers a complimentary tasting of 5 of their 9 wines currently available, as well as their two hard ciders; for $5 more you can sample their four premium wines, which are definitely worth such a small price. One of my favorites was the 2008 Murmur, an annual label that, like the CGT’s Cherry Festival, is a little different every year. Their Cinnamon Girl cider is also worth a second taste (or if you’re us, a growler to take home), but my absolute favorite was the 2008 Riesling Seventh Hill Farm (from whence its grapes came). This is their last 2008 wine, and after two years in the bottle its taste is extraordinary.

Our hostess suggested that the Riesling is a wine to put on one’s wine rack until 2015, when the bouquet is fully developed…so Brian bought us a bottle. It’s not only a fond memory of our vacation, but now it’s something sweet to look forward to.

The other suggestion from our hostess, since there was a wait on our Cinnamon Girl, was to check out one of the top-rated restaurants in The Village.

Trattoria Stella – I first read about this Italian restaurant and its sustainable dining experience in the summer issue of Edible Grand Traverse. (I’m still irked that there isn’t a specific issue for northern Ohio…but maybe we just haven’t done enough to deserve it!) I was intrigued by Barb Tholin’s description of Stella’s menu and atmosphere, and even more intrigued to learn that the restaurant is a center of sustainable cooking in the area. We started off with a glass of LFC’s 2008 Riesling and discovered yet another tie between the merchants of the Grand Traverse region — rather than engage in cutthroat competition, the vintners and restaurateurs encourage patronage of each establishment to fully appreciate the flavor of the area.

The bread basket, of course, is a necessary staple in any Italian meal. Stella’s chefs bake the bread in-house each morning, so the focaccia and ciabatta breads were fresh, fragrant, warm and soft. If I wasn’t already in love with those carb-filled loaves I would have fallen at that first bite.

Our main course was the linguine with marinara and meatballs. At $12 a plate it ranks with Olive Garden and other chains in terms of price, but there is no comparison by taste. The meatballs, freshly-rolled combinations of beef, pork and veal, were expertly spiced and melted in my mouth. I swear (though I didn’t confirm) that the pasta is hand-rolled, and the marinara was light and tangy – every herb was a new punch to the taste buds, and the chunks of fresh tomato added a burst of flavor with every bite. Mid-meal, I had what I’m pretty sure was my first foodgasm.

By the end of the meal I was full, still more than a little drunk, and a converted foodie. It was time for an afternoon break.

Higher Grounds Trading Company – As luck (or design) would have it, LFC shares the former laundromat space with this sustainable, organic and fair trade coffee roastery. Their beans come from all over the world and are blended just so for the perfect cup of coffee. The Ethiopian Sidamo medium roast was the blend of the day, and it was sweet enough that even the half teaspoon of cane sugar I added was unnecessary. The shop offers used books and photo albums for perusal while one sips, and a variety of whole beans and coffee instruments to make any java junkie a happy little bean. In hindsight, I should have picked up a bag — or a case — but hell, they ship. 🙂

There are so many other experiences that I will take away from our week in Michigan, experiences large and small and cultural and foodie-related. The highlights I’ve given, though, are a good start for anybody who wants to find a destination that’s close to home and a bit out of the ordinary…or for any beginning foodie who wants a real introduction to the food they eat. Bon appetit!

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One comment

  1. […] comes up. I’ve had a few rowdy nights (and one tipsy afternoon of wine tasting while on vacation), but on the whole I’m just not a fan anymore of drinking until I drop. My priorities have […]

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