A SIREN'S CALL
History runs deep at Siren Hall, a popular seafood restaurant in downtown Elk Rapids.
Siren Hall’s ultra-modern interior links past to present, with nods to its origins as an auto mechanic’s garage, antiques store, and even its first life – now long gone ¬– as an 1870s-era hotel one block away on East Bay.
Owner Michael Peterson and his wife and business partner Rebecca transformed the property in 2007. Now an airy restaurant and lounge, Siren Hall features poured concrete floors and bar top made from a single plank of Douglas fir reclaimed from the Puget Sound. Known for his exceptional seafood, Peterson is also skilled at more terrestrial fare, like beef short ribs and gyros.
The spacious interior with its block walls and high ceilings definitely harkens back to its past as a garage.
“I had to take a lift out of the garage,” Michael Peterson said.
The dark chairs, booths, and lounge area couches, huge steel beams reclaimed from the local iron works, and interior cement half-walls add to the industrial vibe. Iridescent metal fish hang on the walls as the sole splash of color.
During the summer, the former gas pump area in the front is used as a patio, creating a space that is miles away from the more common rustic northern Michigan décor.
Peterson, who also owns Antrim Catering and Lulu’s Bistro in Bellaire, says the idea of creating a restaurant based around fish and shellfish made sense to him because Elk Rapids is surrounded by water.
Many of his specialties, from clam chowder to fried perch to mussels, reflect this sensibility.
Peterson says he’s careful not to order more than he can use, so the weekly specials come and go.
“You can’t have striped bass on the menu all the time,” he says. “We get it in, sell it, then it’s gone until next time.”
There’s also plenty to choose from that doesn’t come from the sea or lake. Gyro sandwiches, pasta, steaks and ribs round out the menu for terrestrial diners.
Other favorites include crispy goat cheese cakes, coated with panko bread crumbs and served with arugula and a grilled tomato basil vinaigrette, shaved fennel and roasted pine nuts; house-made guacamole; and pizza with crimini mushrooms, goat cheese, and truffle vinaigrette.
“People love the fresh fish,” Michael Peterson said. “The fried calamari is plump and tender. The lump crab – people love it. And our pizzas are really popular.”
But two items from the ocean stand above the rest, he said.
“The oysters are what people come in for,” he said.
The oysters are served on the half shell by the dozen or half dozen. They’re also part of the fruits de mer tower, along with shrimp cocktail, mussels, and lump crab calamari salad.
Another customer favorite is the cioppino, a fish stew featuring a variety of seafood in a light tomato saffron broth.
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Peterson started in the restaurant business when he was 14 at Bower’s Harbor Inn. He was enrolled at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s culinary arts program while in school, and after graduating from high school he attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He worked in Philadelphia and Paris, among other places, before returning to northern Michigan.
Peterson opened Spencer Creek Landing in Alden in 1993, and Lulu’s Bistro in Bellaire in 2001. In 2007, he and his family moved to Elk Rapids when he discovered the building now housing Siren Hall was for sale.
Peterson says the size of the kitchen (approximately the same size as the front of the house) is perfect for running his catering business, alongside the Siren Hall food prep.
While as executive chef he’s responsible for the menu, Rebecca is the mastermind behind the interior. The staff consists of more than a dozen people in the off season, increasing to about 16 in the summer. With a seating capacity of 120 in the restaurant plus another 50 on the patio as well as the lounge, Siren Hall is a busy place when the warm weather hits.
Salads start at $6; appetizers, $8; sandwiches, $9; lunch entrees, $12; and dinner entrees at $15 Pizzas run from $11 to $13, while desserts start at $4 for house-made ice cream.
There’s also a complete bar, with nearly 60 wines and beer as well as mixed drinks, and cordials for after-dinner. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30am to 2 pm and 5-9pm.
For more information, call (231) 264-6062, go to SirenHall. com, or log onto its Facebook page. The restaurant is located at 151 River Street in downtown Elk Rapids, just east of the theater.