What was once the casual restaurant behind Bower’s Harbor Inn has become a fun, engaging gastropub, with an eclectic menu and a variety of microbrews and spirits.
And despite the tweaks Chef Paul Olson has made over the past several years at the Jolly Pumpkin, nobody’s complaining … not even Genevieve Stickney, the resident ghost.
“Did you feel that draft? That was Genevieve,” Olson said matter-of-factly in a hallway between the upscale Mission Table and Jolly Pumpkin, formerly Bower’s Harbor Inn and the Bowery.
As the executive chef and general manager, Olson takes it all in stride.
Once filled to the rafters with sleds, tools, and taxidermy, the Jolly Pumpkin is now much less cluttered. One iconic moose head remains, and the kitchen utensils dangle from chandeliers.
The rustic timber-framed interior is now all northern Michigan ambiance, with dark wood chairs and tables, and plenty of natural daylight. When the sun sets, the dining area is illuminated by a variety of mismatched glass pendant fixtures.
In spite of a 15-minute drive from town, Olson said the locals keep on coming, even in the winter.
“Winters have been getting better and better,” said Olson. “The locals are awesome.”
The selections reflect the casual yet slightly upscale character of the restaurant.
“The menu has evolved,” said Olson, who kept on the menu some of the best-loved items from the Bowery, such as the ribs and perch.
Starters are all standard, with a twist.
Fried goat cheese instead of the standard mozzarella; crab (not potato) tater tots; pulled pork nachos; and the French fries are seasoned with truffle sea salt. Addictive amber ale mayo accompanies both fries and the Pumpkin’s signature kettle-fried curried chips.
Salads include cherry chicken, enhanced with candied pecans, as well as a shredded kale with pickled red onions and chickpeas.
Olson says they tried doing seafood, but found their niche with freshwater fish like perch, trout in the summer, and walleye.
Wood-fired grill items include New York strip and hanger steak marinated in farmhouse ale. Of course the ribs are also hickory-smoked in house, and served with a tangy BBQ sauce and smoky baked beans.
Other favorites include a chipotle braised pork shoulder, rigatoni with a slow-cooked tomato meat sauce and bacon, and several sandwiches, including a sloppy joe made with Oleson’s ground buffalo and a cheesy BLT with both Swiss cheese and Leelanau raclette.
Several beers are on tap, with some made for the restaurant’s sister operation North Peak. The Jolly Pumpkin also serves its own distilled spirits and wine from Old Mission vintners, along with a couple of Californian wines.
Among the beers, the Bam Biere is a favorite.
“It’s lower in alcohol and a really good beer,” Olson said.
They buy as many Old Mission hops as possible, and in the fall make Hoodoo, a beer with fresh green hops, which usually sells out in a month or two, he said.
For menu choices, Olson says the Rocket Arugula salad is a top choice, with mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips and spiced walnuts. Many of the greens are locally sourced from Werp Farm. Finding the best locally is a big focus for Olson.
“We try to follow the seasons as much as possible,” he said.
The Parmesan-crusted whitefish, available as a special, is another top choice. The slightly crunchy, slightly salty breading complements the fish. It is flaky and moist, flavorful without being overpowering.
THE REST OF THE STORY
John Carlson and Greg Lobdell, owners of Blue Tractor and North Peak, among other properties, decided when they purchased Bower’s Harbor Inn and the Bowery that they needed to make some changes.
Olson says the idea was to change the focus from being a place only for special occasions to an upscale but not intimidating destination, one customers would return to more often. Some locals, he adds, come in weekly.
In addition to the operation on-site, there is a brewing facility in Dexter and a Jolly Pumpkin café in Ann Arbor. They share the same beverages, but the menus differ.
Pressed for which is better, Olson would only smile and say, “They do a great job in Ann Arbor.”
Soups and salads start at $7, sandwiches and pizzas at $10. Entrées start at $12, grill items at $16. Beers start at $4.50 for a pint.
Current hours are Monday through Thursday 4pm-9pm; Friday 4pm-10pm; Saturday 11:30am-10pm; and Sunday 11:30am-9pm.
The Jolly Pumpkin is located at 13512 Peninsula Drive on the Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City. Online, go to JollyPumpkin.com or visit its Facebook page.