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Mana 3/21/11

Ross Boissoneau - March 21st, 2011
The Magic of Mana
By Ross Boissoneau
With two n’s, the word manna is the bread from heaven. With one n, mana is the substance of the soul, or by another definition, what magic is made of.
Put it all together, and you get Mana, the new restaurant at the Mercado shops of the Grand Traverse Commons.
Ralph Humes, formerly one of the principals at the Soul Hole, opened his new eatery at Building 50 just a month ago. He’s already settling into a routine, open from 11 to 6 Monday through Saturday.
But don’t think that means the food is routine. His menu, posted on the giant board behind his counter, is in a state of constant refinement, but it includes such fare as pulled pork sandwiches and Drunken Peach Cobbler, along with vegetarian choices.
For Humes, the restaurant has been a long time coming, either all his life or the last eight years, depending on which perspective he chooses.
“I’ve been cooking all my life,” he says. “I had a German/African father and an Irish/African mom, so I thought it was just natural that you had brats and sauerkraut and cornbread,” he said with a laugh.
The eight years? “I’ve had this name in my head for eight years. My desserts were always Sweet Alchemy, but Sweet Asylum is just down the hall, so that wouldn’t work.
“Then after not sleeping for about 48 hours, I just had this epiphany.” Thus, Mana.

Mana is based more on his experience at the Soul Hole than on his previous, larger ventures downstate. He’s opted for cozy over sprawling. “I had a 38-seat restaurant in Three Rivers, then a 150-seat restaurant in Kalamazoo,” he said.
But bigger wasn’t necessarily better, and he decided that for him, a smaller, more intimate venue was preferable. “Eventually what I ended up with was my old restaurant.”
Mana is at its core a takeout restaurant, though there is a cozy seating area just beyond the counter.
Humes had been considering what to do since leaving the Soul Hole. When the Silvertree Deli closed in the Mercado, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I had been talking to Ray (Minervini) about doing something here,” Humes said. “Sometimes you realize you’re in the right place at the right time.”

During the day you can find Humes and Tad Trimnell, his former GM at his restaurant downstate, at Mana, cooking and baking and serving. In the evenings, the erstwhile jazz bassist hooks up with fiance Dawn Campbell and fellow bandmates Roger Tarczon and Ivan Greilick to perform around the area.
But if his nights are about music, his days are about cooking. And he takes care to make sure his concoctions are both unique and tried and true.
“The Reuben has been really popular. We cure our own meats and use Pleasanton Brick Oven rye bread.
“Anybody can go buy corned beef,” he continued. “What makes ours unique is you can’t get it anywhere else. I’ve got a smoker out back.”
As for the peach cobbler, Humes said he uses peach schnapps to give the dessert favorite a bit of a kick. Oh, and as in all good stories, there’s also a secret ingredient.
For Humes, what it comes down to is comfort food done right.
“I want to get a good quality, great product to people ,” he said.
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