Northern Michigan Restaurants: May is on the menu in Traverse City restaurants, Petoskey area restaurants and restaurants near beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes. Read on as we savor fresh springtime cuisine in the kitchens of Northern Michigan.
A timpani of ice in a silver martini shaker, a glistening plate of fresh-shucked oysters, and the earthy vapor of sautéed morels and asparagus pull us into the delectable kinesis of Phil’s on Front in Traverse City.
Exposed ceilings encourage the clattering acoustics native to any good bistro, and the ingredient-driven daily menu is a biography of Chef/Owner Phil Murray. Murray’s classical French training is manifest in duck confit and walleye amandine, but you’ll find traces of French Creole in fried oysters and barbecue shrimp and Italian in monkfish pomodoro. Local produce and proteins complement seasonal seafood from both coasts as well as Great Lakes fish.
In May look for crispy creole-spiced soft-shell crabs with pecans and citrus butter or walleye over wilted greens; wash them down with a great bottle from Phil’s nicely priced international wine list.
Tucked into the middle of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, take in the blue undulations of Lake Michigan and awaken your palate with bright, seasonal cuisine from rock star chef Randy Chamberlin. Order a bottle of grower champagne from the house’s dynamic list, and prepare for tuna tartare, asparagus risotto or veal with morels.
Wind through wildly blossoming orchards and vineyards en route to the swank but casual Mission Table on Traverse City's Old Mission Peninsula, where you can sip Jolly Pumpkin brews or local vino and feast of Chef Paul’s seasonal small plates and absurdly delicious morel bisque.
A Stafford’s showpiece flooded with light and panoramic views of the Pine River Channel and Lake Michigan, The Weathervane, an hour north of Traverse City, serves up classic resort cuisine like Cross Fisheries planked whitefish caught within minutes of the kitchen.
Bookend your drive through the tunnel of trees with breakfast or lunch at Cornichons in Harbor Springs, just north of Petoskey. Feast on farm egg omelets, a great pâté sandwich with cornichons, mustard and confiture as well as seasonal soups.
A Northern Michigan icon himself, Chef Phil Murray began scratching the culinary itch at age 15 and hasn’t stopped yet. After closing Windows, his destination restaurant of 20 years, Phil took a brief respite before launching the downtown bistro Phil’s on Front in 2009. We chat with Phil about springtime cuisine Up North and the virtues of chilled asparagus.
How does spring and the arrival of wild edibles change the menu at Phil’s?
Of course we go heavy with morels, ramps and fiddlehead ferns as soon as they’re available, and by the middle of May about 80 percent of my menu is locally grown. The whole menu lightens up and we introduce salads with proteins, cold soups and lighter fish preparations like walleye with local wilted greens. Spring is a great time to eat.
Any staple spring dishes in your home kitchen?
My absolute favorite is roasted Norconk asparagus chilled and dressed with Fustini’s olive oil and cask-aged balsamic. I toss the asparagus with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast it at 350 for five to six minutes and then chill it in the fridge.