Take a Drive to Dinner
Cruise past fruit trees and forests and lakes, turn in to the gravel parking lot of an inviting Up North roadhouse with a place set just for you. Here's what's on the table this summer at some of our favorite Northern Michigan gourmet destinations.
Mar 4, 2008 Emily Betz Tyra
The Glenwood in Onekama.
Cozy up in the dining room by the upright piano, or follow the dinnertime buzz of voices to the screened-in porch where you dine in the sweet nip of Northern Michigan night air and watch the sun set over Portage Lake. When chef-owners Chris Short and Donna Czapski-Short took on the rambling Onekama restaurant in 1994, they revived an old name from the 1920's (The Glenwood Dining Room) and with it the era's smart, gracious service. Servers repeat "is everything prepared to your liking?" with every course, and they mean it. The Shorts have made the words their house motto, even having it inscribed on their china.
Put them to the test with The Glenwood salad of mixed greens, ripe tomato, hardboiled egg, homemade croutons and the tangy sweet house lime-ginger dressing. Dinner's accompaniments are ultra-fresh, whether it's a chipotle-seasoned pork chop topped with oven-roasted fresh corn, garden peppers and eggplant or the porterhouse with mushrooms saut"ed in garlic and butter and horseradish mashed redskins that taste just-dug from the ground. If you order Donna's homemade frozen peanut butter pie and can't quite finish it, she'll insist you take it with you, old-fashioned dessert dish and all — just promise to bring the dish back. Drive by The Glenwood in the morning after a busy summer night and you'll spy a few empty dessert glasses perched like offerings on the outside porch railing. 4604 Main St., Onekama, 231-889-3734, glenwoodrestaurant.com.
Douglas Lake Bar & Steakhouse
The way to the DLB is across pine-covered, lake-scented cabin country that feels like the real Up North. And, looking on a map, by the time you reach the log-cabin front door you are directly in the heart of true North. It's hard to choose between a table on the screened-in dinner porch and a place inside the woodsy cabin, but either puts you in the mood for owner-chef Steve Rudolph's elevated, earthy cuisine such as veal Judy Ann (named for his mother), saut"ed with wild mushrooms, artichokes and tomatoes in buerre blanc over fettuccine and creamy polenta with roasted wild mushrooms and a roasted garlic tomato sauce. At least one person at your table should order the specialty of the house, the DLB steak, a cracked peppercorn-crusted filet with a Dijon cognac cream sauce that will knock the lucky soul's shorts off. 7314 Douglas Lake Rd., Pellston, 231-539-8588.
Bowers Harbor Inn
Restaurateurs Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell purchased the landmark Bowers Harbor Inn recently and are bringing fresh flavors to the menu at this former lumber baron retreat. Look for morel crusted diver scallops with a scallion pancake citrus beurre blanc and pan roasted salmon with granny smith apple butter sauce. The Inn also does our local fruit proud with a pork tenderloin dressed with a tart cherry reduction. 13512 Peninsula Dr., Traverse City, 231-223-4222, bowersharborinn.net.
Walloon Lake Inn
This time-honored lakeside destination has been around since Ernest Hemingway summered on Walloon. Then called Fern Cottage, the inn was a stopover point for the steamboats carrying travelers to hotels or to their cottages around the storied lake. The dining room is starchy and subdued — a mood that marries well with the sun on Walloon setting in slow motion, a crisp glass of white in your hand and chef-proprietor David Beier's classic preparations before you. Excelling at the traditional, he distills French method and simple fresh ingredients into crepes filled with lobster mascarpone and a ginger carrot sauce, porcini crusted rib eye or the saffron-scented bouillabaisse. Locals also love the veal — Beier gets creative with a different preparation daily. Your dinner mates are other travelers (the inn is also a five-room B&B) and longtime Walloon Lake resorters unwinding with a scotch-on-the-rocks. You may even spot a Hemingway relative at the next table. Winsor Street, one block west of M-75, Walloon Lake Village, 231-535-2999, walloonlakeinn.com
The Rowe Inn
Once called the father of fine dining in Northern Michigan, Wes Westhoven now says he's the grandfather. And he's earned the venerable name. His now legendary Rowe Inn came on the scene in the early 70's, elevating the culinary standards of the region and creating room on the restaurant plate for produce fresh from the Antrim County earth — heirloom tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms grown down the way on Toad Lake Road or an unexpected six quarts of just-plucked raspberries peddled for 50 cents each at the kitchen door.
Executive chef Scott Lyons (who began his tutelage at The Rowe 15 years ago as a dishwasher) resides over the stove with the same fresh and from-scratch Proven"al technique Westhoven started with. Begin your evening with caramelized onion, mushroom and d'Affinois croustades. Dinner might range from a crab-stuffed rainbow trout with beurre blanc to duck magret with pomegranate balsamic demi-glace. There are a few menu mainstays: the white chocolate brownies, warm bacon dressing and The Rowe Inn slaw, made with sauerkraut with green peppers red apples and onion. For resorters who've come to The Rowe for 34 years, summer wouldn't be summer without it.
End your meal with a cheese course the way many do in the French countryside — an ounce or two of comte, Roquefort or nutty, moon-surfaced mimolette. The wine flows from Westhoven's exquisite and expansive wine cellar, with most vintages available carryout for some other memorable summer's eve. 6303 East Jordan Rd., Ellsworth, 231-588-7351, roweinn.com
Emily Betz Tyra is associate editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine
email@example.comNote: This article was first published in July 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.