Take a Staycation, Explore Culinary Hidden Gems in Northern Michigan

You won’t find salt water beaches, palm trees, or coral reefs in northern Michigan – and that’s just the way we like it. Traverse City and its surrounding areas are some of the most scenic and beautiful destinations in the world, and they just might be in the comfort of your own back yard. If you’re a northern Michigander, here’s a roundup of some of the off-the-beaten-path food and culture gems to check out when you want to get away without going far.

First things first- the beer.

Traverse City is home to many breweries, taprooms, and pubs that you can only find when visiting.  You can’t truly call yourself a craft beer connoisseur until you try some of the many, many delicious brews that have made the breweries famous.  Some of the most popular destinations to grab a cold one:

  • Brewery Terra Firma fall-color-tour
    • Brewery Terra Firma is unique in its approach as a brewery and as an agricultural destination. Through the integration of sustainable production methods, environmentally conscious waste management and innovative water recycling/reclamation techniques, they hope to become a model for breweries and agricultural destinations throughout the nation.
  • The Workshop Brewing Company
    • The Workshop Brewing Company exists to preserve Northern Michigan’s spectacular natural environment, to reinforce Traverse City’s warm and vital community, and to honor traditional craft. They do not consider their business to be a success unless they are demonstrably and sustainably doing all three. They express this commitment by using the Trifidelity symbol, which stands for their motto: Nature. Community. Craft.
  • The Filling Station Microbrewery ???????????????????????????????
    • Established in the spring of 2012, The Filling Station Microbrewery is a family owned and operated business, dedicated to providing friendly and knowledgeable service and the highest quality of hand crafted brews and edibles.  Located just off the TART Trail in the historic railroad district, the Filling Station Microbrewery features a rotating list of at least 10 craft beers, which pair perfectly with our wood-fired flatbreads and fresh salads.  Whether on your own, meeting friends or with your family, patrons of all ages feel welcomed in our casual pub-style setting.   You’ll enjoy views of Boardman Lake from inside the pub or out on the patio, live music and the occasional train passing by.
  • Right Brain Brewery
    • Right Brain Brewing is committed to using the best available local ingredients in every small batch of  craft brew. Featuring a rotating right brained beer menu & artwork!
  • Short’s Brewing Company
    • Today Short’s Brewing Company continues its efforts to make the best beer on earth in Northern Michigan. Although Shorts has quickly grown to be one of Michigan’s largest breweries, they still take pride in their hands-on, mom-and-pop approach and the energy they put into the quality of our beer, food, staff, customers and facilities.
  • Stafford’s Noggin Room Pub
    • The Noggin Room Pub’s casual and comfortable atmosphere provides a great place to break from shopping the near-by Gaslight District, meet with friends and enjoy our award winning selection of domestic and imported beers. With personal service from the “Best Staff in Northern Michigan” (as voted by Northern Express), we’re sure you’ll feel right at home.

For those looking to enjoy their favorite node of Traverse City wine, check out these taste rooms and vineyards:

  • Left Foot Charley LeftFootCharly
    • The winery has since grown to around 6000 cases and is located in the former Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Traverse City, Michigan. The urban environment has served to bring the terroir to the people. LFC is a Michigan version of an Austrian Heuriger – a place where aromatic and flavorful wine is an everyday event. Locals and visitors alike have come to realize that the non-traditional setting pairs perfectly with the atypical fruit sourcing and old style winemaking that defines LFC. Left Foot has a committed a focus on white wine varietals, hard cider, and sparkling wine.
  • Blustone Vineyards
    • Bluestone’s story started 20 years ago visiting Leland as a family for the first time. The simplicity and beauty of the “tucked away” secret that is Leelanau has always been what we treasure most about the area. There is a connection to the land found only here amongst the lakes, dunes, hills, and sunlit fields and our dream to start Blustone was born out of that.

If you give a mouse a cookie, they’ll ask for a glass of milk. If you give a tourist a beer, they’ll ask for something to eat.  

