Tasty Traverse – Self Guided Foodie Tour
Long known for its scenic beauty and recreational bounty, the Traverse City area has also begun to attract attention as one of America’s most unique culinary destinations. Today, many visitors are familiar with the region’s award-winning wines and superb restaurants. But there is another side to the story: the talented artisans who create delicious foods that you can sample, purchase and enjoy on you own – whether it’s a fresh baked loaf of bread, a warm cherry pie, a glass of hard apple cider or a string of smoked sausages.
Want to meet and chat with the butchers and bakers, fishermen and brewers, cheesemakers and candymakers whose creations have helped to turn Traverse City into a “foodie’s paradise?” Here are a few places where you can do exactly that. This guide is by no means exhaustive, but it offers a wide variety of food experiences that you can enjoy any season of the year.
Be sure to stop in to our Visitors Center, conveniently located on the corner of Union St. and Grandview Parkway (right at the base of West Bay on the edge of downtown), to get a great local map and our Tasty Traverse – a self-guided foodie tour brochure to assist you in your discovery of these local treats.
TRAVERSE CITY DESTINATIONS
Within the compact waterfront area of Traverse City you can enjoy discovering many unique culinary treats created by local artisans. Many can be explored by foot and a few only a short drive away.
601 Randolph St. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 922-8022
Just a block from the beach on a quiet side street, Bay Bread occupies a handsome two-story building of pale brick. Inside, Stacy Wilcox and her crew create an astounding variety of breads – from crusty boules and sweet baguettes to great crusty ciabattas and dense multi-grain loaves – as well as scones, cookies and other treats. There’s a small café serving sandwiches featuring those awesome Bay Breads, too.
Grand Traverse Pie Co.
525 West Front St. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 922-7437
Since 1996, Mike and Denise Busley have been making pies of all kinds (27 varieties of fruit pie, including six kinds of cherry pie) as well as seven kinds of cream pie, pot pies, quiches, cookies, scones and muffins. Grand Traverse Pie is now a major chain with branches throughout MI & IN, but this cozy shop on Front St. is the original. It includes a café with soups, sandwiches and other items – but the real draw is still that signature pie with its light, flaky crust.
827 S. Union St. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 947-6165
Located in a residential area just a few blocks south of downtown, Deering’s looks like nothing more than a modest neighborhood convenience store. But it’s the home of “Deering’s Famous Jerkey,” a line of more than 26 varieties of cured and smoked cured meats – everything from beef, turkey, chicken and pork to venison, elk and buffalo, prepared in a bewildering variety of styles and flavors. (The eccentric spelling of jerkey is deliberate, because Deering’s version is more moist and tender than the leathery substance most people think of.)
Right Brain Brewery
221 Garland St. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 944-1239
Tucked into an alleyway in the city’s edgy Warehouse District, this microbrewery is paired with a hair salon next door. (Their motto is, You sip, we snip.) That’s because owner Russ Springsteen is a licensed barber who learned the brewer’s trade working at two other area breweries. The 70-seat pub at Right Brain features at least 10 handcrafted ales, beers, stouts and porters at a time – the selection changes regularly — and brewmaster John Niedermaier is famous for putting all manner of things in his recipes: from chocolate and heather to coffee and raspberries.
Grand Traverse Distillery
781 Industrial Cir, Ste 5 ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 947-8635
It’s not easy to find the Grand Traverse Distillery, hidden away in a nondescript industrial park off Three Mile Road, but if you’re passionate about vodka, this is a very special place. Working with small handcrafted batches, Kent Rabish has taken top-grade northern Michigan rye and clear glacial water, and created True North Vodka, a triple-distilled “super-premium vodka that was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2007 International Review of Spirits Competition in Chicago. Rabish has a small tasting room and loves to talk about his distillery, but be sure to call ahead.
Moomer’s Homemade Ice Cream
7263 N. Long Lake Rd. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 941-4122
Selected by viewers of “Good Morning America” as the best ice cream store in the country, Moomer’s is the brainchild of Jon and Nancy Plummer. In this rural setting near Long Lake, just west of Traverse City, visitors can watch the dairy cows grazing outside as they sample some of the more than 100 flavors made here. (Their signature flavor, Cherries Moobilee, features black cherry ice cream with chunks of black sweet cherries, red tart cherries, chocolate fudge swirl and chunks of homemade brownie pieces.)
THE VILLAGE AT GRAND TRAVERSE COMMONS DESTINATIONS
Just a very short drive from downtown Traverse City you will discover one of the regions most unique destinations. Formerly the Northern Michigan Asylum this auspicious 63-acre site with magnificent century-old Victorian-Italianate architecture is being transformed into a mixed-use development. Here you can park and explore these beautiful grounds and enjoy the scents and tastes of some truly unique experiences. Be sure not to miss the Mercado area where you will find more to explore.
Higher Grounds Trading Co.
