BEST WOMEN’S CLOTHING
A mashup of vintage, classic, and retro, Ella’s in downtown Traverse City is where fashionistas find unique clothing and accessories.
Jewelry from local artisans and fashions from international boutique brands mingle at Ella’s, too, so that you can both indulge your “Vogue” visions and support your neighbors.
“We carefully curate quality pieces that our customers will love forever, not just for a season,” said Ella’s Breanne Russell. “Sharing our passion is not only fulfilling but rewarding – thank you to Express readers for keeping us in business and appreciating what we do!”
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE
Recording engineer Mike Curths understands music, which is a big part of why his InsideOut Gallery is such a success. He finds quirky up and coming acts and presents them in a place where they can be appreciated, thanks to great sound quality and sight lines, plus some cool artwork on the side.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we believe we would still be around after 10 years; I figured if we made it for six months, it would be a success,” Curths said. “We started out with about 800 square feet, no heat, no electricity. I kept walking through the rest of the building thinking how cool this could be, but how daunting.”
Curths said it was the potential of the Warehouse District that inspired him to take a chance on the space.
“We have had some of the most amazing musical acts come through,” he said. “We are seriously humbled to be recognized as a favorite spot for great music and performing arts. It’s taken a while, but people are getting it!”
BEST ELEGANT MEAL
Trattoria Stella, located in the ground floor of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, was selected as Best Elegant Meal in Traverse City.
Just walk into the place and you are transported to what feels like could be another era and perhaps another continent.
The space consists of seven consecutive 19th Century Italianate archways. They give a fairly vast space the illusion of being intimate -- many tables inhabit their own private-seeming alcove.
“I’m standing here at the bar and that view alone is just fantastic,” said owner Amanda Danielson.
“The hall is wide enough that you don’t feel like you’re on top of somebody.”
Danielson said the service also makes the dining experience elegant. The staff, she said, know the difference between someone there for a pizza and a beer and diners sitting down to linger over a meal.
“We have a very professional staff that knows how to pace a dining experience,” Danielson said. And then there is the food from chef Myles Anton, a James Beard Foundation semifinalist. “The food goes without saying,” Danielson said. “I don’t know if you call the food elegant. The food is spectacular.”
(TIE) BEST BURGER
After more than a thousand votes, two restaurants on opposite ends of Front Street finished tied for Best Burger in Traverse City.
Both Slabtown and Bubba’s cited fresh, local ingredients as the number one reason diners like what they offer.
“I would have to say that we have a lot of great choices,” said Jake Dunn, kitchen manager at Slabtown. “We have a great, neighborhood feel. It’s quick and easy.”
Slabtown is a house in Slabtown that’s been converted into a counter-service restaurant. It sort of feels like someone’s home.
Dunn said the two most popular Slabtown burgers are both stuffed -- Pungi’s Pepper Patty is filled with cream cheese, jalapeños, and bacon, and the Big Blue contains blue cheese and bacon.
Dunn said it’s an honor to tie with Bubba’s. “I love to hear that we’re in competition with them,” he said. “I hoped that we would beat them, but it’s great that we tied.”
Josh Rollo, manager at Bubba’s, was also magnanimous. “Competition is good,” Rollo said. “I believe that’s why we got to where we are as a foodie town.” He said local, fresh ground beef and homemade buns make Bubba’s burgers popular. There are up to 20 burgers on the menu plus there are usually a couple more burger specials.
Bubba’s offers table service in a casual atmosphere and it’s a popular place -- there is often a short wait to be seated for dinner on weekends.
Rollo said a breakfast burger that’s available all the time is particularly popular. That one’s got bacon, fried egg, Bubba sauce, cheddar, spinach and tomato.
“They’re big burgers, so if you leave here hungry, we didn’t do something right.” Rollo said.
BEST ELEGANT MEAL
Cafe Santé in Boyne City won Best Elegant Meal for Charlevoix and it’s easy to see why when you gaze up from your plate of European-inspired food to watch Lake Charlevoix glistening in the sun.
“They love it,” said Don Ryde, general manager, of the atmosphere and the fare. “It’s great food. Everything’s fresh, made in-house, and at a very good value. It’s also European classics, which are unique to the area.”
