The Cooks’ House – Traverse City

Okay, I admit. I’ve been holding out on you all. In June, while in Traverse City, Chris and I ate lunch at this little restaurant on the edge of downtown. We’d driven by it coming in to town on Saturday morning then passed it at least a few more times going to and from the ceremony and our wine tasting adventure.

The little striped awning had caught my eye. And the words ‘Cooks’ and ‘House.’ From the street, you couldn’t tell if it was a restaurant or a retail store. Eventually, on Sunday we stopped to at least look at the door. They were closed but I noted the times for Monday- open at 11 for lunch.

Monday, it required dilly-dallying in the hotel until they opened. And it also required repeatedly turning down offers of a little bite of this or that when we met the rest of the family in the hotel restaurant. They were eating breakfast and we’d missed the cut-off. Deliberately but no one seemed to get that. Finally, we could say our good-byes and head over to The Cook’s House, just the two of us. I was very excited based on my quick glance at the menu posted by the door.

It was a little breezy but we opted to sit outside at one of three or four tables scattered across a little greenspace alongside the restaurant. The interior is quite small but we were there so close to 11 that they were not busy yet. I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine.

Our servers (2) were very attentive although sometimes it was a little awkward- the busser didn’t seem to have a strong grasp of English so asking for a new knife took a few tries.

Despite wanting to try everything on the menu, we limited ourselves to one dish each. Chris went for the chicken salad sandwich and I chose Walker’s Pesto Passion. I’m not sure who Walker is but I think I’d like him (her?)! The sandwich is fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and pesto on the lightest bread. It was like a pastry bread. It kind of looked like foccacia but it didn’t taste like it. It had just a hint of sweetness. Maybe like challah but not overly sweet and not heavy. Seriously, good stuff. And the perfect outside to an amazing inside. This mozzarella was chewy and moist without being gummy or too salty. The oil in the pesto wrapped the tomatoes its velvety glove while spreading hints of basil through every bite.

Chris’s chicken salad sandwich was served on whole grain bread that had been grilled. The chicken salad was not like any salad I’d ever seen- it was chunks of chicken with dried cherries and a not-mayo dressing. He kept handing over bits of it so I could try to figure out what was in there. I couldn’t although I’m still guessing some kind of grainy-mustard. EDIT 10/10/08: Chris sandwich was accessorized with pea sprouts. I forgot about that before. They were slightly sweet and definitely a nice change from plain ole lettuce. End Edit I did give up one bite of my sandwich but I was very reluctant to share. And I probably would have stolen half his sandwich if I thought I could have.

Each our sandwiches came with a side salad of mixed greens dressed with a light vinaigrette. The salads had exactly the right amount of dressing. Every piece of lettuce had been touched but not much more than that.

Prior to our sandwiches, we also go a basket of freshly baked breads and butter. Guess what- it was wonderful!

While we waited for our meal, I started looking around the garden. I noticed herbs in one area, some future squash in another and down the stairs at the back of the restaurant, hanging over the river were baskets filled with heirloom tomatoes. As if this food wasn’t delicious enough- most of it was local. In fact, they pride themselves on sourcing locally as much as possible. On their website, you can see a list of suppliers. It seems that Traverse City would be a very good place to live while doing the 100-mile challenge!

I’m writing about this place now because the secret is out. All this time, despite not reviewing the place, I’d had a link to the blog from the chef at The Cooks’ House in my blogroll. I also recommended the place to a fellow blogger and he wrote about his visit (this weekend), here. In light of that also great review, I thought I’d go ahead and share my experience too. It was hard. I really was reluctant to talk about this place because I didn’t want to share. I didn’t want someone to go there, hate it and complain. Because I’d have to smack them. I have eaten in some pretty pricey restaurants in my life. I’ve eaten in places with national reputations. This was just lunch but it was one of the best meals of my life. You could taste the care and respect for food coming from the kitchen. I can’t put this lunch above my dinner at Charlie Trotter’s because that might be sacrilege but until I get my dinner at The French Laundry (in California, not the one in Fenton), lunch at the Cooks’ House will sit at #2.

Details

Websitethe cooks’ house with menus
Address: 439 E. Front Street Traverse City, MI 49686
Hours: Monday through Saturday – Lunch 11:00am-4:30, Dinner 4:30-9:00

Feeding the Addiction

Chris and I, the balsamic vinegar-aholics, spent the weekend in Traverse City for a wedding.  We had a great time between the wedding events, wine tasting, cherry-infused samplings, fudge, and the beautiful scenery of Northern Michigan.

We also ate at a fantastic little cafe, The Cook’s House. The subtitle on the restaurant’s awning is “local sustainable cuisine.” I want to move in with these people. Look for a later post with details about our meal.

On Sunday, before the wedding, we did a little shopping in downtown Traverse City.  This place has changed a lot since my childhood but some stores are the same: the fudge shoppe in particular.  One of the newer stores, Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars, opened within the last year or so, is a gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop.  Set up much like an open wine tasting, the small storefront is lined with large barrels of olive oil on one side and vinegar on the other.  A salesperson will suggest combinations and assist with mixing a little vinegar with oil in small paper cups. You can dip your finger in the cup or just throw back the tablespoon of flavor like a shot.  Our first sample was Olive oil infused with mandarin orange mixed with an 18 year old balsamic vinegar.  A little too sweet for both Chris and I.  We next tried a Basil Olive Oil mixed with Oregano infused vinegar.  Better but they sort of cancelled each other out.  Third try was garlic olive oil mixed with Pear Vinegar, a white vinegar.  Now that was a winner!

