Salad Love in Pure Michigan

A sweet-savory salad of pear slices, bleu cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette at Lulu's

George Hendrix, contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, might not look like your typical salad eater, but he can’t get enough at two of chef Mike Peterson’s restaurants—Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids.

Put me in a line up, ask a dozen strangers to pick out the salad eater, and I’m everyone’s last choice. I’ve got the body for bratwurst, but I have a taste for micro greens. On my most recent visit to northwest Michigan, I particularly enjoyed salads at Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids. Both restaurants are the creations of chef Mike Peterson.

More on the salads in a minute. First, a bit about Mike.

Lulu's has a sleek minimalist design, and is a must-visit for foodies in Bellaire.

His is a fairly typical story in this exceptional-food realm radiating outward from Traverse City to encompass the resort towns along and near Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bays, the Leelanau Peninsula and the dozens of inland lakes. The story is: local boy or girl with a talent for food leaves to get a world-class culinary education; completes apprenticeships in one or more foodie heavens; gets homesick for blue water, golden beaches, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, a mellow lifestyle; and comes home. In Mike’s case, the education came at the Culinary Institute of America and the apprenticeships took place in Paris and New York kitchens.

In 1993, Mike and a few partners opened Spencer Creek in Alden. Now closed, that restaurant served as the dress rehearsal for Lulu’s. Since 2001, the downtown Bellaire bistro, with a sleek minimalist design and decor, has been among the region’s must-go dinner destinations. The chef’s latest project is Siren Hall in downtown Elk Rapids, a few blocks from the Victorian-Era home where he and his wife, Rebecca, are raising their four kids.

Siren Hall has an emphasis on oysters and other seafood with a name that honors the mythical sirens of the deep.

Siren Hall is even more Spartan, with concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches. The look is the creation of Rebecca, another northwest Michigan native, who earned her design chops in New York City.

Now the food.

At Lulu’s, I enjoyed a sweet-savory salad of pear slices, blue cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette. I chased my healthy repast with a cup—well, more like a soup bowl—of Lulu’s chocolate cherry cake ice cream. “Some of my cooks love making ice cream,” Mike explained.

I finished the evening down the street with an Americano at Moka, the coffee shop, bakery and restaurant owned by Mike’s brother Bill.

The concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches create the atmosphere at Siren Hall.

My special-of-the-day salad at Siren Hall consisted of warm haricot verts (or as they’re known outside of France, baby green beans) dressed with truffle oil vinaigrette, blue cheese and bacon curls. Marcona almonds provide an amazingly tasty crunch.

The salads are straightforward enough that, even if I have to go looking for the almonds (if you go searching, try Costco) and truffle oil, I think I can re-create them while waiting for the bratwursts to grill, right?

George Hendrix, freelance writer and former Travel Editor of Midwest Living, also contributes to Michigan Travel Ideas. From snowmobile adventures to the centennial of the Model T, he has written about Michigan for nearly 25 years.

 

Checking Out The Cooks’ House

Servers make diners feel like guests at the Cooks' House

On assignment for Michigan Travel Ideas, Kevin Miyazaki shares his experience photographing The Cooks’ House, a cozy restaurant with a focus on local, sustainable foods.

The Traverse City area takes its food and drink seriously, which is why it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. The Cooks’ House is a perfect example of why I’m drawn to this part of the state. ­The restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients to create eye-catching dishes that please the palate and support the community.

Two years ago, chefs Eric Patterson and Jeremy Heisey allowed me to shoot in the kitchen of their original location, which meant squeezing myself between the stove and the sink. Empty plates, the aftermath of satisfied diners, were passed under my nose to a hardworking dishwasher.

The laid back, yet sophisticated bar at the Cooks' House restaurant in Traverse City

This trip, I’m going to shoot at their new location, just across the street from where I had my first encounter with their artful food. As I walk inside, I realize it’s not too much larger. Chef and co-owner Jennifer Blakeslee secures me a prime spot at the bar. From here, I take in the activity in the kitchen and the busy dining area, where there’s a nice buzz. The crowd is sophisticated but casual. I chat with a couple of serious foodies from Columbus, Ohio. They have heard good things about The Cooks’ House.

I can see (and smell) the reason for the rave reviews as I photograph entrees before servers sweep them away to hungry guests. A simple but popular arugula salad of caramelized onions, candied pumpkin seeds and goat cheese catches my eye.

Walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lambs quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette.

Another server walks by bearing a plate of walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lamb’s quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette that smells as delicious as it sounds. And my favorite thing to shoot: hand-cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers. The composition and delicate flower petals scattered across the plate draw my attention. Plus, I’m a fan of anything with homemade pasta. I soon realize that I won’t be able to leave without buying dinner.

As I shoot, I enjoy talking with the amicable staff. One of the line cooks is doing fantastic work, and it turns out he was the aforementioned dishwasher from my last visit. We joke about our previous close encounter. The sommelier joins the conversation, and we start talking about Sauvignon Blancs, a recent favorite of mine. She suggests a Semillon, a dry and sweet white wine.

The chefs prepare a meal of hand cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers.

