September 12, 2011
I’ve spent 10 weeks of my summer exploring 10 Places I’ve Never Been. And now it’s time for the Mystery location. A location, recommended by our readers and chosen by our Facebook fans. This mystery stop is Nonna’s Restaurant at The Homestead Resort.
It’s been a few years since I have spent any time at The Homestead Resort. So when my husband and I arrived for dinner we weren’t quite sure where we were headed. I remember the Inn lies at the back of the property with beautiful views of the water, so we drove in that direction. The roads meander through tall pine woods with beautiful condos tucked into the hills. We found the Inn and the Beach Club at the end of the road, but no Nonna’s. So we retraced our path toward the entrance. A few wrong turns provided a reminder of how large The Homestead property is, and how much they have to offer. We passed Stony Brook Lodge with it’s breathtaking views and Camp Firefly where they teach the Orvis Fly Fishing. Finally we turned past the Reception Center and found The Village, and Nonna’s.
We planned to arrive when they opened the doors for dinner at 6pm so I would have a chance to talk with Jamie Jewel, Vice President of Sales & Marketing to learn a bit about The Homestead Resort and the history of Nonna’s. The staff greeted us at the door and welcomed us in for a quick tour.
Nonna’s is located in a section called the Village, which you may recognize as the entrance to the Mountain Flowers Par-3 golf course, and in the winter, their ski resort. The Village is home to several shops, lodging and other dining options for The Homestead guests including Beppi’s and Cavanaugh’s. There’s a play area for the kids and decks overlooking Fiddler’s Pond in the back.
Inside Nonna’s the atmosphere is warm and inviting. Since The Homestead caters to guests traveling as couples as well as families, they’ve gone out of their way to make both groups comfortable. The Porch dining room offers larger tables, banquettes and dining overlooking the pond. The Tavern room includes a bar in back, smaller tables and fireside dining. This room is for adults only. There are a few tables on the deck accessed by the bartender so guests can enjoy a drink outside.
Our tour included a visit to the Loft, a special room above Nonna’s that’s available when large groups would like to dine together, such as a family reunion or corporate meeting. There’s even a kitchenette in the back for future cooking classes. But the loft isn’t open for regular dining hours.
The reason I chose to write about 10 Places I’ve Never Been is to showcase some of the amazing shops, restaurants and businesses that we ‘locals’ forget about, or drive right by. When we returned to the Tavern room I spoke with Jamie about what makes The Homestead Resort a place locals should consider visiting.
The Homestead Resort has begun to recognize the importance of welcoming the locals onto the property to see what’s available. In an effort to reach out to the surrounding communities on Labor Day The Homestead held a community block party for 300 people, inviting residents of Glen Lake, Empire, Lime Lake as well as resort guests. Despite the cold they enjoyed hot dogs and popcorn, sales in the shops, facepainting for the kids and trips via golf cart to the top of the mountain.
The Homestead Resort is a vacation destination with amenities any visitor or local would enjoy — some of which you may not even know about. For instance, did you know The Homestead purchased the King’s Challenge course and gave it a complete make-over? So much so, that under their new name, Manitou Passage, this Arnold Palmer course won Best New Course in 2010 from Golfweek magazine. In the winter the ski hills are open to the public. And they just opened a day-spa on property. Of course, the reason I’m here is Nonna’s. A fine italian restaurant hidden in the pines of northern Michigan.
As we were chatting the server arrived and introduced the menu and wine list. The wine list is quite large, with many options available by the glass. And they had some cocktails that sounded fantastic including a pomegranite martini. I like to support the local Michigan wineries and chose one of few on their list, a Black Star Farms semi-dry riesling. My husband opted for an Italian beer, Moretti.
