"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Traverse City: Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries

If Northern Michigan had a capital, it would be Traverse City. The city is the largest in the northern part of the state, and among the most popular with visitors. Besides Florida, this is where downstaters dream of retiring or opening an antiques shop or bed-and-breakfast. Purists claim the city's original charm has been lost to excessive development, but I find Traverse City to be a delightful mix of small-town friendliness and big-city amenities.

The aerial map to the right shows the Grand Taverse Bay area. Leelanau Peninsula to the left and Old Mission Peninsula to the right. Traverse City sits at the bottom of the bay between the two peninsulas.

The area earned its name from the early French fur trappers. Traveling by canoe across the stretch of open water between the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and Charlevoix, they would call their venture la grande traverse, or “the great crossing. ”Thus the area became known as Grand Traverse Bay. Lumbermen followed the fur traders, tapping the area's rich resources. Lumbering thrived into the early 1990s, when two other industries—cherry farming and tourism—began to flourish. Both continue to influence the local economy today.

My good friend and fellow yoga babe, Leslie, invited me to Traverse City while she was there doing a book tour and education programs to the local school districts and libraries. Of course, I can never turn down a trip mostly when it is to one of my favorites places in the state.

Traverse City is about a 3 1/2 hour drive north of Kalamazoo. I arrived around 2pm on Friday and spent the afternoon walking along the bay. Her sponsors put her up at the BayShore Resort, which was was right on the bay and about four blocks from downtown.

Leslie and I then drove up to the Old Mission Peninsula to see the lighthouse and all the huge mansions that line this very wealthy area. We shared a platter of Lake Perch at The Bowery. Later that night we stopped at the North Peak Brewing Company for one of their micro-brews. Very cool place inside a uniquely restored candy factory.

Saturday Leslie was off doing her book tour all day, so I headed downtown to a little shopping. The stores here are so amazing. No major chains (except for a Talbots) so you can find the most unexpected items. The downtown is also a favorite of Michael Moore, the famous Michigan-born documentary director. He has restored the State Theater and I hear it is absolutely amazing with car seats that form to your body and twinkling lights in the ceiling. My next trip I will definitely see a movie so I can check it out.

That afternoon I drove up to Leelanau Peninsula to check out some of the wineries. There are 13 wineries in this area but I only made it to four since I was driving. My first stop was the Shady Lane Cellars. A beautiful tasting room in a refurbished cobblestone chicken coop. Black Star Farms Winery & Distillery was next on my list. The girl serving the wine made it an enjoyable stop plus I met the nicest couple from Ann Arbor. I ended up running into them later that night at the sushi bar. Black Star also makes cheese so I bought a brick of aged cheddar.

My third stop was to the small, almost unrecognizable winery called Raftshol Vineyards. It is not listed on any brochure and has just a rickety old sign. Inside was a mess but the winemaster was a very nice older man. He said the farm had been in his family for just about 100 years. The wine was actually very good. On his property was the original 100 year barn. My final stop was Leelanau Cellars in the Village of Omena.

During my drive I stopped in Suttons Bay and had lunch at The Silvertree Deli and ate outside. I had the most wonderful shitake mushroom chicken soup. I also met the most delightful older women who was there visiting her nephew, the owner of the deli.

Before heading home I drove to the tip of the peninsula to see the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. A beautiful drive and lots of photographic moments.

Saturday evening, Leslie and I had dinner at Amical a downtown bistro featuring the most wonderful whitefish and the best ever butternut squash ravioli. She had a book signing at Horizon Books from 7pm to 9pm so I just hung out listening to music. Later we celebrated her successful book promotion at Red Ginger a sophisticated restaurant and sushi bar.

Sunday morning was time to pack up and return back to Southwest Michigan. What a wonderful weekend. Can't wait to return to this oasis in Northern Michigan. Be sure to check out my photos by clicking below.

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