My husband, Josh, and I went to Traverse City, Michigan in late June to enjoy a few relaxing days and eat some fabulous food. We succeeded in doing both. In fact, given the amazing weather we had while we were there, the beautiful scenery, food and siren song of the bay, it was rather challenging to convince ourselves to come back home on the last day. I think our bosses should consider themselves lucky that we didn’t call in to quit and tell them we were buying a cottage on the water up north!
Before I dive into the food portion, take a look at some of the gorgeous morning views of Traverse Bay and sunsets over the water from our great hotel room at The Cherry Tree Inn.
For this trip we decided to plan ahead and make dinner reservations for the nights were there instead of taking our chances with long waits. Friday night was Mission Table on the Leelanau Peninsula, Saturday was The Cook’s House and Sunday was Amical.
Mission Table had great food and excellent service. Our waiter was very attentive, knowledgeable on the food and wine menus and very friendly. The menu is sectioned into four courses which are based on increasing portion sizes. We decided to order a couple of smaller dishes to share and each get our own larger entree course.
Mission Table is part of Bowers Inn Estate vineyards so they make their own wine on the premises. I had a glass of the Peninsula White and, although not generally a wine drinker, really enjoyed it. It was light, crisp and slight fruity. Josh opted for an amber ale also brewed on the property, which he liked.
We started with a salad with fresh red and yellow cherry tomatoes, a creamy white cheese (I can’t recall the type), and microgreens. I found certain bites to be a bit on the salty side, but I loved the tomatoes and cheese. Josh, not a lettuce fan, ate some of the tomatoes and cheese and liked it as well. The colors really popped on the plate!
Next, we had a pork belly appetizer, which of course I forgot to take a photo of because I was so excited to try it. It included, pickled mustard seed, goat cheese, figs and wheat berries. I loved the crunch the wheat berries added to the dish – and shockingly, so did the non-adventurous husband of mine. The pork belly was rich and tasty, with the sweet figs and tangy goat cheese as great compliments.
The main entree I chose was the Walleye, in part because it’s a well known Michigan white fish, I’ve even caught one in the past when I went fishing! This was served in ramp sauce with baby carrots. I really liked the oniony flavor of the ramp sauce and the tenderness of the fish. The carrots were nice and sweet, but still slightly crisp.
We passed on dessert that night because unfortunately nothing on the menu quite grabbed us. Maybe next time, but I definitely would come back for another meal.
The Cook’s House
I was searching local articles and blogs for Traverse City before our trip because you can sometimes find the best insider tips that way. Did you know that Mario Batali has a vacation home in that area? I stumbled across one of his favorite TC restaurants, The Cook’s House, in a blog article. How can you go wrong with a restaurant that’s backed by a Food Network star?
I was really exited about our visit to The Cook’s House and it did not disappoint. It’s situated in what truly appears to be someone’s home and the tables, only about 10, in what would be their living room. I didn’t realize how small the restaurant was at the time I made the reservation, but I’m really glad I had booked a table in advance!
One of the only slight dings I have against this place is that one of the front staff is a bit on the bristly side. We walked in and she immediately said, ‘What’s the Name?’. A, ‘Hello, how are are you?’ or ‘Welcome’ would have been nice when we were about to drop the amount of money this dinner cost. She also scoffed a bit when we asked for recommendations on the wine menu as we were new to wine drinking. Aside from her the rest of the staff was impeccable, extremely professional and personable.
We were seated at a table that was right next to a bookshelf lined with old tattered cookbooks and food resources. I loved the inviting feeling of being able to pick up a recipe book and start paging through it while we waited. We had a clear view of the chef himself preparing the food toward the back of the room and separated by a counter and deli case showcasing fresh ingredients. My favorite part was the Sponge Bog pail sitting on top of the case amongst the fresh spices – how cheeky and non-pretentious!
I started with a gorgeous strawberry and mixed green salad with sprouts and a balsamic dressing. The lettuce was some of the freshest I ‘ve ever had, I believe they have their own garden out back. The strawberries were perfectly sweet and juicy and the garlic sprouts added a great texture and flavor.
Josh and I shared a Smoked Rabbit Barley Risotto that was absolutely divine. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better risotto. It was rich, complex and almost buttery. The seasoning was absolutely perfect.
I went for Pork Belly the second time in two days when I chose it as my entree at The Cook’s House. I wondered if it would be too much meat for me, since I normally eat mostly vegetarian or vegan the rest of the time. After one bite, my concerns disappeared, it was delicious! It was crusted in a mix of sweet spices and filled with a rhubarb puree. I usually don’t care for anise because of it’s licorice flavor, but the other spices and the richness of the meat made me enjoy the spice in this particular environment. The tartness of the rhubarb puree was a perfect foil to the sweet spice crust and richness of the pork belly.
After three great dishes, I couldn’t leave without trying dessert – that would be a crime! I had the Honey Cake with Vanilla Mousse. The cake was rich as sweet, but again, the only other ding I’ll give the restaurant is that the luscious light fluffy mousse texture I was expecting was spoiled because they set it right on top of the still very warm cake and it melted by the time it came to my table. It was still tasty, but I was missing that lightness I had expected instead of a sauce.
Truly, despite the first front staff contact and the melted mousse, this was still one of the top five meals I’ve ever had. The chef even came out at the end and made sure everything had been to our liking (I confess I couldn’t voice my disappointment about the dessert at the time). I loved the intimate and unique atmosphere of this place. We had a total of three staff attending to our table throughout the night. One gentleman even plucked a crumb, (a crumb, people!) off the tablecloth in front of me as though that was an absolutely unacceptable mess!
Mario did not steer us wrong, and although we did not have a sighting of him that night as I had hoped, it was still a great experience and we’ll be back for sure.
Our last dinner in Traverse City was downtown at Amical. It sits right in the middle of town on Front Street near the canal. I was glad we had made reservations for here as well because even on a Sunday night at 7pm they were packed. We were seated as soon as we arrived at a great table in back near the window. Our server greeted us promptly and was another great server with personality.
We stated with a fruit and cheese plate to share. I can’t remember the specific selection of cheeses that night, but almost all were very good. I’m not fan of strong blue cheese fan so the one on our plate when fairly uneaten, but the Granny Smith apple slices and walnut bread that accompanied the rest were devoured.
I had fish again for my main dish and it was good, but not exceptional. It was roasted salmon with fermented limes and a spicy sauce over broccolini. I didn’t find the fish to be particularly spicy or flavorful, but it was cooked well. I did take a bite of the fermented lime on top, but found it to be very overwhelming. The side of broccolini was well seasoned and tasty though.
When we reviewed their dessert menu I told the waitress how unfair it was that they had so many of my favorite sweets in one place. How was I to choose? She finally helped me narrow it down to the espresso pots de creme and I was very happy with my choice. How can you go wrong with coffee in dessert? This was served in a cute little latte cup and filled with a decadent, espresso-flavored custard and topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings. I finished every last bit!
So, if you’re looking for a wonderful beachfront town, full of incredible eats and sweet little shops look no further than Michigan’s Traverse City. Sleeping Bear Dunes is only 20 minutes away and was voted one of the country’s ‘Most Beautiful Places‘ by Good Morning America last year.