Grand Traverse Resort’s signature restaurant sits atop the resort’s tower like an eagle’s nest.
So its name – Aerie – fits perfectly, and so does the food, a combo platter reflecting regional favorites and urban flair.
Overseeing it all is a staff of nearly 30, many of whom are veterans not only of the food industry but of the resort itself. Some of them have been there a decade or more.
When the Trillium restaurant opened atop the tower at Grand Traverse Resort in the early 80s, the view was the biggest attraction. The view is still great, but it’s the food at the restaurant – renamed Aerie six years ago – that’s now the real draw.
In charge of the kitchen and menu is Anie Driscoll, who began working in food five years ago, first moving up the ladder at the Resort from the coffee shop to the kitchens, then as executive chef at Stony Point Pub in Suttons Bay. She returned to Grand Traverse Resort last April as Aerie sous chef.
“The general manager said I’d be back,” laughed Driscoll, who now heads the Aerie culinary team.
Since returning, she’s completely revamped the menu with an emphasis on creative cuisine. Popular items include butternut squash beignets, scallops with caramelized corn risotto, and a pork tenderloin with tarragon and dijon demi glace cream sauce.
“She’s very creative,” said Jillian Thaxton, Driscoll’s counterpart in the front of the house.
Other delicacies include mushroom and truffle crusted sea bass, maple bourbon salmon, and a roasted beet salad with red and golden beets, spicy arugula, goat cheese, avacado and orange white balsamic vinaigrette.
Aerie has a good wine and beer list, including several wines from our own region (Black Star Farms’ “Arcturos” Pinot Gris, Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling, Good Harbor Cherry Wine, among others). Local and regional microbrews are also served.
With so many flavors, picking a favorite is tough, even for the staff. But when pressed, Thaxton points to the vegetable sautee, an engaging mix of curried quinoa, sauteed cashews, chickpeas, dried cherries, red cabbage, and butternut squash cubes, topped with fresh cilantro and cranberry vinaigrette. The curry is warm rather than spicy, and the flavors meld perfectly.
Thaxton and Driscoll soon add two other savory favorites: the pork tenderloin with celeriac mashed potatoes and the shiitake mushroom appetizer. “They’re cut with scissors in a spiral, kind of like a snake or eel,” said an enthusiastic Thaxton.
Despite her relative youth – at 24, she’s the youngest of the seven members of the cooking crew, supervising others nearly twice her age – Driscoll says there aren’t any issues in the kitchen.
“I’ve worked in other kitchens where people are complaining. We’re just a big family,” she said. “I love it. I can’t wait to get to work in the morning.”
Her enthusiasm is hardly a front. She is so engaged with her job she calls “a dream come true.”
She adds that she and her crew are happy to prepare a dish exactly to the liking of the customer; just ask.
And while the former lounge above on the 17th floor is no longer open except for private parties, guitarist and vocalist John Pomeroy entertains Friday and Saturday nights in the bar area on the other side of the 16th floor.
Prices vary on Aerie’s expansive menu; at the top end, the sea bass goes for $45 and the 14-ounce ribeye for $42, while the tasty vegetable sautee is a more reasonable $22. Soups and salads start at $7, with appetizers starting at $8.
Though much of its clientele consists of resort guests, Aerie is increasingly trying to reach out to the local market. Thaxton and Driscoll point to weekly specials like Wednesday sushi night, with an Asianinspired menu and a selection of premium sake. Thursday is app night, with special prices on appetizers, and with select Michigan microbrews featured.
Aerie is located on the 16th floor of the tower at Grand Traverse Resort, just north of Acme on US 31. More at GrandTraverseResort.com. For reservations, call 231-534-6000.