Jen and Torrey Bingham, owners of the award-winning Tampa wine bar of the same name, opened its northern counterpart last year.
Jen is a certified sommelier with an advanced certificate in wines and spirits. She has been featured in publications like Wine Spectator, Sommelier Journal, and the Chicago Sun-Times, among others.
Torrey’s job description is a bit simpler:
His business card reads “Owner/Dishwasher.”
Together, the dynamic duo has created an eclectic place featuring the best in beers, cheeses, small plates, salads, and wines from vineyards near and far.
Cru took over the space next to Kilwin’s on Front St. in Frankfort. The interior has a light, modern feel, with blue-gray walls complemented by natural wood.
The oval bar in the front half of the establishment was hewn from local ash trees, victims of the emerald ash borer.
The entrance wall is stacked with more than 100 different wines.
“We thought Frankfort could use something like this,” said Jen Bingham.
Cru’s wine list is extensive. It includes wines from Leelanau Peninsula, California, Australia and Europe: Italy, France, Spain and Greece, among other places.
The menu was created by Jason Ruhe and Hope Montgomery of In Bloom Catering in Tampa, personal friends of the Binghams. The selections, overseen by Cru chef Will Bradley, complement the wines and stand on their own.
Grilled flatbreads feature fig jam and crispy prosciutto, sliced skirt steak and caramelized onions, or salami, prosciutto, basil, and fresh mozzarella. Small plates feature whitefish paté, hummus, salmon and deviled eggs, and two types of bruschetta.
Burgers, whitefish and Moroccan chicken salad are among the sandwiches; salads include shrimp and avocado with pickled red onions, and roasted beet with fresh dill and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Entrées, such as braised short rib with Parmesan polenta, cedar plank salmon, and walleye with clams and chorizo, are available after 5pm.
Among the entrées, Torrey Bingham says a favorite is the 36-hour brined chicken.
“Nobody orders chicken in a restaurant because it’s boring,” he says. “If we were going to have chicken, it had to be good.”
It is soaked for 36 hours in a lemon, thyme and white wine brine, which keeps it moist and flavorful after roasting. It’s served with a Parmesan polenta cake and sautéed mushrooms.
The flatbreads are grilled and baked, allowing the flavors to meld. They’ve won awards in Tampa, and it’s easy to see why. Best bet is the roasted mushroom and goat cheese with pesto and pine nuts.
He also points to the burgers as prime fare.
“I think our burgers are pretty hard to beat,” he said. “A lot of people don’t expect to get a great burger at a wine bar.”
The Binghams also use local sources when they can.
“We get our buns from Crescent Bakery across the street, our ice cream from Hill Top Soda Shoppe [in Benzonia],” he said.
Of all of their wines, the couple says E2 is one of the most requested.
“Dave Phinney of The Prisoner wine [from Orin Swift Cellars in California] has this side project,” said Jen Bingham. “It’s one of the most popular wines by the glass.”
She also suggests the pinot noir and pinot grigio from Leelanau’s Blustone Vineyards.
“It’s not as well known,” she said. “I think it’s one of the standout [vineyards].”
THE REST OF THE STORY
Frankfort, though a long way from Tampa, is a familiar place to the Binghams. Torrey Binghams was a longtime vacationer to the area, and Jen Bingham says she started becoming acquainted with the area when they began dating. The two were married in Frankfort in 2008.
Jen Bingham became enamored with wine during a study abroad stint in Australia, and when the couple settled in Chicago she took a position as wine director at a boutique wine shop. By the time she was 24, she was running one of Chicago’s premier wine bars as ENO’s wine director.
When Torrey Bingham was transferred to Florida, his wife began working as a wine distributor. When one of her clients decided to sell his shop, they bought it and transformed it into Cru, a shop and wine bar.
What started as a two-person operation grew and prospered. Cru has won numerous awards, including being named Best Wine Bar in Tampa Bay two years in a row.
Cru Cellars has been similarly received in Frankfort.
“It’s surpassed our expectations,” Torrey Bingham said.
Like several other operations in the resort town, Cru is only open seasonally. The Binghams say they would be happy to keep it open year-round if the area continues to grow.
“Frankfort is changing in some really cool ways,” he said. “We’d love to do it if we can.”
Wines by the glass start at $8. Small plates start at $7; flatbreads at $9; salads and sandwiches at $10. Entrées begin with the roasted mushroom orzo at $12, though a half order comes in at $8.
Cru is open noon-10pm, Sun.-Thurs. and until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
It’s located at 411 Main St. in Frankfort. For more information, call (231) 399-0200, or visit crucellarsmichigan.com or its Facebook page.