Trattoria Stella owners Amanda and Paul Danielson and Myles Anton knew they wanted to open another restaurant, and they knew they wanted it to be in the middle of the action.
“We’ve always wanted to be downtown,” said Paul Danielson.
Located at – and above – the intersection of Front and Cass streets, the Franklin couldn’t be more centered in Traverse City.
“We wanted to do something else, and we didn’t want it to be anything like Stella’s,” said Paul Danielson, who opened the local favorite 10 years ago at the historic Village at Building 50 site.
Its name evokes the free-thinking ideals of both Benjamin Franklin and “frankelyn,” a Middle English word meaning free men who owned their own property, beholden to no one.
The Franklin, in contrast to its cellarlevel sister restaurant, is wide open, with a modern, almost industrial feel. Walls of windows wash both dining levels in natural light, and there’s plenty of brick, wood and cork to complement the steel.
Exactly like Stella, however, it’s warm and inviting.
The rooftop deck gives customers great views of downtown and the sparkling waters beyond. After dark, the deck is illuminated by a canopy of lights strung on cables hung from steel beams.
If it’s windy, cool or simply full on the deck, you can still enjoy the view from inside through the moveable window walls.
“We looked at garage doors but decided to do the walls,” said Paul Danielson, whose walls fold completely open, yet still offer the views when closed.
Downstairs, the centerpiece is the 20- seat common table, hewn from the trunk of a cottonwood tree. It’s set off by the 120-yearold back bar.
Throughout, the rich colors, high ceilings and lengthy sightlines foster a sense of both spaciousness and welcome.
Executive chef Gabe Rodriguez hails from Texas, and many of the items on the menu boast some of the heat of the Lone Star State: The lamb burger has a jalapeño-mint chimichurri, the corn esquites (warm corn salad) are served with aleppo pepper, and don’t forget the stuffed poblanos.
But there’s much more here than just Tex-Mex. There are clams with sausage, beer broth and crème fraiche; flatbreads with peppers or broccoli raab; and fingerling potatoes that are baked, slightly smashed, fried and then served with bacon and gravy.
Where Stella’s is Italian, the Franklin is multi-ethnic: German (spaetzle and flammkuchen, a flatbread with caramelized onions, quark and speck); Asian (G’s mushrooms with shochu vinaigrette); and distinctly American (the house hot dog served with yellow mustard and Detroit chili).
The menu includes starters, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, entrées and vegetables. But don’t be fooled – the veggies are more than just sides, with ingredients like salted hazelnut brittle, cherry-pine nut relish and mint salsa verde enlivening them.
On the beverage side, if you’re a wine enthusiast, the menu breaks down the selections into categories such as “Orange is the new pink” and “Fizz.”
Beer lovers have 20 taps to choose from, many of them Michigan brews; others are from Oregon, California, Germany and Belgium.
Paul Danielson says picking the most popular items is tough, given that the restaurant has been open just a few short weeks. But waitress Sheila Czerniak doesn’t hesitate.
“Every time I serve the cheese curds, I start to salivate,” she said with a laugh. “They’re little pieces of heaven.”
The cheese melt is an upscale grilled cheese, with Muenster, roasted poblano, Mexican oregano, and tomato jam, on a flavorful foccacia.
The Bibb salad is both attractive and tasty, with slices of Granny Smith apples, fennel, a honey and lemon vinaigrette, sprinkled with Manchego cheese.
THE REST OF THE STORY
The Franklin is fairly large, with seating for 200-plus. The downstairs can accommodate 100, the upstairs 45, and the outdoor patio another 90.
It wasn’t easy to get to that point. Paul Danielson says they had to shore up the buildings next door and behind while laying the foundation.
Now that it’s up and open, he says the goal for the décor is for it to look so natural that “in five years it will look like it’s 50 years old.”
Appetizers start at $8; flatbreads at $10; and sandwiches at $9. Salads and vegetables start at $7; pasta at $12; and entrées begin at $18.
The Franklin is open daily from 11am- 11pm. It’s located at 160 East Front St. Call (231) 943-2727 or visit online at thefranklintc. com or its Facebook page.
Clockwise from top left:
The Franklin’s rooftop deck offers views of downtown and beyond.
The Bibb salad is perfect for summer with its meld of citrus, salt and slight crunch.
Melted cheese on soft grilled bread is accompanied by roasted peppers, tomato jam and oregano.
The flatbread is crunchy and light.