Our Top Picks for Northern Michigan EATS for Summer, 2009:
• Corner Market @ Higgins Lake, MI (near Grayling, MI) for: Doughnuts: “Fry Cakes.”
-These doughnuts are not like the puffy, raised doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. These doughnuts are the old-fashioned dense cake doughnuts that are fried to delight and dipped in such toppings as cinnamon & sugar, maple glazed, chocolate glazed, and coconut-chocolate glazed! We spend the night here at our family’s cottage on our way up north just to get the doughnuts. They told us this year that other places in the area are starting to copy their doughnuts just to compete with them; that is how good they are! Cheap!
• Riverside Inn @ Leland, MI (North of Traverse City, MI) for: Drinks on the Dock.
-We only ordered drinks to take down to the river dock. There, we watched locals drive by in great vintage wooden speedboats and alumacraft dinghies. In the past, I have always had a good dinner at the Riverside Inn but this year we just had drinks before our fish dinner down at the Michigan lodge-style Bluebird. The dinners are expensive and we actually had to pay for it; maybe that’s why we just got drinks! I ordered the Pama-Margarita from the Cocktail Menu and it made me realize that a sugared rim best complements a pomegranate margarita and salted rim for the traditional marg.’s. The salt with the pomegranate just wasn’t working; I bet the Cosmo or Mojito is a better choice. John had the Belgoo Magus 4-Grain, Belgian Bottled Beer that we hadn’t tried before and it had a more complex flavor, due to the four grains used in its creation. If you like Belgian-style brews, definitely check it out.
• The Bluebird @ Leland, MI (North of Traverse City, MI) for: a Casual Local-Fish Dinner.
Prices are affordable at the Tavern, while the Dining Room is slightly more expensive.
-Smelt is a local Bluebird favorite and is like a fresh-water sardine with a much milder flavor. Most of the flavor comes from the slight breading and frying. This is quite possibly the best place to get smelt in the area. It tastes much fresher than at other restaurants, where it seems like the fish was left out of refrigeration for a day or more.
-The Lake Perch Dinner consisted of smaller fish fillets, slightly breaded and fried. Perch is my all time favorite fish (Les) and they do a nice job with it here. They served this meal with green beans & red skins that were completely non-descript but they redeem themselves by bringing you a fresh cinnamon roll that seems to be a common style in Northern MI and it is delicious!
•Art’s @ Glen Arbor, MI (on Glen Lake & Lake Michigan) for: Burgers, Tater-Tots & Soups.
It is hard not to be biased about places that have become a family tradition and visited every summer for your entire life, but Art’s has grown to be a bigger and bigger summer favorite in Glen Arbor and has lost its “hole-in-the-wall” feeling. However, it is a good spot for lunch & casual dinners but you have to get there early to get a table.
-In my opinion, the two best things at Arts are their golden brown, crispy tater-tots with a burger to compliment and their homemade Chicken Jalapeño Soup that is cream-based with cheddar cheese and served only for lunch on Wednesdays. They also have the tasty local Art’s Salad. A fairly large portion containing MI dried cherries and pecans.
•Funistrada @ Burdickville, MI (West of Traverse City on Glen Lake) for: Italian Food.
This is one of my absolute favorite restaurants up north and is an upscale establishment. You will certainly want to throw on your polo shirt and nicer pants, and a sundress for your special lady. It is a bit of splurge if you are on a budget, but it is a good choice for a date or special dinner. A few years ago Mario Batali was finishing his dinner here as we were being seated for our reservation. Then last year we saw the “Bachelor” and his family enjoying their dinner. A yelp reviewer said that it was awarded the Best New Restaurant in 2001 when it opened. It has remained my favorite since then. If you want something specific on their menu or a daily special but you don’t have a reservation until after 8pm, you will need to let them know to save that dish. The Eggplant Parmesan has become a favorite item in our group and in the last 3 years they have run out of this item before our reservation time.
-We ordered the two house specialties, the Anniversary Chicken and the Veal Saltambocca. Each dinner was served with the house salad with olives and salami, as well as French bread with olive oil and Parmesan cheese for dipping. The Anniversary Chicken was a large portion of lemon chicken with cheese and prosciutto wrapped asparagus. The Veal was savory and delicious, though I preferred their pepper steak that I had the year prior. Nevertheless, I scarfed it down because I was starving. Dinner was served Italian-style, starting with wine and proceeding through each course with ample time for digestion between. For desert we ordered the Michigan Blueberry Crisp a la mode and it was fantastic with just the right proportion of blueberries to crisp.
•Grand Traverse Distillery @ Traverse City, MI: for: Vodkas.
John found this distillery on the Up North Foodies blog [www.upnorthfoodies.com]. Since we had just been to the St. George Distillery in Alameda, we were really in interested in checking out this “boutique” distillery. They make about 2,000 cases per year and have three vodkas to date: Rye Vodka (what the Polish owner calls “Real Vodka”), the more neutral Wheat Vodka, and the Cherry Vodka. We took a short tour of this industrial park distillery with a man wearing hiking boots, who explained the distillery’s plans to release a Rye Whiskey, and perhaps a Bourbon-style whiskey.
Check out one of our friends in the food blogosphere for year round Northern Michigan eats @ www.upnorthfoodies.com