Back to the Roots – Chelsea, Michigan

Back to the Roots – Chelsea, Michigan

I love that we found a new breakfast place recently, but Back to the Roots is a bit of a destination breakfast for us as it’s located in downtown Chelsea, about 30 minutes from Ypsilanti, where we live. Chelsea is a cute little town with some interesting shops so I don’t mind making the trip. We’ve been to this restaurant  four times since we first discovered it about 2-3  months ago.

Back to the Roots Caramel Latte

Back to the Roots is right off Main Street in the center of downtown. Don’t be fooled when you first walk in as you’ll see the store portion of their business, keep on walking toward the back and you’ll be greeted by a member of their friendly staff who will ask if you’ll be dining in their cafe.

They set themselves apart from other businesses in the area  by donating a portion of their proceeds to benefit social justice issues around the world and in the surrounding communities.

I’ve had both their French toast and the buttermilk pancakes. While the French toast is pretty tasty, it’s also very simple. The pancakes are my favorite because they’re topped with a lovely, not-too-sweet apple-raisin compote with spices that make the dish taste like a bite of autumn, my favorite season.

They also have a coffee bar in the front, so you can order a fresh latte or cappuccino with your hot breakfast. I can attest that they serve a mean caramel latte! I’m also addicted to their herb breakfast potatoes. They are full of flavor and cooked up with a great crispy outer crust, but soft potato inside. They’re big enough to share, but trust me when I say you may not want to!

Back to the Roots - Herb Potatoes

Josh highly recommends the biscuits and gravy, although on our last visit he had something more traditional, their eggs, meat and toast meal – The American – which he also said was good.

Service has been great every time we’ve stopped in, which is very important to me. If the food is good somewhere, but the service is consistently bad I still won’t come back. The staff here are very friendly and even chatty, in a good way. I feel very welcome every time we go in.

This is one of those places that I’ve wanted to hold on to as my own little secret spot, as we haven’t had to wait in any lines on the weekend yet! But, it’s also a place I’d like to get the word out about because they run a great place which everyone can enjoy in addition to promoting fair trade practices and social causes around the world. So, if you visit and enjoy it I encourage you to share it with your friends!

Traverse City, Michigan – A Foodie Delight!

Traverse City, Michigan – A Foodie Delight!

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.

Traverse City Sunset

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

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!

Mission Table - Summer Salad

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.

Strawberry and Sprouts Salad - The Cook's House, Traverse City, MI

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.

Smoked Rabbit Risotto - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

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.

Pork Belly - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

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.

Honey Cake with Vanilla Mousse - The Cook's House, Traverse City, Michigan

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.

Amical

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.

Cheese Plate - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

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.

Salmon Entree - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

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!

Espresso Pots De Creme - Amical, Traverse City, Michigan

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.

 

Austin Food Adventures

Austin Food Adventures

My husband, Josh and I took a vacation to Austin, Texas at the end of March. In addition to hearing what a great town for music and art Austin is I was, as usual, most excited about the food possibilities! We had lots of good eats while we were down South, from the ever-talked-about food truck experience (we have a few in Ann Arbor now, too!), to tasty BBQ and some higher-end cuisine.

We had a few hit-and-miss experiences so I’ll highlight my favorites, in no particular order:

Gourdough’s

A raved about doughnut trailer just west of hip and artsy South Congress (SoCo) area. I read about this place when doing some pre-vacation foodie research and it was also recommended by boss’s Austin-local cousin.

The folks in this trailer make doughnuts with crazy, nostalgic, childhood-dream toppings. It’s basically a doughnut sundae topped with anything you can come up with, although they already have 23 pre-determined concoctions for the indecisive folks.

These confections are easily split between two people, and thankfully Josh and I chose wisely and did just that. We picked the Funky Money which is a freshly fried doughnut topped with grilled bananas, gobs of cream cheese icing and brown sugar. It was one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, but be warned that it’s extremely rich and not for the faint of heart!

Frank

Whether you’re a traditionalist or a sophisticated connoisseur when it comes to hot dogs and brats you’ll find an amazing selection of top-quality items to please at Frank in Austin.

We hit this place three times while we were in town for the week, it was that good! Plus, the atmosphere is cool and the staff are friendly. It felt like a neighborhood place for both townies and out-of-towners.

The first visit I had a brat on special that had a blackberry gastrique, goat cheese and crispy sage. I had them switch out the venison brat for their Jackalope which is a blend of antelope, rabbit and pork sausage. It was served on a fresh artisan bun and was amazing. The flavors really popped and the bright flavors of the berries, creaminess of the cheese and crisp herby bite of the sage made for great textural contrast and a rich taste.