806 Red Dr. ~ Traverse City ~ (877) 825-2262
Many of the area’s foodie attractions are located in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a vibrant new multi-use development on the site of what was once the local mental asylum. Located in the former laundry building, Higher Grounds is a coffee roastery that features only fair trade and organic coffee. Founders Chris & Jody Treter designed their coffee bar like a wine tasting room, featuring brewed-to-order coffee and large viewing windows into the roastery so you can watch the beans being roasted and prepared for sale.
Left Foot Charley
806 Red Drive ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 995-0500
Sharing the former laundry with Higher Grounds this is Traverse City’s first “urban winery.” Owner/winemaker Bryan Ulbrich buys his grapes from selected growers on the nearby Old Mission Peninsula, but all the wines are made here in the old laundry building. Stop in at the tasting room to sample some of their Rieslings, Pinot Grigios and other whites. (In warm weather, the winery also runs Café Leftique, a patio bistro where you can enjoy a plate of bread and cheese with your wine.)
812 Cottage View Dr. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 941-1964
The asylum’s former fire station is now home to this unique bakery, where bakers Gerard Grabowski and Jan Shireman use an enormous wood-fired brick oven to bake hand-shaped loaves made with organic Michigan grains and natural leavening agents. Their flavorful and deeply textured breads include such varieties as Parmesan Olive Herb, Cranberry Pecan, Sesame Whole Wheat and Village Rye.
Underground Cheesecake Co.
1333 Yellow Dr. ~ Traverse City ~ (231) 929-4418
This business actually did begin underground, when Lori Dawson and Mary Vickerman decided to start making designer cheesecakes in their basement. Today their cheesecake emporium occupies two handsome brick buildings at the Grand Traverse Commons – one for baking and another for sales. On any given day, they produce 42 different flavors of cheesecake, from Turtle Sundae to Mocha Mudslide, nine cake varieties, five kinds of brownies and a frozen concoction called “cheesecake on a stick.” There’s also a café serving soups, salads and sandwiches.
LEELANAU COUNTY DESTINATIONS
To the immediate northwest of Traverse City is Leelanau County – a beautiful peninsula of rolling hills and spectacular Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan shoreline views. This area is rich in agriculture and offers more Tasty stops on your Tasty Traverse Foodie Tour.
Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate
12020 S. Leelanau Hwy ~ Empire ~ (231) 326-3030
On a hillside overlooking the picturesque village of Empire, former social worker Mimi Wheeler has attracted a cult following around the country for her intensely-flavored “artisan chocolates” in which powerful Ecuadorian cocoa is blended with local herbs, flowers, fruits, nuts and honey. Her tiny candy factory, Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, offers such delicacies as lavender and rosemary truffles, and even a Mayan truffle flavored with a subtle but unmistakably warm dose of chili.
6026 S. Lake St. ~ Glen Arbor ~ (231) 334-3150
The Traverse City area is America’s “cherry capital,” and nowhere is that more evident than in the village of Glen Arbor, in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Here you’ll find The Cherry Republic, which features more than 150 cherry products, from soda pop and wine to ice cream and salsa. Free samples are plentiful! Beautiful perennial gardens connect each of the hobbit-style buildings, and there’s a charming café. Open seven days a week all year. (The Republic also has an “embassy” in downtown Traverse City.)
Carlson’s of Fishtown
205 W. River ~ Leland ~ (231) 256-9801
Fishtown is a quaint shopping district at the mouth of the Leland River, where century-old fishing shanties and sheds have been converted into galleries and boutiques. Here you’ll find the region’s last full-time commercial fishing operation, Carlson’s of Fishtown. If your timing is good, you may be there to watch them unload boxes of iced whitefish from the tugboat out back. The store sells fresh and smoked fish and even a smoked fish sausage (it’s better than it sounds!)
8974 South Kasson St. ~ Cedar ~ (231) 228-5000
The interior of the Leelanau Peninsula was settled by Polish and Bohemian farmers who dearly love the sausages of their native countries. But in the village of Cedar, butcher Ray Pleva took things a step further in the 1980s by mixing cherries and crushed pecans into his smoked sausage. Today almost every grocer in the region carries a version, but the original recipe is still followed at Pleva’s Meats, along with a wide selection of their other cherry-enhanced meats.
2055 N. Setterbo Rd. ~ Suttons Bay ~ (231) 271-0050
In the apple orchard country at the northern end of the Leelanau Peninsula, Nikki Rothwell and Dan Young have revived the traditional art of making and bottling hard cider. A clear, fresh-flavored, slightly carbonated beverage that’s usually served in bottles or fresh from the tap, hard cider has little in common with the sweet brown liquid sold at farm markets. It’s a traditional favorite in Europe and was America’s beverage of choice in colonial times, and is making a comeback in many parts of the country.
10844 E. Revold Rd. ~ Suttons Bay ~ (231) 944-1270
Black Star Farms is a fascinating “agricultural destination” in the hills south of Suttons Bay that includes a winery and distillery. It’s also the home of the Leelanau Cheese Co. founded in 1995 by John Hoyt and his French-born wife Anne. Their aged raclette, made with milk from local cows and mellowed for months in a cool underground “cave,” has been named the Best Cheese in America. They also make a variety of French style fresh cheeses, and you can watch the process through a set of picture windows in the winery tasting room.