Aside from being the Cherry Capital and a foodie paradise, Traverse City is also a centerpiece of Michigan’s farm-to-table movement. What’s all the buzz about? Keep reading.
MICHIGAN—Most Michiganders have heard the benefits of shopping local. But in Traverse City, many local restaurants are taking that social creed one step further—they’re cooking locally grown food.
Perhaps more than any other city in Michigan, Traverse City has firmly committed itself to farm-to-table cuisine (sometimes called farm-to-fork). The idea, which formed in response to the growing dominance of processed foods in the 1950s, is simple: Prioritize local food systems by working directly with local farms to serve the freshest possible cuisine–and make an impact on the local economy in the process.
At its core, a farm-to-table restaurant invests in the local food economy and prioritizes fresh ingredients that are available locally. And for Traverse City’s farm-to-table restaurants, paying attention to the source of their ingredients is paying some delicious dividends.
Here’s a roundup of some of the best farm-to-table experiences in the Cherry Capital:
The Cooks’ House
115 Wellington St. in Traverse City
The bastion of local sustainable foods in Traverse City is the Cooks’ House, a cozy little house about one block from Front Street. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali counts the Cooks’ House as one of his favorite restaurants in Michigan—and for good reason. Chefs Jen Blakeslee and Eric Patterson curate a daily menu of culinary offerings using only locally-sourced ingredients that make the most of northwest Michigan’s regional delicacies.
Taproot Cider House
300 E Front St #104 in Traverse City
With a rustic, farm-inspired interior and a sidewalk patio right downtown, Taproot Cider House keeps things cozy and local. In addition to supporting local farmers, they also support local breweries, wineries, distilleries, and book local musicians. Cocktails are made with homemade syrups, and they pair perfectly with farm-fresh salads, pizzas, bowls and more.
The Flying Noodle
136 E Front St. in Traverse City
A newer restaurant from the owners of the long-standing Mama Lu’s, the Flying Noodle features farm-fresh fare in casual Italian digs. All of the pasta is made in-house with garden-fresh ingredients. Other popular options include pizzas, salads, and garlic bread— which are all set at prices that will make your wallet happy in addition to your stomach.
830 Cottageview Drive in Traverse City
If you prefer your Italian food a little more “old world,” then you’ll love Trattoria Stella. This classy Italian eatery harmonizes with its century-old environs, the restored historic hospital of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Trattoria Stella’s commitment to local food sources can be observed at the top of their menu, where the restaurant lists each farm contributing to its menu—and the ingredients sourced therein. MLive named Trattoria Stella Michigan’s best Italian restaurant for a reason, and the seasonal pasta dishes definitely help earn the title.
1333 Yellow Drive in Traverse City
Vicente and Anna Serrano started this business selling tamales in the farmer’s market at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons—and those tamales are still a top seller today, at their brick-and-mortar restaurant Spanglish. The farm-to-table taste is most apparent in two made-from-scratch salsas, which both use fresh tomatoes and tomatillos. Either pair beautifully with the restaurant’s incredibly popular tacos, which are also available in vegan, and vegetarian varieties. And there’s more green to Spanglish than just the salsa verde: It was the first restaurant in Northern Michigan to receive a Green Restaurant certification.
1371 Gray Drive in Traverse City
Jonathan Dayton and Stephanie Wiitala were star-crossed lovers when they worked at Black Star Farms, and Sugar2Salt is definitely their labor of love. The couple clearly has the culinary skills to compete with the best, but they are content to stick to breakfast and brunch—because the couple always wanted to be able to tuck their kids into bed at night. Dishes include seasonal ingredients sourced as locally as possible and served up in a quaint environment with the tantalizing aroma of self-serve coffee. The bottom of the menu echoes the mission statement of the restaurant: ”take care of your planet” and “love your family.”
Aerie Restaurant and Lounge
100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd. in Acme
Aerie Restaurant and Lounge is housed on the sixteenth floor of the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the Grand Traverse Bay alone make a visit to Aerie worth it, but the farm-fresh menu makes that visit even sweeter. Traverse City’s iconic tart cherries are incorporated across the menu, from the salads to the craft cocktails. Chef Auston Minnich also cultivates a celebration of other Michigan ingredients in the cuisine, from freshwater fish to farm-raised meats, with, of course, plenty of regional wine.
14039 Peninsula Drive in Traverse City
With stunning views of Bowers Harbor Cove along the Old Mission Peninsula, the Boathouse joins the farm-to-table experience with gorgeous waterfront dining. Owner Doug Kosch harvests many of the restaurant’s fruits, vegetables, and herbs from his own 10-acre family farm, Malem Farms, and uses as many local and in-season ingredients as possible.
10051 Lake Leelanau Drive in Traverse City
True to its name, the Farm Club really puts the “farm” in “farm-to-table.” This collaboration between The Little Fleet and Loma Farm keeps the farm-to-table experience low-key, affordable, and available all year long. And the Farm Club accomplishes this using an agriculture variation on lean manufacturing which optimizes its output inside a small space. The result is an attraction that includes a farm, restaurant, brewery, bakery and market—and it’s all stuffed into one easily accessible pitstop along the Traverse Area Recreational Trail.
Hearth and Vine Cafe at Black Star Farms
10844 E. Revold Rd. in Suttons Bay
The Hearth and Vine Cafe is nestled in Black Star Farms’ 160-acre vineyard and estate. And whether you just want a grazing board to accompany a wine tasting or a full salad or sandwich to enjoy al fresco on the outdoor patio, the Hearth and Vine Cafe delivers in true farm-to-table fashion. Be sure to watch out for their special, one-night-only seasonal dinners.
Martha’s Leelanau Table
413 N. St. Joseph St. in Suttons Bay
This European-style bistro features plenty of local ingredients served with choice cuts of fish, beef, elk, and more. Owner Martha Ryan keeps her cuisine fresh and up-to-date with food tours of Europe twice a year—sometimes even inviting her fans along for the ride!
303 N. St. Joseph St. in Suttons Bay
Owner Adam McMarlin’s is an adventurous chef, and that’s reflected in the creative comfort foods of the Wren menu. The recipes at Wren often use one locally-sourced key ingredient—which may include local standards like trout and walleye or something weirder like maple syrup, foraged wild rice, or even quail eggs. Each dining experience is a little different, depending on what McMarlin wants to cook and what ingredients are available.