My husband went the more traditional hot dog route and loved his too. We also split an order of their waffle fries with special house-bbq sauce on the side – delish! The only small disappointment that day was the chocolate chip and bacon cookie which turned out to be a mediocre cookie topped with crumbled bacon (rather than part of the cookie).

We went back the next day for a late lunch and I tried one of the regular menu choices, the Texilina. It’s a pork and beef brat with grilled coleslaw, mustard bbq sauce and white cheddar cheese. Another winner!  A nice middle-ground between traditionalist and a more adventurous palette.

Bonus points! We came back in the evening for to hear a local band play and actually saw Zooey Deschanel hanging out there! I was too busy admiring her adorable dress and shoes to notice who it was until Josh poked me! New Girl is one of our favorite TV shows.

Second Bar & Kitchen

We had dinner here the first night we were in town. Very friendly, but sophisticated vibe with knowledgeable staff. It’s attached to the posh The Austonian hotel.

I bet this place is packed on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m glad we came in on a Sunday when it was almost full, but we didn’t have to wait for a table. There were enough people in the restaurant to know we had found a good place, but quiet enough to be able to enjoy the experience.

I found a new favorite beverage here, Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider. It wasn’t too sweet, but was crisp and refreshing. This reminds me that I need to find a local store that carries it!

For dinner I had the roasted chicken breast with grilled corn “panzanella” consisting of citrus jus and sourdough. The chicken was succulent and cooked perfectly. It was seasoned well and every element of the dish came together. This was one of the best meals we ate Austin.

Malanga Tapas & Bar

There’s a fabulous tapas place in Chicago that we love so we’re always hoping to find the next great small-plate restaurant on our visits out of town. Malanga’s was a pretty good find.

The prices here were more than our favorite in Chicago, Cafe Iberico which is surprising, but the food was still very tasty. We split lamb chops, an antipasto platter and dessert.

The lamb chops were fabulous! The baby chops came medium-rare and were marinated in aged balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil. The side of basil-mint pesto and balsamic reduction was my favorite part!

The meat and cheese were a selection of 15 month old Spanish Serrano Ham, Pamplona Chorizo, Garrotxa with rosemary, and 6 month old Manchego cheeses, also very good.

For dessert we had the Mantecadas. It came out with a beautiful presentation, but the dish itself was underwhelming in flavor. It was described as ‘pastries stuffed with cream cheese and lightly topped with fresh strawberries and a strawberry reduction’, but we didn’t find much in the way of pastry and the strawberries weren’t very sweet.

Overall, we ate well in Austin and really enjoyed the trip overall. If you’re looking for some details on non-food places to go I can share those too, just give me a shout!

Lochart’s BBQ, Royal Oak, Michigan

Lochart’s BBQ, Royal Oak, Michigan

The Detroit-area barbecue scene has gotten more competitive recently. My favorite barbecue place, Slows Bar BQ, in downtown Detroit (near the old Tiger’s Stadium) has been given a run for its money by Lochart’s BBQ .

Josh and I recently made a visit to this relative newcomer that opened last year in the hip, artsy town of Royal Oak, Michigan. It’s about a 45 minute trip from our home in Ypsilanti, but they did not disappoint. I would classify the interior of this restaurant as casual, modern industrial. With thick wood tables with natural splits to the exposed brick walls and stainless steel counters, open kitchen and large windows allowing light to pour inside.

The server was well versed on the menu and ready to help with any questions. He also brought out a nice complimentary jar of sweet and fiery pickle chips in a glass jar to start off our meals.

I ordered the Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich which came on a Kaiser roll with the signature Lochart’s signature  barbecue sauce which was smokey sweet with a hint of spicy and topped with coleslaw. The meat was very tender and juicy and I loved the creaminess of the coleslaw as a compliment to the pork. I had my choice of a side and went for their classic mac and cheese which was creamy and had a nice cheesy quality, but still fell a bit short of Slows fantastically gooey, rich version. Josh also loved his go-to choice of a beef brisket sandwich as well.

We had really wanted to try dessert but couldn’t get past the fact that we were filled to the brim with barbecue goodness on this particular day. Sweet endings will have to wait until our next visit. The trick will be to decide on one amongst a lot of great choices, including: Pecan Pie, Berry Cobbler and Chocolate Dr. Pepper Cake.

