Almost overnight, it seems, Traverse City has acquired a reputation as one of the country’s up-and-coming “foodie towns.” For two years in a row, Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns -- and Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the Top Five Foodie towns in the country. Chef Mario Batali calls Traverse City “a modern gastro-paradise.”
Traverse City cuisine is an eclectic, relatively recent movement that borrows freely from other regional styles and relies heavily on imagination, boldness and spunk. But if it has one defining characteristic, that would be a generous use of fresh ingredients from nearby farms, forests, waters and orchards.
Local wines, from northern Michigan's red-hot wine scene are featured prominently on most menus. So are the beers and ales being produced by one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most innovative guild of microbreweries.
From appetizers to dessert, local restaurateurs seem to be on a mission to showcase the best of what the area has to offer. Paul and Amanda Danielson, owners of the fashionable Trattoria Stella restaurant in the Grand Traverse Commons, are leaders in the so-called “slow food” movement, which is all about using fresh local ingredients wherever possible.
It goes without saying, of course, that many chefs have always relied on the region’s abundance of fresh fruits. Mike and Denise Busley, owners of the Grand Traverse Pie Company, have been featured on the Food Network and earned fans all across the United States, but they know their popular bakery/café wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fresh ingredients they find all around them.
Equally committed to that idea is Dave Denison, owner/chef at Amical, a downtown Traverse City bistro offering French and Italian rustic cooking. Most of the greens, tomatoes, herbs and fruits featured on Amical's menu are supplied by area farmers, while many of the fish that play such a prominent role on the menu are taken from the cold waters of nearby Lake Michigan.
Down the street, chefs Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee have made fresh local ingredients the mainstay of their tiny restaurant, The Cook’s House, where 90% of the menu is made with local products. The same can be said of other restaurants outside Traverse City, from the Bluebird in Leland, Blu in Glen Arbor and Martha's Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay to Pearl’s and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids and The Boathouse and Mission Table at Bower’s Harbor.
Nor is this movement confined strictly to high-end restaurants. Small tavern-style eateries like Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor and the Little Bohemia in Traverse City have creative chefs who are enthusiastic about fresh local ingredients, while some of the region’s largest kitchens – like those at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and the Great Wolf Lodge– are among the strongest supporters of the local-food movement.
Enjoy a self-guided foodie tour of the Traverse City area's favorite food establishment. Bon Appétit!