Our drinks arrived, along with fresh bread, olives and roasted garlic in a basket. Moments later, the chef sent out a special appetizer to whet the appetite: Steak Pizzaiolla. It’s a classic homestyle Italian dish that you just don’t see often on menus. Small bites of beef tenderloin in a savory tomato demi glaze served with thin brushetta. A nice warm treat. Along with the dish came a promise that the chef would come out and chat with us.
Our Facebook fans warned us we would love Chef John. Jamie said, "wait until you met Chef John," so as you can imagine I was anxious to finally talk with Chef John. And moments later, out he came.
Chef John Piombo is not a Michigan native, but his new midwestern digs seem to suit him. With two Italian parents John is fluent in both languages and spent some time in Italy which explains his passion for food and flavor. But I think it’s his personality that attracts new fans to the restaurant, and keeps the staff happy and entertained.
Each night the staff gathers for family dinner, a chef’s choice meal that could be off the menu or off-the-wall depending on what he feels like cooking. The 4:30pm meal offers a time for the staff to taste new dishes, sit down together and prepare for the evening’s service. "We don’t open the doors until 6pm. Not 5:50pm, not 5:59pm. That give us time together and time to prepare."
While many chefs in the area focus on "local" Chef John says, "I’m all about relationships." He works with independent farmers who will come to his doorstep and is building relationships with some of the smaller boutique wineries in the area, like Circa, one of his favorites. It seems he’s full of funny stories about trips to meet with the local merchants.
"Ok, just one more story and I’ll let you go," he teased, as he shared a humorous tale of showing up unannounced at the rabbit ranch and getting a glimpse of something we probably don’t want to think about before we eat. And another story about an order of beef from a Kaleva farmer who arrived with one filet, one strip steak, one rack of ribs — not exactly what chef expected when he placed an order for "one beef."
Shortly after Chef returned to the kitchen the appetizers arrived. Since we weren’t expecting the chef’s selection we ordered a couple dishes to share: crabcakes and a mozzarella & heirloom tomato insulate.
The crabcakes were packed with crabmeat, not fillers, seared in a pan and served on a creamy cucumber puree with a couple dashes of hot chili sauce. Very good. I can never pass up a mozzarella and tomato salad this time of year, so I was glad to see this one was made to perfection. Slices of homemade buffalo mozzarella a top four heirloom tomatoes dredged, but not drowned, in balsamic, olive oil and fresh basil. Both were easy to share and we each enjoyed them.
I’m always impressed when a restaurant pays attention to the details. I loved that my husband’s beer came out with a frosty pilsner glass. The plate for the crabcakes was warm as they were, and the salad plate was chilled. Nothing is worse that getting a cold salad served on a fresh-from-the-scalding-dishwasher plate. So kudos on service.
Speaking of service, our server was incredibly knowledgeable about the dishes, often answering questions about ingredients in the sauces, or making recommendations on the entrees. My husband ended up ordering the Rabbit, and I the Veal Scallopini. They arrived with a side of polenta from the chef.
I tasted the rabbit, as I’m not sure that I’ve ever had rabbit before. Sorry to sound cliche but it reminded me of chicken. It was cooked in a flavorful stewed tomato sauce with fresh herbs. The veal I ordered was full of mushrooms and a rich demi-glaze, but what I really noticed were the fresh herbs. I finally asked the server what they were. "Take a look in the garden on your way out. That is fresh mint sage which we grow out front."
As we cleaned our plates, and finished our drinks, chef John sent out a simple but scrumptious dessert. He flambed huge fresh blackberries with Cake Vodka, and served them over vanilla ice cream. The warm berries exploded with sweetness and you couldn’t mistake the flavor of cupcakes that comes from this unusual vodka. A perfect ending to the meal.
We wrapped up the evening agreeing Nonna’s is a restaurant we’d not only recommend, but plan to return to. The atmosphere in the Tavern was comfortable and welcoming, perfect for couples looking for a quiet night out. The menu offered mulitple selections we were anxious to try —some we admired as they passed by our table in route for another.