 

Brunch at Grange, Ann Arbor, MI

Brunch at Grange, Ann Arbor, MI

One of the best brunch experiences I’ve had was on a recent visit to Grange Kitchen and Bar in Ann Arbor. It’s a sweet little space with an intimate atmosphere with a mix of contemporary and traditional with exposed brick walls, simply framed photos along the wall and antique furniture. They also put a focus on locally sourced ingredients.

The day Josh and I visited I was in the mood for something on the savory side. I asked our waiter for his opinion when deciding between the duck and potato hash and the shrimp and grits. He strongly recommended the duck hash. He indicated that although some places are hit or miss when it comes to preparing this bird Grange does an excellent job.

When our meals arrived I was very happy I followed our waiter’s recommendation. The duck was rich and moist and well flavored with a blend of herbs and a nice textural contrast to the crisp potatoes and sauce-like yoke from the sunny-side up egg when it broke. My dish came with a side of grilled toast, but I’ve never been one to enjoy dipping my toast in an egg dish. I asked if their might be some jam or jelly for it and was pleasantly surprised when the waiter came back with the chef’s recommendation of a side fresh rhubarb compote. It was a lovely sweet and tart accompaniment to the bread.

My husband chose to go with one of their signature brunch choices, a freshly ground burger with bacon jam, roasted garlic mayonnaise and topped with a fried egg. He said it was incredible. I took his word for it as 10am was a bit early in the day for me to think about a burger, even if it did include an egg.

The brunch prices at Grange are in the $10-$15 range which, given the quality of food and service is very fair. We’ve already made the easy decision to return to Grange for brunch.

Rebecca’s in Northville, MI

Rebecca’s in Northville, MI

I’m 34 years old, so I grew up most of my childhood without the internet and I still wonder what we did without it. I’m happy that we have websites like Yelp to find information and great places we might otherwise overlook. Reviews on Yelp were how I stumbled onto a little restaurant in Northville, Michigan called Rebecca’s Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. They don’t have  website of their own, though they do have a Facebook page. Without a review focused website I may never have tried this place.

We arrived on a beautiful Sunday morning just in time to beat the crowd to Rebecca’s. We grabbed a two-person table in the corner near the window as the place was beginning to fill up.

We were greeted promptly by friendly staff. I opted for the much raved about sweet potato pancakes with a side of turkey sausage links. Josh had the buttermilk pancakes and a side of hashbrowns. Despite the busy morning our food came out surprisingly fast and we were not disappointed at all by our breakfast!

The sweet potato pancakes were thick and soft. The spices they used made them almost taste like pumpkin pie! The turkey sausage was nice and flavorful, not greasy and lightly browned. Josh really enjoyed his pancakes and hashbrowns too.

The walls are decorated with sweet Americana merchandise. The diner feel makes for a cozy atmosphere. You can tell that there are a quite a few regulars here as well.

I sneaked a peak at their lunch menu which had some great sounding shakes and tempting sweet potato fries with a brown-sugar glaze – do you a see a theme here? I’ve got it on good authority that the shakes and sweet potato fries are excellent too!

I think we’ve found another breakfast spot to frequent. It’s a little bit further out for us, about 25 minutes, but I will attest that it certainly seems it was worth the trip! We’ll be back for lunch this summer.

What are some of your favorite Michigan breakfast spots?

Dessert at Nico and Vali, Plymouth, MI

Dessert at Nico and Vali, Plymouth, MI

I can’t really tell you why it took my husband, Josh, and I so long to try dessert at one of our favorite restaurants, Nico and Vali. Maybe we were trying to save ourselves from eating even more delicious food at Nico and Vali in Plymouth, Michigan. We tend to make a trip there once a week already, for breakfast or lunch mostly. Well, regardless, we did finally succumb to the sweet endings recently, and I have to say we were not at all disappointed. Even served on adorable little flowered plates!

Josh opted for their Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake, with layers of various white and milk chocolate goodness which he devoured. I, being a non-traditional, non-chocolate fanatic female, decided on one of the lighter fruit based cakes, Boscaiola. Mmm… so good!

The buttery Boscaiola crust is imported directly from Italy and it topped with a light vanilla mousse layer, vanilla cake and a glazed deliciously tart mix of cranberries and currants. It’s not too heavy or rich, just the right balance to end one of the lovely Italian meals at Nico and Vali (I love their grilled zucchini sandwich for lunch!).

I suppose it’s a good thing that we go there most often for breakfast, which I admit would be a bit odd to end with dessert. But, if the need strikes us early in the day, we still have the option of taking a pre-cut slice from the deli case for later…