In Elk Rapids, north of Traverse City, on a blustery January evening the sirens are calling, their seduction wafting from bowls of clam and corn chowder, and glistening briny platters of ice cold Prince Edward Island oysters at Siren Hall, a Northern Michigan restaurant. Inland seascapes at the port of Elk Rapids and Chef Michael Peterson’s love for the delicious nuances of seafood led to the creation of Siren Hall. Opened in 2007, the Northern Michigan venue is a spare and ultra-modern eatery of brushed steel, warmly polished wood and artfully poured concrete.
In addition to his creative incarnations of locally caught walleye and whitefish, the Northern Michigan chef works tirelessly to source the freshest, ethically harvested seafood from both coasts. The menu reflects the ebb and flow of each season, harnessing local produce alongside halibut, amberjack and lobster, among many others. Peterson delivers flavorful terrestrial entrees as well, with creatively comfortable offerings like braised pork shank and smoked brisket. Here, in the heart of winter, we center our energies on soup, and Siren Hall’s Clam and Corn Chowder makes the top of the list. Peterson’s bowl is a warm work of art built around local slab bacon, fresh clams and rich, aromatic clam stock finished with cream and sweet corn. Read on for January’s Northern Michigan soup tour.
Over the last decade, Traverse City native Michael Peterson fashioned a creative fine dining mini-dynasty in Antrim County, with two Northern Michigan restaurants: Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids. We sit down with Michael over a bowl of chowder to discuss winter cooking and the secrets of good soup.
Tell us about the origins of your ridiculously good Clam and Corn Chowder?
The recipe is derived from the Black Bass Hotel outside Philadelphia, where I worked years ago, and given a Michigan twist. I use slab bacon from Plath’s, fresh clams, and add sweet corn. We serve the soup with our housemade seasoned oyster crackers, which are awesome.
What should the amateur chef know about making great soup?
I find people are afraid of making soups more than they should be. It comes down to making a good stock: roast whatever bones you’ll be using to draw out flavor, and use the freshest ingredients you can. It’s also important not to crowd your soup with too many ingredients and to pay attention to the texture. Soup is a great comfort and so satisfying when it comes together.