Before we left I stopped to photograph the Chef’s Table. This special seating for six just off the entrance offers a unique glimpse into Chef John’s creativity. Guests enjoy 8 or 14 course meals paired with wine. The small-plate courses are completely up to the chef. So if you’re looking for adventure, and you brought your appetite, the Chef’s Table at Nonna’s would be a fabulous treat.
Nonna’s is open for dinner year-round from 6-10pm except Tuesdays. Off-season hours are Thursday – Saturday. Chef John likes to change things up during the year so expect menu changes every 3-4 days. On Thursdays you may find a verbal trattoria-style menu or prix fixe meal option.
Reservations are recommended since Nonna’s is a small restaurant, about 13 tables (not including the loft). There’s outdoor seating for the bar, and some limited patio dining available, "on the three days that it’s warm," Chef John jokes. I can see his south Florida roots haven’t completely adjusted to Michigan’s climate.
You can find Nonna’s inside The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Visit their website at www.thehomesteadresort.com and find them on Facebook & Twitter. They’re still working on the wayfinding signage inside the resort, so to locate Nonna’s turn right on Wood Ridge Road, pass the Reception Center and you’ll come to the Village. Parking is on the right. For reservations call 231.334.5150. And, as with all my 10 Places I’ve Never Been locations, you can find them on the Traverse Traveler App. To download the free app click here.
It seems appropriate that the 10 Places I’ve Never Been series ended with a beautiful sunset over Glen Lake as witnessed from our drive home across the Narrows bridge in Glen Arbor. Every time I watch the sun sink into the lake, or behind a dune, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place—America’s Most Beautiful Place, in fact. But… that’s another story.
September 5, 2011
This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: The Cherry Hut
The Cherry Hut is somewhat of a local legend, especially in Benzie County. And the truth is, when I was a child I came to The Cherry Hut with my grandmother who grew up in Thompsonville and summered on Crystal Lake. So technically, it’s not a place I’ve never been. The reason it makes my list of 10 Places I’ve Never Been is because my husband — a Benzie Central graduate — has never been. That seems like an injustice that calls for correction. And this is the perfect opportunity.
I stopped in early in the afternoon to chat with the owner, Andrew Case, and get a bit of The Cherry Hut history. It has been many years since I visited with my grandmother so I was surprised at how different it looked from what I rememebered. There’s a small souvenir shop offering jams, jellies, and cherry themed merchandise up front where diners search for something to take home to share. Behind the counter the owner was busy helping guests interested in purchasing a pie to go.
After introducing myself and explaining the story behind my 10 Places I’ve Never Been series Andy offered to show me around and share his family’s recipe for restaurant success.
The Cherry Hut opened in 1922 as a roadside pie stand at the base of Warren road on the shores of Crystal Lake. There’s a large painting on the wall above the windows in the front room that illustrates their humble beginnings. In 1937 the Kraker family moved their pie stand into the town of Beulah on US-31, where it remains. At that time The Cherry Hut offered only outdoor dining at umbrella-topped tables where guests could enjoy picnic-style fare with their cherry pie.
Over the years the size of the patio has become smaller and smaller as requests for indoor dining and air conditioning have become more prevalent. Now a few umbrella tables remain behind the white picket fence, but the majority of guests choose their 150-seat indoor restaurant.
Leonard Case began working for the Krakers in 1946. His role as "Jam Boy" left him in charge of their growing product line, a role he fulfills to this day. Leonard bought The Cherry Hut in 1959 and it’s been a family business ever since. His son Andy now handles day-to-day operations, but Leonard is on-site everyday and still a vital part of the The Cherry Hut restaurant.
There were a few things that I noticed the moment I walked into the restaurant, and the one that really caught my eye was how clean, neat and organized it looked. Every empty table was perfectly set with Cherry Hut placemats, silverware and napkins. The floors were immaculate, chairs pushed in, neat as a pin. So it came as no surprise that attention to detail is something The Cherry Hut strives for in every way.
