Northern Michigan Restaurants: Break out your autumn appetite and your driving gloves as we wind our way through some of the North’s standout color tour dining destinations.
Motoring up Maple City Highway lit with October’s red gold blaze, you’ll find a spot where gray sky converges with water, and aromas of braised lamb and Yorkshire pudding dance from the kitchen windows of The Little Traverse Inn. Scottish-born Graeme Leask, his wife Judy and their two teenage daughters have brought the pie-crusted provincial cuisine of the British Isles to Leelanau County with the North’s first authentic gastro-pub. Amid warm wooden tables and brass tap handles that pour forth cask-conditioned ales and creamy nitrogen-driven stouts, you can feed your inner English with tikka masala or fish and chips shrouded in airy Yorkshire beer batter. Pine for the bonny Highlands between mouthfuls of crispy haggis parcels with whiskey mustard. Speak Irish poetry as you indulge smoked salmon with soda bread or hearty shepherd’s pie. The vibe is as comforting as the food, with a plush lounge to take in a pint and a football match and a dark, friendly bar stocked with whiskies from every corner of the empire. Six comfortable guest suites welcome fall pilgrims who want only a short stumble to bed after taking their cups and supper.
Eyefuls of deciduous delights abound along M-22 between Crystal Lake and the Platte River, making The Manitou a perfect place to sate your autumnal hunger. Pecan-encrusted rainbow trout, crispy duck with cherry sauce and thick-cut steaks are complemented by a list of prime libations.
Mission Table is your haute cuisine anchor point among colorful hardwoods and vineyards at peak harvest that make up the Old Mission Peninsula. Expect arty farm-to-table fare like braised rabbit with fennel, beets and watercress, local beef cheek ragout or housemade ravioli with chicken confit. Jolly Pumpkin beers and spirits and BonaFide wines to slake your thirst.
Test your transmission on sweeping curves among bright bucolic hillsides in the Boyne Valley and arrive at Morels Bistro on scenic Old State Road. Daily risottos, morel and leek-stuffed walleye and a Spanish spice-rubbed trotter steak highlight the fusionistic menu.
Top off your fall M-119 Tunnel of Trees odyssey with an elegant afterglow at The Depot. This richly restored train depot with views of the harbor offers luxurious, vintage atmosphere and a creative contemporary menu studded with sea bass ceviche, seared foie gras or roasted pheasant with porcini risotto. Premium wine list offers California prestige bottlings and Hungarian Tokaji by the glass.
Born in Edinburgh, lifelong foodie, Graeme Leask and his wife, Judy, opened the Little Traverse Inn this summer with a book of recipes from Graeme’s grandmother and a desire to bring traditional British pub grub to the North. We dropped by to quiz Graeme on haggis, cask-conditioned ale and the perfect beer batter.
Can you demystify haggis for us?
We make a pork version here, though lamb is traditional. It’s essentially a sausage meat made from liver, kidney, tongue and heart, where the meats are cooked and then ground with steel cut oats, fresh herbs and spices. Our version is rolled in panko bread crumbs, flash fried and served with our homemade whiskey mustard. My daughter insisted we put it on the menu, and it’s been hard to keep up with the demand.
Tell me about cask-conditioned ales.
We’re one of the few nonbreweries in Michigan pouring these. The beer undergoes its fermentation and aging in an oak barrel, which is how it comes to us; the pints are drawn by hand without CO2 or nitrogen, and the beers have an incredible nutty richness.
How can I re-create Yorkshire beer batter to make these fish and chips at home?
Our secret is to let good English ale sit out at room temperature until it goes flat, combine it with the flour and baking soda and then fold beaten egg whites in at the end.