Happy Hour

A weekly snapshot of Happy Hours around the region…

Everyday, open-7 p.m., $1.75 highballs, $2.50 house chardonnay, $2.00 drafts, $1.00 off everything else.
310 Cass St., Traverse City

Sunday-Thursday, 3-6 p.m., $1 off all drinks.
422 North 5th St., Roscommon

Lulu's Bistro
Thursdays, 5-9 p.m., $3 wells, $2 off drafts, select $5 wines.
213 N. Bridge St., Bellaire

Boyne River Inn
Everyday, 3-6 p.m., 1/4 off drinks.
229 Water St., Boyne City
Rendezvous Lounge, Odawa Casino
Thursday & Friday, $2.25 domestic drafts, $3.25 well drinks, $3.25 house wine.
1760 Lears Rd., Petoskey

Choice Bits!

Round-the-region snapshots of the dining scene. 

RUTHIE'S CHICKEN & DAIRY TWIST: Roasted chicken and ice cream, malts and shakes.
201 N. Bridge Ln., Bellaire. 213­-533­-8538.

Practically an Up North institution, the place to find out the latest fishing or snowmobile news from the locals and visitors who gather for their hearty breakfasts, steaks, burgers, soup & salad bar, & homemade desserts.
10921 Main St., Honor. 231­ 352­6585.

When you've worked up an appetite from all the bowling and karaoke that Boyne City Lanes has to offer, you'll find a selection of hearty fare to choose from, including homemade soups & desserts. Cocktails are served at the Lanes,with live entertainment and glow ­bowling nights.
1199 West Boyne Road, 231-­582­-6353.

Open 7 days a week for lunch & dinner. Full Chinese menu, as well as Hunan & Szechuan entrees.  Daily specials, special combination plates,  a lunch & dinner All You Can Eat Buffet. 
616 S. Mitchell St., Cadillac, 231­-876­-8888.

Take a trip back to the '50s where chili dogs & frosted mugs of root beer are still served up by carhops at this All ­American institution. Elvis has been known to make an appearance during their annual summer “A&W Cruise Night” in August, as do cars from the 50’s and 60’s that we remember well.
At the bottom of the hill, 21 Lake St., Frankfort,  231-­352-­9021.

From Antler Ale to Wolverine Wheat, Big Buck specializes in microbrewed beers. Offering the usual beef and buffalo burgers, steaks, and ribs, plus more unusual fare, like their portabella sandwich with red onion marmalade and provolone cheese.
550 S. Wisconsin Avenue, Gaylord, 989­-732-­5781.

A refined atmosphere, subdued lighting, and an appetizing selection of epicurean treats awaits the diner at this Harbor Springs corner landmark. Menu selections range from their smoked whitefish ravioli appetizer to their Atlantic salmon, baked polenta and eggplant, tomato basil fettuccine, or filet mignon ­ and their brunches include one of the best versions of Eggs Benedict around.
101 State Street, downtown across from Bar Harbor, 231­-526-­1904.

Pool tables, a full bar, friendly service and a varied menu make the Village Inn popular with families and locals.  Dinners include Lamb Skewers, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Charbroiled Whitefish, Lasagna and Ribeye.  Also burgers, sandwiches, salads, appetizers and pizza.  Lunch and Dinner.
Just north of the blinking light 116601 Lacorre Ave. on M­22,  Empire. 231-326­-5101.

One of Petoskey's first restaurants, Jesperson's is famous for homemade pies and fresh turkey. Breakfast and lunch.
312 Howard, Petoskey, 231­-347­-3601.
Located in Building 50, grilled panini's, soups, wraps, baked goods, specialty coffees and teas.
1200 W. 11th St., Traverse City, 231-­947­-7740.

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Ross Boissoneau - December 9th, 2013  

Friendly’s Empire landmark stands the test of time

At Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire, meals are served all day, the burgers are fresh, and yes, it’s always friendly.

The Empire bar and grill has been in business since 1945. Frank and Mary Lerchen bought it in 2006, and they are only the fourth owners. “Mike Wiesen owned it, and before that it was the Meads and the Deerings,” said Frank following a morning breakfast rush. Lerchen came to the restaurant with a lifetime’s work in the industry. It all began with Donkey Kong.

“I would go to Pizza Plus in Traverse City to play Donkey Kong,” said Lerchen. One day the owner said to Lerchen, “Think you can handle a broom?” “From 13 to 17 I worked there,” said Lerchen. Then it was on to the Flap Jack Shack, where Lerchen first began to find his way around the kitchen. “I wanted to learn to cook.”

After a couple years there, Lerchen heard about a new restaurant opening up on West Bay Shore Drive on the way to Suttons Bay. He met with the owner and became the first hire for Phil Murray at Windows, the fine dining restaurant on the shore of West Bay.

From there it was on to Colorado, where Lerchen worked for a chef he said was “the meanest guy ever. But boy, could he cook.” He gained experience in everything from salads to sauces, and brought that education back with him when he began working once again at Windows.

That’s when Mike Wiesen, the owner of the Friendly and the Village Inn in Empire and Art’s in Glen Arbor, asked Lerchen if he could also help him out in his expanded kitchen. Lerchen agreed, and after a stint working at both Windows and the Friendly, began working fulltime for Wiesen.

When Wiesen decided he’d spent enough time running a restaurant, the Lerchens purchased the Friendly and the Village Inn.


Lerchen says the Friendly’s signature dish is the hamburger. Rather than dress it up with any abstruse flavorings or special sauce, Lerchen says it’s the fact the meat is fresh-ground every day that makes it so special. “We use only grassfed steer,” he said. He also says he’s reluctant to change anything about it, as it’s the same recipe that’s been used for decades, down to the bun.

“Sometimes people harp on to change the bun at least,” he said with a laugh, describing it as “just a cheap butter bun.” But Lerchen says he’s afraid of doing anything that would alienate loyalists.

“There was a guy who was sitting right here,” he said, gesturing to a chair behind him. “He stood up and said in a loud voice he wanted to see the manager. I asked him how I could help him, and he wanted to shake my hand. He was a coal miner from West Virginia who said the burger we made was the closest thing he’d ever had to the kind his mother had made for him.

“For a week while he was on vacation he came in here every day.”

Lerchen says despite that reputation, he knows some people might want something else, and he gives his wife credit for coming up with some of the other dishes that dot the menu or the nightly specials they run.


Such as the char-grilled lake trout with a buerre blanc butter and stone ground mustard sauce, with a root slaw made with shredded carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips with an olive oil and lime juice dressing. Lerchen says that dish may be the single best thing the restaurant serves.

Another of his favorites is walleye, which is lightly breaded in Panko bread crumbs, cornmeal, flour and salt and pepper, pan-fried and served with a pistachio butter.

“I try to only do freshwater fish – trout, whitefish, bluegill. We even did some sunfish last summer. Our Mexican food is really good too,” said Lerchen.

Most of those specials are only served in the summer, when the Friendly is packed. How packed? The staff goes from 60 in the height of summer to eight in the off-season.

“We are so fortunate to have a group of people who care about the place,” Lerchen said of the staff. “The rookie has been here 10 years.”

DON’T MISS: The hamburger, of course. Fresh-ground every day, it’s the signature dish for a reason.

COST: Burgers from $7; Salads from $10; Breakfast from $3-7.50

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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