Along with famous craft beers, Traverse City is known state and nation wide as a hub for unique and tasty meals from your not-so-typical mom and pop type restaurants.  Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast, fresh caught walleye, or a mouth watering burger, Traverse City boasts it all.  At the risk of leaving out some hidden gems, here’s a few nibble nooks you won’t want to miss:

  • Bay Bread Co.
    • Specialties: Breakfast and lunch sandwiches and some of the best baked goods you can find!
  • Cherry Republic

    • Celebrating the beauty and spirit of northern Michigan in everything we make and do, Cherry Republic has grown from a t-shirt sold out of the trunk of a car to the world’s largest exclusive retailer of cherry food creations. Along the way, we have turned one man’s vision into a nation of citizens embracing his creed of life, liberty, beaches, and pie.
  • Pepe Nero Kabob
    • PepeNero is a cozy and intimate restaurant snuggled inside the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Owners Giorgio and Monica Lo Greco are experienced professionals who know how to amaze your palate by preparing simple, genuine Italian food utilizing the gift of fresh seasonal ingredients from local markets and the high quality of imported Italian products.
  • Quay Restaurant and Bar
    • Quay Restaurant + Terrace Bar, pronounced kwā, is located in the beautiful town of Charlevoix, Michigan.  Come enjoy our three story restaurant and bar offering a New American menu along with a comprehensive wine and beer list.
  • Terry’s of Charlevoix
    • With over 35 years in the business since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Terry Left, the proprietor, and Paul Bradley, the executive chef, have brought their years of experience to bear in developing exquisite recipes complemented by just the right sauces. Terry’s offers excellent full course dinners in a warm, casual dining atmosphere. Given the close proximity to the Great Lakes, their fish entrées are a fresh and ever-popular selection.
  • City Park Grill
    • In 1997 Bob & Mary Keedy, Dick & Laura Dinon, Chef John Norman, and Patrick Faylor purchased the Park Garden Café and changed the name to City Park Grill. The menu was changed as well to reflect their scratch kitchen and daily/seasonal specials. Since then, the restaurant has been restored to the glory days of the past, serving a wide array of guests from around the world.
  • Twisted Olive Quattro beef_1920x1200
    • A true Northern Michigan gem, Twisted Olive Quattro offers some of the most unique and decadent samplers, entrees, and drinks of anywhere in the mitten.
  • Cafe Sante
    • A casual, European-style bistro serving The Classics—simply and with flair. Featuring wood-fired pizzas, mussels and frites, pastas, Panini, unique breakfasts and casual cuisine from other fine European traditions.

Now that’ you’re good and full, you’re probably wondering what is there to do?

From the Sleeping Bear Dunes, scenic Lake Michigan beaches, and countless trails to explore, there truly isn’t enough time in one day to see it all.  If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, we encourage you to check out a guided tour or make a stop at one of the local museums.  You can’t go wrong with what you pick to do in TC, but here’s a few of our favorite things to get you started:

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes tour outdoors_naturepark_dunes
    • You will find a wide variety of activities for every age available to you at the Lakeshore. Climb the Dunes, swim at one of the many beaches, or take a hike through the Maple/Beech forest to some beautiful overlooks. Maybe you will want to spend some time in the museums or tour Port Oneida to learn about the rich history and culture of the area.
  • Music House Museum Tour
    • Recognized by Forbes.com as one of the ten reasons to visit Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Music House Museum offers a unique collection of instruments that provide guests with a walk through the history, the artistry and the engineering of automated music.
  • Earl Young House Tour
    • This tour will take you around the triangular block bounded by Park Avenue, Grant Street, and Clinton Street.  Here you can see some of the most famous, and most beloved, work of long-time Charlevoix resident, Earl Young, homes he built or remodeled beginning in the late 1930s, and culminating in the construction of the “mushroom house” in the 1950s.
  • Castle Farms Garden Tour kings_grand
    • Northern Michigan’s very own fairy tale castle! With cobblestone courtyards, soaring stone towers, and magnificent sweeping gardens, Castle Farms has earned a reputation as one of Michigan’s premiere historic attractions, as well as a celebrated wedding venue. Whether you’re on a travel adventure, or searching for the perfect site in which to exchange marriage vows, this French Renaissance style castle offers the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern-day elegance for visitors seeking family fun and bridal couples-to-be.
  • Little Traverse History Museum
    • The Little Traverse Historical Socity was established in 1905 and, 1969, it was incorporated as a non- profit organization, “To preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge of the history of the Little Traverse Bay Area.” To this end, and with the support of members and winter and summer residents, they acquired and restored the abandoned Chicago and West Michigan Railroad depot. Originally built in 1892 to accommodate the large influx of summer resorters, the depot now serves the area as The Little Traverse History Museum.  The museum houses the historical society’s archives, long term displays, and an annual new summer display.  It is also the site of ongoing programs.  Currently, the museum is only open during the summer season (Memorial Day – mid October).
  • Cooking demonstration at Fustini’s
    • The company was founded by Jim and Lane Milligan, who lived in Minneapolis/St. Paul and took frequent family vacations to the beautiful resort town of Traverse City, Michigan. Like many others before them, the Milligans fell in love with northern Michigan and hoped to “someday” settle down there.  Flash-forward to today and Fustini’s is a Northern Michigan staple!

