Monday, August 18, 2008

Traverse City Travelogue, Day Two V. 1

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

...Michigan has a very rich agricultural foundation, and the more I delved into the culture of Traverse City the more I discovered about the agricultural heritage of this state and the people striving to keep that hertiage alive. As much as an epicurean elitist as I am, the idea of all-locally-grown and -produced food items--from produce to dairy to coffees and teas, meats, beers and wines--appeals immensely to me, as does the purist mentality exhibited by these local farmers/food lovers.

In Traverse City, business owners take a great deal of pride in announcing that they use fresh dairy products procured from small-production local farms and fresh produce from local growers. Owner Paul Danielson and executive chef Myles Anton of Trattoria Stella create their menus daily based on the fresh ingredients they purchase each morning from local farmers. Other restaurants, such as Aerie inside the posh Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, print right on their menus and on their websites that they use local farm foods whenever possible to highlight the flavors and culinary culture of the region.

As if I needed any more reason to be a food it isn't good enough unless it's homegrown. Pshaw.

The passion for sustainable cuisine and for creating richly-flavored fresh food items from local farms and businesses is evident everywhere in Traverse City. As I toured the downtown area and wandered in and out of various shops, I found that almost every place sells some form of self-made foodstuffs from fresh locally-produced ingredients--the coffee shop sold fresh gelato which they make in-house daily using cream from local dairy farms. The candy shop hand-dips all their own chocolate making truffles out of fresh farm berries and heavy cream bottled locally. They also sell whole-bean coffees from a Michigan roasting company that makes the most amazing-smelling and rich-tasting flavors (kick me for not buying any). The all-cherry-themed specialty store also makes and sells their own fudge on-site, using all fresh, natural, organic local ingredients.

If this is a sickness I don't want the cure.

What really stood out to me, everywhere I went and in everything I read, is the pride. Northwestern Michiganders are proud of what they create--they are proud of their fresh, wholesome, all-natural organic foods; they are proud of their various dining establishments that run the full gamut of star-rankings from simple diner to ultra-upscale, all utilizing homegrown goods; they are proud of their region and their industry. They are, all of them, full of passion for what they do--and what they do is food.

Imagine a Detroit in which all of its inhabitants exhibited that same kind of pride...looks a little different, doesn't it? Thankfully there are still those who fight the good fight, despite the hardships they might have to face because of it. Take it from David Miller, owner of Miller's Cream Cup Dairy, or George Shetler of Shetler's Family Dairy, both of whom have small-production dairy farms considered by local restauranteurs and patissieres to be producing the best cream in the state. Both of whom struggle constantly to make ends meet and have yet to turn a profit from their self-bottling businesses. Both of whom insist on the highest levels of quality in production, which includes painstaking pasteurization processes which take significantly more time than the fast, cheap methods used by the large mass-production farms. Neither one of them does it for the money; they do it for the love. Passione. Theirs is milk with meaning.

By the end of my trip I had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head (well...cherries really), wanting to spread the gospel of good food to all who will listen.

I guess this is a start.

I began at the Serenity Tea Bar and Cafe, a small, inviting space which serves a selection of specialty cafe menu items in addition to their organic fair-trade and locally blended teas. The tea menu is extensive (and a bit daunting, as I am no tea afficianado) and they even offer all full tea service (like, with all the silver pieces on the big tray and special tools for measuring the release of the tea and do other things I don't quite understand--I was a bit taken aback when I walked in and saw a girl sitting cross-legged in the bay window with a full tea service in front of her). Their menu is all tea-infused--from the green tea hummus to the tea leaves used in the pizza sauce. They also offer vegan and gluten-free items on their all-organic menu. I sampled the four-cheese pizza and Darjeeling tea (I know). The pizza was tasty enough, but I decided it probably wasn't the best way to go. I'm not crazy about gluten-free dough (makes the crust too cracker-like); perhaps next time a specialty tea-infused soup or salad with tea-infused dressing. The servers were absolutely wonderful, though--incredibly welcoming and easy to talk to. The atmosphere was great--especially as I curled up in a big cushy vintage armchair (they've got couches, too) and listened to Bjork, Portishead, Moby and Morcheeba as I sipped my tea and read Edible Grand Traverse.

From there, I browsed some of the shops and galleries and ended up at Espresso Bay, a gourmet coffee bar where I had the most ZOMFGZ Cherry Truffle Mocha (so good I went back again the next day and got another one). They also make their own gelato.

Mmmmmmmm...cherry truffle mocha...ughghghghhghgh*drool*...

At this point I decided to head back to the hotel, get together my driving directions for the day's journey, and hit the road to experience some more of these much-touted local wines (and after reading Edible Grand Traverse I was extra-special pumped to do so).