Because of the setting, it’s a popular place for couples. But it’s also a popular restaurant with all kinds of groups -- any night there are locals and tourists. Ryde said the restaurant manages to stay busy throughout the year because of winter sports and regular specials during the week in the winter.
“Fortunately, we’re six miles from Boyne Mountain, so we’re very busy on the weekend,” he said. They offer a wood-fired pizza special on Mondays and a mussels and frites special on Thursdays.
BEST BARTENDER BOYNE /CHARLEVOIX
Travis Tache, of the Weathervane in Charlevoix, won Best Bartender for his region.
Jeff Sprecksell, the Weathervane’s general manager, said he wasn’t surprised.
“Travis is a very, very charismatic character,” Sprecksell said.
Tache, a Charlevoix native, has worked for 15 years and has been head bartender for six at the restaurant that sits next to the Pine River Channel in a building designed by famed architect Earl Young.
Sprecksell said he suspects people also like Tache because, at a restaurant known for its wine selection, Tache knows a lot about wine.
In fact, Tache is currently studying to become a sommelier.
That involves an incredible amount of study on his own time, Sprecksell said. When he is ready, he’ll take a test that requires a vast knowledge of wine.
BEST BREAD/BAKERY • LUNCH • BURGER • VEGETARIAN MEAL
9 Bean Rows moved from Traverse City to Suttons Bay last summer and they’ve settled right in to smaller town life. Located in the unmistakable old red brick fi re station at 303 St. Joseph, they serve European-style breakfast, which means pastries and croissants and coffee and tea. For lunch and dinner, they feature full menus and focus on cooking from scratch with local ingredients. You know those folks in the kitchen are versatile if they can win the Best of Northern Michigan vote in Leelanau County for both burger and vegetarian meal.
Maybe it is the innovative, modern menu that changes everyday. Or perhaps the James Beard Foundation nomination for best chef in the Great Lake region. Or maybe it’s the view of Lake Michigan from their spot on the beach in Glen Arbor. Blu, open since 2008, has won a lot of accolades, and now it’s been voted best elegant meal in Leelanau County by Northern Express readers. Chef Randy Chamberlain has won respect for matching local ingredients with European techniques. If you want to give the exotic tastes of Blu a try you’ve got to wait a little while, however. The restaurant has closed for spring break and will reopen on April 4.
BEST MUSIC VENUE, LUNCH, & SINGLE’S SPOT FOR ANTRIM COUNTY
It makes sense that Short’s Pub is considered a great place to hang out, whether it’s to listen to music or for singles to hang out or to enjoy lunch, said Pauline Knighton, communications director for Short’s.
The pub was designed not as a bar, but to be a comfortable place to spend time.
And music is almost as big a part of the atmosphere at Short’s as the beer. “I would definitely say at our company music is important,” she said. “To us, it’s a big part of our culture.”
Part of that is expressed through the menu at Short’s, which was inspired by the alternative rock band Ween.
That’s one of Joe Short’s and his wife Leah’s favorite bands. They were driving back from an East Coast concert when they brainstormed a lot of the ideas for the restaurant.
The cover art for the menu was inspired by the band, as were names for sandwiches. “I think because the pub is not what people think of as a traditional bar, it’s a great place for lunch and its a great place for dinner,” Knighton said.
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE • BEST DECK SCENE • BEST SINGLES SPOT
The Cabbage Shed just proved itself to be Benzie County’s own triple threat this year. With its popular deck and singles scenes and reputation as a hot local music venue, the Shed is the hangout spot in Elberta for those looking for a fun night.
“We’re so honored that we won – that speaks volumes for us,” said the Shed’s bar manager, Paul Hunt. “I think it’s because we’re big on giving the people what they want.”
Hunt said that the Shed has been a place for local bands to play and for people to come and have a good time, but the real kudos go to the owner, Jim Clapp.
“The Shed’s been here since 1985, and he’s the owner and the driving force behind this place,” he said. “Few bar owners have a passion for it like he does.”
The vintage and the newfangled make for one in-demand combo when you’re talking about Julin and Strings. Julin, mandolin master and respected local music composer and instructor, teamed up recently with Strings, a relative newbie to the TC music scene – and the results are pure Americana-bluegrass dynamite.