With everything there is to eat, drink and do in Northern Michigan, there’s no reason not to plan your staycation!  These are just a few of our own suggestions, however.  For more information on how to plan your own staycation in Northern Michigan or any other #PureMichigan destination, visit michigan.org

Seven Things You Should Know About Grand Rapids as Beer City, USA

Grand Rapids, MI proudly held the title of Beer City, USA in the year 2013. Today, guest blogger Lyndsay Isreal from Experience Grand Rapids shares seven interesting things to know about Beer City, USA.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

The Beer City, USA Contest has officially ended, and Grand Rapids is proud to retire the title! Here are 7 interesting facts about Beer City – and how the competition has helped boost an already-booming beer industry in West Michigan:

1. Grand Rapids tied with Asheville, NC in 2012 with 17,849 votes. In 2013, they put a stake in the ground with 27,005 votes in a week-long online poll. The Grand Rapids Society of Brewers (GRSOB), taproom owners, taptenders and enthusiasts headed all over town to encourage people to vote.

2. The vote was founded in 2009 by Colorado homebrewer Charlie Papazian as a nonscientific poll to put the spotlight on tasty beers. Portland, Oregon, Asheville and Grand Rapids are the only cities that have won! (Asheville won three years and then split the win with GR in 2012) Kate Avery of Brewery Vivant says that “Beer City put GR on the map…and now we’re lucky to have the competitors and companions Beer City nurtured”.

Photo courtesy of Brewery Vivant

Photo courtesy of Brewery Vivant

3. Beer City has led to more and better homebrewing. Jason Warnes, a dedicated member of his homebrew club The Brewsquitos, is now co-head brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co. He agrees that Beer City is changing the homebrew community. “We have almost doubled the size of the group in the last two years. Not only that, the brewers themselves have become better. Breweries also have been more active in getting homebrew clubs in their tap rotation, through homebrew competitions that the brewery hosts. Suppliers have increased in the past few years too, there are now several places to choose to buy your homebrew supplies.”

4. The festivals, releases, and food-pairing events all over town have garnered national attention…and tons of beer tourism.  Cool Brews. Hot Eats. 2014 was an opportunity for chefs all over town to show a little love for the craft beverages…and they knocked it out of the park, using beer and cider in unique menu items that had locals dining out every night for.  The Michigan Brewers Guild hosts three beer festivals a year, and selling out in the first ten minutes is no longer uncommon.  Founder’s famous KBS had people camping out in Michigan March weather for two days to leave with bottles of the cave-aged imperial stout.  That’s dedication.

Photo courtesy of The Mitten Brewing Co.

Photo courtesy of The Mitten Brewing Co.

5. The Beer City Ale Trail Map was released this winter by Experience Grand Rapids with thirty-two Grand Rapids craft beverage hot spots on it. That’s a lot of stops for one city! Make sure you request an Ale Trail Map at the next GR brewery you visit so that you can check them off one by one…preferably not in one weekend.

6. Our craft beer obsession in GR has fostered growth in all sorts of complimentary industries: cider, hotels, restaurants, distilleries and wineries. Jason Lummen, founder of The People’s Cider Company, is grateful for Beer City. “Beer culture makes projects like mine possible”, and amidst so much variety, “we’ve created an adventurous consumer”. Hotels in Grand Rapids have embraced the enthusiasm and now offer all sorts of beer packages when special events are happening in town. Growler fills, t-shirts, and even Brew and Renew spa packages (hint-at the JW Marriot) are options for people booking for a beer fest.