The Cherry Hut places guest service at the top of their priorities. Their staff is trained in the proper and traditional forms of service. Women are served first, the silverware is replaced with each dish, and the tables are properly set. "It’s the little things that add up to make the difference," Andy said. The customers appreciate the details too. Including the fresh flowers and cherry handsoap in the the bathrooms.
After chatting with Andy in the afternoon, I returned later that evening with my family for dinner. I was anxious to try some of the dishes that had been suggested by our Traverse Traveler fans on Facebook and Twitter including the Cherry-Chicken Salad and the Cherry-ade.
My five-year-old loved the giant smily-faced logo that greets each guest on their placesetting. In fact, his name is Cherry Jerry the Smiling Faced Pie Boy. And he’s just as old as the restaurant.
Cherry-Chicken Salad is what I ordered. According to Andy Case, he can’t say for certain, but he believes The Cherry Hut to be the originator of Cherry-Chicken Salad as it’s been on the menu here longer than anywhere else. As an entree it arrived with two huge slices of cantaloupe a pineapple garnish and a moist homemade cherry muffin on the side.
My husband ordered the Plevalean burger and side of fries. Plevalean is also a cherry-product, made by the Pleva family in Cedar. The Cherry Hut is one of few restaurants that serve Plevalean burgers as they have to make the trip up to Cedar in person to buy it. When topped with cheese, bacon and all the fixins you’re missing some of the healthy benefits of Plevalean. Still, my husband said it one of the best burgers he’s had.
The kids and I had to have their famous Cherry-ade. The secret to this popular drink is that it’s made from the juice of pie cherries. Mixed with water and lemon juice this pink drink tastes like cherry pie in a glass. Very sweet, but delicious.
A trip to The Cherry Hut wouldn’t be complete without purchasing a cherry pie to-go. You might be surprised to know on an average summer Saturday they will sell 500 pies a day! During the week that drops to around 300 pies. Not too shabby. They’re small pies, maybe 8", but they sell for only $8.25. And you better come in person, because they do not ship their pies. But you can pick-up a frozen one if you’re headed on the road.
We brought our pie home to enjoy. I remember only a few trips to The Cherry Hut with my grandmother. She always ordered the Chicken Pot Pie for dinner, and we took our pie to-go. A trip to The Cherry Hut has become a tradition for many families who visit Benzie County. In fact, that’s their slogan, "A Northern Michigan Tradition Since 1922."
If you haven’t been to The Cherry Hut I’d say it’s about time to check it out. Their prices are fair, portions are generous and the staff has been trained in excellence. We had fantastic service there. It’s non-smoking (as is every restaurant in Michigan) and alcohol free. The Cherry Hut is open seasonally from Mother’s Day through the third weekend in October.
Visit The Cherry Hut at 211 N Michigan Avenue in Beulah, Michigan (that’s on US-31 in case you were searching for street signs). You won’t need reservations, but if you need to call dial 231.882.4431. While they don’t sell pies online or ship them they do have a large mail order business for their jams and preserves, so visit their website at www.cherryhut.com. Stop by and say hi on Facebook too. As with all my 10 Places locations, The Cherry Hut will be listed on the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
That makes 9 Places I’ve Never Been. If you’ve been following along this summer my 10th place is a Mystery. On September 6th I’ll announce that location, so stay tuned…
August 26, 2011
This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: Two Fish Gallery
One thing I’ve discovered while writing about 10 Places I’ve Never Been it’s that there are a lot more than ten! And coincidentally, many of them are places I have walked past dozens of times. Two Fish Gallery is one of those places.
I visit Leland quite often, walk along the wooden boardwalk, under the shade of that enormous tree, and explore Fishtown. But I hadn’t ventured into the store that lies in the shadow of that tree —until this summer.