I’ve seen White Pear Balsamic Vinegar in the stores before so we just bought the garlic olive oil this time. It was very garlicky and will make a great dipping oil for bread too: mix some basil, cracked pepper and grated cheese together than sprinkle on top of the oil. 


During our weekend, we visited three wineries and bought wine at each. We also sampled a lot of different cherry-themed products including mustards, barbeque sauce, salsa, preserves, fruit butters, chocolates and wine.  We also had cherries in both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception meal.  Despite this cherry overload, we came home with 5 or 6 jars of stuff in the car. I’m not even sure what all is in there, Chris was more cherry happy than me.  We did not buy any cherry fruit wines though. 

I made a command decision to tour the Old MIssion Peninsula and its wineries.  I had a very good reason for this, my affinity for Winery #1:

Bowers Harbor

My first experience with Bowers Harbor was a Michigan Food & Wine Festival at Meadowbrook several years ago.  After sampling many wines that day, my mom ended up buying a whole case of Otis, the estate’s signature white blend.  Fastforward to present day, Otis is still popular although its namesake, a Yellow Lab who served as official dog greeter at the vineyeard has since passed away.  Bowers Harbor is a family-run winery that started as a family farm.  With the passing of Otis, the winery welcomed Cooper, a Bernese Mountain Dog, who soon took on official greeter status and earned his own wine label.  Cooper’s wine is a sweeter style than Otis and not quite to my taste.

On this trip, we bought a bottle of 2005 Riesling, an early harvest year so the wine is less sweet. This particular varietal is only available at the vineyard.  We also picked up a jar of sun-dried tomato (cherry?) spread.

 

Chateau Grand Traverse

The second winery on our trip, CGT is the oldest and probably largest winery in Northern Michigan. Established in 1974, they sell wine under three labels, Chateau Grand Traverse, Grand Traverse Select and Traverse Bay Winery.  The tasting room on Old Mission offers over 25 varietals for sampling as well as a number of wine-related goods from storage racks to crackers suited for wine and cheese parties.  They also sell glasses, decanters and finally a wine aerator. We have been looking for one of these since a friend showed hers off last Christmas.  Many a wine shop has disappointed us with perplexed looks and sad headshakes.  On Sunday, I stumbled across the Ventar wine pourer with aerator. While not identical to the gadget we’d seen over the holidays, it was only $20 and did the job. 

(Later in the day, while in another shop, we ran across the aerator we’d used before, marked at $70!  Its cheaper on-line, the Vinturi aerator)

Besides a whole lot of Brownwood Farms products, a wine-food pairing guide, wine crackers and the aerator-pourer, we bought some wine here too!

 2006 Chardonnay “Late Harvest” – A sweeter wine than usual, Late Harvest grapes are left on the vine to allow the sugar content to rise.  Not quite as sweet as Ice Wines (where the grapes are left on til after the first frost), Chris actually liked this white wine so we decided to buy a bottle. 

2005 Gamay Noir “Reserve” – Red wines are rare in NOrthern Michigan and quality reds are even harder to come by.  Chris prefers reds so when he came across one that he liked, he bought 3 bottles of it!  We had the first bottle last night.  And we used our aerator too.  THere is a distinctive difference- the aerator definitely helps soften the tannins.  Now that I’ve had a full glass of this wine, I have to say I don’t love it. Perhaps with food, it will be better.  I felt the pepper flavor came on too fast and blotted out the fruit flavors.  First sip was very plummy but then the spice just overpowered everything.  The wine won a Gold Medal at the 2008 Great Lakes Wine Judging. 

 

BlackStar Farms

The third and final winery visit wasn’t actually meant to be a wine tasting visit. We’d been given information that they had locally made cheese on site.  They didn’t have any cheese there although they do make cheese at their Sutton’s Bay Farm, up in the Leelenau Peninsula.  I sampled two wines here but Chris wasn’t allowed.  For the second time in 3 months, he’d misplaced his ID (since found) and the host was reluctant to allow him samples without verifying his age. I had to show my ID and I did think it was a little strange to be so reluctant after seeing my age. Perhaps I should be flattered that he thought 33-year old me was dating someone under 21!

I tried 2 whites, the 2006 Sur Lie Chardonnay first. This is a non-oaked Chardonnay and it was very crisp. I thought it too metallic.  It seems like a lot of Chardonnays I’ve had recently have had way too much oak so they are heavy and woody.  But I took a chance on the the 2006 Arcturos Barrel-Aged Chardonnay and I really liked it.  Very buttery and smooth with a nice caramel undertone but you could still taste the fruit.  And I bought it, rounding out our wine buying for the day.

 

Before our stop at Fustini’s, we also visited Cherry Republic and Murdick’s Fudge in downtown Traverse City.  And bought fudge and cherry related products, of course.

 

For more about the wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, please visit: http://www.wineriesofoldmission.com/