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Tuscan Bistro

Al Parker - October 18th, 2010
Bistro Offers a Taste of Tuscany
By Al Parker
Some chefs spend years in culinary schools learning their craft and
honing their skills before launching into a career in the kitchen.
But that isn’t Mickey Cannon’s style.
“I spent four hours in culinary school and quit,” laughs the outgoing
owner/chef at Traverse City’s popular Italian eatery, Tuscan Bistro.
“I was lucky and was able to work at the Italian embassy in Washington
D.C. for three years.”
It wasn’t long before the Pittsburgh native was voted “Outstanding
Young Chef” in Washington in 1987. His culinary career was rolling
along. While in the nation’s capital he became the personal chef of
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, eventually preparing meals
for U.S. Presidents.
“I catered meals for Presidents Ford and Reagan. Maureen Reagan hired
me to do a party,” he recalls. “And when I worked in Moscow (He was
the executive chef at the Radisson Hotel in Moscow from 1990-93) I
prepared meals for George Bush Sr.”
In 1996, Cannon came to Traverse City and for four years ran Marifil’s
Bakery. But in 2000 he headed to the East Coast, working in New York
City and Connecticut. His time in the Big Apple was marked by a couple
of other high-profile customers.
“In New York I cooked for Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani,” he says. “Giuliani is a great guy.”

FLAVORFUL FARE
Four-and-a-half years ago he was back in Traverse City opening Tuscan
Bistro, remodeling the former Gabby’s restaurant along M-22 in
Greilickville. It has a bright smoke-free interior, a cozy bar and al
fresco seating outside.
Cannon is devoted to the simple, flavorful fare of Tuscany, the
romanticized region of Italy that many credit with being the
birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. It’s been home to some of the
most influential personalities in history, including Michelangelo,
Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante, Petrarch, Galileo, Amerigo
Vespucci and Puccini. Its charming capital, Florence, lures 10 million
visitors a year.
And the cuisine is artistically simple, yet creative. At its heart are
fresh vegetables, cheese, bread, legumes, mushrooms, fresh fruit,
quality olive oils, truffles, beef and pork. Wines are also crucial to
the meals, the best known being Chianti.
“That’s the kind of food I like,” says Cannon. “And that’s the kind I
like to prepare – things that are simple, fresh and flavorful.”
Tuscan Bistro’s lunch menu offers a handful of tasty soups, salads and
antipasti, all with a flair, including a Tuscany Valley Bean Soup
($5), Calamari Fritti, calamari dusted with polenta and fried golden
and served with a spicy tomato sauce ($10) and Melanzana Di Rollatini,
eggplant stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese topped with mozzarella and
served on a tomato basil sauce ($11).
“We go through a lot of mozzarella that we make right here in our
kitchen,” explains Cannon. “Three or four times a week I make
mozzarella, so it’s always fresh.”
Paninis and pastas are also popular lunch choices. The Cavatelli with
Wild Mushroom Ragu features homemade ricotta cheese cavatelli pasta
covered in a mushroom ragu with garlic, herbs and cream. A full order
is $18 and a hearty half-order is $9.

KEEP IT SIMPLE
Unlike a lot of “spaghetti-and-meatball” Italian menus, visitors to
Tuscan Bistro will not be overwhelmed by dozens of dinner selections.
The menu is specifically designed to offer a handful of quality,
tasteful selections.
One of the most popular is Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese, freshly-made
tagliatelle pasta smothered in a rich ragu of pork, veal, beef and
plum tomatoes ($18 for a full order, $9 for a half order). Seafood
lovers may opt for the Spaghetti Fruiti Di Mare, spaghetti tossed with
shrimp, scallops, baby clams, mussels and squid in a light tomato
broth.
Tuscan Bistro also offers a handful of steaks and other seafood
choices, including whitefish and salmon.
And no Italian dining experience would be complete without a wine to
accompany the meal. “We offer a very eclectic wine list,” says Cannon.
“While we do offer a few local wines, including Black Star Farms,
about 98 percent of our wines are Italian.”
For dessert, some classic Italian favorites are available, including
tiramisu, profiterole and crispy cannoli filled with sweet creamy
ricotta cheese.
On Friday and Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. the Bistro offers a Raw Bar
featuring fresh oysters, shrimp, clams and mussels. “Our raw bar is
really popular,” says Cannon. “The shrimp are huge. Last week we put
out 120 oysters and they were all gone by 8 o’clock. It was a really
good turnout.”
Starting the first Saturday in October, the Bistro will offer a
special complete dinner for two, including salad, entrée, dessert and
a bottle of wine for only $60. Diners can choose any entrée from the
menu, except veal or tenderloin.
“Everything we offer is fresh and cooked to order. It goes right from
skillet to plate to table,” says Cannon. “There’s no steam table
here.”
Despite a sluggish economy, the Tuscan Bistro has enjoyed a bustling
summer and Cannon is quick to give credit to his staff, which includes
several family members.
“I have a great, great staff,” he stresses. “It’s been our best summer
yet and I really credit our staff. They’ve been here a number of years
and really make our customers feel at home. We’d like folks to come on
in and let us take care of you – that’s what we do.”

Tuscan Bistro, at 12930 South West Bay Shore Drive in Traverse City,
is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday
noon to 10 p.m. For more information or takeout orders, call
(231)922-7795 or go to tuscanbistrotc.com.

 
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