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The Bay Leaf

Ross Boissoneau - February 14th, 2011
Fine wines and rustic dishes flavor: The Bay Leaf
By Ross Boissoneau
Dan Kelly believes he knows what it takes to make a restaurant successful, particularly at 120 S. Park Street in Traverse City.
After all, he ran two profitable restaurants there before moving his operations east to open the M-72 dinner theater, The Williamsburg, along with his longtime catering business. The restaurants which followed at that location were not as successful, and he finally decided it was time to stop being a landlord and get back in the game.
“I had several tenants that failed, and I was tired of dealing with that situation,” Kelly said, taking a break from woodwork installation.
In addition to his own handiwork, Kelly gutted the kitchen and added booths as well as a wine bar and a new fireplace as he refurbished the interior. He also promises some more surprises to come in the deck area in back of the restaurant.

UPSCALE YET CASUAL
One other surprise is that Kelly says he’s taking a backseat as he hands over operations to general manager Denny Fitzpatrick at the Bay Leaf. Fitzpatrick formerly owned Wine Country Market, and he and Kelly are positioning the Bay Leaf as an upscale yet casual place where you can sample several wines.
“We serve over 50 wines by the glass,” Kelly said. “Every day we have a different wine flight, where you can get three different wines plus an appetizer for $20. For example, you could get a Cabernet from France, one from the United States and one from Argentina.”
In addition to offering wines by the glass, they are also available by the half glass. With prices as low as $2.50, that meets Kelly’s goal of offering excellent fare at affordable prices. And for those who prefer beer, there are over 20 varieties of bottled beer plus a rotating cast of six on tap, from micro-breweries across the country and the world.
Yes, but what about the food? Kelly and Fitzpatrick describe it as rustic peasant cuisine. What’s that? Executive chef Adam McMarlin describes it thusly: “Everything has four or five components at most. It’s presented very simply, and the flavors surprise people.”
Flavors like Tomato Braised Lamb Shank with wilted greens, polenta cake and Argentinian reggianito. Or Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with butternut squash puree and cranberry sauce. “It’s tart, sweet, savory. That’s what you taste,” McMarlin said.

CALIFORNIA TOUCH
McMarlin credits Kelly with providing him the right venue to return to Michigan from California where he’d been gone after cooking stints in Charlotte and Phoenix. “Dan’s concept was real close to the food I like to do,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to bring back what I learned in California.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that his girlfriend was a native of the area, and that her dad happened to be the new GM. She too is on the staff.
For his part, Fitzpatrick laughs when discussing the opportunity to take the reins at the restaurant, saying his family thought he was nuts. But after getting onboard he’s enthusiastically embraced the challenge.
“There are lots of great restaurants downtown. We just want to complement that and offer something unique,” he said.
“We make everything here, the chips, the buns for our burgers. Everything is homemade. We deal with as much locally made and grown products as possible.
“We’re offering things that nobody else does,” Fitzpatrick continued, pointing to not only the food menu but the desserts, wines, even the beer selections. “We change taps all the time. Right now we’ve got Old Rasputin, a stout from California.”
Kelly is bullish on the Bay Leaf’s future. “We’ll be there with any of the top restaurants in the five-county area,” he said. “We want people to come here from Charlevoix for the dining experience.”

This story has been re-run because of a spelling error in the 1/31 issue of the Express. The Bay Leaf is currently open from 4 to 10 Monday through Saturday. 120 Park Street, Traverse City. 231-421-5912.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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