As promised, more about my road trip.
I don’t really consider myself a foodie. I love to cook and have a somewhat undeserved reputation as a good cook; I have so many friends that can cook circles around me. But consider my itinerary. First stop, Chicago, to visit my daughter who does graphic design work for Rick Bayless’s Fontera Foods, and is showing some foodie inclinations. Then up to Traverse City, Michigan to visit my clients, and dear friends, Barb Tholin and Charlie Wunsch who publish Edible Grande Traverse, a beautiful magazine about the local food scene and my new client and friend Dr. Mary Clifton,who is a guru of plant based nutrition and healthy eating habits. Then on the way home I stopped in East Lansing for Dinner with college pals and former roommates Jim and SB Anthony. SB (it’s Patricia, but I’ll always think of her as SB, her college nickname) is one of those who can cook circles around me. So I was anticipating some mighty fine eats.
My first culinary experience was great road food, enjoyed on the fly, a bag of cheetos and a coke. Sorry Mary. OK so I wasn’t off to a great start. I do love cheetos though. One of my goals for the trip was to cut southeast through the back roads of rural Wisconsin. What’s the use of owning a Mazda if you don’t drive some crooked roads now and again. Unfortunately I was on a southwest bearing for awhile, turning a seven hour drive into ten. You might ask what this has to do with food. When I realized I was going to be so late, I contacted Lucia to check out their plans. She wanted to take me to Mixteco Grill, but the kitchen was only open until 9 Â and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there. I estimated 8, but if you know Chicago traffic, you know you could be very wrong about any eta. Luck was with me, I hit their door at just about 8, we called ahead to the restaurant, put our names on the list and they assured us that if we got there by 9 they would serve us. We made it at about 8:45.
When we got there we were seated in the back dining room, which is decorated by large graphic paintings based on the art of Mexico’s ancient native cultures. The room was full of large groups who were having some very loud fun. We asked to be moved to the front, which has more of a diner feel to it, but was empty and quiet, more what we had in mind, since we don’t see each other too often and we wanted to catch up. I ordered lamb chops in molÃ©Â sauce, David, Lucia’s companion, had enchiladas molÃ© and Lucia had fish tacos. The molÃ© was the best I’ve had, the lamb was perfectly prepared. The fish tacos were topped with pickled vegetables and were also great as were the enchiladas. The service was prompt and friendly. It’s byob, a plus for Chicagoans that you don’t find in Minnesota.
Next stop, Traverse City, Michigan. Traverse City is a tourist town, a college town and an ag town. It proclaims itself to be the cherry capital of the world, and has a booming winery business. TC and the area around it might have the highest per capita population of gourmet chefs in the country.
First stop was dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin a restaurant, micro brewery and distillery that’s out on Old Mission Peninsula, that stretches north from Traverse City, dividing Grande Traverse Bay. I had a white bean and braised lamb stew that was excellent, well worth the distress that the beans were going to cause later. It was a pleasant evening of reconnecting with my friends Barb and Charlie. There was a lot of talk about the micro brew offerings, I believe that “hoppy” was thrown around a bit. I’m not well versed in my alcohol terminology anymore.
I stayed that night by myself in the turn of the century farmhouse that Charlie’s family owns, where his parents had lived in their retirement. The next morning I drove into town to meet Charlie at their house in town and told that we were going to lunch at Frenchie’s Famous, which lays claim to the world’s greatest pastrami sandwich. But first we had to wait for Jim to show up with a load of horse shit that was destined to go in Charlie’s garden. When Jim arrived with the shit, we hopped in my car and headed for Frenchie’s. Frenchie’s establishment seats about 10 people, behind the counter is a huge copper espresso machine. When we got there, Barb was there having a latte with a beautiful swirl pattern, the mark of an expert barista. Turn’s out the Frenchman was an expert sandwich maker as well, the pastrami did not disappoint. Served on a chibatta, it was piled high with great pastrami, melted cheese and two different sauces, one of which I believe was mango wasabi.
Dinner was at the farmhouse and my new friend and client Dr. Mary Clifton volunteered to cook us a vegan dinner. We had a salad of shredded beets and parsnips with pasta in an excellent pesto. Barb whipped up a rhubarb pie for desert. It was a pleasant evening, Dr. Mary has an eight year old daughter Anna and Charlie and Barb have an eight year old son, Ellis, both kids are adventurous eaters. A very pleasant evening.
The next evening we drove out to the Lelanau Peninsula (lower Michigan’s little finger) to Glen Arbor and Blu, the award winning restaurant of Chef Randy Chamberlain. Blu is an architecturally stunning space, high ceilings and all windows, looking out onto the lake. The food was amazing. We ordered pork belly, duck liver pate and a third appetizer that I don’t remember. I had the sirloin. Now you might ask why I would order something as pedestrian as steak at a fine restaurant, but it was served with a terrific sauce that made it an outstanding dish. Ellis ordered the duck. It was duck confit, and ate it with gusto.
Then next day it was lunch at Trattoria Stella with Dr. Mary. Stella is in the Village, a former mental institution turned swank development, where both Dr. Mary and Barb have their offices. Frankly the conversation with the doc was so intriguing that I can’t remember what I had to eat. But I’m sure it was good. I think I had lamb, again. You might be sensing a pattern developing. Yes, I like lamb.
I was planning to get an early start the next day, but Charlie and Barb twisted my arm to stay for lunch at Amical featuring French cuisine made from local farm goods. I had a pasta with braised lamb, tomato based sauce, with olives and wonderful cheese. I know, if I was really going to write about the food on my trip I should have taken notes. After lunch I called SB in East Lansing to let her know I wasn’t going to make it until late afternoon. She said that that worked and that she was planning dinner, and asked if I like lamb. “Of course,” I said.
From East Lansing I headed down to Chicago for a couple of days. Lucia and David and I tried to go to Du Champ at the end of their street on Damen, but it was packed so we just headed down Damen to take advantage of the plethora of small independent restaurants in their neighborhood. I love Chicago. We found a tiny Middle Eastern place where the food was excellent. The real culinary highlight of this stop was the Chicago style hot dog at Wriggly Field.
So that was my Food tour of Lake Michigan.