Traverse City, Michigan: Town of delicious secrets

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

TRAVERSE CITY, December 1, 2014–  This is a city that loves its secrets, secrets like sweet temptations, tasty savories and tart confections, all of which have been simmering like a slow-cooked stew in and around the downtown area of Traverse City, Michigan. And, until recently, the residents of this expanding foodie town were content with keeping it a well-known local and regional secret.

Located on Grand Traverse Bay, a long deep inlet of Lake Michigan, Traverse City’s once hidden buzz surrounding its eclectic mix of eateries is now out in the open. Part of the exposure came from well-known culinary publications like Bon Appetite, who listed it as one of America’s Top Five Foodie towns and, who gave it similar top billing among 200 American cities.

I justified my visit and the extra pounds I might pack on in the interest of foodie science. So let the tour begin…

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Arriving late in the afternoon means a stroll downtown on Front Street. Our first stop was the Grand Traverse Pie Company where we sampled their number one seller, the sumptuous cherry crumb pie made with Northern Michigan Montmorency tart cherries. Ours came hot from the oven and had the perfect blend of tartness and crunch. There are 27 varieties of pies as well as hearty soups and entrees like shepherd’s pie.

At Simply Cupcakes everything is made from scratch and each moist cupcake is topped with a light Italian buttercream. The names alone are enough to make you salivate.

Banana cream, for instance, uses sour cream cake and fresh bananas topped off white chocolate ganache.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Unlike some towns, Traverse City doesn’t lay claim to a single dominant ethnic food tradition. Here, the scene is more eclectic. Speaking of eclectic, at Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars you can taste test a wide variety of white and red balsamic vinegars and olive oils from all over the world.

The most popular is an 18-year old balsamic vinegar paired with garlic olive oil. The combination was amazing and made our taste buds pop with joy!

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

With as many as 160 restaurants in the area, Traverse City is one of the sweetest places you will ever visit. But be forewarned, if you do come here, you will likely be seeing red– cherry red that is because Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World. Even the airport and some of the taxis have adopted the cherry as their logo. They’ve also extended their tart geographic influence in the form of a store called The Cherry Republic.


@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Started by a guy who sold t-shirts out of his car in 1989, the Republic has grown into a full-fledged cherry extravaganza selling and shipping 250 cherry products all over the world. They have cherry juice, salsa, barbecue sauce, dried cherries, cherry root beer, and a huge cookie known as the Boomchunka, loaded with oatmeal, white chocolate and, of course, cherries. What’s even better is that they will ship anything as a gift for a flat rate of only $5.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

A Traverse City tradition, Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties on South Union Street, serves up some of the tastiest pasties this side of Cornwall. The owners, Nick and Jerilyn DeBoer, create hand-made, self-contained meals using the freshest ingredients. Their most popular is the Traditional with steak, potatoes, rutabaga, and onions. Others fillings include vegetable, chicken, steak, and cheddar and a variety of breakfast pasties as well. We found these to be tasty, filling and reasonably priced— just the ticket for keeping our tummies happy on a blustery, fall day.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Across the street from the pastie shop is House of Doggs. Owner Nick McAllister has two loves: music and hot dogs. He combined these by adorning his walls with his musical collection and then set out to serve the finest natural casing hot dog.

The result has been a thriving success and he has been rated the #1 Dog in town for 3 years.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Voted the Best Ice Cream Shop in America by the viewers of Good Morning America, Moomers homemade ice cream is located just outside of town and worth the drive. Started by a first-grade teacher, this family business now serves more than 120 flavors and has lines queuing up in the summertime for their cold, creamy concoctions.

My favorite was the Cherries Moobilee, made with black cherry ice cream, chocolate fudge, cherries, and bits of chocolate brownie— not for the calories conscious faint of heart I admit but then, I am a professional!

One of the more notable historical buildings in Traverse City is the Grand Traverse Commons, previously known as the Northern Michigan Asylum. This sprawling complex is unique in its spacious design, Victorian architecture and bright colors as well as the humane way they treated their former occupants, many of whom worked in the facility.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

Today, the space is being reclaimed and transformed into trendy shops, galleries, boutiques, apartments, and restaurants. A stroll through their subterranean mercato is a must, and while there, you should also see how they have put to good use some of the other buildings on campus. The Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery for instance, starts with a natural leavening process and Michigan-grown organic grains fired in a brick oven to make mouth-watering baked sensations that will spoil you for any other type of bread.