Two Fish Gallery is the type of shop visitors are searching for when they want to bring home a momento from their trip Up North. My first impression was that the buyers for this store go out of their way to find items that represent northern Michigan, and are a bit unique. It’s a challenge to choose artwork, gifts, cards and collectables that shoppers won’t see in the store around the corner. Owner Jennifer Collins has done a great job bringing something new into the retail mix.
To write a blog about a retail store means talking about the products they sell. So I’ve taking a ton of photos and thought I’d share some of the items that captured my attention. Let me be your guide on a virtual shopping tour through Two Fish Gallery.
When you walk in the door you can’t miss the large display of ceramics from artist Bill Campbell. He’s a Pennsylvania potter known for a very unique glazing technique. Two Fish Gallery has a great selection of his collectable yet functional art pottery in shades of blue, aqua, purple and brown.
Another customer favorite are the Solmate Socks. AKA "The Sock Lady," this Vermont artist creates beautiful mismatched socks, which may be quite familiar as they’ve become collectable in their own right. The bright knits hang on the wall attached to a clothes line. Each pair of socks has a name which corresponds to the color-scheme. I love that she sells the kids socks in sets of 3, "A pair and a spare," and the Baby Sockinis are sold in sets of 5.
All around the store, hanging near the ceiling, are these fabulous wooden signs painted with clever and humorous phrases. While this is certainly not the only store I’ve seen with wooden signs, I do love the choice of phrases Two Fish Gallery has selected. Some are clever, some tug at the heartstrings, and some just make you laugh out loud. The company Sawdust City offers thousands of options, so it’s up to the gallery owner to choose what she should sell. This gives you a glimpse into her personality and that of Two Fish Gallery’s customers.
The signs can also be customized. In store they carry several that talk about Leland, Fishing, Michigan and up north. But you can even have a one-of-a-kind sign made for your family, cottage or as a gift. My personal favorite: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will buy more fishing equipment than he can use in a lifetime." Sad, but true.
Eventually my browsing lead me to the jewelry, as it often does. And there’s a lot of variety in the store to choose from. There are handmade crystal necklaces, bracelets and earrings made by a local artist, and friend of the Collins family, Suzanne Meyer. Her self-proclaimed "bead addiction" is a blessing for the rest of us who can appreciate the cherry-inspired necklaces, and simple braclets. I also liked the custom Chart Map jewelry which reveals a tiny section of a map under glass bubbles, strategically featuring the Leelanau Peninsula.
But, the artsy designer in me was drawn to the case of Staxx jewelry, a company I wasn’t familiar with until Jennifer explained. Staxx is a collectable line of customizable rings which are built by you. Two Fish Gallery has a big selection to choose from, so Jennifer hauled it all out for me.
You start with a stainless steel ring with a post on top, choose your layers from colorful disks of glass, metal and molded shapes, then cap it with a topper. Each ring is as unique as the designer. The combinations are endless. So, as you can imagine, I stood there playing for quite a while before deciding on the ring I wanted. The price is determined by what you’ve selected, with layers ranging from $2-$10. Rings usually end up in the $30-$50 range.
While we played with the rings I had a chance to ask Jennifer how she ended up with a retail business in Leland. As it turns out she’s an Engineer by trade, who grew up in Iowa where the closest thing to a lake was man-made. But when her husband retired and moved here from Chicago in 1997 they decide to buy an existing business, Americana Collection. The only problem was, they didn’t know much about antiques. So in 2009 they decided to change the name of the store to Two Fish Gallery, and the inventory began to reflect a style which suited them and the town of Leland.
"We really try hard to find unique things. And we love to make people laugh." So Jennifer has filled the store with collections like Curly Girl, seasonal gifts from Woof & Poof and greeting card lines that will have customers standing there reading out loud to their friends, and laughing all the way to the register. Even the garden art is whimsical and unexpected.