I can almost taste the smooth, crisp wine. I’m convinced. I opt to occupy my bar perch a bit longer and taste one of the dishes I’ve seen and smelled all evening. The chefs prepare my meal of the pasta and arugula salad. I officially call it a night by pairing my food with a cool glass of the recommended Semillon.

Kevin J. Miyazaki is a Midwest-based magazine photographer. His food and restaurant photographs have appeared in Michigan Travel Ideas, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Midwest Living and Travel + Leisure.

 

Michigan’s Local Fare in Restaurants with Style

Join Dine Michigan on a tour of some of the best restaurants in Michigan serving local fare. From a fine dining experience, to a diner specializing in gourmet breakfasts, Dine Michigan has you covered.

As fall nears it is time to enjoy Pure Michigan dining at its purest. Dine Michigan has reviewed several restaurants that go above and beyond when it comes to using Michigan’s natural ingredients. These restaurants are known to change the menu as little as every few days to keep with the locally grown fare. So get out and find Michigan grown produce while the season lasts.

By Land or Sea in Coldwater

Photo By Dine Michigan

The Boathouse - Michigan Fine Dining

Fine dining – start on the lake, Coldwater Lake to be exact. Pull up to The Boathouse Restaurant in your boat or in your car and head chef, Chris Nixon and staff will be ready to feed you like you’ve not been fed before. The proof is in its clientele. The Boathouse gets regular visits from Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago and beyond. Why do people travel to dine here?  Maybe it’s the fact that the staff has traveled from restaurants in New York City and even farther, not just to bring their culinary expertise back to Michigan, but also so they would have the opportunity to cook with some of the purest ingredients grown right here in Michigan, naturally.

Start with an appetizer like the locally grown squash blossoms for an amazing taste sensation. For your salad, the Arugala salad with parmesan direct from Italy and 6 different forms of lemon, from juice to lemon confit, is sure to awaken your palate. Head to the main course where you can’t go wrong with any choice, but we recommend the beef. The 45 day aged beef is sous vide and then pan seared, and one of the best pieces of meat you will ever eat. Finish your meal off with the North 40 Blueberry Shortcake. Yes, with blueberries grown locally! There are many surprises in store that you NEED to experience. If you are a vegetarian, expect a visit from the chef. He will want to prepare a meal to your liking and will make sure it is just that. If you want something really special, call ahead and ask for it. Chef Chris will do his best to get and prepare your heart’s desire to perfection.

Grand Rapids Done Locally

Photo By Dine Michigan

Reserve - Michigan Fine Dining

We had the opportunity to enjoy a casual experience at Reserve in Grand Rapids. If you love wine then this place is an absolute must. For Dine Michigan, the over 100 wines on tap and more than 200 bottled wines were fantastic but the detail to Michigan’s and other naturally grown foods was out of this world. Right here in Grand Rapids, Reserve is blessed to have the art of Chef Matt Millar and his amazing culinary knowledge. From the Charcuterie to the Chocolate Rillete, your taste buds will want more, and much of it is locally grown and stored just for Reserve.

The dessert is to die for, and you must save room for it. It’s so delicious, that we are going to start telling you about the meal from end to beginning! Dessert at its best starts with the Chocolate Rillete, which is a creamy hazelnut spread, topped with a Saskatoon jam. Saskatoon berries are by the way, Michigan’s ONLY native berry. The Rillete is served with a bourbon pound cake, which by itself is delicious. For the main course, it’s time to stop ducking the duck. Try it, that’s all we have to say, as it is amazing. The ducks are from a farm where they are grown free range. So you need an appetizer? Try the Charcuterie; you will love the wide array of sliced meats and cheeses to enjoy with a great glass or bottle of wine. There are many appetizers which are all fantastic, but we are stuck on one unusual item, Chef Matt’s amazing Eggs and Eggs!

A Lansing Breakfast Party

Photo By Dine Michigan

Dine Michigan is offering a free meal to the first person to get a clear picture of Chef Zane's face at work!

Now let’s go get one of the absolute best breakfasts in the state of Michigan. You are headed to a little diner that only serves breakfast on Lansing’s north side called Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest uses an amazing array of fresh produce to produce a breakfast we promise you will remember!  The menu has many great items for adults and kids alike. The kids pancake made like a jolly roger is fun, filling and fantastic. As for adults, skip the menu and look to the specials board. Everything comes large, filling and super tasty, but the specials are truly special. The cook is a surprise. You would expect this little place to have just a standard cook, but not here. At Golden Harvest you are getting a true chef who will turn breakfast into an all day meal for you. Zane, chef and owner, does breakfast specials by starting with the best local in-season ingredients you can get. The prices will not reflect that though. Zane and his wife Vanessa keep prices down and concentrate on using local ingredients and serving great food. If you are in a hurry, be sure to slow down, you may need to wait a few minutes. If there are two of you and you sit at a table of four, plan to share a table with new friends!

Michigan Fine Dining

From a restaurant on the lake serving squash blossoms with flare to a serious breakfast party, these Pure Michigan restaurants will keep you coming back to Michigan for food you will remember, made with pride using local and natural ingredients grown in Michigan!

By Dave Coker of Dine Michigan

Go to www.dinemichigan.com to find more on these restaurants and many more.