Especially in Michigan…

Vector image of a Michigan state trunk line hi...
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Given that vacation ended a week ago, you could say that this is somewhat overdue. Oh well, that’s what happens when real life steps in.

Anywho, for those of you who aren’t aware, I spent a lovely week in Traverse City, Michigan with Brian and his family. We got to see and do a variety of things, and there was swimming involved just about every day — Lake Michigan, unlike Lake Erie, is cool and clear and everything a lake should be instead of all the things it shouldn’t. Most notable of our excursions were the stops along Traverse City’s self-guided foodie tour (definitely a must-do if you’re in the area!).

I’ll save my philosophizing on the nature of vacations for another post. Today is review day, for the highlights and low points of our touring experience.

Kilwin’s – Our first foodie stop on Sunday was this chocolate/fudge/ice cream shop right on Front Street. There are Kilwin’s locations in several states across the country, so even if you aren’t in the TC area you should check out their Web site and find a location near you. As soon as we walked in the door we were surrounded by the scent of fresh chocolates and bricks of fudge, laid out pretty as you please behind gleaming glass. There was a center display with gifts to go with chocolate, along with my favorite: a coffee mug large enough to hold a pint of ice cream. (Disclosure: I have a coffee mug that large. It’s amazing.)

Given that it was such a gorgeous day, we decided to get some ice cream for our walk. I had a scoop of their Blue Moon, a blue (duh) ice cream with so many flavors it’s impossible to describe exactly how it tastes. Different ice cream makers use different variations of the Blue Moon recipe, so no two cones are exactly alike. It was a vanilla-citrus-coconut blend that went perfectly with the sunshine. Pick up some truffles or a brick of fudge to enjoy with the wine you should be buying…

House of Doggs This hole-in-the-wall specializes in coney-style hot dogs with as many condiment combinations as there are styles of music — fitting, as the decor was House of Blues meets Hard Rock Cafe and the televisions played a DVD of Phil Collins the whole time we were there. I had the Reggae, a coney with sauerkraut, pickle and mustard (hold the pickle), and a bite of Brian’s coney – a Blues, with chili and cheese. The condiments were hot and fresh, the dogs full of flavor; if you are a hot dog person then I definitely recommend HOD for a quick bite.

Cherry Republic – There is not enough room in the blogosphere to tell you everything you need to know about Cherry Republic. There are two locations, the main store and winery in Glen Arbor (about 15 minutes from Traverse City), and an “embassy” location in downtown TC. The shop is worth a visit just for the cheeky signs and amusing distractions, but for cherry lovers it truly is a little slice of heaven. Each location has a bar area at which you can sample any of their delicious cherry sodas or wines and purchase them by the cup (soda only, of course), bottle or case. I tried the Abbondanza wine, a blend of 58% white grapes and 42% cherries. It has a crisp, summery taste with just a hint of cherry, a good wine for a light meal.

Beyond the beverages, imagine anything to which you can add a cherry and chances are the Republic has you covered. Chocolate-covered cherries, cherry jams, salsas, dressings, breads and cookies — if you can dream it, they can do it. They offer samples of nearly everything they carry, so you can fall in love before you ever leave the store. Of course, if cherries aren’t your thing but you still want to say you came and saw and conquered, Cherry Republic also offers the requisite t-shirts and tourist fare. Check them out online and get a catalog — they ship to almost anywhere and from what I’ve sampled I can honestly say it’s well worth it.

Jolly Pumpkin – This restaurant and brewery sits along the coast of the Old Mission Peninsula. After visiting the Old Mission Lighthouse and various local stops along the peninsula, we were excited to sit down for a nice lunch and taste some of the local brews on draft. Sadly, I have to say that the visit was not everything I hoped for.

First, the decor: the dining room is a rustic, wood trimmed room with dark tables and a moose head on the wall. The light fixtures (which I always notice now thanks to Brian) were unique but too heavy for the room and did little to lighten things up. Fortunately, there is one wall that is all windows so we weren’t entirely in the dark. The kitchen is open, a highlight until you consider that kitchen conversation filters out to whomever happens to be sitting within earshot — which, of course, we were.

The service left a lot to be desired as well. Our server was young and friendly enough, but he seemed in a bit of a hurry to take our order and didn’t stick around to answer questions once we told him we were still looking. As mentioned above, the kitchen staff had quite a discussion over our table’s orders given that we had a few special requests — it’s not quite necessary to hear that you’re somehow “inconveniencing” the people who are paid to make your food. Our food arrived quickly, though, and was mostly worth the wait.

I have an ongoing love affair with macaroni and cheese that will someday kill me — until then, though, mangeons! The mac and cheese at the JP was a creamy blend of three cheese with fresh pancetta and a parmesan crust. Every mouthful was a delight, and it went perfectly with the beers we had chosen. We tried to order four brews — Oro de Calabaza, La Roja, Bam Biere, and a fourth they had on draft — but the Oro and the beer I can’t remember (hehehe) weren’t available while we were there. These things happen, and the two brews we did sample were perfectly pitched, but it was disheartening to be told that not one but two of our preferred choices were unavailable. Also, if you have a gluten allergy you should stay away from the French fries — despite being told that the fries are cooked in a separate fryer, our gluten-free matriarch was sick for the rest of the day after eating them (everybody else was fine!)

All in all, it’s a decent (and decently-priced) place for a quick meal, as long as you don’t go in expecting too much.

Chateau Grand Traverse – The Grand Traverse region is renowned for its vineyards and wineries. Located less than a mile south of the 45th parallel, the grapes of the Lower Peninsula grow in some of the best possible conditions, to yield robust bouquets and lip-smacking good wines. CGT features a vineyard tour as well as a tasting room, where with a flash of your ID you can sample up to six of their blends at no charge. We tried their 2010 Cherry Festival blend, a wine that’s slightly different every year. It was heavier on the cherries than the Abbondanza I referenced above, but still a nice, sweet wine. My particular favorites were the GT Sweet Harvest Riesling and the GT Late Harvest Riesling — Brian brought home a bottle of the latter and it will make the perfect touch to a poultry or seafood dish that, of course, I’ll be cooking at some point. 🙂

CGT’s shop also offers everything the wine connoisseur or home entertainer could hope for in terms of the perfect presentation: wine glass cozies in the shape of flip-flops, fun party napkins and bottle holders, and appetizer plates with a wine glass holder are all nifty and useful. In addition, there is a wide variety of wine racks and bottle stoppers sure to keep any collector happy in the long run. Make sure you show up before the last tour at 4, so you can see how it’s done!

To be continued…

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One comment

  1. […] by shanshantastic — Leave a comment 09/08/2010 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 […]

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