Traverse City Treat Trends

Take a trip to Northern Michigan and you'll notice a refreshing trend that is bringing more and more people to dine at restaurants: local, sustainable ingredients. It's a no-brainer that food tastes better when it's fresh, but when it's sourced locally, the experience improves significantly. There's something satisfying about knowing that the strawberry in your salad was picked just down the street and the fish you're eating was caught that very morning, so it's no wonder that many restaurants have jumped on this trend, including a trio of Traverse City restaurants.

At Trattoria Stella, a family-run restaurant that serves classic Italian cuisine with a twist, many of its ingredients are sourced locally. Or those in the mood for a little dessert can indulge at Moomers, a small dairy farm that makes incredible ice cream using milk from the cows that can be seen just outside the ice cream parlor's window.

With the easy access of local ingredients Traverse City and its neighboring areas enjoy, you'll be hard-pressed to find an eatery that hasn't began to convert its menu to a locally sourced one. For The Cooks' House, local, sustainable ingredients have been an integral part of its mission from day one, long before the trend became widespread.

Co-chefs and owners Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee opened The Cooks' House in 2008 with a mission to celebrate the rich agriculture of Northern Michigan and to promote local, artisan-made products. On any given day, Patterson or Blakeslee can be found at the indoor farmers market in Traverse City or at the Oryana Food Cooperative purchasing fresh food for that day's service.

"We buy everything fresh and only what's needed for each meal service," said Patterson. An incredible 99 percent of the products served are locally sourced within a 200 mile radius from their small shop. The Cooks' House seats only 30 and offers kitchen-side seating and an open view of the cooking. With only a countertop dividing guests from the kitchen, Patterson and Blakeslee create French-inspired fare that is fresh and, of course, local.

During my time there, I was first presented with an amuse-bouche of pork rillettes with toasted brioche from 9 Bean Rows, a local bakery that Patterson says "produces the best French pastries and breads this side of the Atlantic." The rillettes were tender and flavorful and the brioche was perhaps the best I've had.

Next was a fresh asparagus and shitake mushroom soup that tasted like it came straight out of the garden. It lacked the sulfuric aftertaste that overcooked asparagus sometimes has and was very nice.

My third course of risotto with goat cheese and chicken-of-the-woods-mushrooms was creamy, perfectly cooked, and the goat cheese didn't overpower the delicate flavor of the mushrooms.

A fresh walleye fillet with sautéed romaine, sugar peas, and purple scallions arrived, and while I enjoyed the entrée, the seasoning was lacking a bit and I would have liked the accompaniment to be bit more substantial.

A salad of mixed greens, pickled green beans, red onion and raclette cheese was served as a digestive.

The finale was a simple dessert; a piece of salted dark chocolate and a shortbread square with rich caramel undertones.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali, who spends his summers in Northern Michigan, has time and again praised The Cooks' House as being one of his nine favorite restaurants around the world. Patterson and Blakeslee's philosophy of "field to table" has definitely set them apart from other restaurants as they stay true to their mission of providing sustainable cuisine.