7. Beer City has come to an end! In a surprise move by Papazian, 2013’s poll was declared the final contest. Good beer has been spotlighted and Grand Rapids couldn’t be more thrilled. When asked if the trend was about to die down, Avery, Wanhatalo, Warnes and Lummens all gave a resounding No. Wob Wanhatalo, co-head brewer with Warnes, says that “The timing was right. It won’t level off, the culture for craft beer established in GR is all about eating, drinking and being social- at each place you get something different. It’s why I do what I do.”

What is your favorite thing about Grand Rapids, Beer City, USA?

Lyndsay Israel originated in Northern Michigan and is now a dedicated Grand Rapids resident.  When she grows up, the plan is to teach high school English and Chemistry classes.  She writes to show how much she loves the mitten state!  Look for her articles at The Awesome Mitten and Experience GR, or follow her on Twitter @lyndsayisrael.

Four Michigan Microbreweries You Won’t Want to Miss in Jackson

A cold winter requires a lot of bundling up and settling indoors to keep warm. Escape cabin fever by planning a day filled with Michigan craft beer and good friends at the 4th Annual Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival! Today, guest blogger Rebecca Calkins from Experience Jackson describes four great Michigan microbreweries to check out during the event in Jackson, MI. 

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

On Saturday, March 8th, the Jackson County Fairgrounds will feature over 150 craft beers from Michigan and around the world during the 4th Annual Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival – you’re bound to find your new favorite! What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon? Enjoying live music, good food, and great beer with your friends; maybe even making a few new friends.  You’ll hardly notice the cold at this indoor/outdoor event with campfires and warming stations, along with the warmth of good friends and great beers. Outside, the entertainment tent will feature live music from local and regional acts, a lively corn hole tournament as well as food vendors and more beer.

The event is sponsored by both Experience Jackson and Jackson’s newest microbrewery, Grand River Marketplace. This new Marketplace includes a brewery, winery, restaurant and deli all in one 12,000 square foot facility. This unique venue along the banks of the Grand River incorporates a funky steampunk theme. The walls feature a view into the steam-powered idealized future of Victorian-era minds. This vibe lends itself well to the types of hip roots-rock sound of the regional acts that perform on the indoor stage on Saturday nights.

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Recently, Grand River Marketplace won the Brick Award from the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce for the restorative work they have done to this historic downtown building. Come back in the summer, for a “Party on the Grand”, where you can enjoy your craft beer or wine with live music under the pavilion that also regularly houses the Grand River Farmer’s Market.  Sourcing local is important to the people at Grand River. New England trained Chef Corey Bieber is proudly sourcing local ingredients for his one of a kind dishes. Brewer Ben Tackett and Thomas Block, who man the state of the art 15-barrel brew system, get their hops from the Sleeping Bear area of Michigan. Finally, winemaker Blake Kownacki is using only Michigan fruit for his award-winning wine.

Photo courtesy of Experience Jackson

Grand River isn’t the only micro-brewery in town; however micro might be too big to describe the next three locations that have opened in Jackson. For most home brewers just stepping out into the public, one barrel at a time is often the best way to brew. So spend the night in a warm Jackson hotel after the Beer Festival, follow our Beer Festival Weekend Itinerary, and spend your Sunday tasting some of the local pico-breweries latest offerings at Bifferhaus Brewing Company on Lansing Avenue, Tootsie’s Brewery at Lone Oak Vineyard Estate in Grass Lake, and Shed’s Brewing Company located off of US-127.

Get your tickets now for the Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival. Tickets are $25 before the event or $30 at the gate (depending on availability) this includes 10 tasting tickets, admission and parking. Designated driver tickets will be available at the door for $5. Proceeds go to the Jackson County Fair Premium Program. You must be 21 years or older to attend.  Limited tickets are available so get your tickets early by either calling the fair box office at 517-788-4405 or Etix at 1-800-514-3849 or go online to www.Etix.com.

Have you visited any of these Jackson microbreweries? Where is your favorite place to try Michigan craft beer