Since my diet was put on hold for this trip, I figured one more amazing meal wouldn’t hurt and went all out at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa on East Traverse Bay. This is one of the finest full-service resorts in the Midwest with nearly 600 rooms, suites and condominiums. Located on the 16th floor is the Aerie™ Restaurant & Lounge.

Serving regional American cuisine with their own version of Northern Michigan flair, the large glass windows offer spectacular 360-degree views of the bay and rolling countryside. The service here is impeccable as is the extensive wine list and seasonal menu selections. I had a filet mignon that was juicy, seasoned to perfection and fork tender.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

As we watched the sun set over the bay and the sky turn pinkish-orange, we realized that we had just scratched the foodie surface of Traverse City. Venturing into the county and outlying areas also offers delicious delights, including a burgeoning wine tasting industry that is only now just being discovered.

Located just a short 45-minute plane flight from Chicago-O’Hare, Traverse City is easy to get to but hard to leave once you learn why locals were once happy to keep their town a well-kept secret.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

FTC Disclaimer: Many of the food services as well as accommodations were sponsored by the suppliers listed in this story.


Traverse City CVB

Grand Traverse Pie Company

Simply Cupcakes

Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars

Cherry Republic

Cousin Jenny’s Cornish Pasties


House of Doggs


Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Where to Stay:

The Bayshore Resort, situated right on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, is located close to downtown, has friendly staff and comfortable rooms. Breakfast is included and the prices are reasonable.



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  • Brett

    House of Doggs is not downtown, they moved to the mall. Also you have done a nice job of hitting the tourist food destinations. The real food destinations you missed, they are amazing. We have more than hot dogs, pie, ice cream and pasties. Try Amical, Ohm, Full Moon Pizza, Stella’s, and the Little Fleet of food trucks to name a few of the shining stars of the area.

    • Abagail K Byar

      mmmm Stella’s! Isn’t Ohm café shut down? and what and where is full moon pizza???

      • Jacquie Kubin

        Brett, Abigail… would love a local’s tourist review! Send to me at [email protected] along with contact info. If you have photos, that would be GREAT!
        I am from Chicago and its been a long, long time (nearly 4 decades) since I was in your lovely town. Tell us more!

      • Kyle

        Ohm decided to close for the winter. I believe Nov 30th was the last day, but do not hold me to that. The Parlor will stay open winter.
        Full Moon Pizza was on 8th Street, real close to Family Fare, but they just expanded and moved doors over to 830 East Front Street, near the Holiday Inn. They make amazing wood fired pizza… and hands down have the beset gluten free crust in town!

        • abby

          I will check out full moon! I heard that ohm was closing for good and that the loading dock was coming back in. I have some vegetarian friends who were very bummed when ohm closed… granted that is just the rumor mill so i suppose we will see.

  • Abagail K Byar

    you missed a few good ones, let a local help ya out for the next round: Mary’s Kitchen port- which is at the corner of division and front street – has thee best cold sandwich in town, the TURKEY GOBBLER (that is a very local secret and they have funny hours but it is worth it to memorize their schedule! This is non optional, you MUST try it and grab a raspberry lemonade and fresh made caramel while you are there it cost $8.33 for all 3 items- yes I eat there THAT much!) They also make a very good pasta with feta, sundried tomatoes, greek olives and some type of Italian style dressing; Bubba’s- downtown has killer Nachos; The Parlor – downtown has amazing adult drinks with fresh ingredients; Brew- in downtown has thee best chocolate chai latte/ Grilled cheese (3 cheeses, tomato, and huge pieces of basil)/TBT (hot Panini style sandwich); Apache trout grill – on west Bayshore drive towards cherry bend road has amazing fish; North Peak – on Front street towards division (before it becomes a one way) has a killer Greek pizza and the pesto chicken ones rocks too, or their burgers, or their cherry BBQ salmon (Honestly, I have not had a bad dish there yet….).They also make some pretty mean calamari and wings! PLUS they brew their own beer – you could try it at the restaurant or go downstairs to Kilkenny’s bar under the restaurant and have a drink there (a very cool bar styled like an irish pub); Just a few tips from a fellow foodie who has lived here for 10 years! 🙂 Happy dining!

  • Bestuv Burke

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