As for me, I knew once I saw the rings that I had my purchase. It probably took 30-minutes of playing to make it. But that’s another nice thing about Jennifer and the staff at Two Fish Gallery…she didn’t mind playing right along with me!
You can find Two Fish Gallery under the shade of a champion cottonwood tree, overlooking beautiful Fishtown. For those with a GPS, that’s 104 West River Street, Leland, Michigan 49654. They are open year-round, and feature seasonal gifts especially for Christmas. Call 231.256.9350 for more details or to place a special order. You can find them online at www.twofishleland.com and Find them on Facebook here. As with all my 10 Places locations, they are also listed under Shop in the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
Today is the last day to nominate a business for my 10th stop on the 10 Places I’ve Never Been series. So visit us on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page. I’ll be choosing my last place from your suggestions!
And stay tuned next week, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: The Cherry Hut.
August 19, 2011
This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: Country Christmas
This is another one of those places that every local has driven past at one time or another. Located on the uphill side of highway M-72 as you’re headed out of Traverse City towards Empire is Country Christmas. This cozy cottage-like place, painted red with green gingerbread trim is the perfect spot for a crafty couple like Bill and Lee Smith.
It was Tuesday when I walked in, completely unannounced and was met with a smile by Tracy Smith. Standing behind a desk, and in front of a beautiful antique hotel key box, was his father, Bill. I was immediately impressed when the first question they had for me was, "Have you been in to visit us before, or is this your first time?"
I introduced myself and explained the concept for the 10 Places I’ve Never Been article series. With a nod of recognition, they quickly responded, "You’re going to want to talk to Lee." Around the corner she came.
The story of Country Christmas always goes back to Lee, and her love of homemade holiday crafts. For years Lee sold her creative Christmas decorations at arts and crafts fairs. She recycled and repurposed every piece of material, paper or holiday-themed gift that she came across. Pipe-cleaners, old spools, candy boxes, corks, cards, bits of fabric and ribbon all became materials for Lee’s creations. She saw potential in everything, and nothing was wasted.
In 1983 the antique store on these grounds came up for sale, just as their dreams of living on the bay were dashed by the housing market. A move to the country was in store, and their house suddenly sold to make it possible. That’s when Lee, Bill and their three sons went into the Holiday business.
Upon taking a tour to learn more about their products, Bill really came to life. As he guided me through the three main rooms he was so proud to show off each of his wife’s creative designs. We saw angels made with spools and tulle, simple clusters of corks loved by wine-tasting tourists, Santas painted on driftwood and little boxes designed from bits and pieces she collects. Each ornament brought a smile to his eye and a nod towards Lee.
But the store isn’t just filled with Lee’s handiwork. Over the years they’ve built relationships with artists all over the Midwest. In fact I began noticing red tags hanging on nearly half their merchandise — a sign that the piece is handcrafted and locally made. They were approached by one of the first Bronners employees who asked if the Smiths might like sell his handmade mangers. Since then Bill has begun decorating some with stones he finds along Lake Michigan.
They also have handcarved Santas, bells on leather straps from Ohio, and some very colorful handpainted ornaments from Traverse City artist Keith Smith. If handmade Christmas ornaments are what you’re shopping for, this is the place to go.
Another unique item Lee began to make and sell is called Chalkware. They started collecting antique tin folding chocolate molds. Lee fills the molds with a chalky plaster and when set, she paints the figurine. Each piece is handmade and unique.
There are many well-known collections available at Country Christmas. They carry Buyer’s Choice Carrolers, Santas, nativities, German glass ornaments and vintage pieces. Trees throughout the store show off collections of ornaments that will suit any holiday decor. I even found some lime green trees and modern fused glass pieces that fit the theme in my house.
If you’re looking for a personalized gift, you’ll love the solid cherry baby blocks which are laser-cut and personalized with your choice of designs on each side. With Lee’s steady hand she will paint a personal message or family name on nearly any item you wish.
