While I call Ann Arbor home, my Michigan heart lives north of the 45th parallel.
As a sprout I spent summers on Torch Lake or the Leelanau Peninsula. I grew accustomed to small towns short on amenities and long on charm. These havens were a cleansing respite, a welcome escape from the concrete brown fields of downstate. From Alden to Northport to Frankfort I fell in love with lake living.
As a man-child I won the proverbial lottery. I married into 200 feet of frontage on Walloon Lake. What’s even more amazing is the knowledge that this northern homestead sits perfectly between Boyne City, Charlevoix and Petoskey. It’s a Gastronomic isosceles Triangle. And just around the Bay is Harbor Springs, yet another gemstone community. Life is good – and that is not lost on me.
And now it’s spring; time to put the dock in; time to renew the fishing license; time to plan my summer up north. In the last few weeks I’ve become completely preoccupied with plans for summer; daydreams about kayaks and coffee, sport boats and sunsets.
Perhaps you too will spend time up north this summer. Perhaps you’re a transplant just learning the grandeur of “up north.” In either case, I thought it might be of interest to share some of my favorite gastronomic landmarks.
Last year I wrote a piece defining two separate “up north’ territories [LINK]. Even in that paradigm, limiting my focus to one territory it too broad for a single post. This piece will focus specifically on Petoskey. In the future I’ll separate pieces for each additional northern community.
Ahhh, the most important meal of the day... That said it’s rare that I eat out for an up north breakfast. I much prefer watching the sunrise from my kayak and returning home for an omelet with the family. Still, there are times when I find myself in town before noon. For those occasions I’ve developed two wonderful breakfast rituals.
Julienne Tomatoes: Imagine Marge’s diner meets a northern farm stand. With warm wood floors and vintage furniture JT oozes with charm. The menu is concise; basic fare with loving care. And while I may loose my man card for admitting it, I’m grown fond of their quiche. JT also makes great sandwiches for a casual lunch.
Twisted Olive Café: There are two distinct sides to Petoskey. Just as Julienned Tomatoes is quaint and humble, the Twisted Olive has an air of sophistication. At JT folks read the bulletin board. At Twisted Olive guests bring in the New York Times. The menu is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean diet. And they make a mean Croque Madame. In the last year Twisted Olive has expanded to include evening service. The menu looks very promising.
Really? Who goes out for lunch when you’re on the lake? Get out and enjoy life. Move on.
While I love to eat at the cottage for the first half of the day, I relish an evening out on the town. Here are some options for a superb supper.
Chandlers: There’s no secret that Chandlers is the perennial favorite in Petoskey. It’s the undisputed leader in all of Emmett County. Here’s why I love Chandlers…Psyche! I would tell you all about it, but frankly I’m already annoyed at the crowd of DBs from Bay Harbor who look like they’re going clubbing. Find somewhere else...perhaps Odawa. (HINT: amazing atmosphere, great wine list, even better cocktails, BFF servers and steak tartare).
American Spoon Café: There’s a new option in town from a surprisingly familiar face. For years American Spoon has been a staple for jams and jellies. Last summer our boy Justin recruited some up north culinary heavies (can you say Tapawingo) and expanded the café from gelato and coffee to full meals. Yes, the gingham shirts and white beadboard wainscoting is a bit puritan-preppie. Having said that they’ve created one of the finer menus north in all of northern Michigan. And while many things are superb, I am downright nuts for the burger, house made pickles and green bean salad. Enjoy.
Palette Bistro: The fine folks who’ve previously brought you Parkside Grill and Roast & Toast have done a complete remodel of the of former Andante building. I dare say you may not recognize the place. Fear not, the dining room lakeside view is in tact. I’m particularly fond of the upper level deck and the small charming bar area. Service, menu and bar were solid.
Here’s the real story. Yes, restaurants are stunning. Still, the best moments exist when we provide for ourselves; when we hunt and forage and cook on an open fire. Here’s a few of my favorite Petoskey food sources.
Jonecheck [Centennial] Farms (tendersweetcorn.com): Have you heard the term, “knee high by the fourth of July?” It’s true. Each July I pass Jonecheck Farm anxiously waiting for August when we make daily stops to buy fresh corn picked daily and a bouquet for the table. Get there early, as they’re prone to run out. You can also pick-up heirloom tomatoes, salad mix and a few other seasonal gems.
Tannery Creek Meat Market: With so much produce in season it’s easy to overlook the proteins. Thankfully we have the Tannery to keep us honest. This is a classic butcher, a shrine to meat. I feel more masculine every time I enter. And the entire staff is engaging and helpful. Dig it. Side note, they also stock some great craft beers. That one less stop on the way back.
Johan’s Bakery: I’m on record saying that you can’t get a decent bagel in Petoskey. I stand by that assessment. Here’s another option – pastry. My father in law has established a family ritual of finishing brunch at the lake with a Johan’s pecan roll or sticky bun. You may ask, dessert at Breakfast? Sure. You’re on the lake. Live a little. And randomly they have a large parrot in the lobby. So there’s that.
I’ll be honest, while Michigan is a top-5 craft brewing state Petoskey has not historically been a source of interest for the brewing enthusiast. It appears that may be changing. In the last few months’ two separate breweries have tapped the scene.
Beards Brewery: While I’ve yet to cross the threshold, all signs point towards an amazing existence. Beards is a small niche brewery in every fashion. Tucked away behind a few shops on Howard St., two buddies have grown their home brewing hobby into an admirable small barrel brew house. I’d heard they are brewing a fair amount of session beers, yet their web site current lists some pretty interesting beers with serious ABVs. In either case – I’m excited of the prospect of having someplace to hideout while Mrs. GastroBoy subsidizes the local economy on Lake Street.
Petoskey Brewing: If these guys have their way every restaurant in Emmett County will be serving Petoskey Brewing beers. They’re aggressively pursuing distribution. Clearly more commercially driven that Beards, still early reports on the beer are favorable. I’m enjoying the photos of their building. They’ve renovated an iconic landmark along 119 that was once, you guessed it, a brewery. And as a bonus, it’s also easily accessible from the county bike trail. Um honey, I’m going for a long “bike ride.”
Honorable Mention So, that it’s; my primer on Petoskey. Yes, I’m sure I’ve offended some with what I’ve left out. Still, this is enough to wet your whistle. Before I go however, I will give you one last treat. I can’t write a piece about Petoskey without giving some major props to Papa Lou’s. It’s become our go-to joint for watching games during football season. But that’s not why I mention it.
Last season I witnessed something peculiar upstairs at Papa Lou’s. They were installing swings. Think about that. Right? It didn’t make sense. Then I came back in the fall and witnessed something that can’t be unseen. Nothing says Girls Gone Wild, or in this case, Bunko Bettys gone Bizerk, like swings in a bar. Thank you Papa. Thank you for reminding us that Fudgies are alive and well. Here’s your moment of Zen.