“I have always enjoyed bluegrass music, but never had a chance to play it at a pro level,” Julin said. “About two years ago, I heard that this kid moved to town that could really play bluegrass – and the rumors were correct. From the first time Billy and I sat down and played some tunes, I knew there was a common language.”
Julin said he and the 20-year-old Strings are an “odd couple.”
“We have become the ‘odd couple’ of the bluegrass world, the most obvious element being the 32-year age difference,” he said. “Another element we share is rock ‘n’ roll [Strings was a fan of heavy rock; Julin played ska back in the ‘80s] and we are also both improvisers – so there is an element of surprise every time we play.”
BEST WOMEN’S CLOTHING
With plenty of resort wear, business essentials, preppy options, and cocktail-wear choices, Threads carries popular designers like Trina Turk, Chan Luu, and the Palm-Beachy Pink Pineapple brand – it’s like a mini Nordstrom for the Petoskey set, only a lot closer and with a local fl air.
Chris Jaconette founded Threads back in 1999, and she’s joined these days by new business partner Brandy Malpass as the store celebrates its 15th anniversary.
“Threads stands out because we strike the right balance between carrying the lines our customers are familiar with, and some that they are not, but that are edited in a special way,” Jaconette said. “We love our Threads ladies, and we are grateful for the loyalty and relationships we have formed over the years.”
BEST HAPPY HOUR
As would be expected from downtown Petoskey’s Wine Guys – who also run City Park Grill and Roast & Toast – Palette’s drinks menu is extensive and cosmopolitan, offering everything from domestic and international beer to classic cocktails and dessert wines, including port and sherry.
Their happy hour (Mon.-Sat., 4-6pm) is a favored spot of local business folk who show up to network and schmooze over a special menu of $4 beers, cocktails, and wines, plus 40 percent off all small plates.
Palette’s general manager, Patrick Faylor, said that the secret is to keep things simple. “The most appealing aspect of our happy hour is just the combination of the great selection of drinks and small plates, plus our bar has a warm, cozy feel in the winter,” he said. “My favorite thing about the happy hour is seeing everyone enjoying themselves, meeting friends and connecting after a hard day of work.”
BEST DECK SCENE
The Perry has been a landmark of downtown Petoskey’s Gaslight District since it opened in the early 1900s, but it has also evolved with the times.
Known for its rustic downstairs pub at the Noggin Room to the chic scene it hosts in the H.O. Rose Dining Room, it was the Rose Garden Veranda that won Express readers’ votes this year.
With its pineapple fountain, rose shrubs, and a stunning view of Little Traverse Bay and its sunsets, the Veranda is the place to be in the summer.
“Since the Rose Garden is located ‘behind’ the hotel overlooking the bay, it kind of keeps this venue a bit of a secret,” Stafford’s Vice President Reg Smith said. “And the deck scene is very relaxed, casual dining with absolutely the finest panorama in the north.”
Smith said the menu is pretty much the same as the pub, so “you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the view.”
BEST STEAK (tie)
One of several elegant restaurants sharing a single street corner in downtown Harbor Springs, The New York stands out for its classically prepared, old-school upscale fare, including the filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, and the red wine and herb marinated hanger steak.
Matt Bugera and his family have operated The New York for 23 years now, and Bugera said part of their success is “constant communication” with their customers.
“We need to know what you want, so we can offer it,” he said. Bugera said that all of The New York’s steaks are graded USDA choice or higher and that he has been sourcing from the same packing company at the Eastern Market in Detroit for longer than he’s owned the restaurant.
“Our chefs take great pride in seasoning, cooking, and serving such high quality meat,” he said.
“Without our staff, we would not be the success that we are today.”
BEST STEAK (tie)
City Park is Petoskey’s go-to spot for casual American fare in a building that’s been around for 139 years. City Park’s steaks complement the restaurant’s vintage – yet sophisticated – mix, with several choices of filet mignon, flank steak, and strip steak to choose from, served right next to the mahogany bar that Ernest Hemingway once sat at to jot down notes for his stories.
“We greatly appreciate our guests voting for us in the Express over the years,” City Park owner Bob Keedy said.
Keedy said while the restaurant hand-cuts their steaks and cooks them on an applewood grill, the chef also offers alternative preparations.
“Our staff is always striving to keep it fresh, and to continuously improve at all aspects of what we do,” he said.