One of my favorite features is actually something the Smith’s started doing to keep children busy while shopping with their parents. Pasted on the front door before you even enter the store, is a sign announcing that Waldo-Clause is hiding inside. The children spend their time searching all the nooks and crannys of the shop looking for Waldo-Clause. Once he is discovered and reported the kids get to select a small prize. But perhaps the bigger reward is the priviledge of hiding Waldo-Clause for the next eager hunter.
After wandering the store, in search of my purchase, I was immediately drawn to some whimsical lime green trees I could use for display. I sheepishly admitted, the holiday I’m really addicted to is Halloween. Sure enough I found a couple candy corn glass ornaments that will look great with my Halloween decorations. So I had my purchase. Now all I needed was a photo of the happy couple who started this quaint little store on the side of the road.
"I always told the kids, ‘Don’t buy me something, make me something’," said Lee. And it’s that philosophy that keeps her creating every day.
With our crafty backgrounds, and ability to see creative opportunities everywhere we look, I knew Lee and I were kindred spirits. It was my pleasure to meet such a sweet couple. And I’m sure I’ll be back to the Country Christmas store.
Country Christmas is open from Memorial Day to Christmas Eve, Monday – Saturday from 10-5pm, and 7 days a week starting on October 1st. You can find them at 9005 M-72 West, Traverse City, Michigan 49684. To place a special order call 231.946.6294. Visit their website at www.countrychristmastc.com. As with all my 10 Places locations, I’ll be adding them to the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
If there’s a place in northern Michigan you’ve been dying to visit, but you’ve never made the time, you have one more week to tell me about it on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page. I’ll be choosing my last place from your suggestions!
And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: Two Fish Gallery.
August 11, 2011
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market
I arrived at 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market in the middle of lunch hour. All five of the booths were full and the owner, Rich Van Steenis was scurrying about filling water, taking orders and delivering hot food from the kitchen. Wouldn’t you know they were short staffed and Rich was the only waiter.
As I waited for a friend to join me I was able to scan the tables and soak up the amazing smells wafting from the little kitchen in back. A Thai chicken pizza was delivered to guests at the table across from me, carried in on a wooden plank. The smell was fantastic.
22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market is located right on M-22 just south of Suttons Bay. In fact, it’s next door to another one of my 10 Places: Chateau de Leelanau. The Hilltop complex, which also houses Gallery 22 and the Leelanau Chamber, is owned by the Van Steenis family. They purchased the property, a former dairy farm, in 1977 and converted it to retail space for Rich’s mother. When she decided to retire in 2008 it was time for further renovations.
What once was a milking room, is now a 10-year dream come true for Rich’s wife Salve. But I’ll get to that later. First you need to see what Salve can do.
My friend arrived promptly and we examined the menu with interest. I changed my mind a dozen times because everything sounded so good. The handmade thin-crust pizzas looked fabulous, but were too big for our appetites. Besides I hoped to try more than one dish. So we decided to share an appetizer of Thai rolls and each ordered tacos for lunch.
The chef recommended a split order of spring rolls and summer rolls. The spring rolls are made from ground round, cabbage, carrot and bean sprouts, rolled im a rice wrapper and lightly sauteed (not fried). The summer rolls are fresh and cool. Steamed shrimp and crisp veggies are rolled up with rice noodles in a rice wrapper and served cold. They provided two sauces for dipping—a spicy soy and spicy peanut. Both rolls were excellent…even though we paired them with the wrong sauces!
For lunch I chose the shrimp tacos, since they were grilled. My friend opted for the fried fish tacos. And we were both happy with our decisions. They were served two to a plate, topped with lettuce, cheese, thai cream sauce and fresh salsa. I paired mine with a jasmine ice tea. Lunch was filling, but at the same time it felt light. Which, was a great way to finish a meal. Instead of feeling stuffed and regretful I was looking forward to a trip back. And I was dying to see more of Salve’s thai dishes. Lucky for me, there were a few more coming out of the kitchen.
When I mentioned on Twitter that I was headed to 22 Vines & Wines Cafe I had some suggestions from followers, which included the Tum Yum Soup. Now that I’ve seen it, I know I’ll be trying that next time. This traditional Thai dish is one Salve modeled after the Bangkok street vendors who would make the soup on a cart while you wait. At 22 Vines & Wines Cafe they offer a seafood version with shrimp, scallops and mussels, a tofu version, or chicken, shown here. You can order it mild, medium or spicy.
Here are a couple other dishes to inspire your taste buds. Bet you’re feeling hungry now.
There’s more to 22 Vines & Wines Cafe…it’s the Market. So after lunch I did a little exploring. The restaurant lies on the corner at the front end of the building. When you walk in seating stretches along each side of the room in front of you, with a bar at the back. On the other side of the wall lies the Market. The cafe opened in the fall of 2010, but the market just opened this May. It appears to be a work in progress. But the focus is clearly on locally made products, including beer, wine and spirits, as well as the unique Asian food staples that they feature in the cafe.
There’s an ice cream counter in the front of the market that sells Moomer’s ice cream, and in the back, near the kitchen you’ll find a small bakery display with truffles from Chocolate Exotica, and homemade cookies. The shelves are only partially filled but what I saw represented many of my favorite local food stuffs. Naturally Nutty nut butters and spreads, Stone House Bread, Sleeping Bear Farms honey and other Leelanau county products lined the shelves.
After my wandering I sat down with the owner to find out how they decided to open a Thai restaurant in Suttons Bay.
Rich and Salve Van Steenis met in her cafe in Manilla, Philippines while Rich was visiting the island on for a diving trip. Salve, who came from a family of rice farmers, broke away from the tradition to follow her dreams in the kitchen. She has been cooking for 25 years. It took 10 years to convince Rich to open a restaurant here. Since he retired in 2008, he decided it was time for Salve to have her wish. They’ve taken nine trips to Thailand, thus her passion for the flavors of that region.
Since I am a strong supporter of Michigan wine, I had to ask about their name, and the connection they have to the Michigan wine region. The location of the property, along M-22, combined with the fact that they are surrounded by Leelanau county wineries, lead to a restaurant name that would attract a wine-tasting crowd. And yet, I discovered an anomaly. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed to discover that 22 Vines & Wines Cafe does not pour a house Michigan wine. In fact, it’s from California.
According to Rich they opted not to pour a house wine from Michigan because they didn’t want to take away from the tasting experiences at the wineries around them. "They represent their products really well. We don’t want to compete with that," he added. What they do offer, which may calm the Michigan wine fans out there, is a large selection of Michigan wines by the bottle at retail prices that match the wineries. You can purchase a bottle in the market next door, and for a $5 cork fee you can enjoy that wine with your dinner.
I did notice several local Michigan craft beers on tap, including Right Brain Brewery, North Peak and Bells. They have many others available in the market coolers as well as distilled spirits from Grand Traverse Distillery and Black Star Farms.
At the end of the day I was really impressed with the dishes that came from Salve’s kitchen. They’ve created a restaurant that was supposed to appeal to a wine tasting crowd of tourists and instead impressed the locals so much they have many regulars who come several times a week. I know I’ll be back again to try that Tum Yum Soup…and maybe a coconut macaroon for dessert. They looked so tempting.
On your next trip wine tasting along the Leelanau Peninsula, think about stopping by 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market. You can find them at 5046 SW Bay Shore Drive, Suttons Bay. They offer dine in, or carry out so give them a call at 231.271.2221. And you can even check out their website at www.22-vines.com. As with all my 10 Places locations, I’ll be adding them to the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
If there’s a place in northern Michigan you’ve been dying to visit, but you’ve never made the time, I’d like to hear about it. Join the conversation on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page, and let me know where you’re going.
And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: Country Christmas.